Sunday, February 28, 2010

Starry, Starry Night

[God] brought [Abram] outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to count them." Then [God] said, "So shall your descendants be." And [Abram] believed the LORD and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV)

One... Two... Three... Crunch! Three! How many licks does it take to get to the chocolaty center of a Tootsie Pop... No, no, no... Concentrate. One... Two... Three... Four... No, wait I counted that one twice! Or, did I? Oh, I've got to start over again. Man, there a lot of these stars... "Starry, Starry Night..." Now , come on, I've got to be serious.

God, how come you had to make so many? Seriously, would space be any less with bright, with, say, a few hundred thousand less stars? Ah, space... Space, the final frontier... Enough! I've got to concentrate here. Okay... Now we're really going to do it this time. One... Two... Three... Four.... Fiiive..... Siiiiixxxx............ Zzzzzzzzz!

Oh, this is impossible, God. I'll never be able to count all of these stars. Even if one of my future relatives invents the Hubble Telescope (whatever that is). But I suspect you already know that. I suspect the plans for that Hubble thingamajig are already rumbling around in your immense mind. There are certain things that I just don't need to know. Only trust... Only trust...

For instance, why me God? Why did you go and chose me of all people? I'm nothing special. Just the son of a maker of idols. There is nothing that particularly distinguishes me from my kinsmen. Good old "Average Abe" they call me. I know a little about a lot, but nothing, surely, to merit the attention of the divine.

Then of course, there's this whole childless thing. Sarai has been so embarrassed and ashamed. My heart goes out to her. She has felt the eyes of the small town market crowd upon her everywhere she goes; their hushed whispery tones echoing, accusing... "Poor old Abe. Such a great guy and he's going to die without an heir. Sarai cannot give him an heir. The gods must be really upset with her. Wonder what she did..." It got so bad, that there were days she absolutely refused to go to market and I had to do the shopping or we'd go hungry. Many the day I'd come home to find her curled up in a ball on the floor, vegetables scattered everywhere from when she came home and collapsed under the weight of her grief and shame. And I would just hold her and rock her and sing to her, whatever I could do to reassure her, but it never felt like enough.

And it's not that we haven't tried to have a child... It just doesn't seem to be in the cards for us. And although Sarai really dosen't believe it, I don't blame her. I really don't. She is the love of my life. I blame the gods and their maddening meddling in the affairs of mortals. They're gods, for crying out loud. Don't they have better things to do; their own affairs to meddle in? Why do they have to meddle in mine?

Then along you came, LORD, and you tell m e to pick up stakes and leave it all behind. You tell me that you will give a land and descendants more numerous than the stars. And, well, a fresh start sounded good. And it wasn't like there was a whole lot keeping me in Harran anyway, but it still was not an easy thing to leave behind everything I've ever known on nothing more than the Word of God. Who knows if these promises aren't simply a figment of my imagination, a fantasy of wish fulfillment, a bit of undigested cheese...

But Sarai and I, we talked it over, and we trusted you. And now here we are, a gazillion miles away from any signs of civilization. Just us and the stars. The dusty desert as dry and barren as Sarai's still lifeless womb. Kind of hard to be a great nation of two. Just saying. Looks more and more like the undigested cheese theory was correct and Eliezer will get all that isn't blown away by these dry desert winds.

And my dear Sarai... She cries herself to sleep most nights... She doesn't subscribe to the undigested cheese theory. She thinks it's all her fault that we are out here, just us and the stars, with little hope in sight.

As for me... I just try to believe, try to trust. There is nothing else I can do. I just sit out on these cold, clear nights, and try to count the stars that are splattered across the heavens. I try to imagine each one of them as one of my heirs... each one an heir who will birth great things into the world and carry on my legacy long after I have returned to the dust. Each star a promise, your promise, O LORD. Your promise to me, your promise to Sarai, your promise to the world. Your promise in which I trust. Your promise in which I hope.

Okay, now back to work... One... Two... Three...

Abram is a model for all of us who are his heirs. Even those who know what the Hubble Telescope is all about. Maybe we haven't had to pick up stakes and risk everything, like Abram, and maybe we haven't been promised descendants as numerous as the stars (three are quite enough for me, thank you kindly)... But, we are all recipients of God's promises. We are all asked to die daily to self -- to leave behind our own self-conceived, hopes, dreams, and visions -- and to rise each day to walk in the newness of the Spirit of God living within.

We don't have twinkling stars to hold onto; but, rather listening water droplets sprinkled upon us and the sign of the cross marked upon us. These, these are the signs of God's promise to us. Signs which are promises to the world which is to be blessed through us. Signs which are reckoned to us as righteousness. Signs in which we trust and which become the basis of our life and the source of our hope.

Perhaps we can look up at the night sky and imagine each twinkling star as a glistening water droplet... A glistening water droplet of promise. One... Two... Three... Amen

Sermon for Lent 2C (RCL)

I am the unlikely pastor. Welcome to my world.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Of Ildiko Rigney, Eleanor Rigby, and the ELCA

Ildiko Rigney (not to be confused with Eleanor Rigby of Beatles fame -- Ah, look at all the lonely people) is a fine pastoral colleague in a neighboring town. Her congregation and the one I serve are both members of the Victoria Conference of the Southwestern Texas Synod, ELCA. Ildiko hails from Croatia and I admire her very much for what she has come through and how she has managed to negotiate the shark infested waters of the American church, hazardous duty for a native born, yet alone someone from an entirely different culture.

A day or so ago, I received an e-mail from Ildiko, sent out to all Victoria Conference pastors, asking for help wording the "Resolved" portion of a resolution for our upcomming Synod Assembly in May. The resolution was asking the ELCA Church Council to rescind the recent decisions around the rostering of homosexual persons in committed partnered relationships. Just great. Here we go again. Round 2,000,012. I'm beginning to feel like I'm in one of those cartoon fights where the characters go around and around in an indistinct tornado, and every once in a while some characters head or body will emerge only to be pulled right back in. Enough already!

Needless to say (so then why Am I saying it?), I deleted the e-mail without further thought. But my dog woke me up at 4:30 am this morning and I couldn't get back to sleep and my mind began racing. Someone's got to make the first gesture... Someone's got to make the first move... Why, me, Lord? Why me? OK, OK, why not me? So I fired back the following e-mail:

I inadvertently deleted your e-mail asking for help with the wording of your resolution for Synod Assembly. If you are still in need of help, please forward another copy of the resolution to me and I will see what I can do to be of service.

I am offering to do this not because I agree with you, but because you are in need of help, help that I can provide, and you are my sister in Christ and I respect your bound conscience.

By the same token I would ask you to reconsider the submission of this resolution (although, sadly I suspect your not the only one with this idea). How can we know if last years Churchwide decisions aren't God's will for the ELCA? We haven't even lived with them for a year yet. All we have seen are the knee-jerk reactions of those who oppose these decisions. Should they be rescinded are these folks coming back? I seriously doubt it. Perhaps some who are still wavering may be persuaded to stay, perhaps. But what I can guarantee will happen is an equal number of knee jerk reactions from people on the other side of the political and theological spectrum, and more long years of debate, unrest, divisions, and turmoil. More years of fiddling while God's Church burns. Enough. Please, enough. This has to stop somewhere. We need to heal. How can we stand with Jesus on behalf of the poor, oppressed, and societally marginalized when we keep knee jerking and kicking ourselves in the shins?

A wise rabbi, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, when confronted with the preaching and healing of Peter and John, counseled waiting to see where this Jesus thing was going. If it was not of God it would die out on its own; but, if it was of God, there was nothing they could do to stop it. He further warned that if it was of God, they may even be found to be fighting against the will of God. Luke records the incident in Acts 5:34-39.

I appeal to you, when even our best, most respected and knowledgeable biblical scholars cannot agree, how can we know what is God 's will? All my little brain can figure is that we must simply live with the decisions made (they are what they are -- love them or hate them), and see what happens. Do we really want to be found fighting against the will of God? Please reconsider submitting your resolution for the sake of the Church and for the sake of the demoralized psyche and bound conscience of this poor old brother in Christ who is tired of watching us shred each other to bits, while there is so much ministry and healing that we are called to do.

Peace by the power of the Cross...

Its a first step. A tiny one granted, but a first step, nonetheless. Perhaps if we all took first steps, maybe they would lead to second ones and third ones, and maybe just maybe we might be able to walk together with our Lord.

Eleanor Rigby (not to be confused with Ildiko Rigney)... All the lonely people,where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

Memo to the ELCA from Jesus, CEO of the Church Catholic, Lord and Savior of all Creation: All the lonely people belong to me. How can you welcome them, befriend them, and walk with them if you are so busy kicking yourselves in the shins? For the sake of Eleanor Rigby and all the lonely people of my Creation, kindly knock it off.

I am the Unlikely Pastor. Welcome to my world.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Someone Please Prescribe Some Concerta for the ELCA

Mornings in our household are such a joy until the ADHD meds take effect. My two children on the Autism Spectrum... well that's another posting altogether. But my fourteen year-old, neurotypical child (ie, not on the Autism Spectrum), he is an interesting case study in selfish, self-centered, over the top behavior. He refuses to get up without at least one major flare-up of swearing at the top of his lungs to announce his majesty's arrival in the living room, where he promptly lays down on the couch and screams out, "Where are my clothes? I can't find my clothes?" And it doesn't matter if they were laid out the night before on the back of the couch, because those are always the wrong clothes, too itchy, scratchy, or whatever.

Now, me, personally, I'd be fine dumping him off at school in his wife beater and boxers, but his mom always seems to give in. Then its on to the next major tirade, "Where's my breakfast? Where's my backpack? (Where's my sanity?), etc., ad infinitum."

Now don't get me wrong. I love Alex. Alex is a great kid (other than being 14), loving, thoughtful, smart, charming, with great leadership potential, but until those ADHD meds kick in, he is one major diva act, who thinks only of himself, who tries to dictate terms, and is just a general pain in the gluteus maximus.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. As I watch the ELCA being ripped apart at the seams by the diva acts on both sides of the political spectrum, who pervert and twist the reformation principle of bound conscience to mean, "believe my way or I'm leaving," it's like Groundhog Day, the eternal recurrence of the same, my morning routine over and over again. Enough already! Someone please stop the madness, the wilfullnes, the petty bitterness and spite.
Will someone please prescribe the ELCA a massive dose of ADHD meds, Concerta, Vyvanse, Adderall, Ritalin, hey, whatever works, man. Some of us are tired and just want to get back to the ministry to which we've been called, introducing people to Jesus (you 'member him, don't you?).

Memo to those who have 'jacked the Church to meet their own personal and political ends; from Jesus, the CEO of the Church Catholic, Lord and Savior of Creation: Give me back my church!

I am the Unlikely Pastor. Welcome to my world

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hey, Who 'Jacked My Frackin' Church?

When I went off to college my original intent was to be a lawyer. I knew the money was in corporate law, but I thought the action was to be had in criminal law. And so I chose a college with a Law School attatched, not really thinking much about the fact that it was a church college, Valparaiso University, yet alone a Lutheran one. I eventually lost my stomach for the law (too much politics, don't you know), but I really found a home in Lutheran -- or Evangelical Catholic (hence to be known for the lifetime of this blog as EC) -- worship and theology. One thing led to another and away to seminary I went.

Now here I am some 20 years later feeling much like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning: if someone knows what they've done with my precious ELCA let me know, so that I can properly care for the body. It seems the principalities and powers we commonly call "politics" have stolen the body and I don't know where they have laid it.

Some think the struggle for the ELCA's soul is between conservative and liberal factions with the issue d'jour being the rostering of GLBT persons living in faithfully committed lifelong partnerships. Hey, since when did the forces of the world's political agenda, become the guiding forces of our life and mission? Why don't we try this one on for size and go from there: God created people. People. Gay people. Straight people. People. People need love. Gay people need love. Straight people need love. God is love. Human love is a reflection of the Creator's love. People sin. They fall short of their created purpose. They use God's good creation (including other people) to meet their own ends. Straight people sin. Gay people sin. In Christ God delivers people from sin. God delivers gay people. God delivers straight people. In Christ God delivers people, period. God sees people, not sexual orientations. God wants honest, heartfelt devotion, not slavish adherence to political platforms or doctrinal or interpretive schemes. Could it be as simple as opening our eyes to see the people that surround us every day, and reaching out to them as people in the name of Christ?

My conversations with Scripture have led me to conclude no less. We can afford to do no less. The devil and his (or is it her?) minions laugh when they see us tearing ourselves apart in the name of religious correctness, for we are diverted from our true purpose for being, and the credibility of our witness is diminished among those who need to hear our witness most. Shame on us! Oh, and by the way, since when has the time honored EC practice of respecting the "bound conscience" of another come to mean, accept my position or I quit and can't fellowship with you anymore? Shame on us!

So, if anyone knows who 'jacked my frackin' church, please let me know so that the body can be properly tended. I am the Unlikely Pastor. Welcome to my world.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who Am I?

I wish there was an easy answer to that question. So far the best answer I have come up with is the title of this blog. It all started in a 50,000 watt radio station in Fresno... But seriously folks, as I was preparing for ordained ministry, people would tell me that they couldn't believe that I was going to be a pastor. Now after almost 21 years of ordained service, I'm starting to understand what they meant.

I am not what you would expect from the average pastor. I am short in stature and of average looks. I am not a rah-rah in your face, motivate the troops type. But I am loyal, insightful, deep and madly in love with the Lord and want other people to love him as much as I do. I struggle with much of what passes for Christianity in America, which has more to do with justifying our privileged lifestyle rather than following after Jesus. I would much rather listen to Godsmack than God Bless America. Or, to quote Billy Joel, "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints." The sinners are not only more fun, but more real and genuine.

I am who I am. I am who the Lord calls me to be. I am the unlikely pastor and these are my struggles. Welcome to my world.