Flattery Isn’t Discipleship… or is it?

From this Sunday’s lectionary:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:1-2

And then there’s this cliche: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (attribute to Charles Caleb Colton), which seems to come up when people are being annoying and copycat-like.

Its another sermon-marathon weekend here, and the idea of imitation is floating around in my head. We’ve been showing Bliss a bit of the Olympics (we’re only mild fans, honestly). Every event she’s seem, she wants to imitate. She wants to play tennis now. She started wearing her “LeBron James headband” after watching men’s basketball. She did handstands off the couch after watching Gabby Douglas rock out her gold-medal-winning floor routine from the all-around.

While this is fun to watch (well, maybe not the attempted flips off the couch), is this what imitation of Christ is about? Seeing things we like and diving right in – or off, as the case may be? There is something in there about the difference between being Christ-like and having a Messiah or even a martyr-complex that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Good thing its only Friday.

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Learning The Ropes

The folks at the New Media Project at Union Seminary are working hard to get us to think about digital and social media, the Church, our churches and theology. What? Actually think about theology in church? Glorious.

Seriously. Go read their stuff. I’m a little biased because The Young Clergy Women Project (which I gave thanks for just yesterday on this blog and also five minutes ago after reading my emails) was one of the six case studies in the New Media Project. But even without the personal ties, they have great things to say.

Anyway, they’ve gotten a bit under my skin in that I’m regularly thinking about the parallels between congregations and social media. Last week, I participated in the annual craziness that is the TYCWP annual meeting: twenty-some women holding a meeting online, while about 18 of them are in the same room. It’s hilarious and it works for us. But every year, we have to do some clarifying of the “norms” – the way we make the meeting run so that business gets done while leaving room for the ensuing hilarity. TYCWP does a great deal of our work online, and since our membership base is under-40, we don’t often talk about the norms and guidelines for our shared ether-space. There is a certain understanding that we mostly know how to work with social media because we’re the age to know. That hasn’t always worked for us, but it turns out to also be generally true.

In congregations, we have the same principle at work: we don’t often talk about the guidelines because we think that our members generally know what they are. Here’s the difference between congregations and social media though: People who find you on social media had to know enough to get on the computer and use the social media. People who walk in the door only need to know – at the most basic level at least- how to walk through a door.

Now, those of us who spend a bunch of time on social media – blogs, groups, whatever- know that it all works better when there are guidelines for participation, especially on bigger and more active sites. Posted comment policies are not uncommon on popular blogs, and FastCompany has been tweeting “the rules” for social media. The forum of social media lends itself to that kind of posting, and somehow help rather than hinder interaction.

How do we post the guidelines in a congregation? How do help people learn the ropes without seeming unwilling to change or seeming unwelcoming? Why is it that guidelines in some places foster relationships but in other forums seem to shut people down?

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Vacation & Sabbath Re-entry

Conferences aren’t vacation, but the blog has been on vacay (not Sabbath, I’ve decided, since the break wasn’t intentional.) It’s the kind of day that could use a gratitude list for re-entry from vacation, so let’s go with a list of things to be thankful for:

1. The Young Clergy Young Women Project is an amazing group that teaches me about generosity, abundance, holy scarcity, unity in the Spirit, the beauty of diversity and sparkly toes. Being on the board for the organization these last few years has been an incredible joy and privilege. And hard work. But mostly the first two.

2. Crafts that I can manage. We made a Mind Jar today, like the one found here at Chasing the Firefly. Its possible that it will calm me down more than Bliss, but its pretty and fun to look at. I might make another for when I have an office again someday. Here’s a picture if you don’t want to click over – ours is kinda like the one they made:

Ours is like this, but purple

3. Spending time in Chicago.  Chicago is the perfect city for our family. I know this because when we pull into downtown, we all seem to relax, just when other people are getting riled up by the traffic.

4. Our car that has gone for 213,000 miles, and even though it broke last week, is STILL worth fixing.

5. Cab rides, cocktails, trips to get ice, Lake Shore Drive traffic jams and all the other unexpected encounters with friends over the last week that make conferences what they ought to be.

6. The sky. Because at bedtime last night, that’s what B said in our “thank you God” prayers, and, well, she’s right.

How about you?


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All Of It

I don’t write much here about political or current events – mostly because I still have mixed feelings about the interwebs as discussion forum. But the shootings in Colorado are still weighing on my mind. Tripp wrote a piece on the importance of lament, which is beautiful and wonderful. Also, as I commented there, incomplete in the sense that we have to move past the “we are powerless” first step to the other steps – like step 8, where we make amends for wrongs.

When shooting rampages like this occur, the (rational people I can stand to read) writers seem to vascillate between needing stricter gun control – how did this guy get So. Much. Ammo. without any red flags being raised – and how we need better, maybe even more agressive, treatment for mental illness.

People, we need both. Why on earth would we think that such an entrenched and horrific problem such as this has one solution, let alone a simple one? It’s really okay for us to believe that there is more than one problem at work here, and for different people to work on different solutions. The point is working towards reducing – or even ending, but that seems unlikely – violent deaths in our country. Arguing is good when it moves us towards a solution. Arguing that distracts us from that work… well, as Tripp said, is lamentable.

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Head and Heart

I’m slowly working my way through Barbra Brown Taylor’s An Altar In The World. (Why, yes, I do know that I am years behind the trendy religious books, thanks for asking.) Anyhoo, this passage caught my eye:

When I hear people talk about what is wrong with organized religion, or why their mainline churches are failing, I hear about bad music, inept clergy, mean congregations, and preoccupation with institutional maintenance. I almost never hear about the intellectualization of faith, which strikes me as a  far greater danger than anything else on the list. In an age of information overload, when a vast variety of media delivers news faster than most of us can digest … the last thing any of us needs is more information about God… Not more about God. More God. – p. 45 (I think… I’m reading it on my Kindle app)

On the one hand – yes, absolutely yes. In a training session for a particular children’s curriculum, I remember the trainer saying that children don’t want to know about God, they want to know God. Our living relationship with God is what makes the rest of it make sense: the showing up, the serving, the committees, the people we might not like but learn to live with and maybe even love.

And yet… I think we are in just as much hot water with the emotional-ization of organized religion. From youth ministry work, I expect teens to associate deep religious moments with tears and hugging and catharsis. Being a teenager is often a lonely process, and the moments when it feels like God has broken down all the walls that you and everyone else your age have built up – well, that’s a powerful God. But  when decisions are made in and around congregations based on the same idea – that the only worthwhile liturgies/sermons/programs/ministries are the ones that make us feel warm or sentimental or overwhelmed by God’s (true and real) power, then something seems off.

The wisdom of our heart is real, but so is the wisdom of our heads. Its curious to me that in a book so interested in not dissecting the physical from the spiritual in our lives, that we still have this division of what we know from what we feel.

But then again, the Episcopalians and the Methodists have been having this argument for years…

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Praise Worship Baptism

I have a scattered mind this week, as I’m preparing for different events in different congregations. The nice thing about being scatter-brained is the open space that allows random thoughts to take hold. Procrastination at its finest, folks!

So, I was running this week (I do that) and my training program was playing an evangelical praise&worship style song. This is not going to be a post about that style of music: sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. This song was fine, I didn’t really know it. The theme was along the lines of “God’s amazing love changed my life, I was lost, now I’m loved.”

I started wondering if this is part of why the “mainline” and the “evangelicals” don’t always seem to speak the same language. Most of the mainline baptizes infants, as well as children and adults. Infant baptism is more common, and so people  are raised as “belonging to God” rather than “being found by God.” In believer’s baptism – where the baptized is old enough to choose baptism- it seems that there is more of an emphasis on conversion, on God doing something new in your life. On the one hand, you have the grace of being “marked as Christ’s own” as part of your entire life and identity. On the other hand/tradition, you have the grace of discovering God and saying “yes”.

Standard disclaimer: Duh, I know that people experience conversion moments and God doing new things in their lives even when they were baptized as infants (hand raised here too). Duh, I know that you can know God loves you from birth even if you’re a Baptist. This is musings from a treadmill, remember, which neccesitate generalities because I also have to drink my water and watch my heart rate. Stick with me.

Are we still arguing the Council of Jerusalem when we insist that people have “conversion moments” or think that delaying baptism is cause for concern? The debate among the Jewish followers of Jesus over Gentiles becoming followers had a lot to do with being marked from birth, belonging to the chosen people – and how being converted to God’s people was maybe not as good unless they took on the same mark.
And if that could be counted as adiaphora – that circumscision or uncircumcision was nothing – then what else are we divided over for no reason?

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All I’m Gonna Say About That

The Episcopal Church just completed the triennial General Convention. It’s the legislative body for our whole church: they meet for eight days, and go through hundreds of pages of resolutions. There are exciting moments, dull moments, tense moments. There is daily Eucharist, plus worship services organized by all sorts of other associations. There is an official youth presence, as well as visiting youth and young adults. There are exhibitors and sponsored receptions and gatherings and seminary dinners and committee hearings and diocesan gatherings and hospitality suites. Its not the best display of self-care we’ve ever done – deputies often get only 5-6 hours of sleep between all the meetings and sessions and planning and meetings. Naturally, there is never-ending commentary about almost everything done at the convention. I find Episcopal Cafe, Crusty Old Dean and Center Aisle to be good sources of commentary and news.

Some decisions tend to get more press than others. This year, there were a few things inside the church getting a lot of talk time: our convoluted budget process; resolutions about how to rework the structures of the church; whether we ought to be explicit about the “pastoral exception” of inviting non-baptized folks to the table. The resolution that got the most press outside of the church (and plenty within) was the approval of a provisional liturgy for blessing a same-sex relationship. Whoo, did this get a lot of coverage.

For the record, I’m thrilled. I happen to live in a place where the “local pastoral response” has been “we bless same-sex couples” for a while. And gay marriage is still going to be a long time coming, in Michigan and in the Episcopal Church methinks. There will still be plenty of bishops that won’t allow the liturgy to be used by clergy in their dioceses. There are quite a few who have been waiting for General Convention to take this step, and will now permit blessings. It’s still not marriage, it’s still not equal. For those of us who believe equality is part of God’s vision of justice, the kingdom has not arrived. There are plenty who don’t hold that belief. I get that.

Here is where I’ve been a little baffled: there are some whose reason for saying we should’ve voted against is because having this liturgy will make some people mad. I’m not doubting that’s true – I already know it makes people mad. But honestly: in our congregations, how often would we stop a liturgical practice (or formation or stewardship or finance or outreach, etc) that the leadership felt strongly about because it might make people mad? I know very few clergy who have managed to do their jobs in a faithful way without making people mad. I know very few clergy who aren’t troubled by this part of the job – it’s not fun to make people mad, and we care about our people – but “not wanting to make people mad” as a guiding principle in church leadership is a recipe for disaster.

This isn’t to say that when people get mad, we shrug our shoulders and say “oh well.” There is listening to do, maybe there is teaching to do or maybe not. But reconciling can’t always mean “the mad people get their way.” It’s true when we use purple instead of blue in Advent or vice versa. Its true when we won’t allow deacons to do “deacon’s mass.” It’s true when Mrs. Smith’s granddaughter wants to get married in the church but refuses to participate in marriage preparation. And it’s true here.



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I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing

A049: House of Deputies Concur with House of Bishops

lay 86 yes 19 no 5 divided 5 78%
clergy 85 yes 22 no 4 divided 76%
motion carries in lay and clergy orders

Provisional rites for same-sex blessings are officially part of our church’s liturgical life together.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring
May the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn

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Daydream Believer

Our current “car cd” (Bliss gets to get cd’s from the library for the car) is Welcome Table from Dan Zanes and friends. The title track was recorded at Dan Zanes house, around his dinner table, with his daughter and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Yeah, its as awesome as you think that sounds.

Bliss has taken to the song. She requests it at song time (which is, oh, most of the time in our house honestly. Girl likes to sing.) She requests it in the car, even when the other car cd is her favorite local children’s group. This makes me very happy because Welcome Table captured two visions I have in one.

Someday (here is the daydream part) I would like to host a cooking show and it would be called Welcome Table. My family – maybe like yours- is full of folks with different dietary restrictions. Gluten-free. No processed sugars. Heart-healthy. Vegetarian. Oh, and your average picky 5 year old. For years, when the family gets together, I’ve loved to find recipes that everyone can eat and enjoy, and not feel like anyone is missing out or left out because of how they need to/choose to eat. Food should celebrate being together! And making life difficult for each other is not much of a celebration. So, I’d have a show about cooking for different diets and keeping everyone reasonably happy, and call it Welcome Table.

Last fall, while on retreat, I started thinking of Welcome Table as a guiding image for ministry with children and youth. How do we do church in a way that brings people of all ages to the table together? Two of my mentors have books with ideas along these lines. They each have a whole ministry of it too – a big part of who I am today in the church is because they welcomed me first, as a child.

At today’s General Convention session, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked folks to think about their dream for the church. Watching the convention thus far, I’m encouraged that my dreams of the Welcome Table are alive and well, if not fully realized.


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Monday Meditation: Be Still

Our church, in the summer, has children’s chapel time during the readings and sermons, and this was my week to lead the storytime. Stories are told using Godly Play* and Worship Center stories, which I’m having fun getting used to. While I’ve known of and about the curriculum for ages, I’ve never had much opportunity to be the storyteller. Telling stories is fun.

Before each story, we sing a few songs. Since the kids are ages 3-7, they tend to request stuff like Old MacDonald, which is fine. But the last song we sing is always “Be Still and Know That I Am God.” Bliss calls this “God Song” and insists that her daddy sing it to her when he puts her to bed. (When I’m on bedtime routine, she insists on Rainbow Connection.) Singing the same song before the story each week helps everyone get ready to watch and listen and wonder about God.

Being still doesn’t come easily to me. I prefer to be doing something, or at least planning to do something. I prefer to be out & about rather than just sitting at home during the day. But having a cue to watch and listen for God doesn’t mean remaining still – it means being still long enough to be ready for paying attention. If Bliss can do that, maybe I can too.

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am God

*If you’ve never seen these stories, check out CFMUPres’s channel on youtube to see the stories being told


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