Monday, January 31, 2011

Learning about Grace from Shorty on Pit Boss

My new favorite TV  Reality  show is Animal Planet's Pit Boss.  It's about Shorty Rossi, and his adventures as a talent agency for Little People and Pit Bull rescue.  If that sounds like an odd combination, well that's all part of the charm of the show.  

Shorty is a tough guy, a Little Person who grew up in the projects, got in trouble as a kid and spent ten years in prison.  He turned his life around and got into show business.  And he loves Pit Bulls.  He has a soft spot for Pit Bulls because they suffer a stigma and a bad rep just like Little People do.  So he lives to give little people a chance in life and to give Pit Bulls another chance. 

He's crazy.  If he sees a dog in a yard that is mistreated or malnourished, he just breaks in the yard and takes the dog.   When he hears about a dog fight, he doesn't call the police, he just goes there and checks in out and just barely escapes without getting beat up. 

But in that episode he recognized a guy he saw in a dog park with a pit bull so he goes and meets him and tells him he needs to turn his life around and not mistreat dogs like that.   The man tries to excuse himself by saying he's just trying to make a living.  And Shorty in a tough guy but caring way just holds firm "I know but you gotta do what is right.  I turned my life around and so can you"  The man makes no promises but he does take Shorty to a dog the gang has abandoned and Shorty takes the dog and finds a home for her.  It's all a little corny but despite all the tough talk, grace and love just oozed in that scene.  Yea the right thing would have been to call the police, arrest everybody, and have animal control collect all the dogs.  And all the dogs would probably have been killed because animal shelters just don't have the time to deal with fighting dogs nor do they believe they can be redeemed.    Of course it's been shown that they can.  Pit Bulls are not good for fighting because they've been bred to be vicious.  They are good for fighting because they are exceptionally loyal and eager to please.  And so they will subject themselves to the horror of fighting if that's what pleases their owners.  There's got to be a lesson about grace in that.  Just like this episode where an abused three legged abandoned fighting dog got a home and a scarred man got the chance to do one right thing.  You gotta start somewhere. 

Pit Boss - a  crazy show about second chances for misunderstood people and dogs.  What's not to love?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Super Bowl's Dirty Little Secret

My delight in fact that the Packers will be playing at the Superbowl has been dampened by learning this fact - Every year children as young as 11 are trafficked involuntarily to provide sex to the fans who come to the Superbowl.  I read in an article about a man arrested for trafficking in last year's Superbowl that the average age of the these sex slaves (come on let's call them what they are) is 13 and they have an average life span of 20.

Why did I not know this?  Of all the things people in this country like to get outraged about, why are we not united, liberal and conservative in outrage over this???  Though I do have to say, the Evangelicals seem to have more of a handle on this than the Mainlines.   I have to wonder, is our fear of being sullied by being associated with Evangelicals keeping mainlines away from this issue?  

It's not just the sex-slave trade or the Superbowl - its human slavery IN THIS COUNTRY.  Why?  This should not be.  We fought a war over this people!  Brother fought against brother over this.  This was decided more than a hundred years ago. WE WILL NOT HAVE SLAVERY IN THIS COUNTRY!

Surely this is a sin liberals and conservatives can unite in fighting? 

Texas Attorney General Abbott has prepared a task force to identify and respond to traffickers who plan to sell children at the Super Bowl.  The SuperBowl Host Committee is still pretending this is not an issue and refuses to take part in this effort.  It's probably too late by now but sign the petition to ask the Committee to support the effort.

 If we don't convince this year's committee - maybe next year's committee will get the message.   The first step is getting people aware of the problem.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Five - Favorite Verses

The RevGalBlogPals have a fun Friday Five - Favorite Bible verses!

This is the one I always put on my mobility papers and is the is my standard answer for favorite verse:
 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16
The gospel is the power of God.  God's love, forgiveness and acceptance for all people is what will overcome all that is wrong with this world.  Grace is everything.  And that first part "I am not ashamed" was especially meaningful for me when I was being hammered and argued with and pressured to "tone down that grace stuff" at my former congregation.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—Ephesians 2:8
Faith is a gift.  It is not your own doing.  Too many people have turned faith into a work,  just another way to try to grab some credit, take some control, manipulate God "God has to save me because I made a decision for Christ"  Nope, no credit, no control, no manipulation.  You didn't make any decisions for Christ.  "This is not your own doing, it is the gift of God"

 The next one depends on the translation - I've always like "Where there is no vision, the people perish"  Proverbs 29:18 which is not at all how the NRSV puts it but I kind of like the Message version:
If people can't see what God is doing,
   they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
   they are most blessed.

You need a vision but it has to be God's vision.  I've seen too many congregations stumbling all over themselves because their vision was to be their own little private club.  But when they do get a glimpse of what God is doing and attend to it, they are indeed most blessed.

And I have to steal Revgalblogpals favorite and this Sunday's OT lesson:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

I have a funny story about this verse.  I went to Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berekley and we were part of the Graduate Theological Union which meant you could take classes at some of the surrounding seminaries of other traditions.  I took an Old Testament class at the Baptist Seminary.  (I figured Baptists knew their Old Testament!)  So the teacher asks "What is Micah known for?"  And in my usual teacher's pet kiss ass way, I shot up my hand and proudly answered "What do your Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God"

 The teacher looks at me strangely.  "No....someone else?"  and someone else says "Micah predicts Jesus will be born in Bethlehem"  That was the correct answer.  Oh.

And though I struggle with the Gospel of John I really really love the first 18 verses of John, especially these two: him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   John 1:4-5
From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.     John 1:16
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth"  John 1:14
I've lived through a lot of dark times and this promise, this assurance that there is light, there is grace, there is truth, there is love is what has pulled me through. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How I stay organized

I am an unorganized person who is very good at organizing.  If that makes any sense.   I can organize congregational events.  For years I organized and ran two figure skating competitions and test sessions a year.  But personally I find it difficult to focus (I think I may have adult ADD).  I lose things ALL the time.  The only reason I have my keys and purse everyday is because I keep them in my car.  And even then I sometimes I have dig around the car to find the keys.  I used to just carry around a large wallet but I was constantly leaving it in a shopping cart or restaurant  and my daughter and sister insisted I buy a purse and hang on to it in the store so it wouldn't ever be left in the cart.  And to keep the keys in my purse, not my pocket so if I did leave it somewhere, I'd not be able to drive away.  That works. Most of the time.

I forget things.  I never remember where I'm parked.   I almost always turn the wrong way and drive toward Cresco instead Decorah (often not realizing it until I am at the turn to go into Cresco).   They are both ten miles the opposite direction of where I live.

I think the reason I can organize events and such is that I'm very clear on the big picture, the goal and what needs to be done to get to the goal, but it's just so hard for me to get away from the big picture to focus on the details of what needs to be done.   For example, I know it is good to have a vendor to sell skating clothes and equipment at the competition.  Actually remembering to CONTACT the vendor and ask him to come is the challenge for me.

Obviously I had to learn early in my career to delegate.  It's always somewhat of a delightful surprise to me that there are people who actually enjoy dealing with those details that I find somewhat annoying.

Once many years ago I was being criticized at a council meeting for forgetting stuff.  No really sometimes I would forget to go to some meetings.  Yes that's a bad thing.  Not defending it in any way.  But there was a woman there who had a better solution that harping on me.  She bought me a nice Franklin Covey planner with my nameplate on it.  Of course the trick was not just writing stuff in the book, it was remembering to LOOK at the book everyday.  Now I keep that book with me everywhere I go.  I don't know what would happen if I ever lost it.  I get a new one every few years.  It helps that you can buy really stylish ones. 

I am a messy person who left to my own devices would drown in clutter.  Part of that is my tendency to multi-task which can lead to not finishing things.  I came across the FlyLady about 7 or 8 years ago and it changed my life.  You can ask my kids about how much more organized and cleaner our house is.  And it all starts with shining your sink.

FlyLady and Franklin Covey.  If you are anything like me, these resources will change your life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't Sell the Parsonage

My current mansion
I've lived in parsonages my whole ministry.  Most of them were not kept up well.  The practice was to ignore everything until there was a change of pastor and then spend a fortune making it livable for the next pastor (did they ever consider how unlivable it was for the pastor until then I wonder?)

That isn't actually the case where I am now.  It's a beautiful large, old house that has been kept up very well.  My luck I only get to stay here a couple of years as an interim.   It says in the history that the intention when this was built in 1910 to be "the finest parsonage in the ELC"  Even now they are very proud of their parsonage.  Imagine that, instead of resenting the pastor's house ("humph... I never had a dishwasher"), actually being proud of providing a nice house for your pastor.  This is a three point parish (that's three services every Sunday) in a small town where you have to drive an hour and half to get anywhere.  But this house outweighs all that and make this a much more attractive call. 

But most of the parsonages I have lived in have been sold.  One was actually moved away. And I think that's a BIG mistake. 

Yes I know most pastors want to own their own home.  Yes it would be more advantageous to the pastor tax wise.   That double dip housing allowance exemption AND interest deduction is very nice.  I used to take a clergy tax seminar every year  and he'd always use an example of a pastor owning his own home.  This imaginary guy made twice what I did but paid less taxes than me because of the double dip.  Yes when I retire I will very likely not be able to buy a house.

But I'm talking about the advantage to the CONGREGATION, not the pastor.  Because it's not always about US.  I can't speak for churches in large cities, I'm talking about the little church in podunk USA.  I interviewed in podunk.  They really wanted a pastor in town.  There's a lot of advantages to the pastor living in town, seeing folks at the post office, coffee shop, just walking around.  But they did not have a parsonage and I could not afford to buy a house.  And there were no houses to rent in that small town.  And even if I could afford a house I'd be nuts to buy a house that would likely take a LONG time to sell.  Who can afford TWO house payments?  But they thought it would be a great idea to sell their parsonage a few years back.  Oh and the housing allowance they were offering?  Not likely to cover a house payment and utilities.  

I think the mass selling off of parsonages of small town churches has led to their decline.  And I think maybe pastors insisting on the American dream of owning their own home bear some guilt in this.  Just saying.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday Five - Books (Late Edition)

The RevGalBlogPals are talking about books.  I was kind of busy yesterday but I still want to play.  How can I resist talking about books?

Right now I'm readingThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.  by Isabel Wilkerson. There's a reason why the New York Times put this book on the top 10 for 2010.  This is one of those books that makes you stay up too late to keep reading.  It's a history book that reads like a novel.  She takes three different African Americans from three different decades and tells their story of escape from the oppression of the South.  Those of us who did not live through that need to be reminded of just how horrible it was for Blacks in the South in the time of Jim Crow.  Especially if you are too young to remember seeing young people being sprayed with hoses by police on the news.  Or even if you missed watching Roots growing up.  Jim Crow was not just about having to drink out of separate water fountains.  It was about constantly being afraid of saying the wrong thing or looking the wrong way at a white person for fear you'd be tortured and lynched.    

But that's not what the book is about really.  It' an uplifting book about the human spirit and quest for freedom and to a better life.  And how are  this country was changed by this quest.

I've always wanted to have a book reading group at church and I walked into one here in my new parish.  First week they came up to me and begged me if they could keep their book club going.  Well sure.  So we are reading Ann Frank, Diary of a Young Girl again.  I always think it's good to reread classics.

Pictured are other books I want to get to.  
This book is about grace mostly for evangelicals (who can miss grace, sorry) but I think he addresses anxieties of a lot of Christians, even Lutherans.  Like my favorite one to debunk - the idea that you have to figure out what God's will is for your life.  God's will for your life is that you love God and your neighbor - the rest God is waiting to see what YOU will choose
  • Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society by Jay Bakker, son of the infamous Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.  I think I will read this as soon as I'm done with the Warmth of Other Suns.  I follow him and a group called "Outlaws" on Twitter.  A group of mostly young, former Evangelicals who have discovered grace and are going crazy with it.  I will definitely review this book here and may recommend it next for our Book club.
And finally the Revgals ask about favorite genres or authors.  I have to confess to a guilty pleasure~ I read EVERYTHING written by Philippa Gregory.  I don't recommend some of her earlier work but once she got a hold of the Tudors and surrounding characters like The Other Boleyn Girl I literally wait with baited breath for the next one.  Now she's in the middle of the War of the Roses.  She's done the The Red Queen: A Novel (The Cousins' War) and the The White Queen: A Novel (The Cousins' War) and there's another one in the works.

Also I really loved the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I'm sure I've read every single book in that series and then she died.  But I often reread those.  I call it feminist sci-fi fantasy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Myths about Grief - You DON'T need to "let it all out"

In the wake of the Tucson shootings, TIME magazine has an interesting article "Good News About Grief" that debunks some popular myths espoused since Kubler-Ross's "On Death and Dying" (sorry you can't read the article on line)

Without a doubt Kubler-Ross did wonderful work and helped us at least talk about grief, death and dying.  But it also tended to stuff people in a box and tell people how to grieve.

I was happy to read one of the myths debunked - the idea that you HAVE to express your grief.  In fact studies have showed than expressing negative emotions can actually prolong your distress.  Nor is there any evidence that people who get counseling or go to grief groups are helped any more than those who do not.    

I know people worried about me when my husband died because I did not emote publicly.  Or even privately.  I really did resist crying much because I was afraid once I started crying I would never stop.  And I did believe that I was doing something "wrong" by "repressing" my emotions; I half believed that something terrible would happen, that maybe some day I'd go crazy or something, but I didn't care, to me giving in to the the emotion would take me down a dark hole I feared I would never get out of - a prospect so frightening that I was more than willing to risk the danger of "repression"

Nor did I go to counseling.  Nor did I go to grief groups.  Despite the grief I got from others who thought I should.  I was part of an email grief group for a little while but I found it depressing.  I did not find sitting around talking and thinking about how unhappy I was helpful.  I had young children to raise.  I had a job.  I had other people who needed me.  I got on with life.   

And I didn't go crazy.  I got better.  After a while.

The only thing that helps grief is time.  It's horrible for a while.  Nothing can make it better.  And then time passes and it gets better.  So just let people grieve how they want to grieve.  If they want to emote, let them emote.  If they don't want to emote, don't press them to do it.  Because it doesn't matter.  Grief is horrible.  Nothing makes it better.  Except time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Here We Stand Confirmation Curriculum

Dennis asks me what confirmation curriculum I use.  I cannot say enough good things about Augsburg Fortress's Here We Stand.  Note I've given the Older version.  I do not like the newer version.  I hope they keep this old page because this has much better power points and videos.  Well the new one has NO videos.  

You need to tell your church to get a computer projector because power point is the way to go with confirmation.  You can whine and moan about how spoiled kids are and how they have to be entertained or you can just shut up, use the new media tools and keep the kids engaged and interested.  That's all there is to it.

Even before this came out I was making my own power points.  These are better.  I do cut and paste and edit and put some of my own stuff.  I use pictures from the Brick Testament for the bible stories.  Note  YOU MUST SCREEN these pictures because this guy is a weirdo and likes to illustrate the sex stories from the bible with Lego people.  They are hilarious but not appropriate for confirmation.

It's very flexible - you can use it with large and small groups. You can teach it all yourself or use helpers.   It is more work than just going through a book but most things that are worthwhile do take more effort.

This Sunday's Text is NOT an Evangelism Text

 Behold the Lamb of God,  Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

It's probably too late for you over achievers who have written your sermons already, but please don't grab unthinkingly on "Come and See" and turn your sermon into a rally to encourage people to "get people to come to church to Come and See"  That is NOT what is going on in the text.

If you are all excited about "Come and See" as an evangelism text then you have to wait until  a few verses later when PHILIP says it to Nathaniel after he wonders what is so special about someone from Nazareth. (John 1:46)

In this Sunday's text "Come and see" is JESUS' answer to the question, "Where are you staying?"

Now I grouse about John a lot because I am a plain speaker and I don't care for all the riddles and double speak and layers of meaning that you must plow through in John.  In other words I'm lazy and John makes me work.  To just jump to "Okay everyone just tell your friends to 'come and see!'"  is REALLY lazy.

What is going on here?  Who cares where Jesus is staying?  The people in the pews care.  They want to know where Jesus is.  

Where is Jesus in a world where a mentally tortured man gets out of a taxi and shoots up a bunch of people in front of a safeway.  

Where is Jesus in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti where women are still being raped every day in the refugee camps and police have given up trying to stop it?

Where is Jesus  in the home of the single mother who is trying to decide to pay the mortgage or pay the heating bill?  Where is Jesus for the parents who see their son going through a divorce and don't know how to comfort him?  

"Come and See"  JESUS answers OUR question.  And the answer is he's right here, in the midst of the pain and suffering.  And we are invited to stay with him where he is.  Here.

Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Preach THAT.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Confirmation Tonight

Tonight was my second class at the new parish.  Last week there were like five parents sitting in (about 15 kids).  Apparently they've had some rowdy kids and the parents were brought in for reinforcement.  I could not get the kids to talk.  I suspect the parents were inhibiting them.   Personally I prefer rowdy to silent.  

So after last week's class a couple of parents said they felt like I had it under control and would I mind if they stayed home.  Not at all.  

Tonight only one parent and it was a different story.  Lots of talking.  Giggling.  One kid who would only give me smart ass answers.  I told him he had used up his quota of funny answers and had to give me a serious one.  At the end of the class I make them all tell me one thing they learned and lo and behold he had a serious answer.  

Also at the end of class they all have to pray outloud.  Very simple--just finish these two sentences "God I ask you ..." and "God I thank you".  Last week Mr. Smarty Pants prayed that some teacher he didn't like would retire.  This week he prayed "Dear God, please let there be no more crazy people shooting up people"  I think I'm gonna like this kid.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tucscon Shooting was NOT Sarah Palin's Fault

Of course it is bad taste and bad judgment to put up posters with people as shooting targets crosshairs.  And yes I'd like to see more civility in the the political arena (and at church council meetings for that matter)

But the shooter was mentally ill.  He thought government was trying to take over his thoughts and that is a common symptom of mental illness --not listening to talk radio.  

And frankly I'd like to see some outrage and concern about the  ABYSMAL mental health resources in this country.  But there's no political points in that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christina Taylor Green

Christina Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001.   She was featured in a book "Faces of Hope", a book  about those born on that day.    She loved baseball.  She was the only girl on her Little League team.  She had just been elected to her student council.  She  was at that Safeway in Tucson, Arizona yesterday morning to meet her congresswoman and learn more about politics. 

Her mother says:

"She always thought about how she was born on 9/11, and she saw the positive in it," Green said. "She thought of it as a day of hope and change, a chance for the country to come together to be united. (ABC News)

She died on the scene with a single bullet wound to the chest.

As I said in my sermon on the Second Sunday after Christmas, sometimes the light that shines in the darkness is only the promise of light.  Sometimes all we can do is cling to that promise even as all we can see around us is darkness.  Sometimes all we can do is pray.  Today I pray that Christina's hope for the country would not be vain.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Death of a Church

No I don't mean the Lutheran Church of Small Town killed by their own cliques and refusal to change.  I don't lose sleep over those deaths.

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It DiedI'm almost done reading The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died  by John Philip Jenkins and this is a hard read because it is SO depressing.  And disturbing.  It's disturbing not just for the loss of  the rich  diversity  of ancient Christian traditions but also because IT IS STILL GOING ON TODAY with Christians in the Middle East.  There is a very good analysis of the situation by Robert Hunt in A New Year of Violence against Christians.

We were all raised on stories of the Western church growing despite persecution.  You know, the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" kind of stuff.  But the truth is,  a church can be killed through persecution.  And it seems that the Roman church really only survived because it had stronger armies and more political clout.  That's really enough to shake your faith.  

In "Lost History" Jenkins does a very good job of  breaking the "Oh Islam was a peaceful tolerant religion in the middle ages" myth while also recognizing this was a time when WHOMEVER was in power thought it was perfectly acceptable to annihilate anyone who did not conform.  It's not that Islam is particularly violent.  Or that Christianity is violent.  It's that PEOPLE are violent and power hungry and if they can use religion to further their goals, they will.  

It's very  dark and depressing and  I don't know what else to say other than 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And pray for the churches of the middle east.