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with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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Spiritual Formation

Domestic Violence and Pastoral Care

At Christ the King Lutheran Church in Lodi, Ohio, we have a page on our website devoted to resources about Domestic Violence.  Here it is.  I’ll grant you, it’s a little outdated – editing it is on my to-do list.  For instance, I need to add a video I did this summer discussing the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the so-called “Power and Control” wheel.  But I’ll wait until after I attend a workshop by the Office of the Prosecutor in a neighboring county on “Responding to the Needs of Victims” so I can have the latest on what the law enforcement professionals are thinking and telling victims of domestic violence and other crimes.

SOME OF THESE FOLKS MAY BE OUR CHURCH MEMBERS.  Not only law enforcement professionals, but also victims and/or perpetrators of domestic violence.  As pastors and church workers, I think we have a duty to learn what the criminal justice system and victims’ advocates are doing and saying in our communities so that we can exercise our pastoral care for such souls in a responsible way.  If such a workshop shows up in your community, take a Continuing Education Day to learn what you can do to help.

September is Suicide Prevention Month

If you are contemplating suicide, please talk to someone now!
OR Please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 (TALK)

In June my wife Beverly and I had the opportunity to attend a one-day workshop in Fort Wayne on the ministry of the church around the issue of suicide.  We heard difficult conversations about how we think and talk about suicide in the church, how we minister to families and individuals who have confronted suicide, and what we might do to provide emotionally healthy church communities where all people might feel safe.  In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recently suggested that comprehensive suicide prevention efforts in states and communities should focus on several areas that churches might be particularly good at:

  • identifying and supporting people at risk of suicide
  • teaching coping and problem-solving skills to help people manage challenges with their relationships, jobs, health, or other concerns
  • promoting safe and supportive environments
  • offering activities that bring people together so they feel connected and not alone
  • connecting people at risk to effective and coordinated mental and physical healthcare
  • expanding options for temporary help for those struggling to make ends meet, and
  • preventing future risk of suicide among those who have lost a friend or loved one to suicide.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith.Hope.Life campaign engages faith leaders and faith communities to promote the characteristics common to faith traditions that also help prevent suicide.  Visit their website at the link above for more information.  While you’re there, check out the National Alliance’s website for the Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, and Life(September 7-9) for more resources about suicide prevention.

God Bless Us, Everyone!

I’ve started a new book recently – Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky at The Trauma Stewardship Institute.  She talks about “trauma exposure response” as the entire sum of feelings, thoughts, actions, and worldview that caregivers (and others) develop as they view and interact with trauma over time.  It promises to be an interesting read – I’ll let you know.

But for now – and since it’s the day before Christmas Eve as I write this – it seems to me that one of the ways in which we can see the Christmas story is as God’s own “trauma exposure response’:  His response of pure love to the deep trauma of sin in our world, the trauma that bent and broke everything in His precious creation.  If He were human, how do you think He might feel upon being faced with such a catastrophic event?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel as time and time again He might reach out in love to a people He had chosen as His own (as in the Old Testament), only to find them slap Him away as if they didn’t need Him?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel at such repeated abuse and neglect and hatred, even now, when He is only trying to make things better?

But God’s “trauma exposure response” begins with the truth that God is not human – God is God, and while that may sound trite, it means that God remains true to Himself.  Unlike human caregivers who become enmeshed in the lives and deaths and toils and tribulations of the people we care for, who suffer from too much empathy or lack of boundaries or codependency or hurt feelings (or you name it!), God remains God, and none of these things that affect us, affect Him.

AND YET He sent His Son to become one of us – to take on human flesh – to suffer exactly all those kinds of toils and tribulations, to learn empathy and boundaries and hurt feelings and trauma exposure and everything else that goes on in our messy, sinful, often awful world.  He sent His Son for a lot of reasons – to redeem us from sin, to break the chains of death and the grave.

And just maybe one more of those reasons might be this: since you and I sometimes (frequently?) become overwhelmed with the deep and unrelenting traumas in life, the presence of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, in the fields of Galilee, among the sick in Judea and the synagogues of Israel also means that somewhere, in your office or your clinic or your ambulance or your support group or church or hospital rounds that same Jesus, who is also God, is standing next to you.  He knows you and what your job is like.  He knows the pressures you face, and the challenges that rise up.  He knows that you go home exhausted at night sometimes, only to come back for more the next day.  He knows – and because He is not only human but God, then God knows, and loves you as much as the ones you are caring for.

So dear caregivers, trauma responders, whatever you call yourselves, take heart!  The Lord is with you!  And here’s a Christmas verse for you before we break (really?) for the new year –

“UNTO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”  (Luke 2:11)

Before Thanksgiving Day,

Multiple Mindedness and Ministerial Resilience

Here’s an article from “Faith and Leadership” over at Duke University Divinity School on “Multiple Mindedness and Ministerial Resilience”

http://www.faithandleadership.com/content/cynthia-lindner-multiple-mindedness-and-ministerial-resilience?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=headline&utm_campaign=NI_program.

Jesus was There; Jesus is Here, too

Over at Public Catholic a terrific sister in Christ, Rebecca Hamilton, posted this wonderful reflection about the Christmas Eve Mass she attended:  Jesus was There.

It’s a beautiful piece, one worth reading (if you haven’t done so yet).  And here’s what I noticed about that piece, and about the comments that followed it (mine included, I must say) –

The author tries to look through the fog and haze of criticism, legalism, pickiness, and the general pettiness of “good Christian people” to see the ones who came that Christmas Eve night to find the Savior, the Healer, the Companion, the Comforter, the Burden-Bearer, the Child in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are met on Christmas Eve.  And she succeeds wonderfully as she looks around in the sanctuary of her congregation, and her eyes and heart drink in a crowd of folks that would doubtless have warmed Jesus’ heart and caused Him to cry out with compassion for them.  But in that crowd, as in the crowds around Jesus, there were also the Pharisaic types, the ones who just can’t seem to see beyond their own insecurities and need for control.

And so what happens?  As in the Gospels, so in this piece and the comments that followed we have paid more attention to the Pharisees than to the man with HIV, the prostitute, the homeless family, the dirty ones, the children, the elderly.  Certainly it’s more tempting for those of us who work mostly with words to turn those words against the Pharisees, the “liturgical cops” and the “church Nazis” and engage them in long debates.  And indeed the history of the church is replete with such debates, and those have often been necessary to sort things out for the rest of the believers.

But as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees of His day, even in King David’s day the question of whether it was “right” for his soldiers to eat the showbread from the tabernacle took the backseat to whether it was compassionate for the priests to feed the people of God in their hunger.

So in this new year 2013 perhaps a good resolution is to try to engage less often in these kinds of “who is right” discussions and instead engage in “how can I be compassionate” actions.  Will this draw the ire of modern-day Pharisees?  Doubtless.  But let us not allow them to distract us from the life of love that Jesus has called us to live.

God bless us everyone!

 

 

To sing or not to sing?

I’ve been thinking about music in the liturgy recently.

We have now at our church a new organ, and a very nice person who can play that organ very well.  Up to this point we haven’t had someone who could play the organ very well, so we’ve used CDs of hymns to accompany our singing (they’re well-produced by professional organists, so there’s no issue of quality there).  However, we’ve spoken most of the liturgy and whatever “incidental” music we’ve had has come from a variety of sources.

Now that we have this very nice person who can play that organ very well, I’m wondering about some of that “other” music.  I don’t have answers to these questions, I’m just posing them.  If you have thoughts or answers, I’d love to hear them:

Why is there music while the offering is being collected?  Organists call this an “offertory.”

  • Is it because this is the “special offering” of the organist?  If so, why does the organist get offering envelopes?  If so, why don’t we encourage everybody to bring “special offerings” every Sunday?
  • Is it because we want some sound to cover up the clink of the coins hitting the plates?  Then why is there “offertory” in churches that take up the collection into cloth bags?
  • Is the Offertory just “incidental music”?  If so, why do we need it?
  • Or is there a formative, transformative, worship / adoration purpose for the Offertory?  If so, then probably any old Bach prelude or Maranatha! song won’t do.  If so, then we would do well to carefully choose music that would speak to the relationship of the people to the God who loves them as a prodigally generous Father loves His children.

Why is there music during the distribution of Holy Communion?

  • Is it to give them something to do instead of chatting while they’re waiting for their turn to come to the altar?
  • Our sanctuary is small.  My voice can easily be heard without amplification from the chancel all the way to the narthex.  As I’m giving people Communion, and pronouncing the blessing/dismissal on each group of communicants, everyone in the room can clearly hear it.  If our sanctuary were so large that you couldn’t easily hear that pronouncement, would you need a Communion song so people wouldn’t talk amongst themselves?
  • Do these two questions assume that, if left to themselves, Christians gathered in worship for Holy Communion would be unable to focus on Communion and the desirability of encouraging one another in worship and in their faith?
  • In our small sanctuary, in some services there are lots of people and in some there are not so many.  Sometimes we can sing an entire hymn during Communion, and sometimes we just can’t.  So should this be a consideration – that there are enough people present to make it worthwhile?
  • In our small sanctuary, is it important that the people who are waiting for Communion have something to distract them, or is it important that they have something to focus their worship, or is it important that they be able to hear again and again “This true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and uphold you in the true faith to life everlasting.  Depart in Peace” whether they are at the altar or not?
  • Is there music during Communion because that’s the tradition, because the organist is expected to play it for some reason?

Why is there music at all, other than to sing hymns with?

  • In a world filled with increasing and often unceasing noise, what would be wrong with the community of God’s people together following His urging to “be still, and know that I am God”?

See?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I don’t know that there really are any answers.  I’m just muddling along here, trying to help our folks know the God who loves us a little better.

What do you think?

The Sermon on the Mount

An Indispensable Churches post

The Christian claim is that life is better lived in the church because the church, according to our story, just happens to be true.  The church is the only community formed around the truth, which is Jesus, Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Only on the basis of his story, which reveals to us who we are and what has happened in the world, is true community possible. (page 77)

In a world like ours, it is tempting to seek community, any community, as a good in itself.  . . .  (page 77)

The Sermon [on the Mount, Matthew 5-7] implies that it is as isolated individuals that we lack the ethical and theological resources to be faithful disciples.  The Christian ethical question is not the conventional Enlightenment question, How in the world can ordinary people like us live a heroic life like that?  The question is, What sort of community would be required to support an ethic of nonviolence, marital fidelity, forgiveness, and hope such as the one sketched by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?  (page 80)

– Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens(Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1989)

Naether Memorial Chapel; Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, India

We happened to be reading the “eye for an eye” part of the Sermon on the Mount last Sunday in Bible class, and commenting on how difficult it is for us to live the kind of life Jesus describes in those verses.  But we’re not alone – everyone struggles with the “love your enemies” words of Jesus.  We do the Christian quick-step around them with re-interpretations (“He didn’t really mean love in the same sense that you love . . . “).  We make exceptions (“I can love my enemies in general; but not that one in particular”).  We’re so hopelessly in love with the lex talionis because each of us has so idolized our individual selves that for Jesus to say things like “But I tell you . . . ” drives a knife right through the heart of our self-importance.  And yet we want to call ourselves Christians, too, and claim to follow Jesus.  The rock is firm, the hard place is hard, and we are caught firmly in the middle, unable to escape by ourselves.

Then come Hauerwas and Willimon (above), who tell us that it is precisely because I cannot escape by myself that I need the church, the community of believers, the communio sanctorum.  It is only in that context and in that community that I can be faithful to the words of Jesus.  It is only in the church, surrounded by other believers current and past, that I learn the truth about forgiveness, marital fidelity, and all the other things Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.  We both know we won’t learn any of it in the world.  We both know that not just any community is up to the task, no matter how ethical it tries to be.  Only the church, the body of Christ, is uniquely designed by Jesus Himself to feed and nourish and nurture its members so that together we grow into the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

I need the church that is the body of Christ all over the world – in India, in the USA, in Europe, wherever there is another believer.  I need that believer.  I need the church that is the denomination I belong to, and the denominations I see around me.  I need the church that is the body of Christ assembled in the building in which I preach, as well as those assembled in other similar buildings in our community.  I need the church that is the huge one in the big city, and I need the church that is the tiny one on the ridge overlooking the village of used-to-be.  I need them all – and so do you – because each and every one of them teaches me how to live the “But I tell you . . . ”  I confess that I am a poor, miserable sinner.  I rejoice that Jesus has forgiven my sins!  But I need the Church Indispensable to teach me to be the disciple He calls me to be.

And I think you do to.

Caring for the Shepherds

Jeremiah 23:1-6 – “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing, ” declares the Lord.

This is the Old Testament reading for this coming Sunday for many of us.  It’s kind of a warning for us preachers and pastors, isn’t it?  “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”  Kind of makes me want to pull in my head and glance around:  “You talkin’ to me?”  Because here God is upset on behalf of His sheep.  He’s left them under the care of some shepherds, but He’s come to find out His sheep are uncared-for, they are scattered, far away, afraid, terrified, and missing.  He’s steaming, now, and will replace those shepherds with new ones who will care for His flock properly.

So what if you and I, my brothers and sisters in the ministry, are these new shepherds?  Often we wonder about whether we’ll “do the job well” so we also won’t be replaced.  But we’re not only shepherds but sheep, too.  So as we assume the task and role of shepherding God’s sheep, who tends the shepherds?  Who cares for them?  What if the shepherds themselves are uncared-for, scattered, disconnected, afraid, terrified, or even missing / AWOL?  

Does your administrative structure care for you like a shepherd cares for the flock?  Does it try to provide connection and collection, a place of peace and grace and consolation for the shepherds?  

Do the shepherds around you mostly tend each other without outside help?  Do you have a group of fellow-shepherds that care for one another, lift one another up, create and atmosphere of forgiveness and consolation among yourselves, and speak the precious Gospel to each other frequently?

Or do you mostly go it alone?  Is God’s tending enough for you?  It may well be, and certainly we want to learn to depend on Him to fill all our core longings.  I’m not saying that shepherds should look to other shepherds to fill the longings that only God can fill.  I am suggesting, though, that He provides fellow-shepherds, small groups of pastors, regional conferences, even judicatory officials as vessels of His mercy and grace for your strengthening, refreshment, and care as you go about your work as His shepherds.

Drop me a comment or send me an email to continue this conversation.

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