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A Sermon on Ferguson, Robin Williams and the Canaanite Woman

As a blogger, it can be hard to know where to begin with all the things happening in the world. But as a pastor, I can’t help but preach about where God is in the midst of this mess…

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord… (Read the whole passage here)

Sermon

Have mercy on me Lord. 

These are familiar words. In fact, we just sang them this morning. Given the times and places where we usually say these words, it can feel strange to sing them while we are safe and sound at church. Normally it is in moment of distress, moments of trial and hardship, moments when there is nothing else but to ask for God’s help.

Have mercy on me Lord. 

A news alert flashes across the televisions, computer or smart phone. The top story of the evening news. The front page of the newspaper. They all declare the same thing:

Robin Williams is dead.

Mork is dead, Adrian Cronauer is dead. John Keating is dead. Garp, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sean Maguire, the Genie from Alladin, Patch Adams and so many more beloved characters from our favourites movies. They are all dead.

And the world mourns, the world cries out for healing, the world begs for more understanding and help for those suffering from depression.

This news is a shock and yet it isn’t. Another star whose personal struggles and demons meant that we all share in the tragic results. We all grieve when a famous star dies.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

The canaanite woman that approached Jesus must have been desperate. She must have been willing to risk any humiliation for her daughter. She also must have known that God in flesh would hear her plea. The woman who calls on Jesus does so knowing that she is repeating the language of worship, the language that Jesus and all Jews would have used in worship. Words that are spoken to God, this woman speaks to Jesus. A sign that she knows just who this Jesus fellow is.

And yet the disciples try to send her away.

They send her away because she is a gentile, because she is a woman, because she is a beggar. They send her away because she is different. She isn’t one of them, and as open minded to the poor, to the marginalized, to the downtrodden they think they are, this woman is too different and therefore undeserving of their mercy.

Even Jesus doesn’t have time for the woman. She begs him to help her daughter and Jesus says some pretty offensive word to her: It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

This is not the Jesus we know. This is a cruel, uncaring Jesus who doesn’t even see this woman as human, but more like a street dog.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

In Ferguson, Missouri an 18 year old black teenager was walking down the street, and was stopped by a white police officer. The two got into a scuffle and the police officer shot the teen 8 times, killing him. The boy had his hands in the air, and was saying, “Don’t shoot” as he was killed.

The small suburb of St. Louis is shocked and outraged that a white police officer can kill a black teen without repercussion. Neighbourhood vigils and protests turn into a national movement calling for justice and for acknowledgement of the systemic racism that led to this incident.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

The canaanite woman who has asked for mercy does not let up. She has a sick daughter, a child suffering from a demon, from an unknown illness. She asking for Jesus’ help not her own behalf, but as a parent. And she is willing to risk rejection, and to keep asking, even if he says no at first.

And Jesus gives a resounding no. He hasn’t come for gentiles, he has only come for the people of Israel. Jesus has come for God’s chosen people… yet this woman, this unclean gentile woman challenges Jesus… challenges Jesus to change his mind.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

Wars continue in Syria, Iraq and Gaza. People are dying in Africa from the deadly Ebola virus. The need for mercy in our dark world feels overwhelming these days as the news is a constant flow violence, sadness and shock.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

These words are familiar to us. They are words that we pray, words of desperation and words that we practice week after week when we gather for worship. Words that are handed on to us and that we are entrusted to use faithfully.

And so when we don’t have the words and when we don’t know what to say, those familiar words like Have mercy on me Lord, or Peace be with you, or Thanks be to God, they spring to our lips without needing to think of them first. These are the words of the community of faith, they are the words of our forebears in the faith. These are the words that we teach each new generation as they come to worship.

And most importantly, maybe most surprisingly. These are words that change the mind of God.

To imagine words with such power is hard for us. Words that change the mind of God seem like too good to be true. And yet, that is exactly what happens each week, each moment we worship. The words that we hear in this place and the words that we share remind us over and over again, that God’s mind has been changed about us.

We have chosen condemnation, we have chosen death for ourselves. We are sinners who can only choose to die over and over again. Yet with mercy and love, God comes and speaks to us, with forgiveness and grace, God choses life and love for us. As Jesus changes his mind today, he doesn’t just change it about one woman. In Gospel of Matthew, from that moment on, Jesus’ mission was not just for the Jews, but all creation, for Jews and Gentiles alike. We are the ones asking Jesus for mercy and we are the Gentile members of the body of Christ who have received it.

Today, the Good News is that God changes God’s mind to include us. To include Gentiles, to include 21st century Canadians, to include the people of The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. God in Christ has come into our world, to be born, live and die for us. God in Christ has come to give us so much more than scraps from the table, but to give us a place at the table, to welcome us and feed us with God’s own body and blood. To make us into One Body. To hear our cries for Mercy.

And despite the horrible news that we have encountered this week there has been mercy. Since the death of Robin Williams there has been renewed awareness for those who suffer from mental illness and increased giving towards charity.

Mercy given.

In Ferguson, as tensions grew between police protestors, faith leaders and community leaders joined the call for justice but also the call for peace.

Mercy given.

In Africa there is help being sent, including new medicine with the hopes of helping.

Mercy given.

There are calls for peace and an end of violence in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, but most of all people of faith are standing together in solidarity promising to pray for innocent victims of conflict.

Mercy given.

Mercy isn’t about taking the problems away, but mercy is the promise that God walks with us in the midst of the darkness. God promises to be our light in a dark world, to be our healing balm for our suffering, to be the compassion that we so desperately need.

Have mercy on me Lord. These words will cross our lips over and over again. They will be ingrained into our bodies and into our souls, they are the words that change God’s mind, they are words that change us from dead sinners into members of of the body of Christ – forgiven and alive. Mercy is what we need these days.

We cry out,

Have Mercy on us Lord.

And Mercy is what God gives.

Amen.

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Why Mark Driscoll needs a Bishop

Every time I wade into the fray of American Evangelical Drama, I feel like the little Canadian guy waving my arms wildly, shouting, “I have something to say too!”

UnknownIf you keep up on Evangelical drama at all, you will regularly hear Mark Driscoll’s name come up associated with some controversy or another, from saying something offensive to or about women, plagiarizing material for his writing, buying up his own book in order to make the New York Times best seller listrevealing that he anonymously posted some truly awful stuff to a Mars Hill Church chat board 14 years ago. (For my mainline readers, Mark is the senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and author of a number of books. Mark is a big Evangelical deal.)

Now, Mark Driscoll should be no concern of mine… our worlds are very far apart. And yet, as a Christian pastor, he is my colleague. And as someone trying to represent at least one progressive Lutheran Canadian millennial voice in the great sea of social media christianity, he is hard to ignore.

As the pastor of a small local church in the Canadian hinterland, it is easy to feel smug about the spiralling downfall of a “Mega Pastor” like Mark Driscoll. Each time another story breaks I can just sit back in my office chair and think, “Hah, that’s what happens when you build a church on the cult of personality! Now… how can I get more than 100 people to show up to worship on Sunday?” (Compared to Mars Hill’s 15,000+)

But the reaction to the latest controversy among Evangelicals seems more and more discombobulated. Some are outraged and aghast by Mark Driscoll’s misogyny, abuse and lack of apologizing. Some think that he should resign. Some believe that he should be shown grace because that is what Christians do. Some say this issue is for Mars Hill to deal with. And some are blogging about not blogging about it.

People seem just unsure of what to do with Mark Driscoll.

But I think Mark Driscoll is a symptom of a bigger Evangelical problem.

Accountability.

Specifically, institutional accountability.

Mark Driscoll is just one of many pastor/church combos adrift in the sea of loosely affiliated Evangelical congregations. Congregations and pastors that become islands of theological, doctrinal, ethical and institutional accountability.

There is no 3rd party – outside of the congregational system – to whom both congregation and pastor are accountable to.

Like a Bishop.20140805-235616-86176628.jpg

Now, no church structure is perfect and human beings are very adept at finding ways within any system to abuse each other.

However, mainline churches have had a few hundred more years of practicing unhealthy behaviour than Evangelicals. We know our need for overseers.

We know that congregations really don’t have the mechanisms to deal with pastoral conflict. In times when pastors and congregations aren’t working together, when there is conflict and definitely when there is abuse, Bishops are 3rd parities who can come in and begin processes of reconciliation and/or discipline.

Sometimes pastors just need someone to come and say, “Your ministry is finished here.” I wonder who can say that to Mark Driscoll? Bishops are not peers, but rather pastors to pastors. They can come and speak with an authority and with concern that lets a pastor and a congregation know that they are cared for and also accountable to the whole church beyond them. With Bishops, congregations and pastors aren’t free to do as they will, but nor are they abandoned in times of need. Bishops connect the little congregation/pastor islands together to the larger Body of Christ. And they connect them in a theological, doctrinal, ethical and institutional way. Bishops are the embodied lines of accountability that we have to one another in the Body of Christ.

20140805-233952-85192204.jpgNow, I would love to sit down with Mark Driscoll and tell him, from my professional and pastoral perspective, all the ways in which he is failing as a pastor. I would love to tear a strip off of him for all the ways in which he is putting himself before his people. And I would have every right to do so as a colleague and fellow pastor in the Church. And he would have every right to ignore me. But a Bishop would be that person who can call a pastor and a congregation to account.

The reality is Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill don’t have these structures of accountability,  and the ministry there will continue to implode and not only wound people, but perpetuate an unhealthy system that will eventually become unsustainable. I would bet real money that Mars Hill won’t exist in 50 years.

And maybe this is the underlying truth that Evangelicals who don’t know what to do with Mark Driscoll need to know.

Mark Driscoll would not be approved for minsitry in most mainline denominations. Bishops would see his drama coming a mile away.

He would never have made it through the candidacy process, he would not stand up to the academic rigour required to be ordained, he would not pass the psychological exams, and he would not have been encouraged to pursue professional, ordained ministry. Mark Driscoll ministers from an unhealthy place and is not suitable to care for a congregation.

He would not make it as a mainline pastor.

Yet, even if he did make it through the process, any one of his “controversies,” would have earned him a visit from the Bishop and likely he would have been removed from ministry.

And the reality is Mark Driscoll probably wouldn’t want to become a mainline pastor, because we don’t make celebrities of our pastors (Nadia Bolz-Weber is the one quasi-exception). Lutheran theology reminds me that is isn’t even me who is given the gifts for minsitry, but rather the office is. When I am called to serve a church, I don’t serve it as me but I inhabit the role of pastor and the role or office is the one who serves. I serve at the call of the congregation, AND by the call of the greater church, the body of Christ who has sent me to serve in a local context.

And this is why Mark Driscoll is a symptom of a greater problem. As long as Evangelicals continue to exist as congregation/pastor islands, with little or no accountability to the larger body of Christ… cults of personality will continue to pop up and invariably lead to abuse by the celebrity pastors at the centre of them.

And while mainline churches also still have our share of problems and abuse, we have built in systems of checks and balances to hopefully correct the problems before long.

In my opinion, which is in fact a professional one, Mark Driscoll should absolutely resign. The victims of his twisted minsitry at Mars Hill need to find reconciliation and healing with someone else pastoring them. But the sad reality is, another pastor just like Mark Driscoll is waiting in the wings to step onto the big stage at Mars Hill or another church like it. Mark Driscoll is not unique.

Mark Driscoll and pastors like him will continue to be symptoms of a greater problem as long as Evangelicals continue the build up churches more concerned with American individualistic values than with being accountable and connected to the rest of the Church.

But if Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill have any chance at making it through this mess… It will be with a Bishop.


 

Is Mark Driscoll an isolated problem? Or does he represent a greater issue of accountability across Evangelicalism? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Liturgy and Social Media copy

Liturgy: The First Social Media – In Info-graphics!

(Links to the info-graphcis below)

I just had the opportunity to present the National Worship Conference of the Anglican Church of Canada / Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. My workshop was entitled “Liturgy: The First Social Media.”

As a digital native Millennial serving in the church, social media has come to me as a relatively obvious tool to use for communication and developing networks and relationships beyond the traditional church and personal spheres.

But I understand that for some, social media can be a confusing medium to engage with.

It has been pointed out on Twitter (I think by Rev David Hansen) that being online today  is like being the phonebook in past decades. The first place that people go to find churches today is online, and if churches aren’t online people won’t find them. Yet where to start for most churches is difficult and it is hard to empirically measure the fruit social media produces.

Using social media can be a daunting undertaking.

However, the seemingly surface level interaction of social media, represents a deeper shift in the way people interact with each other in all relationships. Millennials are a collaborative, content creating generation. And this is changing politics (see the election of Barack Obama), business, the economy, workplace and of course the church.

This collaborative community driven new social ethos is nothing new to the church. We have been practicing community building social media for 2000 years: Liturgy. We have been using a medium to shape and form us into community and ties together through a common faith.

Below I am making the info-graphics that I used in the workshop available to you. There are JPEG versions (click on the pictures) or PDF versions (click on the links below the pictures).

You can check out the twitter hashtag #SMLiturgy (SM is for Social Media).

Also, you can check out the hashtag for the conference at #NWC2014

Lastly, you can follow me on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor and on Twitter: @ParkerErik

 

Liturgy and Social Media

Liturgy and Social Media

4 Shifts in Church History

4 Shifts in Church History

Millennials and Faith

Millennials and Faith

Social Media Pros and Cons

Social Media Pros and Cons

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Want Millennials to come to church? Let them lead it. 

Life has been getting busy,  so to my readers, I appreciate your patience this summer as the posts have been fewer and far between. But now onto the meat and potatoes.

alberta-prairies-616Yesterday, as my wife Courtenay and I drove across country, our conversation turned to leadership issues in the church. (Before having our son, as two pastors we talked about church too much. Now church conversations are a welcome relief from poop conversations.)

We are both Millennials serving in a predominantly boomer and older church. Most of our colleagues are boomers and, definitely, our parishioners are boomers or older. This generational and experiential difference often makes for interesting dynamics.

I have had parishioners who remember riding a horse and buggy to church. I had a cell phone in high school. I have worked with colleagues who spent hours making bulletins on Gestetners. I have spent hours formatting bulletins on a MacBook and printing them on an all-in-one fax/copier/scanner. In each of my three parishes, there have been reams of paper files waiting for me in my new offices. I left memory sticks for my successors.

But it isn’t just technological differences. I have often found myself having tea with little old ladies or doing marriage counselling with people old enough to be my parents. I have been at odds with people who have 1950s expectations of pastors, like putting the church ahead of my family or trolling the countryside looking for people to visit. And I am pastor who has 2010s expectations of parishioners, like that we all know  how to read emails or send texts and we all understand that society is not going to make Christians for us with school prayer, legislated Christian holidays and national endorsement of our religion.

image source -http://sharperiron.org/filings/8-1-13/28027
image source -http://sharperiron.org/filings/8-1-13/28027

Being a young pastor means that I regularly hear this statement from my boomer and older parishioners:

Pastor, we need to get the young people back

My cynical mind adds, “so they can give money and serve on council.”

But in my more empathetic moments, I realize that this statement carries a lot of grief. Most of the boomer, silent generation and G.I. generation folks experienced a church where they were surrounded by their peers from cradle onward. They not only want their kids and grandkids to be at church, but they want them to have friends their own age at church.

I am always surprised that while I am told that we need to get the young people back, I am rarely asked why I stayed as young person. In my experience of church, there have hardly ever been other people my age around. I have never really been a pastor to my peers, only to people more like my parents or grandparents.

I struggle with the idea of getting the young people back. What are we getting them back to?

I am an ordained pastor, trained to work in the church and at times it feels like an alien world, an anachronistic place that doesn’t always have room for me.  And no, it isn’t the ancient liturgy or hymns that feel weird, it is the unspoken expectations of the 1950s that hang in the air.

I don’t think many church people realize that my generation has never prayed the Lord’s Prayer in school, we have always heard happy holidays in stores, christianity has never been the majority religion of our age group, the pastor has never dropped in on us for supper, shopping has always been allowed on Sundays, pastors have never preached on the radio, and church attendance has never been a social obligation for us

mad-men-1024x768When I talk to my friends about church, I can explain the ancient ritual, the dogma and doctrine. But I am at loss most times to explain the grieving of so many church goers who are longing for a world was a little more Mad Men and a little less Breaking Bad. We Millennials love both shows (and we would love to dress like Mad Men), but we live in a Breaking Bad world. The 1960s world of Mad Men exists only in fiction to us, it is not part of our experience as it is for older generations.

I don’t have the solution for bridging the Boomer/Silent Generation church with the Millennial world of my peers, but I do have a suspicion.

It will need to start at the top.

Or rather with leadership.

It won’t work to grieve Millennials back into the church, which seems to be one predominant strategy. Nor will it work to lure us back with advertising and flashy worship or hip programs.

If the church wants Millennials to engage, the church needs to invite Millennials to lead. The reason that 1950s expectations still exist is because the church back then was built by the young G.I. generation. That generation had learned to lead through World War II, and went on to built nations together in the 50s. At my age, my grandfather was a pastor planting churches, serving on leadership committees and stepping to a leadership role in the greater church. His generation was permitted to shape the church as young people. The G.I. generation also held onto leadership for nearly 40 years, in society as well as the church. They held onto the US presidency from JFK to the first George Bush. Boomers were kept out of leadership, and so they were truly the first generation to begin leaving the church.

Now that Boomers have finally entered into leadership positions near the end of their careers, Gen Xers and Millennials have been left on the sidelines when it comes to shaping the world and shaping the church.

So how do we begin opening up leadership to include younger generations? Well, first off I know what involving young people doesn’t look like.

Often church people have a habit of mistaking leadership for being put on display. Leadership is not asking that young pastor to “speak” to the youth, or serve on a larger church youth or campus ministry committee, or preach a sermon at a convention. And leadership is not tokenism. Having a 20 or 30 something on the national governing board of the church is not leadership either.

Leadership is forming and shaping the way we do things. It is presenting a vision for a community. It is articulating our communal identity. Millennials cannot be tokens held up as examples of young people still in the church. Beaming with pride for the nice sermon by the young pastor at a church conference is the same as clapping for the 4 year old dressed like a sheep in the Christmas pageant.

shutterstock_92015645Inviting Millennials to engage will mean church people must be prepared  to be shaped and formed by the young people they so desperately want back. It means allowing the dreams of the younger generation to become reality, instead of being something they have sit on until later in life.

Getting Millennials to come (back) to church will mean allowing the church to belong to us and the 21st Century. The Church cannot continue grieving for the lost 1950s.

So next time I hear someone say to me,

“Pastor, we need the young people to come back to church”

I think I will respond,

“Are you ready to let the young people be in charge?”

We will see how this goes…


 

Is the church ready for Millennials in leadership? Will Millennials step up? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Hobby Lobby is Biblical but not Christian

Hobby_Lobby_Supreme_Court_LGI don’t want to write about Hobby Lobby.

This is not my issue.

I am Canadian.

This Supreme Court ruling doesn’t affect my daily life. Here in Canada, healthcare is universal, and while birth control (for both men and women) isn’t always covered under the public mandate, it is usually covered under extra employment health benefits if prescribed by a doctor.

I am Lutheran.

And if anyone is wondering, the health plan that covers the pastors of my denomination does include coverage of all the birth control that Hobby Lobby wanted to be exempt from paying for. So not all Christians agree with Hobby Lobby’s religious views on birth control.

But today, I have to write something. This Hobby Lobby issue is nagging my writer’s soul.

hobbyShortly after the US Supreme Court’s decision, I tweeted some questions and comments regarding the decision. The ruling brings up so many questions, including how it is that a corporation can have a religions belief. I guess Americans believe in the separation of church and state, but not separation of church and corporation. One of my tweets resonated with a lot of people:

These questions about the personhood and religious belief of a corporation are deeply troubling, even for a Canadian like me.  Yet, more and more I am thinking about this issue affects women and how Hobby Lobby, with their “religious belief,” understands women and what they have been granted the authority to do on the basis of religious belief.

As I read through articles on the fallout of this decision, I came across a couple of great articles explaining the science of what Hobby Lobby is claiming about birth control and why it is so wrong.

(Update: If you want to read even more about abortificients, read this article)

However, as with the Creation vs. Evolution debate, the science doesn’t really matter to fundamentalists. The pseudo-science of creation and their understanding of birth control is only a means to an end. And that end is promoting a deeply flawed, yet self-serving, understanding of scripture.

Today, I am sure many people wonder, what exactly is Hobby Lobby’s issue with women. Why do Christian fundamentalists like the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Gospel Coalition and many mega church pastors make such a big deal about issues of contraception, LGBT issues and the role of women in church and home. They will claim their view is scriptural… and well it is… kind of. In fact, these groups probably don’t really understand just how scriptural their views on women are… and just how much they miss the point.

The fundamentalist Christian problem with women originates from these unlikely places in scripture:

1. The concern for the sanctity of life in much of the Bible is not necessarily for all life, but Israelite life. The book of Genesis shows that one the of the chief concerns of the descendants of Abraham was continuation of the line. It wasn’t life in general that they were concerned about, but particular life. This is why God killed both the enemies of the Israelites who fought them in battle and God killed the sons of Judah who spilled their seed on the ground. They were all “killing” the descendants of Abraham and so God judged them.

The whole book of Genesis is about how the line of Abraham hovered near extinction for generations, yet God had made the covenant of many descendants and land. The chief concern of the Israelite people was continuing the line. This was the path to immortality and legacy.

2. The ancient understanding of reproduction categorized men and women differently than now. Seeds or sperm (the same words in Greek and Hebrew) were believed to contain the entire person. So to be someone’s descendant meant you were contained entirely (in a tiny seed) in your father, grandfather, great-grandfather etc… So when people protested to Jesus that they were the children of Abraham, they meant that they had literally been inside Abraham at some point.

Women were understood to be the field. A seed was planted in the field, died and turned into fruit. If a seed didn’t grow, it was because of an inhospitable field. This is why only women are barren in scripture. Wombs and fields come from the same word in Hebrew.

3. Women were property. Many books and articles have been written about how women were property in the bible. And this is correct, but chattel or animal property wouldn’t exactly describe it entirely. Animals required some care, but women were more like land (fields where seeds were planted). Land was plowed (torn up) in order to plant seeds. When it didn’t produce it was plowed even more.

Just as farmers were concerned about neighbours planting and harvesting over property boundaries, husbands were concerned about someone else’s seeds getting planted in their wives’ wombs. There were no paternity tests, so the only way to make sure your line continued was to maintain strict control of your land/womb. This is how a deceased man’s brother could provide children to his widowed sister-in-law. Brothers carried the same seeds from their father, the woman was simply the field.

4. Adultery was not an issue of fidelity. In the same story of Judah’s sons spilling their seeds, it was natural that Judah would go to a prostitute. Men have needs. However, an adulterous woman is like damaged property. A man could never know if his kids are his if a woman cheated or if she is raped. Another man has sowed his seeds in the field. Damaged property is pretty much only good for destruction. This where the one sided laws in the Middle-East and Africa that punish rape victims come from. The punishments are a means for destroying the damaged goods of men.

Now, conservative fundamentalist Christians will not tell you that these are the biblical understandings of reproduction and gender. However, this is where these issues about birth control come from – Ancient, patriarchal and misogynist understandings of science and gender.

Despite Hobby Lobby and other conservative Christians adopting these biblical world views (however rooted in incorrect ancient science), these views are not Christian.

Jesus and early Christianity takes a very different view on women and gender.

1. In the Gospel of Mark (the earliest gospel), Jesus forbade divorce without condition (unlike in Matthew who adds the adultery clause). Jesus was not making a moral judgement, but advocating for women. Divorce was a means for men to summarily dismiss their wives, to have them stoned for adultery so they could get rid of them. Forbidding divorce empowered women. Men could not hold the threat of dismissal (which would lead to poverty or death) over their wives. Jesus himself would not have been born if Joseph had decided to have Mary stoned for adultery. Jesus was putting husbands and wives on a level plying field.

2. Jesus often talked to women, included them as disciples, and appeared to them first after the resurrection. Jesus was constantly breaking social norms to talk to women in public, thereby treating them as equals. Jesus included women as disciples, like his own mother, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Women were the first to find the empty tomb and the first to announce the resurrection. This was the most important moment of Jesus’s ministry, and he chose to entrust women (who were not trusted as reliable witnesses) to witness the event.

3. The early Church was radically egalitarian. The apostle Paul wrote that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female in the community. But not long after, the Christian community began partriarchalizing itself to fit in better with society. Other later New Testament letters advocated patriarchy, and Paul’s own writings either had additions or have been misinterpreted and mistranslated to favour patriarchy.

Jesus and the early church stood in stark contrast to the prevailing patriarchal system. You might even say that they didn’t hold biblical views on women and gender. Conservative Christians would claim Jesus and Paul weren’t biblical if the two were preaching and writing today.

Hobby Lobby fought for the corporation’s right to hold biblical views, and use those views to unfairly discriminate women. (It has been noted since that they invest in companies that make birth control and still pay for men’s contraceptive products.)

But Hobby Lobby and conservative Christians are either so woefully ignorant of why the bible views women as it does and what Christianity actually teaches about gender or are intentionally using “religious belief” to justify sexism.

I suspect there is a good dose of both happening.

RBG on Hobby Lobby - blogOn Monday, I was very glad to be Canadian. The US Supreme Court has been duped, or, more likely, is striving to maintain a patriarchal world. And that is what this is really about. It is not about being against contraceptives (the science disproves the “abortificant” argument), it is about being sexist, misogynist and patriarchal. This isn’t about being biblical, this is about the fear of a loss of power, specifically male power over women.

Even from a far, I am still deeply saddened today by the state of religious affairs in the United States. Saddened that there are Christians who believe this is about religious freedom. Saddened that corporatists, privileged white males and misogynists are using “Christianity” to promote their agenda. Because actual Christianity is completely opposed to what Hobby Lobby stands for.

I wonder how the Supreme Court would have ruled if this were about men’s contraception, or if an employer were asking an insurer to cover even more healthcare benefits because of religious conviction.


How do you feel about the Hobby Lobby decision? What was your reaction Monday? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik.

PS Twitter has been flagging my blog as spam lately. If you would like to help get it unflagged (because according to wordpress and google it is fine), file a ticket with a link to my blog here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How we screw up prayer and how social media teaches us to do it right.

We have a problem with prayer. So many Christians seem to think prayer can only happen in one way. One dimensional prayer I call it.  Let me elaborate…

As a pastor, one would think that I spend most of my time in my own congregation. However, one might be surprised just how often I worship in other churches, and it is always interesting to watch how my fellow colleagues have planned and then preside at (lead) worship. I try to bring a sense of curiosity when I worship at a church other than my own. Often there are little things to learn and borrow.

prayer11However, over the years, maybe even for decades I have noticed many churches operate with an understanding of prayer that I just cannot get behind.

In Lutheran liturgy, our worship contains many different kinds of prayer. There are prayers said in silence like confession, prayers said by the presider (worship leader) like the collect/prayer of the day and eucharistic prayer, prayers said by an assistant minister like the prayers of intercession and offering prayer, and there are prayers said by the whole assembly, like the Lord’s Prayer.

Prayer is used in a variety of ways, with the understanding that there are a variety of ways to pray. This has been the way the church has done liturgy and understood prayer for hundreds, almost thousands of years.

Yet, even as a child I remember prayer being taught and spoken of largely with one understanding, and so often this one understanding is how many christians understand prayer today.

Prayer is talking to God. Specifically, it is us talking to God. More specifically, it is us saying words with our mouths to God. And there are all kinds of teaching and theories and styles to saying these words with our mouths to God.

As teen and young adult in church, I remember being sent on occasion to different workshops on prayer, and I remember all the courses that were offered that I didn’t go to. I recall thinking it was strange that learning how to pray was all about becoming more open and vulnerable in my prayers, learning how to “open my heart” to God. As if prayer was some kind of divine therapy session, and I had to learn how to say the words just right.

As a pastor, one of the chief concerns of our church, and of many of my friends and colleagues is that we aren’t spiritual enough as leaders. Specifically, that our prayer life isn’t up to snuff. When I ask more about this, it seems that many pastors worry that they don’t pray enough (translation: not enough time saying things to God). We worry that we are not spending enough time in silent meditative prayer (saying things to God in our head), or enough in morning devotions (telling God our daily plans), or enough in small group prayer (taking turns saying words to God in front of others).

So many Christians and Christian leaders seem to have the notion that prayer is saying words to God, and the better we get at saying these words, the better our faith will get, the better our “relationship with God” will be. Prayer becomes exceedingly one-dimensional in this view.  Whether praying is done alone, in a group, or in church, we seem to believe that only the one speaking is the one praying.

What this translates into is a lot of pressure to be pray in this one way. Pressure to pray at home, and pressure to pray at church. For Lutherans this has translated into a poor understanding of the worship and liturgy. We treat liturgy like vegetables. You have to eat them, but nobody likes them.

imagesPrayers that were once prayed on behalf of the assembly by one voice are now prayed by all. And pastors have this awful, awful habit of saying little phrases that betray our one-dimensional understanding of prayer:

“Let us pray the offering/collect/post-communion prayer together”

“Pray with me this prayer…”

“Let us all pray out loud.”

These phrases reinforce the idea that praying only happens when we say words with our mouths.

Liturgy is not to be understood this way. Prayer is not only prayer when we say words with our mouths.

(As a tangent: I think it interesting that we are increasingly leaving our music making to a group of experts like a band, while we are all praying out loud which has been normally done by one voice).

Before I say what I think is a healthier understanding of prayer, I think there is an example we all use regularly that would help us into a deeper and broader understanding of what prayer looks like.

0_23_ibreviary_churchSocial Media.

Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pintrest etc…

Okay, so I know that Social media at its worst is a lot of people cyber “yelling” at each other.

But social media at it is best is conversational. It involves speaking AND listening.

In fact, most of social media is not speaking at all, it is mostly hearing. Social media wouldn’t work if most of us weren’t listening, reading, hearing, receiving.

But social media takes it a step further. With social media you can like, favourite, share, retweet and more. You can read or hear what others have said and add your approval or endorsement without adding your own words.

Likes, favourites, shares, retweets are nothing new. We have been doing them in church for 1000s of years. They are the equivalent of “Amen.”

Social media teaches us that it isn’t always about saying words with our mouths. Sometimes it is important not to say anything at all but to let the words of others speak as if they were our own. You can probably see where I am going.

As a pastor, my voice is often the one that speaks for the assembly in worship. It is my voice that voices the prayers of the whole group. And so when I worship in other churches where I get to be in the pew and the presider or worship leader says, “let’s all pray together this prayer…” I say nothing. I sometimes wonder if the people around me think I am not participating.

When we see prayer only as saying words with my mouth, we all have to mumble the unfamiliar texts of liturgical prayers in an unpracticed and monotone way. Have you ever paid attention to how a congregation prayers the Lord’s prayer versus the prayer of the day? The Lord’s Prayer is the same every week, and we learn how to pray it together. But the Prayer of the Day/Collect changes every week and so we stumble through if we try to say it out loud together.

C1010109prayerYet, when we understand that when the presider or worship leader says a prayer with one voice, and still we are all praying together (one by speaking, the rest by listening) with one voice as a group, prayer becomes deeper and broader.

When we understand that the deep breaths and moments of silence before a prayer is spoken are the moments when we can, in fact, all truly pray together (instead of all reading monotonously at the same time), prayer becomes deeper and broader.

When we understand that in the “Amens”, the “and also with yous”, the “Lord’s Prayer” that we not just praying individually at the same time with our voices, but with the voice of the whole church, with every Christian who has ever said “Amen”, with every Christian who will ever say, “Our Father in heaven”, prayer becomes deeper and broader.

When we understand that prayer is more than one dimensional, more than saying words with my mouth, prayer becomes deeper and broader. Prayer becomes something we really do together, not something that we do individually at the same time which is really what we are doing when we say those phrases like, “Pray out loud with me.”

I think a deeper and broader understanding of prayer would help us realize that sometimes saying nothing, or just “Amen” at the end is prayer just as much as saying words with our mouth. Just like we know that a like, favourite, share or retweet is using social media the same as updating a status.

So let’s start praying with our ears, likes, retweets, with our Amens, in the silences and, when it is appropriate, together with many voices.

For more on social media and liturgy read this: Social Network Liturgy: Putting down the iPhone


So, how do you see prayer? Can we learn about prayer from social media? Share in comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik 

PS I recently read that one fewer hour of sleep a night for a week gives you the equivalent mental capacity of someone with the blood alcohol level of 0.10. With a new baby in the house, that would make my mental capacity the equivalent of 0.40, I think. This has been the reason for few posts lately, but I hope to pick up the pace again soon.

PPS Twitter has been flagging my blog as spam lately. If you would like to help get it unflagged (because according to wordpress and google it is fine), file a ticket with a link to my blog here

 

 

 

yesallwomen

10 Lessons #YesAllWomen has taught this man

bodqhc2ciaawthw_19o506m-19o506tI am not sure I should even be writing this. I have written about women and inequality, especially as it relates to Christianity. But these past few days have felt different somehow.

Unless you have been under a rock, you will have heard of the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. It was begun in response to Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, because he was feeling unfairly rejected by women.

Even a 30 second glance at the hashtag gives insight into the issues that all women face, on a daily basis, because of misogyny and patriarchy. If you haven’t done so, go to twitter and scroll through the hashtag by clicking here.

#YesAllWomen is primarily about women speaking to their experience. Unfortunately, too many men have gotten defensive about it and have responded with #NotAllMen. Defensiveness, or worse misogynistic trolling masked as defensiveness, just doesn’t help. The men who are loudly declaring that they aren’t the ones treating women badly have missed the point. No, not all men are rapists, cat-callers, abusers, misogynist or sexist. But all women suffer because of the men who are.

safe_image.phpI have been hesitant to write, because I have been worried about co-opting, as a white male, the issue of a marginalized group and making it about me. After reading articles and many tweets, I realize that I do have something to say because misogyny is about me. No, I am not the one victimized directly by it, but I suffer along with all women AND all men because it exists.

Perhaps more importantly, #YesAllWomen has taught me several lessons in these past days, lessons that I think are worth sharing. I hope they can benefit you too:

1. #YesAllWomen has shown me that the women in my life all suffer silently from misogyny. My wife, my mother, my sister, my friends, they have all been the victims of the entitled attitudes of men and they have not told me because getting a man they care about angry at another man seems not worth the effort. Especially not worth it when there are so many misogynists out there. Just trying to move past these experiences as quickly as possible feels like the best way to survive.

2. #YesAllWomen has made it clear to me, as a new father to a son, that he is the most important person to teach about misogyny and patriarchy. It is a sad reality that we have to teach our daughters to protect themselves from men, even sadder that we don’t teach our sons not be a danger to women. Each boy that grows into a man that we teach to work fight for, and not against, the women in their lives is so important. Lets teach our sons not to abuse, oppress or feel entitled towards women, at least as much as we teach our daughters to avoid these experiences.

3. #YesAllWomen shows just how blind men are to their behaviour. The fact that #NotAllMen exists shows just how much we suck at “getting it” as a gender. As of this writing, there is no one tweeting under #OnlySomeWomen, yet there are many men defending themselves with #NotAllMen. This only shows how far we have to go to get it.

4. #YesAllWomen has taught me that people will defend their privilege in disgusting ways. As a pastor, I have seen many privileged groups try to defend their position in all kinds of circumstances. Invariably, defending one’s privileged position never has good reasons. There are never justifiable reasons as to why I should automatically get more, be more respected and have more power than others. So to defend privilege, people resort to shame, ad hominem attacks, victim blaming, playing the victim card, verbal abuse, mind games, emotional manipulation, bullying and all sorts of absurd behaviour. It is all there is to defend privilege. And men have been doing it all in response to #YesAllWomen.

5. #YesAllWomen is for women to speak and for men to hear – a reversal of roles. Most men, myself included, are not used to others having a voice more prominent and more important than ours. We are not used to being talked over, interrupted or lectured (mansplained) to. We are not used to being called out and justifiably shamed. It is role reversal for us to listen and for women to have the megaphone. And it is time to hand it over.

6. #YesAllWomen is not about men solving the problem of misogyny. It makes me so angry to hear about people treating the women in my life badly, especially other men. My instinct is to hop on my white stallion and chop some legs off with my viking battle-axe. This is not realistic, of course. But neither would it help for men to resolve all conflicts for women. This only teaches those who behave badly, that as long as man is not around, they can continue behaving badly and that women aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Again and again, as I hear about people acting badly towards women, it is best to be an example of a man that treats women equally and with respect.

7. #YesAllWomen reminds me that I cannot help but take advantage of my privilege. As a man, I can basically go anywhere at anytime of day or night and feel safe. I can call people to task for their bad behaviour and a good deal of the time they change it. I can speak without being interrupted and know that my words are taken seriously. I carry an innate sense of authority, regardless of the actual position I have in a group. I know that my voice will always be heard and heeded. I also know that none of this will likely change in my lifetime. And deep down, I know that there is room for everyone to experience the world this way. More people living in a world of respect and equality, won’t mean I have less. Yet, so many of those (men) in the privileged position want to maintain their status, and keep the privilege to a few. This is because more respect for everyone feels like less privilege for me.

8. #YesAllWomen has taught me the absurdity of gender roles. Every time some person, some article, some meme, some thing tries to say, “Men are like this, Women are like that” it contributes to patriarchy and gender inequality. We can all sense the racism when someone says, “Black people are like this, white people like that” or the religious intolerance of “Christians are like this, Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Atheists are like that” or the arrogance of “university grads are like this, high school dropouts are like that”. Yet when we hear “Men are like this, women like that” so many of us knowingly nod along and smile. Knowingly nod and smile like many in my grandparents generation would have at racist jokes! As long as there is a gender imbalance we need to recognize that saying “Men are like this, women like that” really means “This quality that Men supposedly carry is preferred, and that quality that women supposedly carry is inferior.” We all should know that characterizing people in such broad strokes reduces our beautiful diversity to broken categories

9. #YesAllWomen has taught me that understanding this issue requires empathy. The difference between sympathy and empathy is this: Sympathy is feeling what someone else feels, empathy is understanding what someone else feels. Sympathy can be helpful when someone is happy or sad, joyful or grieving. But as someone who looks more like a victimizer tries to sympathize with a victim, it is patronizing and unhelpful. Empathy is hard. Empathy requires getting away from my feelings, away from my context, away from my experience and looking out of someone else’s window. Seeing and understanding what they are feeling, what their life is like, what they are experiencing. Like I said, Empathy is hard, but men need to learn it. All of us do.

10. #YesAllWomen has taught me what my role is in supporting the empowerment of women and ending misogyny. I should have made the connection sooner, as it is my job as a preacher. As a pastor I point to God, I name what God is doing in the world. That means pointing away from myself, that means getting out of the way. As a man who is a feminist, who supports gender equality it is my role to support by pointing to women. By lifting up their voices and by getting myself out of the way.

So these are the lessons I have learned. Now I am going to get out of the way. Go read #YesAllWomen on Twitter. Find the articles by women about how misogyny and patriarchy and sexism and sexual violence and abuse affects them. Read. Think. Be changed like I have been.


How has #YesAllWomen affected you? What is your experience? Share in the comments, on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Special Thanks to my wife, Courtenay, who worked through these thoughts with me and is my brilliant editor. You can follow her on Twitter:  @ReedmanParker

 

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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