what next?

2017: What The (White Protestant) Church Must Do

By Rev. Mindi

I read this post shared by an Episcopalian friend this week, and along with some online conversations on “what is the future of the church?” with declining attendance and resources, I’m wondering what has happened to our ecumenical movement? What has happened to our movement for unity?

As an American Baptist pastor married to a Disciples of Christ pastor, I can tell you that not much really separates us. We all do baptism pretty much the same way. We do communion the same way, albeit Baptists tend to only do communion once a month. We aren’t opposed to doing it every Sunday, we just make it out to be more work than it really is. We have some common roots in history. We have faced some of the same struggles on inclusion and diversity in recent years, and as both denominations have taken steps to truly live into God’s ways of love and justice and the teachings of Jesus, some of our more conservative kindred have gone out the door, or have simply stopped talking with us.

And it’s not only American Baptists and Disciples, but Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists (and other UCC-ers), and the list goes on. While we vary in our ways of baptism and communion and vary in our liturgical rigidness, when we start talking about issues of justice, Black Lives Matter, inclusion of transgender and lesbian, gay, bisexual and other queer folks, and welcoming refugees and immigrants, we have so much in common. I regularly have conversations in ecumenical gatherings of clergy (especially fellow clergy in a similar age range to me, but not always) about the same issues facing our churches. The same issues facing our communities. The same longing to follow Jesus and being held up by resources.

So why oh why oh WHY ARE WE NOT WORKING TOGETHER? Why are we still separated on Sunday mornings? Why is (as the author of the blog post I shared stated) Sunday morning still the most segregated hour, decades after Martin Luther King Jr. called us out on it?

I know I am not the first to say it, but as a response to white privilege and white supremacy, perhaps those of us in the traditional white protestant churches, as we face closing down and shrinking numbers, need to go join a Black church. Perhaps we need to listen to someone else preach on Sunday morning and tell us how to be involved in the community. We can do this within our own denomination to start with.

Secondly, we can join with our kindred down the street. While many of us have “full communion” with other denominations or allow for those of other ordination standards (or none at all!) to preside at the table and at baptism, we do not move beyond those relationships (as again, the author of the blog post I shared stated).

As we enter 2017, the future of the church doesn’t lie in us keeping to ourselves on Sunday morning. If we do that, we will continue to shrink, decline, and close. Those of us who are white Christians need to especially consider giving up our power and ownership of space to join with our Christian kindred of color to truly follow the ways of Jesus (who wasn’t white, as we keep pointing out but fail somehow to truly comprehend). We might find that the church isn’t declining, but thriving, if we give up our own vision of what the church is supposed to look like, and join in God’s vision:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb!”

~Revelation 7:9-10

What's next?

By Rev. Mindi

I had hoped to be writing a completely different article, and much earlier in the evening. As it is, I'm typing this at 11:19PM PST, with the race all but called. 

What do we do when we feel so defeated and dejected? When a candidate endorsed by the KKK wins an election, the popular vote, among our neighbors, coworkers, and friends?

What do we do when the freedom to marry, to use the freakin' bathroom, is at risk of being taken away for LGBTQ folk? With deportations only to increase and a wall to be built? When the Supreme Court has a slot unfilled going into this new presidency?

We cannot give up. We cannot stop.

Start locally. Look at local referendums and state policies to protect the rights of transgender folks. Know your state representative and senator by name and speak to them often, and not just email--call them. Arrange to visit with them one on one. Go visit them in their congressional office if you are able to. 

Find other organizations and individuals to partner with on local legislation to support public education and healthcare, and services for disabled and senior folks. 

Don't stop working now. Take the day off and breathe. Tomorrow get back to work, because God is not through with us yet.

Nothing Left to Say

By Rev. Mindi

I really don’t know what else to say, because I said it here in my post “Living By The Sword” and here in my post “How Long Must We Sing This Song?” and here in my post “Racism From Within” and here in my post “Don’t Give Up on the Work for Justice.”

But you know what, I’m tired.

When Sandy Hook happened, while I waited for news that my nephews and niece in Newtown were okay, though they had friends who were killed, I scrambled to find enough candles, twenty-eight of them in all. I remember when Virginia Tech happened buying a large bag of tea candles for the Sunday morning service, and invited everyone in the church to come up and light a candle for a victim of gun violence.

But I’ve run out of candles.

After most of the shootings, I have posted a prayer on my blog that can be used by churches when they don’t know what to say.

But I’ve run out of prayers, and run out of words.

Because it’s only a matter of time before someone comes in and shoots up the school my son goes to. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes in and shoots up the nightclub my gay friends or transgender family find refuge in. It’s only a matter of time before someone hates someone in my church and comes and shoots them.

Because in America we love guns more than God. We have made guns into God. We have broken the commandment and made an idol believing that a gun can save us and that only good guys with guns can help. When we look at the scarred, crucified Christ who said “those who live by the sword die by the sword,” how can we call ourselves faithful?

I’ve run out of patience. But what else can I say here that will make any damn bit of difference? The words of Jesus aren’t enough. The sacredness of life is not enough. The smiles of innocent children are not enough. The love between two people is not enough.

I’ve given up trying to make sense of it all.

America didn’t change when Sandy Hook happened, and we thought for sure we would. America will not change, until all of us look in the mirror and point the gun at ourselves. Only when we are able to do that, and see that we are killing ourselves, killing the very image of God, maybe we would change, when we realize that which we idolize is killing us.

But even then, I do not know.

This passage from Luke 14 has stuck with me:

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

What if our cross that we carry are dead children, dead lovers, dead church members? What if we were never, ever, able to get their faces out of our heads and we had to live with their memory, day after day after day? What if that became our cross to bear?

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Have we weighed the cost of our silence, of our candles, of our tears, of our graves? Have we weighed the cost when we look in the mirror? America has not weighed the cost. America has not been willing to sit down and consider, or send the delegation. America is not willing to give up its idolship of guns.

But we must. We must look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we are okay with pointing a gun to ourselves, because the longer we do nothing, and we keep just writing blog posts like this one, we are killing ourselves.

Things we can do:

--Become Open/Welcoming and Affirming of LGBTQ persons. Talk about our openness, welcome and affirmation.

--Work towards legislation that would eliminate the kinds of weapons being used in these violent acts.

--Stop spending money at any store that sells these kinds of weapons.

--Talk about this at church. From the pulpit. And in Bible Study and Sunday School. Talk about what Jesus says and that his words actually mean something to us.

--Value our children more than we value guns.

Accessibility and Necessity

By Rev. Mindi

I remember when my child was less than a year old, joining a clergy group for breakfast, and finding out the hard way the restaurant bathroom had no changing table. And this was one of those baby pooplosions, where you cannot wait to change the diaper. It made me angry, and luckily, my clergy group decided to switch locations after that.

I also remember so many times my husband had to change our son in the car because the men’s public restroom did not have a changing table. Very few still do, and this is 2016.

With all the talk about bathrooms in the news these days, I wonder:

Are we having this conversation about accessible restrooms in our churches?

I serve a congregation where thankfully all of the bathrooms in our small building were renovated in the last fifteen years, are all accessible for disabled persons, and two out of the three having changing tables. All three are large enough not only to bring a wheelchair or walker inside, but also for someone to bring in another person who needs assistance in the bathroom.

My child is almost eight, and due to his disability needs assistance in the bathroom. Oh, and because both my husband and I are incredibly tall people (someone once remarked that we breed giants), our kiddo is the size of a ten-year-old.

I highly suspect this being an election year has brought this latest wave of transphobia and bathroom shock to light. Masked in the cloak of protecting our children from predators (look at statistics of child assault and abuse and you’ll find that 75% of the time it happens within the home from a relative) we have ostracized our transgender kin. And we have made restrooms—a basic function, a basic need of our humanity—less accessible than before.

Even if my kiddo didn’t have a disability that required some assistance in the bathroom, I’ll be honest: as a parent, I have a hard time sending my child alone anywhere with strangers. But I am 100% not worried about transgender folks. I am also 100% not worried about someone pretending to be transgender who might harm my child, because let’s face it, that is NOT happening. That is a lie perpetuated to drum up fear in an election cycle. No. I am concerned, however, of something happening to my child in a public restroom from a child predator, who most likely will be a white straight dude, based on statistics.

I remember the fear when I sent my child to preschool, after having moved, knowing no one in the area. Sending my child to a strange teacher with strange paraeducators in the classroom who would be helping my son use the restroom. Why? Because videos and stories of students with disabilities being abused by staff are abundant on the internet. New stories are abundant in the suburbs of Seattle, along with stories from parents.

I have seen the stares, heard the jokes, seen the rolling eyes by women as I bring my tall son into the bathroom with me. I remember once at a child’s play space a young girl complaining that “there is a boy in the bathroom!” I once had someone complain when my child was three—yes, three years old—that he didn’t belong in the women’s bathroom with me.

I am afraid for transgender people. I am afraid that they will be abused and harmed, even killed, by someone claiming to “protect” someone else. I am also afraid that as my child grows larger, as he gains more independence and uses the restroom by himself, people will report him because of his strange sounds and the time he spends in the restroom. I have known many parents of teens with disabilities telling me how they had to talk with a police officer outside of a public restroom where their child was inside because someone called the police on a “dangerous” person inside. I am also afraid that someone will take action themselves and claim to be “protecting” others.

So what can we do as the church? I’ve seen many conversations in social media focusing on certain laws and policies, but what about within your own congregation’s physical space?

We can start by creating safe spaces in our churches. Create restrooms that are accessible for persons with disabilities and their caregivers. Make it known that these restrooms are accessible and gender neutral. If you have existing men and women’s restrooms, if they have single stalls this makes it easier to go gender neutral, but also consider the need to renovate (if you can, knowing how church budgets are these days) to make them accessible for persons with disabilities. Also add changing tables, and if you are able to, adult changing tables. I have seen one restroom with an adult changing table. Yes, they are necessary for many adults with disabilities, and finding them in public is a very difficult task.

The simple, shortcut answer, is to create one gender neutral restroom, one accessible restroom out of the rest. This can ostracize folks, singling them out to use that restroom. Also, to be quite honest, it’s a pain to have to wait in line for the restrooms anyway—but to have to wait for that one special stall, or that one special bathroom to open up while everyone else is at least moving forward in line—that’s degrading. The longer-term solution is to make all of our restrooms accessible to all people.

While the debate continues over laws and policies, can’t we, within the church, start making safe and accessible spaces, including restrooms? Can’t we lead the way?

Many thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Association for this inclusive restroom sign.

Many thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Association for this inclusive restroom sign.

Social Media and Pastoral Ministry

By Rev. Mindi

In my last ministry call, I used to feel guilty if I checked Facebook during my office hours. That was a time when I posted pictures of my baby kiddo, checked in on what friends were saying and doing and scrolled through endless posts of cat pictures.

Flash forward eight years, and the guilt is gone, because so much of my pastoral ministry does take place on Facebook, along with other social media. Checking Facebook is how I know what is going on in the life of my congregants. When I see them on Sunday, or in passing during the week, I often ask how things are going, and often the response I hear is, “Fine, Pastor.” But through Facebook I know when anniversaries come up—and not always the celebratory ones, but the anniversaries of loved ones gone. I know when people are going through difficult times. People share struggles looking for new jobs or stress at home that they don’t always share in person with me. Through Facebook messages, people have shared prayer requests and urgent concerns. Through Twitter, community members have reached out to me and my church for prayer and support.

I still pick up the phone and call, and I still do personal visits, but I have had congregants admit to me that they are afraid of the pastor stopping by. I’ve had others tell me that they struggle with social anxiety and have difficulty picking up the phone and calling, or sometimes answering. Text messaging and other messaging services have helped me to connect in ways that are comfortable for others. I’ve had congregants ask me in-depth questions that may lead to a conversation over a cup of coffee later, but in the beginning, allow me to share links to articles and books (and sometimes an occasional Study Bible) that help them explore more deeply.

A friend of mine (who gave me permission to share) once reached out to me to share a prayer request—over the messaging system on Words With Friends. Even gaming can lead to pastoral conversations and ministry!

Many churches still have not “bought in” to doing social media. Many pastors I know don’t “friend” their congregants on Facebook for their own privacy issues; but through a church Facebook page messages can be received; through groups, information and prayer requests can be shared. There are other ways of maintaining one’s privacy and space while still participating in social media ministry. But by not doing social media, churches are missing out on how pastoral ministry is happening in the 21st century.

*Want to learn more? Join us on Tuesday evenings for the #chsocm (Church Social Media) Tweetchat at 9pmEST/6pmPST. Or check out the blog for transcripts of the #chsocm tweetchat at the Church Social Media blog: http://churchsocmed.blogspot.com/. Follow the hashtag #chsocm and ask questions—it is how I learned when I was starting out!

Rev. Mindi is now the Social Media Coordinator for the Evergreen Association of the American Baptist Churches, USA.

The Best Darn Continuing Education Event You Will Ever Attend

By Rev. Mindi

A few years ago, some of the people I follow on Twitter started using the hashtag #unco. I asked what it was, and that was the first I heard of the UnConference, a time when clergy and other church leaders can gather together, share ideas, and dream together of what creative ministry could be. At first, I thought, “that sounds nice, but I have so many denominational responsibilities and other conferences I want to go to, I don’t think I can fit another in.”

Then I learned that the UnConference isn’t really a conference (re-read the name). There are hosts and organizers, but no keynote speakers. We all bring something. We all come away with something. We all participate and learn and teach together. I started thinking that this might be something I’d really like—a group of colleagues to hang out with and share stories and insights. After all, isn’t that the best part of conferences—the after-hours when you get together and talk, not the hours of listening to a keynote (even if they are great speakers)?

However, I learned even more: this was something you could bring your kids to! Say WHAT?! They have KidUnco. Kids have their own times to participate so you can go to breakout sessions and learn and chat together. Or, you can bring your kiddo with you if you want to. And there is free time to explore, and we all stay in the same place together so you can hang out with other adults when your kiddo goes to sleep. Unlike denominational conferences where you have to go to bed when your kiddo goes to bed because you’re in a hotel floors and doors away, you are right there.

The cost is way, way less than any conference I ever paid for. Right in line with a lot of denominational continuing education scholarships, too. And they have two locations: East (at Stony Point, New York) and West (at San Francisco Theological Seminary in California). East is May 16th through 18th this year (West is in October; we are still waiting to confirm exact dates).

I learned more in the first fifteen minutes in my first UNCO breakout on finances (called “Show Me The Money”) than I did in the required seminary course on church administration and stewardship. I learned more from my UNCO experiences than I have from any other continuing education opportunity. And, unlike most conferences and workshops, the work is continuing. Not like boring homework, but good work—new insights, ideas, and colleagues partnering with you. I have at least two groups that have continued, one since 2014 on funding, that meet monthly via video chat. I get to connect with my friends in ministry in real time and chat about what is going on and work on what I want to work on for my ministry.

All those @ names I was following that used the #unco hashtag? They became my friends, most of whom I have now met in real life. Most are not of my denomination, either, which is helpful. I have accountability, friendship, and encouragement in a very 21st century way that is helpful to who I am as a pastor and the ministry I am engaged with.

UNCO allows for creativity and collaborating. UNCO has given me a space in which I not only enjoy the work we are doing together but I also find rest and renewal. It’s both work and self-care all in one. And my clergy spouse and my kiddo get to come with me because it’s open for all of us.

Consider joining us at UNCO this year. For more information, visit www.unco.us. Registration for East is available, and West will be soon (those of us who go to the West location often like to say #westisbest, but to each their own). And follow #unco16 on social media! 

 

Financial Support "Ain't What It Used To Be."

By Rev. Mindi

The second congregation I was called to as a pastor, an old New England church with white columns and red carpet down the aisles of the white pews and white walls, had a chart in the back of its sanctuary, built in 1825. The chart was for the old box pews, long pulled out of the main floor, but still standing up in the balcony. Because, as you may know, back in the day families paid for their pew for the year. Back then, when someone got mad at you for sitting in their pew, it was because they had paid good money for it. That was how church buildings were funded, Sunday School literature purchased, and how pastors were paid.

At some point, the box pews were pulled out. The idea of being able to buy your seat in church and pay more for better seats became appalling. You can’t claim it’s your pew anymore, and all are encouraged to give what they are able. And this model worked for some time, where those who had more could give their share, and churches began creating endowments and building bigger buildings. Families still had a lot of children that filled up those Sunday School classes.

But here we are, in the twenty-first century. Two adults with full-time incomes also may have student loans, childcare expenses, healthcare expenses, rent or mortgage, and other costs that leave little wiggle room. Fewer and fewer have disposable income. People are not able to give as much to the church, and churches are shrinking their budgets, cutting staff, and in some cases, closing altogether.

We know this. And we know the church is changing and the new worshiping communities don’t look like what we have known on Sunday mornings. For some of those communities, income isn’t a problem. They meet in coffee shops or at bars or other public places, and don’t pay rent, or pay little for reserved space. Many do not have a full-time pastor, but someone who leads their community and works a different full-time job. Some of them are not seminary trained and don’t have the same debt. The operating costs may be significantly less.

But there are still many who value seminary trained pastors, who need to pay their pastor something to help with their debt, who have expenses for worship space. And they have a lot in common with the traditional church coming in to today’s world: both need to figure out how to raise financial support.

Being a PTA mom, sometimes I turn my nose up at the word “fundraising.” All I can think about is wrapping paper and cookie dough sales. But we need to look at ways to raise financial support beyond what we are used to, whether we are in a new, innovative ministry that meets outside of the box, or if we are continuing within the traditional church—the old ways are not going to work any longer.

Here are some ideas I have seen traditional and non-traditional worshiping communities use:

--Dinner and Silent Auction

--Kids Carnival

--Community Festival and Appreciation

--Concerts

--Inviting people to partner with the community through financial giving, whether they attend worship or not, by inviting people to give to help fund meaningful work in the community.

--Online giving campaigns

For the next two weeks, the “out-of-the-box-in-the-box” worshiping community I am part of, Open Gathering, which is a ministry of Bellevue Christian Church in Bellevue, Washington, is partnering in an online fundraising effort with other innovative ministries in what we are calling the “Island of Misfit Toys” Fundraiser. We are inviting folks from our communities and those who support them to offer up an item for an online auction—something they received for Christmas they didn’t want, or new (and like-new) items they have, or handmade items (there are some delicious baked goods being offered by a former Manhattan pastry chef). You can check it out on Facebook, and even bid on items to support some of these innovative ministries happening around the country. To see what other ministries are being supported by this online auction, visit this website.

Feel free to steal these ideas. Better yet, reply to this post and share your own ideas for thinking outside of the box, partnering in the community, and helping to support new and innovative ministries, whether it happen within the traditional four-walled church, or outside of the box!

Is there another way? Buildings, landlords, and ministry

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By Rev. Mindi

My alma mater is selling its buildings, its beautiful campus, and relocating. At least, that is the plan. It made the news last week. The oldest graduate theological school in the United States is going to sell the campus.

I’ve written about churches and buildings before, our connection to a space, the power structures in place with building ownership, and of course, the fact that the church is not the building but the body of Christ.

Currently, I’m a part-time pastor of a tiny church, with a tiny church building, with a tiny campus on top of a hill, across the street from an elementary school. A building that is just shy of sixty years old. A building with asbestos in the ceiling and peeling paint and ripped brown carpet in the sanctuary.

I also serve with my husband at Open Gathering, a gathered community without a building. And I have a group of young adults in my tiny church that have started to form a new(ish) community we are, for now, calling “Good Neighbors.” One is renting space; the other meets at a local coffee shop/bar (which, actually, is a Lutheran ministry funded from the sale of a church building).

So what’s the big deal about buildings?

We get attached to space and places. Of course, I am going to mourn when my alma mater moves. Not only did I live there for three years, receive my Master of Divinity there, make some of the greatest friends of my life there and learn so much—I happened to meet my husband afterwards and we had our wedding reception there. The background of my wedding photos is the quad at Andover Newton.

But the school can continue in a different place and space. Indeed, for much of the arguing going on about whether online classes are not personal enough, let’s face reality: more and more people are going to school online. More and more of us are getting our core instruction that way. It doesn’t replace the practical—and I feel that a good seminary education that prepares us for ministry is going to get us out into the field more. Interning at local congregations. Participating in local ministries. Doing chaplaincy residencies at local hospitals and mission organizations. That’s what I received at Andover Newton that was most formative for my practical training.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what we need for our congregations as well: more practical training in the field. Participating with other congregations in ministries in the community. Volunteering at our hospitals and homeless shelters. Visiting one another where we reside and where we work. I have noticed an increase in participation, from both congregation and community, every time we move an activity outside of the church building—Bible Studies in coffee shops. Pub Theology gatherings at a local bar. Caroling at the train station.

But there are buildings that house wonderful ministries as well. All too often, I have seen congregations hold on to the building by renting out every single space every single day of the week. The congregation becomes a landlord. They are concerned about wear and tear on the building but also how much income is coming in.

Our tiny church building houses four congregations. Four! Our building is in use every single day of the week—for worship, for Bible study, for prayer gatherings, for a Christian preschool in the morning and an After-School tutoring program that we run in the afternoon. We also have had Vacation Bible School, as well as a Social Skills Summer day camp for students with disabilities and their typically-developing peers.  A few years ago we planted our first Community Organic Garden plot, and we hope to expand. One thing I have noticed: when we stop worrying about what's going to happen to us, and start focusing on what God is doing through us, we are open to more possibilities.

Sure, we face the same issues. And maybe we’re kidding ourselves by holding on as long as we can. But the difference may be seeking what is the intention for the space we are in. Is it so we can just keep going? Is our renting to others just to sustain us? Or is it possible to be open to other ministries and missions and giving space for them to flourish? What is God’s intention for us? And ultimately, we do have to ask the question: is building ownership the only way to do this?

It's hard to begin to think of letting go of a place where you've had your wedding, had your child dedicated or baptized, or where your parent's funeral was held. It's hard to not have an attachment to that space, and it is a grieving process.

In my congregation, we are asking some of the hard questions now, and we aren’t sure exactly where we are going. But we are trusting the Holy Spirit. I pray that the leaders at Andover Newton are doing the same. For the rest of us in traditional churches with aging buildings, what is the Spirit calling you do to? Because I’m sure when you agreed to join in membership, or if you’ve been there since Sunday School days, that God wasn’t calling you to be a landlord of the church building. God is calling you into ministry.

Mindi and JC, May 28th, 2005. Reception at Noyes Hall at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts.

Mindi and JC, May 28th, 2005. Reception at Noyes Hall at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts.

2015 In Review

By Rev. Mindi

When I look back over this past year, there are a lot of things I think the world can regret.

More violence.

More war.

More mass shootings.

More hate against Blacks, Muslims, transgender women, and others.

In my own town south of Seattle, I have seen passage of anti-homeless ordinances as the rise of the population living in tents grows. I have experienced the failure of two school bonds, resulting in more overcrowded classrooms and not enough space, let alone resources, for students with disabilities as well as typically developing students, in our district where over 44 languages are spoken and all but three schools are Title IX schools.

Looking back, I remember the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which nine black church members and their pastor were gunned down by a white supremacist. I remember unarmed African-American men killed by police officers, again. I remember the shooting last month at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Denver, and the shooting in Bakersfield, and the massive attack in Paris, France.

Then I remember June 26th.

President Obama comforted the nation by singing and speaking at Rev. (and Senator) Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. In the midst of tragedy, I found hope.

The Supreme Court of the United States declared that marriage between same-sex couples was legal and a constitutional right.

And remember June 27th?

That was the day Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole in Charleston and tore the damn flag down.

And after that?

Several businesses stopped selling the Confederate flag on merchandise.

There were some good days, even absolutely wonderful days, in 2015.

The world isn’t always getting better. It feels, at times, the world is revolving backwards, that we have made no forward motion in terms of civil rights or justice. But then I remember those days to hold on to, those days when the world changes and doesn’t go back. And I see the kingdom of God is near. I hear the call of John the Baptist, and later of Jesus: “Repent, and believe in the Good News.”

As we draw near the end of 2015, and look to 2016, I hear the Baptizer’s call. Repent, and believe in the Good News. For there is still Good News to be revealed, Good News to be shared, and Good News to engage.

Living by the Sword

by Rev. Mindi

American children are nine times more likely to die in gun accidents than children anywhere else in the developed world.

Firearms were the third leading cause of injury related deaths nationwide in 2010.

The CDC reports that 21,175 suicide deaths are by firearms, just over half of all suicide deaths every year.

This year alone, over 62 shootings have taken place at schools, over twelve thousand killed in gun incidents, and almost 25,000 have been injured in gun incidents in the US.

And the list goes on and on and on. These statistics alone, and report after report after report, ought to make us question the plethora of guns in the United States, the attitudes about gun ownership rights and responsibilities, and the overall risk of life when it comes to gun ownership. I know—some of these are criminals with guns. Yes. However, look at the rates of accidental death and injury, especially to children—and we ought to at least question our attitudes about availability of guns.

On Monday, Jerry Falwell, Jr. made the statement that Christians should be arming themselves to shoot Muslims. He later clarified he meant Muslim extremists, but still. “Christians should arm themselves.”

What?

Why in the world should Christians arm themselves? Isn’t this antithetical to the message of the Gospel? To Jesus, the one who saves? Jesus, the one who gave up his own life?

Carol Howard Merritt writes about the reality of domestic violence and murder when guns are present in the home. We all know the church has a history of hiding abuse and covering up domestic violence, persuading women to stay in abusive situations where they are more likely to end up killed by their partner.

Rebecca Sumner writes about a time when she stopped someone with a gun by using her words. And she isn’t the only one—remember this story? It was in 2013 that Antoinette Tuff talked down a shooter in a Georgia school, in an incident where no one lost their life.

Both Carol and Rebecca mention the phrase, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” in their stories. Here’s my story. I know more than one person—who are generally good people, who have been law-abiding citizens for the most part—have, at times, been so angry they pulled a gun on someone who wasn’t armed. Or threatened to pull a gun on someone who angered them. Or talked about going and shooting up someone who had hurt them. Or even pulled out a gun on someone they loved.

Good guys, all with guns, who, if they had their gun with them in that moment, would have become the bad guy. Because it is so much easier to lash out in a fit of rage with an accessible gun. It is so much easier to do something you could never imagine yourself doing if you have a gun. It is so much easier to kill someone, or yourself, if you have access to a gun. And it is nine times more likely that your child will die in this country than anywhere else. So we need to stop saying “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” because more often than not, the good guy will become a bad guy.

Jesus, when met with violence in his arrest, argued against violence. Jesus’ disciples did not carry weapons, even when their lives were at stake.

 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Matthew 25:51-52

 

Giving Thanks for Public Education

By J.C. Mitchell

 

So at the table sits my wife, my son’s teacher, principal, school psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, the 2nd grade general education teacher, a district representative, the physical education teacher (with a passion for adaptive sport) and his private ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapist.  We all sit on the small seats the children use so that we can keep our child in more familiar surroundings while we discuss his education.  There is a lot of data and writing; however, it is the stories that seem to say the most and help us to create solutions.  The team atmosphere is a must and we are lucky to have such a good team for our child.  I am all too aware that is not always the case, but I share this gathering around a school table as one of the things I am most thankful for, education for ALL.

Some may see professionals and complain about the salaries of these educated and overworked people who are essential to much of our economy.  I am sure that many professional, like us clergy, are in debt from our education, debt that will be sold by banks to make money..  Nonetheless, I am happy that there are still people who uphold education, and specifically education for all children.

In the state I live in we had people who wrote this as part of the constitution:

"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."  Article IX, Section 1   Washington State Constitution

Is that not wonderful?  Read it again, and notice these words: paramount, ample, education, all.

It was brought to the attention of the State Supreme Court of Washington via a lawsuit by McCleary.  And the McCleary ruling made it quite clear the state was not fulfilling the state’s own constitution.  That has led to significant problems, because while everyone in both caucuses like children, they can’t find enough revenue to amply fund education for all. 

So I look at where my taxes have gone and I realize not enough went to education, I am even more thankful for all those passionate educators gathered around that table, the para-educators that fulfill the plans throughout the school day, the bus drivers and aids, all of whom care for my son.

I could be bitter about the struggle for the right resources for my son, for children of color, for the poor, for those with other disabilities.  I could be bitter the answer is too often in the future and never funded, or I can get involved in my local, state, and federal politics and include Thanksgiving in our economy over the mindset named for the day after.

 

I encourage clergy and other church leaders to get involved in education, especially access for all, because this is a justice issue. For more information about the McCleary decision in Washington, click here. Whatever state you live in, as you give thanks this week, give thanks for public education, and get involved or we may soon see turkeys running this country because we forgot Thanksgiving.  

 


Forced Adaptation

By Rev. Mindi

In 2009, the world changed as we knew it.

We went from analog to digital TV.

Remember the concerns, the worries and concerns for senior citizens that would no longer be able to watch TV, that people wouldn’t be able to find the digital converter boxes (even though you could sign up for one for free) and that people would have to buy new TV’s?

We survived. The world didn’t end. Chaos didn’t erupt in the streets. And now, six years later, we’ve almost forgotten about that transition. Few of us have the big box TV’s anymore. When I asked my congregation a couple of weeks ago (using this change from analog to digital as my sermon illustration about change), only a couple of people still had a box TV. Everyone else had a flat TV, including the senior members of the church. Six years ago, there were concerns that senior citizens wouldn’t be able to accept the change from analog to digital, and that was the main argument against the change.

Turns out, senior citizens adapt pretty well, as do most of us.

What happens when the church is resistant to change and uses the excuse that our senior members can’t make the shift and change? One, we are telling ourselves a lie about a group of people, and two, at some point the change is inevitable and we either adapt, or our message is no longer received. Because it is almost always the very people who are afraid of a generation or group not being able to adapt to change that are unable to make the change. It is almost always the ones worried about others that cannot make the shift themselves. The results after the 2009 switch from analog to digital show that the largest group not ready for the shift were ages 35-54.  Not senior citizens.

I went out to lunch today and at the table was a tablet with card reader. This is now the third restaurant chain that I have been to in the last month that is switching over to this practice, where you pay right at the table when you are finished. The menu is even loaded and you can order your food from your table, but for now, the wait staff still come to your table and take your order the old fashioned way, but who knows for how long? More and more chains are having options of ordering online through an app and you pick your food up ready to go.  How many churches are still only taking check or cash for pledges and donations? How many church websites still do not have a mobile option? How many congregations still do not use social media? And how many times will we make the excuse that it is senior citizens who are not ready? 

1440 was the year technology changed the church forever, the year the printing press was invented. In the next one hundred years, Bibles would be mass produced and printed in languages other than Latin. The church was eventually forced to change. The next big shift is already happening, in both the ways technology is used within the church, but also the church itself, in how we organize, gather, and do mission and ministry. We are shifting from creating community to finding God already at work in the community. We are shifting from doing mission to help others to partnering with others in their God-given work. But some of us are adapting faster than others. Some of us are handling this shift better. 

As those of us that have congregational budgets operating on a calendar year know, this is Stewardship season. This is the time when we mail out the pledge cards and stewardship letters and invite people to give. However, unless we being to embrace technology, we are going to be left behind, or out completely, if we are still expecting people to carry cash or check. And unless we embrace the shift of partnering with our community that already exists, to do the work God is already doing, we are going to be shutting the doors of many churches that still think their mission is to share the message of Christ’s love but have no idea how to do it in today’s world.

There are hundreds of books out there about this shift happening in our church and culture, with authors who can state this far better than me. However, if we cannot admit that it's not senior citizens that have a problem of adapting, but ourselves, those of us in leadership, we are fooling ourselves and shutting the doors on our face.

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

By Rev. Mindi

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?[1]

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?[2]

How long, O Lord? How long will we allow another mass shooting to ravage people’s lives and send loved ones into the grave?

How long, O Lord? How long will we say prayers for the victim’s families? How long will we pray for an end to violence? How long will we fold our hands and bow our heads, and do nothing more to change the world we live in?

How long, O Lord? How long will we sacrifice our children for gun ownership?

How long, O Lord, will we blame the mentally ill, among the most vulnerable, without offering health care, support, and the removal of stigma in our society?

How long, O Lord, will we go on allowing this to happen, pointing fingers, without actually making any changes at all?

How long, O Lord, will we allow this to become normal, regular, and acceptable in our society?

How long,

How long must we sing this song?

How long, how long…

‘Cause tonight, we can be as one, tonight…[3]

How long until we are ready to compromise to make change? Or to give up our need to have deadly power over others? What will it take? What more will it cost?

Seriously, how long will we sing this song, and how long will our prayers be empty?

We used to light candles in my church when there was a shooting, for the victims, so we would not forget. I still remember the twenty-eight candles I lit the Friday of the Newtown shooting. But now, there are just too many candles to light, and they have become meaningless.

We’ve all heard the saying, “pray while moving your feet.” I believe it is time to say, “pray while calling your elected official.” Because our prayer without action is meaningless, as faith without works is also dead.[4]

Pray, and register to vote.

Pray, and vote for change.

Pray, and call your elected officials.

Demand that children’s lives matter more than access to unlimited guns and ammunition and military style firearms.

How long? How many more children will die, before we finally say too many have died by gun violence?

 

[1] Psalm 13:1-2, NRSV

[2] Psalm 80:4, NRSV

[3] “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2, 1983

[4] James 2:26

 

Church, Go Back to School!

By Rev. Mindi

We checked in over coffee, talking about the start of the year, about what hadn’t been done over the summer. We shared our frustrations about things that were still the same, and celebrated the changes that have been made and places where we saw hope and opportunity.

We weren’t talking about church; we were talking about school.

Over the course of the conversation, as we talked about our admiration for the younger teachers who seemed to be able to adapt and adjust better, who could multitask and understand the differing needs of today’s children, of all abilities, I couldn’t help but think about church and how so many of the conversations we are having in the public education sphere are almost the same conversations we are having in the church world. While a younger age does not guarantee someone is open to change and adaptation, these observations came from parents at this gathering about younger teachers and administrators:

-Technology is seen as a necessity, not a luxury, especially for students with disabilities, and all students benefit from access to technology.

-They use social media as a teaching tool in the classroom, to share the accomplishments of the school with the public, and to connect with parents and families.

-They are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom, even when there are disruptions and distractions.

-They want to know about students’ lives outside of the classroom—culture, family, interests, progress they are making academically and socially.

 

In contrast, teachers and administrators that are “old school” tend to be:

-Unfamiliar with technology or supports for students with different and unique needs.

-Unfamiliar with social media—even afraid to use it for fear of privacy concerns.

-Using one-size-fits-all models of classroom instruction and behavior expectation.

-Unable to adapt to major changes—want to use same curriculum or method of teaching.

-Struggle with cultures that are different or new to them.

Of course, these are generalizations. Of course, every school is different, every administrator and teacher is different. However, public education in the United States is changing, and these conversations are eerily similar to the conversations I have with my colleagues in ministry.

There are plenty of factors that make a comparison between the church and public school a different one. However, in this conversation with parents, I heard many familiar themes:

-Struggle of an institution stuck in patterns of the past.

-Administrators unable to think outside of the box and try new ideas, or even see the reason for doing something in a different way.

-Teachers not being paid enough to live even near the communities they teach in.

-Not enough resources to go around.

-Access to technology lacking.

-Buildings in dire need of updating, but can’t due to lack of funds.

-Struggle of educating students in a rapidly changing multi-cultural community.

-The number of students on free and reduced lunch rapidly on the rise.

Change “Administrators” to “Administration Board” or whatever your governing body is, change “teachers” to pastors, etc. You get the idea. Our communities are changing with new immigrants and cultures and the number of families at or near the poverty level is on the rise.

What I see that is helpful in this comparison is that change is possible. As part of this group of parents, I am seeing significant change in our school district towards inclusion of students with disabilities. Younger teachers are being hired who are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom. More resources are being invested in technology, including an app for parents to keep up with what is going on at their child’s school and in the district.

At the same time, teacher salaries are low. Teacher turnover is high in the state of Washington, where I live, and more and more teachers are leaving public education altogether. Bonds are not passing at the local level and so buildings are falling into disrepair, and resources are stretched thin. Every year, there are teacher positions that are unfilled by a permanent teacher and instead filled by a substitute, sometimes for the entire year.

The conversation is all too familiar. All too close to home. What can we learn, and what can we do differently?

Please Insert Cassette Two

By Colton Lott

 

Over the past few years I’ve become skilled at talking about my calling to ministry. For example: unless I am directly asked, I don’t mention I am going to be a pastor at the fish-fry/quasi-family reunion. Because, once I do that, the person I'm not actually related to finds it necessary to apologize every time he grabs a beer from the cooler. When a guy is trying to plow through a twelve pack, my meek, “I don’t mind/even like beer,” is drowned out by the incessant plea of, “Please forgive me, brother Lott!”

There is also that part of my calling that makes me kind of freaky. I first discerned that I was headed for ordained ministry at thirteen. I hadn’t even started shaving! I went to church camp in junior high, got the obligatory calling like all the good Christian boys and girls, told all my counselors, and then seemingly forgot that I was supposed to forget about it by fall break and resume saying I wanted to be something practical when I grew up again. My family was rooting for something like a doctor, or a lawyer, or an insurance salesman, you know, something that actually makes money. I think ballerina-astronaut would have been a more convincing career path.

So bit-of-a-freak me went through junior high school, where I learned to tell peers reluctantly that I wanted to be a minister when I grew up. I remember being backstage of my teenaged, theatrical debut in Disney’s: Mulan (Junior) with my peers, who were asking very pressing questions between scenes. “Can you get married?” “Can you say cuss words?” “Why do you even have to go to college? I didn’t think ministers needed any special education.” “Will you ever have sex?”

High school was a different ballgame because we all knew that I was ‘unusual’ and my sarcasm had developed nicely. While my friends were looking at state schools and maybe a research institution or two in Texas, I was fervently emailing Disciples colleges, asking if any of them had money for weird high school kids who knew they wanted to be a minister.

“No, sorry.” “No, but is your parent a minister?” “No, but we can get you half off!”

And then… “YES!”

From a little school in the godforsaken cornfields of the Midwest. EUREKA! I hit the jackpot with… Eureka College. So, off I went on a scholarship designed for students who knew at seventeen they desired to go into ordained ministry (HA! I had that beat by four years, suckers!).[i]

As devoted readers of my article know, because my “devoted readers” are mostly friends and family, I graduated from Eureka this past May and am now in the last few days before my M.Div. program begins in Divinity School. After nine years, I am sitting where I always wanted to be.

Foolishly, I am now realizing something embarrassing, albeit inconsequential:

I never really imagined what this time would be like.

I started researching seminaries before looking at colleges, which I’m pretty sure is not the correct way to do it. High-school-me saw college as a stepping stone and college-me (thankfully) was busy living in the moment, so the projected images of my life that I created in those tumultuous years of adolescence start cutting out…now. Now that I am where tape one ends and I need to insert tape two, I’m not sure where I exactly left tape two.[ii]

This is not bad, per se, but does create an interesting season for my life. I don’t have a playbook that is as solid and fool-proof anymore. Now that I’m actually knocking on the door, I forgot what happens when the door is opened unto me.

In some ways, I think our churches are like this. We set arbitrary goals and wishes with no expectation of how these goals and wishes actually help with God’s mission in the world. Oh, how lovely this sanctuary would be when it is full again! Or, how revitalized we will be with 100 in worship on Sunday! Or, if we could just afford a full time pastor again!

I continually struggle with figuring out what’s on the church’s tape two. I get tape one—working toward this goal that will bring happiness and awesomeness—but what would the church do if that actually happened? What’s on tape two that everyone is so jazzed about?

My sinister suspicion is that, just like for me, there is no tape two! (*Lightning crashes in the background while I manically stick my index finger high in the air.*) Churches have spent so much energy imagining life up to a certain point that they have forgotten why that certain point exists in the first place.

Am I bothered by my first realization of the day: that I didn’t imagine in crystallized detail what my graduate experience would be like? No, I’m actually grateful. It’s still weird that I’m in this long term relationship with the church and that next summer will be a decade of my discernment in a prayer labyrinth made of flour at church camp. I know, and am comforted, that I still have the goal of ordination on the other side and the opportunity for life in public ministry in some form.

But I do worry about the churches I love. I hope they are really thinking of the story they want to write and that they begin gathering up their second and third cassettes. Because maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize that tape one gets boring. We don’t need more people or more money or more staff hours. Maybe we just need to see what life is like on tape two, heck, I’d settle with just moving to Side B! Maybe we need to re-dream and loosen the ties.

I don’t know. But today I sit in a bit of stupor and am continually thankful for the churches that prayed for me up to this point.

-----

[i] This scholarship has since evolved into the Disciples Leadership Program. A full-tuition scholarship for four years, it is open to any Disciples of Christ student who has a record of academic success, service, and leadership. Candidates no longer need to be ministerial in nature, just committed to a life of faith-based service and a deep love of God’s church. Visit: http://www.eureka.edu/admissions/doc/ for more information.

[ii] For younger readers “tapes” are VHS or cassette tapes. Long movies, or books ‘on tape,’ have two, or more, cassettes. 

Photo credit: 
http://www.undertheradarmag.com/news/sony_unveils_185_terabyte_cassette_tape/

The Resurrection will Not be Televised!

By J.C. Mitchell
The Muppets are returning and we are excited in my house.  Well, my wife and I are; our son knows very little about the Muppets, having even missed Muppet Babies.  He has been told he will be watching it, but of course he will ultimately be the one in control.  It will either be entertaining on its own, or entertaining to criticize it.  I look forward to that show coming into the home again as I remember watching it in our basement in Connecticut on a black and white television.  
However, is not my biggest complaint about the church the line “we have always done it that way?” That, too, must be driven by the same nostalgia that excites me about puppeteers reenacting old characters and ultimately old jokes.  
Many churches are stuck on their 11pm sitcom.  They repeat it over and over, and with or without an endowment will determine how long the show will continue to air.  Every so often there may be an interruption for a joy (a new program, a new active family or group, a new pastor, etc…) or crisis (“we interrupt to bring you breaking news”).  Sometimes there are the great “Kermits” out there that start revitalization of the church in a new way with the old structures.  A revitalized church with an individualized plan may be more sustainable, but too often it ends up being more about the community that grew, than the world we must change.
When was the list of a sustainable church read with these markers?
    Congregants arrested for shielding mosque (or other awesome SJ acts)
    Helped establish healthcare for all
    Homelessness eliminated in the locale
    Prisons are shrinking 
    Work against (internally and externally) racism, sexism, and ableism, as part of the daily struggle 
    Lives are changed in the neighborhood
    The naked (who want to be clothed) are clothed

Instead I am asked about these markers:
    Number of members (worshipping, active, etc.)
    Number of those people you serve (outreach)
    Building looks wonderful
    Enough parking
    Young families engaged
    Funds brought in

The resurrection will not be televised, for it must come from something new out of the death of the old, and it will look nothing like what it was.  Only in our own scars, the scars on the Body of Christ, will we know we are in that new place, called out to be that love that is so shocking. Jesus reminds us when he speaks of the contractor who hired day laborers outside the home improvement store, and paid them all equally despite picking workers at various times.  And when those paid what they agreed to for the entire day saw those who worked a fraction of the time, they were asked by Jesus, “…are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’”(Matthew 20:15b).
“Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” Jim Henson stated what he knew in his gut, and truly the church cannot simply be a new episode, or even a new fancy movie, it must be start new in one’s gut before it can grow like a blackberry bush you planted in your garden.  

 

love each other


Ceremony Seeking Meaning

By Colton Lott

I graduated from college this past May, joining about 1.9 million other students who were conferred a bachelor’s degree this year.[i] Like many of these students, I went to my commencement and heard words of life, wisdom, and foo-foo as we were set off into the sunset with shards of hope, crystalline dreams, and massive amounts of student debt (but hey, who’s counting?).[ii]

While I was decompressing in a school sponsored reception, I began talking to my favorite professor. As we were chewing the fat, one of the topics we touched on was the odd phenomenon that is graduation, especially how students in the United States make such a hullabaloo about commencement. And sports. And church. And weddings. And lots of things.

So I’ve been obsessing on why the culture I was born into obsesses about pomp and circumstance. Why is there a cavernous drive to have ever-expansive ceremonies to mark the turning points of life? Big graduations, expensive weddings, and elaborate celebrations for birthdays and anniversaries dot the landscapes of our lives, mostly without critical questioning. Kindergarten graduations are becoming formalized and holidays are becoming holimonths. This is without mentioning in detail the ways we sincerely celebrate relatively meaningless accomplishments, such as dating someone for a few weeks, doing well on a required task for school or work, or a pet’s birthday.

Capitalism drives much of this “biggering,” but to have expanded consumption serve as the only answer for this phenomenon seems stunted. A surface response is that our society is starved for true and/or profound meaning and we try to fill this hole with ever-enlarged celebrations as a supplement or substitute. But the question I’m more interested in is: “Why are we so famished for a true and/or profound meaning to enter into our lives?”

One of the biggest contributions made by the emergent church movement is it attempts to detail why and how our culture is being unanchored from what was previous understood as a “given.” Phyllis Tickle identifies our questions du jour as revolving around our collective source of authority and lack thereof; what constitutes true “human-ness;” and how we relate to other systems of life, especially other religions.[iii] Just as has happened, and will happen, we have become untethered and are desperate for a rock on which to rely.

The disciples of Jesus offer us a poignant analog. As followers of Christ, they were drawn into an alternative lifestyle that required them to live without traditional boundaries, without the culture’s guideposts that could sustain, correct, or reassure them. They were untethered, unanchored, and forced to seek new meaning for the time and place they were situated in. In Luke 9, we see Peter, James, and John following Jesus up the mountain for what will be the transfiguration of Christ and the appearance of Moses and Elijah.

When things started really happening, Peter jumps up, johnnie-on-the-spot, and wants to “construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Luke 9:33, CEB). Before Peter could even cease speaking, the other two figures leave, a voice from the cloud speaks, and they are eerily back to their regular programming.

What a celebration! What a ceremony! Like Peter, we want to capture the holiness that comes through in the flash of light, but like Peter we are powerless to do so. We cling to the hope that if we could just make these shrines bigger, just a bit bigger, we could hold down something deep, we could examine something true. But the ceremony, the pomp and circumstance, is heartbreakingly ephemeral.

The wish is that the celebration or the ceremony holds the meaning, but that is not what we experience. When Christ is transfigured, there is no significant change within him, but only the disciples’ understanding of who Jesus is—the ceremony offers only a glimmer of what the profound and/or true meaning is. Birthday parties don’t magically make someone have a year’s worth of wisdom and growth, but the celebration serves as a pause to merely recognize what has happened in the past year. One of the common critiques of marriage is that a piece of paper doesn’t “mean anything;” there is something true to this contemporary argument, as the formality and ceremony doesn’t make a meaning, but the wedding points to the change that has, is, and will be happening between two people.

As hard as we try, we can’t find solve our dilemmas and problems of the twenty-first century by making ceremonies and celebrations more spectacular in the hope that they will be more meaningful. While it would be easier, we can’t substitute the party for the cause of the party. We have to continue struggling and asking the hard questions of meaning, even though the progress of answering such questions can be frustratingly minimal. Just like Peter, James, and John, we have to follow Jesus back down the mountain into a very messy, unknown world. Just as Jesus wreaked havoc for the original disciples, we are living in holy disorder, too. We live in the tension, both desperately waiting on something profound and/or true to come our way and rescue us from our insecurities and angst, and also realizing that in following the radical Jesus we slowly gain something meaningful and get to glimpse something ultimate.

 

[i] https://www.naceweb.org/press/faq.

[ii] The servicers on your debt. That’s who’s counting. And, like the undead or crab-grass, they never go away. Ever. 

[iii] This thought is detailed most accurately in her book The Great Emergence (2008).

Revisiting Equal Marriage

By Rev. Mindi

Last fall, I wrote this article about equal marriage and how while we celebrate that gay and lesbian couples can now get married, we still have a long way to go for creating equal marriage, especially among those with disabilities, in which one partner often loses their benefits if they are legally married. I am posting it again, because while I rejoice in the SCOTUS decision on marriage on June 26th, 2015, we still have a long way to go.

 

 

http://dmergent.org/articles/2014/10/28/equal-marriage

Let us celebrate now that marriage for gay and lesbian couples is now legal in the United States, but may we continue to work for justice for all in regards to the freedom to marry.

 

#MissionSummit2015

By Rev. Mindi

That’s an awfully a long hashtag. American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in using social media effectively.

American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in including our marginalized folks.

However, there was progress made at our biennial gathering in Kansas City last weekend. Besides more people tweeting this time, three out of the four general worship service preachers mentioned inclusion of LGBTQ folks. The first praised the SCOTUS ruling as a just and right ruling. The second said for far too long we have pushed LGBTQ folks out. The third said “If you have a problem with someone’s sexual orientation, go talk to Jesus.”

I know it made some people uncomfortable. I saw the walkouts. But I also recall sitting in far too many American Baptist biennial meetings and walking out with my lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender friends as they were told, from the pulpit, that they were an abomination, full of sin and bound for hell. I have walked out to comfort so many with tears from the pain and violence of exclusion. So for those who felt they had to walk out, I didn’t have much sympathy. As another friend said, “For now, we get to stay.”

For now.

We still have a long way to go. As Baptists, we believe in Soul Freedom, and that means that I cannot tell you what to believe, and you cannot tell me what to believe. It means that you and your church are free to determine your theology and your stances on issues, and me and my church are free to determine our theology and stances. That is how it should be. And at times it may be uncomfortable when we express our Soul Freedom in ways that bump up against each other.

But will this progress continue? Will the ending of exclusion actually happen? Will our LGBTQ friends feel safe in attending a Biennial gathering without worrying about the threat of vitriol from the pulpit?

We still have a long way to go. We claimed #BlackLivesMatter from the pulpit but have yet to come out with a unified voice to work on racism within our own congregations and communities. Many of us signed a statement pledging to work on anti-racism but met resistance from some who felt it didn’t do anything. Thank goodness our outgoing President viewed this as an opportunity and read the letter from the pulpit, and we can continue the work long beyond our Mission Summit. You can read the Epistle of Metanoia from the 2015 Mission Summit here.

We still have a long way to go. We have fabulous young preachers who shared their gifts in the Festival of Young Preachers and young seminarians getting ready to enter the search process, but so many churches are cutting back salaries and opportunities. There are pastors retiring but then staying on or taking another church in their retirement instead of encouraging congregations to take the opportunity to call a young pastor. And as I’ve shared before, our definition of “young” sometimes stretches well into middle-ages, leaving the truly young pastors still looking for a call.

We have made progress. I believe it. I left with a lot of hope for our future and actual excitement about attending our next Biennial “Mission Summit” Gathering as American Baptists. But until we call younger pastors, have younger leadership represented at our national gatherings and in our national leadership, and work to include those who have been pushed to the margins because it makes some of us uncomfortable, we still have a long way to go.