Buried with Christ

There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Dr. Beverly Crusher notices people on the Enterprise are vanishing. She learns that she has been zapped into some kind of pocket universe that is collapsing around her. She has to find a way of getting out of this dying universe before it was too late.

As Americans adjust to this altered life in the shadow of the coronavirus, I feel at times as if the world I knew, the world all of us knew until a few days ago is collapsing around us. Little by little, we can’t watch our favorite sports team, or go to church or even go to our job. My husband asked me a few nights ago when do I think we will forced to “shelter in place” as people in the Bay Area are having to do. In normal times, I would have said that won’t happen to us. I can’t say that now. In a few days we could be forced to just stay in our homes.

All of that brings about a strange feeling; a feeling I couldn’t initially put my finger on. But then it hit me: it felt like I was being buried. First government authorities said no gatherings under 500. Then 250. Then 50. Then 10. Some parts of the United States are now under lockdown. People can’t leave their houses except to get groceries or gas. I get it that this is needed. I know we need to do this to “flatten the curve.”

And yet I am filled with sadness. People are shut up in their homes. Businesses stop. Jobs lost. People die.

It’s not the end of the world, but the end a world. It’s the end of the world we used to know and it feels like…death. We are buried.

It is interesting that the COVID-19 outbreak is happen during the season of Lent, those six weeks where we join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem where he will be totured and executed by the state. Being buried feels like it would have on that dark Friday we call good so long ago. You feel the coffin sealing shut and being lowered into the ground. You can hear the dirt piling on top of the coffin, telling you that you are not ever getting out.

In Scripture, Jesus’ body was placed in tomb and the stone rolled in front of the tomb. There was no way of getting out now.

I think about the disciples in the days following Christ’s death. In Luke 24, the Risen Christ meets two disciples who still believed Jesus was in the tomb. They didn’t have any hope that they would see Jesus ever again. They had to feel a sense of hopelessness. Nothing good was coming around the corner.

Right now, I know no one can tell us that things will turn out fine. They won’t. At least not for a while. There is no vaccine. No treatment. It won’t be over in a few days or weeks. It could be months. Maybe even a year. There is no way to be optimistic here at all. It is bad news all the way down. We are buruied and we aren’t going to get back up.

So no, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful.

I have hope because even though Jesus was buried, shut up in a tomb, we know Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead and defeated death. The loss we feel, the sense of death is not forever. No virus can win forever. We have hope in Jesus Christ and we believe death will never have the last word-even when we are shut up in our homes, even when it feels like death is on the prowl. It is that hope that we must hold on to even when our world slowly dies. We can rest in the hope that death can’t win. Colossians 2:12 remind us that we are buried like Christ and like Christ we are raised. Baptism is a reminder of this. When we feel buried, we know that Christ was buried.

We need that hope because we need to share it with others who are not just losing their “freedom,” but losing their jobs because of the coronavirus and the economic harm that is coming will be brutal. We need hope because there are dark, dark clouds on the horizon.

My mother loves the hymn “Because He Lives,” by Bill Gaither. It might seem a bit syrupy, but I think the chorus speaks to me right now:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

Tomorrow is not looking great. But the Christ that was buried arose from the dead. At a time like this, that is the hope I hold on to.

Big Me and Little Jesus

An updated post from 2015.

Anyone remember LiveJournal?

Over the years, I’ve noticed a change on social media.  When I started writing on LiveJournal around 2001, friends were fairly open about their lives.  There was nothing exhibitionist about it- it was just everyday people sharing the struggles of everyday life. As Caitlin Cass showed in a recent comic, it was a window into someone’s thoughts and worldview.

Blogs were the same way.  People were willing to share their imperfections and questions.  The posts were filled with nuance and reason.

But over, decade or so, something happened.  Social media became less personal.  Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter became more showrooms that presented a more cleaned up and perfect version of the self.  People tend to make more statements instead of  asking questions.  I used to think everyone online on Facebook was happy, but that’s not really the case.  People aren’t more happy, but they are more shallow. There is less ruminating about issues.  There is less room for doubt or nuance. People are known more for their political viewpoint or identity than as actually flesh and blood people.

Being a church communicator, I’ve been hawking the importance of social media for years.  I still think that is important for churches to be on social media, but we need to be more aware of what social media, at least the most current version of social media is doing to us as a culture and as a church. Because, like any bit of technology it is changing us.

Social Media has at times made the church less a place of sinners saved by grace than a place where people try to present themselves as correct.  Liberal and conservative Christians focus less on their frailty, their temptation to sin and more on presenting their viewpoint/ideology as the superior one to the other side.  I don’t hear people sharing their uncertainties and questions as much as making a case for their side.

While polemicists on the left, right and center tend to roll their eyes when they hear commentator David Brooks speak, more often than not, Brooks has his finger on what is going on in culture on what has changed for good or for ill.  In his 2015 book, the Road to Character, talks about how as a society we have become focused on resume virtues as opposed to eulogy virtues.  Resume virtues are the skills and experiences that fit on a resume.  Places like Facebook and Twitter are places you will find resume virtues.

Eulogy virtues are those things that people will say about you when you are gone.  More often than not, this is what you will still find in obituaries and on social media sites like Caring Bridge.

Resume virtues are part of what Brooks calls the culture of “Big Me” a resume or highlight reel of your life which shows just the good parts.  “Big Me” is looking at yourself as larger than life.  Brooks shares a set of statistics from the 1950s and from more recent times:

My favorite statistic about this is that in 1950 the Gallup organization asked high school seniors: Are you a very important person? And in 1950, 12 percent said yes. They asked again in 2005 and it was 80 percent who said they were a very important person. So we live in a culture that encourages us to be big about ourselves, and I think the starting point of trying to build inner goodness is to be a little bit smaller about yourself.

This is what I’ve seen in the shift in social media.  When I was on LiveJournal circa 2001, it was basically about sharing the ordinariness of our lives.  Fifteen years later on Facebook we see Big Me in action, where we show all the successful parts of our lives and leave the darker aspects of living behind. Brooks expounds on this in a New York Times column:

We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

So where is God in all of this?

I think in the culture of Big Me, God become less the Savior or Father, than the God of Moral Therapeutic Deism, a God that wants us to be happy, but not one that challenges us to be better. We get churches where we are affirmed, but never to be better, more virtuous.  We get churches where we don’t talk about sin (or at least we don’t talk about our sin, the sin of that guy down the street, though…) but we talk about how to be successful.

Brooks believes we needs to recover and older moral frame-work one that uses religious words and concepts:

There are certain words that have been passed down through the generations that we’ve sort of left behind. And some of them have quasi-religious connotations, but I don’t think they need to. Those are words like grace — the idea that we’re loved more than we deserve — redemption and sin. We now use the word sin in the context of fattening desserts, but it used to be central in the vocabulary, whether you’re religious or not; an awareness that we all sin and we all have the same sins — selfishness, self-centeredness. And I think rediscovering that word is an important task because without that you’re just too egotistical. You don’t realize how broken we all are at some level.

Maybe as Christians we need to start engaging and changing the nature of social media instead of letting it change us.  We need to talk more about our own sin and brokeness; not in a tell-all kind of way, but in honesty.  We have to present ourselves as saved by God’s grace and not through merit.  We have to be willing to show the cracks in our armor, to show we aren’t all that and a bag of chips.  We have to be about proclaiming a culture of Big God instead of Big Me.

Social media today  has had the effect of alienating me from my friends.  I don’t care as much about knowing what you had for dinner or your last trip as much as what is your story.  I need to be more honest about who I am and to hell if it doesn’t look good on a resume.

Social media has its place in our society.  But let’s make it a place that is little less about how “correct” we are and more about telling our stories and vulnerablities because we all need to hear them.

Jesus of Suburbia:An Update

This is an update of a sermon I wrote in 2014 on suburban ministry.

Mahtomedi Water Tower at Sunset. Photo by Tony Webster.

It’s been over six years since I started at First Christian of St. Paul which is in the suburb of Mahtomedi, MN.  One of the things that was kind of hammered home to me in seminary is to learn to do ministry in a certain context.  And with this call, context matters, at least to me.

I’ve shared before that I’m a city kid that grew up with an antipathy towards the ‘burbs.  So as my mentor Bob Brite has said, “the Holy Spirit, the practical joker that she is” has me preaching at a church in the suburbs.

And I don’t think I’m prepared for it.

I’ve noticed over the year that our seminaries prepare students for one kind of context: cities.  The urban context has long been what our seminary education has been based on.  I can understand the need to focus on cities; it is where the majority of Americans live.  But most seminaries tend to ignore rural contexts and view suburbia with a sense of contempt.  In a blog post last year, I shared what an evangelical blogger wrote about the suburbs and it wasn’t a love letter.  A fellow Disciples pastor has said that the only message we seem to have for suburbanites is how they are bad people for abandoning the city.  Surprisingly, people tend to not be crazy to being called sinful because of where they decided to live.


Most seminaries tend to ignore rural contexts and view suburbia with a sense of contempt. 


A lot of the Christian antipathy towards suburbia mirrors the larger culture’s view of suburbia.  Hollywood has long depticted the ‘burbs as a place of conformity and blandness.  Growing up in 1970s Michigan, I was told that the nearby Detroit suburbs were made up of former white Detroiters who wanted to get away from African Americans. But the thing is, as I said in a 2013 post, suburban America is far more diverse than we think:

Twenty years later, I don’t have the same hatred of suspicion of the burbs.  They are still not the places I prefer to live in (thought I did live in the Washington, DC suburbs of Arlington, VA and Silver Spring, MD in the years following college). Part that is because I actually started paying attention to what is going on in the suburbs.  Over the years, I’ve learned that hunger take place in suburbs like Maple Grove, Minnesota, which is just west of Minneapolis.  I’ve learned that domestic violence takes place and that there are shelters for women and children in the tony suburbs of Oakland County north of Detroit.  I learned that runaway youth who live in the burbs need a place to stay.  I learned that suburban schools are becoming more diverse, handling people from different parts of the world.  What I’ve learned is that the suburbs are not some fascist utopia, but are real places with real problems.

But many Christian leaders seem to choose not to care about what is happening there.  Instead, they brand suburban living as unChristian.  This is what someone said on the Fare Foreward blog in 2013:

Yet some forms of cultural resistance should be universal, because some aspects of “normal” life in America are deeply unChristian. Bradley laments that “anti-suburban Christianity” has lead to this kind of legalism. But there are some things deeply unChristian, and deeply counter to even natural virtue, in the suburbs. Will Seath does a good job of laying those out in his article from the winter edition of Fare Forward. Bradley suggests that the anti-suburban Christians advocate for urbanism at the expense of the suburbs. But, as the buzz around Rod Dreher’s latest book on moving home, a lot of the anti-suburban sentiment comes from people who support small town living just as much as from those who support city living. And the thing that unites the city and the country against the suburbs is the belief that the suburbs are not, as a matter of fact, ordinary, natural life, but a strange artificial construct that hinders ordinary live and ordinary relationships (see Seath for more).

And this was my response after I picked up my jaw from the floor:

Notice what’s being said here.  It’s not that suburbs aren’t optimal to Christian living.  No, suburban living is unChristian (empahsis mine), it goes against what it means to be a Christian.  I haven’t read the Will Seath article, but even without reading it the above statement is astounding.  What is being said here is that nothing good comes from the suburbs, and that millions of Christians in America are basically committing a grave sin because they chose to live outside the city.


Being church here in Mahtomedi is not the same as in the city or in a small town.  But Christ is here.  There are needs. There are people who need God in their lives.


First Christian was in St. Paul until 1996.  I’m pretty sure we aren’t planning on moving back.  So that means learning how to do ministry in the suburbs. Being church here in Mahtomedi is not the same as in the city or in a small town.  But Christ is here.  There are needs.  There are people who need God in their lives. Our church is involved in a coalition of suburban churches that staff a homeless shelter for families in the suburban counties east of St. Paul.  A large Lutheran church down the road tries to help some of these same people get back on their feet.  Suburbanites don’t have to go into the big city to do mission, it’s here at our doorstep.

But there is still more to be done. How we are sharing our faith with others in the neighborhood? How are we showing that this church is an active presence in our community? What does our witness as a diverse congregation speak to the wider majority white community?


The Jesus of the City and the small town is also Jesus of suburbia.


I feel that seminary left me unprepared for how to do ministry in this context.  It’s not urban ministry and it sure isn’t rural ministry.  But how do learn to do church in this context?  How can we preach the good news in words and in deeds in these places far from the urban core?

This is a little tip for seminaries: start thinking about what it means to do mission in the ‘burbs.  Because an ever larger share of American society is choosing to live there.  We have to find ways to help suburbanites join in the mission of God and not feel guilty because they happen to be in the wrong zip code to some urban-centric, snobby Christians.

The Jesus of the City and the small town is also Jesus of suburbia.

Not My Problem

This morning, a visitor showed up for worship. During the passing of the peace, I came over and introduced myself. By the time the sermon began, the visitor was gone. I realized how he talked about church made me think he was planning to worship with the church that rents out space with us, which is a bit more conservative.

But I still felt bothered that this man left. It reminded me of the visitors that have come to the church and then never decides to become a part of our congregation. In both cases, I blame myself. I start to wonder if I wasn’t nice enough or not friendly enough. I even wonder if I am bad luck for the congregation since we have not had visitors that want to stay and be a part of our community. I try to write letters to let them know I enjoyed visiting them and that I truly care.

But I’m starting to think this really isn’t on me after all.

I know my aspergers can make me come accross as uncaring at times, but I’ve worked hard to be caring and respectful. I’ve done what I can to welcome people. At the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for how they respond. I can trust that God will work with them, but I can’t change their mind unless they are willing to change things.

I tend to make myself responsible for everything and everybody. But I can’t change people-unless they want to be changed. I’ve been trying to meet with a friend who says they want to get together to chat. I’ve contacted the person with dates to meet more than once and I never heard back from this person. This has happened to me with other people again and again. People seem to “ghost” me a lot. I do get upset about that. At the end of the day, however, they have to make the decision to contact me; it is up to them. If they want to meet with me, great. But, they have to have to the balls to contact me. That’s what grownups do.

For a long time, I’ve blamed myself for visitors not staying at church or letting friend take advantage of me. I can’t allow that to happen anymore.

What Are We Being Inclusive For? (Revisited)

 

Note: Most of following post was written exactly five years ago, when First Christian became an official open and affirming congregation.  I’ve added a few additional thoughts.

There has been something that has been bothering me for a while.  Usually when people start talking about gay ordination or same-sex marriage, someone on the pro side will say something to the effect: “Jesus was inclusive,” or “Jesus welcomed everybody.”

Now, I’m all for welcoming people into our churches in the way that Jesus did.  I’ve been fighting for LGBT inclusion in the church for years.  But when someone says something like the sentences above, I get a weird feeling, like something isn’t right.

Recently, after reading a blog post, I finally understood what was bothering me.  In the contemporary liberal church, the highest goal, the highest good is to be “inclusive.”  As I’ve said, being inclusive matters to me.  But should our faith be only about inclusion?  What are we including and why?  Why are we being inclusive? What are we being inclusive for?

Rod Dreher linked to an article from Slate on the controversy brewing among Catholics in San Francisco.  The bishop wants to make sure that teachers working in Catholic schools don’t say anything that contradicts church teaching on issues such as homosexuality.  Needless to say, this has bothered a lot of people.  But the problem is less the bishop’s policy, but the response to the bishop.  The protestors want the church to be nonjudgemental- something that Will Saletan from Slate believes is impossible:

The protesters are confused. They reject morality clauses but call the archbishop’s behavior sinful, shameful, and wrong. They belong to a church but seem to think it shouldn’t forbid anything. They insist that no one can be judged, except for issuing judgments that contradict their own. They can’t explain or even acknowledge the moral differences between homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. The nonsense of nonjudgmentalism has turned their brains to mush. It’s clouding their ability to think and speak clearly about society’s mistakes—and their own.

Saletan isn’t a conservative, he agrees that the bishop is wrong.  But he thinks that many of the liberal Catholics don’t understand their own faith, ignoring church teaching and thinking the highest goals in Catholicism are inclusiveness and tolerance. He argues:

The dictionary says churches are supposed to teach doctrines. But the campaign against Cordileone says they shouldn’t. Students at one Catholic school “are very upset” by the new policy, says a teacher. “They’re afraid it’ll lead to indoctrination.” A statement signed by more than 200 opponents of the policy says Catholic leaders should follow their flocks: “Most U.S. Catholics believe very little of what is in the Archdiocesan document and actively reject much of it. The role of the bishop is to articulate the faith of the people.”

In place of morality or doctrine, the archbishop’s critics preach acceptance, inclusiveness, tolerance, affirmation, and diversity. An online petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, says his proposed rules violate “Catholic values of inclusion and diversity.” “By forcing morality clauses, you’re taking away all inclusivity and diversity in these schools,” adds a supporter on Twitter. Haider-Winnett says students need “affirming environments.” The campaign’s hashtag is “#teachacceptance.”

Of course people can argue against church teaching.  And teachings change over time.  But it’s one thing to argue that teachings must change, it’s another to say that things like doctrine have no place in the life of faith.

Which gets me back to why we need to be inclusive.  What is the theological reason for this?  I think we should, but why does it matter that churches have to be inclusive and diverse?

I tend to think that in many liberal churches (the tribe that I hang with) gay and lesbian inclusion and indeed, all inclusion is based on moral therapeutic deism (MTD), the defacto civil religion in the United States.  Writer Damon Linker explains what MTD is all about:

1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”

2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”

3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”

5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

I think this is what drives inclusion these days.  Now there are some outliers, liberal Lutherans have enough classical Christianity that they still talk about sin, cross and grace.  But this what my side of the debate on LGBT issues tends to believe in, which I think is pretty thin gruel.

The church should be open to people of various sexual orientations and gender identities.  Church should be tolerant of differences. But if we want to include them into the life of the church, there has to be some there there.  We can’t just talk about being inclusive, because Christians are supposed to be nice. Inclusion should then lead people to discipleship, to learning about who Jesus is and allowing Jesus to change us.

Churches can and have become places where all that matters is to be nice and tolerant, but I wonder.  Is this what we fought for?  I think people sacrificed a lot for us to join a church that simply teaches one to be nice.

The thing is, inclusive churches don’t have to give up orthodox belief in order to be inclusive.  In this blog post from 2014, an Episcopalian priest named Matt Marino noted that he is getting a number of calls from gay Millennials that are looking for a place where they can talk about Jesus, resurrection, evangelism and the like.  They were in churches where such talk was not cool and longed for community that talked about a faith worth having.  Here’s what one such gay Christian said to the priest:

“Well, when I talk about ‘Jesus, and the power of the Resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,’ I get raised eyebrows. When I talk about evangelism, historic doctrines, or believing the Creeds, people tug at their shirt collars…and clergy their clerical collars. They are very excited about Spong, Borg, Crossan and the Buddha, but they get the willies when I want to talk about Augustine, Aquinas, NT Wright and the Messiah.” They tell me ‘we welcome questions,’ but it seems that orthodox answers are the only ones not tolerated.

Marino continues wondering why such “inclusive” places are not so inclusive to those who they don’t agree with:

Imagine that you are a twenty year old Episcopalian. You view the world through post-modern eyes…you place high value on maintaining relationships with people, including those with differing viewpoints from your own. Whether gay or straight, you are coming of age in a world in which, chances are good, that you have not fought over sexuality.  In that world, young Gay Episcopalians seem to be seeking out the theologically orthodox for supportive Christian discipleship.

My snarky side wants to whisper, “Gee, that sounds like actual tolerance.” You know, from before “tolerance” was code for “progressive,” when it was a word that presumed disagreement. After all, I don’t have to “tolerate” those I agree with. We already agree. Much has been written about the exclusivity of “inclusivity” – How the only idea that is out of bounds is the idea that some ideas are, in fact, out of bounds. The old and inherently contradictory notion that there is no objective truth except, of course, the statement that there is no objective truth. But now my iPhone call log is showing a growing list of indicators that at least some of the group the Episcopal Church has most tried to enfranchise are feeling disenfranchised. What kind of inclusivity is it that is gives Gay Millennials the experience of being excluded for simply wanting to follow Jesus according to the traditions and doctrines of our faith, as set out in our prayer book and Scriptures?

I can understand back in the day that one might want to tone down on the sin talk since many gays were coming from places where they were considered sinful, if not damned to hell.  I can understand the need to talk up the love of God more than God as Judge.

But I’m beginning to think that many LGBT folk are yearning for a more robust faith, something that asks of them.  Yes, they know God loves them for who they are and they want to share that love with others.

Last fall, Lutherans were abuzz with an article entitled “Will the ELCA be Gone in 30 Years?” The article explained what was going on within the ELCA and other denominations like our Disciples.  What can stop the slide in among mainline Protestants?  It’s basically about getting back to the basics:

Too many churches are cluttered with all sorts of programs and activities that aren’t really designed to form Christian identity and practice. Many of these are holdovers from previous eras. They may be meaningful to legacy members but not transferable to newer generations or diverse neighbors. We need to rediscover and reclaim the simple practices that Christians have always done–prayer, scripture study, service, reconciliation, Sabbath, hospitality, etc.–and make these the center of congregational life. Such disciplines must be expressed in forms ordinary members can practice in daily life throughout the week as they discern and join God’s leading in their neighborhoods and spheres of influence.

They add that churches have to move to a more participatory spirituality:

Faith cannot be primarily something performed by clergy or staff for people to watch or consume; it must be something that everyone is equipped to practice in daily life. This means creating pathways for simple, accessible spiritual habits and disciplines that can be adopted by everyone. 

For LGBT folk and their allies, it is time to move beyond MTD to something stronger.  Jesus didn’t call us to simply be tolerant, we are called to be disciples.  Inclusivity is a very important first step, but it is not the only step. Inclusivity is about welcoming LGBT folk to become disciples of Christ or at least it should.

That’s why we should be inclusive.  That is what being inclusive is for.

Photo by Matt Meltchley.

 

Faith, Love and Politics

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-CA) attends the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast on February 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. – President Donald Trump said Thursday that he suffered a “terrible ordeal” during his impeachment. In his first public comments since being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of office, he said he had been “put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.” “They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing very badly hurt our nation,” he said at a televised prayer breakfast with a Who’s Who of Washington power brokers. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post that stated that First Christian Church was not a progressive congregation. At the post’s heart is how Christians try to deal with faith and politics. Both are important in our society, but when and where do they connect? Or do they never connect?

Some Christians think faith and politics should never be together and try to stay above it all, never mentioning political issues. Coming from the black church tradition, I’ve always found that impossible. You can’t make the church a politics-free zone, because life is about politics. Issues like the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s were issues that could not be separated from faith.

The flip side is people who tend to merge their ideological viewpoint with faith until what you end up with is an ideology with a patina of faith to make it sound religious.

This week there were two examples of what faith in the public square should look like and they happen to be bipartisan.

The first comes from Utah Senator Mitt Romney. As most of you know, Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict President Trump during the impeachment trial. In an interview with the Atlantic Magazine, Romney explained that it was his Mormon faith that guided him in his decision making:

Romney, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described to me the power of taking an oath before God: “It’s something which I take very seriously.” Throughout the trial, he said, he was guided by his father’s favorite verse of Mormon scripture: Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good. “I have gone through a process of very thorough analysis and searching, and I have prayed through this process,” he told me. “But I don’t pretend that God told me what to do.”

He made a decision based on his faith, even though that went against the rest of his party. In a speech to the Senate explaining his vote, he said he wanted to go with the team, but he had to follow what his faith and his oath called on him to do:

In the last several weeks, I have received numerous calls and texts. Many demand that, in their words, “I stand with the team.” I can assure you that that thought has been very much on my mind. I support a great deal of what the President has done. I have voted with him 80% of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

The true character of how faith interacts with politics is when your faith calls you to do something that will conflict with your politics. Romney is a loyal Republican, but in this case, he felt his call as a person of faith called him to do something that went against his politics.

Another example of this comes from Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic representative has said that she prays for the President. In December, she responded to a reporters question about praying for the President:

“I don’t hate the president,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I pray for the president all the time.”

Pelosi was responding to a reporter’s question after she had announced that she was asking the House of Representatives to impeach the president. She was asked if she hates the president by a reporter who cited Rep. Doug Collins’ statement that the Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they hate him. Collins, a Republican from Georgia, has been a staunch defender of President Donald Trump during the impeachment hearings.

Pelosi strongly rejected the question, which she saw as an insult to her faith and her upbringing.

“I don’t hate anybody,” responded Pelosi. “I was raised in a Catholic house. We don’t hate anybody, not anybody in the world. Don’t accuse me of hate.”

Being accused of hatred was, in Pelosi’s mind, the same as accusing her of being a bad Catholic.

A devout Catholic, Pelosi believes in praying for President Trump, even though she strongly disagrees with him and has gone toe-to-toe with him. Praying for an opponent might upset some on the left, but it is her faith that sends her to her knees to offer prayers for Trump. Prayers for a political opponent, even one you don’t like is allowing faith to dictate politics and not the other way around.

Both of these politicians are doing something that is not easy, but their faith calls them to seek a path beyond the partisan fighting.

An example of how some put politics above faith comes from the President himself. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast the day after being acquitted in the Senate, President Trump to say something that wasn’t very prayerful. Arthur Brooks, the former head of the American Enterprise Institute and a Catholic spoke to the audience about loving our political enemies. The President followed Brooks and said the following:

“Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you, and I don’t know if Arthur’s gonna like what I’ve got to say,” he began, promptly demonstrating the very contempt Brooks battled with reflections on his impeachment trial and his enemies therein. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said. “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that’s not so.” His apparent targetsSen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both of whom have cited their faith (Mormon and Catholic, respectively) as an influence on their politics.

The President can’t understand that someone would do something propelled by their faith. Instead, he seems to think politics should dictate one’s faith, not the other way around. It is a pathetic reminder of how some in our culture worship politics over their faith, who see hate as more effective than love.

First Corinthians 13 states that we could do some of the greatest things in the world, but if we don’t have love, it isn’t worth squat. Love is what can move us to pray for someone we don’t like or to do something that might not be popular. Faith and love are important for people of faith and vital to a free society.

As this very political year continues, I hope we will see other examples of politicians that are act out of their faith to do what is difficult, instead of those who act out of their politics to do what is so very easy.

(In)Visible

Last week, social media was ablaze with talk of a church in southern Washington County. Grove United Methodist Church has two campuses, one in Woodbury and the other in Cottage Grove. The Cottage Grove Church began as Peaceful Grove United Methodist when it was founded 30 years ago. A few years ago, it merged with Grove and became a campus congregation.

But the congregation hasn’t grown. The church leaders and the Minnesota Annual Conference came up with an idea that might help attract more people to the congregation. Long story short, the story got misinterpreted and what was supposed to be about helping a struggling congregation stay as a vital part of the community, became a story of the old people being told to leave in order for more younger people to show up.

But this post is not about Grove UMC. I use the story because churches are trying to find ways to connect to the wider community, to be a visible presence where we are rooted.

Which leads me to this question. How are we visible?

Do people know we are here? Do they know who we are? How are we involved in the life of this community (Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake)?

For a long time, this church has been somewhat invisible. People know that there is a “little church on the hill,” but don’t know much more.

So the question for First Christian Church St. Paul is how are we going to be a visible presence in our community?

Magnolia United Methodist is a small church just like First Christian. A retired pastor came in as their pastor. Questions surfaced wondering if the church would survive. What she said is key:

When she arrived, members seemed to have one big question on their minds: Are we going to be able to survive?

Manning told them, “Yes, you can. God’s not going to leave you alone in this process. We just need to be patient and faithful.”

She immediately looked for opportunities for the church to turn outward and partner with its community. Members began working with their local food pantry and other social service organizations, and they connected with a home for troubled youth. Manning assured them that their mission was much bigger than keeping their doors open and urged them to discern what it was God was calling them to do.

The pastor then worked to reorient the church outward. Congregants now participate in food pantries and homeless shelters.

So, you might think I’m going to say we need to what Magnolia did and bing bang, we will have people visiting. It would be a good thing to do this, but before you do anything you have to focus on two things: 1) Be patient and faithful and 2) realize our mission is much more than butts in the seats and find out what God is calling us to do.

So, what is God calling us to do? We are doing some things like participate at the family shelter. What else can we do? Can we have patience that God will work and be faithful to God in our day to day lives? Can we trust that even though we are small that God is with us and we have everything we need? Can we open our God-given minds to creative ways of doing mission with our community?

In keeping with our Epiphany worship theme , my prayer is that we are able to trust God and go into the world revealing Christ to others in our words and in our deeds. May it be so.