Friday, January 12, 2018

Naming Donald Trump's and Steve Womack's Racism

ELCA Presiding Bishop responds to reported racist comments

I am very disappointed and disturbed by the remarks that President Donald Trump is reported to have said yesterday – and confirmed by others who were present – in the context of a discussion about immigration.

Regardless of the context, references of that kind have no place in our civil discourse and, if true, reflect racist attitudes unbecoming any of us, but especially a president of the United States.

Instead, we should be fostering a world where each of us sees every person – regardless of race, origin, ethnicity, gender or economic status – in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of dignity and respect. Our church has relationships and partnerships with Christians and others on six continents. These are our sisters and brothers. We strive to accompany them and they us, across boundaries and cognizant of our diversity, yet all seeking the common good. In working for a healed, reconciled and just world, we all should faithfully strive to participate in God's reconciling work, which prioritizes disenfranchised, vulnerable and displaced people in our communities and the world, bearing witness – each of us – to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

"We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization" —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

God's peace,

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton 

At the local level, here was Representative Steve Womack's response, equally racist in its perspective:
What I think the president is saying is that if you're only appealing to people from countries that are behind the times, depraved countries, if that's the element that you're appealing to, and of course a lot of those folks are wanting to come to America and pursue the American dream, then he feels like that we should make the same or a better appeal to people from other European countries et cetera that can come in here and actually fit into the society as we know it and do the kinds of things that will make America a prosperous nation. (
Together with my presiding bishop and many world leaders, I condemn and reject these racist, nativist comments from Trump and Womack. If our elected leaders would like guidance on how to speak of our neighbors around the world, they might consider the widely respected priest James Martin.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Climate Change | Refugee Connection

One of the salient features of climate change is how it affects all of life. Here are some connections between climate change and the global refugee crisis, which our congregation has committed to ameliorate through its partnership with Canopy NWA.

In the video series, Years of Living Dangerously, the segments by Thomas Friedman make this connection in the starkest manner. For example, a short segment from Season 1 is particularly on-point for how climate change affects the war in Syria and the refugee crisis that resulted.

Syria was a very advanced country and very rich before the worst drought in more than a millennium changed everything.

Here is a brief segment that Thomas Friedman did on Yemen and a city that is running out of water, which causes a conflict that contributes to the war there. 

Here is Thomas Friedman reporting in a longer (28-minute) segment on Sub-Saharan Africa’s climate crisis and the connections to refugees fleeing the region and heading to Europe.

Now, add to these stories the experience that we observe in Springdale among the Marshallese community. The Marshall Islands are being flooded by sea level rise. My Friend, Chris Balos, is dealing with his Grandmother, who makes him promise to bury her in the Marshall Islands, land of her birth (see below the excerpt from a recent graphic novel published by the Weather Channel on the topic of climate change and the Marshallese community in Springdale, Arkansas).

The problem is that his other Grandmother and Grandfather were buried in the Marshall Islands in a historic cemetery. Since their burial a few years ago, their bodies have been washed away by high tides.

Excerpt from the United States of Climate Change
So, when I write that climate change exacerbates the current global refugee crisis, I am not exaggerating. These are strong motivations behind the urgency I feel regarding the need to clean up our sources of electricity, including installing solar PV arrays. The Church must be the leader in making these connections between our actions and the suffering of people all over the world.

The church can lead in a manner that demonstrates our faith values and the connections between refugee ministries and problems caused by climate change in exacerbating droughts that drive wars in Syria and Yemen and refugee flight from Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Guest post: Terry Tremwel, ph.D. chairman of the board Picasolar and adjunct instructor of sustainability at the University of Arkansas; Terry coordinates our adult forums Sunday mornings at 10:15 a.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Thursday, January 04, 2018


I have a friend who organizes the month of 100 things each January. Her practice is to identify 100 things she owns she can give away or sell. It’s a small counter-measure against the onslaught of accumulation that seems a part of our daily lives, and especially strong over the Christmas holiday.

I’m not one of those who believes things are themselves bad. Although most of us wax and wane, first committing to lives of simplicity, then giving in and purchasing that book we’ve wanted to read. Our connection to things is neither perfectly pure nor particularly bad in and of itself. We are conflicted consumers, sometimes paralyzed by options, but we are also human and appreciators of beauty, and many of the most beautiful things are, well, things.

It might even be true that in an era when the stuff of life has become ever more ephemeral, residing in the cloud, digitally mediated, untouchable yet present, that the aura of things takes on even greater poignancy. My cashier at the grocery store today told me they only have a record player and LPs in their house—no CD player. Tactile board games have seen a resurgence the past few years, even outpacing video games on a fund-raising platform like Kickstarter.

Many of us in the new year have committed to more tactile practices of daily life. Face to face with friends more, online with Facebook less. Such changes can themselves be idealized, inasmuch as there are many goods that have come along with a shared life in social media, but the impulse to connect physically, to touch each other and physical objects, speaks to a real spirituality of material things.

All of this has left me thinking about the spiritual movement of our times, what we can call immanentism. Immanence is the sense that the divine encompasses or is especially, maybe even exclusively, present in the world itself. When we experience some material objects, other human beings, natural settings, we have this sense of immanence. We see the moon, the face of a friend, a landscape, or even an especially beautifully rendered video game or hear a powerful music composition, and we think, God. Divine. Wow.

In fact we need such a sense of immanence. With the lack of it, you have brinksmanship like that between North Korea and the United States, with two leaders threatening button-pushing on Twitter with little recognition that the material results of such nuclear action would be the murder of millions and the destruction of large swaths of our planet.

This then sends me back to the accumulation of things. We feel the weight of things themselves, their aura, in their immanence, their awe-ness. We also feel their weight in another way as an over-whelming pressure, too much stuff, stuff to get rid of, stuff we felt compelled to buy and then lost the love of almost immediately.

Newspapers exist somewhere here in the mix. They arrive new each day on the driveway, delivered and ready to read. They are then something to be recycled by the Monday following. There is something divine about a coffee and the newspaper at morning breakfast. Bagging them up to recycle is a burden.

The spirituality of every day life resides in this precise dialectic. Transcendence in materiality. The weight of too many things wasted, and periodically transfigured. The art of our life is in maintaining this balance, always with an eye to the beauty of all the immanent things freighted with freeing weight of transcendence.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Social media trends influencing ministry in 2018

The first trend I'm noticing: lots of writers are committing to less time in the daily grind of social media, with the goal of creating better and more enduring content.

I'm making that commitment also. Personal practices I'll be changing in 2018:

  • No social media sharing other than content I've created myself or that was created by someone I know. 
  • More focus on group work in smaller channels, especially Slack.
  • If I share a post in social media, it will be long. Longread long. Probably on a blog. Like this one.
  • Mostly, I just plan to be on less so I can write longform again. A book. I'm at work on a book.

Then there are some predictions in the larger social media world worth considering as they pertain to  church ministry space. Here they are:

  • From Entrepreneur, there's an emphasis on visual story-telling, especially on Instagram Story. Faith communities have always engaged the visual and the verbal. It may be that this kind of story-telling is the emerging way not only to share our lives with one another, or promote brands, but also proclaim the faith.
  • Livestreaming and interactive broadcasting: There's nothing in social media that has ever more closely approximated the live and interactive nature of preaching than live-streaming. But like preaching, it's harder than we might think to create interactive streaming content. It's going to take practice. Seminaries and synods will probably start hosting live-streaming clinics the same way they currently clinic preaching.
  • Declining organic reach and fatigue from tools and tactics: It's probably ironic to include this in the list, because my list is itself a set of tools and tactics, but we really are fatigued. We like to talk authenticity in the church. We are now seeing an emphasis on the authenticity of our media reach itself, and the users of it. Our influencers are going to help share faith in social media more than the tools or techniques. In the past, these influencers were called apostles and evangelists.
  • Ephemeral content is going to provide higher engagement: This one makes me super curious. I don't know how it translates. But all the platforms are shifting to ephemeral content because the next generation (Z) and a wider set of users seem to prefer it. It's worth experimentation. It's also probably why I'm more interested than ever in live theater.
  • Addressing pain pointsCan you describe the pain your faith community solves–and why anyone should care–in just a few words? Can you then invite those in need to consider your message using your simple explanation? These are the actual kinds of issues marketers are pondering, something the church and people of faith are always working on. But are we doing it well? Tight messaging can contribute to healing.
So, what are you thinking about in social media and church ministry for 2018?