the rural mission field

Thursday 30 August 2007

Last night I was about to have a very substantial and enjoyable theological discussion about various topics.  One of them was about churches growing and their mission fields (which was somewhat talked about in a conversation about church vibrancy the previous evening with a different group of people).  Coming from a rural town where everyone is pretty much linked to one of the 6 (or more) churches in (a) town (of 1200), I was mentioning that it was hard to know who, if anyone, was the mission field for me/us.

Then, for whatever reason, this morning it came to me — most churches actually have a list of their mission field (or at least part of it) already, and it’s called the church directory.  It would be an interesting sermon to discuss mission and tell the congregation that they already have a list of people they need to evangelize to, and it’s probably in a drawer in their kitchen (at least that’s where our family’s was).  If you check out that directory and see names of people who you haven’t seen in church for as long as you can remember, you already have some leads to go on.

Now there are definitely others to think about evangelizing to/with, but I think it’s always so hard for people to know where to start, and so many times we know those people in the directory and might have good reason to invite them back to get involved again or figure out what’s keeping them away and work for some change.  Why should a church with 250 members settle for an attendance of 95?  Shouldn’t a church’s goal be to have more in attendance than their membership?  What a different church that would be!

concert etiquette

Sunday 26 August 2007

I was at a concert Saturday evening (with open standing), and there were a few things that got me thinking about how people act when they’re at a “rock” concert without any seats where one just stands for the show. Most of the issues are just about common sense and respect, but I also attended with a friend a foot shorter than me, so I was thinking about what it’s like to be shorter than I am and not have the ability to just look over (almost) everyone’s heads and see pretty much anything, wherever I’m standing. So here are a few things to think about:

Don’t come late and expect you can just push yourself to the front – don’t be an ass or a bitch and think it’s your right to be closer to the stage than I am just because you don’t know me personally and can walk all over me if you choose. I hope someone spills beer on you, anyway.

There comes a point where you really shouldn’t count on leaving your spot and coming back to it again – if you want to buy a beer or a shirt or something, do it before things get too crazy so I don’t think you’re an ass because you’re pushing your way in front of me (see above).

Do we have to be so close together? – Some people like to move around and dance, at least a bit, so leave a little room for that.

Moshing? Seriously? – I understand the need/desire to mosh, but if the headliner isn’t a band you’d mosh to, then, I’m sorry, you really can’t mosh to other bands, either.

There’s never going to be a perfect way for everyone to stand – Some people are tall, some are short, some are in between, and height shouldn’t determine how close or far from the stage someone is able to stand. Just try to respect that fact.

I’m tall, and I really can’t help it – someone has to stand behind me, and I’m sorry if you’re that person. I try to respect that fact, but if you’re there in time, you’ll either be in front of me or have a chance to avoid me.

If we all just respected each other at shows, I think there’d be a lot more love and many fewer pissed off people because someone slid in front of them as if they had a ticket for that exact spot. We all paid the same price, so deal with it.

(an addendum 24 Sept 2007):
I was at another concert where we were in seats, but some people obviously wanted to stand.  Who has the right here?  I think that depends on the music being presented.  Classical music?  Let’s all stay seated.  Acoustic guitar?  That’s a bit more questionable.  “Rock” band/artist?  If the people in front of you want to stand, suck it up and stand youself. I’m sure years ago they were in a venue that didn’t even have chairs, so just be thankful you had a chair to sit in before they actually started playing.

on a journey

Friday 24 August 2007

I’ve recently been coming to terms with the fact that life is a journey, and there are specific points in one’s life when certain events (marriage, choosing a career, finding a “home,” etc.) must occur.  For someone like me, a definite “planner” in terms of personality, it has been a bit of a struggle, but I’m getting there.  For me, though, the question becomes balancing the desire and need for some kind of plan with an openness to the fact that I am also (likely) a journeyman who surely don’t have it all figured out and needs to go where and when I feel the call.  For me, though, the my mantra of “Live Life” doesn’t entail letting the world come to me, as it may for some, but rather making the most of the time I’ve been gifted, and this, very well, may require some kind of planning, right?

Another thing is my enjoyment for spontaneity while still liking to have things on tap to do.  Our family’s 3-week trip out west when I was in HS wouldn’t have happened without extensive forward planning (thanks Mom), but there were also some spontaneous adventures during that time which weren’t on the predetermined itinerary which I remember well, like watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon and a Dodgers baseball game.

In dealing within the dichotomy of plan and spontaneity, though, it has been really helpful for me to have some kind of “plan” in my head to start from, even though I might very well change it later.  A recent example: My current engagement with LVC ends @ Thanksgiving, so what was I to do after?  It was hard enough for my mind to get all the way to May and not know what I was going to do in August (but I made it), so it was hard for me not to plan past Thanksgiving without losing a bit of my sanity.  My longer-term plan was shaping up to entail the Winter/Spring in Ohio doing CPE (clinical pastoral education) and/or make a movie/documentary before summer @ camp (again) and then on to (gasp) seminary in the fall.  However, after these past two weeks of thinking about (and experiencing) life, some other options have been thrown into the mix: live/work somewhere totally new for me, like NYC or the Bay Area, Jan-June, then take a 6-10 week backpacking trip across Europe July-July (would you want to come?) before coming back and seeing where I’m at in terms of my life.

Both plans, and a mixture of the two, are now on the forefront of my mind and pretty realistic, I’d say, and I’m sure there will be more possibilities yet to be considered.  With my new found freedom to “live and let live” and not feel like I need to have it all figured out by the time I hit 30 or even 40 or 50 (see again my previous blog containing “Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.” ), I don’t feel the need to be contained by some preconceived notion of what needs to happen next in my life, though I should probably start saving a little for retirement one of these days — unless of course I don’t end up doing something to retire from, then I guess I’m OK :)

But this is what freedom is, right?  And aren’t we all meant to be free?  “Freedom to be you and me,” is a kitschy phrase from some years ago, but maybe it’s what life should be all about.  Where this journey will lead me — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — I know not, but I look forward to enjoying the experience along the way.

spiritually true

Sunday 19 August 2007

It’s been over a week since I last wrote here, but what a week it was!  I don’t believe I’ve ever had so many deep, challenging, and edifying conversations in a week before (or even come close)!  Being able to simply be open and real with some many great people — incoming LVC volunteers and LVC staff — has already made this job worthwhile.  Now that over 80% of the volunteers (and pretty much everyone I talked deeply with) are gone, I wanted to share some reflections and see where that takes me/us.

I don’t usually get all spiritual/religious on here, but that’s where a lot of my conversations led me, and it was amazing.  In reference to my most recent post, I think that, for me, the foundation of my spiritual beliefs is the unquestionable truth of unconditional love.  For me, when some law or rule inherently affects the ability of one to love, then there is something wrong with the rule.  Building from the ground up, I start with love, and if that ever is taken away, then the rest no longer matters.

I guess the other thing that got me about my amazing conversations was being challenged daily to recognize and confirm to myself how much I still am wresting with in my spiritual identity.  I had to think about the ways in which organized religion has stolen things from me but also why I feel having a common confession of some beliefs is important.  I’ve been challenged to think exactly how my heart is able to reconcile ideas of pluralism with a Messiah Christ.  And I’ve had to ponder how I am called to live out all that is spiritually true for me.  It is no small task.

I also, quickly, wanted to share two moments that brought me to tears this morning.  It might have been the built up lack of sleep from a long week, but when I started singing “I’m trading my sorrows… for the joy of the Lord” in the midst of a congregation, I just lost it.  It was for me a confirmation of my soul’s knowledge of the truth of Christ, which then becomes a challenge for me to reconcile other pieces of my soul’s knowledge of truth with that idea.

The second moment wasn’t a break down but more of a tear of joy in my heart.  There were two little boys in church, and one had borrowed a stuffed rabbit earlier in the service from the other.  When the first boy returned the rabbit, the second acknowledged it in a non-verbal “thanks,” but then it my heart soared when he ran after him and gave him the most precious and heartfelt hug I have perhaps ever witnessed.  Why can’t we all love like that any more?

(Church this morning, also in light of my conversations, also made me think of the truth for me of the creed I was reciting, and how interesting that Ben wrote something about creeds so recently?  I’m happy for this journey.)

ELCA “acts” on gay pastors (or: the title sells the story)

Saturday 11 August 2007

(Looking for information on the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and information regarding pastors in same-gender, life-long, monogamous relationships?  Click here for that blog.)

After following the ELCA Churhwide Assembly this past week, I saw the title of a Yahoo! News article (written by Reuters and now circulated everywhere), “Lutherans to allow pastors in gay relationships,” and thought to myself, “That’s not quite what happened.” While it was passed by the assembly, via this motion (by the bishop of my “current,” technically, synod), that bishops should show restraint in disciplining pastors in “faithful committed same-gender relationships,” it did not, in fact, change any policy or policies of the ELCA. In fact, motions to actively seek a change in policy were defeated, largely, from what I can tell, due to a desire to wait until a social statement on sexuality is developed for the 2009 assembly (to be held in Minneapolis). Additionally, after about 40% of the voting members had already left, it was passed a motion for ELCA bishops to discuss their own accountability to “the adopted policies, practices, and procedures of the ELCA,” seeming in a response to the first motion which, in simple language, told bishops it’s OK if you decide to break the rules (or let others do so).

So what? The assembly seemed to say that we (the entire 4.8 million members of the ELCA, as represented by the assembly) aren’t ready to make formalized changes of policies and procedures, but if certain areas (via their bishops) don’t want to abide by the rules established, then we’ll accept that. As Phil Souchy of Lutherans Concerned said, it’s basically a call by the assembly saying, “Do not do punishments.” Now while this doesn’t technically change anything, it’s an obvious step in a new direction and a likely indicator of where the ELCA is headed. There is technically no “official” change, but the Yahoo! News article’s title would have you think there had been. It’s truly the title which sells you on the article, and if you only read the title (and maybe even if you read the article, too), it’s easy to get the wrong picture about what transpired @ Navy Pier in Chicago. (A Chicago Sun-Times online article, “Gay clergy OK’d by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” has a similar title shock value effect.)

Are you still asking “What does this all mean?” Some might say this is a procedural ploy to allow gays in committed relationships to continue on in their positions without actually changing the rules, and I surely wouldn’t disagree with them. The current policy continues to officially require pastors (and I believe other rostered leaders, though don’t quote me on that) in same-sex relationships to be removed from the rostered rolls (which has happened 3 times thus far) and does not allow seminary students in such relationships to be ordained into such roles either. In a way, the motion passed by the assembly is a way to help bishops feel more comfortable supporting and not reprimanding gay or lesbian pastors currently serving churches who are in committed relationships . It still allows bishops to call for disciplinary hearings, but it, in reality, puts the onus on the bishop to make the decision whether to allow the pastor to continue on in their position or not, a state which was really already true but not openly supported by the ELCA as is now the case.

While I support the ordination and rostering of people in same-sex relationships, it will take me some time to decide if I agree with the motion the assembly passed. If I had been a voting member, I’m not sure if I would have voted for or against the motion. It definitely puts control of the situation in a more regional context, which I think may be the best answer, but was this the right step to take at the current time? I don’t know. In any case, it was an interesting day for the ELCA, and it will likely be a very interesting road ahead as pastors, church leaders, and congregations in and outside the ELCA react to these events.

Your thoughts?

(I could throw in ways in which I see these actions as paralleling, in some ways, the occurrences that led to Seminex, but I’ll leave those thought for another day.)

on the bus

Thursday 9 August 2007

Tuesday night, on my way through Chicago, I had the “pleasure” of riding a bus on my way to my final destination.  The long wait for the bus to arrive and events of the subsequent ride reaffirmed my belief that it is (almost) always better to take a train for as much of the journey as possible (at least in Chicago).  Here are some reasons why, with a few anecdotes from the Tuesday night trip.

The main reason, which is kind of two in one, is that trains don’t have to fight traffic and thus (usually) have a more reliable schedule.  If there is some issue with a traffic jam or road closure, the bus has to deal with it, but a train has no issue with cars or other traffic.  Because of this, the train can keep on its schedule without any care of problems from other vehicles.

A train has specific stops that it always makes, so you can confidently estimate how long a certain trip will make.  Because a bus determines where to stop to pick people up and them off based on riders (unless you’re on an express route, which would act more like a train in this way), one can never know how time will be added to a trip.  There are certain times when it will be busy, to be sure, but one can never really know, especially if it is a route or time you are unfamiliar with riding.

A train won’t be slowed down by people boarding or paying slowly or riders looking for money to pay with.  This was perhaps the most eventful aspect of my evening bus ride.  As I boarded, there was a woman who had gotten on a few blocks prior but didn’t have enough money for the ride.  The driver had taken her a few blocks but wouldn’t go any further until she paid her fair.  So she started asking people for change to get her needed $2.  This was quite the fiasco, and probably added at least 5 minutes to our trip.  Even after one woman had paid for her fare using some money on a fare card the driver was “confused” (I’ll give him credit for not realizing his mistake instead of just being a total ass) as to what had happened, thinking it had been her unlimited pass, causing the delay to go on even longer before the woman finally got her money.

My experiences with buses in Milwaukee, however, have been a bit better.  The buses tend to be on time and on schedule, but I think that has to do with the fact that, since MKE only has buses, they better work correctly, otherwise people would get quite upset.  Maybe I haven’t ridden on routes or in places where there are issues (I did have an issue on 3 July after watching fireworks, but I suppose that can be expected), but, for whatever reason (maybe less traffic, fewer riders, or just having a better sense of traffic and rider patters), MKE’s buses seem to have their act together.  Soon it will be on to DC to deal with the Metro.  We’ll see what I think of their transit system!

mowana kicks ass

Sunday 5 August 2007

As you know, I just spent a week volunteering at Camp Mowana, and it didn’t disappoint.  I was actually there almost exactly 7 days, arriving and leaving on Saturday afternoons, having the opportunity to meet and hang out with the staff during their time off in addition to the volunteering during the week.

What’s so great about camp?  Working with the kids is great.  No matter how much of a challenge a camper might be, there’s still a reward to be had from seeing them grow in some way, big or small, during their week at camp.  As a counselor, I saw campers mature in their understanding of others, teamwork abilities, love through differences, and many other great ways.  As the Discovery (Bible study) leader, I participated in the students’ faith growth in a different way that I did as a counselor. The two are very different from one another, but both are greatly rewarding in their own right.

The other part of that is the staff.  When I go to Mowana, I can count on meeting fun, amazing, loving people who will leave a mark on my life.  Even with only a short time to meet new people this visit, I found that same environment of love and acceptance that I’ve come to expect from Mowana staff.  The Mowana community is perhaps what pulled me back for 4+ summers on staff and continues to make me want to work there as many more summers as I can.

Mowana isn’t something one can adequately write about in a blog, though; I think only current and former staff, and campers, though in a different way, can really know what it means to be a part of that Mowana community.  I’m so grateful for my many weeks on staff and that I had the chance to return again this summer, and I look forward to many more fulfilling weeks to come in the future.