Saturday, November 14, 2009

Perhaps this is not so crazy 130 years later

I was digging through some old papers my parents had sent me, and found an article that mentions my great-great grandfather, Rev. Torsten Moen (whose first name is my middle name, though nobody seems sure how it was really spelled). The article talks about a man named John Henry Peterson, from St. Cloud, MN one of the few (white) residents of that area in the 1870s which was inhabited largely by the Chippewa. Here's a bit of the article:

"Peterson tried to gather the scattered pioneers for worship and Sunday school in their homes. Peterson and a few other Scandinavians met in the home of Andrew Johnson on March 17, 1879 to organize a congregation. They named themselves the Sandvikens Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation and Pastor Torsten Moen, a Norwegian missionary from Osakis, accepted a call to serve as their pastor. Moen, the head of 18 congregations, said he could only promise five or six visits a year. The congregation gathered in homes until 1888 when it constructed a small log church. In 1888, the congregation totaled 21 persons."

A few people organized themselves to be a church, and figured five or six visits a year from a pastor might help them do that better. They met in homes until they got kind of big for that, and found a way to all gather together. And so my great-grandfather rode from town to town checking in on these little communities (18 of them!) to see how these little groups of Jesus' disciples were getting on and helping them with whatever they needed--but clearly the mission and ministry didn't only happen when ol' T. Moen was in town. A network of house churches, followers of Jesus gathered together to be the church in the midst of an often hostile environment, sharing their lives and their gifts, and not worrying about all the many, many things that keep churches today from doing what we are called to do. Doesn't sound like such a bad model for 2009, now does it?

Oh, and 130 years later that little group of Swedes from a log cabin are still gathering as the followers of Jesus known as Gethsemane Lutheran Church.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10th

Happy Birthday Martin Luther!

You really messed up the Church 500 years ago. May we who carry your name continue to be a force for reformation and transformation. I raise a glass of beer to you!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Called from brokenness

I'm sitting in a bar in the Salt Lake City airport and cannot resist the urge to post, simply because I am drinking a beverage named "Polygamy Porter". To make things even better, it has a slogan. Ready for it..."Why have just one?" And, since in finding the link above I found out it is only 4% ABV, I think I will have another.

But I'm on my way home from this conference about "vocation" and "call" so perhaps I should blog a bit more about that too.

One of the interesting things I'm starting to learn from hearing people's stories of not only "To what they feel called" but also those moments from their life story that led to those particular callings, is that they often result from some sort of brokenness or lack of support at some point in their lives. I'll use a public story as an example.

Jay Bakker is the son of Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker of televangelist fame. His story has been most recently made public through a documentary series entitled "One Punk Under God" (which I highly recommend adding to your Neflix queue). His dissatisfaction with the religious life he grew up in (and the subsequent and televised breakdown of his family) led him through a dark period in which he rejected his faith--and felt excluded from God. Now he's a pastor, but one quite unlike his famous father. You can hear his sense of call to this unique ministry in a bit of his bio from his church's website:
After witnessing firsthand the excommunicative treatment his family received from the church, Jay wanted nothing to do with God. And so began a new life filled with substances easily abused and nonstop partying created to mask the pain and suffering caused by this surreal rejection. Eventually, Jay was able to conquer his demons and made a personal decision to find out who God really was. What he discovered floored him – God wasn’t some judgmental, condemning deity sitting on a throne waving an angry fist in the direction of sinners – rather, he was an understanding God offering his gift of love and grace with no strings attached. For the first time Jay wasn’t being driven to Christ out of fear; he was being drawn to Christ through love.

As a result of this discovery, Jay started a church for those who feel rejected by traditional approaches to Christianity; this church is called Revolution. The idea behind Revolution is to show all people the unconditional love and grace of Jesus without any reservations due to their lifestyles or background, past or future. In the desire to bypass geographical boundaries, all Services are recorded and posted on the Revolution Church website to create an “online church for people who have given up on church.”
It's clear Jay's sense of call comes from his own hard experience, and what he wished had been available for him in the midst of it. Now he's devoted his life to helping others weather the same experiences he has, and find the support and community he longed for.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Jay's (and so many other's) sense of calling comes from their own deep pain, and a desire to help create the sort of world in which the sorts of things they have experienced don't become the life-ending problems they are for so many. I think of the sorts of "hero" calls one hears about: the kid that escaped the slums who comes back to start a youth center there, the young woman who experienced rape who volunteers to help girls foster self esteem, the man who grew up without a father in the home who now mentors teenage boys in his church, etc.

But I'm hearing this again and again in the more ordinary stories I'm hearing too. I have tended to think of call along the lines of "What gifts do I have that could be useful?" but this realization is helping me to see an added dimension of call which is "What wrong have you experienced that you are passionate to help right?" In many ways, I think the two are connected--and transforming a brokeness or hardship into a way to help other's through this might indeed be one of the most amazing gifts we have. It drives our passions and focuses our energy in ways that simple talents never will.

So, the question this raises is "What is your place of hardship that drives you to be passionate about what you are passionate about?" Might this be a place of call for you?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are you called?

I'm at a conference in Atlanta put on by The Fund for Theological Education through their "Calling Congregations" program. We're test running a process and a curriculum for helping congregations recenter themselves on the notion of "call"--what are we (individuals, communities, etc) called to do, and better yet, who are we called to be?

The basic premise is to foster the practice of story telling (and story listening) along with the asking of questions. This happens by first creating a space in which this can happen, and then by forming a community in that space that can evoke, pull out, and engage the deep life questions we are all asking (even if not out loud). FTE hopes that by helping our congregations get better at this practice (spiritual practice, really) that we will be better at helping our young people figure out how they are called. It emerged for them out of the recognition that there is a shortage of young people following calls to ordained ministry, but they realized that the problem was deeper than that--and that the way to get at the root questions was to help foster communities in which young people especially, but also the whole intergenerational range of folks, could explore, ponder, and discern callings in the world. As one of the facilitators has said, if the Church is not doing this work, what the heck are we doing? I tend to agree.

Pastor types talk a lot about "call" about the "call to ministry" or whatever. As part of my preparation to be a pastor I had to reflect at length (ad naseum) about "vocation," about my own sense of call, where it came from, what I think it meant, and what God had to do with it. People asked me repeatedly about how, where, when, and why I felt called. My seminary professors, a board of people from my synod, and finally the congregation which I'm serving all had to hear my sense of how God was calling me to ordained ministry, and say "Yep, we think this guy is called to be a pastor too." In my ordination I said out loud that I would consider the call of the church the call of God and do my best to live fully into that calling. Call, call, call. I'm steeped in it. And I believe that all of us are called to something, or many somethings.

But I wonder, do the rest of us (non clergy folk) think much about call? What does the word "call" or "vocation" used in this way even mean to you? Do you all out in the real world think about the things that you are up to as callings? And if you do, do you think of them as callings from God? How is your calling connected to, or separate from, the work you do? And, do we ever actually talk about this other than in the context of people who think they are called to be pastors? Would it help if we talked about this sort of thing more?

And (in the spirit of this conference I'm at) do you have a 2 minute story that illustrates how (or why, or when) you feel called? If you do, feel free to share it in the comments--and ask questions about one another's stories too if you are curious or want to know more.