Category Archives: Rethink Church

I will keep my faith.

Now, more than ever, I will keep my faith. In uncertain times, and wading into uncertain waters, I will listen more than ever for how I am to be a Christian.

I will not forget that the Jesus Movement was originally counter-cultural, originally a movement of resistance against a tyrannical empire. I will take comfort in this truth, and I will look to it for purpose in these times.

I will not forget that my God became human, lived a life constrained by bodies and work and pain, and that in that short life, he spread a message of love and forgiveness so powerful and threatening that the Roman Empire executed him for it.

I will not forget that this is my religion.

And so, I renew the vows my parents made for me at baptism, and the vows I made at Confirmation. Because they matter now more than ever.

I renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. I renounce the voices within me that tell me that I am not strong enough, not good enough, not meaningful enough. I renounce the voices that tell me that I am unloved, unimportant, and incapable of the path set before me.

I renounce them, because my faith is in God, who has already created us capable of more than we can imagine.

I renounce them, because this faith tells us that love is the very core of our being, and that in the knowledge of that love, we can spread it like wildfire.

I renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. I renounce greed and consumption. I renounce white supremacy and hatred of the poor. I renounce the consumption of more and more and more, that corrupts and destroys this earth.

I renounce them, because my faith tells me that God created us for goodness, and the evils of tyranny, greed, and hatred are not who we really are—that when we seek our true selves, what we find is a power of goodness beyond all reason and understanding.

I renounce all sinful desires that draw me from the love of God. I renounce the desire to fight for my own self, tooth and nail, always, and I renounce the belief that no one else will care for me. I renounce the desire to treat other people like objects, any creature of God like a means to an end. I renounce the desire to pretend that I have no need to become a better person.

I renounce them because my faith tells us that God loves us so much that we are called, always and everywhere, to become more loving, more honest, more kind, and more present to the Christ in every person.

I turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as my savior, because I believe that my God became human in order to live as one of us—to love, suffer, heal, and die like we do. To walk in our shoes, and understand our existence, and to save us from ourselves. I believe that the going is tough, and we won’t always succeed, but God knows this because God actually really experienced this.

I put my whole trust in his grace and love, because I am called to stand up, and act out, against the evil I see in this world. Put my trust in Jesus, because cannot do that on my own, and in him, I don’t have to.

I promise to follow and obey him as my Lord, because I do not want to be ruled by money, or things, or achievements. I do not want to obey the markets, or the rules for success, or the unspoken keys to safety in our rapidly breaking world.

I promise that I will obey love, kindness, and truth. I promise that I will obey the needs of the poor, reconciliation with my neighbor, and above all, hope.

Always, I promise that my Lord is hope, and that my ruler is the Good News.

I will keep my faith.

 

**This is an expansion upon the words from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that are traditionally used as promises at baptism. Read them here.

Embrace the Awkward this Palm Sunday–our faith needs it.

This Sunday in Minnesota, Christians are going to congregate around their churches, maybe in the street–maybe in a public park across the street–with palm fronds. They’re going to start singing some weird, old school hymn, waving those palm fronds around (or maybe just holding them anxiously, since they’re Minnesotans) and walking around–processing. The priests and pastors will be in their regalia, white robes and strange colored scarves, and the acolytes, the choirs–wearing church clothes outside the church, singing church songs from a thousand years ago, re-enacting (badly, probably) an event that happened two thousand years ago in the Middle East.

With palms. In Minnesota.

Back up and think for a second, church people: it is going to be one bizarre sight to our Muslim neighbors–confusing to Buddhists and Hindus, perhaps threatening to our Jewish neighbors, and maybe just dumb for the atheists and agnostics peering outside.

Palm Sunday is awkward. It’s ridiculous. The whole world is watching, and it’s just weird.

Palm Sunday is the first service in the most important week of our year. And, it’s an emotional whirlwind, a bait-and-switch Sunday. We as the congregation play the role of the masses of Jerusalem, the people hungry for salvation, and the people hungry for blood.

In the span of an hour, we glorify our savior, begging him to lift us up from the powerlessness of our lives–and then when it becomes clear what this means, we turn on him, and we demand that he be killed.

Tradition requires that we meet outside for this Sunday. Not in the safety of the church, but exposed, for all the world to see, on this remembrance of one of the most deplorable moments in our story.

Palm Sunday doesn’t feel good, to stand outside your building, looking around to see who in your neighborhood is watching you. It doesn’t feel right, to do ‘churchy’ things in a public place–where the ancient rituals we take for granted are visible for anyone to judge.

We’re forced outside of our safe walls, and its not for a picnic or a blessing: it’s the  part of our story where we praised a man as our king, and then killed him a week later.*

On this Sunday, we’re terribly exposed, and not in a way that makes us look like the heroes.

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

Well, I think you have only to look around at our current political climate to know why we should be warned about the fickleness of a crowd of downtrodden people. We don’t have to look far to see the way that a few fears can turn a crowd into a murderous bunch–and how it can happen to any of us.

We live out this story, we play these characters, so that we can remember how strong and how dangerous our power as a people can be.

We do it so that we can never be truly complacent about who we are as people of faith: to remember that we must always remember how vicious blind following can be.

And we do it on the steps of the church, in the yard, maybe in a city park, so that we can be exposed to all the prying eyes of the rest of the world. It’s incredibly awkward, stupid, and frightening, to Do Church this way. But we have to.

We have to do it, because this exposure holds us to account: our traditions demand that we do this so everyone can see, to remind us that the seeds of such destruction reside in all of us.

It is important for religions of power to remember how destructive they can become if they do not remember to diligently seek the truth. If we listen rightly, Palm Sunday is a very hard Sunday for those of us who walk in power and privilege.

None of us are too good for this part of our story.

We need Palm Sunday to keep us accountable, now more than ever, to the parts of us that succumb to fear, to the parts of us that say “Messiah!” only when it is convenient for us. We need Palm Sunday to make us look awkward to others, to keep us from thinking that what we do is ‘normal’, that being a Christian is ‘easy’ or ‘comfortable’, to remind us of how quickly we, too, might turn to destruction.

So, this Sunday, dear Christians, I hope you stand outside–where it is awkward, anxious-making and uncomfortable.

I hope together you shout “Hosanna!” and together you shout “Crucify!” and together you remember the power of a people whipped up into a frenzy.

I hope you remember collectively as a people how quickly we can be turned against others, how quickly we can sow destruction when we cried “Hosanna” a moment before. I hope you remember in pain how this story has been transformed into a way to hurt Jewish people.

I hope you embrace this opportunity for public remembrance that the Christian faith is far from innocent.

For all of us who might be willing to listen, in that garden of Gethsemane, Jesus yanks on our sleeping ears and says, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

Palm Sunday is here to remind us that the time of trial is now. Go outside of your church and do something ridiculous, remind yourself that this is a weird, strange faith, that shows us the viciousness of power, and calls us to account. Feel awkward, outside the safe confines of your beautiful, quiet buildings.

Remember that we all have a vigil to keep against the viciousness of the mob–and that we are all only one step away from it. It is in all of us.

And keep awake. Pray that we all might be strong in the time of trial.

 

*I am very adamant that this is a part of the Christian story, that this is a WE moment. There is rhetoric out there that says that “The Jews” did this, but we should never forget, and never stop reminding ourselves, that this is a part of our CHRISTIAN story, and never an us vs. them tool. I also believe that churches have a duty to remind their people of this–to put their congregations in the role of the crowd. It was never ‘the Jews’ that cried “crucify!” It was us–the idiot masses–that turned on a man whose message threatened them. Or, ironically, the idiot masses who did whatever the man with most recent power grab told them to do. We as leaders have a duty to make our congregations remember.

This post is a continuation of an idea from three years ago, posted here.

My Episcopal Identity

The Episcopal Café asked folks recently to answer the question—how do Episcopalians understand their Identity as Episcopalians?

So here’s my response: #MyEpiscopalIdentity

First and foremost, to be an Episcopalian is to be a Christian, and so my Episcopal Identity is about believing in Jesus the Christ:

that God decided to become human to live through the struggle and mess of this life, and ultimately redeem it. I believe that God loved us so much, with such a ridiculous and catastrophic love, that God actually became one of us in order to live, die, and then conquer death itself–just to love us better. I believe that God chooses to take what’s dead and make it new again, and that we have the beautiful opportunity to work alongside God in this.

My faith as an Episcopalian is how I choose to respond to that love. Why have I chosen to live out this belief in this way, rather than any other church?

Well… Continue reading My Episcopal Identity

The American Samaritan

A thought–a devotion–a plea–a confession–based on Luke 10:25-36.

Just then a theologian stood up to test the teacher. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked the teacher, “And who is my neighbor?” the teacher replied: Continue reading The American Samaritan

Talk to your youth groups about Islam. Do it now.

I asked my confirmation class yesterday what they knew about Islam. They drew a blank. They knew nothing. So–the Islamic Studies nerd in me started babbling–same God, Abraham, Five Pillars… They sort of rolled their eyes.

It occurred to me that many of my students receive their only education about religion from me–their youth director–and I’m so busy trying to give them a taste of Christianity, that I never thought that their only education about other religions comes from hearsay and the news media. Continue reading Talk to your youth groups about Islam. Do it now.

10 ways to describe your progressive Christian faith without saying “But I’m not…”

How many times have you started a conversation by saying “I’m Christian, but I’m not…crazy/fundamentalist/mean/convinced that there is a war on Christmas”? It is always really icky-feeling, isn’t it?

As progressive Christians, we have GOT to get rid of this precursor to all that we are. By speaking like this, we are only reinforcing that normative Christianity IS crazy/fundamentalist/mean/convinced that there is a war on Christmas–that we are the outliers.

And “War on Christmas” Christianity is not normative–it is not the true Jesus movement, it is not our religion. The way of truth and life, the way of resurrection and restoration and reconciliation, THAT is our religion. Let’s start talking about ourselves as if that’s true.

So, here are some ways that we can describe who we are that don’t begin with “But I’m not…” Continue reading 10 ways to describe your progressive Christian faith without saying “But I’m not…”

They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the lectionary text from this past Sunday, Mark 10:17-31. [This may be because it’s the chosen text at our non-lectionary church for This Coming Sunday. Brainsplosion, I know.]

This is one of those stories that we hear every three years and it always hurts a little bit. The well-to-do man comes up to Jesus and says, “I’ve done everything right! Now, how can I be sure that I’ll get into heaven?” Continue reading They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”