Tuesday, March 11, 2014

look, it takes some of us a while to type up our ash wednesday poems

there at the gym, we have ashes on our foreheads.
not all of us. or most of us. but some of us.
and some of us have just a grey smudge on our foreheads,
forgotten, maybe, and certainly faint enough that i have to look twice,
secretly, to see who's wearing ashes.

how could there be so many?
maybe a dozen in my fluorescent suburban gym.
people wearing ashes, people claimed by God.
People who were willing to stare down their mortality
by 4pm in the afternoon on a wednesday,
when snow is falling yet again,
and we all still have too much work to do.
but we all took a moment: on purpose or by accident,
or out of mis-guided obligation-
to remember that in death and life, we are beloved of God.

The Risen Lord has claimed our lives, and our bodies, and our foreheads:
smudged or scarred or clean or ugly.
My God, the Crucified, loves every forehead
at the florescent suburban gym.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

a little prayer for tonight

she is making
shame into popsicles

she is tearing up fear
and making it into blankets

she is taking your
pain and forging it
into an iron cup
for the carrying of
cool water for
the thirsty

blessed be god forever.

Fourth Corners: A Villanelle from the Middle School Confirmation Retreat about the Sacraments

the bread, the font, the moon, the tree
fully hidden, fully known.
the son of love has come to free.

death dismayed and terror flees
breaking chains and mending bones-
the bread, the font, the moon, the tree

queer enough for you and me,
wild folly drunken thrown-
the son of love has come to free.

she's been over-stepping me
arms of grace a whirlwind blown
the bread, the font, the moon, the tree

wild again and wild indeed:
creation wails a birthing groan
the son of love has come to free

to drink, to dance, perchance to be
the green bends back and comes around:
the bread, the font, the moon, the tree
the son of love has come to free.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Get your ass in a clergy group

So, I've got my clergy group meeting tomorrow morning, and as usual, I feel great about it. It almost makes me break out in poetry, and I reserve the right to do so by the end of this post. But here's the deal: there's a crew of progressive-ish white guy clergy in my denomination in this region, and once a month we hang out together for a few hours. Maybe we should have more of an agenda, maybe we should have clear guidelines about what's going to happen and who's going to do what, but we don't. What we do have (and what makes up for what we don't have) is an abundance of love for each other. And it's pretty awesome. Basically it's me, a guy who's maybe ten years older than me, and so on, with a colleague representing every decade or so on through retirement. It's a collective wisdom, a collective grumpiness, and a collective faith of a hundred years of ministry around the table. They love some of the same things I do, they hate some of the same things I do, and they have my back in a really profound way.

So, this post is a post about gratitude, I guess, but it's also an encouragement. It doesn't really matter who they are, I think. Don't choose somebody who's supposed to be supervising you. Don't pick somebody you don't trust. Don't somebody who can't listen to you well. But other than that, I suggest you find some crew of colleagues, some random smattering of ministry-types, and get them in a room once a month. Have some silence, maybe, have some prayer, maybe, but listen to each other. And go out to lunch afterwards, I think. I was going to preface this by saying that this is advice for my fellow young-ish and/or new-ish clergy types, but I think that I actually believe this is true for everybody. Get some people who love you unabashedly, and go and talk to them about your job and vocation once a month, or at least listen to what they're saying about their jobs and vocations. I think it'll serve you well.

So, a story, to tell you what it's like: this year, we agreed to go on a retreat together. I was late coming to the retreat, like, really late, because of a pastoral crisis that came up in my church. It was a long day of ministry, and I was getting to the camp where we were staying long after dark. The others in the clergy group had been there for a few hours, and knew I was on my way. I texted them a couple of times with my progress. They were worried that I would have trouble finding the retreat house once I got to the camp, so a couple of them drove out to the main gate, and led me to the house. It was a dark and beautiful night, and I didn't know where I was going. But they had already been there, and they were driving on ahead of me. They weren't driving ahead of me, they weren't telling me what to do, but I got to watch them, and witness the headlights of the battered old minivan through the trees. They kept me from driving into the lake, at the least.

And that's what it's always like.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Villanelle for All Saints' Day

Villanelle for All Saints' Day

we drink the wine and eat the bread
gathered like a tired cloud
and we remember all the dead

with broken hearts and stumbling tread
grief bleeds slow, or roars out loud
we drink the wine and eat the bread

martyrs white and green and red
broken, bending, wrapped in shroud
we remember all the dead

because the Lord has never fled-
the one who makes the wounded proud-
we drink the wine and eat the bread

the world remembers some instead
forgetting quiet, keeping loud.
we remember all the dead

they are not gone but sleep instead
God's troubling promise rings aloud
we drink the wine and eat the bread
we remember all the dead

Friday, July 12, 2013

Put a Wizard in Your Party

Put a Wizard in your Party

(This is my August article for the newsletter of the church where I serve, Zion Lutheran: www.facebook.com/ziontinley)
One of the really helpful articles Pastor Dave gave me when I arrived at Zion was a National Geographic article from a few years back on “Teenage Brains.” (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text )

It’s a good read, and it sums up recent research into how the brains of adolescents function differently than the brains of older adults.  As I understand it, adolescent brains are better at learning, better at making new connections, and less risk-adverse than other (older) brains.  Which, of course, made me think of Dungeons & Dragons.  

As I’ve mentioned to some of you, I play Dungeons & Dragons whenever I can.  D&D (as we call it for short) is a great opportunity to goof off with friends, to do collaborative improv storytelling, and have wacky cooperative fun.  But for the sake of today’s column, you just need to know that most D&D parties (teams, groups) try to be balanced: you want a fighter, you want some other folks, and you want a wizard.  The fighter is hard to kill, so the goblins can beat on her for a bit while the rest of your team gets ready to respond.  The cleric heals your party and keeps them in the game.  The rogue sneaks around and disarms traps.  And the wizard?  The wizard does everything else.  

When it’s time for somebody to hit the troll with a stick, wizards are not where you look.  But when you come across something you’ve never seen before, some situation that seems impossible, some massive horde of enemies or some unsolvable riddle- then you want a wizard in your party.  Wizards bring unmatched versatility to the table: maybe they’ll throw a wall of fire up to protect your party, maybe they'll turn the evil dragon into a caterpillar, or maybe they’ll just grant everyone flight to escape a threat.  They can discern lies, find the right direction, summon angels, and conjure up a magical platform to carry your stuff for you.  In short, they are the Swiss Army knife of Dungeons and Dragons: don’t leave the tavern without one. 
But there’s a problem with wizards.  The game tries to have the various roles be balanced, so wizards are “squishy.”  If one gets too close to a horde of orcs, they’ll fall quicker than any of the other characters.  They can’t stand up to damage, and so they need the rest of the party to protect them- to keep them alive so that they can fall back and do their awesome, versatile, magical thing.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this.  Adolescents are just better than we are when it comes to thinking!  They see new solutions more quickly, they make more graceful connections between disparate parts of a question, and they will keep coming up with things to try until something works.  That’s why, throughout human history, adolescents have been the ones to push on boundaries, to try new things, to question established orders.  But the flip side of that is a decreased attention to risk, a mind that is less willing to account for possible negative outcomes- that’s neurologically one of the reasons adolescents engage in various risk behaviors.  So, I think it’s up to the rest of us: the clerics and the fighters and the rogues, the ones among us who can hold the line, the ones among us who can heal wounds, the ones among us who can get rid of traps before they hurt somebody- (the non-adolescents who love and support adolescents)- to step up.  

Which leads me to my invitation: given my premise that one should never leave the tavern without a wizard in one’s party, I also want to say that one shouldn’t try to do the work of the church without an adolescent in the room.  I am so excited to have teenagers helping on the Evangelism Team and on the team of older folks supporting confirmands this year.  But I think there are a lot of other opportunities to invite young people into ministry at Zion.  We have many awesome, wizardly young people at Zion, and I think we miss out by not learning more from them, by not inviting them to participate more actively in God’s work at Zion.  

So: the next time you’re sitting in a committee meeting, or at a service project, or even in worship, and you start to think about why things aren’t going quite right: things could be faster, things could be more innovative, things could be wackier or more fun, things could be riskier- consider whether the Spirit might be calling you to invite a young person into the collaboration.  

We are blessed with wizards among us.  May we remember to invite them into the work, may we help to keep them safe and thriving, may we learn to follow their lead.  It will be like magic.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Loving Minecraft

(this is my church newsletter article for May.)

Loving Minecraft

All the kids are playing it.  Which is not in itself is a reason to love something, I'll give you that.  But a lot of the adults are playing it too.  If you've never tried Minecraft, you should probably try it right now- there's a demo at www.minecraft.net.  If you're not an internet person, here's the gist of it:
there's a large world, made entirely of blocks.  You get to run around in it, and build things out of blocks.  Four planks of wood make a crafting table.  Two sticks and some stone make a shovel. 

The thing about Minecraft is that everybody plays it differently.  Rachael's brother is in college, and he and his fellow engineering students build huge construction projects and elaborate pranks for one another.  I was talking with some of the young women at our First Communion class, and they are all building castles and palaces.  Some of our middle school students are learning basic programming and computer logic by building machines in Minecraft.  When I play, I mostly just hop around and build stuff.  There's no plot to speak of, no linear story winding through the game.  (It's arguably not even a game at all.)  But I love it, and I think it has some things to teach us about how to be church together. 

First: In Minecraft, building is joyful.  The game has its own physics- you can't just build anywhere, but you can build a lot of things.  And the mechanics really encourage you to try things, to build things, to pile blocks on top of other blocks not just to avoid the monsters that come at night, but because it's really fun.  We are a community of builders here at Zion.  And when we are doing the hard work of planning and preparing, of organizing potlucks and getting people to sign up for the mission trip, it can be easy to forget about what we're building.  What looks like one more committee meeting, one more Sunday school lesson, is actually building, just as clearly as if we were stacking iron in Minecraft.  We are building something awesome here at Zion- a place where people feel welcome, a place where God's call is lived out, a place where we get to be family for one another.  It should be really fun. 

Second: We don't all have to play the same way. I alluded to this above, but one of the things I love about Minecraft is that there's a lot of different ways to play.  Maybe you really like seeing how deep you can dig.  Maybe you just want a little house and a barnful of chickens.  Maybe you're really good at figuring out how to make your automatic crossbow trap shoot flaming arrows.  Maybe you just want to wander and explore the ocean, the tundra, the mountains.  Maybe you want to play by yourself, maybe you want to get all your friends on the same server, maybe you want to play with crazy designers or battle-ready warriors or artists from around the world.  We do well to remember this kind of ethic when we're at church.  We share a common story, a common life in the Spirit.  But that looks very different for different people.  We don't all sing in the choir, we don't all bake bread, we don't all chair a committee.  But we all have our piece of the building.  If it were Minecraft, we would all know that four planks makes a crafting table.  But it's church, so we all know that the bread is the Body of Christ.  Everything else builds from there. 

Finally, Minecraft is a game that encourages trying things until something works.  Maybe I didn't make my castle walls thick enough the first time.  Maybe it takes me ten or twelve tries to figure out how to build a shovel or the right kind of clock.  But because building is joyful, because there's no one right way to play, there's a freedom in it.  Even if the zombies eat you, you just get to start again, and starting again is fun.  This is another thing we would do well to take to heart at church.  Not every class is going to be well attended.  Not every mission project is going to be successful.  Not every youth group lesson will be super-interesting and engaging.  Some of them will, and that's great.  But the work of the church is not about success.  I think too often, in the church, we don't try things because we might fail.  That doesn't work in Minecraft, and it doesn't work in God's call to us.  May we try eight things and fail at seven of them.  May we build big and know when to run away before it crashes down on us.  May we laugh amidst the rubble of failure for a moment before we start building again.  May we take up our pick-axes and blocks, our songs and our gifts and our talents and our sheep- and join in the joyful building. 

May it be so.