Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Amen and Amen and Amen

"The political novelty that God brings into the world is a community of those who serve instead of ruling, who suffer instead of inflicting suffering, whose fellowship crosses social lines instead of reinforcing them. The new Christian community in which the walls are broken down not by human idealism or democratic legalism but by the work of Christ is not only a vehicle of the gospel or only a fruit of the gospel; it is the good news. It is not merely the agent of mission or the constituency of a mission agency. This is the mission."

John Howard Yoder, The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical (1994)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fall Books

When life gets hectic, I've developed a coping mechanism: I make lists of books. Reading is a meditative and disciplined habit in my life--I almost consider it my primary form of monasticism--and so the listing of books feels much like preparing to pray, or calming my heart for worship.

So here are four books I plan to read (or have read) this fall that I feel confident in recommending for your consideration.

1. Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African by Lamin Sanneh. Sanneh is perhaps the greatest missiologist now writing in English, and I have for quite some time been curious about his life story as it relates to his teaching and theology. This is his autobiography, and it offers incredible insights into world Christianity, the nature of religious conversion, and more.

2. I'm kind of on a missiology jag this fall, so my second recommended volume is Walk Humbly with the Lord: Church and Mission Engaging Plurality, edited by Viggo Mortensen and Andreas Østerlund Nielsen. This is a collection of essays from the 100th anniversary conference (in Aarhus, Denmark) commemorating the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Responding to issues of globalization and increasing religious pluralism, the authors address an interesting question. Is Christian faith called to permeate plurality or establish an alternative to plurality? And what kinds of churches will either of those options take?

3. Luke (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible): Beginning this Advent, we enter Year C in the lectionary cycle, the year of Luke. I try to read a new commentary each year on the gospel for that year, and the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series is the commentary I have over time been trying to collect as a set. Scott Hahn says of it, "Always attentive to the text and sensitive to the historical background, especially the Old Testament, David Lyle Jeffrey opens the reader's eyes to the literary artistry, spiritual drama, and theological depth of Luke's portrait of Jesus's life, teaching, death, and resurrection. Drawing deeply from the wellspring of the church's living tradition, Jeffrey's commentary allows us to hear anew the voice of the Evangelist as it's been born by the Holy Spirit down through the ages into our own life and time. Beautifully written, this volume will prove equally valuable for study or contemplation, preaching or prayer. Truly one of the exemplary works in this popular series."

4. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God by T.M. Luhrmann. I think this is definitely the best book I've read in 2012. Her anthropological approach is first rate, and offers an incredibly empathetic view of Christian communities striving to hear God's voice in their life and worship. I'd like to try and bring the author to Fayetteville in 2013.

What are you reading? What do you recommend?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What does it mean to 'help' others?

Heidegger's response is that with regard to the other only a noninvasive mode of helping others is to decide to 'let the other be' in its alterity from itself, which is to say, in its authentic inauthenticity or most proper impropriety: 'The resoluteness toward itself first brings Da-sein to the possibility of letting the others who are with it 'be' in their ownmost potentiality-of-being, and also discloses that potentiality in concern which leaps ahead and frees. Resolute Da-sein can become the 'conscience' of others.' This means that there is no positive, affirmative, 'political,' or 'ethical' mode of relation to others that doesn't co-open [co-aprirli] to them, a co-opening of oneself to the common responsibility for one's own proper care (ours and theirs, inextricably linked). Neither are we dealing here with 'making' a gift but of 're-placing' (freigeben) in the other the possibility of being-with in donation, or the self-sacrifice (dedizione) of being. The community is and needs to remain constitutively impolitical in the sense that we can correspond to our being in common only to the degree in which we keep it away from every demand for historical-empirical actualization, that is, if we do not take on for ourselves the roles of subjects: the community cannot have 'subjects' because it is the community itself that constitutes--that deconstructs--subjectivity in the form of its alteration.

[Roberto Esposito, Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community, page 97)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ELCA Presiding Bishop to Visit Northwest Arkansas

Bishop Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the seventh largest religious body in the U.S. and the largest Lutheran denomination, will visit Arkansas November 4th, all Saints Sunday, preaching at the 8, 10, and 11:15 a.m. services at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2925 Old Missouri Road, Fayetteville, AR, 72703. All are welcome to attend.

This is Mark Hanson's first visit to Arkansas. He comes at the invitation of the high school youth group at Good Shepherd, who in an informal lunch meeting with him eighteen months ago during their synod assembly and Lutheran Youth Organization meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, asked him if he would like to visit Northwest Arkansas. Bishop Hanson responded, "Send me a letter, and I will try to come."

There are currently five ELCA congregations in Northwest Arkansas. In addition to Good Shepherd, Peace Lutheran Church (Rogers), Christ the King (Bentonville), The Neighborhood Church (Bentonville), and United Lutheran (Bella Vista). These churches work cooperatively on many projects, including most recently a joint trip to the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, LA, with 35,000 high school youth in attendance, and a fall project with Habitat for Humanity.

Bishop Hanson also visits Northwest Arkansas this month in recognition of the new mission starts currently under way through the synod and Good Shepherd. The Neighborhood Church in Bentonville is a new mission start of the ELCA within this past year. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church is currently in the process of calling a second pastor, titled a Pastor of New Communities, with the goal of establishing new faith communities in Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas that reach new groups of people with the gospel of Christ.

Bishop Hanson, at a recent ELCA Conference of Bishops Gathering, said that ELCA congregations are committed to being in a process of "renewal that begins with worship," and to planting new congregations "in all kinds of new ways and new contexts," adding that the ELCA has 343 ministries now under development, with 30 percent of them among new immigrants, those who live in poverty, those who are homeless and others in rural areas and suburbs.

The ELCA is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a denomination in 2013, under the theme, "Always being made new." Bishop Hanson, said, ""We have the opportunity and responsibility to ask, what does it mean to be deeply rooted in Christ and always being made new as we live in communities of increasing religious pluralism?"

The ELCA is made up of over 10,000 individual congregations across the United States. Divided into 65 geographic synods, each headed by a synodical bishop, Bishop Mark Hanson is the Bishop of the ELCA Churchwide, whose offices are in Chicago, Illinois. Good Shepherd Lutheran is a member church of the Arkansas-Oklahoma synod.

Mark S. Hanson has served as presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 2001. He was elected to a second six-year term in 2007. From 2003 until 2010, he was president of The Lutheran World Federation. He has traveled widely throughout the world, sharing a confident hope in God's promises and a vision of the joyful freedom in Christian community and mission.

Learn more about the ELCA and Bishop Mark S. Hanson at For more about Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, visit

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Lutheran Circuit Rider

Curtis Schneekloth met Clint Schnekloth today for lunch at TaMolly's Mexican restaurant in Texarkana. Yes, that's right. Read it again. There are no typos.

I actually grew up thinking it wasn't at all unusual that there was a Curtis Schneekloth in the world, exactly my age, who I was confirmed with and went to church camp with each summer. There were enough Schnekloths/Schneckloths/Schneekloths in the Quad Cities for me to not even consider the name unusual.

Then I moved around the world a little bit and found out how strange it sounds to certain others.

Anyway, Curtis and I have stayed in touch through the years, and our lives have paralleled each other in strange ways. He lived in Prague while I live in Slovakia. He moved back to the Midwest about the time I returned to the Twin Cities for seminary. And now, to continue the pattern, he just moved to Texarkana while I'm living in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

There's that old Chris and Johnny song, some of you may know it, "We lead parallel lives..."

Anyway, it was great to catch up. His wife (who is from Russia) teaches English to American students at the community college. He works at the Cooper Tire plant, one of the major employers in Texarkana. So we had plenty to discuss, plenty of stories to share, over our somewhat brief lunch, because...


I was actually in Texarkana for work. I was visiting the correctional center in Texarkana. Men from Washington County (my own county) don't have a correctional facility available to them nearby, so they end up in places like Little Rock or Texarkana (3 to 4.5 hours drive distant). It's a hardship, especially for their families, who have to travel considerable distance to see them. Or in this case it's a day-long commitment for their pastor to come see them.

The correctional facility in Texarkana is, literally, and by literally I mean lit-er-al-ly, on the Texas/Arkansas border. You actually enter Texas on Highway 71 while driving through town, and when you reach the federal post office building, when you take a left turn to enter the parking lot of the center, there's a big sign that reads, "Welcome to Arkansas!"

I'm always overwhelmed and amazed and saddened that our correctional system places so many incarcerees at places on the borders, far away from family and other social nets. It's one of the reasons I love our ministry at the correctional women's center here in Fayetteville, because we actually get to minister with women who live in Fayetteville and Springdale, who plan to return to those places when they are released. Re-entry ministries are so important, and more easily managed in those situations.


I drove through the Ouachita forest and mountains to get from Fayetteville to Texarkana.  The gorgeous fall foliage and rolling mountains reminded me what I love about the Ozarks. These mountains are jaunty and angular. They don't need to prove their grandeur, like the flexed muscles of bodybuilders. Instead, they're smooth and rounded, like the shoulders of great swimmers.


Yes, I know, Arkansas is predominantly Baptist. But it continues to surprise me just how Baptist it actually is in some places. Drive the 170 miles from Fort Smith to Texarkana, and you see dozens and dozens of churches, some gargantuan, some crumbling, most Baptist, with a smattering of Pentecostal and Annointing and Church of Christ mixed in for good measure.

Is it possible that the water itself in this part of the country is Baptist, so when you wake up and take a shower in the morning, you get re-baptized? I ask this only slightly in jest.

What you don't see any of is, well, Lutheran churches. I honestly think the entire time I was in the southwest part of our state today, I was the only ELCA clergyperson there. I might be wrong, and would be happy to stand corrected, but once you head south of Fort Smith, the ELCA just isn't there. This includes Texarkana, a really large city, with no ELCA presence whatsoever.

My friend Curtis is desperate for Lutheran worship, and can't find it anywhere in a hundred mile radius.

It made me wonder, might there be a way to resurrect the Methodist circuit rider model? I could imagine our denomination calling a person who would travel around from town to town or region to region organizing "centers of mission," installing leaders of worshipping communities, then communicating with them regularly to support them in their work.

It wouldn't matter if they were congregations of 3 or 30 or 300. The pastor would ride the circuit and provide missional leadership.

Who would populate these congregations, you might ask? My experience is that many people who move up to Fayetteville move here from some of these areas, and it is a novelty for them to have access to a congregation that actually matches their faith, moral outlook, and sense of freedom in Christ. The kind of witness represented by the ELCA and some of our full communion partners could add considerably to the overall witness of the Christian church in these places. Plus, if recent national surveys are any indication, there are plenty of people unconnected or disconnected from any church, and that is as likely true in southwest Arkansas as anywhere.


On my way home, for some reason my internal compass kept directing me towards Oklahoma, so I missed an exit and took Highway 70, albeit very briefly, into that great state. I almost did it again on I-40 near Fort Smith. So, that means three states in one day.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An open letter to new (and tired) church leaders

You just spent the last three hours at your first church council meeting. You have a new binder full of papers, and a head crammed with facts and figures and opinions. Climbing into the car for the dark drive home, you ask yourself, "What have I gotten myself into?"

After three years of service on church council, you know more than you ever wanted to about church politics, in and out groups, power struggles, financial realities, and more. Thoughts of these things dominate your mind and heart, and you find it hard to go and simply "worship" Sunday mornings. So on completion of your term, you take a break, and even do a little church shopping.

You just recently became the church secretary, and now instead of being able to worship on Sunday morning, you come with all kinds of anxieties about typos in the bulletin, and people keep coming up to you with questions after church about the location of the flower guild meeting.

You take your first preaching class in seminary, and suddenly find yourself over-analyzing the sermons you hear. In fact you tend to just tear them apart. The problem: now all you do with sermons is analyze them. It's hard to let God simply speak to you through them.

You are nominated to your church call committee, and are caught by surprise that in addition to calling the right person, your team also has to "sell" the idea to the congregation also. You think, "What did I sign myself up for? Do I have the energy for this?"

All of these stories, and many more, indicate the difficult spiritual challenge leadership presents to new leaders. Leadership isn't just about figuring out how to do the task set before us. It also sets leaders on a course of spiritual discovery and challenge, seeking ways to enter a second "naiveté" after some of their earlier naive understandings of church and how it functions have been shattered or transformed.

I'm hoping to offer some resources to aid you through inevitable periods of disillusionment and disenchantment, in a journey towards even greater faith and vitality.

For those who simply attend worship on Sunday mornings, make their financial contribution, then return to their homes and daily life, there is a beautiful simplicity to church. From week to week the liturgy might be strong or weak; the sermon might be fascinating or boring; but overall, the experience is reception of the sacraments, time for prayer, and hearing the law and gospel proclaimed. It all feels spiritual and churchy.

Some few of these "regulars" in any given year are called out of the majority into positions of leadership in a congregation. Somebody--a staff person, a nominating committee, a pastor--identifies gifts for leadership and ministry, and suddenly, having prayed over the opportunity and been elected, a participant becomes a leader.

Take church council as an example. A new council person shows up for their first council meeting not quite knowing what to expect. In a short two or three hours, suddenly they are aware of many, many ongoing conversations they hadn't been privy to prior to service on council. They learn that leadership is debating minutiae, weighing the interests of one group over another, struggling to balance the budget, dealing with an incalcitrant staff member, and so on.

They leave the meeting energized by some of their opportunities for leadership, but also overwhelmed to know the whole backstory behind so many decisions and processes. It's like going to visit the family of someone you are dating, only to learn the family is incredibly complicated, even dysfunctional, and you wonder, "How is the person I'm dating related to this system? I'm so in love, can it possibly be that he/she is actually as dysfunctional as this?"


So what should you do? Two negative options present themselves, neither of which I recommend. First, you can quit. Go back to the simplicity of your previous life, and avoid exposure to the nitty gritty of church leadership.

Second, you can endure it, make it through your term, gritting your teeth all the while, and then run like heck away from that place when you're finished. I've met more than one Christian who has taken this second option. I don't recommend it either, because it leaves you, in the end, untethered from a faith community, lonely and wondering why they don't miss you more than they do.


Here are my best positive suggestions for how to handle the transition from participation to leadership.

First, be prepared. Know the reality. The church is unavoidably an institution like any other human institution. It has, as a result, all the foibles, weaknesses, quirks, oddities, and dysfunction of any other institution. The fact that you didn't know this until you were elected to leadership isn't proof that your church was perfect until you came on board, but rather that you had the blessing of living in a happy illusory place prior to taking on leadership that led you to believe that church could be a castle in the air rather than a battle on the ground. The church is the latter. The former doesn't exist anywhere.

Second, get connected with other leaders for mutual support. Those of us in church leadership are in this together, after all. Commit to pray for and with each other. In the same way you study Robert's Rules to learn how to run the meeting, or study the constitution to learn what the council can and can't do, establish some patterns for prayer that will carry you through this time.

Third, take it as a spiritual growth opportunity. There's nothing wrong with a good challenge, and this certainly is one. Set yourself the goal of getting back to that second naiveté. Let me give you an example from my own ministry. For the first five years after I finished seminary, I had a really hard time listening to others preach. I had all kinds of ways to evaluate their preaching, all kinds of tools to use. So I sat in the seat of scoffer whenever I attended worship. Slowly it dawned on me that by doing this, I was missing out on an opportunity for God to speak to me. Even the worst sermon (maybe especially the worst sermon) still can be an opportunity for God to speak to us, if we are open to it. So I started coming to sermons with a different set of questions. Instead of asking, "Are they doing this right? Do they have the right interpretation? Is it boring?" I ask, "What does God want me to hear in this? How is the way they speak of the text differently a teachable moment for me? What can I learn? How can I grow?"

Fourth, remember that the spiritual journey is just that--a journey. We should be more surprised if our faith were stable and unchanging than if it changes and morphs over time (for lots more on this, see Janet Hagberg's The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith). Serving in church leadership is an opportunity--if you will let it be--to take the challenge as open space for struggle, doubt, pain, and growth. In fact, the harder it is to serve as a leader, the more potential for growth there is. If you need an example, just think of the ministry of Paul. His letters, which are among Christianity's most spiritually rich, were almost all written in the context of church strife and conflict. Read Galatians 1, or 1 Corinthians 1, or the entirety of Ephesians, and you'll see how much the struggle and punishments Paul endured actually contributed to his spiritual insights.

Finally, see if there is a way for you to get over the idea that church is supposed to be "different" from the rest of the world. I often hear people say things like, "I can't believe they robbed a church!" as if robbing a church were somehow worse than robbing in general. Actually, it's not. If something is bad, it's bad, regardless of where it happens. Something comparable is going on, I think, in much of our disillusionment with the church and leadership in it. We may come to the table with higher expectations than are actually warranted. We want a church council, or life on church staff, to be nicer, cleaner, and more fluffy than other kinds of life. It's all supposed to be about Jesus, right? Well, the truth is, if you read the gospels, the ministry of Jesus had all kinds of sharp edges to it (he is, you remember, like a two edged sword--Hebrews 4:12). The ministry of Jesus was rife with temptation and strife from the very beginning (see Mark 1:12-13).

Exactly at the point when we take on a leadership role in the church, that is when the devil will go after us--that is the place of greatest temptation, the place where the devil would like to get in there, has to do with our faith and our spiritual life. Be ready for it. It will happen.


My final word: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So many of us who participate in the church (or any volunteer organization, for that matter) benefit from the hours of leadership you devote to our churches and institutions. We don't thank you enough. We forget how tiring it can be, how you fit these tasks in between work and family life. It's a miracle you do it at all. God must have call you to it, or something. :) So thank you, and God bless you.


I'm sure there is considerably more to the spiritual dynamics of the transition from participant to leader than I have outlined here, so I rely on my readers to contribute their own additional reflections.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Neither spiritual nor religious

Some people love the opening of baseball season and the ensuing conversation. Personally, I find the discussion following the "Pew has a new poll" season even more fascinating. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released "'Nones' on the Rise" (, so this month I feel quite like all those baseball fans who thrill at the first pitch on opening day.

Each time they publish their findings, a certain portion of the Christian world, especially the mainline Protestant clan and some evangelicals now in decline, engage in what amounts to hand-wringing. Their reaction is of the "Oh Lord, we are no longer the majority, what are we going to do in our new minority status?" variety. This group starts brainstorming how to once again reach those who mostly aren't interested in being reached.

There is another Christian subset that responds to these Pew updates with something approaching glee. This group's voice is recently tempered, a bit less shrill, as even this bastion of conservative Christian commitment sees flagging membership and participation--but they are still out there. I can actually quote directly from someone in this camp, since they tweeted back at me when I first posted the Pew study: "Revisionist theology does not give birth to disciples of Christ--but does give rise to those who see all religions as equally valid. That we see this remarkable rise in the number of spiritual invalids should be no surprise given what has been preached from American pulpits for decades." It's all the fault of liberal Protestantism, see?

This group isn't at all interested in reaching the "nones" unless they magically find their way back to the conservative, rule-based and doctrinally-centered core of true Christianity.

As a weird hipster Lutheran, I have a completely other response. I am, to begin with, happy with the increase in the number of people reporting their status as "nones." I am happy that the nones feel free to be authentic about their religious commitments (or lack thereof). The Pew report states, "These trends suggest that the ranks of the unaffiliated are swelling in surveys partly because Americans who rarely go to services are more willing than in the past to drop their religious attachments altogether." Praise God, I say. People in in North America are apparently now more free than they ever have been to state who they actually are, without fear. Conformity to the majority religiosity of our nation is less demanded, and I say that is all to the good.

My second reaction, equally strong, is... let's go on a road trip! If the nones are not out there "looking for" religious community (88% report they aren't even looking), then those of us who are part of religious communities, and sense a continuing call to proclaim the gospel, now have a place to go and a people to reach. Billboards and mailers aren't going to cut it. We have the tremendous opportunity to go where the "nones" are, where they hang out. Since they aren't seekers, and don't plan to be, the onus is on us. We get to seek.

Which leads to my third reaction... real life is messy. I'm thrilled by this opportunity, if also scared and nervous. Trying to live faith where people are, rather than draw people to the place we think we can safely practice faith, is no small thing. I was trained to live Christian faith in community that already has a certain shape. To get out into the world of the unaffiliated and figure out how to bear Christ there, well, that's both awesome opportunity and tremendous challenge. But I'm game.

Finally, it's probably worth reminding ourselves that even though Protestants now make up "only" 48% of the populations, that's still a whopping 48%. The nones, though a growing group, still feel like a minority, and a beleaguered minority at that. Just spend time talking to those who are religiously unaffiliated, and you will learn they are overwhelmed at times by our zeal, our stumbling attempts at evangelism and outreach. Many are nones for a reason. At the very least, the call of the religious community in response to news from Pew, is to be a non-anxious presence. Instead of upping our anxiety at our diminishing numbers, perhaps we are called, even more than heretofore, to empathize with those religious (and non-religious) groups who are truly minorities.

The Pew study was released on-line, which is often a recipe for failing to read the footnotes. All the footnotes in this study are worth attention, in fact in some cases are even more interesting than the summary findings themselves. I found footnote 11 especially illuminating, "Studies have found that some survey respondents switch back and forth between describing themselves as affiliated and unaffiliated. Researchers call such people 'liminals' because they seem to straddle the threshold of a religious tradition, partly in and partly out. In a 2006 survey and follow-up interviews in 2007, Robert Putnam and David Campbell found that roughly 10% of the members of each major religious tradition can be considered liminals. Moreover, they found that although the liminals’ nominal affiliation changed (in either direction) from one year to the next, their self-reported religious beliefs and practices remained largely the same. This may be seen as further evidence that the rise in the number of unaffiliated Americans is not just a reflection." Such description should increase our sensitivity within our own traditions to the sense of liminality many of our own members feel within our tradition.

And then there is footnote 12, which offers a glimmer of hope for the hand-wringers. "Nevertheless, there is substantial switching from unaffiliated to affiliated. In the current survey, four-in-ten adults who say they were raised unaffiliated now identify themselves as religiously affiliated." 

Clint Schnekloth
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

What is prayer?

I'm kind of obsessed with prayer. I fully endorse it, practice it daily, but really have no idea what it is. There are tons of legitimate questions around prayer. What does it do? Does it change just me, or also God? Why do some prayers go unanswered? Why pray at all? What counts as prayer? How should I pray?

I think an entire systematic theology could be written on prayer, because it encompasses everything we are likely to say about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our life in that divine and human Trinitarian complexity.

But a blog is not a fully worked out systematics. It's just some notes, some pointers. So here are my top five suggestions for how to pray or think about prayer:

1. Pray the daily prayer office. I link to a dynamic web-based version from a Lutheran church in Hawaii because they make it super easy to pray the offices daily. Don't know what the daily prayer offices are, or how to pray them? Just go to the page, click on the service you want to pray, and everything is set up for you to pray through an entire daily prayer service on the spot. The page also has a brief explanation of the daily prayer offices and their history. The daily prayer offices are far-and-away the most common way I center my prayer life.

2. Think of prayer using this list:

You're awesome.
I'm sorry.
Thank you.

If you have children, these five phrases are easy to teach even the youngest children, and in total they encompass every kind of prayer you can imagine. Sometimes this form of prayer has been called ACTS--Acclamation, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication--but those are fancy words, and hard to memorize. It's not at all hard to remember You're awesome. I'm sorry. Thank you. Please? Why, God?

3. Prayer is Christ's appeal to the Father, and we join Christ in his prayer. This way of thinking about prayer helps us pray all kinds of prayers (especially the psalms) that we would feel inadequate praying on our own, but if they are the prayers of Christ, and we are joining him in that prayer, suddenly we can pray with confidence, hope, even audacity.

4. Poetry is a worthwhile way to approach prayer. I took a stab at this last year in a post on what we are doing when we pray. This is why so many prayers are written down. For example, in her recent (and incredible) anthropological inquiry into understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (When God Talks Back), T. M. Luhrmann attends prayer training classes in a Vineyard congregation in Chicago, and later in California. She writes, "People told me that when you are learning to hear God, it really helps to write down your prayers" (54). Keeping a prayer journal is a great idea. Although I don't keep one myself, I do keep a prayer "list," and as a worship leader I write the prayers of the church and other prayers for worship. Writing prayers out is a very different experience from simply praying at will, and helps focus prayer and make it more real.

5. Memorize some prayers. You don't have to make stuff up. Besides the Lord's Prayer, my mainstays for prayer are the meal prayer from Luther's Small Catechism, the Nunc Dimittis, which I sing before bed every night, and the Jesus Prayer. I also find myself periodically praying the Rosary. On my short list is to memorize more Psalms, because I find them to be of help and consolation in all sorts of situations.

6. In a way, everything is prayer. Sometimes we may have the image of prayer as that which is done while kneeling, hands folded, with an especially large space of time available and with the correct disposition in our hearts. But consider the possibility that a recent conversation you had was prayer; that a specific desire you felt was prayer; that a frustration currently burdening you is prayer; that the joy you recently experienced was prayer; that even your last big sigh was a prayer. Prayer is much more than we often realize or trust. All that is necessary is perhaps a larger awakening/mindfulness, to the full extent of our participation in Christ's prayer to the Father in the power of the Spirit.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

A Simple Way to Bless Pets


P: The Lord be with you.
C: And also with you.

The Lesson

Psalm 8
Lord, our Lord, how majestic
    is your name throughout the earth!
    You made your glory higher than heaven![b]
From the mouths of nursing babies
    you have laid a strong foundation
    because of your foes,
    in order to stop vengeful enemies.
When I look up at your skies,
    at what your fingers made—
    the moon and the stars
    that you set firmly in place—
        what are human beings
            that you think about them;
        what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?
You’ve made them only slightly less than divine,
    crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
    putting everything under their feet—
        all sheep and all cattle,
        the wild animals too,
        the birds in the sky,
        the fish of the ocean,
        everything that travels the pathways of the sea.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!
The Blessing (spoken over each pet, or each household of pets; each pet may be sprinkled with water)

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this/these pet(s). By the power of your love, enable it/them to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”


The Lord's Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.


The Doxology (sung)

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures here below. Praise God above you, heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

[note there may be many different kinds of pets present. Keep this very short and manageable for the diversity of pet owners and pets. A brief word of welcome, one reading from Scripture, a prayer, and a sending song]

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

This is your brain... this is your brain on the bible

You pull your family together for a home huddle in the evening. You share your highs & lows for the day, and you read a passage from scripture. The first step was fun, it wasn't rocket science, and you learned how the day went for your family and friends.

For the verse, you had to have some kind of bible nearby, and plan for reading it, but again, someone in your house probably learned how to read books out loud, and/or you have a neighbor who can read the bible to you. So you've got that step down.

Then, in the Faith Ink Faith 5 model for faith acts in the home, the third step invites you to:

TALK about how the verse relates to your highs & lows

Suddenly, you have a brain freeze.

Because really, let's try a hypothetical. Let's say your "high" was eating a red-velvet-cake Concrete at Shakes. Let's say the bible verse you select, the upcoming epistle for next Sunday, reads, "In many and various ways God spoke to us of old through the prophets, but in these latter days God has spoken to us by a son" (Hebrews 1:1).

Really? Really? I'm supposed to figure out how Hebrews 1:1 relates to eating delightfully indulgent cake-infused vanilla custard?

When I lead groups in the Faith 5, it's always this step that is the most daunting. With small children, I even just skip it. We jump straight to praying over our highs & lows, and then a blessing.

However, let's pause with this one for a bit, to see the benefits.

First of all, it's not at all surprising to discover that bringing an ancient text into conversation with our daily life experience is somewhat difficult. It's an old book, after all. Consider. Although Priscilla (who may have written the Epistle to the Hebrews) probably tasted cheese and other milk products, I really doubt she ever heard of red velvet cake, and she definitely didn't have early indication of there being awesome custard shops in North America, in Northwest Arkansas in the Ozarks (although too bad for her).

This step in the Faith 5 requires us to engage our brains. We're going to need to think outside the box, do a bit of free association. There is your brain... and then there is your brain on the bible.

Try this on for size. The last time I was at Shakes eating a red velvet and custard delicacy, I was watching the traffic, noticing my neighbors, and pondering Mama Carmen's the Fayetteville Prayer Room on the other side of the street (I was also trying to help three small children eat their ice cream--no wait, or was I poaching some of theirs, now I can't remember...)

I was thinking--you know... the gospel really has been on the move. It hasn't remained static, in one place. It keeps adapting to new places. It's even found a way to be native to Northwest Arkansas.

So here I am, a pastor in the midst of some Christian neighbors, and perhaps I can just pray for their ministry. Perhaps I can simply celebrate that God in God's great mercy gives us gifts--like red velvet concretes--and lets us eat them surrounded by family and in close proximity to neighbors who continue to proclaim the message of Christ.

Yesterday I even stopped in at the Fayetteville Prayer Room, and put a prayer on the wall for our call committee and our potential calling of a Pastor of New Communities. I know there are people over there with the spiritual gift of intercession who will pray fervently for us. Maybe some day I should buy some ice cream and carry it across to the prayer warriors there. It might sustain them as they pray for me, for us.

Maybe. Think. Ponder. Pray.

All of that was just off the cuff, some initial thoughts about the connection between my highs & lows and the scripture lesson I read today. Some of the connections aren't "logical." Others are. But who cares if they are logical? They're still worth the time. They exercise the brain. They open up the heart. There aren't right and wrong answers, after all. The Faith 5 is simply an invitation to practice, to try connecting scripture to daily life.

And now the next time I go to Shakes, I'm going to think about this blog post and the various ways God speaks, even while I order my cold plastic cup of delectability.

And so will you, dear reader, so will you.

Which is of course the point of the exercise.