Monday, October 26, 2009

Big Tent Church

Images from our "Big Tent" Reformation Sunday worship and Oktoberfest

This was a joint service with Bethlehem Lutheran, Bethany Presbyterian, St. Paul's Lutheran, and Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church. The offering (over $600) was given to Odyssey Youth Center for LGBTQA teens.

Seats for 270, mostly filled up later

Bagpipers who opened the service (thanks Presbyterians. The Lutherans retaliated with an accordion during the Oktoberfest part)

A big pile of communion bread, representing breads from all over the world.

I ruined my homebrew and had to buy a keg of Northern Lights Dunkel (which was amazing) for the party. My buddy Dave (on the left) from The Porch (a church in West Central Spokane) brought a keg of IPA they brewed in their community garden, with hops grown in the neighborhood. Thanks Dave for saving the day, and for making this event even more ecumenical (The Porch is affiliated with the Christian Missionary Alliance)

Sausage Church

Sausage Church:

Making 150 lbs of sausage with Bethlehem Lutheran for our joint worship service this weekend. Notice at the generations mixing, passing wisdom down from one to another.

A great definition of what the Church should be (in dialogue form)

(Stolen from my friend Skip)

This is a dialogue from a story by George MacDonald titled, Robert Falconer. In total it is a wonderful story. Falconer came from a very humble background as a shepherd, but he always had a deep desire to learn, and to know Christ. As an adult, with help from friends, he became a physician. He served as physician to the poorest of the poor in his city. He developed partnerships with other Christians to serve the poor. He met the young man he is in dialogue with here, and invited him to accompany him on his rounds. This takes place after they had made the rounds for the evening, and the young man asks Falconer, “Are you all a church?” To which Falconer responds, “No.” What you will read here is much along the lines of what I believe being the church means.

Are You A Church?

‘Are you a society, then?’ I asked at length.
‘No. At least we don’t use the word. And certainly no other society
would acknowledge us.’
‘What are you, then?’
‘Why should we be anything, so long as we do our work?’
‘Don’t you think there is some affectation in refusing a name?’
‘Yes, if the name belongs to you? Not otherwise.’
‘Do you lay claim to no epithet of any sort?’
‘We are a church, if you like. There!’
‘Who is your clergyman?’
‘Where do you meet?’
‘What are your rules, then?’
‘We have none.’
‘What makes you a church?’
‘Divine Service.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘The sort of thing you have seen tonight.’
‘What is your creed?’
‘Christ Jesus.’
‘But what do you believe about him?’
‘What we can. We count any belief in him—the smallest—better
than any belief about him—the greatest—or about anything else
besides. But we exclude no one.’
‘How do you manage without that?’
‘By admitting no one.’
‘I cannot understand you.’
‘Well, then: we are an undefined company of people, who have
grown into human relations with each other naturally, through one
attractive force—love for human beings, regarding them as human
beings only in virtue of the divine in them.’
‘But you must have some rules,’ I insisted.
‘None whatever. They would cause us only trouble. We have nothing
to take us from our work. Those that are most in earnest, draw
most together; those that are on the outskirts have only to do nothing,
and they are free of us. But we do sometimes ask people to help
us—not with money.’
‘But who are the we?’
‘Why you, if you will do anything, and I and Miss St. John and
twenty others—and a great many more I don’t know, for every one
is a centre to others. It is our work that binds us together.’
‘Then when that stops you drop to pieces.’
‘Yes, thank God. We shall then die. There will be no corporate
body—which means a bodied body, or an unsouled body, left behind
to simulate life, and corrupt, and work no end of disease. We
go to ashes at once, and leave no corpse for a ghoul to inhabit and
make a vampire of. When our spirit is dead, our body is vanished.’
‘Then you won’t last long.’
‘Then we oughtn’t to last long.’
‘But the work of the world could not go on so.’
‘We are not the life of the world. God is. And when we fail, He
can and will send out more and better labourers into his harvest field.
It is a divine accident by which we are thus associated.’
‘But surely the church must be otherwise constituted.’
‘My dear sir, you forget: I said we were a church, not the church.’
‘Do you belong to the Church of England?’
‘Yes, some of us. Why should we not? In as much as she has faithfully
preserved the holy records and traditions, our obligations to
her are infinite. And to leave her would be to quarrel, and start a
thousand vermiculate questions, as Lord Bacon calls them, for which
life is too serious in my eyes. I have no time for that.’
‘Then you count the Church of England the Church?’
‘Of England, yes; of the universe, no: that is constituted just like ours,
with the living working Lord for the heart of it.’
‘Will you take me for a member?’
‘Will you not, if—?’
‘You may make yourself one if you will. I will not speak a word to
gain you. I have shown you work. Do something, and you are of
Christ’s Church.’
We were almost at the door of my lodging, and I was getting very
weary in body, and indeed in mind, though I hope not in heart.
Before we separated, I ventured to say,
‘Will you tell me why you invited me to come and see you? Forgive
my presumption, but you seemed to seek acquaintance with
me, although you did make me address you first.’
He laughed gently, and answered in the words of the ancient
‘The moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.’
Robert Falconer

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some thoughts on Original Sin

My Twitter friend Randy (@rschatz56560) posted this tweet today: "Any #outlawpreachers want to try to explain the concept of 'original sin'? Grew up RC, now ELCA and I reject it, but am willing to learn." It's kind of hard to talk about original sin in 140 characters (though that would be a challenge worth taking up!) but I did want to respond. Here's the "sitting at the pub" version.

The first thing is what do we mean by "sin"? Most people (both inside and outside of Christianity) think of sin as "doing bad stuff" or "breaking rules" or "refusing to submit to the arbitrary authority of some paternalistic, sexist, cartoon diety that doesn't really exist for the purpose of keeping people in line and denying us the ability to flourish as the beautiful, wonderful, amazing people we are." Yes? So then, we say, of course we don't believe in "original sin". Babies are beautiful, wonderful, and not subject to the same sort of BS as the rest of us. Sure, all the rest of us get caught up in rule breaking but not the 10 minute old baby. How could they? Not only do they not know the rules, they don't have the mental development for such a conversation about breaking them to even make sense. And if sin were primarily about rule breaking, I'd tend to agree with you.

So we go to Adam and Eve, the original sin originals. God said "Don't eat this here apple" and passed a law. No matter how arbitrary it was, those humans should have followed it. He could have said, "Always wear a hat on Tuesdays" and they should have done that too. And why not? He basically told them "Live in this paradise, don't work, be naked all the time, and have lots of sex". Couldn't they have done this teensy weensy thing that God asked of them? But no, they couldn't and so they screwed it up for all eternity. And now because of this "original sin" the rest of us have to live in smog filled cites, work for the Man, cover our naughty bits, and (except for the 1960's) keep our sex lives quiet and to ourselves. That better have been one damn good apple, guys.

But that's not really what this story is all about, and it's not what original sin is all about. Because sin is not really about rule breaking at all. It's about being "curved in on ourselves" (incurvatus in se if you want to get all geekly Latin about it). Its not first and foremost about our actions, its about our primary view of the world. Which, most of the time, is our own belly buttons. The nasty stuff we do to one another (and ourselves) is the result of our own inwardness, our own self-centered world that really doesn't have much room for our neighbor or for God.

St. Augstine wrote (somewhere) about the deeper meaning of original sin with something along the lines of "We don't want God to be God. We want to be God." God created humans to be in relationship. Relationship with God, with each other, with all that is. God created us whole, where our will and God's will for us were one and the same. But God also created us with free will, we're not puppets, and we have the ability to choose to reject God. And we do. Again and again and again. Every day. Even when we are trying really hard not to (maybe especially when we are trying really hard not to). Even Jesus prayed "Not my will, but yours be done." Adam's sin was not doing something God told him not to do, but in putting himself above God, saying in effect "I don't need you to be God. I'm perfectly happy being God, thank you very much."

When I talk about sin with people who don't know our churchy jingo (and even with people who do) I like to use the word "brokenness" to talk about sin. Most people, even those who think they are pretty "sin free" will admit that they are broken in one way or another. And we'd be fools not to admit that the world is broken, that families are broken, that relationships all around us are fundamentally broken. And even the most ardent agnostic would likely say "If there is a God, that God certainly didn't intend for the world to be like THIS!". (and that may be why they are an agnostic in the first place.) And in fact, the world is not the way that God intended it to be. He created the world for wholeness, he created us for wholeness, and we (from the very beginning--hence "original") break the world, break one another, break ourselves. And even our attempts to make it better, to make ourselves better, are broken too and often end up doing more harm than good.

It's not just that individuals break rules (or don't) but you and I and our relationships and this crazy system we've come up with to live together and the whole of human existence is, deep down, fundamentally broken and not what God had in mind for us. And we don't have a clue how to put it back together again. And still, we're not willing to let God be God for us. We don't trust God to handle it, we want to do it ourselves. Adam, you dummy, why did you let the good life slip through your fingers just so you could do whatever the hell you wanted to do? And, for that matter, why do I?

The Good News is that, despite what many of us have been taught, God is actually not so worried about our rule breaking "sins" but in our inward curving that leads to them. God is interested in putting the world back together, in putting us back together, in making us whole. God calls us to curve upward and outward. But God doesn't force us, God invites us. Invites us to embrace this Kingdom of wholeness that most reject--to be people of Grace, people of trust, followers of Jesus. Jesus' will was the same as God's will--for himself, for others, for the whole world. It goes back to Luther's concept of "free will" which is not doing whatever you want to do (which is how most of us define it) but having what you want for yourself and the world be the same as what God wants for you and the world. To be truly free is to put ultimate trust in God, not in ourselves.

To paraphrase the Order for Confession from the Lutheran Book of Worship: We are stuck in our brokenness and cannot make ourselves whole. We have made God's world more broken, when God calls us to seek wholeness. But when we face our brokenness, God, who loves wholeness above all else, loves us in the midst of our brokenness too, and loves us all into wholeness.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A difficult sermon

This Sunday I preached what I think may well have been the hardest sermon to preach in my life. The text was from Mark, and the rich man who is called to give up his wealth to follow Jesus (a call he rejects). The quesion I asked my congregation was "What is getting in the way of you following Jesus right now?" I also ask this of myself and share my answer.

Here it is.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Some tough questions for churches

I've recently picked up again a book by Alice Mann published by the Alban Insitute entitled "Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline." In it she asks some questions from fellow Alban Institute colleage Ed White (and adds a few of her own).

I'd be interested in my churchly friends answers to these questions (and my former churchly, and non churchly friends too from their experiences with Christian communities).

Is your church primarily in the fellowship business?
Is your church primarily in the social action or social service business?
Is your church primarily in the music business?
Is your church primarily in the historic preservation business?
Is your church primarily in the baby-sitting business?
Is your church primarily in the landlord business?
Is your church primarily in the investment management business?
Or, is your church primarily in the calling people into discipleship and forming them in a life-changing faith business?

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I have a new favorite German word: Frühschoppen. It has narrowly won out over my long time favorite: Stinktier, which means "skunk", but literally is "stinky animal" and also the only recently discovered Glühbirne, which means "light bulb" but literally is "glowing pear." You have to hand it to the Germans for being infinitely practical in their use of language.

I encountered Frühschoppen in the following sentence: "For example, it's not uncommon to see German men gathering after church for Frühschoppen (morning pint), a Sunday breakfast bonding session over bread, cheese, cold cuts, and a Hefeweizen'" The Germans have a word for the beer you drink on Sunday morning after church. As my 18 month old daughter loves to say: "WOW!" Unlike my other favorite German words, Frühschoppen is extremely unpractical, and not only that, my Norwegian ancestors would have looked with distain upon the practice of drinking beer in the late morning after church itself (though they probably would have partaken, just with guilty consciences) and certainly would never have coined a word for it. They would have called it "Dad is off in the garage again, don't you know." Frühschoppen is so much more direct.

The sentence I quoted above came from a magazine called "Beer Northwest" which I picked up at the Balefire Wine Bar in Everett, where I took my wife to celebrate her 30th birthday while taking advantage of a day of free babysitting by my parents. This was Tauni's first visit to Balefire, thought I been several times on previous visits with my dad (who has a mug in their mug club with "Pastor Mark" engraved on it). It's actually the place people from my dad's church go to share a beer after church (though not for Frühschoppen, they go after the evening service). I thought Tauni would enjoy it because they have 24 wines on tap (preserved with Argon gas) and it has 12 good beer taps for me (and I didn't even know about the bacon wrapped dates--Tauni's favorite). If the Balefire existed in Spokane I think it would be our regular hang out--the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, no such thing exists in Spokane to my knowledge. Too bad, I'll have to have my Frühschoppen at home.

The other thing that doesn't exist in Spokane is a magazine entitled "Beer Northwest" (though it should). Some highlights from the Table of Contents: "Two Wheels and Three Sheets: The DIY style of bicycles and beer in Portland, Oregon--page 20", "Take me out to the Ballgame: Learn the best places to find craft beer inside the Northwest's ball parks--pg 30"' "To Lemon, or Not to Lemon: The nuances of American and German Hefeweizens--page 34" (where the quote above came from) and "I 'Brew': Your wedding day is one of the most exciting days of your life; the beer you brew for the day should be equally monumental--page 52". If I were going to make up a beer magazine, these were the sorts of headlines I'd come up with. Amazingly enough there were actual articles to go with them. And now I feel reassured about my habit rejecting the lemon that comes with Hefeweizen (it does ruin it you know, the Germans know this) during my Frühschoppen.