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.