Category Archives: Uncategorized

Signs of the Apocalypse: A “Dislike” Button on Facebook is a Bad Idea

So apparently the day us normal people have been dreading is around the corner.

Facebook is working on adding a “dislike” button.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explains that this is something people have been requesting for a long time, citing the example that people want an option when someone posts the death of a loved one.  That’s something people want to express their sadness and condolences, not “like it.”  Hence, a “dislike” button.

However, would it really work that way?  Writer and Filmmaker Jon Ronson suggests something to the contrary.  His TED Talk from June, “When online shaming spirals out of control” is well worth 17 minutes of your time to watch:

Jon Ronson TED Talk

Surveys and studies have been done over the past few years, chronicling the link between frequent social media use and higher rates of depression and suicide in teenagers and college students.

All this evidence is great, but here’s my greatest fear: in a time when our self-worth is already being eroded in way too many ways, can we afford yet another avenue for that to happen, and on the most widely used social media site in the world?  Of course, the “dislike” button itself is not the problem, rather it’s our all too sobering penchant to build up our own self-worth by degrading others.  We noble as Zuckerberg might think, and as good intentioned as we think we are, the truth is, when the chips are down, the majority of us would rather hit that dislike button so that people might know – we think they suck.

I wish I knew a way forward….having recently disabled my Facebook account, I can’t say that I’ve missed it all that much.  This news about a dislike button does in fact feel like a sign that the Apocalypse is coming; we just that much closer to destroying the humanity in each other and the humanity in ourselves.  Frankly, I don’t really have a whole lot to offer in the way of a solution or resolution.  I know we need to teach and advocate for more responsible and accountable use of social media from ourselves and each other…..but again, I just don’t think we’re all that good.  I know I’m not.

For now, I think it’s just enough to seriously take the time to think about the implications that when someone posts about a new job, a picture of a new haircut, numerous selfiies, “check-in” somewhere, and of course offer their social and political opinions….with the click of a button we can destroy those less resilient souls out there.  With the click of a button we can crush the life from those who are so starved for affirmation that they would be vulnerable enough to seek it in the toxic environment of social media.

A “dislike” button….it’s a bad idea.  Plain and simple.  And Lutheran HONEYBADGER’s Facebook exile will continue, for now.

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Bi-Vocational Pastor: Reflections on the Virginia Synod Assembly & “Liturgical Movements”

This past weekend, I headed to Salem, VA to take part in our annual Assembly of the Virginia Synod.  It’s my second Synod Assembly in Virginia, but my first as a pastor (I missed last year for a valid reason, I promise!).  People show up starting Friday morning, and we conclude on Sunday at noon.  Each year, the culmination of the Assembly is Saturday evening worship at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA.  It’s a pretty grand worship in a beautiful sanctuary – the procession of pastors across the Synod, full organ and brass ensemble, and over 300 voices singing hymns and speaking liturgy together as one voice.

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I took the opportunity to not process with the rest of the pastors, primarily because I don’t get to simply worship much anymore.  I appreciated that time, but I also have to admit, there were times during worship that things seemed, well, mundane.  Tedious.  Grandiose.  Performative.  As beautiful as the worship experience was, I found myself not just drifting, but disconnecting.

My thing about worship like this past Saturday night is that for me, it just feels so disconnected with what typically happens in my day-to-day life.  It doesn’t seem to resemble anything I see or do.  And I suppose that’s the point; that’s what makes worship like this special.  Our presiding bishop of the ELCA has written, “At the heart of what we do is worship,” but I wonder, what does this mean?

And it doesn’t remove the feeling of disconnection that I feel.

I admit, my attitudes towards worship are different from most pastors.  Having grown up in Minnesota farm country, folks appreciated a nice, “efficient” service because they had been up since 4am milking cows.  Don’t preach too long, don’t sing all 6 verses of that hymn, and it’s ok to skip the full Eucharistic prayer and Sanctus in the communion liturgy.  However, through that experience growing up I came to understand that worship was something well beyond Sunday morning and the doors of our little church.  Our whole lives are worship and in that way, worship was at the heart of who we are and what we do.

Liturgy means generally, “The work of the people.”  What I’ve come to understand about my life is that it is an act of worship to God, and that my daily activity is a series of “liturgical movements” within that worship.  What I’ve come discover in the journey through seminary and since I’ve been a pastor is that I’m focused and aware of these liturgical movements occurring in daily life.  This past weekend at Synod Assembly was no different.

I heard laughter and excitement as people registered on Friday morning.

I watched people – long time friends and strangers – gather over meals and have meaningful, life-giving conversations with each other.

I caught up with folks from Bedford Lutheran and heard about their hopes and challenges in becoming an established congregation in the Synod.

I learned what other congregations are doing, ideas they’re trying as ways to be more missional in their communities.  And more important, I noticed their passion and desire, alongside their anxiety and uncertainty.

I got to watch my good friend “hover” around his 7th grade daughter as she participated in the Youth Assembly – the struggle of every parent who watches their kid shift to a time of independence.

I watched congregations wrestle with the questions raised about getting to know and understand their neighbors around their churches better and what that means for them.

I saw two old pastors engaged in a late night conversation as I headed to my room – clearly they were good friends who didn’t see much of each other.

I watched my Synodical Bishop read the list of saints departed, pastors who have died this past year – one among those names being his own father.

I listened to a man’s response, his frustration about race relations in this country and the helplessness and pain he feels.  I also listened to his concerns for the future about the farm he operates and if there will be anyone willing to take it over.

I witnessed the representatives from the two congregations I serve have meaningful discussion about the future of their churches, and their future together.

And I got to play racquetball with that good friend of mine too (although I kicked my ass and that bothers me!).

I could continue on, but do you see it – Worship?  Confession, thanksgiving, sharing of the peace, hymns and sounds of praise, prayers of intercession, and blessing.  People nourished and refreshed, not just in Word as preaching and Sacrament as Eucharist, but Word proclaiming that Christ, the incarnate God, is among us and Sacramental presence that unites saints and sinners around God’s Grace.  These liturgical movements are the work of the people happening in the routine, the ordinary, and the familiar.  It is in these liturgical movements that people come to know a God who is deeply with them and acting for them, and for the sake of the world.

I wonder if others feel that disconnect between what happens in the pew and from day-to-day, and struggle with what seems like competing priorities, too.  David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and a former professor of mine at Luther Seminary was fond of saying, “Today, weekly worship needs to be thought of as the practice rather than the actual game.  The value in weekly worship is that it trains us to know what God’s presence and action look like, so that we might identify it more easily in our lives.”  What this suggests is that worship is indeed at the heart of what we do as Christians – but it’s a worship that encompasses all of life, both in the pew and in our daily routines and activity.

This past weekend affirmed and reminded me that this connected and integrated truth about Christian worship is true, and it is this truth that strengthens and sustains us both in faith and vocation as Christians living in the world today.

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The Struggle of Having Nothing to Say…..

I have this list of things I wanna blog about; it’s pretty long really.  It’s got at least 7-10 things on my mind about life, the church, faith, how much I hate the “millennial conversation,” leadership and how much I think pastors suck at it, and the upcoming wrestling season, of course.

But when I sit down to write, the words just aren’t there.

The ideas and words are there in my head – they’re edgy, brutally honest, thought-provoking, insightful, profound.  They really are.  In fact, it feels like they’re already written; I just have to type them out.  That’s when the problem starts.  I start to type, and…..nothing.  Or at least, two or three rambling sentences that make no damn sense.  So I hit delete, close the laptop, and start playing a game on my iPhone.

It’s frustrating as a pastor, to not be able to write.  To feel like you have nothing to say.  Honestly, it’s hard enough just to crank out a sermon for each week.  I think to myself, “I just have nothing to say….what the hell is the point?”  I’ve always had this hate-hate relationship with preaching.  I remember in my first preaching class and on internship, there would be sleepless nights I stare at a blank screen, freaking out, needing to crank out a sermon for class or worship that next day.  I had plenty of thoughts, but when it came time to put them down…..nothing.  Zilch.  I swear, if writing was a wrestling opponent, it’d be that skinny kid who looked weak and clumsy, but would be kicking my ass about 30 seconds into the start of the match.  Frustrating as hell.

And as I sit here right now – typing words ironically – the words aren’t there.  Yet I still want to be profound, smart, useful, prophetic – especially when I read a lot of the crap out there.  Those “popular” people out there who write all these seemingly smart, insightful things that honestly are full of clichés, polarizing and unhelpful generalities, and sensational half-truths that just perpetuate what pisses me off about religion, faith, society, and politics in this world today.

Yet I have nothing to say.  I can’t seem to write a single word down…one that matters.  One that will make people sit up and take notice.

Maybe it’s the fact I’m so drained….four funerals in the past four weeks.  Struggling along with the two congregations I serve as they try to decide what the future holds, and not having the luxury of “taking their time” deciding it.  Planning worship and providing time to observe communal rituals and traditions so that people can heal from the loss of loved ones this past year.  Praying and reading scripture in a room with a 94-year old woman who is obviously dead in every way except that her brain is still sending a signal for her lungs to breathe…..but doing so because the mystery of what happens in that intersection of life and death draws me in.  Sitting with young men who are fighting internal battles that I’ve fought years before….all while fighting through the grind of yet another wrestling season beginning.

And trying to figure out just why the hell I’m here in this particular place, doing what I’m doing….while trying to remain fully present and committed to the people I feel called to serve and care for.

I just went back and read what I typed.  I still feel like I have nothing to say.  But maybe that’s ok…..because it isn’t about me.  It’s not about how profound or provocative or insightful or cutting-edge my words are, and that people see them as such.  Perhaps the only word that matters is the Word that dwells in and among us when we struggle through life unnoticed, seemingly insignificant and trivial, but do so together, fully present and committed to one another.

The Word that acts and speaks…….when I have nothing to say.

 

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What Birthdays Teach Us

Well, it’s my birthday today.  36 years old.  It’s hard to believe I’m actually THAT OLD.  Thankfully, the “Asian gene” is alive and well in me, so I look like I’m 25…..perks of winning the ethnic lottery!

Anyway, per the usual these days, Facebook announces to the world (should you choose to include your birthday) the big day.  For one, I hate birthdays….not a big celebrator of them.  But the posts on my Facebook wall, the text messages, and even a few phone calls today have been a nice reminder of this simple truth:

You don’t get through this life on your own.

That’s the gift that each birthday brings for me: the gift of wisdom.  That as much as I’d like to think I’ve worked my ass off and earned every single thing in my life, the truth is, I’ve gotten there with the support, care, challenges, and lessons that come from others.  I wouldn’t be where I’m at because of people…and as I sit here and stare at everyone who’s posted on my wall to this point, that fact is evident.  So evident in fact, that I feel obligated to say thanks in the Facebook comments.  And even in this blog, as a count back, I want to say thanks as well.  Disclaimer: I’m not going to get everyone….but know each and every person who can honestly say they “know” me….know you’ve had an impact on my life and without you, I wouldn’t have gotten through this life on my own.

Here goes:

All those folks who I’ve had one-to-one conversations with about faith…..reminds me why the gospel matters and why being church matters – it’s worth the struggle.

My congregations, St. Andrew Lutheran & Holy Communion Lutheran, who have given me the space to be the pastor God’s called me to be, and who struggle alongside me in this task of being church.

Rocco Mansueto, who helped bring a lot of closure to my wrestling career and pushes me in thinking about this life and what’s important.  And we share trauma from Jack Effner beatings on the mat.

Steve Martin, who gave me an opportunity to explore and develop as a coach, and form strong bonds with ODU wrestling and the wrestlers there.

Mark Matzek, maybe one of the strangest guys I know, but also one of the most courageous and character-driven people I know.  Enjoy our friendship and coaching time together.

The rest of the Augsburg Wrestling family.  I may not be an Auggie…..but you guys are like family for me.  The bonds of brotherhood on the mat define me every day.

Mark Morton, who exemplifies what I love about the US Marine Corps and again, a guy of the highest character and faith I’ve met.  And deluded as he is about thinking he can break me, I appreciate the mentality to push limits and never accept mediocrity. : )

Jacqui Thone, pastor and friend who I share a passion for questions with – deep questions of faith.  You are a wrestler Jacqui, whether you care to admit it or not.

Deb Walker…..reminding me to let people take care of me, and not to resist that…ever. : )

Sharon Long & Barb Schulz….both church administrators, both sarcastic, both courageous….and both full of wisdom and empathy when I start ranting.  Truly a gift.

Kelly Chatman & Chip Gunsten, pastors who are really spiritual fathers to me.  Men whose passion for mission and ministry I strive to emulate in my life.

Chris & Cynthia Bowen, and their kids…..proof that the bonds formed in and through Christ matter…because I’m not sure in what life we would’ve been friends otherwise!

Matt & Nichole Bahen….proof that again, I can’t pull youth ministry off on my own, and needed your help every step of the way.

Andy Root, Eric Barreto, Rolf Jacobson, Walter Sundburg, Gracia Grindal, Matthew Skinner, Craig Koester, Alvin Luedke, Hollie Holt-Woehl, Heidi Albers, Terri Elton, Nancy Lee Gauche, Tim Coltvet, Rick Foss, & Rick Bliese….folks in the Luther Seminary community that listened to me, pushed me, and shaped me…even today.

Adam Butler…..I love your rants.  The world needs more passionate men like you.

Matt and Jacinda Shields….two people who are so faithful to God in ways I’m not.  You serve as an inspiration to me.

Josh & Kristina Jabaut….the first couple I married, and I now believe in divine intervention.

Angie Denker….I might not be where I am today if it wasn’t for that walk and talk Spring Semester that first year of Seminary.

Erika Benson…..for reminding me that trusting people again wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

All the folks I served with on Active Duty – Norfolk Naval Shipyard, NROTC Hampton Roads, USS JACKSONVILLE, NPTU Charleston & NNPTC…and my USNA classmates.  I learned Servant Leadership isn’t just a name of a book or a good idea….but it’s a way of life for a leader.

Paul Joyce…how we coached 60 kids in that small gym is beyond me, but I discovered my passion for coaching there.

Lee Pritts…who taught me passion is more important than credentials when it comes to doing what you love in this life.

Willie Stravino….you’re a weird son of a bitch.  But you, Caitlin, and Foster teach me daily that faith in God matters only in how it shapes the way you live….and the rest is bullshit.

Phillip Morrison….who reminds me that bonds of brotherhood sometimes die, but to still be thankful for the time and presence we shared.

All the wrestlers I’ve coached….thanks for allowing me to be part of your lives sharing that passion for wrestling.  Thanks for teaching me it’s not the W’s & L’s, but the character that’s formed that matters. And for your parents who entrusted me to do so.

All the youth and families I’ve ministered to and with over the years. You’ve taught me so much about God, faith, and what it means to struggle with it…and that it matters to do so. You gave me a home in the church when frankly, I had none.

The Wadzitas, The Patricks, the Watrous families for taking me in on my stops along the way….being my family away from home.

Jerry Riewer….my old Cross-Country coach showed me my temper and anger is something to face and overcome rather than let it consume me.

Ron Kurpiers….whose passion for teaching gifted students and pushing learning beyond “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic” made me smarter and pushed me to pursue places like the Naval Academy, and to become a lifelong learner.

Jim, Betty, Steven, and Matthew McManamay….my USNA sponsors, who really taught me everything about being a good Naval Officer on those weekends in your home.

My family…who loves me no matter what, and who reminds me I’m not that big of a deal….I’m just a kid who was raised on a farm in Central MN.

My grandpa…..who taught me about values.

My dad….who I miss every single day and is still the best human being (not perfect) I know.

My mom….who taught me what forgiveness and grace are really about.

And my wife…the one person I know that at the end of the day, doesn’t think I suck.  And that counts for more than she knows.

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Making a Case for Military Chaplaincy

Disclaimer: These thoughts are my own based on my experiences in Navy Chaplaincy School, and do not represent official stances of the DoD, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, or Coast Guard.

It’s important I say that before I go forward – because I care deeply about chaplaincy to the sea services, and while I feel compelled to share what we do, I want to make it clear nothing I write here is official word or policy, and any contrary stance is expressed without intent or malice.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “why Navy Chaplaincy?”  I think back to my time of 8+ years of active duty, and Navy life is hard – deployments, following orders, restrictions on what you can and can’t do, fitting into a system of hierarchy in which obedience and discipline are requirements, not suggestions….and then there’s that whole profession of war thing.  Yet here I am – beck in the Navy as a chaplain.

As I’ve thought about “why Chaplaincy” I’m drawn to two things.  One has to do with ministry within an institution, and the other is personal.  That said, I want to make a case for chaplaincy in our Armed Forces, and perhaps you’ll walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for what these men and women do, and maybe even consider a call to care and minister to these awesome people!

Ministry within the Institution.  While sharing essential elements of ministry like worship leading, teaching, pastoral care, institutional ministry is different from parish ministry in a number of ways.  This is especially true within the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (what I’ll refer to as the “sea services” from now on).  There are advantages to doing ministry within the institution: “insider” status/credibility, awareness of people’s needs, ready-made contact with non-faith affiliated, intentional culture of “unity with diversity.”

“Insider” status/credibility: As a Navy Chaplain, I am also a member of the institution as a naval officer.  That means I wear the uniform, follow the same rules of conduct, take an oath to defend the constitution and espouse the same values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.  The institution teaches me its customs and traditions and to an extent, its norms.  The institution virtually guarantees my place of status and gives me a certain degree of credibility within the institution and with its members.  Of course, this enhances with the building of good relationships founded on trust and love, but the point is that in a parish, you often come as the outsider – having to spend time figuring all this stuff out.  Even then you may never reach a degree of status and credibility as being “one of them” – a part of the community or parish at all.

Awareness of people’s needs: Let’s be honest, “who lives in their parish?”  Or, maybe a better question is, “Who lives with their parishioners?”  As a parish pastor, the answer is “no” to both of those questions.  One, I don’t want to live in an old church building, and I don’t think my wife would like it if I told her we were going to start living with folks in my congregations (and I bet they wouldn’t be too thrilled either)!  My point is: as much as we probably don’t want to admit it, our interactions are limited with our folks in the parish.  So it’s natural we aren’t truly aware of their needs fully.  And that’s ok…..I think the problem is that more often than not, everyone in the parish (pastor and parishioners) think they know and think they are aware of each other’s needs.  And that’s where the problems start (at least for me).

As a Navy Chaplain, you go to work with those you minister to every day.  You actually go spend time out in the middle of the ocean on a ship, spend time in the middle of a country on the other side of the world with them.  And because of that, you see everything – the good, the bad; their laughs, their tears; you see them save lives, you see them take them – and have to deal with the emotions that come with that.  You see them take wounds – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and you see them die from them.  And you see them wrestle with the idea of hope or joy coming out of any of that as well.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t done that as a Navy Chaplain yet.  But I’ve done it as a junior officer aboard a submarine; I’ve done it with NROTC Midshipmen and prior-enlisted sailors and marines in my office and in a university parking lot; I’ve done with on the pier while their ship sits in a dry dock all torn apart.  Trust me, when you live that close to people – unless you just go blind and deaf to it – you become fully aware of what’s going on in their lives.  You have awareness and access that takes years in the parish, if at all.

Ready-made contact with non-faith affiliated: This is the Navy’s terminology for “unbeliever” or “unchurched.”  Frankly, I like it better (much more unassuming and less biased about their notions of faith and spirituality).

Lots is being made these days about getting more people to come to church.  Some call it “bringing people to Jesus,” others call it “evangelism,” others “mission and witness.”  Hard thing is, in the parish, you often scratch your head, trying to figure out who those people are, and how to interact with them.  “Getting them in the door is half the battle”, you’ll probably hear folks in the parish say.

But in the Navy, you are contact with those people every day.  Trust me, there are lots of people in the Navy and Marine Corps that are in the category of the “non-faith affiliated.”  And while the rules are very clear we’re not there to convert, coerce, or proselytize to them, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be faithful examples that witness to the God we place our faith in.  Maybe that’s half the battle for us in the parish – doing that last part.  But in the sea services, that part is already done for ya!

Intentional Culture of unity with diversity: Churches, in general, are not diverse cultures.  They are often singular in race, socio-economic status, values, beliefs, and virtues.  The sea services are anything but that – it’s diversity of all kinds.  And as I mentioned before, the Navy actually has written regulations that promote and protect this culture of unity with diversity.

I’m not going to criticize the church for what they are now.  The Navy as a nonreligious organization enjoys dynamics that the church doesn’t.  But what this highlights for me is that as a Navy Chaplain, there are increased opportunities to engage diversity.  It’s an opportunity to engage in that diversity, share things, and as a person grow from those experiences as we minister to these people.

Personal story.  This past week, we were watching a video on suicide awareness and prevention during training.  The video interviewed service members and family of those who committed suicide.  A number of the interviewees had “dolphins” on – the warfare insignia/pin that submariners wear.

I felt that pretty deeply when I saw that….and I thought, “Those are MY people.”  Those are people signified those I’ve served with – brothers in the silent service.  I think of all the good people I served with as a submariner and I realize, they’re the reason I’m back in the Navy as a chaplain.

And really, it’s because of all the people I’ve served with, and still have a lot of respect and love for, that I decided to be a Navy Chaplain.  And I’m excited to care for and serve with those I’ll meet in the future.  We’re a country that’s been at war for the last 13 years….and it looks like it might be lasting a bit longer.  And for all the things that come with war – a reality I truly hope one day comes to an end – I know there are sailors, marines, Coast Guard men and women, and soldiers and airmen and women who will need the care of a chaplain who can proclaim the love and grace of God to them, an incarnational presence of Christ who speaks life and hope into suffering and death.

“Why chaplaincy?”

Because it matters.

 

 

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2013 Advent Devotional 3: “Good Morning”

Isaiah 35:1-10

When I read this passage, the imagery catches my attention: water breaking forth in the wilderness (which in Judea was the desert), streams in the desert, thirsty ground springs forth water and the like. God will come again to the people and restore them, and all of creation will spring forth new life.

And it reminds me of mornings in the spring and summer on the farm. I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota as a kid, and so mornings started early for us….4:30am, while it was still dark outside. And because of that, I got to see a lot of sunrises and mornings – the mist of a fog lifting, the dew on the grass, the hay fields, and on the newly planted fields of crops. It turned everything green – I mean REALLY green, better than any touched up photo or painting. And in that moment, through the peaceful breaking in of the morning, and the life seemed to jump out of it, I felt a sense of joy and excitement at the day to begin. (Which would quickly disappear when my dad would show me his list of farm work for the day!)

This passage from Isaiah paints a similar vision for the people of God. Everything in Judah has been overrun; the people are in the “desert” place in their lives, a place of barrenness and hopelessness. But God provides a vision of new life – and in that vision, God will break through. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” People will see in the restoration of their livelihood, the very presence and action of God.

I wonder, this Advent, if remembering the Christmas story isn’t like one of those “good mornings” on the farm; an announcement and vision of God breaking in and making all things new as in Judah in days of old.

The announcement of Christmas is that “Morning Has Broken”: The Christ Child comes into this world, and with him comes God’s vision of the past, present and future – a vision of joy and hope and peace.

That brings me to a favorite hymn of mine: “Morning Has Broken.” The lyrics were written in 1931 and set to an old Gaelic carol tune from the late 1800’s. Cat Stevens popularized it by recording it in 1972…and of course, people think that’s where the song originated from. But the imagery is striking, similar to Isaiah 35. And I think it’s a fitting hymn for Advent.

Morning has broken
Like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the word

Sweet the rains new fall
Sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall
On the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
Where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light
Eden so play
Praise with elation
Praise every morning
God’ s recreation
Of the new day

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Confirmation as Evangelism (& not as “conversion” – calm down Mainliners)

A conversation I had this past Sunday:

Me: So, what are you doing later today?

Kid: I don’t know.

Me: Wanna come to confirmation?

Kid: I don’t know….

Me: Aw, it’s not a big deal. You just learn about what the church and faith is about. By the way, are you baptized?

Kid: Nope.

Me: Aw, no biggie. We’ll figure that out later. But I’d like it if ya came and checked it out…..also, you wanna read for a Christmas play next week?

Kid: Uh, no?

Me: C’mon, there’s free BBQ later.

Kid: I’ll do it.

In the midst of leading two struggling congregations that yearn for more youth in their pews, I’ve sort of figured out that when a youth comes through the door, I kinda have to seize the opportunity. And it got me thinking:

What if we thought of confirmation as evangelism?

Now before all the Mainline Liberal Protestant readers go Rachel Held Evans or Nadia Bolz-Weber on me here, bear with me. When I say “evangelism” I mean “witness” – simply sharing with them what the church and what the faith is about, and allowing them to take stock of that, ask questions, and in the end make it their own (even if they choose to do so).

And so I’ve gone that route with my confirmation program. I see it as a mission and a witness – evangelism. And so very roughly, this is what I’ve come up with:

– We meet for “regular” programming with three other churches with small groups once a month, rotating between meeting at the churches. It’s a two-year program. But I don’t make our kids do any written “homework” assignments.
– I then meet with our kids at a coffee shop for follow-up conversation: checking in, and then starting conversation with their impressions of what was discussed at the “regular programming” meeting. (I say starting because the conversation goes all over the place…and it gets to good places too!)
– I’ve asked them (and their parents) to do 1 service opportunity a year. They decide what that is. All I require is that it’s outside of Sunday, and if possible, they do it together as a family. It can be with the church or completely separate from it. I ask for them to give me a one-page journal asking, “Where do they think God was present in that moment, if at all?”
– I’ve asked them to at least try one Synod-sponsored Youth Retreat during their confirmation years.
– And I myself have committed to plugging them into roles in Sunday worship: Assisting Minister, Lighting the Advent Candle, Communion Assistant, Reading for Christmas Program. I’ve even asked them to consider doing the children’s sermon in the future.
– And a “capstone” project that I’ve yet to figure out what that is….but I want it to be something they can use to reflect on their confirmation experience, and express where they are with faith, and in the end, if they even want to be confirmed at all.

And, I’ve told the kids and the parents I can’t make them do any of this. The experience is ultimately what they decide to make of it.

Now I admit, it’s the luxury I have when I only have 6 kids. I’ve done youth ministry in larger congregations and I admit, this would be a challenge….but perhaps we should be thinking about our confirmation as evangelism regardless?

2 of my 6 kids are not members, and their families done even attend the congregations I serve. Two of them come regularly with their families, and the other two are part of a family that just came back and are “checking it out.” The one I just invited this past Sunday, and who knows if she’ll come back. The other came along with one of the two regulars my 3rd Sunday there, and he’s been back ever since, on his own.

I guess my point is this: I think I’m doing confirmation faithfully. They’re getting the knowledge about the faith in our meetings, it’s just I don’t have “course/topic objectives” of what I want to pass on.

But more important, I’m showing them what faith is and what the church is about. And that means they have to sit through things or do things they might not like at first, or at all. But I will expose them to as much of the church as possible…and as many people who are part of the church as well. I want to expose them to as many relationships as possible…and then let them decide.

Above all, my belief is that faith is ultimately a choice – God’s love is always unconditional, grace is always extended – but you have to choose to live into that good news. And I want kids to know that, but also to know, the church is a place where they have a place and something to offer – and that the church (not God, for the sake of salvation) needs them to live into that.

And honestly, that’s all I can really do – provide the opportunity. Because it’s God that plants and nurtures the see of faith. (See how Lutheran I am!)

So there you have it. Confirmation as Evangelism. And hey, since I live in a place where evangelism is often about numbers, I’ve increased my confirmation group by 300% in two months! (Proving you can make objective “data” say what ever you want it to!)

Yikes…I think I just cursed myself to fail.

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