January 2011


Should we treat the church like our favorite restaurant?
Only if you are working in the kitchen!

(Sorry! I am having trouble getting the video to show up on RSS feeds and iPhones. I will try to correct the problem, but until then you can view the 4 minute video on my blog or at vimeo.)

Thanks to Robyn Vining, Tony Templeton, Sarah DePriest, the Impact Community, and The Original Pancake House for their crucial roles in this video!
(Filmed August 2009 at The Original Pancake House in Brookfield, WI.)
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In addition to living in Wisconsin, one of my favorite things about serving at Elmbrook Church is working with Scott Arbeiter.

Scott recently gave our pastoral staff a list of observations on walking with the congregation in times of transitions and conflict. I thought that there was a wealth of wisdom in his observations – and not just for pastors, but for anyone who wants to build healthy relationships.  Scott gave me permission to post this list.

Some things I have learned regarding what people in the congregation need from us:
1.) Ready access (not just begrudging acceptance)
2.) To be genuinely heard (not just listened to)
3.) To find common ground (know that we care about what they care about)
4.) To know that we understand that they are not always able to articulate their concerns well. We must “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
5.) To know that we value them and want them to be part of the congregation
6.) To hear of our struggles to find the best path forward in the situation
7.) To understand the principles involved in our decisions
8.) To be trusted with the information discussed in private
9.) To be challenged to do the right things; even (especially)when in disagreement
10.) To hear that we were wrong and are sorry (when we are indeed wrong and sorry)
11.) To know that we hear many conflicting opinions about topics (often diametrically opposed)
12.) To know that we will decide on principle, not pressure
13.) To be well received even when we leave in disagreement
14.) The goal is not to have them feel good about us; it is to elevate truth and find unity in diversity. In doing this there should be no defensiveness; nor cowardice.
15.) Do not make false promises.
16.) Warn a divisive man once then have nothing to do with him.

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.

A man in a bright orange jump suit has picketed our church several times over the past two years. First, I found him mildly amusing because he was protesting government policies that, while our church does not take an official stance,  many in the congregation were against (OK, I also laughed at the grammatical errors on his signs and his outfits!). Then one spring morning his protest took a different tone. One side of his sign equated expansion of health care with the end of the nation. The other side of the sign simply said‘ “Load ‘Em.”
After getting the OK from my boss (And telling the security team!), I took a cup of coffee out to the Sign Guy. I was a little afraid, but it seemed like the right thing to do.  Sign Guy was thrilled – clearly equating the coffee with support. I did not tell him my views. I simply asked him questions. We had a long conversation, more like a monologue by him, that taught me a few things.
1. He was calling people to arms. Sign Guy really wanted people to rise up in a violent revolt, killing those who disagreed with him. He believed this was God’s calling for the “faithful” – to cleanse the land of the “sinners.” He defined those terms entirely on political positions. He was sure that our church was full of people who God wanted executed!
2. He was crazy. There was something off with Sign Guy’s grip on reality. He created outrageous conspiracy theories, such as the  communists, British banks, and Anglican church planted our church to destroy God’s real America. He believed that his insights were infallible  – coming from inside sources, his own brilliant research, and God.
3. He was influenced by toxic political rhetoric. This man was deeply influenced by public statements of politicians and commentators. He quoted them eagerly … especially the militant language. He even used voice tones and patterns of a radio talk show host.
This experience increased my conviction that much of the contemporary political tenor is too extreme and militant. I have a number of friends who listen to such politicians and commentators, and to be fair they do not react like the Sign Guy. The reality is that his mental state did not allow for him to see the nuance in the rhetoric.
At some point, people who have been given the privilege of a public voice must look beyond the power and profit that comes from working people into a frenzy and take seriously the responsibility of the public good. Words matter. Public voices must weigh the impact of their words, and images, upon the public – even the mentally unstable.
Last weekend in Tuscon we saw a person, presumably with some mental illness and surrounded by a culture of toxic political rhetoric, move beyond holding up signs and literally take up arms against others.  It was a tragic event.
I believe that violent political rhetoric, especially the blatant militaristic language in recent years, was a clear influence on the shooter in Tuscan as it was on the Sign Guy outside of our church. While violent political language does not drive everyone to physical violence, it will be taken literally by some who are on the edge of mental health and it has an undeniable impact on the soul of a nation.
We would do well to stop and remember the teachings of Jesus:
You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.  (Matthew 5:21-22)
There is a connection between our hearts, our words, and acts of violence.