Thursday, February 15, 2018

Seven Ways Faith Communities can support the New Poor People's campaign

Arkansas is participating, together with groups in 30 states across the country, in a continuation of the campaign first called for by Martin Luther King Jr. before he was assassinated. A Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.

You can be part of this campaign, and there are many ways to connect.

1. Like and follow the main social media page for updates on the Arkansas campaign:

2. Learn more about the campaign, and make a personal pledge to join at: The goal is at least 1000 pledges by the beginning of the campaign. If you sign up via the national pledge tool, you will also be connected to the Arkansas campaign, and receive updates on how you can participate at the state level.

3. Use resources in your faith community to amplify the demands of the campaign:
a) end systemic racism
b) end manufactured poverty
c) end the war economy
d) end ecological devastation
e) end false moral narratives

4. Publish an article on your blog or in your church newsletter. Pray for the campaign. Lead a forum on the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in your congregation, neighborhood group, club, or political party.  Bring knowledge of the campaign to your board, council, state leadership team, or consistory.

5. Commit as a faith leader to be conspicuously present at AR Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival actions as often and consistently as possible. The campaign is particularly calling on clergy and faith leaders to show up wearing the sign of their office.

6. Bring word of the campaign to your faith leader groups, and invite your colleagues and faith family to become part of the campaign. We believe that if individual faith leaders bring an ask to their local ministerial associations and other faith groups, more clergy and faith leaders will actively support the movement.

7. Gain the support of your denominational leaders and other organizations that can support the campaign. We especially seek public letters of support from bishops and denominational leaders.

8. Join the Faith Outreach Subcommittee here in Arkansas, to lend your time and energy to the movement. Drop me a line in the comments and I'll help connect you.
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution; that is a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution of weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapon of warfare. Then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place and there is still the voice crying the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new, former things are passed away”… Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges … and new opportunities … We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses … We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that is signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic non-violent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible (Martin Luther King Jr., his last Sunday sermon).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Preparing for Lent

Lent is soon upon us. This powerful, spiritual season is an opportunity to commit (or re-commit) to core Christian practices.

Lent is first of all the forty day journey beginning with Ash Wednesday (February 14th) and concluding with Holy Week and Easter (April 1st). During the forty days, we journey with Jesus through the final weeks of his public ministry, setting our faces with him towards Jerusalem and the cross.

Traditionally, Christians commit to three practices during the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Often, this includes using a daily devotional resource for prayer; fasting from certain foods or activities; and almsgiving, that is, giving to the poor.

This Lent at GSLC, we offer the following ways to engage the season. First, we host Wednesday evening services. Ash Wednesday is a special service focused on repentance and meditation on our mortality. The remaining Wednesdays of Lent, we host soup suppers followed by Evening Prayer. This year, we have a special theme (visit Integrating the Inward and Outward Journey) which will be the topic of the Evening Prayer services. There will also be an opportunity for a book discussion after evening prayer services each Wednesday.

Sundays during Lent, we focus on gospel texts appropriate the season, deepening our understanding of faith and Christ’s journey to the cross and resurrection. On Sunday evenings during Lent, we host weekly meals and bible study for newcomers to GSLC preparing for baptism or affirmation of baptism at the Easter Vigil. In between a potluck meal and bible study, we reflect on one portion of the catechism each week.

I especially invite all of us to find ways to fast and give during this season. One way we will model this at GSLC is to fast from coffee and treats on Sunday mornings. At the regular coffee station, in place of coffee and treats, we will have baskets featuring two hunger ministries: ELCA World Hunger, Springdale’s Samaritan Community Center, and the University of Arkansas Food Pantry. Each week, when you would have gotten coffee or eaten a cookie, instead give alms. This practice combines fasting with almsgiving, and it’s something you might also try in your own homes, perhaps donating to a hunger ministry what you otherwise would have spent on meat or dining out.
Finally, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and leads to Holy Week. If you are unfamiliar with these special services, I very much encourage you to check them out this year. At Ash Wednesday, we receive a sign of the cross on our foreheads, reminding us of our mortality and one-ness with the dust of the earth. On Holy Week, we host evening services on Thursday in memory of Christ’s last supper, Friday around the cross on which he died, and Saturday with the new fire welcoming new members and celebrating the resurrection light. Then Sunday morning of Easter, we pull out all the stops with celebratory worship and a morning breakfast, a breaking of the fast.

For additional devotional resources and ideas during the Lenten season, I especially encourage praying the daily offices. Take Lent for what it is, an opportunity for introspection and renewal, joining Christ in his faithful journey.

Twentieth-century Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor said, “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What -people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

Faith is the cross. Lent is the season that centers us in this gospel truth.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Is There a Place for John Piper Near a Microphone?

The answer: No!

Now to offer explanation. John Piper recently wrote a piece, "Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary?" where he answered a laboriously argued, painfully toxic, "No."

His basic argument: He believes in complementarianism. Church and home life from this supposedly biblical perspective is gendered. Women lead the home. Men lead the church. And church leadership should be made up of a team of "spiritual, humble, and biblical men."

He then argues that it simply isn't fitting for women to train men for a role that is primarily for men. Basically, this is the exemplar argument... that we need to see exemplified in the person training us that which we are being trained for.

So only football coaches can train future football coaches. Only dads can teach their sons how to be men. Only near-sighted people can teach near-sighted people how to wear glasses.


This is, admittedly, a widespread argument in the church. It's why Roman Catholics only have male priests, because they believe the priest stands in persona Christi in the parish as an example of Christ. And since Christ was male, so priests should be male.

There are many problems with this argument. For one, it's not readily apparent why you couldn't apply some other category as a requirement for pastoral or priestly ministry. Like, that since Jesus was a human being, only human beings can be pastors. No cats.

And in a society and time where we have discovered the great benefits of egalitarianism, and also exposed the problems of patriarchy, arguments like John Piper's (made, of course, by a man) come across not only as retrograde, but also as harmful and toxic.

Such statements from a widely read and revered theologian will undermine the call of faithful women throughout our culture. It disrespects the amazing teaching of female scholars in seminaries across the country, and disregards the reality that many of our greatest models of faithfulness as pastors are women.

The post is embarrassing because it so clearly elevates a dogmatic construct, complementarianism, and places enforcement of that dubious construct as the highest value. Instead of honoring the call of his many female colleagues, he feels it necessary to defend his toxic thesis. Then calls that biblical.

I call it a failure of love.

By contrast, a more faithful approach to women in the church is hosted by many denominations, including our own. I highly commend to all readers the draft social statement of the ELCA on Women and Justice. Patriarchy and sexism prevent abundant life for all. Complementarianism participates in such sexism, inasmuch as it enforces, for one, just two gender categories, without any recognition of fluidity both in gender identity and gender roles, and also because it denies the freedom offered in Christ to the whole church, the whole people of God.

This will be silly, but no more silly than complementarianism. If we take Jesus as our example, and if we think the exemplar path is the path to follow... then remember Jesus never talked on a microphone. Humble, spiritual, biblical men like John Piper should follow Jesus' example, and step away from the microphone. They might take some time to listen to the many faithful women leaders in the wider church, and discover how powerfully those women inspire all people, women, men, and more, to take up the mission of working for God's coming kin-dom. Even leading it.

Is there a place for John Piper near a microphone?

Absolutely not. Step away, John, step away.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Being a Christian on Social Media

I don't know about you, but lately I've been in an analog state of mind. As much as I love experimentation in digital and social media, I've also simply wanted to do more tactile and face-to-face things. I'd rather have coffee with you than browse Facebook (and often I'd rather read a book than read Facebook). I am trying to be present in the moment with family and friends and not distracted by devices. It's hard, and I often fail. But I want to do better.

Partially this is because I know much of new media is designed to keep us facing our screens. I don't want to be manipulated, but I know the psychological strategies of some of the larger media companies far outpace my own resistance.

Partially it's because I think I'm simply maxed out on media. I just can't keep up, there's only so much to which we can all attend, and at the end of the day, I wonder, do I want this day, this month, this year, to have been filled with scrolling through posts, or doing something else.  

A few years ago I wrote a book on faith formation in new media. Since then, I've continued to ponder how new media is forming our minds, our hearts, and our communities. I continue to believe, as I wrote there, that we are still very much learning the effects of new media on our brains, on our faith communities, on our hearts. Right now we are still observing the effects of the transition to a life where much of our shared life is mediated through digital media.

Given that reality, it is important for us to always keep in mind that what we are doing here in social media--on Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or even this e-mail--isn't about Christian ministry, as if we lived our faith in real life, and this were just commentary on faith. 

No, all our e-mails, all our posts, all our tweets, they are how we communicate faith, they are how we share human life with each other. They mediate the faith between us.

So, for example, although the Fayetteville Women's March that will take place tomorrow is a powerful analog moment of hundreds of humans present and marching together, the pages and posts from the leaders of the march (one of whom is GSLC's own Autumn Tolbert) are also part of that march. They aren't just about the march. They participate in the march and mediate it. They help us understand and celebrate it better.

Church can be mediated in such fashion also. You and I can post prayers and pray with others, by e-mail and in social media. We can use social media to share and encourage kindnesses. When we join groups, participate in chats, we engage spaces where we actively practice both articulating our faith, and find inspiring others who model faith for us.

You can read the bible, and even prepare for the Scripture lessons that we read each Sunday in worship. And unless you read books in theology and social ethics, you probably pick up a lot of your theological insights here.

As I've been preparing to preach Sunday, I came across a quote from a commentary on the gospel of Mark. I noticed it because a friend and colleague who pastors in California posted it on Facebook. This is how new media works, we influence each other (as we always have) but at greater distances and in new ways. 

Here's the quote:

"To become 'fishers of men,' despite the grand old tradition of missionary interpretation, does not refer to the 'saving of souls,' as if Jesus were conferring upon these men instant evangelist status. Rather, the image is carefully chosen from Jeremiah 16:16, where it is used as a symbol of Yahweh's censure of Israel. Elsewhere the 'hooking of fish' is a euphemism for judgment upon the rich (Amos 4:2) and powerful (Ezekiel 29:4). Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege." - Ched Myers, "Binding the Strong Man"
I think being a Christian on social media likely means this also, joining Jesus in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. Social media can do a lot of different things, and amplify such a voice for such a mission is one of them. 

Blessings in Christ to each of you this weekend, and I hope to see you in that most analog of spaces this Sunday. The sanctuary.