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.

What I Didn’t Preach: Sacred Land, Prayer, Daniel & a Black Snake

img_7454-3It’s one of those texts and one of those Sundays: There’s too much in the text and there’s too much in the world. So every now and then you get these kind of intersections where you have to discern what sermon to preach. You only get one, and making more than one into one makes a bad one. Today I preached about the “long night” of Advent. It’s a thing. But there was something else deep in my heart around this text that I chose not preach today, because, as I said, you only get one, and you have to trust the Spirit on which one to preach. So here’s what I didn’t preach today, but which is still aggressively trying to climb out of me:

Today we looked at Daniel 6, which is where Daniel gets thrown into the lions’ den for praying to his god. Here’s the scene: Israel is in exile. They have been conquered and sent into exile and are thoroughly in the grips of another regime. But, as can happen, some Israelites find favor with power and are called to serve the regime in prestigious ways. Daniel is one such fellow. The problem is, well, that pesky thing called humanity. His peers get jealous and threatened by his success. So they set a trap for the ever faithful Daniel. They convince King Darius to pass a law that prohibits the worship of anyone or anything but King Darius. We can only speculate as to why Darius passes this law. Perhaps flattery? It doesn’t matter.

So what happens? Well the obvious. Daniel’s peers go to him just at the time when we faces his holy, sacred land- the city of Jerusalem- to pray to God. They catch him, bring him to King Darius and demand that he be thrown into the lions’ den as the law dictates. Darius regrets this law and does not want to do it, but he must. So into the lions’ den Daniel goes. An angel tends to him there all night by shutting the mouths of the lions, Daniel is saved, and Darius passes a new law that all must worship Daniel’s god (why he didn’t do that before putting him in the lion’s den, I don’t know, but that’s not the point). It’s a happy ending (except for that small little detail of the entire nation of Israel still being oppressed and in exile).

What strikes me is this: Daniel’s response to oppression. He is a faithful Jew, living in oppression and says nothing in this whole story until after he is saved from the lions. The only time it’s even mentioned that he says anything at all is when he is in prayer. Daniel’s response to oppression, even in a seat of power, is prayer. It’s among the most famous stories in the Bible, and when we read it we credit Daniel as faithful and wise just as the text does.

Yet at the same time, today, right now, and for months, another people have responded to oppression in prayer. The people of Standing Rock represent just one tribe of many native peoples who had their land stolen and were led into a kind of exile- an exile on their own land. Someone arbitrarily decided where their land would end and where it would begin, and like Darius and his conspirators, they keep changing the rules to work in their favor. As a black snake plows forward through their holy and scared land to threaten their very source of life, the people of Standing Rock face increased oppression. We may not be comfortable with that word but that’s what it is. They live- and have lived for centuries- under the exiling oppressive arm of the United States of America. What has been their response?

They turn toward their holy land to pray. And, like Daniel, the king’s conspirators have them thrown into the modern day lions’ den of hand cuffs, dog kennels, pepper spray, water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and who knows what else may come as they threaten to evict the Oceti Sakowin camp within the week. The “Biblical values” on which the United States were supposedly founded are not found coming from the king’s throne in Washington, but are found on the camps of Standing Rock.

But this time there appears to be no angel shutting the lions’ mouths. The hand of God seems to be absent, mute, and impotent. But what if the hand of God isn’t absent? I would argue that it’s not. But it is mute and impotent. Advent is the season in which we wait for God to come here and dwell with us. It is when we cry out in our desperate moments for God to meet us here in the flesh. And God did. God came in the flesh as a man called Jesus who is also called “Emmanuel”, which means “God with us”.

But where is this Jesus now? Where is this God in the flesh now? It’s a fair and necessary question. As the story goes, Jesus leads a radical revolution of turning the establishment on its head, is crucified for it- that is, has his body was broken for it- is buried, rises from the dead in wholeness, and then ascends to Heaven. And as this “God-in-the-flesh” ascends, he says, among other things, that we are the ones to go and be (in a sense) God in the flesh in the world. This is why we pray whenever we come to the Communion Table, “pour out your Spirit on these gifts of bread and wine that they may become the body and blood of Christ for us that we may be the Body of Christ for the world.

Beloved, the Church- by the power of the Spirit within us- is the hand of God in the world. We are the ones who are to fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s word that Christ took on as his mission in Luke 4 to, “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1). We now are the Body of Christ for the world- that charge is ours.

The people of Standing Rock are Daniel in the lions’ den right now, and there is a raging lion manifested as a black snake waiting to devour them. It is our job to do what we can to show up and shut that snake’s mouth. The people of Standing Rock are embodying the faithful, while the Church has largely been mute and impotent, too distracted by what’s happening with the king’s castle and crown.

As we head into Advent, the stakes are high, and we need to remember that when it comes to oppressed people throughout the world, we are to stand up for them. It doesn’t always fit nicely into our shopping, cookie exchanges, and office parties, but it’s what our call is. If we want to put “Christ back into Christmas”, our task is not to say “merry Christmas” at the checkout counter at Target; our task is to embody Christ by standing in solidarity with those on the margins of society. Or in this case, those whose own margins society continually shrinks down until they have none. So, come, let’s stand together as the very presence of God in the world- as emmanuel- to do the hard work of shutting the mouth of the black snake.

Have a Troubled Thanksgiving

tumblr_og7eoxyw5m1qd42iqo1_1280Yes, that’s right, I don’t want you to have a “happy” Thanksgiving. I want you (and me) to have a troubled- disturbed- thanksgiving. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for gratitude and calling to mind the blessings in our lives, and that is something we all should ado. So do that, but as you do, remember that there’s another narrative that surrounds this gluttonous holiday which we need to address, and which we need to condemn. It’s that narrative that tells the outright lie of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, meeting and shaking hands with Native Americans who all then sit down and have a turkey dinner together. We know this isn’t true. We know that what actually happened is one of the biggest and most long lasting acts of imperial dominion and genocide the world has ever known. That’s what Thanksgiving is, and we need to let that in.

The American story, for which we “give thanks” tomorrow, is one surrounded by the kinds of acts that when another nation engages in them, we fight wars and cry for a regime change. Yet somehow we still live in whispers of this false narrative of pilgrims and natives peacefully sitting down to dinner together. We dress our white preschool kids up in offensive native attire and put on thanksgiving pageants in our schools, we run 5Ks and put head dresses on cartoon turkey characters on the t-shirt, and we thank God for the freedom we have in this great country- a freedom we stole. A freedom that came at the cost of nations which we plundered, raped, and destroyed. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

When it comes to what we now know as the Standing Rock Sioux, we came in, we took their land, we gave some of it back, then we took some back again. The land we’ve taken, which they hold as sacred, we’ve exploited over and over again. Today a massive black snake known as an oil pipeline is being laid right through that land we took, gave back, and took again, and the Standing Rock Sioux have had enough. And so have I. So should we all. It doesn’t matter what permits they have or don’t have. It doesn’t matter whether the land the pipeline is going through is technically the Standing Rock reservation or not. It doesn’t matter that water protectors may be “trespassing”. Trespassing? Are you kidding me? Our whole nation, this “greatest nation in the world”, was founded on trespassing- and that’s putting it nicely. This is an “enough is enough” moment. It’s time for this US Government to just once- just once- side with Native Peoples in a meaningful way. In a way that costs us something. But it’s not happening. Peaceful water protectors are alone, being attacked by law enforcement, and we don’t care. Why? Because we are “one nation under God” and that god’s name is Oil. That is who we bow to, serve and worship. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

So, yes, I want you and me to have a troubled Thanksgiving, because while we sit down to turkey, mashed potatoes, “green stuff”, wine, and football, native peoples are still fighting for their (and our) well being. While we pull out the fine china and pretend we like each other, thousands of people, and more nations than have ever gathered before in history, camp out in the cold and snow on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota trying to do everything they can to stop an oil pipeline from tunneling underneath the river that gives the people of Standing Rock life. And, quite honestly, gives all of us life. So as we fill ourselves on massive amounts of food and drink, have a troubled Thanksgiving.

As the Standing Rock people and their allies do what they can to stop it, law enforcement officers have proven to stop at nothing to stop them. Water cannons in freezing temperatures, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets have been launched on water protectors, severely injury many. Just two years ago President Obama (who, contrary to popular belief is still the President) stood on the Standing Rock reservation and pledged to stand with native peoples. Today, he’s got his head buried in the sand, proving that 500+ years later, this nation- the “land of the free and the home of the brave”- doesn’t care about native peoples. After all that we’ve learned, we still dress up our kids in head dresses on Thanksgiving, and we still move into native land to exploit it for our own economic benefit. We are still, right now, today, this Thanksgiving, taking their land and ignoring their cries as we were 500 years ago. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

An oil pipeline running through sacred ground that we stole and tunneling underneath sacred and life giving water, combined with a militarized police force, and capped with a liberal president bailing on his promises with his head in the sand exposes that 500 years later this country, the United States of America, the “city on a hill”, is still an imperial oppressor, who views indigenous people as subhuman savages that need to be destroyed so that we can “be free”. This is a reality we need to let in and confess. This should be a national day of repentance, not a celebration. So have a troubled Thanksgiving.

This image (also above) is the most accurate modern day reenactment of the original tumblr_og7eoxyw5m1qd42iqo1_1280Thanksgiving you’ll see… except that it’s not a reenactment. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s now. So as you sit down to dinner tomorrow, as you doze off on the couch watching football, as you argue with your family about the election, remember the people of Standing Rock- that is, “Real America”- and the thousands of water protectors gathered there. Remember that the turkey you’re eating comes in memory of a slaughter and genocide of native peoples that is still happening today. And remember that their plight isn’t even really about “their land”. It’s about our land. Everybody’s land. It’s about protecting this earth for generations to come. The Standing Rock Sioux are our teachers in this, but we are treating them as enemies.

So… have a troubled Thanksgiving. May your soul be in a state of unrest. May your heart cry tears of sorrow with every beat. May your mind be distracted by the truth. May your body be built by a riot in your bones. Have a troubled Thanksgiving, friends.

Since “we the people” are the only help the people of Standing Rock will get, here are a few ways you can help:

Sacred Stone Camp: http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
Oceti Sakowin Camp: http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org
Sophia’s GoFundMe Page: https://www.gofundme.com/30aezxs

What Now? Stop Beating the Crap Out of Each Other.

what_now1I’ve been trying to find words. Words are how I make sense out of things, and all week I’ve been trying to find the words that will make sense out of the insanity that this presidential election has brought. But I’ve struggled to find them. I’ve been sitting in front of my computer all morning trying to find them, but they don’t seem to come in any coherent way. I guess because there is little sense to be made out of what’s taking place in these “United” States of America. Regardless my soul needs words (even if somewhat raw and unrefined as these), and my soul needs to send those words out somehow, even if it is merely like a message in a bottle doomed to floating on an empty sea for eternity. So here are my words…

We’ve got problems, America. As much as Trump appalls me (and has since I watched “The Apprentice” back when he was mostly just a blowhard reality TV star and real estate huckster), he is right about one thing: America needs to be made great. Now I won’t say “great again”, because I’m not sure of the time when we were great, but I don’t want to get into that history right now. Suffice it to say that whether it’s “great again” or merely “great”, what Trump’s campaign slogan got right is that we as a nation have work to do. A lot of work. And in saying that, don’t give me the “why don’t you go live somewhere else” crap, because all that is is a not-clever way of shutting down hard but necessary conversation. I say that America needs to be made great, not because I hate America, but because I love it. The sooner we come to grips with the fact that we have real problems, the better. I’ll be honest: After an entire morning of several attempts at analyzing those problems, trying to find their causes, and then drawing on some kind of hopeful solution, I’m stuck. That is not to say that there isn’t a solution, but I’m stymied.

But here’s what I do know. The fear, hate, and violence has to stop. I’m just going to throw this out there, because it’s all that I know.

Those of you protesting Trump’s election, don’t stop. It’s your right to publicly assemble 546508-20161111-highschool-protest02and make your voice heard. Especially those like the gathering of Minneapolis High School students yesterday who have no vote. Get out there and make your voice heard. Don’t listen to the “he won fair and square, get over it” rhetoric. I’ll confess that he did win, and won legally. We can argue the merits of some voter laws in some states, but he won. But that doesn’t mean you have to get over it and be quiet. To a certain extent, Congress does. They need to get over it and for the sake of our country get to work, but as a private citizen, you have every right to get out there make your voice heard. But when you do, don’t destroy and burn stuff. Violence is not the answer. It never is. That doesn’t mean you can’t shut down a highway. That may be illegal, and to a certain degree dangerous, but it’s not violent. I have mixed feelings about shutting down highways, but a non-violent protest does not necessarily mean only a legal protest. Just know that if you do choose to do things like non-noviontely shut down a highway, you may get arrested. You have the right to assemble, but if you break the law in doing so, you can get arrested. You’ll need to deal with that, but deal with it peacefully.

So, Trump protestors, stop burning things, destroying property, and above all else, stop attacking Trump supporters. That is happening, whether you want to admit or not (it’s happened and they are so horrific that I don’t even want to link it here. Google it and will have no trouble finding them). Stop doing it, and furthermore start condemning the actions of those who do. You don’t have to like Trump supporters, you don’t have agree with them, you don’t have to be their friend, but you have no right whatsoever to threaten or harm them in any way. Stop it, and stop it now. I know you’re angry, and it’s ok to be angry, but you must not manifest your anger in physical attacks or threats. Stop it and condemn it when you see it.

To you Trump supporters: Climb out of your holes and stop denying that your fellow Trump supporters are engaging in a rash of hate crimes, vandalism, threats, physical and sexual assaults literally in Trump’s name across the nation. Is happening and maple-grove-high-school-graffiti-2collectively, you have not only been silent about it, you’ve been in abject denial of it. Not only that, President-Elect Trump has been silent about it. What you need to understand about those protesting his election, is that they are not protesting the merits of the election as much as they are protesting that these hate crimes, threats, and assaults, which many of us believed would come because of a Trump presidency, are actually coming. Yes, Trump tapped into what we often call “working class” America in a particular way which Hillary Clinton could not, and which got him elected, but that is not what the protests against him are about. They are about the violence he incited in his campaign toward certain people groups in America. You cannot- cannot- deny it. We saw it in his rallies. He made a promise to ban all Muslims from coming into our country. This distinctly un-American. He promised to build a wall, when the Republican hero’s (Ronald Reagan’s) most famous moment was the call to tear one down. Furthermore he encouraged violence towards his protestors by saying things like “I’d like to punch him in the face”, and, “in the gold old days, he’d be carried out on a stretcher” (If you need me to prove to you that he said these things, then you simply have not been paying attention and were an uninformed voter- look it up). The President-Elect incited violence, and that violence is manifesting itself across the nation, and he, along with his supporters are hiding from and denying it. This is not a “well, we’ve all sinned haven’t haven’t we” kind of moment. This is the President-Elect of the united states endorsing hate crimes, threats, and assaults on other Americans, and if he is not going to condemn it, you need to do it, and you need to demand that he does.

All of this is to say this. Post election (any election) there is little that we can do about what happens in Washington. We should never stop making our voices heard, no matter where on the political spectrum we fall, but in the end- that is, post election- there is little we can do. But what we can do, and what we must do, is stop the fear, hatred, and violence toward one another. Our reciprocal fear of the other, our hateful vitriol toward those who think differently than we do, and our physical destroying of one another and property is something over which we do have control. I am not asking anyone to compromise your beliefs. Stand up for what you believe in, but do it peacefully. Do it boldly, but do it peacefully. Death, assault, hate crimes, destruction… these have to stop and stop now.

12107836_10207468604055373_992290273295544282_n-2I don’t know what the answer is for America right now, but I know that we have serious, serious problems. I love this country. I do. But I am ashamed of it right now and have been for some time. Right now, I am not proud to be an American. It is disingenuous to even call us the “United” States of America. Today we are the Untied States of America. I don’t know what the answers are for what will truly tie us together, but I do know that step #1 is stop beating the crap out of each other. You on the right may not like this, but Hillary Clinton preemptively condemned beating the crap out of each other in her concession speech. And I, as one who voted for her, will publicly and boldly condemn the actions of those who have assaulted Trump supporters. I am still waiting for even one Trump supporter and the man himself to do the same about violence, hate crime, and threats in his name. Trump was surprisingly gracious in his victory speech late Tuesday night, but since then his supporters have erupted in violent attacks and hate crimes on Muslims, women, black lives, the LGBT+ community, and so on, and he has been silent (again, look it up. If you can’t find it, you’re trying not to). We have to stop beating the crap out of each other, and that means that President-Elect Trump needs to condemn those actions, and if he will not, his supporters need to do so. If neither of those happen, the future is terrifying.

So, can we build a better country and world together? I believe we can, but it’s going to take work. It’s going to take trust over fear, hope over despair, mercy over condemnation, and love over hate. Let’s do better. We can do better.We can argue, we can have battles for the ages in Congress, and we can boldly support what we believe will be great for America even if it’s different than our friend’s belief, our family member’s belief, or the person next us in the pew’s belief, but for the love of God and one another, can we please stop beating the crap out of each other? I’m sending out an SOS. I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.

The Hope for America is on Standing Rock

fullsizerender-2Last Thursday I had the honor of traveling to the Standing Rock reservation with seven other colleagues from the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to stand in solidarity with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux. We heard the call for clergy to come from Father John Floberg of the Episcopal Church on Standing Rock, and so we came. When we arrived at the gym for training, I was floored by the sea of clergy from all over the country. They were hoping for 100. Over 500 showed up. Something was happening here. We learned the action we would take the next day, and then we heard from various members of the community who shared their heart with us. The gratitude for our mere presence was overwhelming as one elder shared that she had dreams and visions that we would come, and she knew we would, but she just didn’t when.

The next morning we woke up, donned our various garments identifying as clergy and headed over to Oceti Sakowin Camp. The sun was peaking over the hills, smoke from theimg_7454 fires warming the campers gently graced the crisp air, and peace like I’ve rarely if ever felt- a peace that you might say surpasses understanding- dwelt among it all. We gathered around the sacred fire where we were to meet (500+ people gathering around a fire is no small feat!), and began. Tribal leaders welcomed us, explained a little about the camp, and again expressed their sincerest gratitude for our presence. Then Father John took the microphone and led us through a ceremony wherein we burned the Doctrine of Discovery, followed by each denomination present repudiating it.

After the repudiation, we were smudged (no idea if I’m saying that right), we marched to the bridge which was the scene of some violence a week earlier. Our original plan, which Father John had worked out with authorities in advance, was to cross that bridge and img_7469march to the scene of Dakota Access Pipeline work, but when we arrived at the bridge, it became clear that this would not happen. I don’t know why, and I don’t know who’s decision it was, but members of the tribe stood at attention on the other side of the bridge with police vehicles about 50 yards behind them, prohibiting us from crossing. We then gathered in a circle to offer prayers and pass the peace (also no small feat with 500+ people!), and then we were essentially done. We walked back to the camp, and prepared to head home.

As we walked back to the camp, numerous people shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “thank you for coming here. It means so much”. It occurred to me then, that though we didn’t “do” much, we did what the tribe needed us to do, which was simply to show up and say “we’re with you.” Sometimes the call is merely to show up. One young man who appeared to have just come from what I can only describe as the front lines, shook my hand and said “thank you, you have no idea how much it means to us that you’re here”. I looked back at him and said, “It’s the least we could do. We’re with you. Stay strong, and don’t get weary”. He said, “I will stay strong. I love my people, and I love this land, and I will die protecting them if I have to.”

At that moment I realized just how much what I feel I can only describe as “White America” does not understand what’s happening here. It may have seemed merely like a nice symbol to burn a 500+ year old document, but the reason we needed to do that is that, like it or not, we are still living into that document today. It’s alive. By decree of the Pope, that document gives us the “right” take lands we have “discovered”. As those machines tear up these sacred lands, which we took from the people of Standing Rock, gave back to them, then took them back again, the Doctrine of Discovery lives. As I looked into that young man’s eyes I realized that this is not a protest against oil; this is battle for national security. These are not protestors; they are soldiers fighting for the very survival and well being of their people. And, friends, as extreme and as uncomfortable as this may sound, we- our “great nation”- are the imperial force literally ploughing our way to further domination of native peoples. This is a reality to which we need to wake up.

But these soldiers I met are not like any soldiers I’ve ever met. They carry no weapons. img_7479They are, as the sign outside the camp says, unarmed. They desire that no one or no thing die or be injured. They are there to protect and to pray. And they are met with more familiar soldiers to me; ones with riot gear, guns and pepper spray. And while our president, our media, and our nation focus on an election for our next president, the “Manifest Destiny” we all read in our history books in high school lives in our very midst. And just like 227 years ago when we elected our first president, we, as a nation, don’t seem to care. Every four years we elect a president, and to some degree we put the hope of our nation into the hands of whomever is elected.

What I witnessed on Thursday is that the hope for America is not in Washington and it is not on your ballot. The hope for America is on Standing Rock. On this small reservation straddling the North and South Dakota border, in an area too hard to get to for the media to cover, is a people guided by a sense of peace, community, simplicity, and love. Their idea of being “great” is not rooted in being number one, but in living in communion with each other and the land. Their idea of being “stronger” is not in being some kind powerful savior to the world, but in serving one another and the land. As a Polynesian clergy person said,”I look to my brothers and sisters of Standing Rock, because it is them who have become the moral compass of this country”. While our president, for whom I voted twice, and who vowed to protect the people of Standing Rock paid some lip service but largely remains silent, the people of Standing Rock are fighting not only for themselves, but for what is truly in the best interests of this nation and the world.

In Genesis 2 God breathes the breath of life into Adam, and then gives Adam a job. It is a job that God quickly realizes he cannot do alone, so he makes for him his opposite to share in the work. That is he makes for him someone who is not like him but who has what he doesn’t have to do this important work. And that important work is to “till” and to “keep” this Garden of Life. Another way to translate these words “till” and “keep” is to “serve and protect” the Garden of Life. There in North Dakota stand a band of soldiers wearing badges that read “to serve and protect”, who are not serving and protecting the Garden of Life, but who are serving and protecting machines tearing up the earth to lay down on an oil pipeline. Meanwhile, the people of Standing Rock come unarmed, willing to literally give their lives to serve and protect the Garden of Life. Friends, the hope for this nation about which we are all very afraid, is- just as it often is- in an unsuspecting place. The hope for America is not in Washington nor on your ballot. The hope for America is on Standing Rock.

Adam & Eve: Who’s Leading Whom?

img_6479-001-e1378168705770So this Sunday the Narrative Lectionary began with Genesis 2-3. And for the purposes of where the lectionary is going, I felt the message for Sunday needed to focus on the reality of a broken world and our job as God’s people to be laborers for restoration and healing of that broken world. But the more I read this story- this very familiar story- the more something stood out to me that I felt I needed to say but which I did not have time to preach. It was an entirely different sermon. In order to give the Narrative Lectionary focus, the Genesis reading for this year skips over the creation of Eve, not because she doesn’t matter, but that it is in another year when we focus on the relationship between her and Adam. But something hit me about this relationship that I felt warranted words now, and that is this:

Despite many traditional interpretations of this passage in relation to male-female dynamics, Eve is the stronger of these two central characters. For centuries this passage has been twisted to blame what we call “the fall” on Eve, and it is has been twisted to name Eve as subordinate to Adam. It is from perversions of this text that we have shamefully referred to women as “the weaker sex”. What I found fascinating about that in my reading of it this week is that if there is one who is weaker, it’s Adam, and Eve is not so subtly, but clearly, the leader. Let’s look at it…

The story begins with Adam all alone. God makes him from the dirt and he is referred to as “the man”. He gets the name Adam because the Hebrew word for “man” is “adahm”. So right off the bat even his name is generalized and in this sense not particularly strong. It doesn’t mean “warrior” or “worker” or “leader” or anything like that- just “man”. But God does give Adam a job, which is to “till and to keep” the garden. That means he is to serve it and he is to protect it. It’s his to take care of. Then God gives Adam some instructions: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16–17 NRSV).

As soon as God gives these instructions (which seem simple enough), the very next thing that happens is God says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, or “it is not good for Adam to be alone”. God gives Adam the instructions and immediately upon doing so it’s as though God says, “oh, boy- he’s got no shot. He needs help.” And it’s here that God says, “I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18 NRSV). And it is from here that we get a woman, whom Adam will later name Eve, which at its root doesn’t mean the generalized “woman”, but means “life” (a relatively strong name, if you ask me).

Here’s the problem: “Helper as his partner” is a terrible translation. It makes it sound as though Eve is a child holding the nuts and bolts while dad fixes something. It makes her sound like an assistant to the one really doing the work, but if we look at the context, we see that Adam can’t actually do the work at all without her. He needs her. She’s not a “helper”, but she is necessary and active participant. The Hebrew phrase literally translates to “helping opposite”, or as the NET Bible notes, she is “an indispensable companion”. It speaks to a mutuality of relationship. It speaks to the idea that Eve has what Adam doesn’t and which Adam desperately needs and vice-versa. The woman is given a name rooted in the word for “life” because without her Adam (and with him, humanity) dies. She is not secondary or subordinate- she is essential.

But there’s more: It’s from here that the story moves toward that crafty serpent coming in and tempting them to eat the forbidden fruit. Traditionally Eve has taken the brunt of the blame for The Fall because she is the initial one to give in to temptation, and because of that, the story is twisted to make her subordinate. We treat this story as though Adam is some great leader who delegates the task of fruit gathering to Eve, and she fails. But this not all what happens. Just look closely at what happens here…

The serpent comes in and goes directly to Eve. He doesn’t even bother with Adam. I don’t know about you, but I always thought the serpent went to Eve because Adam was off doing something else. But that’s not the case at all. Verse 6 tells us “he was with her”. So the serpent slinks in, doesn’t even bother with Adam and goes directly to Eve. Is this because Eve is the weak one? No. If that were the case, Adam would’ve stepped in and said “not so fast, Mr. Snake!” But he doesn’t. He’s there, but he’s so inconsequential to the narrative that we don’t even notice him. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the serpent goes to the decision maker, which is Eve. And, she gives in to the temptation. She takes the fruit which God commanded not to take (and even adds to the commandment by stating that they are not even to touch it). She eats and then “she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6 NRSV).

Let’s think about this for a second. First of all, the serpent bypasses Adam. He doesn’t even deal with him. The serpent goes to straight to the decision maker. Also buried in this is the fact that Adam is the only one to whom the command is given firsthand. God gives Adam the dietary instructions before Eve is even created. So Adam is the first-hand keeper of the command, while Eve presumably hears it second-hand from Adam. Yet Eve is still the decision maker. She hands the fruit to Adam who is utterly oblivious to anything that’s going on. While Eve is working hard to till and keep the garden of life, working to fend off the temptation of the serpent, Adam is off catching a Pidgey playing Pokemon Go. It is from there that humanity “falls”, and then God gives these curses to the serpent, to Adam, and to Eve.

My point is this. Do not let anyone use this passage to pass on sexist, misogynist declarations about humanity and gender roles. When it comes down to it, what is really happening Genesis 2-3 is God is establishing an equality between the sexes. Eve is the “indispensable companion” to Adam and Adam is the “indispensable companion” to Eve. Or, to put it another way, Life is meant for humanity, and humanity is meant for life. They balance, complete and fulfill one another.

But if there is an inequality between the sexes in Gneiss 2-3, it is certainly not in favor of men. the man (Adam) is a non-factor in this story. Eve is the leader. Putting her in a subordinate position because she is the one that gave in to the serpent initially is like a third string quarterback putting the starting quarterback in a subordinate position because it is the starter who threw a game losing interception on the final drive. Adam isn’t even in the game. He’s on the sidelines with a clipboard and a headset… learning. Like I said, this story is (I believe) about equality, but if it is not, it is about dudes like me being utterly lost, confused, and wholly dependent on women for any chance at survival.

I’m thankful for all those women who’ve led me in my life. First my mom, and then so many others. I’ve said for years now, if you don’t think women can lead, let me introduce you to… and then I can go on with the many women who’ve led, taught, shaped, and mentored me. As I look at this foundational story, I also say, “if you don’t think women can lead, just look Eve.” Yes, she gave in to the temptation, but we all do and we have the benefit of history and still can’t resist that fruit. Though she gave in, Eve is still the leader in the story. So all you women and girls out there, don’t let any one, and in particular church folks, hold you back. God’s been expecting leadership out of you since the beginning. You get out there, assert yourself with your Creator-endowed strength, courage, and leadership, and lead me home.

Has Confirmation Lost Its Way?

Schoolchildren bored in a classroom, during lesson.

Confirmation is a beautiful and right idea, but I wonder if it has lost its way in the United Methodist Church. At its very root it is about confirming one’s baptism. When you’re a baby, your parents put white clothes on you (probably), and bring you to a church where you stand awkwardly before some pastor who asks you a series of very odd (almost Harry Potter like) questions. Then they hand you to the pastor who holds you near what one child in my congregation affectionally referred to as a “baptism bucket”, and proceeds to pour, drip or drizzle water on you and says something to the effect of “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Then people dote on you for a little while and you go and have brunch. That’s it. Done. Whether you like it or not, at this moment you become a connected to the community of faith and the community of faith becomes connected to you by committing to raise you as a disciple of Jesus. You have no choice in this matter what so ever. And it’s beautiful. It says, among other things, “God is working in you, and you belong here” before you even realize that you do. You have no say in the matter.

That is, until some point in your early adolescent days. You’re trying to figure out who you are, who your friends are, and what this world is all about, and suddenly this thing called “confirmation” pops up. Depending on the church it’s a 1, 2, or 3 year program designed to help you “confirm” your baptism. That is, it is now time for you to have some choice in the matter. Do you want to be a member of this community of faith? More often than not, the answer is yes.
So at some time in the Spring (and these days more and more in the Fall), upon finishing the confirmation class, however long it is, you head back to church, all dressed up. This time without your parents you stand independently before a pastor (sometimes even the same 2944861-hogwartspastor), and that pastor asks you the same Hogwartsian questions your parents were asked when they dragged you in there in that white outfit you wore only that one time in your life: “Do you, Harry Potter, renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness in this world…” and so on and so forth. You say “I do” and “I will” and such and such, and then the pastor and some other folk (depends on the church) put their hands on you, say some words, and, boom, you’re confirmed. Check! Then you never go to church again.

I’ve been leading and co-leading confirmation programs for 19 years. I’ve done it in a variety of forms, and in every one, for various reasons, there’s something missing. Something really important. Something, perhaps, more important than anything else. And something with which I’ve been wrestling for 19 years. This will be my 20th confirmation/baptism class and it’s time for me to rethink this whole thing.

Confirmation, remember, is about confirming your baptism- confirming what was said for you on your behalf when you could not speak or choose for yourself (which is why it is logically absurd to baptize a student and then immediately confirm them. A student who chooses to be baptized does not need to be confirmed, and it sends a bad theological and liturgical IMG_5945message when we do. Phew- got that off my chest- feel better now). So if confirmation is about confirming your baptism, it follows, then, that confirmation is about baptism. It is about the same thing baptism is about. And in the United Methodist Church (as I understand it, anyway- I’m no UMC theology and polity expert) one of the, if not the, primary components to baptism is the joining and committing to the community of faith. The baptismal candidate commits to being a full participant in the community of faith’s method (there’s a reason we’re “methodists”) of discipleship, and the community of faith commits to growing and nurturing that candidate in her discipleship. This is why we UMC pastors are discouraged from doing private baptisms. It’s about participation in the community. The community needs to be there!

Because baptism is about being a full participant in the community of faith, so is confirmation. And here’s where our problem is. What do we do?

We set up a wholly separate program for a specific age group wherein they rarely participate in the life of the community because all they have time for in their busy schedule is the wholly separate program that we set up. And the reason we do that is that there is so much we need to teach our students about the faith so that they can participate in it. Now let’s think about for a minute:

First, why would we expect our students to be full participants in the community of faith, when the very program we’ve designed to help them do that mostly separates them from the community of the faith and has an end date? We may have expectations that they participate in worship, and we may have a mentor of some kind for them, but those are generally secondary to being a part of that class we set up. Why are we surprised when our confirmands “disappear” after confirmation? We separated them from the community in the very program that’s supposed to teach them about being a part of the community!

Second, just think on this again: We set up a 1-3 year program to teach our students what it means to be a participant in the community of faith. Just let that in: We need to set up a separate program to teach our students what it means to be a disciple in a denomination whose very mission statement is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. What has happened to the church that we are not already doing this? We shouldn’t need to teach our students this. They should already be doing it!

Our confirmation programs usually consist of things like teaching our students about the Bible, what it is, what is not, how it’s structured, etc. We teach them about the Trinity. We teach them about Jesus more in depth (short changing the Holy Spirit, per usual). We teach them about the early church, we teach them about God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s grace.

What are we doing that we’re not doing this in our ministry to children and youth to the extent that we need to set up a separate program from our regular ministries for our teenagers to do it? And we do so by holding a certificate hostage that their parents desperately want/need on their students’ graduation open house table. At risk of hurting some feelings (I just think we need to name the problem), I believe that the fact that we need a separate class to teach our young people what it means to be a disciple is an indictment on the church’s abject failure to live out its mission with young people. We shouldn’t need a separate class from their regular large and small gathered communities to teach young people about being a disciple. We should just make disciples. We need to do a better of job calling our people of all ages to a life of prayer, searching the scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, and acts of service all in the context of the large gathered community and (no “or”) small gathered communities.

What this means for our teenagers is that our youth groups and our worship contexts should be enough to teach them what it means to be a full participant in the community of faith. And those programs (and, yes, worship is a program too) should be enough because they should be disciple forming programs. What our confirmation “programs” should be is the calling of a deep commitment to these methods of discipleship that are centered on prayer, searching the scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, and acts of service in large and small gathered communities. It should be a 1,2 or 3 year commitment to discipleship in the community of faith, but not its own program that ends after 1, 2 or 3 years. We should be calling them to a commitment to our respective ongoing discipleship processes.

And hear this: This is not on our youth ministers, children’s ministers, and Sunday school teachers. This is on pastors like me. It is our job to set up methods of discipleship that enable the entire community- including our students- to become full participants in AAEAAQAAAAAAAATPAAAAJDNlMDIwMTg0LThjODgtNGMyNi04YWZlLWZkMDMyMjE5NzVhMwthe community. But when our worship services are done in a language that alienates them, and when we don’t make room for them in leadership, and when we demand that our youth pastor “grow the program” through mere fun and games and glitz and glamour, we fail to implement adequate discipleship methods for our young people. We need “entry points”, but we fail to disciple our young people when their weekly core gathering lacks discipleship methods. I would rather my youth group be small and make disciples, than be the hot spot in town for teenagers to play foosball (that being said, there’s nothing wrong with foosball in a youth room!). Furthermore, the reason we need “entry points” into youth ministry is that we as pastors too often fall short of discipling their parents that we hang our hopes on our children’s and youth ministers to draw and reach new families. The entry point to the church should not be children and youth ministry. It should be parents bringing their kids with them because a friend, neighbor or family member has come so alive in their own spirituality through the ministry of the church that they can’t shut up about it and invite them.

So that’s what we’re thinking about at Aldersgate UMC this year. Our namesake makes a claim for us that we want to be a place where hearts are strangely warmed. That is, we want to be a place of spiritual vitality, and as Methodists, we believe there is a method to spiritual vitality. So for confirmation, we are going to call our young people to our discipleship process. We are going to call them to commit to their youth group, which will be a place of prayer, searching the scriptures, and acts of service. And we call them to participate in and lead worship, which will be a place of prayer, searching the scriptures and the Lord’s supper. And as they approach confirmation Sunday, we will call them away for one weekend retreat to tie it all together and call them to reflect on whether this life is a life they want to commit to for the rest of their lives. And then when confirmation Sunday comes, those who so choose and have been baptized before will kneel, we will lay hands on them, and we will celebrate their commitment to being a disciple of Jesus as set forth for them by their parents having them baptized. And those who have not been baptized, will kneel and will likewise simply be baptized (and not confirmed because their baptism will be their confirmation!).

There’s risk in it. What if they don’t choose to be confirmed? Well, that should be the caseunspecified
in any confirmation system. And what if there are too many distractions on Wednesday to adequately teach them the core tenets of the faith? Well, when Jesus told us to go and make disciples he didn’t say “teach them everything I’ve commanded”, but he said “teach them to obey everything I’ve commanded.”Jesus didn’t teach students in a classroom. He apprenticed disciples in the world. I don’t know if it will work, but if I’m honest, I don’t think what we’ve been doing has been working.

And so I wonder… I wonder if those students who stick with the commitment to engage in the community of faith, just might stick around after confirmation Sunday. Because “confirmation” will not have ended, because discipleship will not have ended. I don’t know if it will work. But it might. So let’s stop isolating confirmation. And let’s do our busy families a favor but setting up simple but meaningful methods of discipleship for all age groups, and in so doing, let’s get back to being who we say we are: Methodists. Define the method, then call everyone to it, and celebrate those who find renewed vitality through it. There is no need for anything else.