The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My formal letter to the Office of General Counsel-Federal Election Commission

Dear Office of General Counsel,

          Greetings, this is Chris Halverson, Pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran in South Plainfield, NJ. On October 22nd I received a letter from Steven Baer (see triplicates included) offering between $1,000-10,000 dollars in “donation” to St. Stephen if I pass out a voters guide to my congregation before Tuesday, November 4th. From the clergy chatter on facebook we were not the only congregation to receive a letter like this.

          This seems dodgy to the extreme.
          It suggests religious officials can be bribed, which undermines the authority of the clergy, as well as the message of the Gospel we proclaim—which ultimately is the Good News about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, not some political agenda.
          Additionally, Mr. Baer’s letter is a temptation to forsake my ordination vows, in which I promised to “live a life above reproach”… which I would imagine includes not taking bribes.
          Not only that, this kind of injection of politics, and ultimately the State, into the Church and vice versa, goes against the division between church and state found both in my faith tradition (Luther’s “Two Kingdoms Theory”) and my country’s tradition (Jefferson’s “Separation of Church and State”).
          Finally, and likely more importantly for you all, I can’t imagine this kind of thing is kosher from an election law standpoint.

          So, that’s my formal complaint. Steve Baer’s attempt to buy church backing of a political agenda: undermines my authority and stifles the Gospel, threatens my ordination vows, goes against the traditions of my faith and country, and probably violates some campaign finance/election laws.

In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Chris Halverson

If your church would like to lodge a similar complaint send Mr. Baer's letter in triplicates along with a notarized letter of complaint to:

The Office of General Counsel

Federal Election Commission

999 E Street, NW

Washington, DC 20463

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism

         As we remember our Spiritual Father, Martin Luther, and his bold actions for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
—his standing up to Popes and Emperors. He and his fellow Reformers putting their lives on the line for the sake of conscience.
         As we remember all these things, it would be easy to bring it all to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” crescendo or a clamorous “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
         But, I would like to take it down a notch this Reformation Sunday—to look at the Reformation from another perspective—after all, a song and a speech can start a Reformation, but it can’t sustain one for nearly 500 years.

         Back in 1986, there was a hit book with an interesting premise and title, Robert Fulghum’s “All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
         The title kinda says it all… much of the basic bits of life—wonder and connection—are already found in the simple stuff of childhood,
 in crayons and “hide-and-go-seek”/ Dick and Jane Books and the earliest of science projects.
         In a similar vein, I would propose a Lutheran equivalent this Reformation Sunday.
“All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”

         Luther wrote the Small Catechism in order to pass on the faith to his son Hans, and to make plain the total package of his Reforms to peasant and prince alike. And for generations of Lutherans is has served as our primer, our Kindergarten ABC’s if you will,
teaching confirmation students, informing Pastor’s sermons, and speaking the faith clearly to millions of souls.
         And even today, nearly 500 years later, it serves as a rock of the Lutheran tradition
—like Washington Rock not that many miles away, it is a place on which we can climb up, and from which we look and see everything else. We can get a panoramic view of the Spiritual landscape.
We can be ecumenical, and even engage in interfaith dialogue, because we know where we stand, so we are not lost even when we’re far afield.
We can change and grow in a variety of ways, because the Small Catechism is a landmark for us.
“All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”

 “All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”

I learned that the Triune God is awful… that is, God fills me with awe
… God’s holiness is so frighteningly beyond us to speak of it is to defile it, is to come up short, is to fail as a witness
…and yet we try.
         God fills me with Awe like the Grand Canyon, on a donkey, on a switch-back, while the poorly packed gravel gives way under the beast’s feet, and the donkey may or may not gain its grip.
         Awe like swelling with pious feelings on pilgrimage on the Mount of Olives where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, just as the first plumes of smoke and pops of gun fire and clashes between Jews and Muslims started across the Kidron Valley at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Triune God is awful, He fills me with awe.

I learned that the Triune God is worthy of my love and my trust… for God did not simply create and leave, but instead sustains every motion and every breath.
         All good things that are necessary and nourishing for my good health, and that of creation, are from God.
         And not only that, but in every time of despair, every moment of doubt or hurt, in all the depths of human life, the pits that are part of my existence,
God is there with me, for God never abandons, but is there for me in every trial and temptation, comforting and delivering me.

I learned that in the Old and New Testament God gives commands and promises to me, and that they inform and shape my faith life.
         For example, Christ commands baptism and communion.
Christ also promises my re-birth… my resurrection with him, in Baptism
And he promises that he’ll show up and sustain me, in the Holy Meal.
         The commands of God, especially those 10 commandments of Moses, are to be read in a strenuously positive way. I’m not to ask only “what shouldn’t I do,” but also add the question, “If that’s true what should I do for the sake of my neighbor?”
         For example, I should not steal… instead I’m going to improve and protect my neighbor’s property and income.

I learned that as a human being, I am a radically dependent creature.
         I’m always trying to sell out to someone.
         In fact, by my very nature I’ve happily sold myself out to Sin, Death, and the Devil.
         And I thank God that while yet a sinner Christ forgave me.
         That Christ my brother saw me sold—a miserable self-made slave, and bought me back, paying the highest of price for my life.

I learned that as a human I’m still inclined to sell-out.
Sell-out like an aging rocker becoming a Vegas Act,
or Troy McClure and Crusty the Clown on the Simpsons—Selling out is always an option.
         Just as there are no Recovered Addicts, only Recovering Addicts, so too there are no Recovered Sinners, only Recovering Sinners.
         I’ve been bought back by Christ, yet I constantly check the smart-phone ap. Zillow to know my re-sale value.

I learned that this is the case for the whole Church, we’re a Sinners Anonymous meeting.
We’re always, daily, in need of forgiveness
—of a forgiving word
and a reminder to give forgiving words, as well.
         We are called to ongoing repentance, confessing together this need
… and when my conscience pricks or provokes me I ought to confess that which troubles me to a Pastor or a trusted Christian friend, knowing their forgiving words are from God.
They remind me that Christ came for me, and forgives me, and bought me out of slavery.

I learned that despite myself and despite the Church being forever filled with recovering sinners, the Spirit will not leave us,
the Spirit’s work in me, and in the whole Church, is irresistible.
         The Spirit alone,
not building programs,
bible studies,
lay education,
New Bishops,
Old Bishops,
Young Pastors,
Old Pastors,
Tattooed Pastors,
Altar Guild,
or Food Pantry
will sustain us.
         The Spirit alone sustains us and allows us to continue on our journey of repentance and forgiveness.

 “All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”


Saturday, October 25, 2014

20 Theses Derived from the Small Catechism

1.God is awful. (inspiring reverential wonder or fear.)
2.God is worthy of my love and my trust.
3.All nourishing things come from God.
4.God never abandons me.

5.God’s commands and promises are found in the Old and New Testament.
6.They inform and shape my faith life.
7.The sacraments are an example of this.
8.God’s commands are to be read in a strenuously positive way.

9.Humans are radically dependent creatures.
10.Humans are sellouts.
11.We sold out to Sin, Death, and the Devil.
12.Thank God Christ forgives us.
13.Christ my brother bought me back.

14.Humans are still sellouts
15.We’re recovering sinners.

16.The Church is a Sinners Anonymous meeting.
17.We confess together, and when particularly troubled to one another.

18.The Spirit will not leave us.
19.The Spirit’s work is irresistible.
20.The Spirit sustains our journey of repentance and forgiveness.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

A few journal entries of my trip to the Holy Land, with commentary

October 8th
            “The North American Church is Cromwell's child.”—One of the things that immediately struck me was how colorful and statue-laden all the churches were. It made me reflect upon the roots of our own church aesthetic. We Americans come out of a tradition shaped by Oliver Cromwell who destroyed much of the church imagery in England.
            “I see the full moon over the sea of Galilee, clouds streaking, lightening flashing… lights on the “other side.” Amazing!... It’s humid air… Jesus among humid air crossing the sea to the other side… the other side.”— Just being there was amazing, and the Galilee especially so. I think about all those boat stories about Jesus, it was right there! Those storm stories, well, I got to see a storm on the Sea of Galilee!

October 9th
            “Magdala has a restaurant and a gas station in it. How banal… no, how real.”—So, the village from which Mary Magdalene got her name was not very pretty… but that too was important to remember, that these are real places, with real hurt and mud and dust and needs. Jesus didn’t show up in a fairy story, but in real life, and dealt with real life!
            “The fifth loaf is in Jesus’ hand… the hand of the priest.”—At the Church of the Multiplication there was a giant fresco of two fish and four loaves… but as we know from our Bibles there were five loaves… and it was explained to us that the fifth loaf was in the hand of Jesus by way of the Presider at Communion… that piece of art was done in such a way as to remind us of our continuity with the earliest followers of Jesus, that we are still fed by Christ, just as the multitudes were then fed.
            “At the Mount of Beatitudes you can be caught up in the blessing, caught up in the calling to be blessed.”—The Mount of the Beatitudes and the Church there were so comforting. It was green, calm, a beautiful view, a deep focus on the famous and powerful words of Jesus found in Matthew 5.

October 10th
            “The Israelis told Bishop Chacour he could return home to Bir’im after 2 weeks, and his Bishop told him he would only serve as Pastor of Ibilin for 2 months… he’s still in Ibilin.”—Bishop Elias Chacour was forced from his home village of Bir’im as a child in 1948. Instead of responding with violence, Elias has worked for peace between Israelis and Palestinians as a Melkite Catholic Priest, as an Archbishop, and as the Headmaster of Mar Elias Educational Institutions, a school in Ibilin where Christian, Muslim, and Jewish children study together.
            “25 conquests of Megiddo.”—The fortress of Har-Megiddo (The Hill of Megiddo… or Armageddon in the Greek) was constantly overrun by one army or another for literally thousands of years… so it should be no surprise that John places preparations for the ultimate cosmic struggle there…where else would someone fight?

October 11th
            “What is Theology in the desert?”—I’ve mentioned before in sermons that deserts are a place where you are stripped bare and end up alone with God… and, even with a bus and water bottles and such, that rang true in the desert around Qumran.
            “Do people make it holy or the place make the people holy?”— In Celtic Christianity they talk about thin places, places where the wall separating the Spirit world and the world of humans is less pronounced. I thought about this idea a lot, as one thing you start to notice at these archeological sites is that Temples, Churches, and Mosques are continually built one atop the other. It makes me wonder if it’s just convenient, or is there something holy about particular places?

October 12th
            “Going up to Jerusalem your ears pop.”—In the Bible it always says people “go up” to Jerusalem… well, you really do.
            “We were lost in Bethlehem and couldn’t find the Inn.”—On our first night in Bethlehem we were dropped off not too far from the Lutheran Center, but managed to get lost. I was kind of freaked out, lost in the West Bank, but Jill, the Pastor of Nativity East Brunswick, reminded me how Biblical it was to not find the Inn in Bethlehem, and that made it better!

October 13th
            “The rocks that would cry out is the resurrection of the dead, a Zombie Choir.”—While on Mt. Zion we saw all these tombs with rocks on them, a common burial practice there going back to a time when you put rocks on tombs so critters wouldn’t get in. Our guide told us this was what Jesus meant when he said the rocks themselves would sing—post-Lazarus, the point was if the Palm Sunday crowd hadn’t sung to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem the dead on mount Zion would have!
            “The explosions? They’re just welcoming you to Jerusalem.”—While we were across from Jerusalem a scuffle broke out between Jewish settlers and Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The exchange there escalated from taunts to home made explosives and gun fire to the Israeli Police stepping in, definitely an eye-opening experience.

Tuesday October 14th
            “I met a woman who can't leave the confines of Bethlehem because she voted in a student election in College!”—I met Angie a Lutheran who works with both the Lutheran center its social ministry arm, Diyar. She voted for the wrong political party her freshman year of college and the Israeli government blacklisted her and she can no longer get permission to leave that little town of Bethlehem (she’s now 29). The amazing thing about her, was the ongoing joy she had in the face of exile in her own home town.
“Christmas Lutheran is the 3rd largest employer in Bethlehem.”—Just a cool Lutheran fact to know! Christmas Lutheran’s outreach is amazing. They serve over 2,000 people in Bethlehem!
            “Remember, the Gospel was first proclaimed in Arabic on Pentecost.” Mitri Raheb—Pastor Raheb is the Pastor of Christmas Lutheran. Sometimes people suggest the Lutheranism there is a second hand because they worship in Arabic… the above is his response.
            “Raheb studied in Germany and showed up in Bethlehem as a first call Pastor the week the 1st Intifada started.”—If I ever talk about my first call as overwhelming remind me of Pastor Raheb.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon: How do we exchange Graven Images for the Image of God?

         A week ago Thursday I was in Capernaum, at the house of Simon Peter’s Mother-in-Law (the doorway from which Jesus healed many). A few doors down from that house is a Synagogue from the 3rd or 4th century.
         Now, when you go up the steps into the entrance of this Synagogues there is an interesting feature—you’ll miss it if you’re not looking for it.
         You look down and see two holes, both filled in with modern concrete… well, they’re the place where money was exchanged.
         You see, by then the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, so the Synagogue had become the center of worship for Jewish people. And much like churches today, that meant money needed to be collected for the maintenance and ministry of the community… but much like the Temple, that money couldn’t be Roman coins—because those often had images of emperors as gods, so the money was traded in for Jewish coins without those graven images on them.
         In other words, you’d put your roman coin in one hole and exchange it for a Jewish coin from the other hole when you entered the Synagogue.
         And today, that’s my question: How do we exchange Graven images for the Image of God?
         The Pharisees show up in the temple
the Pharisees are a group who go out of their way to keep their people separated from non-Jews
—They want to make sure Jews are different.
         The Herodians show up in the temple
The Herodians are fierce Hellenizers
—they want Judaism to shed it’s differences with other cultures and become just like Rome or Greece.
         They agree on nothing.
It’s like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rand Paul of Kentucky
… or the University of Oregon Ducks and the OSU Beavers,
Whatever analogy you prefer—it’s like these two polar opposite groups ended up in the same room together.
We expect a conflict to erupt… but there appears to be one thing the Herodians and Pharisees can agree on…
Jesus is disruptive.
Jesus is dangerous.
Jesus isn’t playing the game
and Jesus definitely isn’t playing it by their rules.
         So they come at him, each from a different direction.
         They butter him up and then ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?”
         If Jesus says yes
the Pharisees can say he sides with the Herodians and dismiss him as such. The crowds will see him as a stooge of the empire, someone unwilling to stand up to those who occupy their land.
         Likewise, if he says no
 the Herodians can tattle on him to Herod and do away with him as a rabble rouser who preaches insurrection.
         So Jesus makes sure the crowd knows he’s not really in on this fight between the Herodians and the Pharisees.
He begins “Let me see one of those coins.”
After all, he doesn’t have such a coin in the temple—that’s a no-no, just as you don’t bring graven images into the Synagogue you surely don’t bring them into the Temple…
maybe even Jesus has never owned such a coin—After all, I don’t think Jesus was known for his hording of money.
         He answers in a way that satisfies the Herodians, and goes beyond the Pharisees…
sure coins belong to the image they have on them…
 but the image on us—the image of God—belongs to God.
         Human beings do not belong to Caesar… or his Empire… or to the coins themselves… no, from the beginning we’ve belonged to God. We’re made in the image of God.

         And that brings me back to my question—How do we exchange Graven Images for the Image of God?
         How do we take the broken, or at least incomplete, images we’ve made,
of ourselves,
of our neighbor,
of our highest ideals,
         How do we drop them into that hole and exchange them for the Image of God?
         My answer in short is this, we see images for what they are and we become who we are.

We see images for what they         In Isaiah we read that Cyrus the Great of Persia has just broken the power of Babylon and freed all the people from there—including the Jews who were in exile.
         Now one response to this would be to deify Cyrus, to make him a god—to turn him into a graven image…
Instead Isaiah makes an amazing theological move—he recognizes God’s actions behind the scenes
—that Cyrus rather than being a god, is called by God—anointed by God for his particular task in history.
         Isaiah exchanges the coin of Cyrus’ conquest by recognizing that he is just a man—by making a distinction between creature and creator.
         Or if you want to think in more Lutheran terms think of Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments—we ought to Love, be in awe of, and trust God above all things—the creator alone is creator, all else is counterfeit coin.

We become who we are.                  In 1st Thessalonians Paul praises the Thessalonians as imitators of both Paul and of the Lord, that is imitators of Christ. They are made in that image because of their joy in the face of persecution and their faithfulness…
these two things point people to the Holy Spirit from whom their Joy comes, and the Lord who is always faithful.
         This is, in fact, the meaning of the earliest place where we find the image of God—Genesis 1, where we hear that God “created humankind in His image, in the image of God he created them, males and females he created them.”
         This isn’t about us looking like God or God looking like us—that God stands upright, has 10 fingers and toes and no prehensile tail.
         No, the point of the Image of God—the Tsella of God—the point of humans, is that we are the marker on the earth pointing out who takes care of the earth—pointing not to ourselves, but instead to God.
We are images of God that point all of creation to God.
         The Thessalonians exchanged graven images for the Image of God when their being
—their faith and their joy—pointed to God.

How do we exchange Graven Images for the Image of God?
We look at the images of Caesars of all sorts and see them for who they are,
just another part of creation.
We strive to be glass, so we ourselves are not seen, but instead God is seen through us,
knowing even that is a gift from God.
We see images for what they are
and we become who we are.


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sermon: Fuzzy Sabbath

Fuzzy Sabbath
            In Walter Brueggemann’s book “Sabbath as Resistance: Saying no to the Culture of now” he makes the case that the Commandments at Sinai, especially the command about Sabbath—is directly opposed to slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh.
            Just listen to Pharaoh, the hard nosed production manager in Exodus:
            All that in 14 verses. Work work work work work work work—relentless restlessness.

            Pharaoh and his gods are all insatiable gods. They are all gods who require production to produce, they require toil to just get by, slaving away just to sustain the status quo.
            And to this situation of slavery and to these gods—to these cries of desperation out of Egypt—comes a God who rests on the 7th day of creation. Who institutes Sabbath for His people—a day that is, “good… for nothing.”
            In the face of slavery, Sabbath insists, “The wellbeing of creation does not depend on endless work.”
            It points to Grace in creation—the radical proposition that the earth will keep spinning with or without our effort.
            Grace in creation.

            Now, at this point you might we wondering what Pastor is on about… All the readings have animals in them, we’re blessing the animals… and he’s talking about Sabbath… did he just want to do a mini-book-report for us? Is he trying to tell us something about our society’s habits of relentless restlessness?
            Just what gives?
            Well, let me tell you a story.
            It was 11 o’clock on a Tuesday, and I was putting my mail out before I went to bed, when Simul, the Parsonage Cat, zipped between my legs and into the bushes
—Now Simul is an indoor kitty, ever since I brought her to Baltimore as a kitten—so naturally I endeavored to bring her back inside every way I knew how
—Catnip, gently calling her name, treats, wet food,
chasing her, calling after her,
following her through my neighbor’s prickly bushes, yelling at her…
you get the picture… all of this until 1:30-2am something like that… at which point I thought the neighbors might call the cops on me for disturbing the peace, so I left some food out and the door open and I went to sleep on my couch…(God help me if I become a dad—I can only imagine.)

            Then, around 5:30-6 O’clock I wake up to hear Simul crunching and munching in her little kitty bowl in the kitchen.
            --She got back on her own… no effort of mine.
            Even an indoor cat can survive a few hours in the wilds of suburban New Jersey… no human effort needed… grace in creation.

            That’s what Animals do, they remind us creation can continue spinning without us (maybe even a little better without us in some ways)…
that there is a grace in the created order.
            “The wellbeing of creation does not depend on endless work.”

            These barnless birds Jesus talks about in Matthew—Grace in creation.
            These lilies that have no need to toil for their clothing—Grace in creation.
            A pet rat’s restfulness exposes our addiction to the rat race—Grace in creation.

            Our little companions are fuzzy, feathery, scaly, Sabbaths—Reminders of God’s creative grace. Good simply because they are.
Like the Sabbath—Good, for nothing
(And as a cat owner I can add some are a little more good for nothing than others).
            In some ways a pet blessing is superfluous, in their fuzzy flesh they so often show that original blessing said seven times at the start of Genesis “God saw that it was good.”
            Critters are part of what makes creation good and very good—seven times good—completely good.
            Their ongoing presence sings praise to God the creator of all that is, seen and unseen. Singing a song of praise to the LORD from beginning to end.
And let all God’s living creatures say: Amen!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sermon: By what authority, dear Church?

By what authority, dear Church?

         Today’s Gospel lesson is an ongoing question about authority. The Pharisees want to know where Jesus gets his authority—by what right he teaches and heals and so on… who permits him to be a religious leader?
         Jesus in turn asks about John’s authority, knowing that this will turn the tables on the Pharisees,
         And today,
keeping that question of authority in mind,
but meditating on the famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2
and what it might have to say to the Church in 21st century America,
with all its anxiety and uncertainties
With this hymn to Christ’s self-empting and humility in mind,
I would like to ask, “By what authority, dear Church?”
By what authority, dear church?

         Throughout history there have been many wrong places that the Church has found its authority.
         After the era of the persecution of the Church, the Emperor Constantine put his authority behind the faith and made it a official religion of the Roman Empire. Our authority became derived from the whim of the State.
         Which was fine… until the sacking of Rome, which made many question everything, including the authority of the Church and the promises of God.
If the Church’s authority and trustworthiness is defined by the state and the culture of Rome, they figured, and Rome went bust—then clearly the Church had no legitimate influence, or positive value.
         Likewise, during the era of the colonization of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia, the Authority of Christianity, was often mixed-in with the authority of the conquistadores and colonists—Christianity was sometimes presented as, “Now that this territory is ours, this religion is yours.”
“Why is the Church pertinent to your life?”
Was often answered “because it’ll make getting along with your occupiers easier.”
         Or think of “The Good Old Days” (and please understand I’m not knocking it)
—When everyone went to Church, because there really wasn’t a whole lot else to do on a Sunday—there were Blue Laws—so no stores were open, no soccer games played.
         All your friends were in Church—going to Church was a downright social thing to do, the place to see and be seen at, the place to catch-up and share.
         America was in a Cold War with Godless Communism, so when you went to Church you weren’t just being a good Christian, you were also being a good American.
         So the Church’s Authority and significance was amplified in the good old days—we allowed it deeply into our lives, because there was no competition from other entities, it filled an agreeable social role, as well as a national one.
         And, as you’ll read in the Newsletter, I recently talked with ELCA high-ups and not so high-ups, who are worried about the end of Christendom—the time when Christians got special treatment… the end of the Good Old Days.

         Now days, blue laws have been blown away…
to think about this concretely, Baltimore is a very Catholic city, and the Church held some Authority there… so up until the Baltimore Colts left the City, they were not allowed to start a game before 2pm, because not all the Church folk would be done with services before then (and you couldn’t buy alcohol in the city before then either)… but by the time Baltimore got a new team—the Ravens, there was no way an NFL team would even dream of waiting on folk to get out of Church.
         Now days, there are a myriad of ways to socialize that don’t involve Church
—from Social Media to Social Clubs, the Senior Center to the Buddhist Center.
         Now days America is in a war against Religious Extremists,
so any form of faith that isn’t clearly tame is suspect, instead of a mark of citizenship.
         So we have these high-up Church folk worried about all this—about our loss of authority—that we no longer have special treatment, and therefore ministry is going to change.

         And one of the potential directions to go down is to go to the Mega-Church Corporate model. Figuring perhaps the Church’s authority can come from the Marketplace
Figure out what people want,
And give it to them
And be justified in your role within society.
         This model assumes the Church can out-compete our secular equivalents.
That congregations should be Mini-malls with a veneer of spirituality
·      Starbucks-like Baristas serving coffee—or even renting space to an actual Starbucks in the back of the congregation,
·      A joint gym membership with Church membership,
·      Bike ramps for the kids if they get bored during the sermon,
·      A church sponsored Fight Club
—I’m not kidding, a Christian Fight Club
—bashing one another’s brains in, in the name of Jesus.

         If we’re playing against a secular market, we’ll always be trying a little too hard to be something we’re not.
         Our secular competition is always going to win, because we’re playing their game.
         Tony Robins does the inspirational speaker thing, better than your Pastor.
         Menlo-Park Mall does the mall thing, better than the Church.
         Starbucks does Coffee, better than our Kitchen-folk.
         CJBMX does bike tracks, better than the Church.
         Planet Fitness does exercise, better than the Church.
         The South Plainfield Fight Club does fightin’, better than the Church.
         And so I ask again, “By what authority, dear Church?”
         Not that of the Marketplace, or Laws-Blue or otherwise, or Nationalism, or Conquest, or Imperial Sanction.
         The only authority we have, dear Church—dear Sisters and Brothers—
         The only authority we’ve ever had,
is that of our humility exposed.
         Our natural selfishness, ambition, and conceit, combated in the name of Christ.
         Our regard for others, bolstered by the Spirit.
         The widows and mourners gathered together in mutual support at Good Grief Group—that’s our authority.
         The individual confessions, and sincere struggles with our human passions—that’s our authority.
         Our Prayers of Intercession—naming aloud in the company of the Saints, that raggedy long, yet incomplete, list—that’s our authority.
         The sincerity with which we are community together—rough edges and all—that’s our authority.
         We beggars pointing another beggar to where they can get some bread—that’s our authority.

         Sinners pointing to the one:
“Who though he was in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
But emptied himself,
Taking the form of a slave
Being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to the point of death
Even death on a cross.”
That’s our authority.