Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Am Not a Practical Theologian

I am a theologian. That sounds pretentious, but it's what I do, and it's what I want to do with the rest of my live. It is my intended vocation. It is my passion. I love theology.

I define theology as, "Attempting to speak faithfully about God in a way that is life-giving and liberating to all of creation." The criteria that theology must be life-giving and liberating is a non-negotiable to me. If Jesus came to bring life and to set people free (in a myriad of ways), then theology must reflect this.

I do not consider myself a practical theologian. Admittedly, I am sometimes guilty of scoffing at "practical theologians" or those who receive "practical ministry" degrees. That's not the right attitude. I know. However, I truly do not consider myself a practical theologian in the technical sense of the word.

However, in spite of this, I do care about how theology is affects people's lives. I often find myself asking "So what?" Sitting around thinking about "God," and not rooting that thought in that which is revealed in Jesus seems pointless and self-indulgent. I have no interest in philosophical theology that is rooted in theory and assumptions with no real application.

See, theology is more than just a cerebral exercise between us and God. Our theology has implications for us, those around us, and the world. Perhaps this is why doing theology in community is an attractive option. We all have stories; all of our stories are different. Theology intersects the story of God with our stories, and the more stories we include in that, the more we can ensure that theology is, indeed, life-giving and liberating. Not just for you; not just for me--for all of creation.

When our theology proclaims an eschatological vision of the future that is void of any concern for the here and now, we are apt to forget about the fragility and giftedness of creation. When our theology promotes a view of the atonement that promotes sacrifice as the highest virtue, we are sending the wrong (and dangerous!) message to women experiencing domestic violence. When our god-talk is male-centered all the time, we are perhaps alienating the girl whose father molests her. When our theology claims faith in God eradicates sickness and promises healing, we are sending a confusing message to those who have prayed for healing and have received none. When our theology is based on view of humanity that promotes heterosexism and views homosexuals as "sinful," we are failing to honor our sisters and brothers, by failing to honor that they, too, are made in the image of God.

I am not a practical theologian. However, I do contend that it is imperative that we consider how our theology is heard or read by others. What message does it send to those around us? How does it affect other humans, and ultimately the world?

Theology is a powerful thing. Bad theology has the ability to hurt, wound, and destroy. However, theology-done-rightly has the potential to empower, heal, and liberate. Which one will your theology be?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who is Jesus?

I remember the day I became a feminist. I was in a systematic theology class during my junior year of college. This picture was passed around, and reactions were solicited:

The picture might be a bit hard to see, but it is Jesus, portrayed as a bare-breasted woman, hanging on a cross.

The reaction from one older, male student stood out to me. As we all talked about women's oppression and Jesus' identification with it, he said, "Women are not oppressed in the church." That was it. That was the moment. Right there.

I responded to the student, Tom, and said, "How can you say women are not oppressed by the church when there are some churches where women can't even speak, let alone preach." I'm sure I said other stuff that day, and women's oppression by the church has become even clearer to me.

Really, though, this conversation was larger than Tom's feeling that women were not oppressed by the church. It was about the image of God Tom, and others, have in their heads. I am certain Jesus' being portrayed as a woman created even greater irritation and unsettled feelings in Tom. However, I can't help but wonder if there would have been similar reactions to a picture of Jesus that strayed from the pretty, white Jesus with soft, wavy hair.

In the class for which I am a TA, we looked at various images of Jesus, which by the nature of faith, are various images of God. Here are some examples of how Jesus has been portrayed in art, over the centuries and throughout the world:

These are just a few of the vast number of images. Some critics might suggest this is making God into our own image, rather than us being made into God's. However, Jesus identified with humanity--all of humanity. He sides with the oppressed, for in the crucifixion, he identified with those who have faced persecution and death. Jesus knows our struggles, and the representation of Jesus can take on many forms. Jesus is the battered woman. Jesus is the gay teenager who is fearful of coming out and who faces ridicule from his peers. Jesus is the poor, working mother. Jesus is the man who struggles with the pressures of being a "real man" and providing for his family. Jesus is.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

ELCA CWA and Human Sexuality

The pastor of my church finally has responded to the ELCA's actions on human sexuality. Below is his letter. Below that is my response to him, as I felt it was important for him to know I appreciated him bringing this position to light, but also that we were not in agreement. (I fear more people, than not, agree with his stance.


To my dear Joy! family,

During the Churchwide Assembly (August 17-23, 2009) of our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), many decisions with wide-ranging impacts were made. Over one thousand delegates from around the country, pastors and lay members, gathered to vote on various proposals. They approved a resolution that puts us in “full-communion” with the United Methodist Church. Funding and strategies were approved around the issues of HIV and AIDS as well as fighting Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. It was, however, the issue of sexuality that provided the most outside attention and certainly the most press coverage.

A social statement called “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” was approved by a two- thirds requirement. Social statements are documents that attempt to provide an analysis and interpretation of an issue through theological and ethical perspectives in order to offer guidance.

This document addresses everything from a basic Lutheran theological approach to social issues to the blessing of our sexuality and the abuse of sexuality. In a section named “Lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships” the document points out that within the ELCA people are not of one mind regarding the issues around homosexuality. While it does not actually take a definitive stand, it encourages people to respect each other in their deliberations, decisions and convictions. It is simply a statement and does not require any action by churches.

Some other important resolutions were approved regarding the standards for rostered leaders which includes pastors. The wording of the central resolution is as follows:

RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

The phrase “finding a way” is significant. First, there is currently not a generally accepted means for providing an accountable covenant (civil or religious), such as there is through marriage. In order that there might be such a covenant the assembly also passed a resolution to “find a way” for that to be possible. It is unclear how this will happen.

The other resolution that is important to know about is that congregations will be allowed to decide for themselves if they will call rostered leaders in same-sex relationships. If a congregation, bound by its conscience did not want to call a homosexual pastor in a committed, accountable relationship, it would not be required to do so. The resolution simply makes it possible, but at this point the means by which

this will all happen is not in place.

How do these decisions impact Joy! Lutheran Church? In a practical sense it doesn’t change anything at Joy!. Sometime in the future, if it chose to do so, Joy! could call a homosexual pastor in a “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous” relationship, without losing its status as a congregation of the ELCA. This would be an option, but it would not be required. Homosexual pastors have been able to serve in ELCA

congregations in the past, but like single heterosexual pastors, they are required to be celibate.

During the past several years we have not joined the ELCA’s conversation about these matters. It may have been good to have raised this issue before the Assembly’s historic vote, but we didn’t. For my part, having come to Joy! in the midst of upheaval, I believed there were more important issues to address in order to clarify and carry out our mission into the future.

As for me, these decisions have brought up some conflicting feelings as well as some important convictions that I would like to share with you.

First of all, I know that I cannot please everyone with my views and that no matter what I say, someone will be unhappy. My purpose in writing this letter is not to upset anyone; rather it is to inform you so that we can have the necessary dialog.

I have had gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances that I have cared for deeply. We have shared life and faith in meaningful ways. I can’t help but think of them…of their gifts, struggles and faith. One of our stated core values says that we will “Accept each person as they are.” My hope is that we mean what we say. I also hope and expect that none of us will remain “as we are” when we encounter and live in the transforming power of God through this faith community.

While I have wrestled with these issues through the years I remain within the general orthodoxy of the church which states that homosexuality is sin. For me it means that I will not preside at the blessing of a same-gendered union or support the hiring of a homosexual pastor in a committed relationship at Joy!. Please understand that this is not a mere moralization, but a view shaped by the church, scripture and theology. Having been a pastor in the ELCA for 20 years now, I have listened to the arguments of those who are celebrating these decisions. Many are friends and teachers who have, with honesty and integrity, also wrestled with these issues. While I am not convinced that the church’s teaching for two thousand years should be overturned, I will continue to engage in the conversation. I trust that my friends and teachers will also.

I am concerned that we have made sexual sins the greater sins and among sexual sins we’ve made same gender sex the greatest sin. Scripture doesn’t provide a hierarchy of sin. Any honest look at our sexual thoughts and actions will show all of us our brokenness. Because sin distorts our relationship with God and the image of God in us, we are all called to confession and repentance. “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

I have lived with my friends, teachers, Bishops, pastors and lay leaders in the ELCA for 20 years now. I have not always agreed with the decisions made or the processes followed, but I have chosen to stay in relationship with them. I trust that God’s will is done somehow in the mess of our daily living and difficult decisions as the church. So the question is, “What will we do now?”

I suggest that we strive to move forward with the mission, initiatives and goals that God has led Joy! to fulfill. While we prayerfully consider what all of this might mean or not mean to our future, let’s not move away from our central focus or do anything to hurt the Joy! community. I would be sorry that anyone would leave Joy! because of the assembly’s vote, but I understand that it might happen. My invitation to you is to join together and focus on our mission to “reach our neighbors with Christ’s radical love so that all our lives are changed.”

I caution you to share accurate information from reliable sources rather than passing on assumptions and rumors. The fabric of our community is at stake. Please include me in your conversations and know that I will be glad to meet with you about any concerns. My email address is ___________ and the church office phone number is ________. If you would like to look at the resolutions that were passed by the ELCA Churchwide Assemble go to

We are blessed to be together at this time in our congregation’s history. We have the opportunity to witness to the world around us God’s most precious gift…his one and only Son.

May the peace of Christ be with you always!

Pastor Scott

My response:

Thank you for your letter regarding the actions on human sexuality, as taken at the ELCA Church Wide Assembly. I closely followed the CWA, as it was happening, and I was hoping you would address these actions, as I think it's important for the congregation to know what is going on in the denomination-at-large. Although our responses and positions differ regarding this denominational legislation, I am thankful there is room for all opinions, as we seek to radically love--and not merely tolerate--all of God's children.

Again, thanks for your words.


Responding so peacefully to something I believe in strongly does not come naturally to me. I hope I made it clear, without being abrasive, of where I stand on the issue. As if it even matters.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11

**Written 9-13-2001, two days after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center**

This whole time of tragedy has truly affected me more than I would have ever anticipated. It has me thinking a lot about so many different things, and there is nothing simple about it.

My sentiments vary from that of the typical american. Of this, I am convinced. Let me start by saying that the acts of violence have been truly horrendous. They are TERRIBLE, and among all of my thoughts, not one is denying the horrible nature of this tragedy.

However, like I said, my sentiments are very atypical of your average american. Not once have I felt patriotic during all of this. I don't necessarily feel that my COUNTRY was attacked, nor do I know if it is a time for nationalism. I think we should hurt just as much regardless of who was killed. Also, I think often the United States arrogantly totes itself around like the Mighty USA that is invincible, and somewhere people are laughing that 4 plane crashes nearly brought us down, if even for a day.

The obvious question lately has been, "now what?" A popular consensus is to launch a military attack or to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and kill him. First of all, it is too early to be too sure who has done this. Second of all, as a pacifist and conscientious objector, and most of all a Christian, I never think that violent attacks, whether against nations or individuals, are appropriate.

So, now what? Of course I say pray for the victims and their families. That is highly important, but to simply end at that is a cheap answer. It is like we simply want to be detached from everyone's problems. However, Christ presents us with a very radical answer-- "You have heard an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth...but I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who hate you." your enemies...pray for those who HATE you, rather than perpetuating the hate. That is radical. To try to administer justice through violence is believing that our human capabilities can somehow bring resolution. However, to put it into the hands of God through prayer and to love, even when you have been wronged, is showing that we, in our human-ness, are inadequate and that God can bring justice in a completely new way, other than violence.

My prayer: Heavenly Father. Thank you for the day you have given us. Thank you for being the same God you are today that you were Monday, before the chaos began. May we learn to praise you and give thanks, amidst the tragedy. Please, bring your spirit of comfort to us today. Fill us with your love. Fill us so that we, too, may love with your love. Help us look to your Word, knowing that we can only love our enemies with your help. Give us your peace, and help us pursue peace. Guide our leaders to make the best decisions according to your will. Break through the hatred and pain. Unite us not only as a country, but as a world. Open us up to learn from this and to receive and administer love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. We thank you God for all you do. And it is in the name of your Son who, too, was the victim of hate in violence that we pray this. Amen

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Tomorrow will be my first church service since I started really thinking about church, the ELCA, and where I fit in. As I tend to sometimes be sarcastic and critical, my goal is to be charitable. After all, this is my community whom I love.

This weekend, we hosted our small group from church. It's a social/fellowship small group. We get together just to talk, play games, and eat. I admit, I felt a bit guilty being around them after having some semi-critical thoughts about my church. I want to clarify that I don't think my church is bad, and I am not critical of its existence. Instead, I am critical of it in terms of where I am and what I am "needing" from a church. (I hope that doesn't sound completely self-centered or self-serving)

I felt guilty, I suppose because here is a group of people that has become my community--something that had been missing from my life for quite some time. As I write this or dialogue on Twitter, I almost feel like I am "hiding" something from them. It's silly, I know. It's just a strange feeling I got.

But as I said, they are my community. We have great times together--laughing a lot! When we have done special Bible/book studies in the past, we openly share our struggles and concerns, and we pray with and for one another. When our car broke down at church, one of our friends gave us a ride home. When I apologized, he said, "Isn't that why we have friends?" When we needed a ride to the rental car place, a friend (who was very pregnant at the time and on her way to an OB appointment) made time to take B to get the car. When we moved to our new townhouse, a friend brought us dinner so we didn't have to worry about it that night. Also, when we moved, friends let us borrow their steam cleaner. When I had bronchitis, a friend offered to let me borrow a humidifier. When I had anxiety from my steroids, she offered to come sit with me, if I needed someone to just be here. I am blown away by the generosity of this community, and it is something I try to return--through cooking a meal for the new parents, offering to babysit for a friend who's in a pinch, or just making myself available, however I am needed.

It is really this community--these friends--who allow me to stay where I am, for now. I am part of a larger community of faith, but this smaller community allows me to connect with people in a real and genuine way. As I said, I have not had that for a very long time.

Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when people live together in (comm)unity! Psalm 133:1

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Often, I think we mistake the word "traditional" for "stuffy" or "conservative." In some contexts these other words may be synonymous or even more accurate. However, recently, I have been considering what "traditional" worship is.

At the root of the word "traditional" is "tradition." This, I believe, gives a lot of insight to traditional worship. I also think it explains why, as of late, I long for "traditional" worship.

Traditional worship is singing songs that connect you with other Christians, generally, and (in the case of my church) Lutherans, specifically. It connects you with the community of saints past and present (and hopefully future!) who have sung, sing, and will sing the same songs. It binds you together in a way that, I think, is often overlooked.

Traditional worship is reciting a creed--words carefully chosen 1500 years ago to explain core Christian beliefs. When we recite the creeds we are joined together, once again, with Christians reciting the same words today and those who have said them in the past. We are connected to early church theologians who were seeking to articulate the faith and defend it against heresy. To me, saying the creeds provides a bridge that spans centuries, geographical locations, and denominational differences.

Traditional worship is observing the Lord's Supper--eating the bread and drinking the wine together as a community along with churches worldwide who are also coming to the table. Additionally, when we eat and drink we are participating in the meal Jesus shared with his disciples, thus connecting us to Christ and his earliest followers.

Traditional worship is baptizing babies and/or new believers and remembering our baptism. Recently, I was given the opportunity to remember my baptism, along with everyone else in the congregation. Together, we dipped our hand in the water, made the sign of the cross, and remembered that God chose us and together, we have been baptized into the same community.

So, traditional worship is not so much about singing the right song to the right instrumental arrangement as it is singing the songs, reciting the creeds, uttering the psalm, etc. that connect us to other Christians around the globe and to the "great cloud of witnesses" that have come before us.

I think this is what draws me to traditional worship these days--wanting to be part of something larger than the 250 people who come to the service I attend, something that extends beyond the hip worship tune written in 2001. I want to participate in the traditions of the faith, as I experience what it means to be both Christian and Lutheran.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

They say you can't go home again. But my question is--why would you even want to?

Now, I don't meant home as in my parents' house. That's always a nice place to visit (though I wouldn't want to live with them!). I am talking about home--the place where you grew up or the place that was your stable place. Some people don't have that home; I do. I grew up in the same house in the same town and lived there my entire life before college.

Part of me has kind of cursed that idea of home. It's been hard. Having such a stable place has made it hard to move other places; no place else seems quite the same. In my life, I have gotten homesick to varying degrees. When my anxiety gets at it's worst, I want to be "home"--closer to my family, closer to that which is familiar--so badly that I feel like I'd do anything to get there.

However, recently, I am coming to the realization that I don't want to go home. I miss my family; I do wish I could live closer to them, but the actual location offers very little for me. The people that were once my friends and acquaintances--the people that once made up my life--seem so different from me, now. We have very little, if anything in common.

I try not to think of myself as evolved or enlightened more than others, but I would lie if I didn't recognize that my education and life experiences have greatly altered how I view the world. I have seen places beyond that town of 3,500 and have met people and heard their stories. I am not scared of difference or change, but I'm not sure I can say the same for the people who have stayed there. I hear fears of threatened freedom and uninformed disapproval for political administrations and ideologies that fails to extend beyond "I don't like____."

I have changed a lot since I left "home." I am somewhat ashamed of how narrow-minded and uninformed I once was and how freely I managed to express my opinions in spite of that. Yet, "home" doesn't seem to have changed at all. It seems static, and the people seem content with tunnel vision that blocks out the rest of the world.

Coming to these realizations has made me feel kind of guilty, but it has also made me feel free. As I said, I want to be closer to my family. I want my children to be regularly involved with their grandparents. However, when I am reminded about what "home" is really like, I have no desire to go back, and to give myself permission to recognize that is oddly liberating.

I'm going through a period in my life right now where, with the freedom of these realizations, I am experiencing the strong desire to see what is next. Where is next? The possibilities are kind of exciting, even if they are a little scary. My heart is experiencing wanderlust. I know that there is more beyond this place that has become my new "home," and I have the impulse to explore!

So, they are right--you can't go home again. But even if you could, why would you even want to?


"Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever." Those words stuck with me from my baptism.

Unlike most Lutherans, I was not baptized as a baby. My former denomination was not opposed to infant baptism, but the more common practice was to dedicate infants--the parents and the church community would vow to raise the baby in the faith and to walk with them, spiritually.

Typically, you were baptized once you were old enough to make the choice. My particular church would hold one or two baptism services a year in which all of those interested were baptized. The procedure usually went something like this: the person would give her personal testimony, the pastor would then give a trinitarian baptism pronouncement, and then the person would be fully immersed in what resembled a bathtub. Then, afterwards, you were expected to cry and talk about how different you felt. Seriously, people talked about how different they were within the second they went into the water and were raised. The concept sounds good. There is a sense of appeal to literally being "raised to new life." However, there's a lot hinging on the moment. What if I didn't feel new?

Since baptisms rarely took place in my church, there was never a real urge, on my part, for it to happen. Plus, the whole thing made me a bit shy. I wasn't a fan of getting up in front of the church and have a spectacle made of me, a spectacle which warranted a public testimony and an emotional response. It just never seemed important to me, and why should it have? It was something that took place, out of duty, a couple of times each year. The church didn't reflect the importance of baptism in its infrequent practice.

By the time I got to college and began to reflect on baptism, I knew that my local church was not the church in which I wanted to be baptized. There was a lot of brokenness and betrayal there, and I didn't want to give them the "privilege" of sharing in that moment with me. So, time went on and I remained unbaptized.

Once I started my doctoral program, I was somewhat embarrassed to admit to my advisor, an anabaptist, that I was not baptized. I think she was a bit surprised, since I had grown up in the church, but she said it was up to me to figure out my theology of baptism.

When I started going to my first Lutheran church, communion was offered to all who were baptized. I understand that that qualification is likely meant to be one of inclusivity--all Christians, regardless of denomination, were invited to the table. However, I had not been baptized, so each week, I went forward for the blessing rather than the body and the blood. I knew I wanted to be baptized; it was just a matter of timing.

My current church is the one in which I was baptized. On the same day I became a member of that ELCA congregation, I was also baptized. My small group members were my sponsors. The date was also memorable for me, as it was the 100 "birthday" of the Church of the Nazarene. Nazarenes all over the world were celebrating that Sunday, and it was on that day I was making my official exit from the denomination in which I had been raised and with which I had grown weary.

Perhaps most notable to me were the words the pastor used--that I had been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ....forever. I am not sure to what "forever" is intended to refer. But to me, it meant I was sealed by the Holy Spirit forever and marked by the cross of Christ forever. To me, who grew up fearing losing my salvation because of something I had done, those were words of promise--promise of what had been done for me in Christ.

I recall reading my baptism program to my mom who was unable to make it. I know she was skeptical regarding being eternally sealed by the Holy Spirit and eternally marked by the cross of Christ. It probably made her a little nervous, as she--like me--has spent most of her life in a church that requires so much from her.

I, on the other hand, find it to be a relief that Christ has taken care of the hard stuff and because the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and my participation in that through baptism, the pressure is not all on me!

Getting Used to the Changes

As I have mentioned, I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene. So, becoming Lutheran has taken some time getting used to. Maybe that's why I was drawn to such an atypically Lutheran church? The Church of the Nazarene is not liturgical at all. The service is ordered, but it's more like--opening prayer, a couple of hymns, a prayer chorus, offering, special music, the sermon, an altar call, closing prayer, go home.

I'm pretty low church. That might be weird for a Lutheran to say. I'm also not sacramental. I like observing the Lord's Supper each week, not because I sense a particular presence in the elements (though I like to talk about "real presence" when I am with my mom--just to make her squirm!). It's because I think it's a great sign of Christian community for everyone to come forward and share a meal. (I've probably been influenced by my anabaptist doctoral advisor)

I'm not so sure about infant baptism, but not for the usual reasons against it. I want to give my child the chance to decide what religion they want to be a part of. I will raise him or her in the Christian faith, and I hope they find that story compelling. Yet, to baptize them into the faith seems a bit...forceful, imperialistic, etc. Then again, baptism for Lutherans is a sign that God has chosen you--not that you have chosen God. Still, even with my universalist tendencies, I have reservations in saying "God chose you whether you like it or not." Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of it.

Recently, I have been confronted by another thing within the ELCA: the idea of bound conscience. The way I understand this is that the church can make a policy, but that individuals and congregations do not have to go against what they believe in order to follow it. Those who wish to follow it can, and those who are opposed to it can remain in their belief and practices as they are.

This idea of freedom is not something Nazarenes know about. Basically, the men at the top decide what is best and people follow it. You don't have a choice. If you disagree with it, too bad so sad. My own feelings about this freedom are conflicted. On one hand, this freedom allows (mostly) men from deciding for everyone else in a forceful way. On the other hand, how can the practices of churches be transformed when they are able to remain stuck in their ways?

As I mentioned, my doctoral advisor is anabaptist. Baptist polity is congregational polity--each congregation decides their path, beliefs, practices, etc. My advisor calls this "the glorious freedom of the children of God." Put like that it's hard to deny that it's a good thing. She explains to me that in alternative polities, things can be great when leadership at the top pass down good, live-giving policies. However, when things aren't so good at the top, you have problems.

I see this; I understand this. Yet, in the recent decision by the ELCA to allow for the ordination of gays and lesbians in monogamous, life-long relationships, people are not pushed to change and be challenged. A lot of people are celebrating; a lot of people are protesting. But really, what does this change in policy do, more than provide a safety net against censure to those churches that want to call a gay or lesbian minister and an affirming nod to those gay and lesbians who feel called into ministry and support Lutheran doctrine and theology? Freedom is good; bound conscience is good. But this radical, left-leaning, all-or-nothing girl wants something more extreme. My passion is my gift and my downfall.

Perhaps I am putting too much stock in the transformative potential of policy. True transformation comes from the Holy Spirit. I believe that. I just hope we are all sensitive to the transformative nudges the Spirit brings.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Follow me on Twitter: Lutheranish

Where To Begin?

I have so many things on my mind, lately, about this church thing. I've tried to process it, but I don't know how successful I am being. Connecting with some folks on Twitter makes me hopeful about the ELCA, but I am still trying to decide where my local church fits in.

My local church, I've heard, has attendance of about 800. The background I got from someone there, recently, is that it was founded as a "seeker" church. Once attendance grew to such a large number, they had to move to discipleship. I am glad they realized that shift was necessary. However, I kind of wish I had known all of this, before. It was not mentioned in the new members inquiry class.

We have two services, recently cut down from three. We used to have a traditional service and two contemporary services. Now, there are just two contemporary services. Admittedly, in my limited knowledge of the ELCA, that seemed strange. To not leave the traditional worshippers completely out in the cold, we were told we'd start incorporating more blended elements into the other services. So, one week, we sang some hymns--not set to organ, of course, but to the band. We did a "creed," but the creed was a statement of faith about the Bible (which freaked me out because, you know, we aren't Fundamentalists!) A congregation member sometimes goes forward during prayer, presenting the prayers of the people. This is not every Sunday.

Once, before I knew anything about the ELCA, I attended a service at a local church. I was so confused. I heard the cantor, and I was like "Where is that voice coming from?!" I couldn't see anyone. And, hopefully this is no sacrilegious, but I hate organs. Sorry, but I do.

However, I prefer a bit more structure over a free-for-all. I like relaxed liturgy. I like that the liturgy or at least distinctive elements of Lutheran worship are present. So, I like singing a hymn by the band--updated in rhythm, etc. The words still speak and I feel connected to something besides the people singing. I like saying a creed (an actual creed, and not some weird statement of belief). I like prayers of the people. And while my church has started to incorporate these a bit, it's all too rare and I honestly think it's to appease the folks whose traditional service got the ax. Thankfully, we have always taken communion weekly. I like that, and I am not even sacramental. It's such a beautiful sign of the community to share the Lord's Supper together.

My recent apprehensions about my local church is that going in the doors, you could never tell it's Lutheran. I've been to non-denominational churches that take weekly communion. The sermons are sermon series (and so far I have sat through Max Lucado and Rick Warren sermon series, which, admittedly, freak me out). The worship is spirited, and while I love to see people enjoying worship, hand-raisers make me a bit uneasy. There was not one mention of the Church Wide Assembly before or after. Wouldn't it make sense to be in prayer about the assembly since there were such large issues to be addressed?

So, why am I there? It's given me a community of friends, in my small group, that I did not have before and haven't had for a long time. They are people with whom I can have fun, on whom I can call for prayer and support, etc. They are a gift; they are probably the biggest reason why I am there. Also, B likes the music--the contemporary praise and worship songs. I'm not sure, but perhaps those basic sermons reach him where he's at. Also, if I am not there, where do I go?

These are my apprehensions about my local church and my presence there. Do I stay, as it is my church for such a time as this? Will I be prompted to explore other options? At this point, I honestly don't know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sorting through some things

I am starting this blog because I need to sort through some things. But first, some background:

I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene. I went to a Nazarene university for two degrees, and, at one point was planning to become ordained in the Nazarene church. Through series of events (that may come up later), I decided pastoral ministry wasn't for me; my place was in the academy.

I ended up a bit (okay...very) dispossessed and really wanted no part of church and all of it's ugliness. Finally, I did want to go back to church, but never could find the right one. After a few years, my husband B and I started attending a Lutheran (ELCA) congregation. The service was a contemporary/informal service, still far more formal than church growing up. However, the liturgy, while relaxed, was very present.

We moved, and I felt strangely sad about leaving that church--a place I felt could have been a church home for me. We tried various Lutheran (ELCA) churches in the area and none felt "right." So, we decided to try one I had heard of, even though it was a bit further away. We liked it. It was unlike any Lutheran church we had attended. There was a full band; they sang contemporary songs. There was no organ. The congregation didn't do responsive readings or creeds in a robotic voice. And when the time came for communion, they said all were welcomed regardless of denominational background or faith journey. Which meant, I could take the Lord's Supper even though I had never been baptized.

We quickly got involved in a small group, one called 20-somethings--young adults, mainly couples. It was nice to know other people more than passing the peace to the same person each week. These people became friends--something I had not truly had in quite a while. They were genuine in their love of God. Going to church, for them, was more than something you do because it's socially acceptable or a way to network. At the same time, they were not slaves to legalism. They sometimes used curse words. They drank beer. No, they weren't drunken and vulgar. They were human. I needed this.

Last October, I was baptized. I joined my ELCA congregation and I accepted what God had already done for me in Christ. My small group members were my sponsors, and I officially made my switch to the ELCA.

For a long time, I have tried not to be too enmeshed in the Lutheran denominational structure. I saw the ugly side of denominational politics in the Church of the Nazarene--both in the general church and at the local level. I wanted no part. However, the Lutheran (ELCA) church recently held their Church Wide Assembly and I had received a heads up that they were discussing some big issues, largely around human sexuality, both generally and how it pertains to clergy. I was encouraged that they were having this conversation--a conversation that would have never taken place in my former denomination. I became fascinated by the meetings and votes, and before I knew it--I knew more than I wanted to about the ELCA.

So, now, I am asking myself a lot of questions--questions that I don't necessarily want to share with my small group members and those at my church. These questions are why does my local church consider itself Lutheran when Lutheran theology and liturgical practice are absent? Do I want a local church that is "good enough" and has been great in getting me back into church? Is it okay that my church is generically Christian--almost non-denominational (minus the sign out front)? Or do I want something that is more distinctly Lutheran, and if so, what does this mean for me? Perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for me and my husband, who is comfortable where we attend church, now? How do we blend the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual needs of both of us, even when those may be very different?*

These are the things I need to explore. Will you take the journey with me?

*I am working on my PhD in systematic theology. In saying "intellectual needs," I am not trying to think of myself as somehow smarter or more intellectually capable. However, by nature, I am a critical theological thinker. How can we address my need to be critical and have *good* theology at church and my husband's position as lay person with average theological knowledge and interest.