I Baptize People on Saturdays. What.

I also baptize people on Sundays or Tuesdays or any other day. I baptize people in “worship” on a Sunday morning, and outside of the context of the normal worship service. I don’t just do this in “extra ordinary circumstances” and I would even do it during the church season of Lent.

I know that in seminary the professor who teaches this kind of thing would pre-arrange to have a grave that would keep him rolling over throughout eternity over this. I know some of you pastor-types will have issues too. I know because I just baptized a one year old who had not been baptized yet because another pastor apparently said no. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about why they couldn’t do it in a Sunday morning service. The surface answer was that they had trouble finding a time to get everyone together. I accepted that.

I understand that Lutherans believe the community has a role in baptism, making promises to support these people being baptized throughout their life’s journey. I also tell people this when they ask me about having a baptism outside of the context of the church. But if they begin to look defeated and tired, I tell them this is what is preferred but there is space to talk about doing something differently.

I work in a church for half of my job, but in the other half I work outside of traditional church with a lot of people in their 20’s and 30’s who don’t go to church. The ones who don’t go to church usually have some story in their past that is about some kind of rejection from the church, and I am trying to prevent that from happening.

I also do it because of this: I believe people who read the Bible and understand it as holy were given the task of going out and baptizing. The author who wrote that Jesus said that did not say “in worship on Sunday mornings with a whole faith community gathered” and he did not say “but not in the season of Lent” (the season of Lent didn’t exist yet). The way I understand baptism, it is one way we know of God’s Grace in our lives. It is about what God does and not about what we do (and I believe that means both those being baptized, and me, and the rest of the community gathered). I don’t believe that others being present who are not family or friends hinders the Holy Spirit in any way.

Let me tell you about my Godchild, Sunday. She was baptized on a Sunday, but it was after all the “faithful people” gathered had gone home. Just the family gathered around the font. None of us went to church that morning. The pastor didn’t even say all the words that are normally in the service (no worries; I said the words later in the lake, even though I wasn’t a pastor. I marked her with the sign of the cross and told her I welcomed her into God’s family, received her a fellow member of the body of Christ. I told her she was a child of the same heavenly creator and a worker with us in the kingdom of God. I said it for all of you who consider yourselves to be part of the body of Christ who could not be present at that lake that day.)

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Sunday on her Baptism Day

This baptism happened outside of the context of Sunday morning worship because Sunday’s Mom and Dad didn’t go to church, and felt weird going back.

Sunday’s mom was a college friend of mine, and we had worked at a Bible camp together. Later, she got pregnant and eventually married this guy in a band, who smoked a lot of weed and had a lot of disdain for most of Christianity because of the particular brand of fundamentalism he had been surrounded  by in high school. But Sunday’s mom still wanted her kids to be baptized, so this was the compromise.

Some of you might be thinking about those promises parents make during the baptism: to raise your child among God’s faithful people, to place in their hands the Holy Scripture, to bring them to God’s table, etc. You might be thinking that people like this make a sham out of baptism, because clearly they have no intention of living up to these promises, so it renders baptism totally meaningless.

Sunday was baptized 14 years ago this past month. In October she will affirm her own baptism in a confirmation service that will likely be led by her mother–Pastor Chris Manisto. Chris was ordained in July of 2008, after a wandering path that reminds me that Tolkien was right–not all who wander are lost. Sunday and her dad (now sober for more than ten years) regularly sing together in church, and her older sister spent her summer first doing a Theology and Science camp, and then a border experience with a group of young leaders in the church.

I think they are all living into their baptismal promises. More than that it seems clear that God showed up on that day, even though it wasn’t during Sunday worship. More than that, I have no doubt the Holy Spirit is able to work in all kinds of circumstances.

If you are a Lutheran, and you want a good “Lutheran” reason for baptizing whenever, I’ll say this: Luther responded to some issue in the church by saying something like, “It may be good theology, but it’s bad pastoral care. And if it is bad pastoral care, it is bad theology.”

But mostly I’ll end by saying this: I promise to do the best I can to not let the church get in the way of the Holy Spirit. In the name of God who is still creating, sustaining and redeeming, Amen.

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Is your worship really the only one God works through?

Recently I saw this post on facebook that was bemoaning/making fun of a whole host of what one might call “worship styles” that (according to this post) represent a consumerist style of approaching church. There was something for everyone–Gregorian chant to hip-hop worship.

I don’t know what to do with this kind of post. For those of you who might read this who are churchy-types, I understand that the liturgy works in some kind of way that we cannot understand, explain or control. But I have three issues with people bemoaning alternate styles of worship:

  1. It makes God too small.
  2. It privileges some style of worship above others, and marginalizes people in the process.
  3. It is not good news.

It makes God too small:

I believe the Holy Spirit also shows up in places we cannot explain, understand or control. He/She/It may show up outside of the liturgy that is somehow mandated in some place that means one way is the right way, and these other ways represent “consumerism.”

If it is true that the Holy Spirit might show up outside of liturgy as it has always been done,  it seems as if we have some tools available to us to experiment with how we, out of our own context and time, might offer praise, speak, and hear good news spoken into this time and place. I assume that God speaks good news into our lives using the stuff of creation, in each time and place. That might mean some different kinds of liturgy, with different genres of music, instrumentation and words. I trust God is present in these new things.

It privileges some styles of worship above others, and marginalizes people: 

We could mandate that all worship looks the same. I don’t think Martin Luther ever did that, but we can. I remember learning that he thought word and sacrament were essential, and that the rest was bonus, (I know the fancy word, I’m just not using it here). I believe Luther said if it seemed good for proclaiming gospel in that location, then it was good for worship.

One of the reasons I am uncomfortable with the conversation is because of how it seems to belittle or make fun of those who lead worship or experience worship in ways other than (whatever it is that you think is the established right way). And that “right way” is likely grounded in something European and old. The comments on the picture seem to suggest that some people believe there is one way to worship in spirit and in truth, and  all these other ways just represent disunity in the body of Christ, and making God into our own image. What this does is marginalize people who don’t experience or lead worship the way it is assumed it has always been done. One could probably make an argument that if it was good enough for 500 years’ worth of people, it should be good enough for people today. You can say that, but the church is shrinking quickly so you may not be saying it to many people. More to the point, all worship came out of a culture, whether ancient Judaism or Europe 500 years ago. All worship comes from culture.

It is not Good News: 

The Church should not be about marginalizing anyone, because that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church is about proclaiming the gospel into people’s lives–that the grace of God is for you–whoever you are, in whatever way you can hear it, using the tools, instruments, gifts and talents of the community that is doing the hearing and proclaiming. I believe God can work with all of that. Do you?

Come, Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

Still praying

A man once told me that the last time he entered a church was forty years ago. He was a teenager, but folks in his church thought he had an “unnatural attraction” to his best friend. They held an intervention for him. When the intervention “didn’t work” he was kicked out of the church, and didn’t return for 40 years.

One day, he knelt in tears at a railing near the altar while we prayed. The altar and railing looked similar to the church where they had prayed over him as a teenager. Forty years later when he had found his way back, we prayed for the walls he had built up to fall. We prayed for him to have the grace to forgive the people who had harmed him. We prayed for peace for him as he found his way back to church, even though it is sometimes hard to be there, with triggers that remind him of that earlier time, and fears that it will happen again.

I am still praying. I just heard a news story about a teenager named Lennon in Barnesville, MN, who was supposed to be confirmed last month at his Catholic church. He was allegedly not confirmed after posting on his facebook wall that he was against the marriage amendment that failed to pass in Minnesota on election day. The vote would have changed the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Lennon voiced his opposition to that measure. You can read more about that here.

So I am still praying.

I have an uncle who is gay. I don’t see him much, but he was at my grandmother’s funeral, and told me he had not been inside a church in at least a couple of decades. He asked me, “What is the point of these buildings? What use do they serve?”

The Barna group did a study that talked about the most common reasons that young people don’t go to church. The most common responses had to do with the church being irrelevant to their lives, anti-homosexual, antagonistic towards science, boring, and judgmental. The research is documented in the book, You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

So I am still praying.  First I  prayed for was that the voices of love and grace and mercy would be louder than the voices of intolerance and judgement. But that is not enough. If I am going to pray, I might as well ask for it all. Now my prayer is this: That we might find a way, as Church to be God’s body–to embody the love and grace of God above all else, and let go of fear, intolerance, and judgement.

I want to be able to tell Lennon there is a place for him in this Church, even with his opinions. I want to be able to tell my uncle about the reasons for Church, and not be afraid that his worst fears will be confirmed if he walks back in. I want to know that the man who left forty years ago won’t experience the same pain today. I want to know that this will never happen to another person again. I want young adults to come to church and experience it as a place that recognizes and welcomes their gifts, their questions, their life experiences and their whole selves, including a thinking mind.

We need this not just because I want a church that feels safe for Lennon, my uncle, and others to be themselves, but because the body of Christ needs them too. Those of us who are “in” the church miss out on all the gifts that those “outside” the church have to offer. And as long as there are groups that are “inside” the Church and “outside” the Church, we’re a long way away from God’s vision for this world.

At least as far as I can see.

So I’m still praying.

So…It’s not a Church?

“So, it’s not a church?”

Not exactly.

“But you got a call?”

Yes.

“What is it then?”

It’s an emerging faith community for people in their 20’s and 30’s, generally speaking.

“A….community…so….where does it meet?

Um, bars, coffee shops, a place called The Spirit Room

“So you don’t have an actual place.”

Well, wherever you go, there you are. That’s some kind of place.

“And this is the kind of work you want to do?”

YES!!!!!

These are the kinds of conversations I’ve been having with people—especially people in the church I am finishing up at—about my future work. I’ve just accepted a call to The Project F-M (another question I get: What is ‘FM’? Answer: Fargo-Moorhead) and it seems to be kind of confusing to people. People really wish I would be in a church building apparently. (See my post on “Not a Building” for MY thoughts on that.)

But it turns out there are a whole bunch of people in the world who don’t go into buildings called “churches” and don’t attend events called “worship.” Maybe they did once upon a time, but a really large number of young adults just don’t. (See more about this in my post on Somebody That I Used to Know). There are as many reasons for this as there are people. Some people wandered away from church because it didn’t seem relevant to the rest of their lives. There is too much of a cultural commute to take for them to walk in on a regular basis. Some people don’t believe the things they were taught in the churches they grew up in. Whatever the reasons, there are large groups of people who don’t resonate with ‘church.’

So it makes sense to create other kinds of space—sacred space, maybe—for people who don’t find meaning in conventional churches or worship. Even if that space isn’t one we own, or call “ours.” I am really excited about helping to create that kind of a space and be a part of a community that wants to engage in conversations about God and theology and things that hold deeper meaning to them. Even if we don’t use the word ‘church.’

And hey–for those of you who are in conventional churches, or leading conventional churches–please keep doing what you’re doing. It is a faith community for those who call that place a church home. I know that if you started changing drastically to respond to the needs of the people who are not currently in your churches, then all those people who go to church now would be exiles.

Just find ways to support those others who are currently in exile.

And, you can read more about The Project F-M here. (You can even donate there!)

Snow White, Our Latest Messiah

Snow WhiteI saw the new movie Snow White and the Huntsman the other day. As I watched I was struck by how many parallels there were to the story of Jesus. There are “Messiah” stories everywhere (messiah meaning, someone to save/deliver us) And that is what Snow White is to the people of that land.

Here are some of the parallels I noted:

The child who plays snow white is born in some extra-ordinary way, with a blessing, like every messiah story, including the story of the birth of Jesus. That child is perceived as a threat to the authority (In this case, the queen; In Jesus’ case, Herod, and religious authorities). Snow White disappears (captive in a tower) for years, until she escapes, which is not so dissimilar to the “missing years” of the gospels with Jesus’ childhood. When Snow White escapes, she rides through this town where the villagers look at her suspiciously. This happened to Jesus too.

But others see her and feel moved by her in some way, saying that “she is the one who will save us. I see an end to the darkness.” They see creatures respond to her, not unlike the people in the gospels who tell stories about demons knowing who Jesus is, and calming the winds.

Snow White collects a group of people who protect her and vow to follow her and do whatever she says. But of course the group (you know, the seven dwarves) are varying degrees of not-so-smart—just like the disciples.

The huntsman teaches her how to kill someone who gets close to her, and she says “I don’t think I could ever do that” playing the nonviolence card. And of course, one day she gets fed this poisoned apple, and is pronounced dead. Several days later, (following the Jesus story) she comes back to life.

Now, here is where the story diverges from the story of Jesus the Christ. Snow White gets up, goes outside, and gives a rousing speech to the village people gathered about how it is the right time to rise up, and the question, “who will ride with me?” Of course they all respond, and she becomes a military leader, leading an assault on the castle that ends with her killing the queen.

This is the messiah I think we always want—even the one that people hoped Jesus was. They thought Jesus would gather the troops, ride into Jerusalem, abandon all his previous ideals and start a military revolution that would end the occupation and win freedom for the Jewish people. Well, the story we get of Jesus has him riding into Jerusalem, on a donkey or a colt. Not exactly starting violent revolution.

This is the messiah story that happens over and over and over again. Which is to say, when freedom and being “saved” have to do with storming castles and defeating enemies with violence, the peace that follows is always temporary, and always a ‘relative peace’ no matter what they say about living happily ever after.

Jesus’ resurrection tells a different kind of story (though some atonement models would say differently). For that reason alone I have some kind of faith in it. Because if this was simply a story made up by the hands of people, Jesus would have stormed the castle and ended the occupation, become the actual king of the Jews and then we all would have lived happily ever after, just like in a Disney story.

Instead the stories of his appearances talk about people’s eyes being opened, and understanding scripture, and learning that they must now be the people who will carry on his work of proclaiming good news. Instead he tells his disciples that if you love me you will feed people. Instead he tells people, “peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”

One could question whether this works, or will work, or is working any better than being saved through violence (the myth of redemptive violence, Walter Wink would call it). I don’t have any good answers to that question, but I am intrigued by this idea of God acting in ways very foreign to our ideas of what a “messiah” should be like. Because  after all these years we should know that storming the castle and beginning your happily-ever-after with victory, bloodshed, winners and losers, death and destruction—it just doesn’t work. There is no good news—no gospel–in that kind of messiah story.

“Failure to Launch” or the new ‘normal’?

I recently went to a workshop put on by the Barna group called, You Lost Me.

It was a great day, but I take issue with some things. One is a conversation about “Failure to Launch.” They showed the difference between today’s 20’s-30’s achieving these milestones that signify adulthood, and the statistics of a previous generation. Statistics say that far less people today have lived these milestones by the age of thirty. The point was that many young people today have “failed to launch” into adulthood.

The key factors that marked a person (or generation of persons) as a failure had to do with leaving home, attaining economic independence, and forming families of their own. I don’t argue that these things are happening and that we should talk about them, but I do argue with the word “failure” and wonder about how we culturally define adulthood.

Leaving home: While this has been a sign of adulthood in American society in recent history, it is also a mark of our cultural value of independence. There are many cultures throughout the world and down through history for which this would not be seen as a sign of adulthood, or a desired state.

Attaining economic independence: I am unsure if this is about paying your own rent or having a career focused job, or some other sign, but some questions to consider might be these:

  • Is this happening because too many men are in their parents’ basement playing games?
  • Might there be other factors, such as baby boomers not retiring and saturating the market?
  • When they do retire, new hires often look and act like the old ones, but  ten years younger instead of forty years younger (or even twenty years younger) In my field, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you can see this trend as you look at the newest bishops in the church, who are largely 50+. I am not arguing for twenty-six year old bishops, or even a leadership based on Numbers 8, but some diversity in leadership might be good for the Church.
  • Is it because the economy is tight and less people are hiring?
  • Is it because of a large national conversation in higher education about “vocation” meaning finding a calling, (to put it simply)  rather than just finding a job that pays the bills?

If these are factors, then can we blame individuals? Does the “generational failure” reside with those in their 20’s and 30’s (right now) or with another generation? Is it always a failure?

Forming families of their own: David Kinnaman, who wrote You Lost Me and presented on this topic, has also written a blog about the “The New Normal”  which includes pointing out that there is a “global pause in marriage.” Not just in American society, but across the world, many cultures are delaying marriage. There are good reasons for this. I have friends who did launch in all of these traditional ways—successfully out of the house! Successfully married! Successfully breeding! And at such a young age that now they are “unlaunched” or launch aborted. Some of those divorces were incredibly painful. While I have witnessed some great marriages, I can also say there are far worse things that remaining single.

I also think of my friends in the LGBTQ  community. Anyone can form a family, but for LGBTQ folks, they are often not recognizable as such to the government, the church, or a research group if they are defining family in a heternormative way. This, along with the sometimes long and painful process of coming out will probably delay the step of forming a family.

Twenty-two years ago I moved out of my parents’ house at eighteen. I got a college degree, started my first career. I’ve spent 3 months back in my parents’ house since then in between jobs. I became one of the “new normal” of “educated capable young women” who owns a house. But since I am not married and did not have children, I guess that means I failed to launch.

The valid point of talking about this during the “You Lost Me” presentation was to point out how churches are ill-equipped to deal with the “new normal.” I agree with this, because our churches are often very family-centric and heteronormative. But the “new normal” is still called a failure. It is a failure which Jesus would have (probably) been familiar with, because (as far as we know) he also failed to be economically independent. His family (see Mark 3: 31-35) was the people around him—perhaps like the “urban tribes” we hear about as forming new definitions of family. He seems to have walked around a lot, living an itinerant life. He didn’t live much longer after 30, so I guess we’ll never know if he would have eventually become a successfully-launched adult.

Can we please use different words?

Titanic

Lookout Frederick Fleet: Is there anyone there? 
6th Officer Moody: Yes, what do you see?
Lookout Frederick Fleet: Iceberg, right ahead!
6th Officer Moody: Thank you.
[hangs up phone[1]

Just seventy-three years ago, Jews were still being killed in Nazi Germany. Forty-five years ago, civil rights in our own country were unavailable to a whole bunch of people. Forty years ago, Women couldn’t be pastors in Lutheran churches. Twenty-five years ago, the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) didn’t exist. None of us had emails until about seventeen years ago. About that time, you couldn’t take communion in a Lutheran church if you were a child under a certain age. Three years ago, people who understood themselves as gay and wanting to be in a relationship couldn’t be pastors in the ELCA. This is all true.

I have to remind myself of these things.

I have to remind myself because sometimes I get really worried about the church. I have read articles that talk about how the church has three years to figure things out. Steve Knight talks about the age and number of baby boomers and the trends that show how the dollars in churches will decline.

I am haunted by the ideas in that article. I look around and feel like we’re all on the Titanic, (at least the movie version) and some people are choosing to  keep eating and playing music, pretending the ship isn’t going down. Others are running around trying to save each other, with great lines: “Music to drown by. Now I know I’m in first class.” And this great line: “Incredible. There’s Smith and he’s standing there and he’s got the iceberg warning in his hand, and he’s ordering more speed.”  And, to someone who has just decided to quote Psalm 23: “Could you walk a little faster through that valley?” I get really worried about how everything still seems like business as usual, even as we cut programs and staff, in every expression of the Church.

After Steve Knight wrote this blog, one friend tweeted something like, “I get that we have three years to figure this out, I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do.” Therein lies the problem. Dollars have been designated for certain things; commitments have been made. Rules and guidelines have been set with much thought and prayer, and so they must be followed. People voted on all these things, so changing anything in a system this large is…well, it’s like the Titanic.

So, when a pastor, bishop,  seminary professor,  seminary president, or even a pastoral intern (like myself) wakes up in the morning, knowing the church may be dying, WHAT DO WE DO? Attempts are made from the margins, and if they can get close enough to people who feel empowered to make a different kind of decision than what has been dictated and preceded by others, then change happens.  There are little pockets of hope everywhere.  It takes a lot of work in a slow-moving machine, and it is hard to know what the first step is. Or the step after that, or the step that follows the one after you meet a brick wall. Time I fear we don’t have.

And it is on days like this that I have to remind myself that seventy-three years ago, millions of Jews were dying. Fifty years ago, some people couldn’t sit at lunch counters and white people didn’t share bathrooms with non-white people in this country. Forty years ago, women couldn’t be pastors. Twenty-five years ago, none of us had the internet. Four years ago, my friends who understand themselves as gay and also called to ministry could not be in relationships that fit their identity as humans. That is all different now, and these changes were TITANIC.  It seemed impossible that life could be any different; that the structures that held these things in place could be changed. But they did change, because of a lot of faith, courage and persistence. Even when people’s lives were on the line for affecting change.

And though my life is not on the line,  that is the hope I have to practice. As Church, I hope we can notice where God shows up and how God is working through people, and make room for that, even if it doesn’t follow the precedence and procedures set up by well-intentioned people just like us in an earlier time.  And if we don’t, well, God will still work.

I get that it is Easter. I believe God has conquered death and raises all things that encounter deaths, big and small. And I also believe new life never looks the same as what died. But I’m still trying to avoid death. At the end of Titanic (the movie), when they’re working on rescuing people, they’re rowing through those frozen waters checking bodies for signs of life.  An officer says, “we waited too long.” Can we tell a different story?

So, for those 10 people who read this, if YOU were a pastoral intern kept up at night with these concerns about the Church, what would YOU do in the morning? There must be something, because Jack (from Titanic) says so. He tells Rose: “What I was thinking was, what could’ve happened to this girl to make her think she had no way out?” Beyond advice for me, what might we say to other conversation partners? (pastors, bishops, people in congregations, people who run seminaries, people who write for the Church, people who work in the Church who are and are not rostered.) What should they do tomorrow?


[1] All Titanic (1997) quotes from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120338/quotes