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World Cup, Patriotism, and the Language of Faith

By Rev. Mindi

I’m sure I’m not the only pastor uneasy about the Sunday closest to July 4th. Our Christian faith gets convoluted with civil religion and the separation of church and state goes out the window—even in most American Baptist churches I know, where we spout the words of Roger Williams in our Baptist history classes but place the flag prominently on the left hand side of the chancel. Every church I have served has had the American flag in the sanctuary. On the other hand, every church I have visited in a country other than the U.S. has not had their country’s flag in the sanctuary.

It’s a tricky thing to maneuver as a pastor. Do we sing patriotic hymns or not? If we say God Bless America, do we also say God Bless Afghanistan, Algeria, and Australia? Ideally, I would do none of it, and try hard to remember that we pray for Christ’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  I would rather that we remember that all people are God’s children, no matter our citizenship or documentation in worldly nations. I would not have the flag in the sanctuary if it was up to me—but it is not.

At the same time, I am writing this right after the USA vs. Belgium World Cup game, in which the USA games have been watched more than any other sporting event in recent memory in the United States. People from all religious backgrounds, all ethnicities, all political views, have been rooting together, and more interestingly, getting caught up in the entire World Cup fever. The World Cup has been a place where national pride, the language of faith (“I Believe That We Will Win”) and the energy of millions has been funneled together. And while the United States did not advance, the game was well-played and there is a sense of being part of a global community, even if it is limited through this sporting event and its fans (temporary or loyal to soccer/futbol).

Patriotism in and of itself is not a bad thing at all, but when we convolute our love of God and our love of country together, we end up with flags draped on the cross, and forget that our God is the God who created all of us, and we forget that the United States has more than just Christians as citizens and participants. We shove God and the United States into the same box.

While many pastors I know will not even mention Independence Day on Sunday, for those of us who cannot get away from some sort of patriotic display, let us open the boxes completely. Let us pray for God to bless America, along with Afghanistan through Zimbabwe. May we show the same sense of pride of being citizens of the reign of God. And may we learn a lesson from the World Cup—our language of faith—“I Believe that We”—can also be adapted to suggest faith and trust in other human beings, and that we are stronger together. 

Never Let the Guy with the Broom Decide How Many Elephants Can Be in the Parade

By Derek Penwell
 

“Who authorized that decision? Nobody knows what’s going on around here anymore.”

How many times have you heard that one?

What’s the quick response when that complaint makes its way into the life of a congregation?

“Well, it has been a while since we talked about the organizational structure. Maybe we should look at the constitution and by-laws again, make sure we’re doing it right.”

It occurs to me that what’s at the heart of grousing about congregational organization is fear over who gets to say “yes.”

“Who authorized that decision?” is usually an expression of fear about where power is located. So, congregations spend much of their time in organizational thinking concentrating on this issue—who gets to say “yes.”

By-laws, organizational charts, endless meetings all exist—at least in part—to rehearse the relationship between an idea and its authorization.

“I’ve been in recovery for 3 years now, and I’d like to start an AA meeting in the adult Sunday School classroom on Tuesday nights. Who do I have to talk to get permission to do that?”

“Well, you’ll need to check with the secretary to see if the room’s available. You’ll probably have to get board approval for that. Is there going to be smoking on the grounds?”

“I’d like to offer a middle-school class. What’s my next step?”

“You need to talk to Angie, she’s the Education chairperson. She’ll bring it to the committee. Then, they can pass a recommendation to the board, which will vote on it.”

“We’ve got a group that wants to use the church fellowship hall for a drag show. Is that all right?”

“You’re going to have to bring that one straight to the board.”

We have amazingly complex systems of authorization in place. Layers of bureaucracy that ensure no one gets away with anything.

Believe me, I understand. You can’t have just anyone doing who-knows-what in the name of the church. Eventually, that will come back to bite you.

But for all the time churches spend figuring out who gets to say “yes,” it’s amazing to note that they’ll let just about anybody say “no.”

“Now, see, I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.”

Is it really? How many truly interesting ideas have been shot down in church because one person pulled the trigger?

“That sounds like a great idea, but I’m afraid that if we let those people use the building, something’s going to get broken.”

 

“Of course we love young people, but I don’t think that kind of thing is appropriate for Christians.”

 

“I think you’ll find that nobody will mind … except, Norman. Yeah, he won’t go for it.”

Brooms, Elephants, and Blocking

Merlin Mann has famously said: “Never let the guy with the broom decide how many elephants can be in the parade.”

What does that mean?

It means, according to Mann, that to the guy with the broom, an elephant isn’t an elephant, it’s a source of inconvenience. If you ask that guy, he’ll say there shouldn’t be any elephants, and you should spend your time and money hiring more broom guys.

Why?

Because elephants, no matter how wonderful they might make the parade, threaten to make that guy’s life miserable.

“What is the purpose of a parade?”

To entertain people.

“Do elephants entertain people?”

Yes.

“Then let’s have more elephants.”

No.

The guy with the broom answers the question about elephants by saying that elephants upset the balance. As if the purpose of a parade was not to entertain people, but to make one guy’s struggle with life a bit more manageable.

Of course, people say “no” for reasons other than just that a proposed action produces more headaches. There are any number reasons people give for blocking:

  • We don’t have the money to do x.
  • We’ve tried x before, and it didn’t work.
  • We’ve never done x before, and we shouldn’t start doing it now.
  • “People” will get upset if we move forward with x.
  • “People” might leave if we follow through with x.
  • My aunt Gladys would roll over in her grave if she knew we were doing x.
  • X is just not something a place like this should be involved in.

Or, there’s the all-purpose blocking tactic:

  • I’m not comfortable with us doing x.

Any idea, no matter how good, reasonable, or promising that runs up against one of these phrases in a meeting is almost surely doomed in most churches. In unhealthy systems, blocking tactics are virtually fool-proof.

And the beauty of it is almost anyone can successfully execute them!

  • People who haven’t been to church since the Nixon administration
  • People who’ve never given an hour or a dime
  • People who’re resentful about the prospect of having to give another hour or another dime
  • Even proxies for people dead, absent, or non-existent (i.e., “People are saying …”)
  • (I’ve even heard of denominations that are set up to allow people to be bused in for the express purpose of keeping change at bay.)

Bonus: The louder and more obnoxious you can be the better chance you’ll have at succeeding!

The Problem

Don’t misunderstand. Sometimes blocking is necessary. Prophets are often blockers—loud obnoxious people who are famous for standing up and saying “No!” We need people with the courage to stand in the middle of the road and refuse to get out of the way of the oncoming tank convoys.

The question I’m raising is not whether blocking should occur sometimes, but whether or not a congregation or a denomination should be prevented from ever even attempting great and interesting things because of the threat (real or imagined) of the broom pushers, who if asked, will invariably say “no.”

Or what about this: Everybody in charge knows it’s the right thing to do, but nobody wants to clean up the inevitable mess.

Organizations devote so much time and energy to set up systems that are explicit about who gets to say “yes.”

What’s a quorum? How high up the organizational chart does it need to go to get authorization? How many votes are necessary? Who said you could do that?

I think organizations would benefit from spending a quarter of the time dealing explicitly with the question of who gets to say “no.”

What kind of investment is necessary on the part of a person who seeks to torpedo an idea? Does the person have to demonstrate any expertise in the area before being able to stymy the group, or is just “feeling” like it’s the wrong thing to do enough? Can one person carry the water for another person, a group of persons, a whole demographic?

Saying “no” is just as much an exercise of power as saying “yes.” We write all kinds of rules about the latter, without ever explicitly taking up the issue of the former.

The problem isn’t just that good ideas are always in danger of being shot down. In an unhealthy system good ideas often don’t see the light of day because everybody knows up front that bringing them up is a waste of time. I would wager that serial blockers have killed ten times more ideas in people’s heads than they’ve killed on the floor of meetings—just because everybody is convinced that bringing up an idea would be a waste of time, or because it would cause World War III.

The reality of the situation is that you’ll never do great things, exciting things, things that change the world if every idea is stillborn for fear that somebody will object.

Spend some time considering to whom you give the power of veto.

Make sure you know why the guy with broom doesn’t like elephants in the parade.

Or don’t do great things. The choice is ultimately up to you.

Here’s an idea for a cheap bracelet: WWJASN

Who would Jesus allow to say no?

(From the archive.)

Why Holding on too Tightly Is a Bad Idea

By Derek Penwell

In the Deer Park Discourses the Buddha famously observed that “life is suffering”–the first noble truth–which, when first heard by students in my world religion classes, strikes them as unnecessarily morose.

“Yeah, life sucks and all that … but it’s not all bad.”

At that point, I explain to them that the word used by the Buddha (dukkha), which often gets translated from the Pali as “suffering,” doesn’t just mean something like “unremitting agony.” It can mean that, of course; but it means much more.

Dukkha is better understood as a wheel in which the axle is off center, making the wheel wobble constantly as it turns. Dukkha is like a pebble in the shoe, which can cause great pain, but is more often experienced as a phenomenon that exists just beyond the horizon of awareness, always seeming to lurk at the edges of consciousness. It is, in short, the nagging sense that something is not right.

Suffering … not in the epic sense of the grand heroic struggle, but in the dislocative sense that life is not as it should be.

Why is life dukkha? According to the Buddha, the second noble truth is that life is dukkha is because we desire.

“Of course, we desire. Why is that bad?”

Again, I stop and explain that the word the Buddha used (tanha) is probably better translated “selfishly grasp.”

We suffer because we grasp after things intended only to satisfy ourselves. We want things because we want them, and when we don’t get them, we experience suffering.

Our selfish grasping causes us to treat things as permanent, which things are only transitory (anicca).

I believe that this time love will last forever, that my new _________ (fill in the blank) won’t break, rust, expire, wear out, etc., that the body that has served me so well in the past will persist through time. When that which we grasp for inevitably stops working, leaves, runs dry we suffer.

Moreover, as the Buddha observed, we’re extremely proficient at lying to ourselves about the nature of our existence (anatta). We tell ourselves that the world we inhabit is the real world, and not just the world we perceive, that truth is an easy thing to possess for ourselves, and not for our enemies, that we are finally who we believe ourselves to be. When we find out the extent to which we cling to illusions, we suffer.

By now, my students are itching to argue with the Buddha. That’s when I break out the third noble truth.

The third noble truth consists in seeing the first two noble truths together as inextricably bound up with one another, then seeking to untangle them. The Buddha said that “If you want not to suffer, you must not selfishly grasp.”

“That’s fine for the Buddha; he gave everything away. He didn’t have anything left to hold onto.”

Exactly!

Jesus said something very much like this about 500 years later: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:35–36).

So, here’s the thing. Churches are not unlike individuals in their mad scramble to hold onto something, to grasp after that which is impermanent.

Have you ever been to a church where desperation hangs in the air–the feeling that “we’ve got to do something, or we’re going to die?”

Have you ever been to a church where every meeting is punctuated by hand-wringing over money? The lack of young families? Declining worship attendance?

Have you ever been to a church where failure is not viewed as a learning experience, but as one more step down the inevitable path toward extinction?

Dukkha. Tanha. According to the Jesus and the Buddha, they’re causally related. The more you have of one, the more you can be sure you have of the other.

If you want not to suffer, you must relinquish your grasping. That is to say, you must disentangle yourself from that which causes your suffering. You must detach from those things, ideas, expectations to which you cling so desperately. Turn loose.

“Again, easy for you to say.”

But it’s not easy for me to say, and even harder for me to do. I didn’t say it was easy, only necessary. Jesus says the cost of the whole process is a cross, which is to say, death (Mk 8:34).

So, maybe the way to think about it looks something like this:

Have you ever been to a church that spends more time struggling over what to give away than what to keep–that is, expends more energy on the Outreach committee than on the Property committee?

Have you ever been to a church that sees its small youth group not as a disappointment, but as an opportunity to offer more focused ministry?

Have you ever been to a church that views its building as a present to the world and not as a bequest to its members?

Have you ever been to a church where worship is centered on the gift that is offered to God rather than on what individual participants “get out of it?”

Have you ever been to a church where truth is a friend and illusion is the thing to be avoided at all cost?

Have you ever been to a church in which justice is not just the securing of individual rights, but the pursuit of a vision of the reign of God in which there is no justice until it gets extended to everyone?

Letting go means relinquishing everything, perhaps even the life to which we cling so desperately.

Take heart, though, if you follow Jesus, you already have a pretty good idea what giving it all away looks like.

Let It Die

By Dennis Teall-Fleming

There are many many much better posts out here on Dmergent on the hopes & dreams & futures we all imagine for Christian community. I thought it was time to contribute my meager Pensees: There isn't much that disturbs me about the church emerging into the future. I'm not an optimistic person, just someone who's excited about the future, as scary and uncertain as it might be. I do see some significant elements that will disturb many, but are inevitably definitive for the future. It is the most prevalent element that may be the most disturbing- the amount of death of traditional church structures and community that will occur over the years. While others may fear this, I for one welcome it.

My first vision of this as a newly-minted Disciple took place at the CCDOC General Assembly last July. Most discussions, in both the formal sessions and informal gatherings, had much to do with existing ecclesial structures within existing communities (buildings, salaries, budgets, and memberships) and institutions (Regions, national departments, offices and boards), and also with maintaining a status quo for these things that just don't matter anymore and that won't survive. Two-thirds of these structured Disciples faith communities are in official decline, and will most likely close any doors they might still have over the next few decades. Any resources they might have will dissolve into an insular abyss, that will only benefit a few "members" and career "ministers". The larger institutions will also decline, close, and realign, because there will be insufficient funding for and a diminished interest in supporting them. Lots of death here, that I welcome, because all this stuff has nothing to do with what the church is, and what it will be, in the future.

This was an underlying and subversive conversation that also took place last July, welcoming such death, especially among people connected to new church plants, and communities full of and focused on younger people (40 and younger). Previous generations of Christians have benefitted greatly from all this institutional and financial largesse. Good for them. What they have failed to do is to create structures that will last, and that will be beneficial, sustainable, or meaningful to these future generations. Younger and future generations are not interested in financially supporting such crumbling buildings and bloated pension plans, because this largesse has nothing to do with their faith journeys. So they won't support them. It's very clear that they aren't, and so all these unnecessary things to their faith journeys will die. "Maybe that's what we'll need" was a big theme in these other discussions, "to just Let It Die."

I think that this may be the best thing that can happen to the church right now, all this death. If we claim to be Christian, then we must welcome Death when it inevitably arrives. We know from experience that such Death will lead to New Life (well, at least we are supposed to know this...l). After such Death come the New Things of God, that are wonderful to behold! Can you not see them where you stand? I can, but that's mainly because I'm not standing anywhere near nor within any of those places most people identify as churches. I stand within Open Hearts Gathering, a new Disciples community in Gastonia, NC, a church with no building, membership, weekly Sunday meetings, or salaries. A church that's not made up even of just Christians! I stand near the Barnes & Noble Cafe counter, where I make some of my meager wages, where thousands of people gather each week, with the people that matter most to them, as little churches dotted across the room. I stand with people of different faiths, different sexualities, different ideas of what Christianity and communities of faith are, should be, and can be about. Nowhere near a traditional church building, let alone the communities that gather within them. And this, too, is the church, the church that will survive within these New Things God creates after so much Death. Let It Die, because will be exciting to see What's Next.

A recent article in The Christian Century alludes to my own observations. Adam Copeland, in his article "No Need For Church", describes what he's discovered in his work with young adults. Most young adults will just not get involved in traditional church structures anymore, no matter how much these traditional structures try to adapt and attract them. He states that what needs to be created "is not church in the traditional sense of the word, but a ministry of the church. Just as many congregations support demographic-based ministries like campus ministry, homeless ministry and addiction ministry, so we now need to support ministry to emerging adults."

I think we need to go even further than this, and recognize that church in the traditional sense will die, because it doesn't any meaning for today's young people. It's not that young people and future generations are not Christian. Neither is this a great grand rejection of Christian community. It is that the church that Adam thinks needs to go to them is already there. There is actually no need for the church of previous generations, but certainly a need for the church of the next century, which has literally "left the building", and taken root elsewhere. The traditional church buildings and structures are now great places to visit, but young people and future generations don't want to will not live there. They don't need to be a meager ministry within the shell of the old community. Church exists somewhere else for them, and their faith communities may not extend much beyond the dining room table, or local park, school, mall or cafe. So there's just no reason for them to extend into a building with which they have no relationship in their daily lives. The traditional church that does not recognize this, honor it, and deliberately leave their own building, too, in order to be a part of it, well, that's the Death I welcome. Let It Die.

Another recent article in The Lutheran reflects this new reality as well. "Insiders and Outsiders: To Embrace Relevance, Mainline Churches Need to Let Go of Survival", by Bishop Mike Rinehart of the ELCA Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod is worth quoting at length:

"Here's my hunch. Everything for me rises or falls on this bet. I'm putting all my eggs in this basket: The turnaround of mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival..... Why is this happening? Church structures were set up to preserve what exists, not change it. These stable structures work well when society is changing slowly, imperceptibly. If something is working, protect it at all costs. But what if it's not working? What if the rate of societal change skyrockets and old patterns and structures no longer work?.... What do we do about it? Change. Adapt. The church has adapted, survived and even thrived in times of tectonic change in the past. It can again.... So here's the plan. New policy. Every decision made by staff, council and committees is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn or song choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind. When we become a church for the world, the outsider, when the pain of staying the same (and dying of irrelevance) for those already here exceeds the pain of changing (and sacrificing old ways) for those not yet here, we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life."

It's worth observing initially how many comments this article generated when it was first published in the Synod's "Connections" newsletter, as this attests to its importance. I'll simply add two conclusions from my own experiences, and from what I'm struggling to articulate here: -The traditional church and older Christian generations do have to turn their collective asses around the other way, not to attract younger people to their enterprise, or in the hope of some kind of continued survival. The church needs to do this simply because that's where the church of younger and future generations already is. The church of all generations can celebrate this future together. But there will a drastic and significant break between the two. -The traditional church and older Christian generations will not make this turn in any significant way, because, for them, the pain of real change will never exceed the pain of staying the same and dying of irrelevance. From my own 20 years of formal churchwork, I can conclude that older generations care more about maintaining an unsustainable status quo than making sure their or any other structures survive into the future. That will always be collectively more comfortable. There won't be any substantial "turnaround of mainline churches". Let It Die.

Yes, it is time for all our boards and committees and councils to refuse insularity, to see the younger church already in the midst of the world, and to see beyond the confines of one nice stately building, on one very quiet street corner. Not to create a new ministry for young adults, as Copeland proposes, but to realize that the incarnate God has left the building, and set up church somewhere else. Sadly, existing communities will remain too obstinate and fearful for Rinehart's challenges. Sadly, we'll have to just Let It Die. I look forward to it, because the church will be just fine without all those structures and institutions, that are not the church for most people anymore (and I don't believe really were in the first place).

Yes, I've deliberately worn a very Jeremiah-ish mask here, to tell a tale and paint a picture of a future I perceive. I'm pretty sure just as many people will agree with me as did with Jeremiah! This future will be very disturbing to many. Still, I don't want to leave the impression that we should just abandon all hope, or all that has come before us. We can't, because What's Left of that is just as much the church as What's Next. My major point is that the What's Left can no longer assume that What's Next will fit neatly into the same paradigms and categories, and somehow take over what previous generations constructed as the church. The future of ministry will be definitively different from this, and that is why I am full of hope. I encourage you to be as well. This future church, which is already here, is in a completely different place. If we continue to try to do things according to these current paradigms- focusing on ways to somehow increase membership; adding a more contemporary worship event, sermon series, or Sunday School curriculum; or even developing brand new ministries, attempting to attract young people or any other demographic- we will just be shuffling deckchairs. Do yourself, and your church, a favor, and Let It Die. The New Things to come are just around the corner. You just gotta get outta the building to find them.

Please use whatever metaphor works best- nesting, birthing, planting a new church. Use whatever images of New Life work best. There are so many in the Christian tradition to draw upon- the butterfly, the phoenix, the Empty Tomb!- and help to start a new community. Help what has come before to Let It Die, to let go of that which will not survive, and to also embrace and support the New Things yet to come. This is a big reason I've felt God called me into Ordained life in this communion, because we Disciples are very well equipped to do this. Our institutional structures and polity allow for so much potential innovation, for anyone, anywhere to, just, begin, being, community, right where there are, without too much paperwork, or too many hoops to jump through. This project can be embarked upon anywhere, though. Wherever you are, within whatever structures and institutions to which God calls you, if there is even the smallest group of people that can perceive and commit to these New Things of God, then just begin. Within whatever polity and hoops you may have to jump through, if any, then just start. I think you'll be joyfully surprised to see what happens next. Help to pursue God's New Things right where you are; meet, pray, celebrate, EAT! But be careful, because once you do this, there may not be a specific building that you're meeting in that people call a church. There may not be a salary or benefit plan for some specific career "minister" that is called and committed to being a part of what you do. Without all these nice comfy paradigms of yesterday, I can still guarantee that you will be in awe of what God will do.

Our jobs as church ministers cannot be to sit comfortably in a nice cushy office anymore, with nice secure benefits for only a few people, in some comfortable sanctuary with lots of things we just can't sustain anymore. Unless you are ministering, and helping to maintain the church of previous generations- which, again, I don't disparage, if this is what God has called you to do- then to cling to such things that won't to survive, that aren't meant to survive, that are not things God wants or needs to continue (especially because She's ready to begin something new!) is the worst kind of Atheism I can imagine. God is real, God exists. To keep the status quo going as if God doesn't exist, as if God won't be real and present and at the center of What's Next, indicates a nefarious unbelief in my mind. It's time to see the church of the present and Let It Die, and embrace the Hope and Joy of the New Things to come.

Announcing: The "Put Prayer Back In Homes" Campaign

By Lee Yates

I’m ready to announce my campaign.This is not a political campaign. I’m not running for any office.

This is the beginning of the “PUT PRAYER BACK IN HOMES” campaign.

Ready for the opening speech?

My fellow Judeo-Christian Americans, too long we have watched while others failed to teach our children to pray. Too long we have waited for someone to magically share our faith with the next generation. Too long have we watched political pundents and para-church organizations fail to make others teach our children what they should believe.

We have tried to hire youth ministers but it seems many leave after only 2-4 years with our children. We have tried to beg volunteers but they expected us to “help them” too many times. So what is left? What other option do we have?

Today I ask you to join me in accepting the inevitable truth. We have no other choice but to put prayer back in the home.

The PUT PRAYER BACK IN HOMES campaign is one of necessity.

We would all rather out-source our faith education to schools, nuns, volunteers and that really athletic kid that dresses well and made good grades the first year of college.

We would all rather not risk the questions kids might ask us about God and our personal faith life. Too many scary questions about heaven, hell, death or even… sex.

But it seems we have no choice.

We must put PRAYER BACK IN HOMES.

While the above is clearly tongue in cheek, the issue it addresses is very serious. For years we have seen campaigns and petitions about prayer in school. For years we have heard debates and people on TV yelling about the 10 commandments. People have begged to have them in school, government offices and subliminally implanted into the minds of the masses. It seems that we have done everything we can to avoid teaching these things ourselves. It seems that we would prefer to outsource the faith formation of our youth and children.

So, why haven’t churches done this for us? After all, they are the ones we look to for this type of stuff.

Well, most churches only get people for an hour each week, if they come to church each week. Most people don’t come for Bible study or Sunday School. Even the church that is doing everything perfect can’t be expected to do it alone.

Churches can also fall prey to the out-sourcing trend… We do it in local churches when we hire a youth minister but don’t have enough volunteers to support their work. It is as if everyone thought hiring the staff WAS our contribution and solution to youth ministry.

We see it in denominational bodies when we hire a “Racism” expert but don’t participate in any of their initiatives. It is as if by hiring them we feel we have done our fair share. Surely we proved we aren’t racist by hiring someone to talk about racism for us… right?

Back in the old days people walked up hill both directions going to and from school and while at home they talked about God and talked to God at home. There was a time when families read scripture together and sometimes even sang some hymns. In the earliest days of the church this is how they worshiped.

A friend of mine would joke about being “home churched” – a quick witted excuse for not going to worship on Sunday morning. But the idea has merit. The Lutherans have been including home based projects in their curriculum and methodology for years (check out www.vibrantfaithathome.org for some examples). Our Jewish brothers and sisters have understood that faith identity starts had home for thousands of years.

So, what ARE we teaching our children at home? Well, that depends on the home, but in general we are not doing enough.

We need to equip our families. We need to challenge our families. We need to empower our families.

The reformation (among other things) tried to empower people to relate directly to God without having to go through a priest or even the church. Today we seem to have handed responsibility for relating to God right back to the church and cloaked ourselves in a veil of ignorance. Often when people say, “the Bible says…” they really mean “My minster says that the Bible says…” Rare is the self-taught student of the Bible or the perfect attendance award in Sunday School. What we know about the scriptures is whittled down to sound-bites and self-serving selective quotes.

So, let me say this again without the sarcastic narrative: It is time to put prayer back in our homes! It is time to reestablish parents and grandparents the storytellers of the faith! It is time to prayer back in the home.

Dating Churches

The search and call process is a lot like dating. They call, you talk, you interview (date) and then you wait. Are they going to call back? Is it too soon for me to call and follow up? Do you talk to all your girl/boy/close-clergy-friends about the other party and worry while you wait? With our profile systems in place in many of our mainline churches, it is a lot like internet dating. You read a candidate’s profile or the candidate reads the churches profile.  You see if your interests and hobbies (or values and theology) match up.  You make a decision whether to take the next step and contact the other party.  And from there, it is like going on a blind date.  Sometimes you even get set up by a good friend (or retired minister who knows you and knows the congregation).  Both my husband and I have recently accepted calls to new ministries, and both of us had a few prior experiences in the call process in which it was a lot like dating, and some of them were bad dates.

Several years ago, we experienced a situation in which we had an interview together for a church, the feeling of the interview seemed positive and upbeat—and then we never heard from the church again. No follow-up emails, no calls, even after a month when I sent a follow-up email to ask about the search process.  We learned from the regional minister months later that the church had called someone else to be their pastor.

A few years back, I was contacted by a church and asked to reply via email if I was interested.  I did, and then waited a month and heard nothing. When I made a follow-up phone call, it was discovered my email had gone into the chair’s spam mailbox.  So they scrambled to set up an interview, but it seemed doomed from the start.  After having what I felt was a good initial interview, I was told I would hear in a few weeks.  Again, after a month, I decided it was time to follow up with an email which went unanswered.  So I followed up with an email from another account and once again, my previous email had gone into the spam mailbox.  I received a reply that they had mailed me a letter stating they were going with a different candidate (via the USPS) but I never received it, nor did I receive back the DVD’s of my sermons that I was told would be returned to me.

Lastly, in a church search I participated in earlier this year, I had once again a wonderful initial phone call and email conversation, a great interview, and was told I would hear back “very soon.”  I waited and waited. This was a search committee I really felt connected with.  I decided to send a follow-up email thanking them for the interview and looking forward to hearing their response.  Another two weeks passed, and I sent another email.  Then it was two months, and by that point, I knew they had probably moved on, but I sent one last email just to check, and received an email back that they had already called a new minister.

While I share strictly from my point of view, having been the potential candidate in this dating process, I know that sometimes candidates are not stellar partners, either.  I know of candidates who have strung one church along as a “plan B” while courting their dream church, leaving the church at the end of the process (as in, calling two days before the candidate was supposed to preach and be voted on to say they had decided to go another direction and were no longer interested).  I know of candidates who have been hard to contact.  It goes both ways.

But there are good matches out there.  If we are committed to the online dating/search-and-call process, we need to be better with our standards for communication.  Check your spam boxes. Check your grammar on your introductory emails. When you decide to make a rejection, please don’t send a canned response—take a minute or two to share prayers for the continued search process-at least try to make it personal rather than a form letter.  And most of all, when you are not sure about a candidate or have two good potential candidates, do not keep the other candidate waiting long (and the same goes for a candidate with two churches—do not keep them waiting long, and do not string them along with false hopes).

The online profile systems of most mainline search-and-call processes are a lot like dating. They are not perfect. They work for some churches and candidates but not all.  Some of the best matches happen because someone knows someone else (and some of the worst happen that way, too).  But the system can be improved by better faithfulness in communication by both parties.  And sometimes, it really is love at first sight—sometimes it is in that initial interview you know it is just going to work out.  Despite our fears and misgivings, sometimes God really can work through our human processes—and sometimes God works outside of them, too.

Happy matchmaking!

Quiet!

What did you learn at Church today, Callie? With a Chicken McNugget in one hand and a french-fry in the other, my daughter launched into her version of “Jesus Calms a Storm” right in the middle of Sunday lunch at McDonalds. I share with you the Gospel according to Callie: Jesus was asleep and there was a big storm, blah, blah, blah. The Disciples got scared and started shaking Jesus who didn’t want to wake up. They kept yelling and shaking him and screaming. “Jesus, wake up!” And the boat started rocking even worse because of them running all over scared and shaking Jesus. Finally Jesus woke up and said, “PEACE, quiet down!”

At this point Callie paused, gave an inquisitive look, took a bite of a french fry and said, “I wonder if Jesus was talking to the storm or to his Disciples.”

This is one of my favorite stories and I’ve used it in lots of different ways. The idea of Jesus speaking to the chaos that surrounds us is one of my favorites. I’ve heard and read tons of interpretation and exegesis on this text. But this thought was new to me and has me wondering…what if Jesus WAS talking to the Disciples?

Instead of Jesus just speaking to the wind and the sea, he was telling the Disciples, “Peace! Be Still! You are making the storm worse!”

As Church, it is clear that there are some turbulent waters around us. Chaos is a good way to describe the perception of many denominational bodies, but how much of that is real and how much of it is caused by people running around rocking the boat and screaming out of fear? All around me I hear people screaming at each other. Talking heads on TV, opposing views on Facebook, and differing theological views in the church are doing a lot of screaming and yelling. Lots of them mention Jesus.

It is clear that there are some turbulent waters around us. Chaos is a good way to describe the reality many people in the world live in every day. How much of our screaming and yelling is calling attention to their needs? How much of our attention is directed at the chaos that engulfs them? How much of our Jesus shouting is helping anyone?

The Church has always been and always will be in a stage of change and growth as we respond to the new storms that brew in our world. God empowers us to face these changes and challenges. As individuals we are personally touched by many of the storms around us. We are wounded and in need of comfort, but together we are the Church and we have to figure out how to respond without screaming and yelling. I get so upset watching the church talk and talk without ever taking a substantial step in any direction. It makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs. But God is still speaking and says, “Quiet down!” In those moments, I remember how well screaming and yelling worked for me and my father when I was younger. We would scream and yell and occasionally bring God’s name into the conversation. Neither of us would budge.

History has yet to show us a time of peace and tranquility free from war and natural disaster. Not a life has been lived that was not touched by loss at some point. Yet, we go on shouting at the heavens and each other in hopes of the peaceable kingdom.

So, let’s assume Jesus is talking to us.

Lets hush up, calm down and chill out. Lets listen up, sit down and hang out. Lets face up to our fears, lay down our defensive posture and stop freaking out.

Maybe when we calm ourselves we can bring peace to the storm.

Worshiping around July 4th

Planning worship around Independence Day in the U.S. is tricky in the mainline Protestant church, which for most, today’s worship service and regular church practices arose in the time after WWII, as did the appearance of flags in the church.  I grew up in a small liberal American Baptist congregation that was clear on its separation of church and state and never had flags in the sanctuary, but I remember visiting other friend’s churches and being curious as to why there was an American flag along with a Christian flag in the worship service. While we are glad to honor our country, we know that first and foremost we are called to honor God.  When I have traveled in other countries and visited other churches, I have never seen their nation’s flag in their sanctuary.  It is unthinkable. But in the U.S., sometimes you are chastised if you don’t have the flag.  It is unique to America, yet many American Christians feel that one must have the flag in the sanctuary, that if we don’t, somehow God will not bless America (and if we ask God to bless America, do we ask God to bless Afghanistan and Canada and Russia as well?)

In my previous congregation that I served, we were fortunate to have many members from countries all over the world, but also we had several families from Canada.  Because Canada Day is July 1st, I started a tradition on the first Sunday of the month, that before the announcements, before worship began, we would sing “O Canada” as well as the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  These songs are not for worshiping God.  These songs are for making us feel patriotic, and really have no place in the worship service.

But there is something about celebrating our diversity, and celebrating the freedom to do so. As much as I didn’t like having the flags in the sanctuary or singing our patriotic songs in worship, when our praise should be directed towards God and not any earthly kingdom, nor ignoring God’s call to people of all nations, there was something genuinely fun and celebratory about singing both national anthems.  It defused the patriotic overtones that God is only on the side of the U.S. that is often found and instead became a celebration of the people.  And once we allowed ourselves to celebrate the people, our nations, our heritage—we were then able to celebrate God’s presence among us all.

We need to continue to separate church and state—and it needs to begin in the worship service.  But separating church and state does not mean doing away with the celebration of our country or countries, our peoples and our traditions—it means that we recognize that is in fact what we are doing.  We are not asking God to specially bless our country because we know God does not do that (even in the prophets it mentions that God has covenants with other countries and peoples).  We are not perpetuating the myth that God is on our side and not on anyone else’s.  We are simply celebrating a tradition of love for our country.  But we need to be clear about what we are doing and why.

Many of the patriotic traditions that have seeped into the worship service occurred in the time after WWII, but those generations are fading and we have forgotten why we do this.  Instead, we sing these songs and have the flags because it has become tradition, and we begin to uphold the myth that somehow America was specially ordained by God out of other nations.  Instead, let us separate out the myth from fact.  Let us celebrate our country, remembering the great diversity of people who live here and who come together for church on Sunday, and then let us worship God, who is God of us all.

May God bless America, and Afghanistan, and all countries, but more importantly, may we be a blessing to others because we remember that God is God of all people.

Sacred Steps Children's Sermon Journal

Ok. So, for how many of you is the children's sermon a herculean task? How do you even go about communicating the complexities of biblical passages? I know right? Today's your lucky day! We've been introduced to a new resource that is thoughtful, and (bonus) really helpful in constructing children's sermons! Sacred Steps Children's Sermon Journal. It's put out by two great folks, Lisa Davison and Michael Davison.

You can find the Sacred Steps Children's Sermon Journal and other awesome stuff on the great resource site for youth ministry http://www.npartnership.org/

Give it a try. Seriously.

You can thank us later.

Sick and Crabby

The sun is shining brilliantly, casting playful shadows across Coyote Wall. The California Poppies, Bachelor Buttons and other wildflowers dot the ridge in startling oranges, blues, purples, and the occasional red. And the lavender is full and round and dressed in fragrant blooms. The wind is strong making robust white caps crash against the banks of the Columbia. Soon wind surfers will appear and compete with the eagles dancing on the air currents. And I want to hide under twelve inches of blanketing and wake up sometime in the distant future. F-- this.

I have been sick and that tends to skew my mood and my thinking. Don’t know if it was food poisoning or a dose of whatever people in the ED had, but my intestinal track has been in revolt. On the silver lining side, I am back down to 110 pounds, but I would not recommend this as a form of dieting. Rice and applesauce only satisfy the pallet for so long.

But it’s more than that. I would like to blame my mood and my circumstance on God. “If I was still at the State Museum I would be making about 75 grand by now.” Never mind that working for the State of New York I probably would have gone ballistic long ago and would be serving 15-life at Riker’s Island. That is all beside the point in my Sad Sack Story. Following God’s call requires sacrifices, but come on already! Oh, and I don’t want any rational interjection about possible erroneous or poor choices on my part along the way. I am having a pity party and that’s that.

Where are my pajamas?

When do we get to NOT struggle with money? I’m 52 freaking years old! I already gave away most of my stuff and I miss it. I miss my pink sweater with the hood and the mixing bowls. Actually Tim misses the mixing bowls since he is the one who cooks. So I guess I only miss one thing I gave away. That doesn’t seem to support my whole argument here. Damn. Strike the above paragraph from the record.

I have a wonderful job that pays well with decent benefits and yet . . . and yet. We were trying to remember a time when we were both making a professional wage at the same time. I think it was 1999 before I walked away from the museum for seminary.

This sucks.

Ugh. And then there’s West Virginia where Tim was not able to find a professional job no matter what. An eminently qualified educator that no one would hire because . . . because he wasn’t from around there? because he was a man and there were antiquated ideas about men in early childhood? because he was meant for another path? Blah blah blah. I know. Tim would not have heard his call to ministry if we weren’t in West Virginia. Whoop tee do. I told you, no cogent feedback, just “oh you poor dear.” Got it?

I wonder where I can get lactose-free, no sugar added chocolate that will not upset my stomach?

I am supposed to be at an age and in a place where I can help my young adult children as they are starting out. It kills me to see them struggling and not able to help. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing - helping them but I can barely help myself. They are part of this generation where college degrees don’t necessarily get you well paying jobs and school debts (for which you can no longer declare bankruptcy) keep you in poverty.

This is total crap, and I think I am going to blame God after all. Tim followed a distinct call from God to move to Portland, and what happened? We wound up in Hood River/Mosier. What up God? Trying to figure out what God is about in this place is hard and there is not one damn thing I can do help Tim. It’s between him and God. See, I knew it. It is God’s fault.

Did I mention I swear a lot when I’m in a shitty mood?

Well life marches on. Good things are happening for Jess’ school where she works. Isaac is crazy in love and together they will figure out this next phase in their lives. Tim has some ministry prospects, is writing more than ever, and cooks wonderful dinners for me.

Which reminds me, I think I’m getting hungry.

God is abundant. God is gracious. God is an extravagant lover. God is good - even if God has a warped sense of humor.

The Son of Man Has No Where to Lay His Head

It’s almost like we expect it.  To see them on the streets, sleeping near heating grates or under cardboard. It has gotten that common, that pervasive. Our cars speed down highways, as we barely catch glimpses of the tents or cobbled together shelters.  It’s so easy to turn our heads away from the hitchhikers and the rest.   We “know” who the homeless are.
Dirty.
Unshaven.
Begging.
Mentally ill
or drunk
or on drugs
or all of the above.
Dirty.
Manipulators.
Glassy eyed.
Drop outs.
Lazy.
Dirty.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, there are more countries experiencing this phenomenon, this homelessness.  Nations with plenty - or at least more - who have citizens living on the streets, under bridges, in public squares, in peripheral vision. . . .
We in the United States have had homelessness for a long time.  Heck, we go way back.  During the Great Depression of the 1930s we called them hobos and they “road the rails.”  Then we just called them bums.  Now we politely say they are homeless, however, I would argue that through our actions and inactions we think of them as throw aways.  Throw Aways are people who have lost what they had or simply never had in the first place.  Throw Aways fight addiction and mental illness, but really, can you say what illness would befall you should you become homeless?  We spend a great deal of time coming up with theses and arguments to satisfy ourselves that homelessness is based on their own human error.  Blaming the poor for being poor.  What would happen if they all disappeared?  What if we literally threw them away?
How many homeless people do you know?  How many have you engaged in conversation? I hadn’t talked with homeless people much until recently.  There is no homogenous ethos to the homeless.  There is no single cause for any homeless person and no silver bullets to “fix” homelessness.  What I have learned in the last few months, is that homelessness comes in many packages - each unique and mysterious.  I don’t think I’ve found one yet that was worthy of being thrown away.
There is the kid who left the abusive home  - or maybe it was the loving home that he felt was smothering him.  Clueless about the world.  Frightened and looking for a meal.  How old are you?  Where are you from? He mumbles and says thanks for whatever he can get.  Should we throw him away?
There is the Veteran who survived Viet Nam or Bosnia or Iraq.  His or her moral injuries are so deep that trying to “fit in” again, hold down a job, be around people is more than they can bear.  They have a few smarts that others don’t - after all we gave them survival training.  Their problems and needs may be a little different, but they too are hungry for food and for someone who cares.  Should we throw them away?
There are the sick.  Those ill with booze or meth.  Those suffering from schizophrenia or bi-polar or something else.  There are those who have festering sores, cancer, pneumonia, blind, lame. . .  Should we throw them away?
There was the 94 year old Latino man that some good citizen found and brought in from the elements.  He had followed the harvests, but now his hip was “not so good.” He was grateful for a meal and surprised by the offer to put him up for the night and give him a bus ticket to his family in another state.  He spoke like many 94 year old people I know, telling me how things used to be and how he missed the things that he once knew.  We spent a chunk of change on the old guy.  Perhaps we should have just thrown him away?
There was the 60-something woman who held a master’s degree in anthropology.  She said flat out that she “chose” to be homeless.  Never did get the whole story on that.  She explained her criteria for getting into a car with a stranger, how she dealt with cops who wanted to “move her on her way” and her other survival tricks.  She kept a journal and watched people.  She had much to teach me about human behavior if I could have stayed longer.  But maybe that was wrong thinking.  Maybe we should throw her away?
There was the Vet who struggled with booze.  He lost his family long ago between his nightmares, psychotic-like behaviors, and his “self medication.”  We drafted him to fight a war that most of us would not.  He did.  His upbringing taught him that service was honorable.   And while half hearted promises were made about low interest home loans and GI bills, we never thought about what to do with his damaged soul.  He is angry and sad.  We already threw him away once.
There was the Homeless Evangelist to the homeless.  She survived on “donations” of gas, food, and clothing. Even her jalopy was donated to her.  She kept almost nothing for herself, saying that she felt God called her to minister to the homeless wherever she could find them.  She survived on old bread and moldering brussels sprouts and the odd bag of Fritos.  She carried her greying hair braided and under a once stylish hat.  Her layered skirt and torn shirt offset her modest cross.  She just wanted to bring others to Jesus.  She was so concerned about “those poor homeless people,” never seeing her own situation in a similar light. Should we throw her away?
Young women and old men.  Those adapted to “this way of life” and those who survive only through grace.  And those who don’t survive. Families with children and children who pretend to be adults.  People who are fortunate enough to “couch surf” until one day they run out of couches with friends and family.  Every part of the country.  Every ethic group and original socio-economic group you want to name.  Every where.  Every where.  People who have no where to lay their head and nothing in their bellies.
I have no answers or solutions to the web of social ills of homelessness.  All I know is what these people teach me daily about love, grace, survival, forgiveness, and the fragility of humanity.  Their lessons are profound.  I can’t say I’ve met one yet that I would throw away.

Pastors On The Move--5 Tips to help your new pastor in their transition

My family is preparing to move again, for the third time since my son was born, and he’s not even four.  We have moved from Massachusetts to Oklahoma, moved in town, and now are moving to the Seattle area.  These are big, traumatic changes for one so little, even more so as he has autism. Clergy families have an undo amount of pressure placed upon them from many angles.  There are expectations placed not only upon the pastor who is called to a church, but upon their spouse and their child.  Family life is more public than other families.  Relationships outside of the church, while vital, are hard to maintain, and relationships within the church can be complicated.

As we are preparing to move again, I have been thinking about ways that a church community can help welcome a new pastor and their family who have gone through such a transition, especially if they are moving to a location where they do not have family or friends in the area.

1. Welcome them, but don’t overdo it.  Don’t show up on the day they have arrived.  They may be tired or even exhausted from their travels. If they have young children, they may be weary of strangers. Often how churches like to welcome people is with food.  Ask ahead of time what they would like—if you want to bring them dinner, ask first if they would like this now or another day, or if they would prefer a gift certificate for a restaurant as they may not even have their dishes unpacked.  If you are going to provide food, ask if they have any dietary restrictions (and ask what their children would prefer—some children are picky eaters and no matter how wonderful your casserole may be, a child may not be up for trying something new after arriving to a brand new place).  Give them space and time to move in and adjust.

2. If they have children, ask if they would like help connecting with the local school district. For our family, as we have a child with special needs, this is extremely helpful and can help ease some of the transition challenges.   If your pastor has pets, create a list of local veterinarians and/or dog parks.  Pets are family, too.

3. Also if they have children, ask if after they arrive if the family would like some free child care provided so the parents can unpack or run errands.  This is a big help when trying to set up a household within the first few days of arriving.

4. Don’t assume the pastor is going to start work the very day after they arrive.  Give them some time to help their family adjust and unpack.  This is a way you can minister to your new pastor.  And if your pastor is single, also give them space and time to unpack.  This goes beyond moving—never assume that a single pastor doesn’t have other things they need to do because they don’t have an immediate family.  I know in my first church, I often resented the assumption that I was free to stay longer on Sundays because I didn’t have children or a husband.

5. Related to #1 and 2, create a list of local favorites—restaurants that deliver, local parks for children, museums and art galleries, and other local places of interest.  Encourage your pastor to take some time in the first few weeks to visit these local favorites (and count that as part of their work time, getting to know the community).

The most important thing you can do for your pastor and/or their family before they arrive is to ask before making assumptions of what their needs are.  I know for myself and my family, in the times we have moved, before and after having our son, there were times assumptions were made that ended up complicating the moving in process rather than helping.  There were also wonderful people who asked what we needed ahead of time and eased our transition.  But it is always best to ask first.

Serial Church Killers

In the interest of being clear, I state the following: There may be many reasons for church death, but the right minister can shepherd a congregation to Christ-centered solutions that will keep that congregation viable in its community and in the body of Christ. The right pastor can inspire change; the wrong one can instill despair. There are O&A churches that thrive, and O&A churches that are die for becoming so. Within the subgroup of thriving, successful churches are liberal churches and conservative churches, larger churches and smaller churches, churches in debt and churches in the clear, etc. None of these factors per se seems to determine church survival. I contend that the crisis of church survival is primarily a crisis of leadership, and not of styles or social factors.

Pastoral performance is a taboo subject in the church today. However, we can and should consider the factors that enable a given pastor to sequentially save -- or bury -- church after church. For starters, let's at least understand that all who succeed want to succeed, and among those that fail, at least some of them want to fail! There are others who simply believe that church success and survival are beside the point -- and I'm not saying they are wrong. I will say, however, that if you want a particular congregation to survive as a church, one or more leaders within that congregation has to choose to help it survive! And while human willpower is not the point, I do think that the pastor who insists that a church survive and thrive is more likely to make the hard decisions that help it to do so!

There is not one instance in scripture where God wills the death or failure of a church. Revelation has seven letters warning seven churches to shape up or perish.

Some people seem to  think that church death is good. By some theologies, everything that happens is therefore God’s will, God being all-powerful and all-knowing. Why, then, would God advise anyone in any direction whatsoever? No, God does not will the damnation of souls or the demise of congregations. At worst, God permits us to choose between life and death.

The choice, however, is ours alone. God clearly prefers we choose life. God told the children of Israel how to survive as a nation, but let them choose to survive or perish.

If you believe Que Sera, Sera -- what will be, will be -- then you rest secure in your own salvation and write off every failure as God’s will. If that’s true, then it must be God’s will that I work with dreamers, because I want ministry partners who are willing to work for the kingdom of God!

Some pastors move from church to church, leaving each one in worse shape than before. Some people, given free rein, would move from committee to committee, ministry to ministry, job to job, confident that God wills success or failure, thereby relieving them of any responsibility.

At a General Assembly -- the national gathering of Disciples of Christ -- in Ft. Worth a few years ago, I overheard a minister at lunch say, “The last two churches I served are dead, and they deserved to die!” There’s a man of great faith -- in the wrong theology!

2 Peter 3:9 says God is “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Isn’t God powerful enough to get what God wants? So why do any perish? Because we decide to repent or not, to struggle or surrender, to be generous or greedy.

Generally speaking, Disciples are not Calvinists. But you wouldn't know it to hear them talk of the inevitable demise of traditional church. Where traditional church is deemed too unholy to survive, the traditional church that actually survives and thrives becomes demonized as something unnatural, or essentially unChristian.

I'm not saying that church success requires a big-steeple church -- but a big-steeple church building can certainly be useful real estate. I'm not saying that Elders must be old -- but elderly people just might remember some essential element of church success from days gone by. I'm not saying that a 500-seat auditorium is a good fit for a 50-member congregation -- but both can be excellent springboards for going forward as church!

I pray that pastors who decide that a church should fail will instead realize that they have failed to inspire the congregation. Instead of giving troubled churches an interim pastor, perhaps we should give troubled pastors an interim career, where they can shake their faith in inevitable death and regain the notion that with God, nothing is impossible.

Are you too young or too old for church?

This article first appeared on anglobaptist.org. When will the age genie stop by and make it all better? When will that beard cream take all the grey away? Maybe you've seen the add where the last grey-haired man on the planet caves to the social pressure and colors the hair on his face...That's right. Colors. The. Hair. On. His. Face. You have got to be kidding me! Unreal. Many of the commercials are utterly offensive to men and women, but I digress.

Once upon a time a grey beard symbolized wisdom or intellect. A sage had a long grey beard. There was something synonymous about wisdom and grey hair. I don't know what sages are sporting now. Seth Godin's bald head, perhaps? Amazing how times change and what meant one thing to one generation means something else entirely to another. Your grey beard is another generation's, I don't know, um, coffee press. That's right. Coffee press. Yes, I'm being silly. Of courseI am. Sometimes it just cannot be helped, but this whole thing is silly. It's one sociological non sequitor after another. It is in this spirit I request:

Someone explain to me why we viify one another by virtue of age in this culture.

I don't have any real understanding as to why. It didn't begin with the 1960's and the don't-trust-anyone-over-30-40 propaganda, that's for certain. Ancient theater and epic poetry is full of "youth culture" (Paris, Helen, Achilles, etc) and their disdain for the old people in their lives (Priam, anyone?). Old gods are replaced with new and vigorous gods. This ain't a new phenomenon. Still, this bit of satire has some folk riled up. Perhaps it hits too close to home. I don't know.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HWHXMBDs5U]

It's a little satire, a little poking of fun from some 30-somethings to other 30-somethings...but some of us are taking it rather seriously. Suddenly young people are once again unable to make the cut. They are whining. That's all. They need to get over themselves and get a real job and move to the suburbs/exurbs/whatever. That's okay, because the young adults want everyone older to stop trying to save their precious institutions/religions/political parties and let them all die like the irrelevant relics of television reruns that they are. It's all useless. Who needs 'em?

The generation of men is like that of leaves. The wind scatters one year's leaves on the ground, but the forest burgeons and and puts out others, as the season of spring comes round. So it is with men: on generation grows on, and another is passing away. The Iliad, Book 6.

There are countless stories of generations being at odds with one another. None of this is news. It's simply that I'm astonished at how pervasive it is these days..especially in church circles. How many posts have there been about young adults and the church? Heck, Newsweek has been publishing articles about it. I've certainly passed them along.

I wonder what it will take for us to stop doing this to one another...or if we're simply doomed to find ways of tearing one another down like this. We have reasons for young adults leaving the church (fifteen or seven). Sure. We always have. And though the challenges that this generation (which generation?) of church leadership faces has particularities, we will always find a way to blame those younger or older than ourselves for the collapse of civilization. We've gotten very good at it. In a related Facebook thread I offered this comment: "We have decided that useful people are roughly bettween ages 45-60...maybe. We don't like aging. We don't like watching one another aging. We don't like one another as we age. We find reason upon reason to cut one another out and call it 'generational theory' or 'age appropriateness.'"

We're cutting one another out of church left and right. It's not about theology this time though we tell ourselves it is. It's about age.

"You aren't old enough for it. You don't appreciate it." says the Boomer. "You are too old for it. You don't know how to let go." says the Millennial.

I'm still muddling through as I do...But I was wondering what wisdom you all might have to share. You see, it's one thing to use demographic trends to understand sociological phenomena. It's another thing entirely to think that such generational theory is a determinist theory for sociality. There's no such thing as a determinist theory.

This was originally posted at anglobaptist.org, April 18, 2012

How to Start a Church (From a Guy Who has Never Done It)

The laments are familiar: congregations in decline, churches refusing to adapt to today’s culture, the growth of the unchurched or the “nones” who need to hear a Gospel that is both compelling and relevant. Starting congregations that break traditional molds and seek to reach individuals and communities too often ignored by “traditional” churches is a hopeful response to these contemporary challenges. This is why new church planters are my heroes. Those called to develop and nurture a community of believers ex nihilo are engaged in a form of ministry that is urgently needed, not to mention apostolic. Within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) our commitment to this task and the resulting success we’ve experienced is nothing short of amazing. The discernment and faithfulness of our leaders is to be applauded. The movement of the Holy Spirit in this effort should be celebrated. Yet I wonder how much potential has been left unrealized. Does a better, more sustainable model exist?

Many new church starts that I’ve experienced, or new church planters I’ve engaged in conversation, reveal a model built around the vision, persistence, and endurance of a single individual, aided by God’s guidance and perhaps a few dedicated lay leaders. The limited financial support available from general and regional structures often requires the new church planter to be bi-vocational, working full-time in another position to meet his or her economic needs and then part-time as a new church planter. Given the amount of time and energy needed to birth a new congregation, this approach seems rife with the potential for dashed hopes and clergy burnout.

Few would describe this model as ideal but some might contend it is necessary given the limited resources available within the denomination for this endeavor and the value of having a new church planter engaged with the local community. There is not a better alternative within the existing constraints. One could imagine more ideal models but none of them are realistic.

I disagree.

Christians affirm that the Holy Spirit imparts to each of us a different set of gifts to be used in glorifying God and testifying to the hope of new life found in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 12:4-6). Larger, established congregations have professionalized this principle with staffs full of professional clergy performing different roles within the church. The senior pastor supervises the staff, provides spiritual leadership to the congregation, and preaches most weeks. Associate pastors focus primarily on youth, families, pastoral care, new members, mission, etc. The music minister handles the music (duh).

Why can’t new church starts enjoy the same diversity of talents? Arguably these congregations need these specialized gifts even more since they are just getting started and don’t enjoy the same degree of lay leadership, sense of community, and public identity.

Lack of money is the obvious answer. New church starts church starts cannot afford large, specialized staffs.

Before discarding such an idea as ridiculous, perhaps it is worth considering whether the thinking that wants to dismiss this idea is part and parcel of the outdated mindsets that contributed to the laments listed above.

Clearly, the economic resources allowing for new church starts to have a team of full-time paid clergy do not exist. That is just a fact. However, could there be a model of ministry that embraces, encourages, and pursues teams of planters with diverse gifts working together on a single new church start?

There could be. Perhaps it would look something like this....

Having discerned the call to new church ministry and identified an appropriate and viable setting for a church plant, a team of ministers (maybe 3-5 in total? maybe more?) covenant to help bring life to a new community. Each clergyperson relocates to the area of the church start and seeks full-time employment outside of the nascent congregation. Perhaps one becomes chaplain at a local hospital, while another begins works at a local non-profit. Another has teaching credentials and continues a career in education and a fourth turns a carpentry hobby into a construction job. As part of their covenant with one another, each also commits 10, 15, or 20 hours a week to the new church start.

The covenanting process involves several other crucial conversations. Among the new church planters, duties and responsibilities must be assigned based on the spiritual gifts each person offers. One pastor will lead pastoral care ministries. Another will focus on preaching duties. A third commits to developing and leading vibrant worship services. The fourth focuses on outreach and engagement with the local community. All promise themselves to support the work of the entire congregation, providing spiritual support to the whole pastoral team, and building up strong lay leadership to help sustain the long-term development of the congregation. The general and regional church must be brought in as partners to the project, offering nurture and encouragement, sharing of best practices, and whatever financial support is available.

As the new church plant grows through these combined efforts, the needs of the congregation will also increase. Members of the pastoral team transition to full-time roles as finances allow. The end result is a healthy, vibrant, relevant congregation served by a team of skilled pastors and devoted lay leaders.

There are obvious objections. Such a plan takes time and requires significant commitment from the planters. Bringing together a team of compatible pastors equipped for such a challenge would require the regional and general church to work together in offering a vision and identifying the right people for this task.

I’ve never started a church. Maybe this idea won’t work. Perhaps it is ridiculous.

But the potential here could be huge. Just think of the gifts these congregations could be to their members, communities, and the denomination that planted them. Imagine the witness they could offer to the God that creates, sustains, and saves this broken world and the creatures within it. Perhaps fewer pastors would suffer from shattered dreams and clergy burnout.

Just think. It could be really beautiful. Maybe it is time to let God do a new thing?

The Wisdom of Old Men

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2 NRSV “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to them, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22:36-40

I’ve been blessed by wise men this week.  I did not expect to be the recipient of wisdom, but I think that’s how it works.  When we expect someone to be wise - to be the giver of answers - we are too often disappointed.  Wisdom is best received and perceived when it bubbles up from unthinkable places or from unlikely people.

What surprised me the most by my two wise men (sorry there were not three), was their messages had to do with love, tolerance, and acceptance.  We want to categorized “the other” and certainly men in their 80s and 90s don’t seem to fit in the categories of acceptance, tolerance, or diversity.  But these two men were the unexpected carriers of wisdom lessons about embracing the stranger, loving, and being loved.

Oh, and my wise men were “disaffected” from the institutional church.  Go figure.

The younger of the men, in his mid 80s, told me about the initial influx of the current ethic minority in his small town.  He did not deride these “newcomers.”  He did not try to blame them for the cataclysmic changes that his community has undergone in the last few decades.  As we talked, he looked far away, pensive.  He told a story about “the first group” who were brought to the town as agricultural workers.  They were shown their new accommodations, left on their own, and expected to acclimate automatically.  There were missteps and misunderstandings.  While others mocked their “stupidity,” my white-haired guru reflected on how overwhelmed they must have felt.  If someone has never seen a gas stove or an  American grocery store, why would you expect them to immediately master their new environment, he pondered.  “I’ve thought what would any of us do if we were plopped in their country, without the language, without knowing the culture.  How would that feel?  How would we cope?  We would struggle just as much and people would mock us. They’re tough.”

With these few sentences, he dispelled my biases about people “of an age” and how they feel about brown-skinned immigrants.  He showed compassion and empathy.  For that conversation, he served as the voice of Christ to me, reminding me to show extravagant love toward the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned, and the stranger.  Such a wise man.

Later, when his wife joined us, he identified himself as a non-Christian.  For him that meant someone who was not brought up in "the church” and who never embraced “the church.”  He believed in a Higher Power and said that occasionally he went to church with his wife.  “But I feel like this every time,” pulling is arms to his sides and making himself as small as possible.  “I’m so afraid that I will do something ‘wrong.'”  How sad.  How sad that the wise man who has a Divine understanding of welcoming the outsider does feel welcome in the house of God.

My other wise man was the elder of the two.  As he reviewed some of the events in his long life, he interpreted their meaning from an intellectual perspective.  He was articulate, educated, reflective.  He divided his life into the “romantic” and the “practical.”  The romantic was when he allowed himself to embrace his creative, artistic tendencies.  The practical was when he accepted the responsibility of running his father-in-law’s business when his father-in-law died.  He had initiative and sought out education and training to achieve his highest potential.  He provided for his family and hoped that he was fair to his employees.  When he sold the business, I assume making enough of a profit to provide for his needs, he returned to “romantic” pursuits of creating and craft.

Part of this “romantic” period occurred after his wife was placed in care for her Alzheimer’s.  “They had a group, you know, and I participated.”  From his description the group was not for other caregivers but was composed of male residents.  Men who still had stories buried within.  His tired voice grew excited as he talked with wonder at discovering the changes that came over this group of men by his consistent presence.  At times my wise man groped for words, finally settling on the term “paying attention” and how “paying attention” to the other could change their lives, even improve their cognition.  “That’s what they needed, and I could do that,” he said with satisfaction  He brought up a shaking hand to his chest, “and I could not believe how it strengthened me to pay them attention.”  Tears welled in his red-rimmed, astonished eyes.  Acknowledging the other’s humanity, even through the fog of dementia, changed the men in this group and obviously had a profound effect my elder wise man.  “What would it be like if we paid more attention to each other?” he asked. What would it be like indeed.

Early in our conversation he wanted to clarify for me, the chaplain, that while he greatly admired his female pastor’s sermons and “ideas,” the liturgy of the church no longer held meaning for him.  His health prevented his attendance for the most part, but in truth, he confessed, the “stuff” of church was no longer relevant .  Because of this admission, he assumed that he “wasn’t much of a Christian.”  As he told his stories, of which the above was just one, I tried to tie them to the stories of our faith.  His paying attention was Imago Dei  I told him - seeing the image of God in the other.  This seemed to comfort him and from the little I gathered in our brief relationship, would cause him to ruminate on this suggestion for a while.  Even a wise man can appreciate a positive lesson now and then.

My life has been blessed by the wisdom of old men this week.  Old men who others might marginalize because of their age, their health, or their occasional loss for the “right” word.  These men, however, know what it means to embrace the other as Christ’s love embraces us.  They are not “church” men, but I believe the church can learn from them.  My prayer is that I reflected Christ’s loving embrace back to them this week.  My prayer is that the sometimes awkward, frumpy chaplain helped them to feel as  unconditionally accepted as they made me feel.

Knowing Better than God: No Pink Bowling Balls for Boys!

By Tim Graves

"You’re not gonna use the pink ball. We’re not gonna let you do that. Not on camera." --Rick Santorum to a boy reaching for a bowling ball I was never a particularly macho kid. Yeah, my brother and I played with cars and trucks. We even played the occasional vacant lot baseball game. Despite that, I never played organized sports. I was the last picked for teams in gym class. I chose the Drama electives instead of more manly subjects. Crying was not outside of my repertoire. Coming of age when I did, it was not easy to be the sensitive boy.  

"When are you going to get a real job?" --Cindy, about my work educaring infants and toddlers 

Spending my days nurturing and caring for infants and toddlers was not the traditional path for a man in the early 1980s. I knew it might be a lonely path when I became the first man to graduate from the early childhood degree program at Illinois State University. While blessed by a fully supportive fiance and now wife, I had also hoped—perhaps in vain—that my friends would understand. Some did. Cindy did not.

There were jobs I did not receive because of a cultural bias that any man who wanted to work with babies must be a molester. It was not easy blazing a trail. The joys and contentment I have always felt with humanity's youngest is a clear sign that this was the Divinely-led path for me. 

As a bi-vocational minister, I still spend time working with babies and young children part-time. Things have gotten better or, perhaps, I've just gotten better at finding people who see my gifts. Nonetheless there are far too few men who work with young children. Our culture still has stratified roles for women and men. 

I felt anger rise within me. My eyes watered as I read of a presidential candidate discouraging a boy from using a pink bowling ball. I know how it feels to have who you are created to be dismissed by others. I am not alone in these feelings. Certainly women in traditionally men's professions have a more difficult journey than I've had as a white man.

When we force boys or girls into rigid, culturally-constructed roles based upon their sexual organs, we deny their humanity. We deny their Divinely created gifts. In effect, we idolize - treat as a god - our own socially-constructed gender roles.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 NRSV (View this passage in context.)

When we discourage girls from studying the sciences or boys from nurturing babies, we teach our children to ignore the Spirit. We tell our children to pretend to be someone they are not. We tell God that we know better. 

Ministerial Myth: The Great, Young, White, Affluent, Single, Heterosexual Male

Our society is bloated with unrealistic, unattainable images and standards—whether it’s the voluptuous swimsuit model, the ripped, athletic male, or the ever-stylish and trendy young adult (preferably a male 18-29).  Despite the fact that these people don’t really exist (the swimsuit babe is an airbrushed digital creation and the buff guy spends hours upon hours in the gym working out, taking endless supplements, and not eating for days before modeling) our culture still believes these people actually do exist—and further—are the standard we should shape our society around.   Movies, TV, style magazines and even clothing all revolve around these ideal people, these mythical human beings that only exist on the digital screens of a computer. There are yet more mythical standards—even within the Christian community, consider for example the white, affluent, young, heterosexual, male, ministerial student. Ah, let us examine the ways…

Young: Being that the most sought after demographic in churches today are young adults.  Every church dreams of landing a fresh, energetic, young minister—youth is an ideal character trait.  Twenty-somethings don’t have all the entanglements such as family or houses or debt that can weigh down someone twice their age. And when one considers the marathon-like effort one must put out to complete seminary, only the younger generation seem to posses the stamina it requires.

White:  I don’t exactly have to worry about overzealous neighborhood watchmen chasing me down, thinking I’m up to  no good.  Nor am I looked at with suspicion (like one from a middle eastern descent), or with condescension (like one from south of the border)—the opposite is true. My skin color is the majority and the norm—especially in mainline religious bodies! Mainline Christianity is predominantly a white middle-class religion.  Those of other ethnicities often have their work cut out for them.

Affluent: Education is crazy, ridiculously expensive to begin with.  Then if we factor in that trying to go to school full-time is nearly impossible while maintaining a job, the task is even more arduous.  Yet, if that weren't enough, Divinity schools aren't exactly popping up in everyone’s back yards.   Nope, the opposite is true; seminaries are long and far apart.  So attending one requires a significant financial commitment—moving cross country isn’t cheap.  Basically, if you want to get a degree, you better have a truck-load of cash or be willing to go deeply into debt for the rest of your life.

Single: Partners/Spouses and families are great—unless one is training for ministry.  Moving across country doesn’t work is well when you have kids.  Studying all night doesn’t lend itself to maintaining  a good relationships with a loved one.  And it’s really hard these days to sustain a family on only one income.  Single is the ideal.

Heterosexual:  Do I really even explain this? Somehow it should seem obvious that since a huge portion of America believes homosexuality is immoral and that many Christian denominations refuse to even ordain gays, those with a sexual orientation differing from the “ideal” have quite an uphill slog.

Male: Yes, good ole’ patriarchalism, ministry is a man’s job—always has been and always will be.  A man is independent, less vulnerable, more likely to be gain respect.  Society is still incredibly structured to favor men, especially when leading our institutions—a woman just won’t do.

If you think these are completely ridiculous standards for ministry, then you’re getting my drift.  But the educational system for ministry is set up exactly for this ideal candidate—the candidate that doesn’t exist, the candidate that is only a myth.  There was a time when this was the standard for divinity students, but that was 50 years ago! Now in divinity school women outnumber men, and the young adults are a minority in comparison to the second career folks.

I’m actually doing pretty well myself.  I’m still fairly young.  I’m white.  I’m heterosexual.  And I’m a male.  But on the other hand, I also have a family and I’m not exactly rolling in cash—far from it actually.  I think this whole process is challenging.  Yet I can’t imagine the struggle it is for someone who has 3,4,5, or even 6 of these “ideal” traits working against them!

This is real life.  This is the way it is—the Young, White, Single, Heterosexual, Male ministerial candidate no longer exists, and probably never will again.  Yet our religious seminaries and institutions continue to operate on this old, outdated, dying (dead?) model.  It’s the 21st century! Get with it, seriously. Our churches are closing up shop. Our congregations are drying up.  And our pulpits are sitting empty.  Yet despite all these problems our institutions continue to make ministerial education seemingly impossible for the non-young, white, affluent, single, heterosexual males.

And we wonder why our religious institutions are dying off…

The Sorrow

A post by the Reverend Nancy Dunn on her blog, Wild Goose Beckons. In those moments, when the sorrow descends and rests upon your heart, your whole world changes and it will never be the same again. At least that was the way it was for me when I heard the words, "I'm sorry but there is no heartbeat. Your baby has died." The sorrow comes like a thief in the night stealing the joy from your life.

I've thought about that day a lot recently as politicians have recently discussed women's health issues in the news. Once again, abortion is a hot political topic. Once again, birth control is up for debate. Honestly, these are both issues I thought were decided a long time ago. Why must it come up again and again?

I thought about that day as I read about Michelle Duggar's recent miscarriage. The sorrow she is experiencing is immense. I cannot even begin to imagine living it out on TV with all the world to watch. All I wanted to do was hide, to bury myself deep under the blankets and not come out until I could forget. The problem is you can't forget. Even now, eight years later there are days where I remember the pain, the sorrow, and the dreams that were lost. Even now, with two healthy children who are the light of my lives, I will always remember what might have been.

The sorrow, the emotions, and the reality of life is what always angers me when politicians use issues like birth control and abortion to "win" votes. These are not clear-cut issues with right or wrong answers. The answers here are as varied as the stories of the women who tell them. Listen to my story and see how recent politicians' viewpoints would have impacted me.

It was 2004. My husband and I had been married for 4 years. After much discussion, we decided we would try to get pregnant. Well, there is no trying for me. I'm about as fertile as they come and it didn't take long for the line on  the stick to turn pink. Yes! I'm pregnant. We were very excited. But we didn't tell anyone in the beginning. We wanted to wait until we were through that tricky first trimester. Well, we did tell our boss, the senior pastor, because he was leaving on sabbatical. We thought it might be weird for him to come back and find me 6 months pregnant!

Soon, after much anxious waiting and hopeful planning, I went to the doctor for a 12 week check-up. Only, as I lay on that table, she got a concerned look on her face as she felt my belly. Then, she tried to find a heartbeat. Her eyes grew darker. I could tell something was wrong just by looking at her. She said, "Oh, it might be nothing but we need to get you scheduled for an ultrasound." Only, that would take 3 days. Three of the longest days of my life.

When my husband and I arrive for the ultrasound, the tech is all cheery. Until he reads my file. He starts the procedure and finds a small fetus. But, it's so small he can't see what is going on with it. He turns to me and says, "Hon, I'm gonna need you to go get undressed because I need to do a trans-vaginal on you." "I'm sorry, but could you explain to me what that is first," I say to him. So, he does. And, I cooperate. And, yes, it is very uncomfortable. I WANT to know what is going on with this baby, but, I can not fathom any good reason why a politician would make a woman have one of these invasive ultrasounds before she chooses to have an abortion.

The trans-vaginal ultrasound does it's job. It lets us know that I have indeed miscarried. My fetus stopped developing at 8 weeks. Here I am at 12 weeks carrying a baby that has no heartbeat. A baby I had hopes and dreams for. But, it is gone.

Yet, it's not gone. It's still there in my uterus. The medical term is a "missed miscarriage." No one knows how long I could have carried that non-developing fetus in me. It might have stayed there for months had I chosen to let it abort naturally. My doctor said we could stay the course for about a week and see what happens. Or, I could have a D & C that very day. The sooner it happened, the better for my uterus. The longer this baby stayed there the more likely I could develop a serious infection. But the choice was mine to make.

The choice was mine to make. Not some politician in Georgia who says I should carry a dead fetus full-term no matter what. The choice was mine. I was the one dealing with all of the emotions, all of the sorrow. I needed to end this pregnancy which had already ended itself. I needed to "clean house" and move on, at least physically. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I had a ways to go. But, it was my choice to make. So, I made it. On Friday, May 28, 2004, I had a medically necessary abortion because of a missed miscarriage. One of the saddest days of my life.

The sorrow that comes from losing a pregnancy can be overwhelming. The emotions each woman faces is very different. Different as each story. Different as each woman. The sorrow I have experienced this past month as I have read different politicians (both male and female) express definitive view points on this issue has almost overwhelmed me. And, I am angry. I am angry that many think issues like abortion are either black or white. It is not. Especially when stories like mine, an abortion that was not wanted but needed, becomes a part of the political foray.

I cannot tell you what to think or how to vote or what you should believe. I only want to tell you my story so you can understand that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to these politically divisive issues. Personally, I believe abortions should be avoided at all costs. But, to completely outlaw them will only make our world an even more tragic place to live. If you haven't watched Dirty Dancing in a while, you should! That movie has a lot more to say about abortion than it does dancing.

Many will say to me that I did not have an abortion. Yet, there are politicians out there today who want to make what I did illegal. How is that helping anyone? How is that helping our society? It's not. You see, that's a private decision that needs to be made between a person and her doctor. Plain and simple.

I believe our arguments over political issues like abortion and birth control sadden God. God knows we live in a crazy place. God knows there is sin in our world. God knows that we will make mistakes. What God really wants is for us to come together to talk about our differences. God wants us to respect each other. God wants us to love each other. God wants us to honor each other's opinions. God wants us to love our enemies. Because when we do, that's when the Kingdom of God is most present in our world. And, the sorrow that surrounds us all is replaced with a sense of peace.

Be Careful What You Wish For

 By Tim Graves                          

A woman I know likes to characterize us this way: "We play well with others." Like me, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), she emphasizes the denomination's ethos of ecumenism. Disciples have been at the forefront of the movement for church wholeness throughout its history. This, despite two Restoration movement splits, which resulted in three streams of the Stone-Campbell movement. Initially growing as one at its inception on the American frontier, a primary difference between Disciples and the other two streams is our work with other church bodies (e.g.; Methodists, Catholics, etc.) wherever possible. Disciples tend to interpret the Restoration principle that "We are Christians only but not the only Christians" as a mandate for ecumenism.

Juxtapose this with the Disciples' traditional laments that,

  1. We have an identity problem.
  2. Disciples who move from one community to another often change denomination becoming Baptists, Presbyterians, or UCCers.

While I recognize that some of these laments are shared by other Christian denominations, as a multigenerational Disciple, I wonder. Why should we be surprised - or disturbed - that folks who relocate do not necessarily end up in another Disciple church? Do we or do we not believe that "We are Christians only but not the only Christians"? Perhaps, our ecumenism and work for wholeness of the church has been at least partially successful. Maybe the Holy Spirit moves in the world, nudging you, encouraging me, and whispering in someone else's ear that denominations need to fall?

Careful what you wish for, you might find it coming to pass.