Friday, November 29, 2013

Can We Celebrate Advent and Not be Such Arrogant Jerks about it?

It is that time of year, Thanksgiving has past which means that Christmas is around the corner.  People (and not just stores) have started to put up trees, lights, and other decorations.  Parties, concerts and other festivities fill our weekends and even some of our weekdays.  Credit cards are being swiped as stores advertise big deals to draw in the crowds, enticing people to spend money on friends and family for Christmas presents.  And the rants on Facebook have started against people celebrating Christmas already and not pausing for Advent.

And it all just about drives me crazy.

Yes I'm not a fan of stores that have Christmas decorations up (not just for sale) before the Halloween candy has gone on clearance, but I'm also not a fan of seeing back to school displays in June.  Yes I don't think people should go into debt in order to purchase the must have toy of the year for their child, but I also think that there are few things you should go into debt for and gifts are not one of them. Yes I get annoyed with the Martha Stewart wannabes who spend so much time and energy making homemade food/crafts/cards and then look down upon other people who purchase those items because they are not crafty, but then again I get annoyed with those people all year long - not the crafty people, just the ones who judge others for not having the same skill sets that they have.

But I get just as frustrated, if not even more so, at the people who rant and rave about how we need to watch and wait and prepare for Christmas by honoring the holiness that is Advent and all those decorations, gifts, parties, baked goods and carol singing are not Advent but Christmas that has come too early and people are bad Christians/worshipers/people if they sing Away in the Manger on December 1st.  I think I get most frustrated by these Liturgical Advent Police because they are Christians who are being arrogant jerks.

Advent is about preparing for the birth of a child, the Christ Child.

While I have never prepared for the birth of a child, I have walked with many friends and family who have.  And I have yet to meet an expecting parent who has not decorated the nursery before the child is born, or who has not gone to doctors appointments to make sure that both the mother and baby are healthy.  Most parents make list of items to purchase or do before or shortly after the child is born. Most have thought about if not even picked out a name before the birth. I have also attended many baby showers and given gifts to children who are not yet born in order to help the parents make sure they have.

Therefore why can't the Liturgical Advent Police see that all the decorating, gifts, parties, baked goods and carol singing are ways that people prepare for the birth of the Christ Child, just like expecting parents prepare for the birth of their newborn?  And instead of being arrogant jerks and being cranky whenever they see a Christmas tree up or a carol sung before December 24, we instead celebrate it and remember that the Christ Child is about to be born.

Yes let's continue, as people of faith, to speak out against the consumerism and one-up-men-ship that this season often brings so that the focus is on the Christ Child and not on who has the biggest tree or bought the most expensive gift.  And let's also try and get people to celebrate Christmas beyond December 25, cause it is not like the day after a baby is born that parents pack up the nursery and put everything in the attic until the next pregnancy.

Let's just stop being arrogant jerks about it, after all Advent is not some liturgical version of "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant."  We know what is going to happen, we know what we are going to celebration on Christmas Day. So let's start getting ready, preparing and even celebrating knowing that each decoration hung, gift given, party attend, baked good eaten or carol sung just builds are anticipation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Theology of a Shit Disturber

Warning: In case you can't figure it out by the title, this post contains the "s-word."  In fact is uses shit 31 32 times. If you are not offended, great you have watched a movie or television recently.  If you are offended, good, I'm doing my job as a shit disturber (33 times); please continue reading. 

My dad often calls me a "shit disturber".  In fact he has called me that since I was a teenager, and he probably would have called me that when I was even younger if it was socially acceptable to say the word "shit" to a 5 year old.  When I was a teenager the traditional definition of a shit disturber was probably true about myself - "someone who aggressively or actively agitates or escalates a situation, dialog or event causing undue drama"* - especially with my sister.

When I was a teenager, I would often feel bad whenever my dad called me a shit disturber as it often came with a look of despair and shame.  But as I have grown up, I am more likely to hear a laugh from my dad as he dubs me, yet again, a shit disturber, an agitator of the peace.  Now I'm more likely to be called a shit disturber when I'm poking fun of him, most often about his age. Therefore, I proudly wear the badge of "shit disturber."

So what do I consider a shit disturber?  It is someone who causes trouble but not just to cause trouble, but to create change in the environment.  It is someone who breaks rules because sometimes the rules are fairly arbitrary and really are not helpful.  It is someone who asks thought provoking questions and get you to not just think outside the box, but to throw out the box.  It is someone who has fun doing these things because they realize the world is not going to end if things are not done the way that is has always been done, or at for as long as people can remember. 

A shit disturber is a trouble maker; a bad kid; a prophet; an agitator; an essential part of the body of Christ. 

At the Rethinking Evangelism conference when we were asked to go to assigned small groups and have a conversation with no more than 4 people, 8 of us went down the street to a bar to form our own small group and discuss evangelism over a few beers.  When someone said jokingly that we are rule-breakers, and another said we are trouble makers, I responded "No we are shit disturbers."  When I started to explain, one woman (who shall not be named to protect the guilty) immediately thought of the Pool of Bethesda in John 5

People in need of healing, the invalid, the blind, the paralyzed, would wait beside the pool for it to be stirred, often by wind.  Once it was stirred they would get in and wash themselves and afterwards many became healed. In the story, Jesus is a shit disturber because he healed on the Sabbath.  And while angels are often cited as the one who stirs the pool of Bethesda, sometimes people would stir a pool or bath too.   

In other bathing site, especially those with fresh water, a shit disturber was needed to keep the bathing area clear of debris.  Literally a person was actually, physically stirring the shit that collected in the pool or bathing area, so that the scum, algae, leaves, debris and even feces would sink the the bottom or be skimmed off the top and therefore fresh water could be made available for people to bathe in. 

The shit disturber was an essential part of the ritualistic bathing practices. Without the shit disturber, the water would be stagnate and cause disease instead of heal and cleanse. And shit disturbers today are an essential part of the body of Christ.  Without the shit disturbers, the church become stagnate and causes despair instead of new life.  

Unfortunately for a long time shit disturbers have not been welcomed in the church.  The kid who asks too many questions in Sunday School or confirmation class is kindly asked to leave.  The adult who stands up for an outsider is shun herself.  The pastor who tries to push a congregation to grow and change either gets burnt out or run out of town.  The bishop who...well let's face it we haven't had shit disturbers as bishops for a long time...until recently.   

The church, especially the mainline church in America and Europe, has for far too long not wanted to disturb the shit.  The church liked the pedestal of honor we were given in society and because we were on the inside looking out, it has taken us a long time to realize that pedestal has sunk into the ground. And just recently, in the past few decades, some pastors, theologians and church workers have woken up and realized that the church needs to change.  Some Christians have realized that we are no longer acting as Jesus' hands and feet in this world but as a country club that thinks that everyone wants to join our exclusive membership but in reality no one even wants to peek in the doors. 

Because we have not wanted to disturb the shit, the church has stood by and let tragedies like the Holocaust, apartheid, and wars go by without saying a word publicly so that we do not insult anyone.  Because we have not wanted to disturb the shit, women are still not considered able to equally minister to God's people in many Christian denominations and for those in worship, Sunday mornings are one of the most segregated times of the week.  Because we have not wanted to disturb the shit, many teens, young adults and even older adults have walked away from the church because they do not feel like it is a place where issues in their daily lives are being addressed.  

We, as a church, need to reclaim the job of shit disturbers, and hold those people up.  We need to lift up the kids who ask challenging questions in confirmation class. We need to honestly answer people who have thought provoking questions after a sermon instead of sweeping those questions aside (even if the answer is "let's get together for coffee later in the week and talk about that").  We need to realize that if we are not making people a little uncomfortable, we are not doing our jobs as preachers of the gospel and caretakers of the world. And we need to realize that shit disturbers are not a new thing.

We need to lift up biblical stories of shit disturbers, of people who told God's message like it was and as a result both preached God's message and made enemies of those who did not like what they had to say.  Stories like of Nathan blunting telling King David "you are that man!" when after David had sex with Bathsheba, Nathan told David a story and King David was the one who said the man's actions are worthy of death (2 Samuel 12:1-14). Or the story of the healing of Naaman when Elisha's servant plainly told Naaman, who was complaining about how simple the cure to his leprosy would be, said "if the prophet has commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?" (2 Kings 5:1-19).  The prophets are a great place to find shit disturbers!  And then there are all the moment when Jesus was mocking the Pharisees and Sadducees, including the famous line to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42). 

Yes Jesus was a shit disturber!  And no I'm not comparing myself to Jesus.  But I will proudly own the title shit disturber and know I'm in very good company.

*definition provided by Urban Dictionary

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Get Out of the Building!

This is my November newsletter article: 

There has been a push for the last decade or so for pastors to get out of the church building.  To work at coffee shops, to hold meetings in public places, to spend time in the towns and neighborhoods in which they are called in order to do ministry to the greater community and not just church members.  Some pastors have embraced this challenge openly and are more likely to be found at the local Starbucks than in their office (myself included only I’m at Tusk & Cup).  Others have gone hesitantly and have scheduled specific times to be away from the office.  And others still have determined there is not a need for them to leave the church building or it is not practical for them to leave.

Those of us who have left the building have developed relationships with people we might not have otherwise because they are people who would never enter a church building unless there for a wedding or funeral.  We have found new avenues for doing ministry some of which you Bethlehem now benefit from such as a bible study at the Redding Community Center or a stronger partnership with the Georgetown Community Cultural Center.

And now pastors are realizing it is important for not just themselves to leave the church building, but for the entire congregation.  When congregations do true outreach and leave the church building to serve their neighbors faith is strengthen and community bounds are built. 

On September 8, ELCA congregations across the nation participated in a “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday as they did service projects in their community to celebrate the ELCA’s 25th anniversary.  We did not participate since that was Hammonassett weekend but we are doing a day of service on Sunday November 10 to celebrate our 105th anniversary.

On that day we will be leaving the building during worship to go participate in a variety of service projects all to benefit Georgetown and Redding.  Please join us on the 10th as we leave the building, as we serve our neighbors and as we build community relationships.