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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore: A Reponse

A couple of weeks ago, this article was sweeping social media: Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. A friend of mine requested my response.

The title of this article was familiar to me. It comes from a book written by Thom and Joani Schultz, who put on workshops with the same name. Some of my church council members actually attended one of these workshops a few months ago.

Reading through the data and ideas, I find little to disagree with. And the title is certainly provocative.

But the title misses the point.

I've been thinking about this for awhile and this is what has made me uneasy:

Saying Nobody Wants to go to Church Anymore assumes the church's biggest problem is antipathy. People are actively opposed to going to church.

Here's why I think that's the wrong tack.

The writer of the article, Steve McSwain, cites a statistic from the Hartford Institute of Religion Research stating that "40 percent of people say they go to church weekly." He then states that only 20 percent are actually in the pews.

Turns out, people overestimate their religious involvement.

In surveys, people tend to overestimate things they'd consider virtues and underestimate things they'd consider vices. For example, "I only have one drink a week and I go to church four times a month," - usually translates to "I have 14 drinks a week and go to church once a month."

Apparently, church is still considered a virtue.

When I talk to people my age, I don't hear much active opposition to religion. Occasionally, yes, someone is a strident atheist. But that's the minority. And frankly it's much easier to engage with a strident atheist than an apathetic Christian.

The problem is not, as McSwain puts it, that nobody wants to go to church anymore. Apparently, 40 percent of people in America want to be seen as weekly churchgoers. Forty percent of around 314 million people isn't exactly nobody, is it?

No, the American church's biggest problem isn't antipathy, it's apathy.

My friends from high school and college, many of whom aren't churchgoers, have generally been very supportive about my entry into ministry. They've listened to my stories, attended a pre-graduation brunch, "liked" my church Facebook page, watched my sermons on YouTube.

This past weekend, two of my best friends from high school visited us in Chicago. They had a great weekend; we went to dinner, they took a river cruise, visited breweries, toured the city.

They didn't come to church.

And as my initial disappointment faded, and I came to terms with their choice, I gained insight into the American landscape today and the challenge for the church.

I thought: "Man, these are some of my best friends. They support me, respect me; I even officiated one of their weddings. If I can't even get them to come to church, how will I convince strangers?"

Of course I was looking at the situation all wrong. This wasn't about our friendship, about any antipathy towards me or towards the church. It was about apathy.

It wasn't about me at all. It was about the disconnect between the general goodwill "the church" has in the minds of most Americans - hey at least 40 percent - and the actual experience most Americans have at church.

The problem is not a resistance to what the church is doing. 
The problem is a perception that the church isn't really doing anything at all.

I expect that when I go to church I will encounter God. And not only that, that I will encounter a suffering, dying God who became human that I might encounter God and through that God have new life.

I expect I'll encounter the embodiment of hope. A community that refuses to accept the status quo of death and despair. A community that operates, in resistance to the culture's law of rewards and punishment, a community that operates according to the Law of Grace. Where we see one another through a loving, forgiving God's eyes. Where just for a moment, a song of praise sweeps us away and we see a glimpse of heaven. Where just for a moment, the Word of God in the Bible is brought to life and we forget ourselves and realize that around the corner is a surprising, unexpected, and grace-filled new life.

If people expected that and got that when they came to church, everybody would want to go to church.

And I think most of my non-church-going peers would agree. Would say that beneath the layers of Sunday hangovers and brunches and other opportunities and ways to spend their time, that their deepest hope is that God in church might respond to their deepest needs; change their life; give them a community filled with grace who understands them, wounds and all.

Steve, I do think you're off here. People want to go to church. Overwhelmingly, though, as you point out: they don't. So what occurs in this gap here between desire and reality?

A lot of people seem to think the church has an image problem. Just polish up our image: Everyone is Welcome! Gay-Friendly! Not-Money-Hungry! Scandal-Free! Loving All! Lots of Kids! -- and our problems will be solved.

But given the above statistics, if 40 percent of people want to be seen as churchgoers - then I don't think image is the church's main problem.

The church doesn't have an image problem. The church has an influence problem.

People with increasingly packed schedules want to be involved in something that shows results, that has influence. Young parents make sacrifices to get their kids involved in sports, or tutoring, or music - because they recognize the influence those activities will have as their children grow into adulthood.

Same thing with other activities. A friend of mine dedicated a great deal of her time to a charity program called Room to Read, because she believed that the time and money she spent would directly impact the world, by helping give children around the world tools to learn to read.

Same with exercise: thousands of studies have documented the influence of exercise in longtime health, so people make time to go to the gym, to run triathlons.

Today many people think of the church like a kindly elderly great aunt or uncle. Senile at times, out of touch, kind, benign. You'll visit your great-aunt in the hospital at a moment of crisis - probably attend her funeral. But she doesn't seem to have much real influence in your life.

For thousands of years the church has taken its influence for granted. In the 1960s the church was a driver of the Civil Rights movement. During the Civil War churches served as safe houses for runaway slaves. In Medieval times the church was a provider of basic services and one of the only sources of education.

We took our influence for granted.

The church stopped telling its story. Stopped explaining what difference it made. The church faded into the background. Our services became enmeshed in culture: we became like a civic organization, like a social club. No one wanted to say anything offensive. The church became a place where lives were sustained, not changed. Religion became a private matter.

"Nobody wants to go to church anymore" is an oversimplification. It attempts to say that the church stands for something, and everybody is against that.

Instead, the overwhelming problem is that in many peoples' minds: the church doesn't stand for anything.

So maybe once a year; they'll drag themselves to church. Maybe you're reading this and that's you: maybe once a year, you'll drag yourself to church.

And you get there. There's some nice music. Good coffee. A swell nursery. Friendly people.

They'll invite you to their barbecue or sewing circle or Bible study or service project.

The pastor offers some vague prayers and an esoteric sermon about an esoteric text.

You can't remember much except some stupid story she told with that maddeningly slow voice, an attempt to relate that didn't make any sense to you at all.

It seemed like a nice place. You didn't mind going there. Maybe, in another year, you might come back.

But deep inside, you still wanted to go to church.

You wanted to go to a church that met, in resistance to a competitive culture, you wanted to go to a church that met in cooperation. Where lives were changed. Where maybe, just maybe, 2,000 years ago, a dead man might be raised.

We've got a damn good legacy.

A "damn good," if you will, God.

Everybody's wandering around looking for their life meaning, their raison d'etre - mission statements - statements of purpose - and a guy walks into a church, looks at the cross, shrugs: "I think this'll work."

I always laugh when churches talk about mission statements. Because, I mean, it's a good thing to clarify your particular purpose. But what, raising a dead man to life and spreading his story so that all people might be raised from the dead, that wasn't good enough?

Eternal life? No, I think we're gonna go with "Reaching All Families through Loving Support and Godly Eyes," or something sufficiently catchy and meaningless.

Anyway, there it is. Steve McSwain, I think you're wrong. Everybody wants to go to church. It's just that, most of the time, when they get there, they don't get church. They don't get Jesus. They don't get the cross. They don't get anything that matters.

So one by one let's start it. If you do go to church - even if it's once in awhile - ask yourself: Why do I do this? How do I experience God at church? Where do I see Jesus in church?

Get it down to a story in your head. A story that matters; something you'd give your life for, even.

Then share it. Change our churches with it. Get back to the church of the martyrs.

Be real. Be honest. Be up-to-date. Take risks. Before you invite your neighbors to church, invite Jesus back into your church - not to the back pew - but as President of the Board.

Don't make decisions without consulting Jesus.

One he's there - and in charge - every Sunday, all those people who wanted to go to His church will be knocking at your door.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why God lets the Weeds Grow

A Sermon on the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat:

The Story of Charlie Mays



Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Horror of Forgetting

I was driving around Glenview today putting up flyers for our Outdoor Worship services, and as I pulled in and parked at a Starbucks, I did a quick email check on my phone.

I thought I had a few minutes, so I pulled open an email of Breaking News from the Washington Post; scrolled down to the top 5 articles of the day.

As almost an afterthought, I clicked this link: A Fatal Mistake

I read it and as the words pummeled me with their fists, I felt my arms start to shake. I wondered if the woman walking past me into the grocery store saw my strange movements through the car window.

My breath got quicker. I felt like I might be sick.

The words kept coming; the images kept coming; I wanted to stop reading and I scanned as quickly as I could but it wouldn't stop.

I was horrified.

The article was about parents who forgot their infants or toddlers in the car seat for an entire day - often to go to work. They thought they'd dropped them off at daycare. They never had.

The infants died of heatstroke. A slow, excruciatingly painful death described in horrifyingly graphic detail.

Why am I writing about this? Why am I submitting you to the same horror I felt when I read this article?

I believe that words are incredibly powerful things. That when what I've read produces such a profoundly powerful reaction in me, I'm going to somehow have to work my way through it so that I can go on living in the midst of such incredible horror.

I'm not sure what will come out here, but I pray that somehow God will speak to me in the midst of my horror.

The crux of the article was this uneven administration of justice to the parents who had forgotten their children in the car. Some were prosecuted as criminals. Others went on with their lives. One has gone on to have more children. Another is divorced. Many are suicidal.

Ultimately one man is acquitted, and he drops pathetically to his knees, unable to speak.

A memory researcher argues that this forgetting is not a function of how much the parents loved their children, but rather a scientific confluence of factors that leads to a horrific forgetting.

In all of the stories there is a singular moment of terror: the call from the daycare, from the babysitter: Where is Matthew?

He's not with you?

The dropping of papers, the slamming of a door, a dash into the parking lot -- the collapse into the pavement and the rush of insanity at the horrifying irreversibility of death.

As a mother, I don't have to make this fatal lapse to experience the horror. It's the same horror I feel now when I watch those alerts about a kidnapped child, a sexual predator, a school shooting.

It's another child in the story but the images that rush through your mind like a screen reel of confounding evil -- those images are your own son or daughter. Those images for me were of Jake - the horror sick-feeling moment when I imagine everything that could happen to him when I'm not there. When I - inevitably - forget something.

You know I'm not convinced really by the memory researcher. I don't think I'd ever forget my child in the car for an entire day. As a parent, how could you ever think that? Our children are not capable of being forgotten. Sometimes I look at Jake and my whole world disappears.

And yet this horror happens. Parents who by all accounts were loving, nurturing, devoted -- make this horrifying mistake and live through that terrible instant where not only death comes but they were the cause of this death and now it is too late and life is gone.

When I imagine it being me, as the bile rises in my throat I see myself as the one father, who, seeing his dead child, lurches for the policeman's gun and fires at himself.

These horrifying images aren't going away. I am writing through it and yet the images keep coming. Forgetting is easy it is the remembering that does us in.

Where is God?

Tonight I am meeting with a few other folks for our first Theology on Tap in Glenview at a local pub. We're going to ask the Big Questions and try to wrap our arms around who we think God is.

If you believe in God, like I do, then you also find yourself with these wrenching questions in the midst of horrifying sin, evil, and death - even the seemingly motive-less forgetting that ends in the death of a beloved child.

Where was God?

We scream at God Where Were You?

There is no justice, no resolution, no "it was meant to be' platitudes in these deaths. Only sorrow and horror.

In our world, God saves; but children and adults still die. God's work is unfinished in this world. Sometimes the forgetting evil wins.

Our brains are crowded by deadlines and taxes and bills and DVRs and sometimes there is no clarity in our thinking.

I find myself rushing so that I might stop breathing and then the oxygen rushes in and sometimes I remember to pray and hug my son.

To be still, and know that God is God.

God's Son Jesus died.

God's Son Jesus rose again.

We live our lives in that dualistic reality. The reality of death and the reality of resurrection. The reality that sometimes we will be horrified and horrify ourselves and sometimes we will be stunned in the stillness by the beauty and love that is here too.

Sometimes we will think that life is over when new life is already beginning in another corner of our lives.

Sometimes we will horrify ourselves by forgetting ourselves. Forgetting our faith. Looking around and realizing that after years of neglecting to pray or to think or to worship - we've forgotten the faith and the God who brings life out of death, and the life-giving water comes first in a trickle and then in a gush but it doesn't come right away because we forgot.

I am a mother who loves my son Jacob more than I thought it was possible to love, and thus I cannot say I could ever imagine committing this fatal lapse.

But there is some humility in me. A glimpse into the fatality of forgetting.

Once, when Jake was about three months old, I loaded him into his car seat for a quick ride home I think from the downtown area of Walnut Creek to our apartment, about 10 minutes away.

He had been so tired that he fell asleep in his clip 'n' go Britax stroller - which basically served as a frame to put his carrier in and function as a stroller seat.

I lifted him out of the stroller, still in his carrier, and - careful not to disturb him - snapped his carseat into the base.

I folded up the stroller and put it in the back of the car.

Shut the trunk. Carried the diaper bag to the passenger seat. Buckled up. Drove home.

Parked. Got out. Walked around the side to open the door.

I never had strapped him in. I felt both ashamed and incredibly fortunate that we hadn't been in an accident.

I've never told anyone that story. I tried to forget the time I forgot.

I think human beings all have terrifyingly horrible lapses. The ones in this article paid an ultimate price, and I can only believe that this final forgetting did have its warning signs in forgetting leading up to it - but maybe not. Death and sin and even the sins of omission do not come in any understandable way.

The horror of this forgetting - the horror I still feel as I rush through this blog and imagine getting Jake at daycare in just a few minutes. Just a few minutes more. He will be OK. He must be OK -- the horror of our own imagined and real forgetting is matched only by a God who does not forget.

God knows me and knows you and God never forgets.

God weeps at each and every death that happens on this earth. God does not forget a funeral. He is there, crying with us.

God remembers. God remembers each name so that each one who has died might be risen.

The horror of our forgetting is matched by the power of God's remembering, of God's promise to us on the Cross - that no death will be forgotten - that none will die anonymous - that the power of resurrection is not merely a memory but an active assault against forgetting.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

LOL

You've done it. I've done it.

Somebody texts you or emails you, and you don't really care to respond, but you have to type something:

lol.

In case you've missed the past 10 years of abbreviated computer conversations, here's a reminder: lol stands for Laughing Out Loud.

Rarely are we actually Laughing Out Loud when we type it, though.

So this blogpost, after a couple of heavy weeks about Synod Assembly and generation gaps and going to church -- and after some tough stuff in the church with folks getting ill and dealing with difficult family situations -- I'm bringing back Laughing Out Loud.

For real. Just laugh. It feels freaking great.

One of my favorite things about Jake is that whenever Ben and I would laugh about something, starting at about 7 months old, he would also start just cracking up. He didn't even know what was funny. I don't even think he understood English at this point. But he wanted to join in, so he laughed.

He has what I call a low threshold for laughter.

I am trying to cultivate this as well. Sure, that wasn't that funny - but let's laugh anyway. Try it.

It feels freaking great.

I was reminded of this last week when I was reading some memories friends of mine had of a sportswriter/editor they'd worked with at the Florida Times-Union. I didn't know Jeff Fries, but a former sports editor of mine shared this blog post of memories about Jeff, and it struck me.

I especially enjoyed this story. I share it here:

 Matt Hayes:  It would be easy to talk about Jeff Fries, the professional. The writer who had more talent, more vision, more concept of telling stories, than anyone I’ve ever met.
     I prefer to remember Jeff Fries, the friend.
     The guy who playfully nicknamed me “two-buck,” because when you’re making $8 an hour as a part-time sportswriter working full-time hours and paying off student loans, well, you’ve got two bucks in your pocket when you’re eating lunch and the check arrives – and once again, somebody has to cover you.
     The guy who never took anything or anyone too seriously, and never showed anger.
     The guy who, after dealing with so much heartache, looked at me years ago as I apologized for not seeing him enough, and said, “forget about that; tell me about your family.”
      The guy who loved to laugh; who had this barely audible, guttural sound when he saw or heard something that turned him sideways. One such moment, a certain anecdote Jeff and I shared over and over, was at the expense of one of our colleagues, Garry Smits.
      One weekday night, after Garry had worked long into another night of taking prep calls and writing roundups and making sure the guys downstairs in prepress didn’t wrap type on different columns and screw it all up, he called his sister who was expecting.
      Jeff was GA writer that night, and had to stay late, and I was working with Garry on a typically busy spring weeknight. Garry made the call – to this day, I’ve never asked him who he was talking to – and started getting the specifics.
      “Oh, great! So the baby is fine? And how big? How much did he weigh? And no problems with the birth?”
      At that moment, there was a pause for what seemed like an hour, but was really only a matter of seconds, before loveable Smitter blurted out, “What … huh? It’s Garry!!”
      Apparently, whomever Garry was speaking with; whoever was giving intimate details of a wonderful family moment, suddenly realized they didn’t know Garry.
      Jeff and I laughed so hard my temples hurt. We replayed that once in forever moment over and over through the weeks and months that followed, laughing harder each and every time. Smitter, bless his heart, learned to laugh about it, too.
      When I heard of Jeff’s passing, the first thing I thought of was that perfectly imperfect laugh of his, and that moment with Garry that will forever tie the three of us together.
      The second thing I thought was I should have been a better friend. I told Jeff that very thing years ago when I saw him during a Florida-Georgia weekend, when some of his friends met at a local Jax Beach bar to throw back a few beers and tell old stories.
      At one point that night, when it was just he and I at the table, I told him, “Freezy, you haven’t changed at all.”
      He said, “You have; I don’t even know it’s you with these coke bottle glasses.”
      And then, I couldn’t resist.
      “It’s not me,” I said, “It’s Garry!”
       I'll miss that laugh.

The story comes from this website: http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2014/06/our-man-jeff-he-left-us-with-smile.html

I hope you laughed like I did. 

My laughter led to memories like that one. I never did work on the sports desk as an editor, but I always had a great time with my colleagues in the newsroom. Sportswriters and editors are some of the best people I've ever met. Sure, I spent plenty of time coping with stereotyping and harassment as a young female covering professional sports - but mostly the newsroom was different. These men - and it was mostly men - treated me with respect. They rallied to my defense when an assistant hockey coach wanted to keep me out of the locker room for post-game interviews. They invited me to play basketball and tennis with them and they didn't take it easy on me.

Best of all, no one took themselves too seriously. Like Jeff in the story above, they were humble. Great storytellers, incredibly smart, owners of knowledge that expanded far beyond box scores - instead we spent a lot of time laughing at life and laughing at each other. The laughter covered over low pay and late Friday nights covering Florida high school football and taking scores from coaches from 4 in the afternoon until 10 at night. Answering angry emails and reading ridiculous online comments - it was all dispelled over a plate of hot wings and a cold beer after deadline.

***

Sometimes I think we don't laugh enough at church. As pastors maybe we take ourselves too seriously - as people in the church we take ourselves too seriously. Maybe I have something to learn from those giants of the copy desk. Laugh a little. At myself. At others. At the ridiculous situations I inevitably find myself in.

Most of the time, it's funny. And the gift of once being a sportswriter is that sometimes I figure out how to take those funny moments and put them into a story. Matt Hayes did a great job of tying it all up, and it made an impression. I bet there's a way to do that with the Gospel. Pastor Peter Geisendorfer-Lindgren of Maple Grove, Minn., has a great knack for this.

**

I was reminded earlier this week again of the power of actually Laughing Out Loud.

My younger brother is staying with us this week. He's five years younger and while in some ways we are very similar, in others we're incredibly different. I - and this is reinforced by my engineer husband - tend to think and plan things out pretty well in advance. My brain constantly runs through the potential scenarios, impacts, results, of any possible decision. I wonder deeply about relationships, about how to nurture others, about what this might all mean in the scope of larger life. I'm often lost in thought wondering about these big questions. 

Kevin is more go with the flow. He tends to take life as it comes. Doesn't overthink or overworry. Sometimes it drives me crazy because he seems so laid-back he's almost asleep. But I know him well enough to know that he cares deeply beneath the veneer of apathy or a studied focus on sports trivia.

Kevin is staying with us while he prepares to begin Teach for America in Chicago. It's a huge change for him; from living with my parents and working a few jobs, to being out on his own, in a brand-new city, in a totally different area than he's ever lived before. He'll be in charge of a classroom and responsible for helping students learn in a tough environment. I'm really excited for him but I'm nervous, too.

We were riding together back home in the car with Jake on Tuesday and I was thinking about everything ahead for Kevin. Wondering what his classroom would be like. Where he'd live. What this might mean for his future. How he felt about all of this; about leaving our parents ... I wondered about our relationship: how I'd always been in this awkward place between friend and parent to him. Was I being too overbearing? Not overbearing enough? Saying too much? Saying too little?

I thought all this and I imagined Kevin thinking it too.

Then he spoke up: "I was just thinking ... "

"I'm really glad I chose to buy those socks. That was a great deal."

Socks. That's what he was thinking about. 

Sometimes you just have to Laugh Out Loud, move on, love your family, love your friends, love the world God gave us and all the different ways we live in it.

Laugh Out Loud. Be like Jake and laugh even if it wasn't really that funny. Especially in church. Let's start ringing our sanctuaries and our altars with joyful laughter.

Laugh Out Loud. It feels freaking great. And it just might make you wonder how good life - and the people we love in this life - can really be.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What does JESUS mean to you?

Last week we had our Metro Chicago Synod Assembly, which is basically the yearly business meeting for the various pastors, church leaders, and church member representatives for Lutheran congregations all across Chicago.

There were votes on resolutions, budget reports, nominations to the national assembly; name tags around our neck and even freebie cloth bags and vendor booths.

It was all you'd expect from a typical business convention, with some communion and liturgy thrown in.

All in all - besides the 90-minute drive - I was glad to be part of the assembly. Bishop Wayne Miller gave a spirited sermon, I had the chance to brainstorm with other pastors of my generation, and I was lucky to be accompanied by Melanie, a bright and talented member of St. Philip.

One thing struck me, though, the second day of the assembly, and I wanted to share it with you.

The keynote speaker of the morning, a representative from the national office, asked us all to take a moment and share with our neighbors:
"What does the ELCA mean to you?" (note: ELCA stands for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; my denomination, or governing national church body)

Unfortunately at the moment I was sitting next to the wall charging my laptop to take notes, so I didn't have a "neighbor." I looked around but everyone was already engrossed in conversation, so I was left with my thoughts.

Here's the truth. I didn't have many. It just wasn't a question that inspired a whole heck of a lot of emotion in me.

What does the ELCA mean to me?

Gosh. It's kind of a mouthful of alphabet soup. There's a building in Chicago that houses people. They make forms for me to fill out.

I mean ... I just didn't have much to say.

Maybe that makes me a bad Lutheran. I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the ELCA. My home congregation was a part of the ELCA, and it was there that I learned the basics of the Christian faith: to love because of a suffering, dying Savior who rose again that I might have life, and have it abundantly.

My seminary was a part of the ELCA - I was even awarded a full-tuition scholarship funded by the ELCA.

I serve a congregation now that is a part of the ELCA.

I have friends and family who are members of ELCA churches.

When it comes down to it, though, the ELCA is just another institution. I don't know if you've heard, but institutions aren't so popular nowadays. They tend to suck up resources and slow down creativity. It's not their faults - they don't mean to do it - but it's the nature of institutions that bureaucracy is a necessary part of function, and bureaucracy always slows things down and stunts creativity and change. If you aren't sure about that, just look at the U.S. government.

This post isn't meant to knock the ELCA - or the U.S. government. I'm grateful for the ELCA. It's great.

But the ELCA isn't the reason I became a pastor.

And when I'm in this big conference hall outside Chicago, surrounded by pastors and musicians and church members and leaders and teachers and professors and students and Jesus followers - I've gotta say that discussing what the ELCA means to me is not really the burning question on my mind.

I've gotta say. I heard a lot of great, even brilliant minds at our convention. Great Lutheran talk about vocation (the way we serve God in our daily lives) about stewardship (how we responsibly use and distribute the gifts God gives us) about evangelism (the way we live and share the story of God) about liberation (one of the actions that Jesus' resurrection does in us and in our world).

Did you notice something in that last paragraph? Lots of parentheses. Lots of "insider" language. Lots of difficult concepts and abstract thinking.

If a non-believer who'd never been to church was air-dropped into our convention for a minute, he or she might be confused. Maybe bored. Maybe intrigued.

But I don't know that that non-believer would hear enough of the one word that called all of us into existence as pastors and churchgoers and students and professors and musicians and leaders and volunteers at our churches.

JESUS

I know the reasoning; why we talk like this at certain gatherings and talk different ways at others. It's a business meeting; things get done that need to get done. It's not always pretty. It's not an "evangelism" event. I get it.

But you'd still think a room full of pastors could talk just a little bit more about Jesus. Share what drives us. What keeps us going. What causes us to tie ourselves down to a ship that seems to be sinking and pray and sing on the decks of the Titanic nonetheless.

What we really believe about the resurrection. Why it matters. Why we're here.

There's a lot of literature out there now about pastors and church leaders helping people to learn to share their faith. To talk about Jesus.

I gotta think it starts with us. We've gotta talk more about Jesus. Even in these insider business meetings where it seems dry and boring or where things get done that need to get done let's try to feel and sense a little bit of the Holy Spirit! How about it?

Instead of turning to our neighbor and having some halfhearted conversation about what an institution means to us - let's turn to the man or woman next to us and say: "Hey. What does JESUS mean to you?"

We've gotta try it amongst ourselves for it to be real and authentic when we do it the next time we're "working" at Starbucks to "be amongst the people," Pastors.

Let's give it a shot.

Last Saturday I shared this idea with a pastor friend of mine in the Chicago Synod.

What does Jesus mean to you?

Me: "That life means more than constant striving, fatuous superficiality and death. That God knows me, loves me, and forgives me. That the impossible is possible."

Pastor Mark: "Jesus means that my past screw ups don't control my future, and because of Jesus I can live forgiven so that I can teach others to forgive."

What do you think? What does Jesus mean to you?

Let's get the conversation going. When we know what Jesus means to us, then we'll know best how to use the tools and resources of the ELCA to further Jesus' Gospel.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Resurrection Reverberations: Godly Friendship

What does Jesus' Resurrection mean for our friendships? What kind of friend does Jesus call us to be?