Saturday, September 12, 2015

Nadia Bolz-Weber=Joe Biden: A Review of Accidental Saints

            Nadia’s latest book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People begins with her discovering Alma White, a woman church planter in Denver from 1901. Nadia thinks “Gee (okay, it’s Nadia so her internal monologue probably begins with something stronger than“Gee”) a female church planter in Denver from way back… an old version of me… maybe old Alma is someone I could see as a role model and/or hero!” When she looks up Alma she finds out the lady was a bigot, and not just a little bit. Yet, Nadia realizes God used Alma for the Gospel despite her faults (side note, here is a good critical reading of this portion of Accidental Saints). God made her an accidental saint, because it’s God’s righteousness that makes us saints, not any of our own work. Accidental Saints takes a look at a few of those unlikely sinners God has grasped and sanctified, those Accidental Saints…

            …Hold up, you say. A review is great, but what’s up with your title? Were you just trolling Nadia (maybe a little)? Does Nadia=Joe mean something?

            Nadia, as she herself admits, is a biographical preacher and writer; she “preaches from her scars.” Nothing too strange there, it is often said Pastors preach to themselves first… it’s a thing we do. That said, she has a unique biography and a unique call as Pastor of The House For All Sinners and Saints (HFASS), and such a beautifully unique voice as a writer, that her words just bleed authenticity!
            So too, Joe Biden is so authentic that excess authenticity sloshes around in his shoes. You could hear it slurping around his toes the other night on Cobert. In a political field where people like Bush, Cruz and Clinton are so very calculated, the laughing, smiling, Irish mom quoting, biography laden, Biden is so clearly cut from a different cloth.
            The brilliance of Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People comes from Nadia’s authenticity; it’s brilliant in the same way Biden was brilliant in the Vice Presidential Debate, his authenticity, he wasn’t afraid to be Biden. Nadia’s personality, her Lutheran sensibilities, and her pastoral identity, all combine to make Accidental Saints a good read.

            Nadia is plenty aware of her new found stardom as the face of hip/relevant Lutheranism. In a chapter entitled “Whale Spit in the Superdome” she describes feeling unprepared to preach to a bunch of teens, especially since she’d become “What middle-aged people think teenagers” think is cool. This is so true, the Nadia effect in the ELCA can be border on embarrassing. I know of a Pastor who faced a call committee that insisted, if he wanted the job, he had to get a tattoo in order to “do that thing Nadia is doing.”
            Another very revealing moment is from the chapter entitled “The Lame” where Nadia notes that many people who show up at HFASS aren’t cool, they’re broken people, and she worries she’s not attracting people like her… then she realizes she is… that she’s not cool, that her tattooed bad ass exterior hides a bug-eyed hurting kid inside.
As a heart surgery scarred little boy who was always the new kids in school who has a propensity to hide behind words and degrees, this chapter above all the others, moved me! “The Lame” is worth the price of admission by itself.

            My initial tweet/facebook post about the book was that Accidental Saints is so Lutheran it made me cry (well that and “The Lame” chapter). Part of this is that we Lutherans don’t have a lot of voices in the mainstream, so reading a really solid proclamation of the Lutheran faith that engages with the world as it is and written for a popular audience, is really refreshing.
            Speaking of faith engaging with the world as it is, she insists on asking what Jesus thinks of Christianity’s Wishful-Thinking-Hallmarketting of idealistic positivity in the face of true despair and desperate moments. She “calls a thing what it is”… as Luther talks about in the Heidelberg Disputation.
            She considers Mary and her blessedness, that it comes neither from obedience nor some sort of purely political reading of her situation, but instead it is something imputed to her by a gracious God, “Mary is what it looks like to believe that we already are who God says we are.”
            Additionally, she challenges the Rapture-industrial-complex that is so widespread in North American Christianity. She challenges it with an “Advent Conspiracy-esque” reading of season that takes the rapture film “A Thief in the Night” and turns it on its head—perhaps in the crazy pre-Christmas consumerism of Advent, “the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of our stuff is really good news.”

            So, being a Pastor is funny, sometimes ha ha funny, sometimes strange smell from the education wing funny. Nadia nails the sacred strangeness of it, allowing people a peek into the life of a Pastor, and it rings true.
            For example, she describes a month when she was only going to have three days off (This is not uncommon for Pastors), and she is asked to do a funeral for a non-member on one of those days off. She totally doesn’t want to do it… she does it, but there’s that hesitancy that gives way to a holy act.
            She also writes, “I never feel like I’m getting everything done or am ever pleasing everyone in my life.” Definitely a common Pastor experience (and a common experience for most, let’s be honest). She compares this over functioning to her time as an addict, that white wine and cocaine isn’t all that different from habits of highly effective people.
            The two experiences she shares that most match my own are—knowing you’ll fail your people, and being surprised when you experience the very grace that you preach every Sunday.
            She, in fact, has this thing she tells new people “I will at some point let you down. I will say or do something stupid or disappointing. You need to decide before that happens if you will stick around after it happens.” She also shares a particular time when she failed a couple very badly, yet was offered grace by them, and she was struck by the grace, yet also recognized it as the very grace of God she preaches!
            Ordination is of course not all one big horror show. She also describes some of those intimacies we clergy are let in to experience—baptismal water, “last rites,” prayer vigils at houses where suicides take place, those little things done in the community and neighborhood that are noticed but not mentioned, because they are too intimate to do so. These are the things of a Pastor’s life, and she captures them well.

            What I’m saying is that it’s a good book, it is authentic about what Nadia sees God doing in the lives of 19 "Accidental Saints." And I’m left asking, have you ever seen Nadia and Joe in the same room together? ;)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Five Links 4: Kim Davis, Reggie Williams, and Iran

  1. She’s a prop! Read Dreher’s article, but more importantly watch the Youtube video of Kim Davis… she’s a Prop for Mike Huckabee! Back in 2008 I actually kinda liked the guy, he talked the whole compassionate conservative things well, but my God, he’s creating, coddling, feeding, and riding a tiger… that’s a dangerous thing to do!
  2. Kim Davis isn’t Rosa Parks. Kim isn’t Rosa—Rosa Parks was a private individual standing up against a law that forbid her from riding in the front of the bus on account of her skin color, she was fighting against discrimination. Kim Davis is a public official refusing to follow a law ending discrimination against gay people.
  3. Or MLK. Mrs. Davis’ letter from her jail cell essentially promotes two particular candidates for president… she’s being used, or alternatively trying to squirm herself into the spotlight. MLK was political, but you didn’t see him endorsing candidates while jailed in Birmingham.
  4. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus. Check out Clint’s review of Reggie Williams’ book.
  5. Senator Booker’s Iran vote. He’s decided to back diplomacy with Iran. Notice he does so very hesitantly.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday Sermon

         The African Methodist Episcopal Church called on all faith communities to make today, September 6th, a day to confess and repent from the sin of racism and  to preach about racism.
         In response our Presiding Bishop, Elizebeth Eaton, has declared today, "Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday."

         Not too long ago one of the men who caused the economic crash of 2007 was interviewed by a Christian Reporter, and he said something rather striking.
         “I’ve went to church my whole life, and not once did I hear anything that would make me think what I did was wrong.”

         And I wonder about Dylann Roof, the Lutheran who shot and killed 9 people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church… I wonder if he could say the same about his actions? That he’d never heard anything in his church that would make him think what he did was wrong?
That he never heard a word that challenged his racist assumptions…
Challenged his glorification of Apartheid South Africa—a country that ceased to exist the same year he was born—
Glorification of the Confederacy, a country that ceased to exist 150 years ago, and even then only existed for 4 years.
I wonder if in the ELCA we clearly articulate that White Supremacy is wrong and that all forms of Racism are in open conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

         And so today, I want to tell you four things I wish Dylan Roof had heard in church.

-Those who foster division do not have your best interest at heart.
-Everyone is someone’s child.
-We’re more fully Church when we cross racial boundaries.
-The Resurrection touches everything.

         Those who foster division do not have your best interest at heart.
         In James’ letter, he warns of divisions in the body of Christ—that church folk are making distinctions between one another on economic grounds.
That they treat one another as better or worse
based on expensive clothing,
based on how much coin clinks in the person’s pocket.
         In response to this James shames the church
—he goes class warfare on that church.
He reminds the church that the rich oppress, litigate, and blaspheme the name of Jesus.
         He points out that those he is writing to likely have more in common with the poor person than with the rich person.

         And this speaks to one of the roots of Racism in America. In the Virginia and Massachusetts colonies there were indentured servants of all sorts—black and white. It was only when poor whites and blacks started to resent and at times resist their Monied Masters that permanent enslavement became wedded to darker skin. It was believed,
rightly as history has proven,
that making a distinction between slave and serf based on skin color divided resistance to the will of the elites.
         I believe James would write to one of those colonial churches,
“Is it not the people who own you who are against you?
Just because they have the same color skin doesn’t mean they have your best interest at heart.
This division you’ve accepted, blasphemes the name of God.”
         So too, he would say to us today, “those who foster division, those who pit you against people who are your brothers and sisters—they don’t have your best interests at heart, they blaspheme Jesus’ name.

         Everyone is someone’s child.
         It should not be overlooked, when we read of Jesus’ encounter with this Syrophoenician woman, that she comes to him in the name of a child.
         Jesus’ cultural armor
—the assumption that he’s here for the children of the covenant
—is cracked open by a mother pleading for her little daughter.
         I think of the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron. Not too long ago he was speaking out against refugees and immigrants coming to Britain in a way reminiscent of Churchill’s famed “We’ll fight them on the beaches speech.
         Now, confronted by that horrifying photo of Aylan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey a few days ago, Cameron is promising an additional hundred million pounds in aid to refugees and is inviting thousands of Syrians to come to England’s shores.

         For that matter I think of Ezra Cole, the first African American member of Tabernacle Lutheran in West Philly where I did my Field Ed. She jointed the congregation in 1950… at that time it was a German Lutheran Church… as in so German I would have been seen as out of place, even unwelcome, there.
         Well, in 1950 the Coles had moved into West Philly and just as they had their third child
and having three children under the age of 2 can be a handful
—or so I hear.
         Well, one of the Cole’s neighbors—a little old German lady—came up to her one Sunday and said, “Dear, three children are too many to have without a supportive church family.”
         And that very day she brought Mrs. Cole and her three children down Spruce Street to Tabernacle
—that was the start of an over 6 decade relationship between the Coles and Tabernacle…
because a little German lady saw children and knew what the right thing to do was
—even if it meant crossing barriers and challenging the identity of her church.
         Yes… there is something about children that moves us and helps us consider more gently our neighbor.
         And it must always be remembered—every one of us is someone’s child. We all have such potential in us, such humanity… we all ought to be handle with the gentleness of a child.

         We’re more fully Church when we cross racial boundaries.
         Today’s gospel lesson is a strange one—the same Jesus who teaches that the Kingdom of God is like seeds scattered everywhere
—the same Jesus who teaches that the Gospel will erupt in unexpected places
is caught off guard in Tyre.
         One of those kernels of Gospel he’s planted explodes in front of him in the form of a needful woman
—a gentile woman
—a woman of a different race
—she confronts him with her need
—but also with the expectation of the Good News he has been preaching.
         And this transforms his ministry
—from here on out he engages and interacts with non-Jews on a regular basis
—he, as we read, goes on to the Decapolis—the 10 gentile cities—and there he heals a beggar and there gentiles proclaim that he has fulfilled the words of Isaiah “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped.”
         Jesus is more fully the Messiah—more fully fulfilling his role in the world—because he crosses racial boundaries. He’s more faithful to the very good news of the Kingdom—his presence in the world—when he is present with all peoples.

         So too the Church—we are the body of Christ when we cross the chasms the world has unjustly created.
 When we crack open the cultural assumptions we have and hear anew the Gospel,
when we keep up with the seeds long sown,
when we follow after the Holy Spirit, who goes where She wills.
         I think of my experience with Young Adults in Global Mission and Time for God—surrounded by people of different races and nationalities heading off to different nations, all singing God’s praise.
         Of my internship and field ed at congregations primarily of a race different than my own.
         I think as well of the meeting between the Church Councils of all 5 Lutheran Churches in South Plainfield, Plainfield, and Edison in the basement of Cross of Life in Plainfield—people of different races together for the gospel in this area.
These are Jesus moments, these are Spirit moments, these are Body of Christ moments.
         Jesus was more fully Christ when he crossed racial boundaries and we too are more the Church when we do the same.
         And Finally The Resurrection touches everything.
         Yes, those seeds of Gospel that Jesus sent out spread—beyond Judea, Samaria, Tyre and Sidon, to the ends of the earth.
         His body too was a seed, sewn and sprouted in resurrection.
         And that resurrection power has spread everywhere. It touches all parts of our life.
         Perhaps having a Sunday dedicated to preach about racism can be uncomfortable for some—but it would be decidedly more uncomfortable if we didn’t
—if in our silence we suggested that there is a part of life that is far away from God’s touch, far away from resurrection power.
         But friends, there is nothing that we can do or be that God can not transform.

         The Resurrection of Jesus Christ unmasks division as devilish and the petty plots of people.
         The Resurrection of Jesus Christ exposes everyone as children—as Children of God.
         The Resurrection calls the Church to be the Body of Christ by going where the Spirit calls.
         The Resurrection of Christ is a calling upon our whole lives.