I am a bubbly extrovert who struggles with an enormous amount of anxiety when meeting new people.
Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?
This weekend, I ventured down to Chicago to meet a group of women I’ve been in relationship with via Internet for more than a year. Let’s just break that down for a minute:
- a group of women
- a group of women I’m meeting for the first time… alone
- a group of women who have a preconceived notion of who I am based on good pictures and thought-out witty comments I post online.
My generation is a practical generation, and I am challenged by my faith to be a practical person. Don’t get me wrong: I love all verbal and theological things: story, theology, politics, and history, perhaps even inordinately.
But I believe in places. I believe that relationships, rooted in love, transform us. And it just so happens that most lasting human relationships are formed around the table....
The table is a place where we bypass rank and privilege and create a zone where you take what you need and bring what you are able. It is a commons where we are defined in new, equal relationships with one another, ensuring that all have enough and sharing. Believers in Acts took the idea of the common table even further and held all possessions in common, caring for the widows and dispossessed from the surplus, bypassing the inequality created by the currency stamped with the deified Caesar.
This week I got an email from my friend Pastor Jodi Houge of The Humble Walk church in St Paul. Amy Hanson had emailed her asking if, when she’s at Luther, Amy could do her field ed placement at Humble Walk. So afterward when Jodi emailed me she said Oh my gosh thanks for sending Amy our way, I love her already. Jodi loves Amy Hanson already but not because of Amy Hanson’s winning personality, position or portfolio. Jodi Houge does not love Amy Hanson because Jodi’s so nice and has a big heart. Pastor Jodi loves Amy Hanson already based solely on the fact that Amy Hanson is loved by us. Based on the fact that Amy Hanson is our friend she will have an honored place at Humble Walk church in St Paul Minnesota.
In our Gospel text from today Jesus says to abide in his love, to love one another and then he calls his disciples friends. But the Bible tells us that he had other friends too. Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany were Jesus’ friends. He like, totally hung out their house all the time – they stocked his favorite beer in the fridge. And when Lazarus died, Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend and wept. These were Jesus friends. And since at our Big Fat Church Meeting after liturgy today we are going to talk about things like sacred hospitality, I started to wonder what kind of hospitality 3 strangers who came to our church might receive if we found out that those 3 strangers were actually Mary Martha and Lazarus. If we knew that the people entering the doors of this, our little House for all Sinners and Saints, were actually Jesus’ friends, that they were those whom Jesus loved then despite what we thought of their personalities, despite how we felt about them or their status in society or their politics, despite any of this they would automatically have an honored place, right?
We would, as Jodi does Amy, already love them not based on how we felt about them, but we would love them with the love Jesus speaks of in our gospel text for today… which in Greek is called agape love.
How do you step out and take a risk — as a pastor, as an artist, as a parent, as a person — when the job description of a pioneer or a vanguard comes with the assurance of persecution?
“Surrender the outcomes,” Rob Bell told the audience at his intimate gathering, Two Days with Rob Bell, in Southern California on Tuesday.
“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free.
In other words, it’s not about you.
If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.
“Oh, a dolphin.”
The speaker, dressed in khaki jeans, a blue t-shirt and flip-flops, interrupts his train of thought about spiral dynamics and the church when some movement in the ocean a few hundred yards away on the other side of the beach house’s open briefly catches his attention.
The audience of 50 — mostly 30- and 40-something-year-old pastors, the vast majority of them men, but with at least a few young clergywomen too (a refreshing change from most evangelical gatherings of this kind) — laughs heartily and more than a few attendees crane their necks to try to catch a glimpse of a dorsal fin in the distance.
The sounds of the Pacific crashing on the shore mix with a reggae tune playing on the outdoor stereo of the bar next door as the speaker, a 41-year-old former pastor and bestselling author, resumes his riff on categories of consciousness and the spiritual practice of meeting people exactly where they are.
Rob Bell isn’t in Kansas … I mean Michigan … any more.
I wrote a story a while back about a family in our church back in Pueblo whose baby was due just after we left town. Early in the pregnancy, doctors diagnosed little Avery with HLHS, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. There was a good chance he’d need surgery in utero or immediately after being born, and there was a formidable chance that he wouldn’t survive the procedure. There was also, of course, a higher than normal risk to Lyndsay, the mother, too.
It was hopeful watching the church family rally around the Vigils, praying for them, bringing them meals, visiting and doing what they could to offer support in what I’m sure felt like a time of emotional free-fall. It was also weird to know that, when Avery actually came, we wouldn’t be there.
Avery's first day as an oxygen-breathing member of the human race.
That day was today.
I can’t lift my arms.
They scream in muscle soreness after 3 weeks of CrossFit workouts. At the age 43 I’ve found myself in poor physical condition; my career having taken over my usually fit body. But a block behind our house in a slightly ghetto strip of businesses along a sidewalk dotted with empty gin bottles and crushed packs of generic cigarettes is a little white building with red trim. Inside this vintage garage which 2 years ago was where most of the neighborhood dope slinging happened, is now a CrossFit gym.
When walking my dog I’d pass by the crazy people lifting weights and stepping up and down on giant tractor tires and pulling themselves up over steel bars and I thought I surely was not in good enough shape to show up.
But three weeks ago I did just that. I hauled my out of shape middle-aged ass over to the gym and have worked out four days a week for the last three weeks.
Now I can’t lift my arms.
I was talking to my husband about why I am loving CrossFit and it made me realize that it is for some of the reasons I love church.
What is Ubuntu? The principle of Ubuntu was birthed in Africa and there is no direct translation of the word into English. Archbishop Desmond Tutu summarizes it well:
“You know when it is there, and it is obvious when it is absent. It has to do with what it means to be truly human, it refers to gentleness, to compassion, to hospitality, to openness to others, to vulnerability, to be available for others and to know that you are bound up with them in the bundle of life, for a person is only a person through other persons.”
The observations of my life thus far have led me to conclude that it is popular to argue for the advancement of the individual.
The teachings of the church are seen as devalued. This doesn’t have so much to do with the inherent importance or validity of what is being said, but rather it’s a reflection of the value of information overall. It’s really a matter of supply and demand. Abraham Lincoln probably wouldn’t have walked so far to get a book from the only area library, after all, if he had Wikipedia and Google Books at his fingertips. Most anything being said, taught or preached about in a church on Sunday can be found somewhere else, wherever and whenever we want it. Why wait?
The institutions have outlasted their original purpose. Most of our churches were built when populations were static. People didn’t divorce, change jobs and move around like they do now. This mobility, combined with the diversification of networking opportunities, online and through other means, puts bricks-and-mortar institutions in an awkward spot of hoping people find them where they are. And much of the outreach efforts of church is still an attempt to get people “in the doors.” But the fact is that most young adults don’t particularly care.
I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.
With all of the scientific facts and astronomical data we are blessed with today, I can expect to wake up tomorrow and see rays of light shining through my window.
There is also no debating time. Our clocks, both digital and internal, continue to tick onward no matter the circumstances. These are inexorable certainties in life. However, these proven facts of our existence are limited. They are not the whole story.
There are things in life we neither can physically see nor explain, and yet we choose to believe anyway.
When our little siblings place their fallen teeth underneath their pillows, hoping to see a winged fairy deliver gifts in return, they are relying entirely on an unproven belief. When students choose universities to attend, they do not know what the outcomes of their decisions will be, nor can they predetermine their futures after school. But they continue to grow and experiment with life anyway.
Even the wisest of theologians and clergy have very few answers to the questions pertaining to God’s existence that enter our minds on a daily basis. All of these situations represent something many of us hold onto so dearly: Faith.
Most every Sunday Ruth or Lily Janousek hands me a drawing on the way out the door. I have quite a collection.
Lily and Ruth are budding theologians. They may not know that about themselves, but that’s what they are: budding theologians — they do theology. They do their best to speak of God.
They draw pictures of God and us. Like the one from last Sunday — a drawing of a bouquet with the words:
“God doesn’t love us as a flower but as a bouquet.”
I've been speaking at many small colleges that have historical ties to the oldest mainline denominations in the U.S. I have been noticing something interesting: a terrific hunger for a deeper spirituality on the part of many young people who come from evangelical backgrounds like mine and also like me are looking for something outside of the right wing conservatism they come from.
I've also noticed that while some people in the so-called emergent evangelical movement are reaching out to these young people the leaders of the mainline denominations both locally and nationally often seem blind to a huge new opportunity for growth and renewal staring them in the face. That new opportunity is the scores of younger former evangelicals diving headlong out of the right wing evangelical churches.
When Marilyn and Larry Johnson sold their computer business in suburban Detroit about a decade ago, they figured they'd settle into the next phase of their lives with ease. Retirement meant more freedom, fewer pressures and ample time on the golf course. But a life of leisure turned out to feel terribly hollow for the Christian couple.
"I remember coming in from a golf game and Larry asking me how my game was, and I just started crying," Marilyn told Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom recently. "I said, 'My life has no purpose.' "
So the Johnsons began volunteering at shelters, treatment programs and soup kitchens. On Thanksgiving eight years ago, they wound up serving turkey dinner to the homeless. It was a turning point. An epiphany.
From time to time I revisit the question: Why are young adults walking away from religion?
Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases. (In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.)
Consciously or not, when we recognize the need to step away from social media, it is because we are questioning who is in control.
If our default is to ask life’s big questions on Twitter before we offer them in prayer, then someone other than God is in control. If we "Like" what someone is doing of Facebook before we recognize everything God is doing in our lives, maybe we need a social media time-out.
Lent is the right time to realign ourselves with the fact that God should be in control in our lives.
"Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs avoid one thing: success."
- Thomas Merton
As my extended family gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table before the market crash in 2008, conversation with cousins flowed about friends making big money with technology start-ups: "more, more; faster, faster; bigger, bigger."
A hail of laughter greeted me when I quietly muttered that my ambition was, "poorer, poorer; slower, slower; smaller, smaller."
When Sojourners started in 1970, I was 23 years old. Seven young seminary students pooled $100 each and used an old typesetter that we rented for $25 a night above a noisy bar to print 20,000 copies of the first Post-American.
We took the bundles in our trucks and cars to student unions in college campuses across the country, and began collecting subscriptions in a shoebox kept in one of our rooms.
For more than a decade we lived with a common economic pot and allowed ourselves $5 a month for personal spending. The highest-paid staff person was a young woman from a neighborhood family who wanted an evening cleaning job.
Usually when I hear people talk about finding the good in the midst of a difficult situation, my cynical radar goes up. I picture the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian and the two thieves are being crucified while whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”
I reminds me a girl named Cathy that I knew in high school who already lived on her own before she had even graduated. At school she was the perpetual ray of sunshine, always offering warm smiles and hugs, but hardly concealing a deeper undercurrent of sadness that you could nearly taste.
But once in a while, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of grace in the middle of the worst humanity has to offer. And it’s in those moments that I tend to recognize God in our midst.