Monthly Archives: September 2013

“How important is the wrestling room (and church, of course)?” – Beyond The Mats & Banners

A good friend of mine posted an article on his Facebook wall titled, “How Important is the Wrestling Room?” The article’s premise is that good practice facilities are important for attracting athletes and building programs. The article makes a good point, especially when you consider the state of college athletics in the United States today.

However, I want to offer a different perspective…one that goes beyond a spacious facility with clocks, pristine locker rooms, state of the art workout machines and weights; one that goes beyond the mats and banners. I want to offer how important a wrestling room is for what happens on those mats, and what those banners stand for.

For me, it’s on those mats that a lot of battles have been fought, not just to improve and prepare me for competition, but as a person. I don’t know how many times the battles I was facing in the wrestling room were internal: fighting through self-imposed limits, learning to keep trying when I knew I wasn’t at my best and things weren’t perfect, dealing with the anxiety and fear of possibly failing, and handling success with humility.

And it’s on those mats that as both a competitor and coach I’ve experienced some of the best support and community I’ve ever known. Coaches and practice partners, silently supporting and pushing me to my best (and sometimes not so silently!), and me doing the same in turn. Together we know the struggles that the other is going through, and understand that while you can relate, that those internal battles have to be experienced and fought through on one’s own terms and in one’s own time. It’s on those wrestling mats that I’ve had some of the best conversations about not only wrestling, but about life as well – lots of laughs, wisdom, futures and hopes, good stories shared, and of course, wrestling with the things that happen in this world that extend well beyond the wrestling room.

And those banners….the tradition. Those banners remind you of the tradition, of those who have gone before you and have reached the places you hope to be. I recall one person saying, “Tradition is something you can’t put a price on because it perpetuates success; people want to be a part of it, and it’s totally free.” Theologian and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber put it best in her “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett: “I actually have this — I really feel strongly that you have to be deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity.” Her point being this (I hope!): tradition provides the integrity for our efforts that grounds us and keeps us accountable for keeping us focused on the right things. Tradition reminds us why things came to be in the first place; and that while we’re always evolving and changing, we do so with the same commitments and values at the center.

For me, it’s these things that make a wrestling room important. And I hope, it’s also things such as these that make a church important too. It the things that happen IN these spaces – the community formed and tradition’s role in helping give shape to that ever changing community – that matter.

And so folks, whether you’re a wrestler, churchgoer, or both: “What makes the wrestling room or the church important to you?”

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Filed under Missional Thinking & The Church

Defining Church: Two articles to consider

This morning, during my usual check of the Facebook world, I came across two articles…well, one’s a blog really. And I found them really thought-provoking and interesting. I’m about to start my first call, serving two churches in Portsmouth, VA who are struggling a bit – I’m part time at both – and are wondering with both excitement and fear what God has in store for them. And as I begin ministry with them, the thought on my mind these days is the question of defining church: “What is the church?”

The first article is about a pastor who dressed up as a homeless man the day he was to be introduced to the congregation, and did what I like to call a little “social experiment” with the congregation.

The second article is a blog about a pastor’s interaction with those outside the church, their perception of it, and how that’s affected him.

I’ll let you take a glance at these two articles, and I really hope you do: because it challenges and forces us to think about our definition of what church is, and who is included or excluded from church based on our definitions.

I’ll add my 2 cents by adding this: This is a question that those who lead in the church need to be thinking about. If things are to change in the church, it starts with leaders who preach, teach, proclaim, and embody the church in the midst of God’s people.

However, it’s also a question church leaders need to be pushing on their congregations, and wrestling alongside them in how we tangibly form our church communities out of those responses.

The bottom line: We can talk about what the church is, come up with multiple definitions until we’re blue in the face, and work towards the “best” definition possible, but it means nothing unless we’re willing to wrestle with what needs to come out of those definitions, and have the courage to move forward with them. And as leaders, that means having the courage to push the envelope with congregations. That is entering deeply into the life of humanity we’re called to serve, just as God in Christ Jesus entered deeply into ours on the cross – totally uncertain of how we would respond – uncertain of the outcome.

And that is moving forward as the church: in faith and love. Sure, we can’t be certain if people will respond or even come. But our call isn’t to get them to come: it’s to share the love of God inChrist Jesus with the world.

God’s blessings as you wrestle and consider what it means to be church…and how you’ll engage God’s people in living it out.

Peace,
Aaron
The “self-proclaimed official/non-official ELCA Lutheran Honeybadger.”

PS: Just thought I’d put that out there. (Shameless self-promoting plug) You can follow me on Twitter @Luthhoneybadger or on Instagram @Lutheranhoneybadger

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What the church is to me & Luke 16:1-13

This past Saturday, I attended a worship service that included the rite of ordination – ordaining a person as a minister in the church. The person being ordained: me.

Now, the cynical side of me hates ceremonies and rites such as these. There’s all this pomp and circumstance with pastors I hardly know processing and laying on hands, a long litany of words about theological concepts like apostolic succession and the “office,” and a bishop is needed because they somehow possess “magical powers” to send the Holy Spirit on me so I can be a “real” pastor. Then, there’s that whole issue of me having to be front and center before a large crowd….

I still feel that way – about the pomp and circumstance, anyway. The service for me actually ended up being quite meaningful. It was meaningful because as I look back on it, I got a glimpse – actually, a pretty good glimpse – of what the church truly is, and what actually happens in the church when Christ is truly present.

The assembly was filled with people from just about every part of my life: seminary professors and classmates, pastors young and old, family, members from my internship congregation, and folks from a church North Minneapolis that my wife and I are deeply invested in. There was also a small group of my wrestlers at Augsburg College present, as well as some of the Catholic nuns that my wife served with in North Minneapolis in 2011. Needless to say, it was a diverse group! Young and old; suburban, urban, and rural; various races and lifestyles represented.

The worship itself was diverse too – the service was at my internship congregation, which worships in a fairly “traditional,” standard Lutheran liturgical way. And the worship followed much of that format. However, friends of my wife and mine who are also the worship leaders at the church in North Minneapolis, led the music. Their worship is much more an African-American gospel/spiritual style. I wasn’t sure how it would all come together….but it did, and it did beautifully. Voices singing loudly, people clapping and moving about in the pews – it was worship that not everyone was used to in some way, but as people told me later, was life-giving for so many.

And the best moment: one of my wrestlers, who never grew up in the church, and just recently came to the Christian faith about a month ago, unexpectedly came up for communion while I was serving the bishop and communion servers. When I told him what was happening, he replied, “Sorry coach, it’s just you said everyone was welcome to the Table, and so I thought: what’s everyone waiting for? So I thought I’d come up.”

And that moment, sums up what I think the church is, and who God is calling us to be as a church. The church is nothing more than a strange group of people from all sorts of backgrounds, who come together in community for no other reason than the good news about Jesus Christ. And, God is calling us to be welcoming, inviting, and vulnerable enough as the church to allow those people like my wrestler to come freely to experience God’s unconditional love and grace in community, in our experience with the Word, and at the Lord’s Table and Baptismal font.

I think about Luke 16 (the text for this week): the parable of the dishonest/shrewd manager. It is certainly a difficult parable to make sense of. But when I think of the day of my ordination, and that moment with my wrestler, it becomes apparent what this text is about. One, God’s ways are not our ways, and the Kingdom of God does not work like this world works. The rules are completely different: managers giving away the owner’s wealth, and the owner commending him for it.

But, perhaps that is how it is with the church: the rules are different than we think they are, and the point is that we should be giving it all away, because it isn’t ours to begin with – because it belonged to God in the first place. The “it” is Christ, the love and grace of God that comes to be among us. Perhaps, as the church, as Christians, we’re just a bunch of dishonest/shrewd managers, and it is our call to give away what isn’t ours – Jesus and his love.

And perhaps, that is exactly what the Owner (God!) wants us to do. And the church God is forming us to be is one without limits, one with out rules, at least in the way us humans think of them. The church is simply just a bunch of folk who have no other reason to be together than to rejoice in the good news of Jesus Christ, and to share that good news with others around us!

And that’s a church that I want to be a part of.

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“So what should we do?” Syria, the Church, & Us

Ok, I’m really ticked off. More like pissed off.

Many of you are aware of the situation in Syria, and the impending possibility that the United States will take military action against the Syrian government and its leader, Bashar al-Assad. There are of course lots of uncertainties and points of contention as to what action should be taken, but there is one thing to be certain of: it’s complicated.

Perhaps too complicated for a western, white, middle class world and religion to understand. Leaders like Assad are nothing new to that region – the ties, the anger, the hate…it all runs generations-deep.

So when I read posts that tell me to simply pray about it, to take a position on a situation like Syria at a distance without understanding it, or simply raise my arms up and say, “it’s too big” and resign to retreating into my own world of spirituality, yes, I get really pissed. That’s too simplistic, and honestly, too weak and cheap a response for me.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not do sit by and do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

Something has to be done. And again, it’s complicated. As a colleague of mine highlighted to me, “What then should we do?” Good question.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer lived in Germany at the time of the Nazi regime, watching it rise to power, and then watching it begin its sinister plan to systematically eliminate the Jewish people. Bonhoeffer watched all this….and watched his Church (the institution) do nothing. Bonhoeffer spoke out against such a weak church, calling its understanding of Christian faith “weak.” In fact, Bonhoeffer was so convicted that he willingly took part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

For Bonhoeffer, the evil before him was so great that to do nothing was a greater evil, and a denial of his Christian faith. And so he had no choice but to act.”

First, let me assert that I do believe “violence begets more violence.” A peaceful, diplomatic solution is always desirable, and sought first. It’s the oldest principle of war strategy. Dialogue with Assad should be the answer. In fact, rumors suggest that perhaps that’s not such a bad idea. Maybe what I should be doing as an ELCA Lutheran is writing my presiding bishop and demanding he put his effort into meeting with Assad directly. Rather than worrying about all of us and making a Youtube video, he should be getting leaders of the Lutheran World Federation to ask for a meeting, working with other Christian and Islamic leaders to seek dialogue with Assad to work for peace.

But I’m also a realist: Assad and regimes led by such men in the Middle East do not listen or seek dialogue. They are men of power – the seek it, take it by force, and use it to impose rule on those who oppose them. It is what they understand, and frankly, people realize that men like Assad…their track record proves it. So sometimes while perhaps it’s not the best solution, we still choose a way to act – a show of military force, and sometimes, a use of it.

(As a side note, I wonder if this whole military action thing is all just a show to get Assad to the table to talk, to force peace talks over Syria. This is so out of character for Obama’s foreign policy to ask for war…but as someone who’s served in the military, I know that demonstration and intent of force can be just as effective as using it. The threat of force can bring talks and hopefully, the solution of peace we’re looking for.)

People of faith, we are called to act, just as Christ has acted. Prayer and reflection certainly have their place in our life of faith. But to make that our only response and condemn all others as unilaterally and unequivocally “wrong” or “unjust” is irresponsible and shows little understanding of the complexity of a situation, and also little courage and substance to our faith.

What it does show is we’re more concerned with “right”ousness. We’re more concerned with commenting from a distance, then retreating into our spiritual practices and communities of sameness where we can feel really good about ourselves and our response. Then we pat ourselves and each other on the back and go about our way – and more blood will continue to be shed on the other side of the world. In our delusion that we’re “good,” evil will triumph.

And yes, that pisses me off. It frustrates me that this is the primary stance of the Mainline Church and that we’d rather comment on Miley Cyrus and MTV. But that commentary is just more of the same, and what it shows me is a church that:

– Understands vulnerability as a means of therapeutic self-satisfaction instead of courage to act.
– Is concerned with a re-packaged self-righteousness than participating in God’s work towards justice.
– That we think of critical reflection without any tangible response as discipleship.
– That Christ simply talked about the world and people, rather than entering deeply into it and into the realities of people, and ultimately doing the hardest thing – giving the ultimate sacrifice.

It makes me want to leave the church altogether.

But then I remember Bonhoeffer’s words and claim: God’s love and grace that doesn’t compel us to live that out in the world is “cheap.” Bonhoeffer was right, and he called the church in his time on it, and I think it’s time the same is done today.

In fact, I’ll call myself out first….time for me to go Twitter the ELCA bishop. And I will go on record for saying I support the decisions of our government with a heavy heart, because perhaps the greater evil is for me to retreat into my own life and say “let’s do nothing.”

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Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics