The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Three Theses I've drawn out of “Called forward together in Christ for the sake of the world”

Three Theses from “Called forward together in Christ for the sake of the world
1. The ELCA will be a healthy and self-aware Church, engaged with society in word and deed, where congregations reflect the communities they are in.
2. Our focus will be on Word and Sacrament, making followers of Christ who lead inside and outside the Church, engaging young people, and tackling the troubles of the world.

3. This will only come about if we have leadership of the whole Church coming from the whole Church and we use God’s gifts to fit God’s vision.


Sunday, October 09, 2016

Five Questions about the Leper who gives thanks to God

         Sometimes, when we read a story so familiar, it is worth asking those 5 simple journalistic questions—
Who, what, where, when, and why?
Asking them of the story, and of our own lives.
Who-A Samaritan Leper
What-He Gave Thanks
Where-in the borderland between Samaria and Galilee
When-As Jesus headed to Jerusalem
Why-Because he was healed!

          A Samaritan Leper gave thanks in the borderland between Samaria and Galilee, as Jesus headed to Jerusalem, because he was healed!

          Who, a Samaritan Leper.
          Luke’s Gospel is chock full of Samaritans
—Jesus enters a Samaritan village,
He tells his famous story about the Good Samaritan,
and today, only a Samaritan responds with thanksgiving for the good thing Jesus has done for him.
          Remember, the Samaritans were the ultimate Other, the singular Stranger in Jesus’ world.
          The presence of Samaritans should be unsettling—scandalous even! Their presence in the Gospel ought to attack any stereotypes we might hold, attack any instance of prejudice we might participate in. The Gospel disallows it!
          Not only that, the Samaritan’s presence in Acts also reminds us that the Gospel is for everyone, it ought to go out unto all the earth!
After the resurrection, when the Disciples wanted to keep their faith in the upper room, God threw them out onto the streets.
When the followers of Jesus wanted to keep the Gospel as a Jewish only thing, God got Stephen and Cornelius and Paul involved.
When Paul wanted to preach only to people in Asia Minor, God sent him the vision of the man from Macedonia and he and Timothy crossed the Aegean Sea and onto his missionary work in Europe.
When the Gospel went wobbly in Algeria, God sent St. Augustine.
When it stalled in Gaul, God sent St. Patrick.
You get my point here—the Gospel is meant to be shared, with everyone!
          Presented with this Samaritan, representing an attack on prejudice, we ought to ask ourselves, “Who have I pre-judged?”
          Presented with this Samaritan, reminding us of the wideness of the Gospel message we ought to ask ourselves, “Who have I chosen not to tell about Jesus?”

          What? He gave thanks.
          Such a simple phrase, “Thank you,” yet profound in its power. Medical professionals suggest “Thank you” re-shapes our brains for the better, and heightens our level of enjoyment of life. Gratitude makes the things we are grateful for more valuable, it connects the giver and the receiver in a bond of kindness.
          For that matter, just listen to the thanks we give God during Holy Communion, “It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, through our Savior Jesus Christ.”
          Surrounded with songs of praise and thanksgiving, observing the thankfulness celebrated in today’s gospel, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, “What am I truly thankful for?”

          Where? The borderlands between Samaria and Galilee.
          The space between two peoples.
          Look, for a second, who lives there—Lepers, both Samaritan and Jewish—they are united in their misery.
This is a common thing, isn’t it?
People pushed to the sides of life find each other, misery loves company. They value one another beyond race or religion, because they see that spark of similarity in their common suffering.
          And yet, in these spaces—the in-between spaces, we also find Jesus,
Jesus entering in, finding, and healing.
Jesus in the crevasse where loose change settles and lost people find one another.
There they saw one another as humans based on common suffering
—there Christ calls them into a greater unity based on their common humanity.
          Consider a moment one of the tragedies of our modern life. These in-between spaces—what sociologists term 3rd spaces—are disappearing from society.
Places that are neither home nor work, are going the way of the Dodo,
we’re abandoning them in droves.
Spaces where you might safely meet someone very different from yourself, are disappearing. Elks clubs, Bowling Leagues, Churches… all places to run into lepers of all sorts and maybe entertain Jesus unaware. There is a dearth of them in our present culture.
          Brought to this borderland we might ask, “Where are my third spaces?” “Where have I found myself in unexpected company?” “Where has Jesus met me?”

          When? As Jesus headed to Jerusalem.
          As Jesus journeys to the site of his death, and his resurrection, he brings death and resurrection to these 10 lepers. Their designation as unclean, unable to enter society and mix freely with friends and family
—all this dies, and they rise anew, clean and changed, new people.
Jesus entered their social death and dragged them into a healed life!
          In the face of this dying and rising, we can ask ourselves, “When have I found death and resurrection in my life?”

          Why? Because he was healed!
          Many sermons on this story focus here, on this question, “Why” … but focus in a different way. They ask, “Why him, but not the others?” Sometimes the other lepers are accused of a ridged religious response, going to the priest without recognizing the Christ in their midst.
Other preachers ask the question, “Why didn’t the 9 return?” and shame congregations for lacking attendance
humiliating those who are not in worship, not there to defend themselves AND making the congregation in attendance feel bad for not having 9 times as many people in the pews…
          But that’s just silly.
The only question we can rightly ask is “why him?”
“Why us?”
          And even more importantly, the only answer we know is: “because he was healed by Jesus, Saved by Jesus!”
And that is our answer as well. A+A


Friday, October 07, 2016

My presidential endorsement with reference to 3 fictional characters Review

So, over the last 10 days I’ve laid out 3 reasons why #I’mWithHer. I did so using the “3 Fictional Characters Meme.”
I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because:

Walter White—If Trump is elected, 57,199,999 of my closest friends and I will lose a key tool to fight against giant insurance companies who have a history of discriminating against us. My personal healthcare costs will grow by 250% and when my heart valve goes I will have no way to pay for its repair. Under Hillary Clinton we will continue to have the tools we need to fight discrimination and I’ll be able to keep my head above water.

Pedro—She has policies that comport with the world in which we live. Donald Trump does not. All he has is an empty slogan, and a bunch of promises that are unworkable and sometimes unhinged. He’ll promise you anything, as long as you don’t read the fine print.

Cartman—She will be president within the framework of American Democracy, she’ll be a mainstream American president. Donald Trump will not. He consistently praises authoritarian rulers abroad, on many occasions he’s said he’ll govern in ways that are unconstitutional and outside the American tradition, and when violent racists lined up behind him he let them know he is on their side.

For these three reasons, please give Hillary Clinton a second look.

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

My presidential endorsement with reference to 3 fictional characters (Part 3 of 3)

Eric Cartman for Hillary
         I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton because of Eric Cartman. 

         Specifically, I’m endorsing Hillary because I believe Donald Trump has “Authoritah-ian” tendencies.

Trump likes Foreign Dictators
         I first noticed this tendency back in March when Trump started talking about how the Tiananmen Square Massacre was a show of Chinese strength and good government. That didn’t compute to me and at the time I wrapped it, like an albatross, around the neck of the Republican Party. I genuinely assumed the Grand Old Party would snap out of it, after all traditionally they are associated with individual freedom and standing up against totalitarianism… but judging by their nominee the GOP has given up on all that.
         In addition to looking to Chinese repression as a model for governing, Trump has also looked to Russia. Despite what Mike Pence has said, Trump has praised Putin, which should cost him the election, because it endangers western democracy.

Trump Says He’ll Ignore the Rule of Law and Rule as a Warlord
         Trump has also called for the suppression of the 1st amendment, jailing his opponents, practicing torture, killing relatives of terrorists, and  forcing the army to commit war crimes even if they object. These are not American values or actions, these are the dreams of a third world warlord.
Some of Trump’s Followers are Really Scary
         On one hand, you have a group calling itself The Lion Guard who are “Willing to forcefully protect” Donald Trump. Note that their tag line is “Better to be a lion for a day than a lamb for eternity” a mangled Benito Mussolini quote… one of Trump’s favorites.
         On the other hand, David Duke and the Klan support him. And, it would appear, by Trump and his son following and re-tweeting Neo-Nazis, Trump supports these racists right back. In fact, Jews my age and younger are feeling anti-Semitism in a big way as of late, because they are alive in the age of Trump.

This is a Bad Combo
         Take one part Putinism and praise of Chinese Communist Repression; mix it with tossing out American values both at home and abroad; add in Americans praising fascism, Klansmen and Neo-Nazis coming out of the closet, and Trump egging them all on. Then squish it all together in a man who believes he alone can fix what ails America and that he’ll bring Law and Order to America. Let it bake for a few months, and yikes, we have baked our own version of American authoritarianism, or “Authoritah-ianism” as I like to call it.

Finding out what Authoritah-ianism will look like is Rather Risky
         What might this look like? 
A revved up nation wide version of political payback, maybe? 
Or maybe, Huey Long 2.0
Or maybe, the next four years will just be a very bad episode of South Park.

         Because giving Authoritah-ianism a try seems like a dangerous proposition, please give Hillary Clinton a second look.

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Monday, October 03, 2016

My Presidential endorsement with reference to 3 fictional characters (Part 2 of 3)

         I just want to clarify something. I am doing this 3-piece endorsement as a private citizen, not as Pastor of St. Stephen, or as a representative of the ELCA.
         You might remember back in 2014 an organization attempted to bribe me to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And again, this year, representatives from one of the two main political parties in Middlesex (it’s local folk so I don’t really want to get anyone in trouble) have encouraged me to cede my pulpit to local candidates, which I have not done… for all the same reasons I didn’t endorse people from the pulpit in 2014.
         So again, this endorsement is not my church’s position, it is mine alone. So, onward and upward.

Pedro for Hillary

         I am endorsing Hillary Clinton because of Pedro. Not because Pedro, and Latinos everywhere are less likely to be demonized under a Clinton administration than under a Trump administration, though that is potentially a thing.
         No, I’m endorsing Hillary because Donald is promising to “make our wildest dreams come true,” but won’t deliver. He’ll promise anything to anyone.

Trump promised me healthcare, but not really
         For example, I had such a hard time figuring out what Trump will do with healthcare, because he’d promised the socialists a socialist policy, the libertarians the complete erasure of government involvement in healthcare, and then he had his actual policy.
         On healthcare he promised to make all of our wildest dreams come true.

Trump is offering Memberberrys
         I mean, think about his campaign slogan itself “Make American Great Again.” A great dream, especially if you don’t think America is currently great, but you remember the good old days when everything was coming up roses. But the question is, how do you even do that? Short of inventing a time machine you can never go back, “You never step into the same river twice.” It’s like the “memberberrys” that become sour grape in South Park. You can’t go back and trying will be pretty horrible.
         But let’s look at a few more of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” promises.

He makes all kinds of promises, most pretty out there and unworkable
         His biggest campaign promise, the Wall, will not actual be a wall, despite him describing it growing in size and so on. And if he builds the wall he’ll have to capitulate to Democrats on all kinds of issues (hey, maybe that’s how I’ll keep my health coverage).
         He also promises that he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS, America is going to take away ISIS’s oil, General Patton is going to lead the Army again, we’re going to use nuclear weapons again, China will invade North Korea for us so they’ll give up their nuclear weapons, and our alliances across the globe are going to be changed into a protection racket.
         On top of that, we’re going to ban all Muslims, build the Wall, renegotiate ALL our trade deals, force American companies to work only in America, and everyone is going to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays!

It is a compelling vision and story
         I really do see some of the appeal of this dream. ISIS gets a good kick in the teeth, no more stalemate wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, money flows back to the US of A to fix our potholes and pay for our debt, gas is back down to under a dollar a gallon because we're taking it from Terrorists, people will receive good money for good work again. (Clearly I also recognize a land war in Asia, kneecapping NATO, nukes going off, citizens being denied entry into the country based on their religion, etc, would be nightmarish).
         I get why people are buying into this dream, they distrust elites.
         “Look,” they say, “during World War 2 a bunch of non-elite farm boys got together and defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, then came home and created the best job market ever known, so,” they could rightly ask, “why can’t these elite folk do a few simple tasks like defeat a pocket of religious radicals and revive the manufacturing sector?” Then they’d go on, “Well, if they aren’t doing these things, it must be that they’re corrupt, that they are benefiting from our suffering!”
         And along comes Trump, “You’re right, Crooked Hillary and Elitist Obama are getting rich at your expense! I myself have soaked in this corruption, but now I’ll do the relatively simple task of fixing everything. It’s actually really easy, I’ll have it done by next week.”
         I want to believe it myself. I want all my dreams to come true!

But having concrete policies made for the real world is important
         But I also recognize we live in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. I believe Hillary Clinton’s plans for America will make America safer, more prosperous, more united, and more dominant on the world stage than would the empty slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
         So, because Hillary has policies and Trump has a slogan please give Hillary Clinton a second look.

Up next Cartman.

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