Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Five Links

With the retirement of Andrew Sullivan, I think it’s worth thinking a little about why his blog was so successful. One reason was he “read the whole internet.” He began this process by asking for 5 links a day.
So, to honor the recently retired pioneer of the internet, every now and again I’ll comment on five links.
Reacting instantly to five links about hot topics of the day is no small thing. You can put your foot in it easily, or even contribute to more noise instead of expanding positive and useful discourse.
Between Stephen Colbert, Andrew Sullivan, and now Jon Stewart, we’re losing some heavy hitters in the cross section of politics and popular culture. I do not think it’s a coincidence that they all gained their prominence during the Bush Administration. They were the folk pointing out, with both poignancy and aplomb, that the emperor had no clothing. And you can ride on that for… apparently a little over 6 years, but in the Obama years there isn’t the same oxygen for their kind of flame. I mean, obviously there are still a lot of loyal fans, but skewering the opposition isn’t the same as poking the crown while it’s atop the king’s head.
Ross Douthat sees Obama as within the tradition of Niebuhr in his “Christians do violence too,” moment at the prayer breakfast. However, Ross then goes on and does a “I knew Niebuhr, and you my friend are no Reinhold Niebuhr.” He sees Obama’s critique as distinct from a Niebuhrian critique because:
a. Obama isn’t a theologian or historian, so his comments were creating a straw-man instead of a nuanced and thought through expression of reality
b. The Muslim world doesn’t care what Obama says 
c. Obama is using Niebuhr to score political points.
Frum noticed that Jeb Bush quoted Plinty the Elder when talking about oil policy. The problem is Plinty didn’t read Adam Smith, who might be a better guide for modern economics, per Frum.

Clint, over at Lutheran Confessions, sees a potentially insidious side to “Progressive Christianity," a form of the Faith that focuses on the questions instead of the answers—as an antidote to more fundamentalists forms of Christianity that focuses on answers without considering the questions of the day; the danger is "Progressive Christianity" might make itself out to be the end goal of the Faith—instead of seeing itself as yet another evolution, another anti-thesis, in a Hegelian reading of Christian history.

Student Debt 2015 Edition, Ctd

It was pointed out to me that my chart did not take into account the fact that I live in a Parsonage and receive other clergy benefits. That’s a fair critique, I guess when I’m living day to day I just think about the money I have in my bank account, not the bank account of living in a house and having health insurance, which are by no means small things!
I like to think I at least occasionally blog in the style of Andrew Sullivan, and one of his big things is admitting when you are wrong. Well, the last chart is kinda wrong. Here is an updated chart that takes into account my “Defined Compensation.” Also, just because I think it’s worth thinking about the amount of interest students pay on their loans, I created a distinct category of “Loan Interest.”

So, what’s the diff? All of a sudden I’m keeping 49% of my income instead of 36% and my student loans only account for 16% of my income instead of 19%.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Student Debt 2015 edition

As you are probably painfully aware at this point, my hobby horse is Seminary/Student debt. Specifically, I bury people in pie charts, in order to keep the issue on the agenda of the ELCA.
Well, I rendered unto Caesar today, so I have a clear idea what 2014 looked like money wise. Here it is in chart form:
Paying for my previous degrees cost me 19% of my total income last year (around 6% of my income went to paying the interest...). That's quite a bit.
After taxes, debt, and tithing, I was left with 36% of my take home pay to feed the cat and buy books (and pay medical expenses, keep my car running, etc).
I don't know what my life would look like with that 19% in my pocket, perhaps I would be more generous to charity, perhaps I would save for the future, who knows--we're not in that parallel universe. We're not in a universe where Seminary Education is funded well, or where the interest rate on student loans is 3.86.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Becoming All Things to All People

 Let me tell you a story.
        There was once a large Lutheran Church, we’ll call it Saint Elsewhere, it was without a pastor. St. Elsewhere was graying; and they wanted to attract young people to their congregation. They looked over at the new mega church, where lots of young people were joining. They saw the Pastor there was heavily tattooed and a former rapper.
         So, when they looked for a new pastor, they wanted one of those—they wanted to keep up with the Jones, so to speak. When they interviewed their potential Pastor they asked if he could rap, and if he’d be willing to get a tattoo in order to attract young people.
         In fact, the members of St. Elsewhere added, they had already picked out a face tattoo for their new Pastor—it would be a Jesus fish, like the bumper sticker logo, but to prove how hip to the young folk’s jive the Church was, it would be a Piranha… or a Shark if the Pastor preferred.
         As you can imagine the Pastor was skeptical, and he said, “I don’t want a tattoo… nothing against them, I’m just not a tattoo kind of guy.”

         The congregation looked sideways at that, so the Pastor, you know wanting the job, added quickly, “However, I would be willing to look at the neighborhood and help figure out what we need, how I could empower St. Elsewhere to meet the needs of the community.”
         And, reluctantly they called the guy, and they listened to the neighborhood.
         And they realized there was not a single Spanish speaking ministry in the town, yet 2/3rds of the new residents spoke Spanish at home.
         And the Pastor said, “Conveniently, I speak some Spanish. With some practice I think I could lead a Spanish Speaking service.”
         And with that suggestion the congregation stopped, took a deep breath, and realized they had several Spanish speakers already in place who could help with the service. It was halting process and not always the hottest game in town, but it did fit who they were, and who the community was.
         The Pastor never got his Piranha or shark tattoo, and they never did snatch up those hip young people they’d hopped to snatch up—but they did create a space for Spanish speakers to hear the Word of God and receive the Sacraments.

Let us pray.

         “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
         These are dangerous words Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians. They can be a danger, as the phrase goes, “to ourselves and to others.”

         “Becoming all things to all people,” can be a danger to others.
         The danger is that in our attempt to reach all people, we end up doing ministry to people, instead of with people—to instead of with.

         I think of a famous chapter in the book, “The Poisonwood Bible.” It’s a book about a Baptist missionary family in the Belgian Congo.
         In this one scene, the Pastor father insists on baptizing people in running water, going down to the river—and he doesn’t understand the protest of his congregation, until he meets the crocodiles. He was doing ministry TO the Congolese people; if he’d done it WITH them he would have listened to their concerns, and not disturbed the crocodiles.
         And that’s really the way to avoid the danger of doing ministry to people instead of with people—you have to listen.
         I think of the Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter—when he addresses the Athenians in the book of Acts he points to all kinds of bridges between the Gospel and the lives of his listeners—he quotes philosophers and popular speakers of the time
—If he was preaching today he might have talked about Comedian John Stewart’s interview with Bob Odenkirk, then made sure you knew he’d read the latest James Patterson book, and was at a Lady Gaga concert.
         In short, he would respect the people he is ministering to enough to be curious about them, and to listen to them.
         So, for example, if you want to tell your grandchildren about Jesus, you need to be curious about their lives, as they actually live them… you need to listen to them, to know what they care about, to find the places where Christ’s story intersects with their own, so you can gently point that place out to them, when it comes up.

         Likewise, St. Elsewhere examined young people from a distance—they didn’t want to do ministry WITH the young people, they wanted to do ministry TO young people.
I mean observing a rap concert and watching people with tattoos in a coffee shop (the Call Committee’s prepared for the initial interview with a Pastor by doing both these things), isn’t the same as finding out what drew those young people to the church pastored by that tattooed rapper pastor.
         But when they listened—when they got curious about their own community—they could begin to move from doing ministry TO people and started doing ministry WITH people.

         “Becoming all things to all people,” can also be a danger to the ones doing ministry.(DTO-S)
         The biggest danger is becoming inauthentic, putting on a mask, claiming more than you can bear.
         I see this all the time, I’m sure you do too. Pastors and their families pretending to be put together all the time, holding those smiles until they can’t unsmile,
because they think that kind of wholesome family attracts people.
Some folk do that throughout a church service as well—holding those smiles until they shake the Pastor’s hand and head out the door.
         I know of a Pastor’s spouse who had addiction issues, but hid them so deep that they went off the deep end… all because they wanted to “be all things to all people,” and in so doing lost their very self.
         And this inauthenticity goes against the Gospel
—if you hear nothing else today, hear this
—the light of Christ shines on all parts of our lives
—his life, death, and resurrection redeems all parts of us
—not just the churchy-bits, or the wholesome-bits, or for that matter the socially acceptable-bits
—Our whole lives are made right in him…
to hide parts of ourselves is to cast a shadow where Christ has cast light.
         So, in response to the creeping inauthenticity that can come with “Being all things,” I say Church, “Know Thyself.”
Not only will it save you from losing your soul, it also helps to bring souls to Christ—there is a missionary advantage to being yourself—it actually helps you “be all things to all people.”

         Take Paul for example, he’s able to be under the law for those under the law, because he studied at the feet of the great Rabbi Gamaliel.
He’s able to be outside the Law and savvy about Rome, because he’s a Roman Citizen.
         Now as far as I know, none of us in this room have the high pedigree of the Apostle Paul, but we ain’t nothin’ either.
         Think of it, you can tell kiddos about Christ because you’ve been a parent or a teacher (for that matter we’ve all be kids) and know how to talk to kids.
You can talk to members of Job’s Daughters and the Elks, because you’re a Job’s Daughter or an Elk.
You can talk to soccer moms because you’ve been, or are, a soccer mom.
You can talk to new people in town, because they’re your new neighbors.
Talk to your poker buddies as poker buddies, the people you work out with at the PAL, as their Pals…
these things we are… they are bridges upon which the Gospel can cross.

         Again, back at St. Elsewhere, a Great White slashed across the Pastor’s face, while he makes references to Ludacris and Pitbull—when he’s a Bob Marley and Peter, Paul, and Mary kind of guy—would have been inauthentic.
         So instead, they looked at who they were, and realized they had plenty of gifts—that they could be all things to all people without being a danger to themselves or to others—did they save all…?
no, but they saved some.

         Let’s listen to what God is already doing in the lives we hope to point to the Gospel, so we’re doing ministry with them.
         Let’s be ourselves, because that’s who Jesus has redeemed, and that’s who our neighbors want to hear from

—not a mask or false face, but the face of the people they love, sharing the love of God with them. A+A