Saturday, December 17, 2011

Putting "Christ" back into Christian

Everywhere I go these days I run into people who want to tell me how important it is for our society to put Christ back into Christmas.  I suppose it has something to do with me being a pastor in Christ's church and Christmas becoming more and more of a secular holiday rather than a Christian holy day.  I must admit, as they are talking to me, I am never sure if they are trying to convince me or themselves.  The ironic part of all of it is that I am not too worried about whether or not society puts Christ back into Christmas.  That may sound terrible coming from a pastor, but hear me out.

I believe that the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is a holy privilege.  I also believe that it only has meaning if you believe and trust in this miraculous gift of God's Word becoming flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  That event derives its full significance if we believe that it was the beginning of a new era in human history where God's reign of mercy and reconciliation is coming to fruition.  That seems to be the particularly unique purview of the Christian church. 

Consequently from my point of view, if society in general wants to have a special celebration marked by good cheer, a seasonal display of goodwill which can be abandoned for the rest of the year, decadent over-eating and over-spending, and belief in a fictional character called Santa Claus and his band of elves, I think it ought to be able to do so without interference from the Christian church.

Let's face it, what with wars, violence, crime, natural disasters, a disintegrating planet, and collapsing economies maybe society needs a few weeks where it can escape into the fantasy of a better, happier, more prosperous, and magical time.

The Christian church, on the other hand, may need to let the society have its decadence and Santa Claus and return to a way of celebrating Christ's birth that honors what God was up to in being born among us and lives beyond the weeks of December.  This should not be that difficult, really.  What God did in becoming human and ushering in this new reign of peace and mercy is an everlasting thing.  That means when the trees are all dried out and on the trash heap, the colorful wrappings are thrown in the fireplace, the latest toy or piece of technology is old news and doesn't fix our lives, we still have a promise from God that things are being made new.  When the wars still rage on, violence escalates, crime statistics go up during the holidays, and all of that spending didn't really do anything to make the bad economic situation flourish again, the reality of Emmanual - GOD WITH US - is still true. 

That fact alone should be enough to give us hope and promise not just in these few weeks when society wants to draw us into a grand spectacle of twinkling lights, and 3-day shopping sprees, but when the world seems at its darkest and most hopeless.  Living with that kind of hope and celebrating the miracle of God with us changes the way we are - every single day.  We can struggle hopefully, live gratefully, love extravagantly, care for others and the world God made and do it all with an internal peace that comes only from life in Christ. 

I think that the greatest gift that the Christian church could give the society in which we live is to allow them their Christmas fantasies, but show them a better way of celebrating by living just a little differently during the month of December and all year long.  The best gift that we, as the disciples of Jesus Christ, can give to the world is to put the Christ back into "Christian."

Bloom away, my friends -

Friday, December 9, 2011

When the church beats the Jesus out of you

For the past several months, I have been making a weekly contribution to a blog called "Castle Church Door" - a blog devoted to "all things church."  I agreed to do so out of a deep love of and a deep concern for Christ's church.  I shared writing duties with several other pastors who are friends, colleagues, and in some cases both.  Over time, I found that I was no longer blogging here, a fact that I found concerning.  Now I am in no way cocky enough to think that what I say here is so important that my failure to blog was somehow a loss to anyone reading.  What concerned me was the reason I was no longer blogging here.  It seemed that after reading and writing about "all things church" I really didn't feel at all like talking about faith and spirituality.  To steal a phrase from a friend and one of the CCD authors, writing about "all things church" was threatening to "beat the Jesus out of me."  That reality spurred me to take a hiatus from writing for CCD.  It also breeds in me a deep sense of grief. To be blunt - if just writing about "all things church" can beat the Jesus out of a person, what does that say about the church?   

The truth is that many people have abandoned the faith, declared themselves to be "spiritual but not religious," agnostic, or even atheist because of their experiences with what we call "the church."  In the past year, I have truly begun to understand that trend.  As the denomination in which I serve has struggled with controversial decisions that have spilt the denomination, congregations, and even families, I have witnessed and experienced behavior on the part of individuals, pastors, and congregations that in no way can claim to be consistent with Christ's church.  It is just this type of thing that drives people - and pastors - out of the church. 

Many of the issues on the denominational level revolve around issues of theology, ecclesiology (how the church is structured/governed), and the lenses through which we read and interpret scripture.  Those types of issues and our means of dealing with our differences concerning them give the institution of the church a massive black eye.

On a smaller scale, local congregations and individual Christians have their own issues which lead to differences and impossibly unChrist-like behaviour.  Watching it occur in the congregation where I serve has made me question whether I really want to be a pastor at all.

SO I return to blogging here as a pastor, theologian, and child of God who feels both called and compelled to speak and write of the marvelous works of God, the grace we have in Christ Jesus, and the new thing that God has done in ushering in the reign of God with the incarnation of Christ.  At the same time, I return to blogging here as a child of God and theologian who has deep doubts and concerns about the ability of the institutions that we think of as "the church" - whether on a congregational or denominational level - to make the inbreaking reign known. 

What I hope to accomplish - for myself - is to keep awake to the ways the God continues to be at work in the world and discover "the church" in the people who are actively participating in that work.  They may not meet together in a single assembly.  They may not look they way "church people" are expected to look.  But when I keep my eyes open and expected to be surprised, I trust that I will discover the marvelous works of the Holy Spirit happening all around me.

Finally, I hope that I discover that my life can be a response to the gospel concerning Jesus Christ that bears witness to that gospel outside of my "official" capacity as a pastor in ways that offset the ways that "all things church" threaten to beat the Jesus out of me. 

I hope that you keep reading.  I hope that my journey, my struggles, my questions, doubts, and stumbling in the dark toward the light of Christ may shine just a little of that light into your struggles, doubts, and struggling.

Still blooming -

PK (+)

Friday, December 2, 2011

She's Baaaack!

It would be hard for you to not have noticed that I have not made an original post to this blog in several months.  I have been chasing my tail with another blog and life in general and found my thoughts too fragmented to even contemplate writing about what it means to be a person of faith.

HOPEFULLY, that is about to change!  I have freed up my schedule a bit and intend to renew my commitment to writing about the journeys of faith on which we find ourselves. 

If you read and follow, I pray that you will continue to do so and find something in here of value.  If not - I can live with that.  It is the writing that helps me sort out meaning in the journey, so I mostly do this for me!

Chist's peace to you all.

PK (+)

Friday, October 28, 2011


Normally, I am not a big fan of sharing the spotlight, but the following is one of the best blog posts I have read on the Christian faith in a long time.  It was composed by a friend of mine and we have been talking about his crisis of faith for awhile now.  His words are important and need to be shared.  I am sharing without his permission, but with full credit.

From DWB at  ...

Buddy Christ

by castlechurchdoor
It has been so long since I have written to any of the blogs I write for, that I almost forgot how to log in to compose today’s entry. If I am being honest I had to take a break from the blogosphere because I was burned out, my faith was floundering, and I owed myself a break to try to decompress and to be able to provide quality to my friends and colleagues here at the door and to those who grace us by taking time out of your day to read our musings and meanderings of theological wanderings.
Also, my faith was/is in crisis. That’s right, shock of shocks, Pastors, Priests, Rabbis sometimes have times of doubt and questioning – times of fear and failure – times when we aren’t sure what we believe and if we believe. During one of my sleepless nights of questioning I even stumbled over an invitation only support group online for clergy who have become atheists but because of the economy can not leave the ministry. You can find the link to that info here. Also, NO I haven’ t joined that group.

I read articles about men leaving the church, found here.
What I have discovered is that I haven’t lost my faith in Christ – perhaps in what I think we have been seeing a great deal of in recent years, since the movie “Dogma” first hit theaters – a peddling of ”Buddy Christ.” A soft Messiah, a cuddly Messiah, not a man who walked into smelly tombs to bring friends to life, not a savior who was so intense he sweat tears of blood, not a Lord who made whips and cleansed the temple, not the Christ who refused to answer Pilate – thus assuring that He would be nailed to the tree.

I question if the modern church has given the modern culture what they have demanded, this is a market driven economy. Joel Osteen tells folks that God wants them to be rich or wealthy and his congregation is packed. Others have “worship” *cough* that is much more about entertainment than worship – we, and yes I include me, have given the world what George Carlin mocked us for – Buddy Christ.
This is not the Jesus of Scripture. This is not the Christ that withstood the tests and temptations of Satan in the wilderness. This is not the Son of the Living God that tells us that it’s okay to enter the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death, for His rod and staff comfort us. This is not the Holy One that descended into hell, that took on the sin of the world, that defeated sin, death, and the devil.

My faith began to be restored by talking to a Jewish friend. He laughed when I talked with him and said, “My people are known for crisis of faith and screaming at God, maybe I can help.” He did, he listened, he laughed, he wept with me and for me and he said, “My friend, you have not lost faith, you have lost sight – lost sight in the Jesus of Scripture – the charismatic leader that walked on water and healed the sick.” Then he laughed and said, “If Jesus saw his image today, he’d roll over in his grave – then nudged me and said, Oh that’s right, he already rolled the grave away.” We both smiled and he got a twinkle in his eye and gave me the best and most beautiful advice. ”Return to the story, forget the myth, forget what culture and the church are peddling – return to your first love.”

Amazing, faith restored from a Jew quoting Revelation. He never referred to Buddy Christ, he said, “The man Jesus I have studied does not drink mocha lattes, wear pink fuzzy bunny slippers, and wax eloquently over the next marketing plan for the church – he rolls up his sleeves, spits in the mud, and helps people see.” He then spit and said, “There’s your mud, open your eyes.”

This may not apply to you in any way, if not I apologize for wasting your time. But if your faith is fragile, forget the myth and return to the One – Jesus the Christ.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unexpected Surprises


This evening I encountered one of the most amazing miracles of all creation. I held a newborn baby – less than two hours old - in my arms. That may not seem like such a big deal to many people, but to me it is incredible. I am a 54-year-old woman who has never been blessed with the experience of bringing a child into the world. I have held nieces and nephews, and the newborn infants of congregation members but never have I held a baby that newly born. As the family and I stood in the hospital room, tears of joy at the miracle that is life trickled down more than one set of cheeks; my own among them. I looked down at the wee little baby in my arms, the loving family gathered around in that comfortable albeit institutional – hospital room and was struck by a moment of profound clarity.

Our Lord, Jesus was once this tiny. His little mouth would have pursed hoping to suckle just as this wee one was doing. He would have let out a hungry cry of discontent. As I left the hospital and returned to my vehicle, I couldn’t stop pondering that thought along with the reminder that there was no comfortable hospital room, but a stable – most likely a cave instead. The tears began to trickle again, for an entirely different reason altogether. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the surprising absurdity of the whole idea of the Incarnation. I thought of that hours-old baby I had just held. This, THIS was the way that the God of all creation chose to reveal himself to the world – in human form. Yes, I know that this is not news. We all KNOW this. But the surprising absurdity of the incarnation became amazingly, well, incarnate to me as I held that baby tonight.

The Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, the Long-Expected One - no one would have expected such an inauspicious arrival. God promised that something new was about to be underway, but what a surprise it was when it began. And if the absurdity of Jesus’ birth is one incredible surprise, consider the reality that it is only the beginning of the surprises which God has in store for us through Jesus. Consider the surprising and unexpected people he chose to be his disciples. Fishermen? Tax collectors? Seriously? Consider the surprising twists that generally conclude his parables; the way he turns the questions of his challengers back on them with questions of his own. Even his closest companions and disciples found themselves surprised as Jesus ministry unfolded. It was never quite what they expected. From his ignoble birth to his ministry – just about everything about Jesus could probably be described as unconventional, particularly in light of who he was and who Israel expected the Messiah to be. And that final trip to Jerusalem – the predictions of his own death. The apparent end to the story one tragic Friday and then one last surprise on a Sunday morning when tragedy becomes good news. Jesus says to his followers “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom full of incredible surprises. 

Looking for evidence of the kingdom and the presence of Jesus around us? Better expect to be surprised, because if God is at work, the unexpected and surprising are bound to be the norm. 

Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Messiah, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God – a baby; an unconventional human full of surprises? Seriously? SERIOUSLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Thanks be to God for failing to meet our expectations and miraculously surprising us with the kingdom.

Be surprised!

PK (+)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

NEVER FORGET: Thoughts on 9/11

September 11, 2011 - I turn 54 years old today.  At this age, birthdays are pretty much a non-event.  After all, I am just one day older than I was the day before.  I have 'celebrated' in pretty typical fashion for me.  Picked up around the house a little, did some laundry, talked to my family, and received well-wishes from so many people that I wonder how God could have blessed me with so many wonderful people as a part of my life.

For those in the U.S. reading this, it is not just another day.  Ten years ago today in a startling attack, the effects of terrorism made themselves devastatingly felt on U.S. soil. (The first time since Pearl Harbor, Dec.7, 1941 when Americans were so vulnerable on their own soil.)  Far too many lives were lost, and the climate of life in our country was dramatically changed.  It is a tragedy that will leave its mark Americans and American society for decades to come.  I have seen many television commercials and Facebook posts that say "Never forget."  I doubt that any of us who watched with horror as the events of that day were broadcast over and over again across the media will ever truly forget the tragedy, as much as in many ways we may wish we could.

But there are other things that I hope that we NEVER FORGET.  Other things that I believe, in fact, are more important to remember.   

#1:  I hope we NEVER FORGET 9/12/2001 and the days, weeks and months that followed when strangers became united in prayer and courage, standing and working side by side in the arduous labours of rescue, recovery, and healing.  I hope we NEVER FORGET the miracles of survival, the miracles of unity, and the bonds of kinship that were forged from the fires and the wreckage of that day. It is in those stories, those moments, those miracles that our truest identity is formed and the promised hope of the future peeks through the smoke and ash to remind us that tragedy - even tragedy of such epic proportion as 9/11/2001 - will NEVER be the final history of our world. 

#2:  I hope that we NEVER FORGET that the final history of our world has been written already.  It is written in the blood-soaked words of Jesus Christ as he gave up his Spirit on the cross.  "It is finished."  God's work of reconciling the world to himself was completed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I hope beyond all hope that we NEVER FORGET that we are moving toward and growing into that new reality every single day and every single time we shine a light of hope into another person's darkness, or forge bonds of unity and kinship built on care and compassion.  It does not take a tragedy the proportion of 9/11 for those miracles to occur and shape our identities and our society's identity.  I hope we NEVER FORGET that the cross of Christ and His resurrection DO make a difference - in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the every day trials, temptations, tragedies, and troubles that plague our human existence.

#3:  I hope we NEVER FORGET that tragedies like this happen every day in places around the globe - Norway, London, Northern Ireland, the countries of the Middle East, South America, and Africa to name just a few.  I hope that we NEVER FORGET that a tragedy like 9/11 which was a day of infamy in the United States is a just the normal way of life for far too many of our brothers and sisters around the world.

FINALLY:  I hope we NEVER FORGET that the only way that #3 changes and we have a chance that something like 9/11 (or Dec 7, 1941 for that matter) does not become our every day reality is by making sure we NEVER FORGET the inside-out reality of #1 and #2.

Many have asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I haven't really been able to give a good answer.  I need nothing and have more than I deserve.  Today I finally realized what I want -

I want us to NEVER FORGET!  NEVER FORGET the important things that the tragedy and rubble of 9/11/2001 can teach us if only we will open ourselves to the possibilities of new life in the Spirit.

May the grace and peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ be the source of our remembrance.

Peace -
PK (+)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grace: Abundant and Unchanging

There is a new ministry starting up in our congregation - a food pantry for folks in the school district.  We live about 10 miles from a larger town that has a food pantry.  It serves the entire county, but as always, there are those that fall through the cracks.  So a group of folks in our congregation got together and are starting a food pantry, aptly named "Grace's Table."  I say aptly because our congregation's name is Grace Lutheran. 

As we were first getting started, plenty of people stepped up to offer advice and ideas.  One piece of advice was offered repeatedly by almost everyone.  "You will have to do something to make sure that you screen people so that they don't cheat the system or try to get food if they do not really need it.  We can't have people abusing the system.  WE have to make sure that the people coming to the pantry really deserve the food."

The organizers and I all agreed.  No screening, no one turned away.  That doesn't sit well some people.  They are convinced that we (the congregation) will be taken advantage of.  I have given some thought to that understanding of helping our neighbor.  I keep coming back to that apt name  - GRACE'S Table.

When I think of God's grace, I never think of it as being in short supply.  Grace is the relationship that God enters into with us through the waters of baptism.  The relationship is initiated by God because of Jesus' death and resurrection.  Now we can abuse and take advantage of that relationship.  We can ignore, reject, and take it for granted.  We can repeatedly walk into the same pattern of sin over and over again and sometimes we will do it intentionally because we know we are forgiven.  Martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to that as "cheap grace." 

But from God's end of the relationship, the grace is always there waiting for our response.  We may ignore the relationship and take advantage of the grace God extends to us, but God is a relentless God.  God continues in the relationship.  Nowhere in scripture do we hear that God sent his only Son into the world to save ONLY those who were not going to abuse the relationship of grace or try to cheat the system. Nowhere does scripture tell us that God offers the relationship of grace to ONLY the deserving.   No God offers us the relationship of grace through Jesus to ALL, never takes it back, never suggests that we need to earn it or deserve it.  In fact, St. Paul is very clear that it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.  In other words, God comes to us in grace when we are most undeserving, playing no favorites, keeping no score of the number of times we take advantage of the relationship or fall short on our end.  God's grace is abundant and unchanging.  The relationship is begun in Christ not because we deserve it, but exactly because we could never deserve it or earn it apart from Christ.

So I think that if God's grace keeps no count of sins, but instead is abundant and unchanging, based not on our deserving, but on God's mercy and love, then Grace's Table ought to operate under similar principles.

Will someone take advantage?  Possibly.  But I'll let them answer for that when their day to face God comes.  In the meantime, the folks at Grace's Table know what it means to receive what we do not deserve with no fear of it ever being taken away no matter how many times we fall short.  So they have chosen to to do the best they can to let Grace's Table mirror God's grace - abundantly giving without making judgments about who is deserving or not. 

I think they just may be on to something here!  Grace's Table: Food Pantry and More - a place where the hungry are fed; plain and simple. 

It what ways does your life reflect the abundance of God's grace?

Come to the table of mercy ...  Grace: abundant and unchanging 

Blessings -