Debt is a big problem for us. Even if you don’t personally have debt (hooray) the United States as a country walks around with billions of dollars in debt every day.
What does this mean to be in debt? I’ve decided it means that you are empty–you have are literally worth less than nothing when you are in debt. And here we are in debt.
If you’ve ever studied the book of Ruth there is a weird legalistic part at the end. Instead of an immediate happily-ever-after between Ruth and Boaz (I love that fact that she proposes to him, talk about being ahead of the times!) It basically has to do with the fact that if you take on Elimelech’s indebted land, then you can make it fruitful again. However, if you have a son by Ruth you are then beholden to that inheritence instead of you own. I think thats it. Honestly, scholars disagree. They aren’t really sure what all was meant, and when Ruth was written down it was already ancient history because the whole sandal thing had to be explained.
Anyway, what everyone agrees on is
A. Elimelech’s land had laid empty/fallow for many years and the debt on it had to be redeemed in order for it be planted again
B. Ruth was part of the deal, and Ruth was so obviously (at least as far as they knew in Biblical times) barren, because she didn’t have any previous children.
So here you go, empty land, empty family.
In many ways we the mainline church have the same problem with empty land–have you seen our crumbling-on-the-sale-block-only-six-people-attend-here churches? (the irony being that non-religious people are always sad to see churches close, what is that about anyway???)
Ok but without getting too tangential, we as a church are empty.
Then there’s me, well us, well my entire generation. I grew up during the boom years, I was told that as long as I work hard and do right things will work out for me. Yet here we are (and I speak from my personal experiences and those of my friends) struggling with debt, purpose and fulfillment.
Opportunities are so scarce for my generation, and many people have had to put off marriage, children, settling down or even being able to start their career due to the economy. Every single person I know has had to live off of their parents in some way, shape or form post college.
Married, single, graduate, post-graduate, post-baccelerate, even those with children have had to get help, move in with their parents or follow their spouse across the country only to work a menial job hopefully sort of in their field.
So what is it people want when they come to church?
They want somewhere, where they are no longer empty. They want somewhere where they can be fulfilled. And (more importantly) they don’t want to feel judged. Us Milleniumers, Boomerangers (because we return home), us zero-ers or whatever you want to call us feel the weight of our own emptiness.
All our hard work seems to be for naught, much of what we are characterized by is our selfishness our need to be special our consumerism etc.
I can say (in total biased opinion) that this is not true. We don’t all think we are special or well-deserved, we just hope we might be a little bit, and our experience of adulthood (do you know my second week of undergrad was 9/11/2001–my entire adulthood has been shaped by our post 9/11 world, whereas my entire childhood was pre-9/11).
Do you know what Young People think of when they think of church? Antigay (i.e. judgemental and bigotted). I cannot tell you how much this hurts me. No wonder people think church has nothing to offer, no wonder it seems nonsensical and out of date. People don’t associate church with love and service, but rather selfishness and closemindedness. Plus the church is trying to figure out how to bring people to the church, when instead we should be figuring out how to bring church to people.
So here we are, empty. What does it mean when we forgive our debts? What does it mean when God Fulfills God’s promises?
What does God offer us that is different from the regular activity?
Here is a need, plain and simple, for many “young people” and most people in general. A need to find fulfillment and worth outside of money, a way to struggle with debt and yet not to feel empty, and definition that exists outside the bounds of the day-to-day slog. So what is fulfillment, what is forgiveness. How does debt figure into all of this, and should the church heed this desperate call of the empty young professionals today, or do we continue to figure out how to survive without worrying about these problems!!!
I feel a VERY strong call here to do something about this, what if the church stood in the way of debt, what if we showed how God fulfills us, what would happen then?
Please note: Jesus (while saying nothing about homosexuality) was crystal clear that our primary purposes as Christian were to love our neighbor as our selves, care for the sick, help the poor and empower the marginal…the next company/church/protestor/athlete etc. who claims to be Christian really should show how they are following Jesus’ many life changing commands, that’s what real Christianity is, and if anyone tells you differently, they need to spend some time in deep conversation with God (prayer). Please stop fooling yourself and pretending that Jesus was about politics, money and grandstanding (that would be your humanity showing)…that is all…
PS what is the most “Christian” thing you have ever witnessed?
I am a graduate of Oberlin (yay Oberlin), and I loved (almost) every minute of it. But one of the things Obies love to do is take things apart. (Any other Obies feel free to chime in about this). In fact, sometimes we would move to “deconstructing” things so fast that I would feel like I didn’t even know how the thing was constructed in the first place (as an English Major my high school was highly lacking in Shakespeare, and I wanted to round my education out with him, however the only classes offered were about deconstructing what we supposedly had learned in high school).
Now as I get into ministry I hear a lot of talk about what this post-culture is going to do? Author Ross Douthat wrote an article about Can Liberal Christianity be saved? (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/douthat-can-liberal-christianity-be-saved.html) His conclusion was that” Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die. (PS for a good response to this read http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2012/07/can-liberal-christianity-be-saved-a-response-to-ross-douthat/)
However as I look at this world, I see that we are trying to construct a Post-Religious world (i.e. Spiritual not religious viewpoint that is so oft referenced). So the question comes, what does a post-church, post-christian, post-denominational (I am told by a good friend this is a move that the Bible belt is especially making) world. How do we post about our Post-world? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postchristianity)
Going forward I have to say that to me a post-religious world would look like the following
1) Where individuals ultimately choose to uphold each other as people, even when beliefs differ (perhaps what our Moderator and Vice Moderator were trying to model at GA before our Vice had to step down). Allowing Spiritual Practices to bring people together–>at least I think this is what some of the Spiritual people are trying to get at…
2) Where church isn’t made up of the “shoulds” of religion: church should have pews, church should include hymns, church should have Sunday School, but is instead moved by Holy Spirit to BE a faith community whenever and however that comes together….
3) Where the Faith of a group of people is ultimately used to empower those individuals who are powerless. What happens when powerless people come together? that’s right they become empowered If the church functions as a community builder grounded in the love of God, then we cannot help but support and empower each other to do new and wonderful things….
Places where this is overlooked today=basically everyone who is assigned an associate pastor (that is a rant yet to come)
Recently, these interactive boards have moved from the back of the broken pews to the corner of the sanctuary that we designated as a toddler area. (from a fellow pastor http://theresaecho.com/2011/04/18/interactive-toddler-boards/)
The College Age
The Young Adult (i.e. those in there 20s and 30s)
(you know those with young families who need babysitting or those who are still single and constantly on the move to find a job in the tough economy)
The Minorities: Racial, Ethnic and of course the poor
Thats right if your not a white middle class, middle aged American in many denominations your power is significantly less not only in society but in the church itself. Plus if you are not well-educated and don’t love words (say you learn by practice or are a visual learner) you probably won’t fit in well to the traditional Presbyterian service. (Does anyone else see something wrong with this?)
What would a service look like if it was regularly handed to these groups? What would faith look like if we went to where these people were?
You know what I think? I think that Ministry, True Ministry is to make FAITH ACCESSIBLE (that’s right, I put it in caps, that’s how serious I am). How do we make, not only our building, our worship and our activities accessible, How do we make our Faith Accessible. What does it mean that people identify Spirituality over religion or faith? I think its because Spirituality feels accessible. You can use what is comfortable to you, you can learn about it at your own pace, and your can connect with different people over different aspects of it even if you don’t agree completely with them (for the record I have both liberal and conservative friends).
So how can we do that for Faith?
I don’t know,
But let me remind you friends, that there is no resurrection without death!
Whether you consider this time the denominational pregnancy http://vimeo.com/25360983
or even if you think we are dying….http://treymorgan.net/17-signs-your-church-might-be-dying/
Either way, there is a rebirth a coming, the question is how will we access it?
(P.S. Giving Access is not the same as watering down faith, just so I’m clear on that!)
I don’t hate children’s sermons, but I do agree that they are more for adult
and would love to include children in the entire service instead
I have been an LOL person before it was cool, before LOL was conceived (almost) I was living it out. If you have ever been to one of my services, be warned, LOL will happen. In fact I am very likely to LOL at myself (and if you don’t know what LOL please google it immediately)
Now here is the interesting thing, my willingness to laugh has gotten me into a lot of trouble. (For why I laugh please read https://katyandtheword.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/pastor-with-a-sense-of-humor/)
a. People think I’m an airhead (I think this has to do with me being female). People assume because I laugh, I don’t care, when actually its the opposite. I laugh because I do care. I tend to take life very seriously. And when I say seriously, I don’t mean in a holier-than-thou or everything-is-sacred kind of way I mean the, life-is-God’s-gift, We-only-get-one-shot-at-it, so I pay attention way! I pay attention, so I don’t miss the happy moments. I pay attention because I have found that laughter is rare, and humor is a hard commodity to find. I pay attention because it is SO important to find Joy in life, and I don’t want any ounces of it that I can catch to slip through my fingers.
b. People think I devalue God, ministry, etc. by laughing. Last I check the Book of Order (the Presbyterian Constitution) says W-1.1000 i.e. the very, very, very first thing said about worship is “Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God.” We are supposed to have fun, I don’t know why we forget that (p.s. when is having fun not holy?)
Plus-we are currently striving under Openness to be more open to joy (bet you didn’t even know that). In F-1.0404, our first Openness statement is “a new openness to the sovereign activity of God in the Church and in the world, to a more radical obedience to Christ, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work;”
What does this mean? It means the more obedience we find, the closer we are to God, the more joyous our celebration has become. My most recent example of this is the Farmer’s Market, which most of us find “fun.” This doesn’t mean we aren’t working, to the contrary, it means we are doing the right kind of work.
Which brings me to the third problem I often encounter.
3. People think I don’t work hard enough. I seriously think because I enjoy my job, people think I’m not “working.” I have tried to give more voice to the work I am doing, but I have found it difficult to do this without gogguzomen (grumbling, muttering, complaining in Greek–I love that word, doesn’t it sound just like what it means?). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbhnRuJBHLs Anyway, so if I don’t complain like the rest of the world, I must not be doing my job properly, but in actuality I am obsessed with my job. I am, in truth a workaholic, and it takes a lot for me to put down the reins and take the days/hours/minutes off that I need. However, it is hard for people to see this, because I love my job. I truly love my job. I love that when I do well I can laugh, I love that when I make mistakes I can laugh at myself, and I love how God turns everything upsidedown on me, so what I thought I was doing completely changes (rather like a King in a manger, Salvation on the cross, Great Epistles written by a tax collector), when these surprises come I like to laugh. It doesn’t mean I am taking things lightly. It just means that I am game for God’s jokes. I am ready to be surprised, I am ready to be happy, and I’m ready to find happiness, even in what seems like mistakes at the time. It doesn’t mean that I don’t internalize those mistakes, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty, or work on them. What it means is that I am able to find the humor in things. I am able to understand that I don’t understand. I see the mystery in God’s face, and I laugh.
So I admit it. In the face of a faltering denomination tearing apart on issues of acceptance no less (talk about the ultimate irony!!!), despite a disappointing GA where the Youth/Younger people were ignored (even as people wondered how to get young people into the church), in a place where Vice Moderators are threatened and feel the need to step down (http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/4/mccabe-resigns-vice-moderator-220th-ga/). Times seem to be tough. However, I refuse to give in. It is easier to pick-a-little and talk-a-little than to find the good. It is easier to dwell on the bad, and it is human to try to rip things apart rather than to laugh and move on together. So in light of all this….I’m going to continue to be a LOL pastor.
Once when I was working as a Children’s Coordinator the pastor told me that I really needed to try to look bored more often….
This was a great point in fact, because I love to be busy (I guess I’m in a good profession for that).
The Pastor then told me the story of Jesus at the well. He told me to think about not only Jesus’ ministry of presence but also his ministry of waiting. There he was, waiting at the well, for someone who needed water to come….and thus a friendship was born.
4Now he had to go through Samaria.So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the townto buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”–John 4:
Hearing from the moderator today, he noted that he is making a point to be present (either himself or the vice moderator) at the committee meetings…a strong choice for presence, and one that echoed the hard questions given to him on the floor.
It took four votes to elect our moderator (the youth/seminary advisory board loved him). There seemed to be some dispute because he is abiding by the letter of the law regarding gay marriage, meanwhile his running mate signed a marriage license in her state during their campaign.His response to this was that he wasn’t going to put aside 10 years of friendship over a difference of opinion. i.e. part of being friends means being present for one another–choosing to be present even when our choices differ.
During the Hymn Sing at GA we sang “Go to the World” the final verse is
“Go into the world! Go as the ones I send, for I am with you ’til the age shall end, When all the hosts of glory cry Amen!”
What a friend we have in Jesus, who promises to be present no matter what we do.
So here I am, present at GA. On the one hand I’m not “Doing” much, I have little to no agenda about the meetings, and have not been commissioned, chosen or asked to do anything.
On the other hand, I am here, I am present. I am witnessing the work we are doing, praying for all of us who are doing it, and keeping my eyes and ears open for the Holy Spirit. I have waited, hoped, and possibly even made some new friends
2 weeks in, and our Farmer’s Market is going fairly well. It is also very time intensive! Here we are in the middle of summer, and our stats stand as follows
Grand Opening over 200
Rainy, Rainy 2nd week 65
Overall, I think that we are doing pretty well–however as we begin this ministry of farming and marketing, I am trying to tease out the theology behind the market.
Why are we selling vegetables? What space does it provide the community? Should I be doing more “religious” looking stuff? Are we touching people–doe we get the word out? How is our advertising anyway? Do we have enough farmers (a lot of our vendors sell things other than vegetables)? What is growing out of this seed that is being planted (get it)?
You can tell there are a lot of questions….and yet, its exciting. It’s exciting to do something new, to see the church pull together, to actually have people want to come into our humble parking lot (which is apparently a lot less scary than the church building itself)…
So we’ll see what develops, in the meantime, I’m enjoying the adventure…..
“I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla. “I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne.”
“Yes, and well I know it,” admitted Anne mournfully. “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”
“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”
“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”
I can still remember having a very “adult” conversation with my parents. It was one in which I must have been about 10, and my parents were telling me that I wasn’t perfect, and that I was going to have to live with myself. My response to this (because I knew no one could be perfect) was “I don’t want to be perfect, I just don’t want to make any mistakes!”
As Christians we have this ongoing struggle with perfection. On the one hand we want to be perfect, on the other part of being Christian (at least for me ) is admitting that we aren’t perfect. It is contending with our brokenness, and giving it up to God to be healed.
However, even though we know this about ourselves, I think that Christians often feel the mistaken need to pro-ject perfection. We want to look or at least seem perfect to everyone else. It’s as if our perfection reflects upon the perfection of God. If we aren’t perfect, then God isn’t perfect. If we don’t have all the answers, then God doesn’t have all the answers.
Instead of pointing towards God’s for answers, we rely upon ourselves or the “church” (i.e. that human conglomeration that we too often see as being the church) to be perfect/have the answers.
That’s where pastors mess up too right? Pastors feel that they have to be perfect, and instead of being open about their faith and their brokenness and talking about where they meet, Pastors try to be perfect, hide their mistakes/failings (which often leads to a whole nasty secret double life). Too often pastors skip their own confessions–of both faith and doubt, and then the quagmire’s come
So we are back to the perfection and mistakes. It is important to strive towards perfection, but to also rely on God on the source of all perfection. And even when I think that I know my way to God, it is important not to project that as the only way to God.
Too often, I think that Church is shown as a place for “perfect” people or (worse) people who think they are perfect. Too often Church is seen as the place where all of our answers are provided. After all, church is not the place to give standardized tests–God answers each of us personally and individually….
When, in actuality. God is a mystery, the church doesn’t know how everything works (Trinity, anyone? Or how about that Virgin Birth thing?) The church should be the A number 1 place to go when you AREN’T Perfect, it should be THE place to go when you have questions, and it should be the surrenduring of your mistakes and imperfections to God so that God is the one we are relying on to “project the right image” not humanity or the church in itself…..