The Field of Dreams: It’s Not What You Think

August 17, 2021 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? This past week the MLB celebrated a baseball game played on the baseball field made famous by the movie Field of Dreams. It was fantastic. When Iowa farmer Ray (Kevin Costner) hears a mysterious voice one night in his cornfield saying “If you build it, he will come,” he feels the need to act. Despite taunts of lunacy, Ray builds a baseball diamond on his land, supported by his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan). Afterward, the ghosts of great players start emerging from the crops to play ball, led by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. But, as Ray learns, this field of dreams is about much more than bringing former baseball greats out to play. It makes for a great movie, but unfortunately it makes for lousy theology. 

For several decades the church has been using this model of “If you build it they will come” as the pinnacle for church engagement. If we just build a building they will come to us. Everything was focused on that one building that was used for 1, perhaps 2 or 3 hours a week. We poured countless resources into a particular place. We had forgotten that in the beginning the church wasn’t a place, it was a movement. 

It didn’t begin as an institution, or with liturgy, or tradition, heck they didn’t even have Bibles. No staff, heirarchy, bands, or screens. It was simply a movement. And that movement was centered on an event. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Ekklesia (a word that often gets mistranslated as church) never referred to a specific place, only a movement of people centered around one message: That Jesus was who He said he was.

But we built it any way, and in some instances they came, but then didn’t. And in some instances they didn’t come at all. We built it then the COVID pandemic hit and we couldn’t meet there at all. We had to rediscover who we were and what were we about. Many churches couldn’t survive outside the building, and many who worshipped online kept asking for “real church”. So, what exactly did we build?

Now as we begin to come out of the pandemic there is probably a natural tendency to go back. Go back to the way things were. But was it really working? Did it really meet the needs of people? This brings me to the point of this whole post: What is it that we want to build? Do we want to build a place? Or perhaps the question should be:

Do we want to build community?

Do we want to build kindness?

Do we want to build compassion?

Do we want to build grace?

So church, what is it that you wish to build? What will really make a difference in the lives of others? As Ray found out, the field of dreams wasn’t just so a couple of famous baseball players could play catch, no there was a deeper more meaningful reason than that. It ended up being about family, about love, and about playing catch one more time with his old man. What do we wish to build? That’s the good word for today!

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The Danger of “Whatabout-ism”

April 23, 2021 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? Well, it’s not a good word. Folks, we have a bad case of what about-ism in this country. As soon as we don’t agree with something someone says, we revert to this dreaded fall back plan. Let me explain. I was recently perusing Facebook and a friend of mine happened to post about a certain television personality. My friend is a pastor and he called out some rather disturbing words this television host used on his show. They were steeped in white supremacy, and as a pastor he stood up and called this particular person out. Well that led to another person posting the following: “Well what about….” Yeh, now you know what I am talking about. They then proceeded to put words into his mouth that he never said and in turn did what? They turned the attention from the inappropriate comments and tried to point out the faults in others. But the post wasn’t about others, it was about the person who said the inappropriate comments. You could tell that the TV personality was someone watched, listened to and probably agreed with.

What is it?

Whataboutism, also known as whataboutery attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument. In turn it does absolutely no good. Our leaders have become very good at this and in turn, by watching them, we have become good at it as well.

Where did it come from?

In doing some research it seems this phenomenon has been used all over the world and is nothing new, but its roots lie in Russian propaganda. Though it may not have been invented there, it became a trademark form of Soviet propaganda, as attacks on Soviet human rights abuses and other failures were rebutted with references to apartheid in South Africa or lynchings in the U.S.  In 2007, British journalist Edward Lucas blogged for The Economist from Russia. He wrote that by the later part of the 1980s that this became “the derisive way that summed up the whole bombastic apparatus of the Soviet propaganda machine.” While true, it prevented the Soviet people or international observers from ever advancing necessary criticisms of the Soviet Union.

Why should we be worried about it?

Let’s be clear, hypocrisy is bad. The Soviets were not incorrect in pointing out that the countries that criticized them often harbored their own systemic human rights issues. But that did not excuse their current abuses of them. It’s no wonder that whataboutism exists, to some degree. Political supporters of every stripe are eager to hold opponents accountable for their double standards, and that is a human and, to some extent, good impulse ― especially during a campaign, when making clear the actual distinctions between candidates is useful. As Claire Fallon writes: “The problem with whataboutism is that hypocrisy is a durable problem (humans being flawed and inconsistent), but it is not the only problem. Forever circling around each other’s hypocrisies pulls us away from necessary conversations about how to reach for and enforce the values we aspire to and hold each other accountable for wrongdoing.”

What’s next?

I believe we need to begin to truly listen to each other. Whether we agree or not, let’s not jump to assumptions and begin to blame the other side. Jesus talked about not pointing to the speck in someone’s eye without looking at the plank in our own. He also called people out when they were wrong and if I’m not mistaken never once stood for Whataboutism. Address the issue at hand. Period. Full Stop. The fact of the matter is there should have been conversation around this TV personalities words and how inappropriate they were. Leave the pointing fingers out of it. Yes, others have done it, but does it make it right that this particular host did it? No. When deflection and blaming others become the norm in our lives, we risk losing the moral high ground, those values like justice, equality and truth, values I think we all can agree on. And that’s the good word for today.

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The Coming Clergy Crisis

February 11, 2021 2 comments

I always start my blogs with: What’s the good word? Well, church, today I don’t have good words. We are already in a clergy crisis in the church. What does that mean? It means there are more churches that need a pastor than there are pastors to fill them. This is especially true in my Protestant denomination. It has been that way for a while now. Statistics paint a gloomy picture. 85% of seminarians don’t last beyond the first five years and 90% of all pastors dont’ stay in ministry until retirement. But, I sense a bigger looming crisis coming post pandemic, and I offer my thoughts as to why below.

Abraham Lincoln once said: If division and destruction come to this country, it will come from within and not from the outside. I believe this to be true for our churches as well. Each and every day on my social media feeds I see fellow clergy burned out and simply under attack. And the attacks are not coming from the outside, they are coming from within their own congregations. Many are choosing to leave and seek other calls in other churches, some are just flat out done and are seeking new careers.

Listen to them in their words: “I am feeling bullied by some people in my church.” “They criticize everything I do, so I do everything I can to appease them, and nothing works”. “Had three members resign and walk out of worship simply because I said we should stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters.”

What is happening? Clergy were already feeling burnout pre Covid but now there has been mounting pressure on them. Between the pandemic being politicized as well as Black Lives Matter becoming politicized, we are doing irreparable harm by bringing politics into our pews. We need to not see everything through the lens of politics, but as followers of Jesus through the lens of our faith. Christian nationalism in our churches will be part of our undoing. What is Christian nationalism, it is in its simplest definition: that the American nation is defined by Christianity and that the government should take steps to keep it that way. This is NOT Christianity but something completely different. And while we are at it, I don’t think we are all on the same page as to what Christianity really means much less Christian nationalism. One step at a time please.

Now days, a pastor cannot make a simple statement without it being brought up as politics. As pastors try to do their best to keep their people safe, part of what a shepherd of sheep is supposed to do, they are undermined, backstabbed, and undercut at every step of the way. They aren’t being political, they are being caring. I remember one time bringing up the word justice and social justice and was a labeled a liberal heretic. Let’s not forget the word justice is used more than 150 times in the Old and New Testaments, so I don’t think it’s about not being biblical.

One last point, when it comes to worship, did you not call your pastor to lead and oversee worship and much more. In my call it states the following: We call you to exercise among us the ministry of Word and Sacrament which God has established and which the Holy Spirit empowers: To preach and teach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; to administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; to lead us in worship; to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; to provide pastoral care; to speak for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed… If this is what you called your pastor to do, let them do it! They went to four years of schooling (one of the longest maters programs out there) and have spent their life learning and growing in these areas. Why question? Why criticize? Why try to tell them you know better? We need to remember that church is not about us. Church isn’t a country club where you pay your dues and have services rendered to you. It is a place to worship God, give back to God, be fueled through the sacraments and word to go out into the world to work for God. The church needs to be less us and more God!

If there is division and destruction in the church we will only need to look into the mirror. It starts with how you treat your pastor. Be kind to your pastor. Lift them up. Support them. Give them breaks and be kind when they fail. Lift one another up in good times and in bad times. Pay attention to them and their families. And that’s the good word for today.

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October 27, 2020 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? One of the most important things for a company to know is its values. Before you move forward you must ask: What is it that we value? Take for instance the faith community that I serve, Messiah Lutheran. We have a set of values that guides what how we live into our mission of Loving God, Loving Others, and Becoming Better Disciples. These values are: Being an inclusive community, being grounded in worship, and being organically innovative. But did you know that it is just as important to know your personal values as well?

I was aware of values but I didn’t really understand their importance in my own personal life until I read about it in Jay Shetty’s book: Think Like a Monk. In his book he talks about how he was taught as his ashram that there are higher values and lower values. Higher Values propel and elevate us toward happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. Lower values demos us toward anxiety, depression, and suffering.

Here are the higher values: fearlessness, purity of mind, gratitude, service and charity, acceptance, performing sacrifice, deep study, austerity, straightforwardness, nonviolence, truthfulness, absence of anger, perspective, restraint from fault finding, compassion toward all living beings, satisfaction, gentleness/kindness, integrity, determination.

Notice though that he doesn’t mention happiness and success. That is because, as he points out, these are not values but rewards- the end game.

Here are the lower values: greed, lust, anger, ego, illusion, and envy.

Now notice there are far fewer lower values than higher values. I love how he puts this: there are more ways to be pulled up than to be pulled down. And yet, I don’t know about you, I let these lower values in too often and take up way too much of my time. BUT I had never sat down and really focused on WHAT I value out of that list.

Take an inventory. What do you value? Meditate, pray, and focus on those each and every day. And remember there are always more opportunities to be pulled up than down. And that’s the good word for today.

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Safe is Insufficient

August 7, 2020 1 comment

What’s the good word? So over the past two days I have been attending the Global Leadership Summit virtually this year, of course. I have attended the GLS for 13 of my 15 years of ministry. My first year was actually in Chicago, and it was there that I had the realization that everything rises and falls on leadership, and when a leader gets better, the people they lead get better. This year, day one, was quite possibly the best I have seen. One thing really stuck out at me at that was the title of this post: Safe is Insufficient.

Over and over again we hear that we are living in unprecedented times. This is most certainly true, as Luther would say. But what is it that we are learning during this time. I think to myself, when we begin to worship again in person. what will change. If we go back to the way things were before this pandemic, we will be playing it safe. That’s the safe route. But if this is truly “unprecedented”, then I believe it calls for something more, and safe just simply isn’t sufficient. Let’s take a look at the facts. Before the pandemic, churches in the United States were declining. We were loosing ground my friends. Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches were closing each and every year. We would only add 300 churches, not enough to keep up with population growth. More and more people were turned off by “christianity” they found in the pews.

Enter COVID-19. Many churches have seen an increase in attendance ONLINE than they were in person. People sought prayer and faith to help them cope with the unknowns of the pandemic. But let’s render that “virtual” worship is certainly not a new concept in this country. My congregation has been online for at least the past 5 years, offering live streams of our worships. And have we forgotten Billy Graham’s Crusades that were transmitted over the airwaves and into our living rooms?

Churches MUST use this time to really ask themselves what matters when it comes to being the “Ekklesia” of Jesus Christ. We can no longer rely on a group worship experience once a week. We need to be looking to boosting our online presence, looking to build house churches, looking to disperse our members into our communities more, looking to confront racial and social justice issues facing our brothers and sisters of color, and empowering parents to truly be priests in their own homes. COVID-19 has happened, it can happen again. We must prepare for the worst while working for the best. We cannot be afraid to move forward. If we simply go back and play it safe, we will only end up with the same declining numbers we have been accustomed to for the past decade. Nona Jones once said, “You cannot make a lasting impact while also feeling safe.” Impact requires feeling unsafe. Safe is insufficient. We are called to go first. There’s a line in Hamilton that speaks to this very thing: History has it’s eyes on you. History has it’s eyes on us. What will we do moving forward? And that’s the good word for today.


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Sin and the Moral Law

What’s the good word? Let’s talk about sin for a moment. Your sins want to take you over. To put you in a position where you can’t stop it. When you sin it doesn’t go away. It creates a presence in your life. Something that’s there, that slowly weakens your ability to be what you ought to be.

When your selfish instead of choosing to serve, worried in stead of choosing to truth, payback instead of choosing to forgive, tell a half truth instead of whole truth, you create a presence that remains in your life that prevents you from doing the right thing the next time.
Paul in Romans 7 v 5: “When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.” It didn’t quash sin, it aroused sin in him. Surely though when you start to obey the law surely you squelch sin. Right? Paul says it does not. How’s that happen?
St. Augustine recalls a time when he was young when he stole pears from the local orchard. He climbed over the fence. And he wondered why? He wasn’t hungry and he didn’t even like pears? He says the reason he did it because he was told don’t take their pears. It was forbidden. He reflected: “The moral law instead of shriveling up the part of my life that hates being told how to live, the moral law aggravates it.” Why? Because sin is rebelling against God by putting yourself in the place of God. Living for your own glory. Deciding how to live your life for yourself. Your own glory for your own pleasure. Augustine said, “when I was forbidden to do something all it did was stir that up inside of me that says, ‘No one is going to tell me what to do.'” It arouses moral disobedience.
Take that and look at what’s happening around us today. “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” How many times have you heard that? I have heard this uttered in stores many times over the past few weeks in regards to sheltering in place, and wearing masks in order to protect others. Every time it was about “Me” and not about “We”. This isn’t a political post, it’s a post about humanity and decency towards our brothers and sisters. The good news is, as we hold up a mirror to see our hearts, the law shows us the bad, but the Gospel shows us the good and the hope we have to be better people. And that’s the good word for today. 
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Surely God Was Here

What’s the good word? There’s an ancient story about a man named Jacob. It’s in the older testament of the Bible. In this story Jacob has a magnificent dream. When Jacob wakes up he says, “Surely God was in this place, and I, I wasn’t aware of it.” I have been thinking about this verse in light of worshiping online. I have heard from many that they have enjoyed worship online. It wasn’t as bad as they thought. And it has opened up our community to many folks we weren’t reaching before. Then there are a small few who don’t see it as “real” church. But is God still present? Don’t we proclaim that where two or three are gathered there God is? Has God been there the entire time- in our living rooms, next to our pools, etc. as we worship and we just didn’t realize it? Home is/can be church too. Some of you know that I take folks overseas with me on my trips to Ethiopia. One of the biggest misconceptions about “mission” work is that we are taking God to them. In fact, God is already there.

The power of this story of Jacob is its timeless reminder that God hasn’t changed. It is Jacob in the story that wakes up to a whole new awareness of who and where God is. Could it be that after this is passed and we begin lives anew that we too will have a new awareness of who and where God is? That there will be an increasing number of followers of Jesus that will wake up in new ways to the God who has been here the whole time?

And that’s the good word for today.

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Jesus is in the Boat

April 20, 2020 Leave a comment
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Jesus Knows Your Name

April 13, 2020 2 comments
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God Is So Good

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