Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why are we so confused about mutual ministry?

Clergy, perhaps more than most professionals, get asked how they were called into their vocation.

Many of my colleagues have an answer that starts with something like, "Well, I avoided the call for a long time." It's the Jonah answer. Who me? No, not me! Where can I run?

It's probably related to that verse in Hosea, "But as the saying goes, 'The more they were called, the more they rebelled.'" (11:2)

Yesterday at Bible study I was explaining my own call story, and how I've never quite felt that way, because my call included declining another divine calling, that of farmer. My call to be a pastor was alternative to taking up the work of the family farm.

As I was talking about pastoral ministry as "just a" profession like any other, one ministry of many among the baptized, one class participant said, "Oh boy, you're really shattering the mystique!"

"Am I really?"

"Yes, you are, kind of..."

Sat with this a bit, then responded, "Maybe our job in faith communities, rather than shattering the mystique of the vocation of pastor, is more to raise the mystique of all the other vocations of the baptized. It's to claim the Lutheran insight that many callings are holy, from changing diapers to praying in a monastery, and they aren't elevated one over another, but equally and in different ways divine."

After a significant period of transition in our congregational life, one of the assignments we have before us as a congregation from our consultant is to form a "mutual ministry" committee. We have learned that central to the health of the church is health in its mutuality of ministry.

But what is "mutual ministry"? Fair warning, brief rabbit hole into church constitutional language begins now.

There seem to be rather disparate definitions floating around. The ELCA model congregational constitution defines the mutual ministry committee as more of a staff support committee. "A Mutual Ministry Committee has sole responsibility to affirm, strengthen, and support the paid staff. A committee member may also be called upon to listen, and clarify concerns of the staff members." Further: "This Committee shall maintain a relationship of trust and empathy towards the staff if this committee is to maximize its purpose. Therefore, the committee must not be placed in a position of power over the staff, which is the function of the Congregation Council. Accordingly, this committee shall not have responsibility for job descriptions, interview of job applicants, conduct job evaluations, determine salary levels, nor set vacation or sick pay policies. This committee will subscribe to a strict discipline of confidentiality, be available at the request of any staff member; and pray for each staff member and be an advocate for each staff member."

Read this a few times, and I think you'll realize that the definition of "mutual ministry" in our denominational constitution is not actually "mutual ministry" but rather "staff support." Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's important for churches to build structures and systems to support staff. I'm all for this. I just happen to think we may need a separate structure from staff support that is actually called "mutual ministry," with an emphasis on the mutual.

And I believe this on Reformation principles, perhaps the central theological insight of the Reformers, the importance of recognizing the vocation of all the baptized and our mutual ministry together as "midwives of giftedness for mission," as a lovely resource in a collection of documents from Episcopalians in Northern Michigan has it.

Would you allow me to geek out with the church constitution a bit more? See, in the section on the role of the pastor in congregations in our denomination, it says, "The call of a congregation, when accepted by a pastor, shall constitute a continuing mutual relationship and commitment" (C9.05). There's that word "mutual" again. It's central. Pastors, even though we are often the primary paid staff of a congregation, are called to engage in "mutual" ministry.

However, if we are going to make ministry mutual, we probably need to have that sentence apply to everyone in their call in the life of a congregation. What if every single "member" of a congregation understood this sentence to apply also to them? "The call of a congregation, when accepted by [a member/mission partner/baptized'], shall constitute a continuing mutual relationship and commitment."

We're all in this together. We're called to diversified functions and roles within the one body of Christ.  Each of us is called to give ourselves over to God's church as the Spirit-breathed body of Christ.

For mutual ministry to truly be mutual, I think two things need to happen in our congregations. They are two poles that function together.

First, each person needs to know their role, their call, how they have been born into giftedness for mission.

Our constitution clearly defines this role for pastors. It looks like this:

Consistent with the faith and practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, every ordained minister shall:
1) preach the Word;
2) administer the sacraments;
3) conduct public worship;
4) provide pastoral care;
5) speak publicly for the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God's love for the world.

Side note: It's that last one, #5, that lots of us clergy chicken out on, and perhaps that most members of our churches aren't aware is a specific part of our call in our ordination and church constitutions, and as vitally important as #1-4.

If we are to engage in mutual ministry, each baptized person in the body of Christ would need a similar list to live out of and return to. Of course there is such a list read at our baptisms and confirmations, focused on the commitment of all Christians to read Scriptures, worship together, strive for justice and peace, etc. and it's a solid list, but if we are to midwife giftedness for mission, we also need to be able to articulate the Christian vocation of each person in their specific vocations, as musicians, teachers, plumbers, parents, administrators, and more. Ideally, such a list would include vocational responsibilities both in daily life, AND in our mutual ministry within the church itself.

So that's the first step. Each person with identified gifts equipped for their specific ministries that build up the body of Christ for the sake of the world. Drop the word members, and start thinking together as mission partners.

The second step is to shape our common life together in such a way that these specific callings function well together in ways that are mutual and build up the body as a whole. For this second part, you probably need things like committees, or tables, or gatherings, intentional time together where those who represent the various parts of the body can gather for communicative action (ala J├╝rgen Habermas).

Two years ago, I was invited by the ELCA to speak at the first gathering of three leadership "tables" of the ELCA. This tri-table gathering included representation from the conference of bishops, the ELCA Church Council, and the staff of the church wide offices.  Here's the talk:

Clint Schnekloth @ Three Leadership Tables workshop from ELCA Churchwide Organization on Vimeo.

I was amazed that this was the first time these three groups had attempted to all come together and discern and work mutually together. My understanding is that it hasn't continued, which just goes to show how difficult it is to establish true mutual ministry at any level, from the national right down to the congregational level.

The "three tables" format seems to make sense to me, however, and I think it is the way forward for mutual ministry. Truly mutual ministry would bring at least three "tables" together in one space within congregational life. These tables would be 1) the pastor, and staff, 2) the church council, and 3) the congregation. Admittedly, the council is elected from the congregation, and actually even the pastor is a member of the congregation, but nevertheless, in most contexts, when communication breaks down and mutuality is lessened, it is these three tables that need to talk and engage in communicative action.

Such a gathering, because of its focus on mutual ministry, would need to operate at a meta-level. All participants would need to feel equipped to evaluate the mutuality of the relationship of the different tables, and to do some of the higher spiritual work that may not always get accomplished at congregational or council meetings, or the daily grind of pastoral ministry. I'm thinking here of things like vision, mission, discernment, oversight, 
From Robert Kegan's In Over Our Heads

Especially with the mental demands of modern life, the process of "doing church" together has become even more complicated. Not only are we dealing with increasing levels of complexity in the church that require high-functioning systems to navigate, we are dealing with this kind of complexity in every part of our life. If the church is going to lead the way in mutuality, trust, and communicative action, it is going to need intentional structures in place that can foster the kind of growth and discernment necessary to meet the demands of living faith in the modern world.

Given this complexity, it is also no wonder there is such confusion over how to define and organize "mutual" ministry. Such a team is an impossible necessity in contemporary congregational life. It's an amazing opportunity to do theology with boots on the ground. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal Area Earthquake

Lutheran Disaster Response

Nepal Area Earthquake

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We have seen the devastating images and stories coming out of Nepal. Sections of Kathmandu, the nation’s capital, and surrounding areas lie in rubble. More than 3,000 people have lost their lives, and the number continues to rise as officials make their way through rural communities. Historic buildings and houses have been leveled; roads are destroyed. The injured and their families line the streets in front of hospitals and caregivers. The need for food, water, medical care, blankets and shelter is great.

Please help now with a gift.

Nepal Earthquake

Lutheran Disaster Response is actively networking with partners such as The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Lutheran World Relief and the ACT Alliance who are already on the ground. LWF’s office in Kathmandu escaped the worst of the impact of the quake and has already launched a large-scale emergency response.

Our church is committed to walking with the people of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh as they navigate every part of this disaster relief and recovery process – even long after the dust settles and media attention fades.

Your gifts are needed now. Every gift designated to the "Nepal Area Earthquake" through Lutheran Disaster Response will be used entirely – 100 percent – to help those impacted by the quake rebuild their lives and livelihoods. You can help provide comfort, healing and hope in the midst of destruction.

Thank you for your gifts, your prayers and your partnership.

In service to Christ,


Rev. Daniel Rift
Director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

P.S. Please give generously and continue to pray for those who have been affected by the earthquake. Use this bulletin insert to share this information with your congregation.
 Merciful God,

Hear our cry for mercy in the wake of the earthquake. Reveal your presence in the midst of our suffering. Help us to trust in your promises of hope and life so that desperation and grief will not overtake us. Come quickly to our aid that we may know peace and joy again. Strengthen us in this time of trial with the assurance of hope we know in the death and resurrection of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ways to Give

Checks or money orders should be sent to:
Lutheran Disaster Response
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116-8009

Write "Nepal Area Earthquake" on your check memo line.-----------------------
Give by phone at 800-638-3522 or online.
    You received this email because you are a leader, supporter or congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
or because you have asked to receive these emails. Please forward this email to others who may be interested.
To ensure that you continue to receive these emails, please add to your address book or safe list.

Unsubscribe from Lutheran Disaster Response e-Alerts
© Evangelical Lutheran Church in America | 8765 West Higgins Road | Chicago, IL 60631 |  800-638-3522
Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  Lutheran Disaster Response  |  ELCA Home

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Rapture of the Millennials

Used to be, people published articles about the Millennials and church. Then people started publishing articles about the fact that there are so many hand-wringing articles about Millennials and church. At this point, for all I know, there is a whole generation of folks we could simply class as "people who have written stuff about Millennials and Church."

Barna or Pew should do a research study about them.

In the meantime, we do have some statistics from Pew Forum on the future of religious affiliation in the United States and in the world. They're pretty interesting, some of the most salient news being that Islam will, by 2050, nearly equal Christianity in total numbers, and may surpass Christianity later in the century.

Interestingly, however, agnostics, atheists, and unaffiliateds will actually decline worldwide over this time period, meaning there will be more religious people in 2050 than presently. The only global religion that will see a slight decline during this period is Buddhism.

Religious communities will, of course,  decline somewhat in Western countries. The United States will decline from about 3/4s Christian in 2010 to 2/3rds Christian by 2050.


Clearly (!!!!!!!) we need to write more articles about Millennials  (!!!!) so this doesn't happen!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, having gotten that off my chest, let's return to the numbers themselves. There will be more unaffiliated folks in the next few decades, although the analysis of why people in that category are willing to self-describe as unaffiliated is complex. There might be more unaffiliated folk. Or it could be that healthy secularization has allowed more folks to simply name who they are, rather than wearing a Christian label to fit in with the dominant (77%!) culture of Christians.

What I think many prognosticators are overlooking about Millennials and the church, however, are the real reason why Millennials are leaving the church. They are slowly being raptured.

They aren't leaving to join pagan cults or start house churches. They are leaving because God has decided to descend and swoop them up and take them to himself gathered around Christ in His glory. This is so obvious. And the reason is simple. The next millennium has to be presided over not by Millennials (the beloved of God) but Gen Xers, who carry on them in their very generation the mark of the beast (X).

Also, if this weren't proof enough, notice how close the word Millennial is to millennialism. We all know that millennialism is a deeply Christian belief (albeit one borrowed from Zoroastrianism) that history is broken up into 1000 year periods. Millenialism is a specific doctrine within millenarianism, which also sounds like Millennial, just a little more militaristic.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Clearly, if we are going to do God's will, and aid the Millenials along the path to rapture, we need to stop all of our hand-wringing attempts to bring the Millennials back to church, and instead we need to chase them away in droves. We need to adopt church strategies that scare them away.

Many people have written handbooks on this already, so I encourage you to read them. Rachel Held Evans wrote a wonderful piece a couple of years ago for CNN that can be very helpful in scaring Millennials away from the church and towards the rapture they so genuinely deserve.

We have our work cut out for us. According to Barna, 68% of Millennials are still actually connected to a religious community. That's a huge number of people, more than a 2/3rds majority, so to bring about the rapture of this community, we are going to really have to work to disabuse them of their zealous religiosity and connection to faith communities. But it can and should be done, because the Millennials need us. They can't do this by themselves.

Just like it is Barack Obama's top agenda to get nuclear weapons into the hands of the Iranians, the church needs to send Millennials out (think missional, folks!) for their pre-tribulationist role within the economy of salvation history.

Post-tribulationists are going to take issue with me on this point, but since they are amillenialists anyway, I don't think their arguments hold any missional water.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Am I a liberal?

I get accused of this often. Or commended for it. So I wonder, am I one? Am I a liberal? And what is a liberal anyway?

Let's start with theological liberalism. Liberal theology (or liberal Christianity) at its most basic is a movement, informed by the Enlightenment, that employs modern philosophical and scientific perspectives to the interpretation of Scripture.

What this means in practice is that liberal Christians approach the interpretation of Scripture much like they approach the interpretation of other texts. They begin with things like historical context, or literary style, or cultural criticism, and bring these interpretive frameworks to bear on their reading of the text. Authorship matters. The fact that the text was written at a specific time matters, so liberal theologians take into account the gender, race, and social and political situation of the authors who wrote the texts.

The alternative is a more propositional approach to interpretation, that the text should be read in light of certain doctrinal or creedal assumptions. In a sense, non-liberal reading of Scripture believes the text just "is" and all our experiences and other modern interpretive models have to take a back seat to the authority of the biblical text itself.

So, if this is liberal, then I would say I'm about half liberal. I do believe the historical and cultural context of the Scriptures matters for our contemporary reading of the text. I am most interested, when reading Scripture, in what the text may have originally meant to those hearing or writing it. That's liberal.

But I'm interested in understanding Scripture in this liberal way in order to stand under it, to recognize its appropriate authority in my own life, and to gather or gain doctrinal or propositional or narrative truths from it precisely by reading it in a liberal way. I guess this second move is what you'd call conservative. So I'm a liberal in service to another kind of conservatism.

Ultimately, as a preacher, I want to approach the Scriptures in a generous manner. My goal is to assume I stand under rather than over them, that my life is shaped by them rather than my worldview shaping my read of them.

So here's where things get interesting again. Some people (conservatives?) like to accuse people like me (liberals?) of conforming our faith to the culture and the ways of this world. But is that actually an fair accusation? So, for example, the most prominent one, if I support marriage equality, am I just abandoning Christian faith and conforming Christianity to the culture?

The assumption by those who criticize my position is that their position (let's call it a traditional view of marriage) is "against" the culture and not at all conformed to the ways of this world.

That's the part I disagree with. Traditional views are just as conformed to the culture as are contemporary or liberal ones. So again, as a liberal, I guess I do agree with the notion that we are all shaped by our context and culture, without exception. And the fact is, the traditional view of things is often still the dominant one. So who is conforming to who and to what?

Weighing in the balance here is the authority of Scripture over the authority of experience. To what degree does personal experience have some kind of authority in the life of faith, over against  the norm of Scripture? I'm not sure where this puts me on the liberal-orthodox spectrum, but I think the answer is, we can't really say. The two are mutually intertwined, and the truth is, although I stand under Scripture and consider it an authority in the life of faith, I also trust the experience of others as they articulate it to me, and accept the authority of my and others' personal experiences.

I am also "confessional." I have committed to interpreting Scripture in light of the Lutheran confessional texts. In this sense, I am not a liberal. I am confessional, catholic, orthodox, Lutheran. However, I believe the Lutheran confessions were shaped by the culture, piety, and historical context of its authors, so I can't help but be confessional in a liberal way. So here I again I guess I'm a liberal, modern, ecumenical.

All of this is likely connected to my commitment to the liberal arts. I went to a liberal arts college, am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, one of the nation's oldest liberal arts societies, and in general believe it is a good idea for people to be formed in ways that prepare them to function as free people in a civic society.

I find the notion, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it," itself unsettling because I don't believe such a phrase is even consonant with the logic and sense of Scripture itself. The Scripture itself is a kind of school, a library for the liberal arts, open to readers not in order to be closed and dogmatic, but to stand comfortably as those set free by God for life in the world.

Is that liberal? Well, in the classical sense, it is, kind of. Classical liberalism emphasizes freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democratic society, secular government, and international cooperation. This is why Republicans are actually liberals.

So also free markets. They're very liberal. I'm a pretty big fan of almost all of the liberal things, although as the kind of socialist liberal that I am, I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the impact of free markets on civic society. On the other hand, I benefit so much from free markets I probably can't critique them too much.

Anyway, pretty much everyone, Republican or Democrat, is a liberal (and most Republicans neo-liberal) according to the classical definition. Unless you aren't, but then you probably also weave your own clothes and live off the grid or something.

There are other marks of a liberal. There's the popular use of the term in politics. A liberal is someone who votes Democrat, and holds to a certain political platform. Here again, I guess I'd beg my way out of the liberal label. In terms of political views and social justice commitments, I'm much more of a socialist. In terms of social values, I'm aligned, with a few exceptions, with the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops more than I am with the Democrats. I'm pro-life (broadly speaking), pro-immigrant, and so on. I've voted for Green party candidates, and progressives, and sometimes for Republicans.

If anyone matches my social political perspective, it's probably Jim Wallis of Sojourners. But only to a point. I am a humble Lutheran, after all, not a liberal evangelical.

In the end, the problematic caricature of liberal pastors like me is that we don't take the Bible seriously, or even read it at all. It's regularly assumed you can't find one in our offices, and they don't inform our preaching.

But people listen to my sermons with some regularity, and although they find all kinds of things that could be improved in my preaching, one thing nobody criticizes is a lack of Scripture. It's all the way in and through it. I try to live and breathe it. You might disagree with my interpretation of Scripture, but that's quite a ways from assuming I've abandoned it.

So I'd argue that I'm not a liberal, I'm confessional, or orthodox. Just in a liberal way.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Humanity of Posts

Whereas humanism prioritizes human experiences over things, some posthumanist theory prioritizes things themselves. Thus the question of the humanity of posts (the wooden ones). What is the identity or experience of a post, and how shall we account for it in a posthumanist manner that informs theological commitments?

Check out the full article at Word & World

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Integrity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: April 9th, 70 Years After His Death

Bonhoeffer met an early death 70 years ago today in a Nazi concentration camp. Already influential in his country and on the global ecumenical scene during his lifetime, Bonhoeffer's status as a theologian and "martyr" of the church has only increased over the ensuing decades.

Of particular interest to theologians and ethicists was Bonhoeffer's ability to maintain a faithful, confessional stance while so many other religious leaders in Germany were co-opted by the Nazi regime. What was it about Bonhoeffer as a person, Bonhoeffer as a pastor, Bonhoeffer as a theologian, that led to this self-differentiation?

So the biographies proliferate. Unfortunately, biographies are of varying qualities, some helpful, some harmful. The most popular at the moment is also probably the most harmful of all. Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, though incredibly popular and very readable, co-opts Bonhoeffer on so many points that I can do nothing but warn readers away from it.

Of recent interest, and written by an "inner circle" scholar, but also presenting a variety of interpretive problems, is Charles Marsh's Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I read it over the Christmas holidays, and though I enjoyed it, I know enough of the conversation happening in the International Bonhoeffer Society around it to not accept it as a wholesale and helpful reading of Bonhoeffer's life.

If the 70th anniversary of his death does have you interested in learning more, may I suggest the best and most faithful of the recent biographies? Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance is incredible. Schlingensiepen is one of the founding members of the IBS. His father served as a principal of one of the seminaries of the confessing church, and Schlingensiepen was a close friend of Eberhard Bethge, best friend of Bonhoeffer and editor of his collected works in German. Bethge's Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography is still considered the definitive biography of Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series
For those who prefer to read the source texts, the major works of Bonhoeffer are now all available in English translation in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series. Each volume includes copious supplementary material to help understand Bonhoeffer's writings in the context of his life. As a reader, I have benefitted immensely by taking a volume at a time in order to live with Bonhoeffer during a period of his life. Of particular interest to me were his time spent serving German congregations in London (volume 13), his letters and papers from prison (volume 8) and the work he did developing underground theological education as a form of resistance to the Nazis (volume 15).

Bonhoeffer offers surprises at every turn. Not everyone knows that he was immensely popular as a youth leader and pastor. During his time in Italy, and again in London, he successfully led the development of youth ministries in congregations where children's ministries had been languishing. Andrew Root has written the definitive account of this aspect of Bonhoeffer's ministry, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together.

Another turning point in Bonhoeffer's theological project was his time spent with the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Bonhoeffer, open as he was to religious communities different from his own, intentionally immersed himself in the African-American community of Harlem during his time in the U.S. Reggie William's argues in Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance that this was the crucible in which Bonhoeffer's ethic of resistance was forged.

I find myself going back to Bonhoeffer again and again as a lodestone for reflection on the inter-relationship between careful theological inquiry and pastoral ministry. Bonhoeffer frequently wrote for the academy, and has academic theology has had a continuing influence on theological discourse. His theological work also had legs, and walked a walk that led him around the world and back to his home in an effort to resist a regime that was slaughtering innocents and co-opting the church and faith he held dear.

On this anniversary of his death, I give thanks for the witness of Bonhoeffer, and for all those who now carry the torch of his legacy, both in their actions, and in the continuing theological reflection on his work. It is the two together that honors Bonhoeffer completely in his integrity.

Plenty of folks are quoting Bonhoeffer today, I'm sure. He was eminently quotable. I'll end with this enigmatic dialectical statement of Bonhoeffer's, which opens up a whole other aspect of his theology, the move to "religionless" Christianity:
....we have to live in the world esti deus non daretur (even if there were no God) and this is just what we do recognize-before God. God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as humans who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark. 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God.

Monday, April 06, 2015

It's a Reformation Centennial and We Aren't Slinging Mud?

For centuries, the annual Reformation observances in Lutheran parishes were opportunities to reassert Lutheran pride, and denigrate Roman Catholics. Anti-Catholic sentiments run deep among Protestants. Judgment of non-Catholics runs deep still in much of Roman Catholic thought.

But this has been changing, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will likely be the first centennial at which Roman Catholics and Lutherans work towards Lutheran-Catholic unity instead of mutually reinforcing ressentiment.

Augsburg Fortress (a Lutheran publishing house), in cooperation with Liturgical Press (a Catholic publishing house), recently published one contribution towards Lutheran-Catholic unity, a lovely little book: One Hope: Re-Membering the Body of Christ

The book was written using a collaborative writing process known as Book Sprints. It's a process worth checking out, perhaps even using in your congregation or synod or with any team of folks hoping to write a book.

Here's what is unique about this book. Instead of approaching ecumenical conversation from traditional theological topoi, they approach ecumenism around the mutual sharing of gifts in the actual faith practices of the traditions, including prayer, meal, song, forgiveness, service, death, and sojourning. For example, the authors write:
Ecumenical work between Lutherans and Roman Catholics has been described as a "mutual exchange of gifts." In few places has this exchange led to such an abundance of riches for both churches as in their singing traditions. For many who are happy to leave the finer points of doctrine to specialists, singing each other's music is the flesh and blood of greater church unity. In other words, singing and worship have been a fertile area of applied ecumenism where the body of Christ is re-membered. Singing does not just feel good, it does good. One adjective often given for the hopes of our churches is that their unity will be more visible. Singing will bring our families and our churches closer together in an audible unity, too.
I think I love imagining the process of the team writing this book as much as I love actually reading the book. The group shared a bit of their journey while it was in process. Often writing is a solitary enterprise, and certainly there's a place for the age-old process of a single author hiding out in a private space composing what can only be written in the privacy and quiet that the solitary affords. But team writing, though difficult, brings another set of gifts, not the least of which is the living ecumenism it exemplifies simply in the practice of it.

So I encourage one of two responses to the publication of this book. Option one: read it with an ecumenical group of readers in anticipation of 2017. Option two: Take it as a model, and assemble a small team of folks from the two traditions to learn together and create something of lasting import, a contribution to the celebrations in 2017, growing together in the one hope we have in Christ, remembering the body of Christ, and mutually exchanging gifts God has so lavishly bestowed.

Friday, April 03, 2015

What Do We Make of These Three Days?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Every year we approach this liturgical season with the piety of good intentions. We commit ourselves to focusing on Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection, the death we undergo in him as we take up our cross in discipleship, the new life we live in the Spirit as he breathes in us the joy of resurrection.

Somewhere along the way, the distractions of life draw us away from a focus on Christ. There is yet one more ridiculous thing a politician said today. There is just one more annoyance of our neighbor, worth gossiping about to someone else. There is just one more item on our to-do list, causing great anxiety. There is just one more social injustice we have failed to address.

We commit ourselves to Holy Week and the Three Days (the Triduum) not because liturgical observances will guarantee greater faith, or automatically alleviate and transform our natures, prone as they are to distraction. Instead, we commit ourselves to this pattern of worship so that our time might be shaped, at least for a little while and in spite of the distractions, around God's time rather than our own.

We also know that our faith in Christ is never detached from the life of the world. There is not our faith over here, in this corner, and our life, over there in the other corner. There is not our life in God, and our life in the world, separated by a veil. Instead, these things are intimately woven together.

This week, I have come across some reflections that especially signify this intermingling. First, and so very poignant, is the primate of Kenya's Easter letter after the Garrissa University attacks. This is Easter faith staring the darkness of death down, and overcoming it in hope.

There is also this meditation on why we call Friday good, and why we venerate the cross and include it in our worship practices.

There is this poem, shared by a colleague and friend and pastor in Manhattan, Heidi Neumark:

Because for our sake you tasted gall, 
may the Enemy’s bitterness be killed in us.
Because for our sake you drank sour wine, 
may what is weak in us be strengthened.
Because for our sake you were spat upon, 
may we be bathed in the dew of immortality.
Because for our sake you were struck with a rod,
may we receive shelter in the last.
Because for our sake you accepted a crown of thorns,
may we that love you be crowned with garlands that never can fade.
Because for our sake you were wrapped in a shroud,
may we be clothed in your all-enfolding strength.
Because you were laid in the new grave and the tomb,
may we receive renewal of soul and body.
Because you rose and returned to life,
may we be brought to life again. 5th century hymn

Finally, as we remember again in the middle of Good Friday these hours when our Lord was crucified and died, we also anticipate that Saturday, where strangely Christ remained dead, descended to hell, and proclaimed the gospel there. Jesus went even to hell, one of the weirdest yet most promising aspects of this three day story.

I certainly can't make Holy Week anymore profound than it already is, definitely not in this blog post. But I can signal a few resources to deepen the experience of it. After gathering for worship with others, this can be one of the ways to mark this time, to deepen our understanding of the days by shifting our reading of the news to reading meditations on the good news.

Blessings to each of you, and see you in prayer, hoping for the resurrection light,