Archives for posts with tag: story

A theological reflection on saving a Christian college campus.

I am home now. As in, abandoned prairie dreams to come back to the Pacific Northwest with its layers of mountains and hills, moody shifts in grey hues, waterlogged air, and the smell of low tide. It is fortunate that I can complete my research away from school at this point, and even tailor it to this region. The thought of learning Chicago watersheds for my studies in baptism felt daunting.

Coming home has its share of mixed feelings, particularly when my memory is taxed with recalling what ‘used to be’ on that corner instead of the shiny tall thing that looms overhead. So, when I saw the article in the local news about an old Bible school coming due for demolition, I started reading closely. Sure enough, I remembered the place–vaguely, but well enough.

I can’t remember if it was a vacation Bible school, or simply a weekend retreat that took me to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Issaquah, but I remember her. Her name was similar to mine, Kirstin, she had straight, blonde hair, and she sang in the a cappella music group at the Bible school. I remember feeling so enamored with her, like she could be my big sister. We may have even exchanged a few letters as pen pals. I remember, too, the buildings that felt a little old, but in that vertical NW, mod quirky kind of way. At that time, about the only difference I knew existed between the Lutherans and Presbyterians (such as I was), had to do with the color robes their clergy wore on Sundays. Yet I would have signed up to go to LBI in a heartbeat; especially if it meant singing alongside my new friend such lyric hits as, “It’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. / Faith without works…”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the local megachurches owns the property now, and that they have an interest in selling it. But in a region with few religious landmarks, the thought of losing a 1960s chapel and school with a unique history (the Lutherans bought it from the Catholics) is dispiriting. Surely another religious organization would think so, too? Or is a generic evangelical church focused on being young and relevant simply deaf to any cries of history or tradition? I wonder, then, if this isn’t a case of good old North American pragmatism. The church is not a building, it is wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ–so goes the logic.

Shouldn’t a place where the broken, risen body of Christ has been shared, given and communed across time and denominations mean something?

For nearly ten years I worshiped in a space that was built by the Methodists, then occupied by a brewery, a disco, the Baptists, and some other commercial interests during its 100+ year history (not to mention squirrels and other critters in the attic). Houses of worship that have been around for a while feel different. There is a kind of spatial patina that can rub off on unsuspecting visitors, enriching the music, the prayers, the communion of saints. At times in church, I could sense the hopes and desires of past parishioners. My great-grandparents never worshiped there, but someone’s did.

The Providence Heights space is unique as a theological school, first for nuns, then for Lutheran women and men. Let me repeat that: the school was built to educate women first. It may be tempting to be dismissive of a training school for Catholic nuns, but considering how difficult it still is–globally speaking–for women to receive any kind of dedicated theological education, let’s just say this is significant. While the chapel was not a community church per se, it served as a basin for the missio Dei, and a nest from which hopeful young Christians followed the call of the Spirit to the world.

Surely, a fellow religious organization such as City Church, with its focus on developing relevant leaders for the world, would understand such a history?

At a time when property values are soaring out of reach, churches are shrinking, and decisions for survival must be made on a purely economic basis, does City Church (or any church) have a responsibility to history or tradition? What does it look like to honor the people who have gone before in particular places; who have celebrated the Lord’s supper, and proclaimed his death and resurrection in these walls? This week of Pentecost, I pray for a creative solution for the people of Issaquah, for City Church, and the Providence Heights campus. Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe new life.

The story of a pastor who walks into his new church as a homeless man seems admirable at first glance. The ‘how would your congregation respond’ scenario is very thought provoking, but the tale does not stop there–and it probably should. For the pastor to use Matthew 25, the story of the sheep and the goats at Judgment Day, to shame and guilt a congregation he has not yet served is beyond absurd. Thankfully, it isn’t a true story…this time.

I am not one to say we should all be comfortable in our faith journey–quite the opposite. So, while I find it commendable to mess with people, a rich person posing really isn’t the way to do so. Let the poor speak for themselves by providing a place at the table. The church has an opportunity (a duty?) to be different from society in doing exactly that: making space for all to speak within a congregation, and to be heard.

The story of the pastor is exactly that, and no more–a story of a pastor. From Finney to Piper there is a long standing tradition of the Pastor as leader above all. It is the Pastor’s voice who is heard on Sunday mornings. It is the Pastor who is trusted to problem solve, counsel, guide and teach the people. It is the Pastor who prays, and the Pastor who speaks, and the Pastor who is heard. Isn’t it time we let the pastor be a Person?

In seminary we are taught all the things we need to craft a good sermon, to study Scripture well, and we even learn about congregational care. But, if we’re not careful, we can miss a vital lesson: we exist for the people of God. While having a vision for the church is very important, that vision needs to take into account the people who are the church.

The pastor who places his ideas of what the church should be before truly breaking bread with the people can–at best–only become a motivational speaker. At worst, he becomes the next fire-and-brimstone itinerant to pass through, slashing and burning the terrain as he goes.

So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. 1Corinthians 14:12

David Hayward has some great reflections on the latest social media buzz here: naked pastor blog.

I watched the Pixar film, Cars again recently. I love cheeky kids’ films. It’s one genre in which characters are created to be endearing. Sometimes the level of transformation that takes place within 93 minutes is a little too incredulous, but at least you know something happened in the main characters.

What struck me this time through was the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson. Acrimonious to start, it naturally turns into a winning mentorship at the end. But that got me thinking–how often do youngish people get into a similar situation? For kids the lesson could translate to ‘don’t blow off older teachers.’ Yet there was certainly a message for adults, assuming that one has opportunity to connect with an other in a different age bracket. I’m thinking of those who work in an office setting (or similar), where what you’re doing today takes precedence over what you did yesterday. Congratulations, you won employee of the quarter! Now what are you going to do to earn it again next quarter? Or, how will you stay in the sights of the Big Boss? Past triumphs tend to fade in comparison to when we crash and burn. It’s no wonder that Doc hid his victory cups, or that he kept a reminder of his great crash.

When my uncle was in the hospital a few years ago, he hold me about a past episode in his life that caused a world of pain for a few people. I had heard something about this once before from another family member. But to hear my uncle recount it, undertones of guilt still pulsing, was like visiting a dusty cabinet of his heart’s curiosity shop: sad, and a bit unpleasant. I was amazed that he had held on to that memento long enough to share it with his youngest niece. Sitting with him in that place was far from a lesson in what (not) to do; it was a strange honor, a moment to listen and say under my breath, you’re forgiven in Jesus’ name.

As a young person, I hear a lot of messages about how to avoid pitfalls, traps and severe crashes. A lot of energy goes into any and all avoidance tactics. But I’ve already screwed up on a few occasions, and I probably will again. So, what do I do with it? When does it make sense to share a great crash? When is it better to share a victory cup?

The apostle, Paul, seemed to share both with equal emotion. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Gal 4.13-14) Perhaps that’s the way to do it: victory in one hand, defeat in the other, both held loosely. I don’t know how to do that just yet, but I know some folks who do.