A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Welcome to the Twilight Zone January 3, 2015

I’ve written before about the female clergy experience so, if you’re bored or over that topic, then I would move on from this. But if you’re still here, indulge my ramblings for a bit and I promise I move beyond gender towards the end.
It’s a well known fact that the vocation of clergy can be a lonely one, regardless of gender. You just quite don’t fit anywhere. I don’t want to diminish or negate that experience for my male colleagues as it is true and is difficult to navigate. But in conversations with other female colleagues (including an extensive one with my best friend who is also clergy), as well as watching and experiencing what can happen on-line to female clergy, I offer that we have an added unique layer to our experience. What makes this particularly challenging is that God’s very vision for humanity, the vision that many of us daily participate in, espouses radical equality and relationships. Yet, for many, our experience is anything but that. (I want to say up front that I think these challenges exist for women in the secular workplace as well.)
You Don’t Quite Fit in with the Women’s Groups
If you assume that as female clergy, we would have this whole set of people who would welcome us to be a part of their circle because women are so much more relational than men, you would be wrong. Reality is that many of the parishioners have been in the congregation for years, decades even, they have a fairly tight bond and so adding this “new girl” in isn’t on the radar. After all, we are the pastor so our main role is to pray or lead worship at the Women’s Retreat, right? Who wants the pastor at their Bunco or dinner out nights? We get it. But don’t assume that we would say no to an invite. Many people make friends at their jobs….need I say more? Many clergy, of any gender, have few if any opportunities to make friends outside of church.
Now, we don’t want to bust up bestie girl times, but just be aware that your pastor likes that too, and probably really likes you!

You Have Other Colleagues to Hang Out With
Yes…..and no….Whether we like it or not, clergy is still a male heavy vocation. (In my denomination, ELCA, only 20% of clergy are female.) Now, female clergy do get together and I, for one, want to give a shout out to all my sisters in ministry who love and support me everyday! But there is still a “good ol’ boys” club that exists and, again, we’ve noticed. Men have had the seat of power for essentially 2,000 years and we still live a in a primarily patriarchal culture, in and out of the Church. Many men are simply unaware that they, just by being male, possess more power than women. So their behavior matters-a lot.
There is still a stigma associated with hanging out with female colleagues-you might get labeled as “feminist,” “weird,” or it might raise an eyebrow that opposite gender colleagues can hang out. Sigh…are we all still in Jr. High? So, the men will go for beer with each other or they will go out together with their wives and not even consider that it might be nice for the pastor and her husband to be part of the crowd. Once again, we get it. A pastor and a pastor husband doesn’t fit the cultural norm or paradigm. Our lives and way of being in ministry are very different and frankly, new. Now, in fairness, what the church expects of pastors wives is ridiculous. They think that they are essentially getting two employees for the price of one. Interestingly enough, no asks or expects my husband to bake cookies for Sunday morning, arrange altar flowers, lead a ministry or teach SS. Which is good, as he has a job. I don’t volunteer at his job (can you imagine?) and he volunteers only sporadically at mine.
And Then There Are the Haters
Oh yes, there are men (and sometimes other women) who “believe in the Bible” and assert that women can’t and shouldn’t be clergy. After all, we are missing very important anatomy that enables us to be rationale and intelligent. On social media, it’s not uncommon for female clergy and particularly female clergy of color to be personally and professionally attacked for following God’s call for their lives. I witnessed this just yesterday and when I offered support to this colleague, a male colleague cautioned me for being to bold and outspoken about my support and own experiences with this same issue! Can a girl get a little overt support from her male colleagues? They all talk a great talk about affirming their female colleagues ministries and give great private pep talks. But when the rubber meets the public road? Crickets. What if the “guys” see that they might support any aspect of the “feminist agenda”? Will they lose some power?
Welcome To the Twilight Zone
Here we are, caught somewhere between our deep love for our call to ministry, the context in which we serve, and the people with whom we serve and the brokenness of human relationships as a whole. The Twilight Zone of female clergy is that we have even fewer places in the Church and in society where we fit in. I often wonder if the addition of female clergy in many denominations is a microcosm of how the Church is or isn’t adapting to changing culture and norms. In my more philosophical and theological moments I can theorize away how being and living part of the change in God’s Church and being a part of what the Holy Spirit is up to in the world is a gift and a privilege. I can convince myself that all of my colleagues, male and female, are doing the best we can and it just is what it is. I can reassure myself that all of my, and my sisters in ministry, uncomfortable moments are part of change, part of revealing Christ at work in us all and in the world. Change is hard, change is scary, change is unsettling. Change questions power, personal identity, and status quo.
This is not just change for the male clergy, but change for the female clergy too. We are just as complicit in all of the above challenges and uniqueness as the other players. We don’t always handle the situation in the best way and let our humanness get the better of us. We don’t speak up for ourselves for fear of not being liked. We don’t remember that the only person we can change and control is ourselves. We don’t practice the 8th Commandment as often as we should.
How can we as the intentional people of God name these pieces in healthy and productive ways for conversation? How can we finally move beyond conversation to self-examination and truth telling about our own fears: fear of loneliness (as the common human experience), fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of power, and fear of the unknown? How can we truly live with one another in our primary identity as children of God?
I am hopeful, honestly. I think we will together wrestle with these questions and realities and then realize that it’s our commonalities as people and people of God that has the power to over come these challenges. This is not just about those on the “inside” of the Church-this is about God’s mission for all people to know the love of God in their lives. What if we as “being the Church” could really live together in such a way that people were naturally drawn to this community of faith? What if we let go of our need for power and control in our own lives and gave into the power of God’s radical love?What if the only power we need to consider is that of the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, make us new creations and move us from where we are today? What if we all truly believed in God’s promises that we all fit in?
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28

Advertisements
 

Invisible paths and standing in the gap March 8, 2014

I don’t think I would be offering anyone new information if I said to you, “we are in transition.” Now you might ask me where specifically we are in transition but I am afraid I would just respond to you with a shrug and say, “everywhere.” Because it’s true. We are in transition in our educational systems, we are in transition in our governmental systems, we are in transition in our communication systems, we are in transition in our churches, we are in transition in our homes. We are in transition. We are currently standing in the gap of where we were and where we are going. We can see the black abyss underneath our feet and it’s as frightening as all hell.

Not only are we standing in the gap but the bridge we are walking on is like the path in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Remember the scene where they are looking for the Holy Grail and the path only becomes visible a little at a time? Yep, we are looking for the Holy Grail all right and the path most certainly seems invisible.

This transition in nearly every aspect of our culture and society, is happening for many reasons that I am not even sure matter anymore. We have analyzed that data to death it seems and it did not reveal a clear path, so I am inclined to quit worrying about the “why” and focus on the “what now”?

What do we do in this gap? Do we even know where we are going? What is our “Holy Grail”? Is it stellar education, equality, peace, food and clean water for each person on the planet? It seems right now in mainline Protestant churches, the Holy Grail (so to speak) is to figure out how to actually “be” the church. We no longer are in the era of the church existing simply because it should or does, so, therefore how do we justify our existence? And now we find our selves firmly in the gap from being part of the institutional establishment to not. And the real issue is that we need to shed our institutionalist skin and live differently. And we no longer know how.

We no longer know how to listen to the people around us and let their story resonate or intersect with our own or most importantly, hear God’s story in our lives. We no longer know how to create authentic community without a national publishing house’s curriculum. We no longer trust ourselves or the people that we live with in our homes, schools and work places to possess a truth or an insight. We no longer know how to think outside of what a supposed renowned person with a PHD thinks. We no longer trust that God is loose in the world and we no longer look for God outside of what we consider “church” or “holy.” We no longer are ok with any ambiguity or mystery in life. We are looking for the Holy Grail and we want it to be delivered by Fedex between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to our office on Monday, thank you very much!

All of this unknown de-centers us, throws us off balance and frankly can make us cranky. Nothing is clear, there is not a magic bullet and it’s exhausting. But here is some good news-no really-I don’t know if we really ever had centeredness, balance or the “magic bullet” answer. I think all that we don’t know is now a bright strobe light that no one can ignore and it forces our acknowledgement of our lack of knowledge. This is great news in that it allows and pushes us to ask the tough questions, to wrestle with this transition that God has called us into, to get comfortable with discomfort, and to be open to mystery that our western scientific minds refuse to even consider.

Right about now you are hoping that I have some pithy internet, Facebookesque, clean statement that wraps this all together in a neat bow for you. Well, get used to mystery starting now (and disappointment), because I don’t. I do think it is a huge step to name the gap, to name the fear and figure out who is on the invisible path with you willing to teeter on the edge a bit. God is calling us all to participate in mess, uncertainty, humility, risk, creativity, faith, learning, and growth that is the heart of God’s mission of revealing God’s unconditional and unending love for the entire world. All in all, a pretty good gap to stand in don’t you think?

 

Shopping and the kingdom of God November 27, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 4:24 am
Tags: , , , , ,

We’ve all seen the Facebook articles or news sound bites, “Stores are open on Thanksgiving-will you boycott?” Or “These stores will not be open on Thanksgiving to allow their families to be together.” We all then think: ‘Oh those evil corporations making people work on Thanksgiving,” or “Good for those other businesses who have the correct morals and values.” But then comes the dissenting point of view: what about those who won’t get paid for missing work on Thursday? If you are an hourly employee (as are most retail workers), then a day off equals no pay. Happy Thanksgiving?
As usual, the issue of stores being open or not on Thanksgiving is not black or white, right or wrong. Shocking. We have a consumer culture; we want what we want, when we want it-which is now and for a good price. I am not necessarily critiquing that fact. I am as guilty of that as the next person. I am aware of the complexity of all of this. Our global market makes this all the more overwhelming. Do we buy what we can afford even if the company doesn’t have the most ethical worker practices or do we spend three or four times as much for the same item? For some in our society the latter is not even an option. Do we condemn them as unethical? Do we assume that their morals are not as high as our own? We might, but I would suggest removing the log out of our own eye before removing the sliver from our neighbor’s eye.
I think that the problem is bigger than a store being open on Thanksgiving or not. It’s bigger than Black Friday deals and “door buster” sales. In our rock throwing at corporations and malls, we are avoiding what is really going on: we continue as humans to try and fill our emptiness, uncertainty, self doubt and insecurity with stuff. Again, not pointing the finger at anyone but myself. The stores would not be open or even thinking about being open if they thought that no one would come. But we will come, even if we don’t on Thanksgiving or Black Friday out of a false sense of self righteousness. It’s not like I am not buying Christmas gifts. I am as sucked into the cultural misnomer of what Christmas should actually be as the next person. As much as I would like not to be and in some ways eschew the societal norm of a consumerist Christmas, I am as part of the problem as much as Macy’s, Kohl’s or any of the other department stores.
What will it take for us to be filled by global hunger, poverty and illness being eliminated? What would the world look like if we all operated from a theology of abundance (enough of everything: food, housing, clothing, love, grace and mercy) instead of scarcity? What would the world look like if we all truly believed that our worth was simply as children of God? What would the world look like if we all trusted one another to care and love each other as Christ has first loved us? Is this the kingdom come of God in the world? How are we participating in God’s mission of all of the above in the world? How are we participating in God’s reconciliation of all of creation which is why God became incarnate? I think these are the questions and blog posts that we should be discussing. For the record, I will not be shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. I will probably just wait for cyber Monday, I need something to do after staff meeting.

 

Service and getting a good night’s sleep November 16, 2013

First, I was deeply moved by all the response to yesterdays post. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me as well. So I think I will lighten it up today for a post. Plus, it’s one of those days that I honestly didn’t do, say or think about much worth blogging about. So here we are 15 days into national blog post month and I got nothin’.

It’s one of my day’s off as a pastor and typically on a Friday I do errands, housework, might take a nap, you know, important stuff. But today I needed to work on a volunteer part of my job for the Rocky Mountain Synod. For those of you not Lutheran: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is divided up into 65 Synods. A synod is determined by a certain number of churches in certain area. I think the magic number is 250 churches (but don’t quote me on that). But I can tell you that many synods have fewer than that number now. The Rocky Mountain Synod is geographically huge. It spans the five states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and the very western and southern edge of Texas-mostly just El Paso.

I volunteer with the synod in the area of faith formation and Christian education. One of the things I am currently working on is the RMS Middle School Youth Gathering that happens every January in Colorado Springs for approximately 800 12-14 year olds. It’s as awesome as it sounds! Seriously, it is a good time with great kids. One of the key components to the gathering is a day of service on the Saturday of the weekend. Well, little old me said she would take that on. Yep, really.

I have been working on it in spurts. Not procrastinating, but it doesn’t always get my top priority. We have a planning team meeting this Sunday and the list of things I need in place very soon has had me waking up at 3 in the morning in a cold sweat. Such as this morning. I like sleeping, so I decided today to plow through what needs to be done: a spread sheet with all the pieces filled in, emails sent as reminders and follow up with details, and a tally of how many service spots I have filled. Did I mention there will be about 800 youth? Well, let’s just say we are a tad short as of this morning. If 400 or so spots is a tad. I have called and emailed every agency I was given and I even managed to branch out a bit. It’s amazing how many non-profit organizations go out of business each year. I had email after email bounce back and number after number ring with the familiar three shrill beeps and the friendly female voice telling me that the number has been disconnected. Sigh. Don’t worry, it will all work out or I will be cleaning a park with 400 youth on a cold Saturday in January. Either way…

As daunting as this task is, I love the premise of it. Many youth gatherings tend to focus on the kids “having fun,” or can be viewed by parents as a child free weekend or a mini vacation for the youth. But this is so much more. The youth never complain about (or rarely) serving, helping and doing some hard work. They love it. They thrive on it. And they can’t wait to tell others about their experience. Last year on Saturday evening in the large group gathering the youth were offered a chance to tell others what they did and learned that day. We had kids lined up to speak in to the mic and tell this very large group about their learning.

Notice we don’t call it mission projects. We want to communicate very clearly that going out of your way to work a soup kitchen or a thrift store is not mission-it’s service. Mission is what God is already doing in the world and everyday we pray to use our whole lives, every bit of it, to participate in God’s mission. So mission is not ours-it’s God’s. My congregation calls the youth summer trips “learning trips” for this very reason. Inelegant? Maybe. But far more accurate.

We also emphasize for this day of service that there is not a hierarchy of “more meaningful” service. It’s ALL good. We even have some service opportunities at the hotel so that if a group can’t leave for some reason there is an accessible opportunity. You don’t have to look hard or far to find service to do. The hope is that the youth will understand that they are valuable in God’s world and capable of more than perhaps we adults give them credit for. Often, it is the adults that learn more than the youth.

As I contact these agencies and organizations I am reminded of all the opportunities right outside my door to serve God’s people and God’s world and how excited these young people will be to do so. So, I guess that’s not too shabby for a day off. But I think I will go to bed early tonight.