Moving the goal line

Amos 5:14-15, 21-24
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. - Amos 5:23-24 

Our worship, our prayer, our study are not ends in themselves. They are the exercises that prepare us to join in God’s work of bringing justice to all people.

…[W]e have a responsibility to think bigger…these days. If spiritual practice is relaxing, if it gives us some peace of mind, that’s great — but is this personal satisfaction helping us to address what is happening in the world? The main question is, are we living in a way that adds further aggression and self-centeredness to the mix, or are we adding some much-needed sanity? — Pema Chödrön, “Taking the Leap”

Photo: Fairy Rapids, by Flickr user fs999 under Creative Commons license. 


Weathering the storms

Matthew 8:23-37

“Lord, save us! We are perishing!” — The disciples
“Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” — Jesus

Jesus says that faith and fear are not compatible.

It is comforting to know that the chaos around us is ultimately in Christ’s hands. But not every storm that rages around us — meteorological, existential or emotional — is stilled in the outward sense. Tornados destroy schools. Diseases don’t respond to treatment. Jobs are lost. Angry words continue to be spoken.

I need to admit, as the disciples did, that these storms are bigger than I am — “Lord, help me. I am going down.” Yet safety is not in the rescue; not in the calming of the sea, the avoidance of discomfort, nor in vindication. The safe place is simply Jesus’ presence, and the inner stillness to connect to his peace when the waters rise, rather than scrambling for what I take for “solid ground” under my own power.

Storms come. Chaos surrounds us. The solution is not to pray them away but to experience the presence of Christ in the midst of my fear and anxiety.

How will I handle the squalls that will come today? How will that affect my ability to handle life’s Category 5 storms?


Tech Tip: Time to upgrade Windows XP

From my church tech side. This was written for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod website. If you're not connected with a non-profit or church, the technical advice still applies...unfortunately not the non-profit discounts on hardware and software.

Key takeaway: Windows XP and Office 2003 will no longer be supported after April 8, 2014. You should make plans to replace computer hardware and/or upgrade your software as soon as possible.

Microsoft’s venerable Windows XP was introduced in 2001, and has had an long and stable life. But nearly 13 years and three versions of Windows later, Microsoft is taking XP off of life support. This means that XP users will no longer receive free security updates through Windows Update after April 8. This puts your computer at risk because exploits and malware will continue to emerge for this now unsupported platform.

Office 2003, although still functional for many users, will also stop receiving updates on April 8. Without getting too technical, Office 2003 uses older and less secure file formats, which have commonly exploited vulnerabilities. Once support ends fixes for these exploits will no longer be released, which puts your system at risk.

To make matters worse, there is no direct upgrade from XP to Windows 7 or 8. Instead you must backup all of your data, do a clean install of the new Windows version, and then reinstall your programs and restore your data.

Another complicating factor is that Windows 8 introduced a new interface that can be confusing to new users. Windows 7 is a solid operating system that will be supported until 2020. However, Microsoft officially stopped selling it in December. Because your congregation is covered under the ELCA’s 501(c)(3) designation, you can request donations of Windows 7 licenses from TechSoup,  an organization that specializes in non-profit tech needs (free registration required). TechSoup donations carry a small administrative fee, currently $12 per Windows license. If you do not qualify for TechSoup donations, you should be able to get discounted charity pricing from retailers such as CDW. You can also find Windows 7 licenses at some online retailers.

If your computer is still running Windows XP, it is likely four to 12 years old, which means it may have trouble running newer software. If your computer meets Microsoft’s hardware requirements (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/upgrade-from-windows-vista-xp-tutorial) you can use the backup and clean install approach. Windows 7 and 8 run well on older PCs. At the Synod office we have upgraded a number of 2008-vintage PCs to Windows 7 by adding memory, and they work fine. Replacing your old hard drive with a fast solid-state disk (SSD) can also extend the life of your PC.

If its time for a new computer, you have options. Unless you are already familiar with Windows 8, you can request refurbished computers with Windows 7 from TechSoup, which start at about $300. Vendors that sell to corporate clients, such as Dell, can also provide new computers with Windows 7 installed. Your local electronics retailer, though, is likely to only sell Windows 8.

New licenses for Office 2010 and 2013 can also be requested via TechSoup; the admin fee of $32 is less than a tenth of the price of Office Professional 2013 on Microsoft’s website.

After a baker’s dozen of years, it really is time to bid farewell to Windows XP and its cousin, Office 2003. If you have questions contact your IT provider or retailer, or visit the Community section of the TechSoup website.


Your Child of God self

At Kairos we continue to explore ways to make space for God's love in our lives at our gatherings.
This week's practice: Sit quietly, and get in tune with and slow your breath. Take full, deep breaths. As you breathe, remember the promise made to you at your baptism: 
(Your name), Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. 
(If you wish, divide this promise into two parts. On the in-breath: (Your name), Child of God.  On the out-breath, You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.) 
Do this as long as you have time for. If you don't have 10-20 minutes at once, try this for 3-5 minutes several times during your day.
When we gathered Sunday we discussed the various ways we all experience our identity, and noticed how many of up went to what we "do" or other societally assigned roles: mother, middle child, peacemaker, the strong one. Almost all of these "identities" that we discussed refer to what we do externally rather than who we are at the core.

Richard Rohr and others call this the "false self." We quite naturally assume these identities as we grow, learn and figure out our lives. 

It is also a key part of our spiritual path that we eventually begin to search for the elusive and well-buried "true self," or what the Zen masters call "the face you had before you were born." This true self is beautifully named in The Message's rendering of John 1 as our "child of God self".

Whatever identity you take on in life, and however those identities change, remember that God has defined your true identity, the one you had before you were born, as being God's child!

God's peace to you this week.


John 1:9-12 (The Message)

The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.


We hold these truths to be self-evident?

There's an article making the rounds in my circles from an ex-pat Lutheran pastor who visits home and finds some surprises going to church. First, she is acutely aware of being a stranger in this congregation, even though she is steeped in church culture. Second, she confronts the comfortable idea that once someone crosses the threshold of a church, the liturgy, prayers, and sermons convey what the people there believe. She says:
It’s a nice idea, but I no longer think it’s remotely true.
I've been pondering this idea for a long time. In my tribe we tend to think that if we can just accompany someone to church and get them involved somehow, they'll "get" faith. But I don't think this "attractional" model works so well any more. Many of the people I know who aren't involved in church don't see relevance to Sunday worship (at best), or have been bored by it or burned by the experience (at worst). Frankly, I know more than a few "church people" who are bored and looking for interaction and community and more depth than can be found in most liturgies.

(Disclaimer: these are anecdotal observations; I don't claim to "know" what "unchurched people," "nones," the "formerly religious" or any group think. Because individuals have different stories and experiences. And its individuals who embark on the journey of faith, not demographic cohorts.)

What's no longer remotely true is the idea that most people in our culture are looking for the Sunday-morning-go-to-meeting experience. Congregations that are waiting for such people to show up may be waiting a long time.

Nor is it true that people are waiting to be invited to a church service, of any style. "Church" is a meaningful experience for many people, most of whom already attend at least semi-regularly.

In my tribe we have long assumed that people are looking for traditions and theology and then form community bonds. And we've watched while (mainly evangelical) churches connect with people over contemporary music and coffee and build community -- and then teach them theology and practice. Our observation is usually that we don't agree with the theology. But the point is that we can share our treasure of God's mercy and grace and presence only after we are in relationship with people. And if we expect them to come with our history and ideas, there will not be much of a relationship.

(Aside: I am really uncomfortable with most of the terms we use in the church for "outsiders." "Unchurched" implies that others lack something, which they don't; God works with people who are not part of the church, sometimes more easily than with insiders. "Non-Christians" is similarly dismissive. "Not-yet-Christians" is even ruder. And please don't get me started on "the lost," possibly the most arrogant church term I've come across. So I'm going to talk about "our neighbors.")

Building relationships with our neighbors isn't a wish or a program or an ad. It's a commitment. It's a slow process that starts with "being there" where they are in daily life. It's an out of the building experience.

It can be tempting for us church geeks to focus on how we can make worship more inviting, more participatory, more clear about what we believe; to move toward becoming communities of Christian practice, not just Christian doctrine. That's important, for the faith formation of the people who are in church now.

Connecting with neighbors who are not participants requires new entry points into the life of faith that will seem odd to those of us steeped in church culture. Community centers to help youth with homework and offer space for music and art, rather than lock-ins. Theology pubs and coffee conversations -- in bars and coffee shops -- rather than classes in the parlor. Community service projects that engage the community rather than "just us" doing stuff for "them," so neighbors can hang with us with no expectation other than to help with painting, or cleaning up, or feeding people.

We need to get close enough to our neighbors that they might actually catch the faith we have been incubating. Then we need small, personal spaces where people can get to know each other and talk about their ideas of faith, as a step into the traditional gathering we know. Or maybe not. Maybe these entry points will become their "church." We could do far worse.

Photo by Flickr user loop_oh under Creative Commons License.


The Commemoration of All Saints -- a day to remember those who have gone before, and those yet to come; those who have influenced us, and those we influence; those who are included and, perhaps most importantly, those who have been excluded.


Some Debt Crisis Humor

Tonight’s TV Highlights

8:00 -- The Big Bang Economy. (2013) Sheldon and Howard put aside their long-standing differences and work together to build an anti-doomsday machine, but Raj, insecure in his manhood, blows it up. Leonard have coitus.

8:30 -- Two Broke Houses. (2013) Faced with a disagreement about paying the bills of their cupcake business, Max and Caroline pout. Oleg steps in to acquire the business in for pennies on the dollar. Sophie liquidates her assets and stashes them in her boa.

9:00 -- House of Cards (2013) After arm-twisting, promises of pork, offers of drugs and prostitutes and threats of murder fail to broker a deal, Francis throws his hands up in the air and decides that the U.S. Congress is, in fact, a house of cards.

9:30 -- Arrested Development (2013) Buster has an inspiration to grow the Bluth family’s remaining assets in an insider trade, but loses everything unnecessarily. Guest stars: Tea Party congressmen.

10:00 -- Survivor: Washington Finale (Repeat, 2011) After posturing for most of the season, two teams, the Donkeys and the Elephants, address a series of difficult, time-sensitive tasks. After a faltering start, each team proposes solutions, then quickly sabotages them. In an intense tribal council, the American People appear and vow to vote both teams off the island.

11:00 -- Late Local News (live) Accidents, random shootings and sports continue to distract people from the real crises ahead.

11:30 -- Movie: Thelma and Louise (1991)

Reviewer’s recommendation: Skip this drivel, and nostalgically seek out reruns of “Let’s Make a Deal,” or “Mister Smith Goes to Washington,” and dream of a functional government.