Author: Belgian Friar

About Belgian Friar

Paul is currently the Pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in St. Louis Park, MN, where he and his wife live and are doing their best to live in the Way of Jesus with their three children. Paul boldly affirms Ferris Bueller's admonition that "life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and slow down once in a while, you might miss it." You can follow Paul on Twitter for a weird mix of tweets about sports, the church, faith, current events and sometimes all out nonsense by searching @belgianfriar.

Let It Break

Collapsed potThere’s a lot I don’t know. When I was in my 30s I didn’t think there was a lot I didn’t know, but as I’ve moved into my 40s I’ve become acutely aware of just how much I don’t know. But at the same time, I have been distracted lately but something that seems clear to me, and something we simply must come to grips with:

The United Methodist Church is not united (alert the media). The more we say that, the more we let that in, the better at this point. There are some really well intended, smart, wise, sacrificial people working really hard to find a way forward for us to avoid a schism, but the reality is that one already exists. And as much as I have liked to blame this division on the challenges of the cultural differences that exist in a global denomination, I think I’m beginning to see that this schism isn’t merely global. It’s local, it’s national, it’s not defined by geographical boundaries. On one side we have a movement seeking inclusion and equality with the LGBTQ+ community, and on the other side we have a movement trying to preserve our Book of Discipline’s exclusionary stance on such matters. As for me, I will continue to do what I can to battle for inclusion, but at the same time, I think we also need to come to grips with the idea that a split may actually be what’s best for us. The rift within the body may be too great. But more so, why are we so afraid of splitting?

A split is not failure. Splits have been the story of Christianity from the beginning. Prophets have been working for and calling for reform since the beginning. From a Christian perspective, reform began with a radical movement working for increased justice in a system that needed it. As with Luther and Wesley, Jesus had no plans on “splitting” from Judaism, and nor did he or his disciples ever do that. They loved their faith, but they also wanted to see some reform within it. Eventually the reform they sought led to a whole new kind of faith expression. The same was true of Luther and the same was true of Wesley.  But what ended up happening? Splits. It’s seems to be the natural course of things. So why are we so afraid of it? Denominational splits are only failure to the degree that The Reformation was a failure.

That is not to say that we should seek out splits or be quick to split. Part of what has made past movements so powerful is their leaders’ commitment to seek reform before split. There is no virtue in quickly grabbing our ball going home. But at some point you have to come to grips with the reality that it is time to go home. We can no longer play nice anymore, and the best thing for both of us is to split. I am reminded of a roommate situation my sophomore year in college. An old high school friend and I decided to room together. At first it was fun, but then it started not going so well. We got to a point where for the sake of the friendship I moved out. We’re still friends today. At some point you have to stop denying that something’s not working.

When the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church brought the election of Bishop Oliveto to the Judicial Council as an invalid election because she is a professing Lesbian, rather than waiting for the Commission on the Way Forward to do its work, the degree of our division was exposed. It’s time to split. But why are we so resistant to it? Since when is the Church afraid of broken things? We are in the business of broken things. A broken body is our M.O. It is out of broken things that God brings new and beautiful life. So I say, beloved, let it break.

Yes, there are massive administrative complications, not the least of which are property and pension. And I don’t want to minimize these, as they have very real and felt consequences. The challenges in an institution this large cannot be dismissed nor denied, but at the same time, how can we preach the Gospels and at the same time let institutional complexities drive us? When we worry about who will retain assets in a split, I cannot help but hear Jesus saying “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). And when we fight to stay in a destructive relationship for the sake of pension, I cannot help but hear Jesus telling a rich young man that if he wants to follow him he should sell and everything he has, give it to the poor and then come follow him, to which the text tells us “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22). If the complications of property and pension keep us from leaving our comforts and systems to follow Jesus, then when these texts come up in our lectionaries we owe to it to our congregations to say “this doesn’t apply to us.”

All of this is to say I think it’s time we got honest about a split. A denominational split, whether it’s into two things or splintered into many, is not failure. It may in fact be the way of God through space and time. The Biblical narrative is rich with stories of the organizing structures of God’s people coming to places of fracture, and more often than not, beautiful things come out of it. And of course the ultimate example is the literal breaking of the body of Christ. The very body of Jesus was broken- split- and why? For us: “This is my body broken for you…” It seemed like failure at the time. It seemed like it was all over. But on the third day something so glorious and beautiful rose from the brokenness that Jesus’ followers didn’t even recognize it.

Might it be so too with the United Methodist Church? Breaking may seem like failure, but perhaps it is only to the degree that the cross was a failure. What if we simply name the divide that is already here, and just let it break? There will be a hard, hard, “three days” to follow it, but I believe that on that “third day”, something will rise out of it that is so beautiful and glorious that I might not even recognize it… but I sure do want to be a part of it. Yes, Jesus prayed “that they may all be one”, but he did so on the precipice of breaking his body. Is it possible that we might be more “one” in breaking than in trying to stay together? So I say, let’s let it break.

This is not to say that God planned this (or any other) division. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about God in my life, it’s that God works with the clay at hand. And sometimes the clay becomes so brittle that it needs some water, and then needs to be picked up, thumped on the wheel, and then reshaped- sometimes into separate pieces. I wonder if all too often we apply Biblical metaphors to our personal formation and not enough to our communal formation. God may be saying that it’s to time to form something new here, but, unlike clay, we are a living organism with agency. We need to let God reshape us. It’s hard, yes, and there will need to be some grieving, but there is also incredible opportunity. This may be it for the United Methodist Church as we know it, but it’s not the end of God, God’s people, and God’s good Earth.

So let’s let it break. Let’s stop trying to hide in the safety of the wombs of our systems, and let’s move toward the new life to which God may just be leading us.

Evangelicalism at Iliff School of Theology (Wait… What?)

IMG_8059The journey has been long, at times painful, and mostly liberating. In 2012 I wrote a piece I called My Journey to No, which was my way of not only publicly opposing the Minnesota marriage amendment to ban same sex marriage, but it was also my way of publicly announcing my theological shift in regards to the humans I had previously whittled down to the “issue” of homosexuality. That is, I had moved from someone who bought and taught conservative evangelical theology on “matters of human sexuality” to someone who believes in a more generous Gospel of Christ, and believes that not only should LGBTQ people be accepted fully into the fold of Christianity and humanity, but also should be called to be our leaders, teachers, and mentors in and of the faith. It is statements like this that I know often upset my evangelical sisters and brothers, but the truth is we cannot hold a generous Gospel in one hand, while holding a charge against Bishop Oliveto in the other.

Nearly five years after writing My Journey to No, last Wednesday I found myself in the Iliff School of Theology chapel in a near full-on heave cry as I was led in one of the most powerful worship experiences of my life. Bishop Karen Oliveto was scheduled to preach, even though she had just returned home from hearings in New Jersey regarding whether her election to the Episcopacy last year was valid simply because she is a publicly professing lesbian. I can’t imagine the painful words she had to endure in those hearings…

…Oh wait, yes I can imagine those words, because for the first 15-20 years of my Christianity I believed those words, I said those words, and (and here is where I really cringe) I taught those words to teenagers. You see, I was an evangelical. That meant that I had a responsibility to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, which when it came to LGBTQ people meant “you’re an abomination, but I can help you.” We can spin it all we want, but that essentially was our “good news”.

As soon as I saw Bishop Oliveto walk in I felt tears well up. The worship experience was beautifully crafted and led mostly by Iliff’s LGBTQ community and included great music, including a powerful acoustic rendition of “Blessed Assurance”, as well as some other beautiful choruses and original pieces. But in all the beauty, something wasn’t right in me. I couldn’t figure out what. My soul was aching as though it was waiting to crack open and unleash something. What was this about? I’ve been through this. I’ve come to terms with my evangelical past and have since worked to be an ally (not always well, but I’m learning). What was happening? Why was my soul so unsettled.

The coup de gras for my aching soul came when a fellow Iliff classmate read a poem they wrote for this occasion. It cannot be described, nor can it be merely read. This was true poetry: It needs to be experienced. Take six minutes and give it a listen/viewing (yes it’s a six minute poem, and it needs to be, and it’s beautiful):

As the recitation went on, I found myself beginning to mildly convulse as I tried to hold back the tears that were beginning to pour out from my soul like a spring of abundant life. I didn’t want the drama of my soul to distract from the beauty being breathed into the Iiliff Chapel air.

The poem finished and I was torn open in all the good ways. This unveiling of my soul felt like what I imagine the tearing open of the veil of the Holy of Holies to be. Something was exposed. Then it hit me. How many students have I silenced? How many teenagers sat in my youth rooms desperately needing a safe space to be, express, and live into who they are, and I silenced them? I know there’s grace, and I know I’ve changed, and I even know that in those days, my motives, though misguided, were not to cause harm. But I did. My intentions do not change the fact that I silenced. As students gathered for confirmations and baptisms, I put white robes on them to homogenize them when perhaps all they wanted or even needed was to live into their unique, colorful, fully alive, and not always normative selves.

My soul laid bare, I collected myself, as Bishop Oliveto began to preach. I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be in that space with her and other dear friends, most relatively new but one I’ve known for well over half my life- one whose story is intimately and inseparably tied to mine. In Bishop Oliveto you could see that the pain was real and deep, but more so, it was not the final word. Resurrection will have the final word. Resurrection will precede the final punctuation mark of her story. And mine. And yours. Hope began to swirl in the air with the grace of gentle but felt summer breeze. The kind that messes up your neat and tidy picnic table.

And then another classmate of mine for whom I have great admiration sang a song he wrote for Bishop Oliveto. The poem broke open my aching soul, and this song became a healing balm for it, not closing it back up, but leaving it laid bare and vulnerable and free: “I’m made in the image love…” poured into the air like an aspirated baptism drowning me in grace and healing with every breath. Listen to it. All of it:

I walked out of this worship experience with an undeniably felt experience of the very Spirit of God. She swam through that room with a kind of power and beauty that takes your breath away. In a time of such bad news in the life of LGBTQ United Methodists, hope, grace, and healing echoed off the walls of the Iliff Chapel that morning.

Bad news came later in the week. On Friday the UMC Judicial Council ruled by a 6-3 vote that Bishop Oliveto’s election to the episcopacy did violate church law. It was another crushing blow in the hope for inclusion in the United Methodist Church. But I did not leave hopeless. Still wet from the drenching of the Spirit in chapel on Wednesday, my soul rose in protest against this ruling. And isn’t that what worship is? A protest? Isn’t this thing we call worship- that is, the gathering of the community- intended to be a protest against the current condition of the world? A protest against bad news?

As the world spits out more bad news of hate, exclusion, destruction, and fear, the gathered community is intended to stand in opposition as a anthem of good news. The Greek word in the New Testament that translates to “good news” is εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion). It’s where we get our word “evangelical”. In this sense, at its most raw, evangelicalism is a protest against the bad news of the world. Because of this, the only word I can use to describe my experience in the Iliff Chapel on Wednesday is “evangelical”.

The journey has been long, at times painful, and mostly liberating. It’s becoming a more common story, that of people leaving evangelicalism. But leaving that worship experience on Wednesday, I’m not so certain I left evangelicalism eight years ago. I may have just finally found it.

Re-Imagining Maundy Thursday

towel-and-basin-2When you don’t grow up in something, you tend to be more curious about whatever that something may be. Call it a blessing or a curse, but that’s how I am about church stuff. I didn’t grow up in church, which means that there is little that the church does that to me is unquestionably necessary, and because of that I’m constantly asking why, and I’m particularly prone to do so with what we call things (I love words). From a language standpoint there may be no stranger day in the Christian calendar than Maundy Thursday. Some churches ignore this strange word all together and simple call it “Holy Thursday”. Some churches ignore the whole day! But even if we’re not asking why is it called ‘Maundy’, we still should at least ask what this Thursday before Easter is all about.

First let’s get this out of the way: It’s not “Maunday Thursday”. It’s not like Jesus snuck in an 8th day of the week, although I don’t think Jesus would argue with singing “eight days a week I love you” to us. It’s Maundy Thursday, which is a strange word begging the question “what in the world does maundy mean”?

Before we dig into that, let’s look at what it has come to mean functionally for the Christian church. It’s become the descriptor of the Thursday before Easter, and it recalls the scene in John 13 where Jesus washes his disciples feet. This is where it gets confusing. You see, if you read the Gospels closely you’ll find that in John, the disciples gather prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, but what doesn’t happen is what we call the “Institution of the Lord’s Supper” (without getting mired in the details, the chronology gets messy). Isn’t it kind of amazing that the most central activity of the Christian Church through history (on par with baptism) does not happen in one of the Gospels? That aside, this gathering gets placed on “the night before the festival of the Passover”, so traditionally we think of it as what we now call Thursday. So we have this gathering on the Thursday before Easter and central to it is often Holy Communion (because that shows up in Matthew, Mark and Luke just prior to Jesus’ arrest), but in John we get the most awkward of all Christian practices: The foot washing.

In the midst of the meal, Jesus gets up and washes his disciples’ feet. This is a profound act of humility and service, and when he is done he says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14, NRSV). Later in the scene Jesus says what is known as the “new commandment”, which is, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35 NRSV).

Here’s where it all comes together. There are some big words (at least as I understand it- Jewish friends, please correct me if I’m off base here) when it comes to 1st Century Jewish people, which Jesus and his disciples were, by the way . Two of those words are “covenant” and “commandment”. Keep in mind that neither of these are meant to eradicated in Jesus, but are meant to be fulfilled and extended him, which is why the Christian Bible contains the “Old Testament”- or “Old Covenant”- as part of its sacred story. In Luke, Jesus mentions a “new covenant” (this is huge, but a whole other post). In John Jesus mentions a new commandment. There are the 10 commandments. Then there is the “greatest commandment” in the Gospels. And here, in the final hours of Jesus’ life he gives a “new commandment”. The Latin word for “commandment” ismandatum (see where this is going?). This scene in John 13 is (in our modern day western way of tracking days), in this sense, “Mandatum Thursday” or “Maundy Thursday”.

The heart of the day by virtue of its name is the new commandment to love one another as Jesus loved us. The example that Jesus had just given to his disciples about what that love looks like was in washing their feet. It was in humbling himself in service to the other. I think one could take the back half of that new commandment and rephrase it to say, “by this everyone will know that you’re disciples: the degree to which you pick up the basin and the towel in love for one another.”

There is nothing wrong or bad about having another worship service during Holy Week on Thursday. There really isn’t. It can be a beautiful and powerful service, and though these Maundy Thursday services are too often viewed in relation to Holy Week how the NIT is to March Madness in college basketball, you should go if your community has one. You really should. It’s part of the Holy Week journey.

But I also wonder if there’s something we’re missing about this “Mandate” Thursday, about “Commandment Thursday”. I wonder if it’s a day when we shouldn’t “go to church” as much as be the church. I wonder if it’s a day when we maybe also shouldn’t go to work or school. After all this is the new commandment. That’s heavy stuff. Maybe this should be the day when the church, as it is spread across the globe, should grab the basin and towel and head out into the world in service to it. Maybe it should be the day that we remind ourselves of some of Jesus’ last words to us, and indeed his last commandment to us, and in this sense a reminder of what we’re all about. What if the church was all over the dirt of the earth, not ceremonially washing feet, but metaphorically doing so in service to the communities in which we live and which we are called to love?

In Matthew Jesus’ last words to us are what is known as the Great Commission, and the church often sees these words as our “marching orders” (so to speak). Those words are, in short, to “Go and make disciples…”. But in John Jesus tells us how “everyone will know that you are my disciples.” It’s not by gathering in a sanctuary or worship center and singing songs, hearing a sermon, and engaging in some kind of ceremony or ritual. It’s not by how much Bible we know, how often we go to church, and how many activities we engage in. No, everyone will know we are Jesus’ disciples by how much we love one another as exemplified by the degree to which we lay ourselves down in service to one another and the world- that is by the degree to which we are a people of the basin and the towel.

Have a blessed Maundy Thursday, everyone.

The Terrorists Are Winning

12107836_10207468604055373_992290273295544282_n-2Excuse me for stating the obvious, but we’ve got a problem in this country. But it’s not really a new problem. The problem isn’t Donald Trump and the rural working class. The problem isn’t Hillary Clinton and the liberal elite. The problem isn’t Washington. The problem isn’t Wall Street. And the problem isn’t Main Street. The problem, to put it one way I guess, is sea to shining sea. It’s from the east to the west. It’s from the Left to the Right. The problem is us. All of us. And what exactly is our problem? It’s uncomfortable to admit. And it sounds a bit like grandstanding. I think the problem is this:

The terrorists are winning. And we’re letting them.

Our nation changed on September 11, 2001. We know that. And it was a truly amazing time. We had just gone through the closest presidential race in American history. It was so close in fact that it took not until the next morning to decide, not even until the next week, but until the next month to decide. Ultimately George W. Bush became our president, and the left was scared. Where would this go? How would he lead? As I recall the usual Democrat vs. Republican arguments took place throughout the first few months of Bush’s presidency. Then terrorists flew commercial airplanes into the Twin Towers (ultimately toppling them) as well as the Pentagon, and attempted to fly one into the White House.

The nation changed in a moment, and we all knew it. President Bush’s approval ratings cvfspjk4hesmzts2bc0brgnearly doubled overnight, going from about 50% to 90+%. Some of my most liberal, Bush-hating friends even said, “we just have to trust that he knows what he’s doing.” It was amazing. The country was coming together like we had never seen it before. We were more the United States of America than I have ever seen. We were like an awakened giant, who was ready to rise and shine like never before.

It didn’t last long. As President Bush led us into war with Iraq less than two years later, the age old divide seemed to be back. Except it wasn’t quite to same “age-old divide”. Something was different. Since about a year into the Iraq war, we have been on, as I’ve experienced, the steepest, fastest, and deepest downward trajectory toward division than we’d been on my whole life, perhaps longer- perhaps going all the way back to the Civil War.

Friends, the terrorists are winning.

Oh sure we got Saddam Hussein, and we got Osama Bin Laden, and we got who knows whoever else. But have we ever been more afraid? We may have felt strong and united for a few months after the attacks on September 11th, but the truth is that since then we have been afraid. Politics has been driven by fear and it is killing us- in many cases literally. We’re afraid, and our whole political realm is operating out of that fear. And when people operate out of fear, generally bad things happen. We go into survival mode. We go into self preservation mode. We fight, we claw, we run, we hide, and, perhaps most tragically, we demonize and vilify anything that looks, sounds, and behaves differently than we do.

The terrorists have done, and are doing, exactly what they intend to do. They’ve made us afraid. That is not to say that there isn’t anything to be afraid of. But it is to say that when we there is something to fear, we have to be very careful. Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, but I don’t know that he was entirely correct.

There are other things to fear. ISIS is something to be afraid of. A president whose first order of action seems to be setting up a battle with the press is something to be afraid of. The increased disappearance of the middle class is something to be afraid of. Jobs fleeing the rust belt for other nations is something to be afraid of. Continued incarceration and execution of black lives is something to be afraid of. On and on it goes. There is a lot to be afraid of.

I think FDR was wrong in that fear isn’t the only thing we have to fear, but he was correct in that fear is the main thing we have to fear. This is how the terrorists are winning. Since September 11th, even with a two term president who ran on the “audacity of hope”, our driving motivator in this country has been fear. The Republicans made us afraid of a Kerry Presidency. Then they made us really afraid of an Obama presidency. This year, they stepped it up a notch creating a sense that United States would crack and fall off the face of the earth with a Hillary Clinton presidency. They tried to make us afraid of these people, as the primary means to convince people to vote on their side.

But before the democrats get too haughty, they did the same thing. They bred incredible fear in us about a second Bush term. They made us afraid of a McCain/Palin white house (“she’s one heartbeat away from the oval!”). They bred incredible social and economic fear in us over a Romney presidency, and look how the last 18 months went. Fear. Be afraid of that one. Be very afraid.

That being said, I do believe that there is more to be afraid of with President Trump than any one in my lifetime. Don’t hear what I’m saying as a “calm down, everybody” moment. The rhetoric in his campaign is not only incited fear but anger and violence (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you are either in total denial or are living under a rock). And, contrary to most presidents, he’s making good on his promises. If you ask me, this man is- to use one of his favorite phrases- a total disaster.

But even though I believe there is reason to fear this Trump presidency, letting that fear guide us is the worst thing we can do. It has gotten us nowhere in the last 16 years. All it has led to is a greater divide, and with that divide only comes increased fear, which only increases the divide. I believe that what led us to a Donald J. Trump presidency (something that was a punch line at best and mostly unimaginable 17 years ago) is fear. And what I fear now is that we will do what we’ve been doing these last two decades. We will continue to swing the wrecking ball of fear between us with increased force and in so doing continue to wreck this nation in which we live and which we call home.

Again, I want to be clear. A Trump Presidency appalls me. This man has made my flesh crawl since the early 2000s when my wife and I used to watch “The Apprentice”. I think he’s a clinical narcissist, and in that is entirely psychologically unfit for the presidency, and I genuinely fear where he’s going with this. So in no way am I saying that we shouldn’t resist, that we shouldn’t march, and that we shouldn’t have our guard up. We must.

But we also need to look at what led us to him. It’s fear. It is letting fear be our guide that has led to the increasing chasm between us, and I think the terrorists are now just sitting back on their barcaloungers with their feet up, sipping a cool drink and relaxing as we tear ourselves apart. Somehow in these trying times we have to rise above our fear and move toward one anther again. I’m not saying we need to accept pu**y-grabbing and whatever it was that Hillary did that was so horrific that no one’s ever done before. But I am saying that we need to move toward one another, get back to real conversation and debate, and in that rise above our fear. Fear is the terrorist’s means of control. It’s all they’ve got. Let’s not give it to them. Yes, we can and should be afraid, but we cannot- cannot- let it drive us anymore.

In this, the terrorists are winning. But it’s not over. The choice is ours, not theirs. There’s still time, but we need to make a radical course correction right now. We need to find a way to talk to each other again- to listen to one another- to, quite simply, not be so afraid of one another. That is not to say that we need to agree nor is it to say that we shouldn’t challenge one another, but we have to do it without letting fear be out pilot.

That’s how the terrorists are winning. They have bred such fear in us, that fear is driving us, and in driving us it has become our guiding value in policy, in action, and in how we relate to another in our day to day lives. The terrorists don’t need to attack us anymore, because we’re attacking one another (and let me be the first to admit that I’ve done this, even as recently as yesterday) . They put a giant chasm of fear between us, and in our fear, we are running away from the chasm’s edge, sheltering ourselves with only with those who think, act, and sound like we do, and in so doing we are continually widening the chasm until there is nothing left and we all fall in.

That woman in the hijab over there? She’s not hiding a bomb in it. That guy in the big truck with a an eagle and American flag in the back window? He’s not in the KKK. That women in the hijab? She just wants to work hard, earn a living wage, provide for her family, and love her neighbor. And the guy in the big truck? Same thing. She’s not your enemy. Nor is he.

Do you know who your enemy is? The voice telling you that she or he is your enemy.

Time.

I wrote this back in 2009. As the world continues to rush around us on its axis, I keep coming back to it. I need to listen to it more than I need to publish it:

We’ve all heard it said that time is money. Well if this is so, then why is that we when we’re doing nothing we say we’re wasting time? If I’m doing nothing with money, if I’m not using it, we would say I’m saving it. So why isn’t it that way with time? When we’re doing nothing with our time we say we’re wasting it. Nooooo. That’s not right. That’s saving time. That’s taking time by the horns and saying “you’re mine”.

Have you ever thought about how much time you waste by doing? No one has an excess of time, you know. It’s not like some people are given more than others. We’re all given 24 hours in a day, and 60 minutes in an hour. No one can change that. So how can we say that some have more time? It’s your time, you know. Just like a financial adviser would tell you that you need to get control of your finances so that they don’t control you, I say get control of your time so that it doesn’t get control of you.

Stop spending it. Save some. Put some in the bank and do nothing with it. It’s okay, you can do it. God even commanded it. Seriously, check it out. So take some time and do nothing with it. If some one says, “hey, what are you doing?”, you can say “nothing”.

1616364974_2ab35d9c541“Nothing, really? Well than come on over and help me do….”

“No, no, I’m sorry. You don’t understand. I’m doing nothing. That’s what I’m doing.”

“So you’re just wasting time?”

“Nope. Saving it.”

So save some time today. Do nothing. Quit spending more than you have, because one day hard times will hit. The Time Market will crash and you’ll wish you had some saved up.

Have a Wonder-Full 2017

It’s been a helluva year. 2016 is one that will certainly go down in US History books for obvious reasons, but even if you remove the election, it was still one helluva year. Every now and then at the end of a year I do a little “looking back” (or as the wise sage Yogi Berra once said, “looking back in retrospect”), and just in case something happens, I usually wait until the year is completely over to do so. Here we are, five days still left in 2016, but I’m feeling compelled to reflect. Maybe because it’s been such a year, that I just can’t stomach another thing in these five days. So here I go:  But where do I start? Not sure where to start, I went back into my Twitter feed to the beginning of 2016 to see what might’ve been stirring in me and in the world at that time. That’s one of the things I love about Twitter… that question it asks: “What’s happening?”

Well, I was launching a sermon series and daily blog on the Gospel of Luke a year ago, so most of my first tweets of 2016 were about that and the fact that the Vikings managed to win the NFC North. What a difference a year makes. But one of my tweets connecting to my blog on the Gospel of Luke looks, in retrospect, to be somewhat prophetic:

I have been saying to my congregation since the Republican and Democratic conventions that I do not recall a time in my life when this nation seemed as anxious as it does right now. There is a tension in our nation right now that is so thick that you can almost feel it in the air we breathe. On January 4, 2016 I had no idea just how anxiety-inducing this year would be. I don’t need to replay it all for us, but let me just scratch the surface on a few things that struck me in particular.

The Election: It is the #1 story of the year, without question. All along Donald Trump was making noise, and if you could look back on conversations with my friends you will hear me saying, “everybody calm down… after the New Year, when there are actual primaries, America will wake up and Trump will disappear in no time.” I could not have been more wrong. I shoulda listened to my friend Joe, a bonafide prophet, who kept saying, “I don’t know, we need to be careful.” In the end, this election bred deep anxiety on both sides of the political aisle. The left was (and is more so now) terrified of Trump (and there are reasons to be so), and the right was terrified of Hillary (decades of loathing doesn’t just go away). The tension is thick.

13010614_10208942482101403_1588018010296067225_nPrince: We had already lost Bowie and Snape and George Martin, as well as some others, but for me, this one hit hard. I didn’t see it coming, but Prince’s death hit me like a tidal wave. And in some ways, you got this sense when he died that something was up with 2016. It was only April, and you just knew that it wouldn’t be the end. Muhammed Ali, Gene Wilder, and Leonard Cohen, were just a few others that struck me after Prince died, and then, just yesterday, George Michael. I don’t know what the Grammies are gonna do with their memorial segment. It could take up the whole show. Sometimes it snows in April. :\

Jacob Wetterling: This is how huge this year was. Locally this was a huge story, and I almost forgot about it. His disappearance gripped the state of Minnesota and was for decades considered our state’s greatest mystery. That mystery came to an end in September as Jacob’s abductor and killer finally came clean (as clean as a “deal” can be), confessed, and revealed the location of Jacob’s remains. My only solace in it was that at least Jacob’s torture was only for a night. I had longed feared that he had endured, or even was enduring, decades of torture. That weekend, it seemed the entire state shone brightly with porch lights of hope for all missing and abducted persons. This was a pic I tweeted of my neighborhood that night. Not a great pic, but a powerful image.

 

The Cubs: This team just can’t buy a break. One of the greatest stories in sports took place this year, as after 108 years of choking, the Cubs finally won it all. And, yet, even when they win, they lose: The win itself was unforgettable, but it also came in one of the best game 7s ever (as a lifelong Twins fan and attendee of the 1991 game 7 I refuse to give this year’s the top spot alone!), and a week later it was gone- lost in one the most gripping presidential elections in US history. Everybody, in a year that was loaded with so much anxiety, let us not forget the joy of the lovable losers finally winning it all! Go, Cubs, Go. Hey Chicago, what d’you say? It’s been a crappy year. So, Chicago, don’t feel guilty about boldly and joyfully flying that W.

 

Standing Rock: I don’t know what it is, but something clicked in me when violence broke out int eh DAPL standoff on late October. Shortly thereafter there was a call for clergy to come, and I knew Just had to go. This important story also got lost in the election, but if you ask me it was one of the most significant stories of the year. I am still frustrated with President Obama’s silence. I wrote a few pieces on the situation there. Here’s one. And I’m sure some dumb pic of Trump or Hillary will win it, but if you ask me, this is the pic of the year:

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And in the context of the image above, this is a close second:

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Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Dallas, and Black Lives Matter: The movement and struggle for black lives continued in 2016, and without getting into the depths of it, I think it’s safe to say that anxieties are high in this nation when it comes to race. Many of us thought Martin Luther King’s dream was realized in January of 2008 when we inaugurated a black president, but 2016 was another reminder that racism is so deeply embedded in the fabric of this nation that not even a black president could neither cure it nor realize its end. I’ve struggled with the movement for black lives, not quite getting exactly where I land on it and what my voice in it is. I transferred seminaries from Luther Sem in St. Paul to the Iliff School of Theology in Denver this fall and I took advantage of a class offered at Iliff called “Black Lives Matter”. It was the hardest class I’ve every taken in my life both academically and emotionally. I learned a ton, but I think the most important lesson I learned was this: Fellow white folk: We need to shut up and listen. Really listen. Just. Listen.

I could go on. From meaningful celebrity deaths, to an anxiety plunging election, to broken sports curses  getting lost to centuries long plights for black, brown and red lives, 2016 was a heavy, heavy year. When I look back on the words I wrote on January 4, 2016, I realize that more often than not, I did not do well in turning to wonder when overwhelmed. I turned to anxiety, to fear, to judgement, to slander, to rage, to despair, and at times to hate. I don’t know that 2017 will be any less anxious for us. We are a divided people. A great socio-political chasm exists between us, and our best hope is- perhaps- not to continue to dig our heels in, but somehow to find a way to bridge it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak- or even shout- hard truths. But it does mean that we should be careful about how we do so. And by we, I mean “we” but maybe mostly “I”.

A good friend of mine does this thing where instead of a New Years Resolution, she picks a New Years theme. One year it was “Look Up”. I’ve adopted this practice, and because I’m a slow learner, I’ve basically had the same theme for the last three years: “Spot the Beauty.” This year, I’m going to heed my own words from January 4, 2016 and head into 2017 with a new theme: “Turn to Wonder.”  With that, I close this quasi-year-in-review with an excerpt from my January 4th, 2016 blog post from “A Look a Luke”:

I love that picture of Mary. She’s a 12-14 year old girl, and she is thinking deeply about what’s happening. In what was probably a confusing  time, she turns to wonder. This has been a hard journey. It’s been long, and it’s been hard, and it’s going to continue to be hard. She was, I’m sure, terrified, uncertain and confused. She had to be wondering what God was doing in all of this. And in her confusion, she turns to wonder. There have been confusing times in my life- times where I have no clue what’s happening, no clue where God is in it, and no clue what might be in store. In those times, I usually turn to fear, anxiety, and even frustration. I pray that I may take a clue here from Mary: When I’m uncertain, afraid, and confused, while there may be fear, can I muster up the strength to turn to wonder? Can I muster up the courage to get outside of myself, step outside into the air, and to look up and into the stars to see just how massive the universe is and how within it, God holds me? Do I trust God enough to turn to wonder? And in so doing to trade anxiety for peace?

Beloved, have a happy, beautiful, peaceful, and indeed wonder-full 2017.

O Little Town of Robbinsdale

In 2004 a beautiful insanity entered our home. Here’s something I wrote a in 2009 about that day. Happy birthday, girls!

It was a cold, dark December night and it was time. Two girls who had been fighting to enter the world for over a month were coming. Ready or not, they were coming. A rattled mother and father gathered up their things, their 19-month old son and headed out on their journey. You could feel the bitter cold fighting its way through the windows. The sky was pure black. Homes and businesses lay deep in a “night before Christmas Eve” slumber. All the while this family was wide awake, hurried, excited and fearful, speeding through the streets of Maple Grove, Plymouth, Crystal and on into Robbinsdale. Not a soul seemed to be stirring but for this five in a humble minivan.

It didn’t take long. Within an hour of leaving home, two girls lay silently in North Memorial hospital cribs while the community slumbered before its Christmas festivities. And there we lay, a new born family of five in a hospital. The slightly premature beauties found their home in the NICU. A strange, but mysteriously beautiful place to spend Christmas Eve. While the world dons its gay apparel, carves its roast beast, and decks its halls, many care for the world’s smallest just trying to make it. Something distinctly Kingdom took place there. Something distinctly Christmas took place there in an NICU in Robbinsdale, MN. No fanfare, no hoopla, little to no gay apparel, roast beasts or decked halls. Just babies born in ways no one expected nor hoped; babies born with less than average chances, but with teams of people willing to fight with everything they have to give them life. That’s Christmas, that’s God in the flesh; people giving everything they have to give those with less than average chances a chance to make it in this scary but beautiful world. Yes, indeed it was, distinctly Christmas. The most strangely wonderful Christmas of my life.

Happy birthday, beloved.

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12 Years of Abby and Natalie (Home for Christmas 2004 below, Ages 1-12 above: upper-left is 12 years old, lower-right is 1 year old)

 

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My Letter to U of MN President Kaler

13615416_10209580625294584_3377453851685514708_nI doubt it will even get read, and I tried to keep short, but I just couldn’t. I’m always calling upon my congregation to do what they can to shine light into a dark world, so this is just my meager effort in doing that. Regardless, it helped my soul to send it.  Here’s my letter to University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler:

Hello President Kaler and Staff,
I am writing to you today as a concerned alumnus and lifelong Gopher sports fan (I wanted to include Athletic Director Mark Coyle as well, but I could not find his contact information). Every now and then something flips a switch in a person and you realize you have to do something about it. That happened to me this weekend when the news broke that the football team had called a boycott in light feeling that due process had been given in the sexual assault case from earlier this year. As I watched those players address the media feeling they had been wronged, a switch flipped in me around sexual violence on campus. I know this is an issue on campuses across the country and I know it’s an issue about which the University of Minnesota cares deeply and on which it has been working hard to quell. I loved my years at the U, and as someone who spent 15 years working with teenagers in churches and is now the pastor of a church in town, my heart swells with pride when on “Grad Sundays” one of my students announces that s/he is going to be a Gopher. They always get a “ski-u-mah” from their pastor.
My heart broke for my alma mater this weekend as I watched these football players citing themselves as the victim. There’s a lot I don’t know when it comes to policies, procedures, due process, etc., but here’s what I do know: All too often we men- especially young men- have no idea how our words, actions, and mere presence impact women. The number of women I know of who have been sexually assaulted on campuses is shocking to me. Men are assaulting women on campuses across the nation without even knowing it sometimes. Furthermore the “machismo” culture in men’s sports makes matter worse. There is probably nothing to say here that you don’t already know, but this it a serious issue and I don’t know that it’s getting any better.
When coach Claeys said on Twitter that he had “never been more proud of our kids”, it hit me how much of this issue starts with him. I’ve been a Gopher sports fan my whole life (I grew up in Minneapolis), and I’ve been hearing about sexual assault by Gopher athletes my whole life. While Coach Claeys has back tracked on his tweet (a little), I think his tweet reveals that he is utterly clueless when it comes to the nature and psychology of sexual violence, yet he has more influence on these young man than anyone. Because of this, I am calling for the immediate dismissal of coach Claeys. We need someone leading these young men who will teach them about more than football. The Gopher Football team is a group of men that could probably have more positive impact on matters of sexual violence on campus than any other group. Other young men will listen to them and they will be heard. We need someone leading them who does not need to be taught about the nature and psychology of sexual violence.
Furthermore, I am also calling for a rigorous, intentional and practical curriculum for men’s sports teams, starting with the football team, to be educated on matters regarding sexual violence in such a way that they not merely learn about it but become the campus leaders in matters of sexual violence. Sexual assault is not a women’s issues. It’s a men’s issue. What if the University of Minnesota became the school where its athletes are known as leaders and advocates on these matters, not the perpetrators? What if instead of being known as people who wonder how far they can go without getting into trouble, they became known as advocates for the health and safety of women on campus? How amazing would that be. We have an opportunity before us to revolutionize men’s athletics, but it’s going to take work. It can’t be mere lip service.
I am a man of little influence when it comes to the University of Minnesota. I cannot afford to support it financially nor can even even afford to attend many athletic events. From a financial standpoint, you will not miss me at all. But I love my alma mater, and I don’t want to stop supporting its athletic teams that I love. But until I see Coach Claeys dismissed and I see some serious plans in place to make our male athletes leaders on campus on these matters, I will not be rooting for the Gopher football team. In next week’s Holiday Bowl, I will cheer for the Washington State Cougars, and until I see those changes, I will be finding another football team in the Big Ten to support, and will be using the limited influence I have to encourage others to do the same. I am just one small voice of many, but I hope you will hear me. I am very concerned about the young women I send off to college campuses across the country, and I would love to send them to my beloved alma mater with a little more confidence. No matter our win/loss record, Big 10 standing, or bowl game presence, being a leader on the issue of sexual violence would make Gopher Football a winner in this alum’s eyes.
Thank you for your time. Ski-U-Mah
pastor paul baudhuin, Aldersgate United Methodist Church

#WeHadEnough of Sportsballs Perpetuating Sexual Assault.

A Quick note: So here’s my rant on the situation with the Gopher football team. It’s not brief, it’s not as coherent as I would like, and if you’re thinking, “nah, I don’t want to read all that”, I get it. But then all I ask- if you are a man- is that you at least watch the embedded video at the bottom. At minimum, take that 18 minutes. 

Once again, sports, celebrity, and money keep us from having the conversation we need to
have. I love sports, and when it comes to sports I put my local teams above all others, and as a born and bred Minneapolis kid and University of Minnesota alumnus, I have always loved and cheered for the Men’s Basketball team and Football from my alma mater. In my lifetime both of them have been mostly bad with glimpses of mediocrity and riddled with scandal, but I have decided that they will remain my teams and I will keep waiting and hoping for the day when one of these programs turns the corner. It’s been a bit like Narnia: Always winter but never Christmas.

 

I say all that to say that I am not simply some sports hater, looking for a reason to tear down athletes. I am an avid sports fan, and I love my Gophers. But here we are again, letting our addiction to sports (and in particular men’s sports) overshadow a crucial conversation that keeps getting buried because we are unwilling to adequately go after the destructive, misogynist, and abhorrent culture of sexual assault in sports. And the display the Gopher football team put on yesterday is exhibit A (or perhaps in Minnesota history exhibit Q or Z) in this abject failure. College football players having their way with an intoxicated women for 90 minutes disappears in these poor “kids” “right” to “due process” to play in a bowl game.

Here’s how this works: A woman drinks way too much alcohol. She then finds herself in an apartment with football players engaging in sexual activity. Unsure of what exactly happened after it’s over, she calls the police. Over time the authorities decide they don’t have enough evidence to charge anybody with any kind of sexual crime.

Later the University does its own investigation and decides there is enough to suspend 10

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how frightening must this image be for the actual victim.

 

players. Because there were no legal charges filed previously, these 10 players are now made the victims because they are denied playing in a bowl game. The team calls a players-only meeting in which they pull off a strategic stunt of boycotting all football activities until their teammates are reinstated. Not only that, the team has the audacity to start a Twitter campaign to support using the hashtag #WeHadEnough. Wow.

The players thought it was over. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, and they think it’s over. They’re outraged when it resurfaces for them, while it is likely replayed every day of this woman’s life in her mind, and they don’t give a crap about that. Wham. Bam. Thank you. Ma’am.

With this stunt, we are no longer talking about the destructive culture of sexual assault in
sports. We are talking about whether these 10 players were treated fairly. I went out on Twitter to throw my two cents into this conversation to get the conversation back on this disgusting, decades old culture in sports. What happened?

In no way do I have any meaningful presence on Twitter with my paltry 275 followers, but I did receive 19 retweets and 80+ likes, as well as a series of responses of those challenging me on just one of a handful of tweets. The gender divide was staggering. The 80+ likes and 19 retweets were almost entirely female, and the challengers on that and other tweets were all sports-loving males who continually brought the conversation back to the fact that no charges were filed and this woman back tracked a little: “No rape or sexual assault! Only regret”, was the overarching sentiment.

Well, guys, women seem to feel differently. Maybe it’s time we let women be the primary voice into what sexual assault actually is. How about we let them decide. It’s a scary proposition isn’t it? Because it means that a woman who “regrets” may be able to get us into trouble for something we feel we didn’t do. Exactly. Because as men, we have no idea what’s actually happening (with the exception of those men who have also been sexually assaulted by men). And what it might just do is get us to think twice about whether she really “wants it” or not. It might slow us down in our sexual escapades. It might actually force us to stop taking advantage of women’s “yeses”, because if we let women decide when assault has taken place, if we actually empower rather than silence the victim, maybe we’ll start actually getting into trouble for this abhorrent behavior and systematically perpetuated culture.

In this case, the victim has been blamed again. A group of large, strong men take advantage of an intoxicated young woman and the men are now victims and the woman has all but disappeared from the conversation. If she is mentioned, it is merely as a young woman who made an unwise choice. Meanwhile the Gopher Football coach, Tracy Claeys has “never been more proud of his kids.”

The culture of sexual abuse of women in sports is systemically perpetuated, once again.

What it comes down to is this. We know, without a doubt, male athletes take advantage of women. From Mickey Mantle to Magic Johnson to Kirby Puckett to Johnny Manziel, athletes have used their physical prowess, alcohol, and status to take advantage of women for decades, and nobody is willing to do anything meaningful about it. When these actions get exposed, we twist the conversation to merely a legal one wherein we make the perpetrators the victims: “That poor athlete whose name has been smeared because of some money grabbing, attention seeking, slutty woman.” That’s essentially what we’re saying.

We have to remember that what the law does is reduce things down to the lowest common denominator. The law is designed to tell you what the very lowest degree of acceptable behavior is. When we reduce these matters down to merely what the law decides, what is truly right and wrong goes out the window. Tracy Claeys has never been more proud of his kids than when they rise up and defend their teammates who gang banged an intoxicated women because they merely didn’t break the law. Character, a base sense of right and wrong, respect, self control, being a real man of integrity- none of this matters, none of this is something to proud of because… well… football.

It is time for this issue to be the number one issue in sports, all the way from Junior High to the pros. We need a radical shift in how we talk about this. We need to recognize that we men have a problem, a serious problem, and it’s on us to fix. It needs to be dealt with beyond sports-world, but for now I’m focusing there. We need to listen, learn, and change the conversation. We need to put our pathetic egos and machismo aside, we need shut up, and we need to let women lead us here. We need to come to a moment of crisis about what we have been doing, perpetuating, and sustaining for too long. Let’s get the conversation off of these whiny, entitled football players who think they have been so “wronged”, and look at the ways in which they are not wronged but wrong.

It’s time for men to start holding men accountable. I dream of a day when this info gets out and teammates don’t pull whiny stunts to protect their teammates, but they come to the coach and say, “you need to suspend the guys for what they did”. We have a problem, men. And it’s up to us to fix it. It’s our problem. And shame on us for letting the base level of the law and our addiction to sportsballs be the bar by which we judge ourselves on these matters. Shame on us.

 

It’s Time for US to Take the Hit.

img_7456It was just over a month ago that something woke in me and I found myself en route to the small town of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. I’m not sure what it was, but as I’ve said before, something simply lit inside of me and had to become active at some level in advocating for the Standing Rock Sioux on the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Over the last month I have found myself utterly disappointed in both the President of the United States (who, contrary to popular understanding is still Barack Obama) and the mainstream media. Both of them have had their heads in the sand on this issue, no matter what they say. They will cite that the election took precedent, but this is utter nonsense. The election has been over for nearly a month, and the mainstream media cannot stop playing into the President-Elect’s hand as it continues to be obsessed with Donald J. Trump. Let’s get real, media: You love him. You can’t get enough of him. You have been salivating over him for over a year.

As for President Obama: Well, it’s pretty clear where his loyalties lie. Yes, Obama’s silence is proof that we are indeed “one nation, under oil…”. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We are one nation under god, and that god’s name is Oil. That is who our source of life and wellbeing is, that is who we serve, that is who we worship.

Over this last frustrating month, I’ve been doing what little I can to get the word out, but that’s pretty limited. Finally the media is starting to pick this up a little bit, and the story is getting out there a little more. I was struck today by a piece from the Washington Post that I thought is definitely worth a good look for everybody. It traces several different perspectives on DAPL. I think those perspectives- all of them- are important for us to listen to.

As I read the piece and watched the videos I heard some of the cries of those on the other side from where I am. I heard about how this pipeline has provided thousands of good jobs for people who need it. I heard about its economic benefits to all of us. I heard about the disruption of everyday work, income, and livelihood the protests have created for many hard working and even sympathetic North Dakotans. I heard about genuine safety issues for pipeline workers, law enforcement officers, and even uninvolved citizens. These are real issues, with real people, real faces, real names, and real lives that people like need me need to hear, see, and value.

But as much as I hear them, I simply cannot see any argument to allow this pipeline through. There is a side to this story that I think (and seriously, no pun intended) trumps everything else. It’s a side of the story that we all know, but we simply seem unwilling to do anything about, and of which we live in abject denial of. It’s this:

No matter the merits of any argument regarding the economy, the environment, or the process, what we now call the United States of America has been oppressing native peoples for 500 years and it’s time- for once- to give them what they want. And furthermore, it’s time to give them what they want at our expense. 

Yes, there may be some violent protestors, and yes that is wrong. Threats and physical attacks by protestors on pipeline workers, law enforcement officers, and government officials is wrong and should be condemned. It is not what the people of Standing Rock stand for, and it should be boldly and clearly condemned, and those people should go home. And, yes, this pipeline has created jobs, and, yes, this pipeline will likely benefit the US economy. All of that may be true.

But when we’re saying things like “these protestors are impacting people’s livelihoods who have nothing to do with the pipeline”, what we’re failing to recognize is the history in which we are still living today that violently took this land from these people and ruined their very way of being. We’ve been disrupting their livelihood and lives for 500 years. It’s our turn. Maybe it’s time that our lifestyle takes a hit so that we can begin to right the 500 years of wrongs we have inflicted on Native American cultures. It’s time for us to perhaps lose the job, see gas prices rise, and even watch our economy weaken so that we can- for once- do right with Native Peoples.

The minute these people said “no”, we should have stopped and said, “you know what: You’re right. We’re sorry. We’ll stop digging.” And we should have done this for no other reason than all we’ve done for 500 years is trample over and dig up Native Peoples’ land, culture, livelihoods, and lives. It’s time for us- the people of the United States of America- to take the hit. Enough is enough.

Two years ago President Barack Obama stood on the Standing Rock reservation pledging to have their back. I believed him. And I believed in him. I’m ashamed today that I ever trusted this man, and, quite honestly, any other soul that will sit in the Oval Office. I’m embarrassed that I believed him. When it comes down to it, we as a nation have never had, and appears will never have, the backs of Native People. President Obama’s silence is, to me, the sign, sealed, and delivered message that we really don’t care about Native American’s Lives. We don’t. Just look at our receipts for the past 500 years.

We will pay them lip service, but when it comes down to it, we will bow down to and serve our god ever faithfully: We will serve whatever it is that benefits us economically at the time, which right now is the god called oil. And we will, as we are doing right now, trample over whomever we have to in order to worship this god. Today, as it hs been for 500 years, it is those who are native to America over which we trample. Enough is enough, America. It’s time for us to take the hit. Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline now.