Friday, November 5, 2010

Movement for wholeness…

I write these letters weekly, and often deciding what to write is half the challenge. Some weeks, the subject is obvious- something happened, or will happen, that needs addressing. Other weeks, finding an appropriate topic is like pulling teeth. But this week’s subject is one I’ve been sitting on since September. In part, I wasn’t entirely sure what to write. Mostly, though, I didn’t want bad timing to get in the way. I began pondering it after receiving an email from our denomination’s “News Service.” It read, “For Immediate Release,” which sounded important and urgent, so I read on. It turns out that our denomination’s leader, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, had a request for Disciples churches- that we hold conversations, in our churches, about immigration, on or around Columbus Day.

This request surprised me, especially its For Immediate Release format. Last week, I got another such email, announcing major staff reductions at our denominational HQ. That issue seemed more obviously suited For Immediate Release. ‘Immigration Conversations,’ though certainly important for faithful people to undertake, felt to me somehow, well, less urgent…

I was also concerned about the news release’s timing. In case you didn’t notice (of course you did!), it’s an election year, and ‘immigration’ isn’t just a spiritual topic, but a political one. People in both major parties use it to build support, and lash out at opponents. Some attempts work, some don’t, and too many from all sides of this issue (I think) are demagogic and mean. But something that seems true is that, whatever one’s perspective, immigration can stir up deep, deep emotions.

Maybe that reason- its emotional power- is why our denominational leaders want us to broach the topic. Something our church does well (or should) is unite people with differing ideologies and beliefs. And not with the expectation that we’d eventually kowtow to one viewpoint, but that we’d respectfully, honestly listen and respond to each other, even if the topic is one- like immigration- our society has trouble talking about amicably. In that sense, we can be a witness to the broader public about Christ’s love; how it doesn’t demand conformity, but is inclusive of many differences. We are, “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

But the reason I didn’t mention this before Columbus Day, as requested, is, frankly, I didn’t want elections to get in the way of doing church. I firmly believe we can and should talk about political and social issues at church; exploring together God’s role in our civic participation, without defaming each other or acting partisan. And as a pastor ordained in a congregation full of first/second generation immigrant families, I have interest in this particular topic. Nevertheless, counting as a blessing that our church has folk from different political persuasions (not many places where that happens anymore!), I didn’t think the month leading up to a national election was the right time. Our denominational leaders did; they may know something I don’t. But I figured we’d do the issue better justice, if anyone wanted to discuss it all, once partisan attacks on our radios and TVs ceased, and the environment was better suited for respectful discourse.

And again, I don’t know if y’all even care about this?! We could discuss it in Sunday School, after church 2x a month, in a mid-week forum at a coffee shop/bar. Perhaps you’ll just email me your thoughts, and I’ll compile them in another pastoral letter. Or maybe, despite the invitation, we don’t consider this important. But I think one of my jobs is to help our church connect to the denomination’s wider life. So having received this request from our leaders, I felt I should pass it on.

So what do you think? Do you want to talk- formally or not- with PCCCers about immigration? If not, why not? If so, how, or what would you want to say? They’ve provided resources to get started, or we can go our own way (Us? Shocking!). But mostly, I hope you’ll think about God’s role in your civic participation, and perhaps thank God we can have strong political disagreements at all in this country.

Grace and Peace,
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Finding our voice… (November Creeksider)

It’s a mantra in certain educational circles, that the goal of teaching isn’t so much that youth and children memorize certain facts and information, but that they’d ‘find their voices.’ Yes, yes, times tables and basic grammar are crucial to achieving basic educational competency. But beyond that, say in history class, is it absolutely vital that a child remember all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights? Or learn how to think critically about their understanding of, say, our First Amendment guarantees of free speech and assembly? Some would choose option a), others option b). I side with the latter, basically because information like “What’s in the Bill of Rights” is so easily accessible in this internet/iPhone age, that I’d prefer youth and children learn to think for themselves, rather than memorize a bunch of stuff. But again, I respect the many opinions in that debate.

I bring it up, though, to ask a simple question about our congregation- “Are we finding our voice, as a community of faith?”

Sure, we’re over three decades old, but like most churches, we’ve ebbed and flowed in terms of “Why do we do church,” and I think I was called, over two years ago, to help us rediscover an answer. In short, I think we are definitely ‘finding our voice,’ but I want to y’all to think again about why that even matters. And in order to make this discussion specific, let’s use an object lesson: IOCP.

You probably know that IOCP stands for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, and for most of the Northwestern suburbs (including most of Plymouth), they’re the foodshelf/social service agency we rely on to help our most desperate neighbors in need. They don’t meet all the housing/hunger needs of this community, alas, but they get close, and do amazing work. Well, every year, their major fundraiser is called the Sleep Out, and local businesses, churches, scout troops, etc., will sleep outside on various nights to raise funds and awareness for suburban homelessness and affordable housing. Our church will join in Saturday, November 20- sleeping on our lawn in boxes, tents, parked cars, and having a great time for a good cause. Please join us! Or if not, give to a sleeper.

But there’s another way we’re helping the 2010 Sleep Out. For the whole campaign (Nov. 12-Dec. 12), our church sign will track the growing amount of money raised, and what’s still needed to meet our community’s needs. This year, the goal is to help 900 families by raising $1.8 million dollars. And PCCC has committed to informing everyone who drives by our church how we all are doing.

“But couldn’t we use that sign for other things- advertising your sermons, our Thanksgiving service, making cutsy jokes?” Sure, but I think this is more important. After all, one of our church values is joyfully serving our neighbors in need. And if challenging our neighbors to give more for housing assistance will help (and I think it will), then, by golly, let’s do it! But beyond the Sleep Out campaign, I see a growing pattern. Reaching out to neighbors through the Sleep Out and the Blessing of the Animals; organizing groups to learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Maple Grove Hindu Temple; the annual Women’s Tea and an upcoming Wine to Water fundraiser for international water security. Our church is slowly but surely reaching out in greater and louder ways to show people what a cool community this is. One that’s open to new ways of thinking and fresh ways of doing church. One that spends as much, if not more time worrying about helping others as helping ourselves. We can, and should, reach out more, and better, and I urge your help. But let’s be honest folks: We’re finding our voice- a proclamation of Christian faith that is open, service-oriented and ecstatic about serving God and others. Let’s keep it up! And serve more, and speak louder- on the church sign, through exciting new events, in stories we tell to people we meet, because we’re just that happy about what God’s doing with our intimate, wonderful church.

Grace and Peace,
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