Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Highlands Lutheran Church

Back in September I worshipped with Highlands Lutheran Church as part of my visiting churches project.  I am also concentrating on this church as part of a research project for my sociology of congregations class.  HLC is an interesting study because they are a somewhat traditional lutheran church (in terms of theology and practice) but have a very vibrant young adult population.  My research project will end up being 25 pages or so, so I definitely won't post that here, but I might post some of what I learned.  At any rate, here are my experiences from worship.

Highlands Lutheran is in terms of physical space, a very traditional congregation.  They have a typical sanctuary with pews and a raised chancel.  The worship service was traditional and involved the hymnal and liturgy that I have known my entire life.  Which is comforting and makes me feel a part of an ELCA church wherever I go.  The very small choir did an excellent job of leading the worship.  I also appreciated the remembrance of baptism that happened at the start of the service.  The pastor did a really excellent job of welcoming visitors and making sure that we knew what was going on during the service.  This seems to be a fairly small congregation, and they seem to really like each other a whole lot.  My experience as a visitor was that while the pastor was really welcoming, the congregation was not sure how best to do that.  Sharing the peace is the most awkward part of visiting a congregation like this.  During this time in the service they are all greeting each other and hugging one another and talking about their lives.  A visitor really feels like an outsider.  I do not think that this is intentional, but things done (or not done) out of simply not paying attention are still not helpful.

What I learned:
1. It falls to the pastor to make sure that visitors know what is going on in the service, and they will come back if they feel like their presence matters

2. However it also falls to the pastor to make sure that their congregation knows that they share the responsibility for welcoming visitors.  Church is not a social club.

3. I think having a physical reminder of baptism (in this case actually involving water, not just words) at the start of every service is a huge part of our identity as Lutherans.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Install a Bishop

Photo credit Dale Horkey 2012

On September 23, 2012 the Rocky Mountain Synod installed Bishop Jim Gonia.  We are so blessed to have this incredible leader inspiring our Synod.

There is a complete video stream from the event, it is about three hours long.  I am a part of the line of processing church leaders.
Bishop Installation (video link)

This service included a 60 voice choir, liturgical dancers, a brass choir, 180 rostered leaders processing and a church absolutely stuffed to the gills.  It was a beautiful service, but exceptionally long.

Here is what I learned about installing a bishop:
-the laying on of hands is really, really cool.  What a moving experience to witness
-the ecumenical bishops present (Methodist and Episcopal) were also an incredible tribute to partnership.
-It is not necessary to sing every verse to every hymn.
-I know it is really difficult to work out of the logistics for serving communion to 300-odd people, but there was a really awkward pause of about 15 minutes in which no music was planned.  The organist should have vamped or something.

Over all a really moving and powerful experience.  I was blessed to be a part of it.

I am somewhere in this sea of people
(photo credit Dale Horkey 2012)

Bethany Lutheran Church

I am behind in my blogging about visiting churches!  Yesterday I visited Bethany Lutheran Church, which is in a southern suburb of Denver called Cherry Hills Village.  My dear friends Julie and Scott had their son baptized there yesterday.  Bethany was one of the first churches that I visited when I moved to Denver seven years ago.  I went there for about three months and stopped going because during that period of time not a single person greeted me as a visitor.  So I did not have high hopes for this worship service, although I was there to celebrate with and support my friends.

This the largest ELCA church in Denver, so I have been there for a few concerts and most recently the installation of the Rocky Mountain Synod bishop in September.  The sanctuary itself is very large, there are some beautiful stained glass windows and a very large pipe organ.

I was there for a baptism, and it was probably the most moving baptism that I have witnessed. Julie and Scott had each of us bring a cup of water from our home (Julie also had me bring a cup from the Episcopal church building where HFASS meets) to add to the fount.  The ELW Order for Baptism was performed, but at the end, the pastor added something that I had never heard before, but really liked.  The pastor held Julie and Scott's son and looked directly into his eyes and said, "You belong to God."  This is the clearest articulation of baptismal theology that I have heard, and I loved it.  They also invited the children of the congregation to come stand around the fount and witness what was going on.

The rest of the service was kind of lackluster.  Yesterday was Reformation Sunday, which is a really big deal for Lutherans, but instead of using the lectionary texts and preaching about what this sunday in the church year means for Lutherans, the preaching pastor gave a sermon about tithing.  Asking for money in church makes me feel profoundly uncomfortable, which is something that I definitely need to get over.  But as a guest in a congregation that is not my own, getting brow-beaten about supporting the congregation feels awkward.  The other thing about this church was that they did not really seem to care if a visitor knew what was going on or felt comfortable. However, what really got me was their announcement about gluten free wafers and grape juice at the Eucharist.  The presiding minister announced, "If you can't have regular wafers or wine, you need to come to the center station."  Which is awkward and exclusive and makes people feel immediately ill at ease, especially if they are visitors.

So here is what I learned about my visit to Bethany Lutheran:
-I loved what the pastor did at the baptism.  I love how he articulated what baptism meant and really meant it.
-I love that children were invited to gather around the fount
-You will inevitably have visitors, so please don't make it awkward for them to be there.
-Don't cause shame for people who cannot take in the "regular" elements of communion.  They are just as much a part of the body of Christ as everyone else.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Skewed Normal

A. Hanson Denver 2011
I've worked in homeless services for quite a few years now.  No matter how many times I hear the stories, I never, ever get used to them.  Maybe I shouldn't, because the second you become jaded and calloused, you probably have no business doing social work anymore.

I get a skewed sense of normal as a result of this work sometimes.  This morning I did an intake for a guest with a really sad story, they are all sad stories, but this woman's story seemed even harder than those of others.  It is just really difficult to see a woman who is holding so little hope for herself. Sometimes we have to help hold hope for others.  And that can be draining, which is what I feel today, but also an honor.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perspectives on a Year of Biblical Womanhood

One of my first concerns before reading this book, and indeed about any discussion of womanhood/manhood, etc, was about my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.  To be clear, this is not the aim of the book.  There are plenty of other books available on the topic.

However, I worry about the bigger picture of how gender roles impact our society.  And some of the greatest propagators of inequality are those of the Christian Evangelical tradition.  Some of the likely readers of Rachel Held Evans' book.  So we cannot afford to look away.

By arguing that there are two complementary roles (man and woman) in one type of relationship, heterosexual marriage, you only see a tiny portion of the spectrum of human experience.  There is such a huge spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations and WAYS OF BEING HUMAN that it serves no one to just confine it to a narrow understanding of what love can be.

There seems to be a general understanding of what it means to be man or woman or family that has been co-opted by some Christians as normative.  It generally looks like a married, two-parent household, that is middle class, goes to church on Sundays and lives in a community surrounded by others who are similar.

What Rachel Held Evans does really skillfully in this book is to detail that there are many, many ways that women lived their experience in biblical times.  There was Hagar, the slave sent into the wilderness by Abraham's wife Sarah, there was Sarah herself, Moses' mother who sent her son away to protect his life, Jael the fierce warrior who drove a stake through a man's temple, the wise Elizabeth who counsels the young Mary, and my personal favorite, Mary Magdalene who heralded the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  There was not one way to be a woman in the Bible, just as there is not one right way to be a woman now.

The bisexual woman pastor, the straight suburban church lady, the elderly lesbian woman and her partner, the young teenage girl who is trying out her role in the world, and the exhausted wife and mother...they were all created in the image of God.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Respecting Scripture

What does it mean to respect scripture?  Is it somehow disrespecting scripture to try to live into its precepts?  By honestly asking questions of the text is it being dishonored?  What might we be missing if we never do this?

To start, there seems to be several veins of criticism surrounding this work, most of which appears to come from people who have not even read the book.

The biggest controversy has been called Vagina-gate by Rachel Held Evans herself.  This centers around the idea that the word vagina is used in the book and as a result of this, the largest Christian bookstore chain in the country has refused to sell it.  This controversy has taken on a life of its own and has the potential to overtake the actual book itself.  I have nothing here to say except, GET OVER IT!  This is so not the point.

The other vein of criticism seems to be that by undertaking this project, Rachel Held Evans is somehow "disrespecting" or making a mockery of scripture.  There is where I really have something to say.

There seems to be a sort of paranoia about questioning or even critically engaging scripture or the religious practice informed by it.  It is my theory that some people (by no means confined to fundamental or evangelical traditions) view the Bible as a sort of house of cards in which each layer is dependent on the others to stay upright.  If one layer is too closely examined or touched or even if you breathe on it, the whole house of cards might collapse.  The thinking goes that if order to preserve the integrity of the Bible, it must never, ever be questioned.  The really funny thing is that we (and this is the royal "we") seem to think that we actually have the power to "destroy" scripture.  That is fairly arrogant and downright wrong.  The Bible is the living, revealed Word of God and nothing that WE do can change that.

I have been tracking several news stories in which Rachel is criticized for making a mockery of the biblical precepts for the role of women.  I could not disagree more vehemently.  I think the most honest engagement with the Bible is admitting what parts make us uncomfortable or don't make sense, then sit with them.  It means we are thinking about them and living with them and engaging in conversation with them.  Sometimes that means sitting on a roof or sleeping in a tent or sewing your own clothes like Rachel Held Evans.  More often it means engaging in real honest conversation, listening to the preaching of the story of Christ on the cross as if your life depends on it (because it DOES) and not just blithely swallowing whatever you read or hear.

Rachel Held Evans says it really well, "I keep loving, studying, and struggling with the Bible.  Because no matter how hard I fight it, it will always call me back."  (294)

In the Lutheran doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Martin Luther says that the approach to studying scripture should be three-fold:

a. Oratio: prayer and reflection that puts you under the scripture (most of the time, we never make it past this point)

b. Meditatio: the intense anatomy of the text and examining the text's role in the story of Christ.

c. Tentatio: the opening up of your soul to scripture, and this can involve suffering.  The point at which the scripture truly works you and you can finally begin to preach it.

So, keep loving, engaging, and yes, even fighting with the Bible.  Let the text work you. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Amazon Review

My review of Rachel Held Evans' book is up on Amazon.

The text is as follows:

I have to admit when I first heard about this project quite a few months ago I thought the whole premise was a bit crazy.  It was something sensational about addressing men and sleeping in a tent that had been overblown in the media.  I also hold very strong feelings about evangelical theology, complementarianism (gender roles) and a woman’s calling for ministry.  I will admit that before reading the book I had some preconceived notions about the whole premise, so I sympathize with readers who might feel the same way.  But the idea intrigued me.  So I gave it a chance and I found myself alternately laughing, shedding a few tears, and really critically thinking about the views that I hold and why I hold them.  I learned a lot from this book and I highly recommend it. 

 As a woman preparing for ordination in a mainline Protestant denomination I am forever confronting stereotypes of what women should and should not be doing in the church.  I know that I am blessed to be able to follow my call and feel deeply for my sisters in Christ whose voices are silenced in public ministry because of their gender.  The quote that sticks with me from this book pertains to calling.
Rachel Held Evans writes, “A calling, on the other hand, when rooted deep in the soil of one’s soul, transcends roles…My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself…If love was Jesus’ definition of ‘biblical,’ then perhaps it should be mine.”  (295)

Being a Christian woman is NOT about following a certain set of behaviors, advocating an ideal that does not exist, and living up to the expectations of others.  It is about love.    

If you are looking for a book that prescribes, reinforces, or advocates some ideal of biblical womanhood or rigid gender roles, you will be disappointed.  This is not a how-to book.  If you are looking for a book that will challenge, inspire, and upend some of your assumptions of “biblical womanhood,” you will love this book.  Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as “Biblical Womanhood.”  Held Evans skillfully combines candid reflections on her project with journal entries from her husband Dan, as well as profiles of female characters in scripture, interspersed with the most intriguing biblical commentary that I have read to date (and as a seminarian, I read a lot of commentary).  Rachel Held Evans manages to critically examine biblical texts while still honoring the spectrum of women’s experience and we all come away better for her “experiment” in living biblically. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Initial Thoughts on A Year of Biblical Womanhood

So last week I saw something on my twitter feed about applying to be a part of a book review and launch team for Rachel Held Evans' new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  When I first heard about this book, which was probably at least a year and a half ago, when Rachel was in the process of "living biblically" for one year (something about not wearing mixed fibers and sleeping in a tent in her yard), I thought she was absolutely nuts.

I think I was reacting out of my love-hate relationship with the Bible.  I love it for what it is and for the richness contained therein, but I absolutely HATE how it is used as a weapon and a wedge between people.  But I was also intrigued by the whole idea.  So I applied for this group and was accepted, me and around 75 other people or so.

What does it mean to live biblically?  What does Biblical Womanhood mean?    Can you live biblically while still living with the full rights afforded to women in our culture (while admitting we still have a ways to go)?  What does this book say about gender roles?  What does it say about people who identify as queer or gender-queer?  How does this sort of approach to living into the texts inform my ministry?  And most importantly, what can I learn?

I have yet to start reading this book, that will happen this weekend after I finish reading Martin Luther's The Bondage of the Will, because I am cool like that.  And I have a particularly demanding professor for that course.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kyrie Eleison...again

Tragedy has once again come to the Denver Metro area.  This is an unspeakable, horrific act of evil.  This is the sort of thing that you hear about in movies and on CSI and Law and Order and wish that it stayed there, not in the real world.     Unfortunately, evil has once again touched my community.

Last friday a 10 year old girl, Jessica Ridgeway, was abducted on her way to school in a northern suburb of Denver, the town of Westminster.  On Wednesday a body was discovered in the open space about 7 miles from her home.  Investigators described it euphemistically as "not intact" and DNA tests were required to positively identify the remains of this beautiful little girl, which was announced late this afternoon.  Evil.  Pure unadulterated evil.  There are absolutely no words for this.  The police have stated that there is a predator on the loose in the community.  This is not supposed to happen.  Stranger abductions and these horrific crimes are statistically incredibly rare.  But when something like this happens in your community, reality comes rushing in like a tornado.  There is something profoundly horrifying about a crime, against a child, on an ordinary friday morning in broad daylight.  In the three block span this girl walked alone.

The world is a little darker tonight.  Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison.  Pray for Jessica's family, our community, and all the brokenness in the world.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

I keep holding out hope that one day (hopefully soon!) all that I am learning will collide together into a big glorious mess and it will all make sense.  That some day the Greek, the Hebrew, the post-colonialism, the theology of the cross, the mission theory, the Roman history, the CPE experiences, and the ministry praxis will form me into a pastor.

In the meantime, I am feeling a little discouraged.  I think I need to listen to it all, take in what I can, and leave the rest for later.  I am choosing to trust that if I am following this call, I will be provided with everything that I need to survive grad school.