Monday, March 18, 2019

Mass Shootings Do Not Have To Be The New Normal

I refuse to accept a “new normal” where mass shootings are common place and refuse to accept a “new normal” of mass shootings of people who have gathered to worship. 

I would expect that the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand this past Friday to disturb all humans. 

And though I don’t have the answer to what will stop such horrific acts of violence, I know that a “both/and” approach is needed. 

We need people to speak out; and we need laws that make it very hard to purchase semi-automatic weapons; and we need resources for mental health; and we need law enforcement to be equipped to perform surveillance on hate groups while protecting civil liberties; and we need the media to stop pitting groups of people against each other.  No one of these actions will stop mass shootings; and one action does not mean another cannot happen.  It’s “both/and” not “either/or.”

It seems like we need a miracle.

History does teach when humans get to the point of saying, “enough” that miracles can happen. I would hope that this most recent mass shooting in New Zealand has led enough people to this place of “enough.”  Perhaps this shooting will reignite the desire for change.  A movement needs to happen. 

The Presbytery of Twin Cities area passed a statement at their meeting on Saturday condemning the shootings in New Zealand.  I read the statement in worship yesterday at Chain of Lakes and then prayed that no more mass shootings will ever happen again.  I’ll be personally taking the statement to the Islamic Resource Center in Blaine this week.

I would encourage everyone reading this blog to take one step to creating a world where mass shootings don’t exist.  What can you do this week?

The statement from the Presbytery is worth reading.  I’m proud to be part of a denomination who easily and without question will condemn a mass shooting.

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area stands side-by-side with our Islamic brothers and sisters in condemning the March 15 attack against women, men and children at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. This cowardly, hate-filled action during a time of prayers is an attack on all people of faith and an assault on the bonds of shared humanity and peaceful coexistence which unite us all. The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area further condemns the hateful and dangerous ideologies that stand behind this action and re-commits itself to work intentionally with all people of faith to seek means by which we can live together as one humanity, with a common desire for peace and justice. May God’s blessings cover you in this time of sorrow, and give you strength for the days ahead.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

The obsessions of the weather[man]

No one can live in Minnesota, or anywhere for that matter, without developing opinions and a relationship with the weather.  This past weekend the topic in the Twin Cities was the snow storm that was going to come, came, and then left.   The storm was the topic because of the incessant information that was blared from every media outlet. The weather forecasters had a field day.

The weather reveals our human desire for control. When I was young, weather seemed much simpler.  It could be described in one word phases—hot, cold, sun, rain, wind.  It didn’t seem that important to know much more.

And though I do believe in global warming, the weather hasn’t changed too much since I was young.  What has changed is the large amount of information and opinions about what is happening, and what I should do.   

Weather and knowing weather falls into our human need for control.  Already this morning I saw a weather forecaster share that we won’t have to endure snow next weekend.  That’s good—I think.  I’m still figuring out my schedule for today and haven’t put too much thought into next weekend.  Now I know it won’t snow. 

Weather forecasters seem to be on a crusade against the idea that “ignorance is bliss.”  When I was growing up I frequently found myself in a car in a snow storm.  I don’t remember if we knew that a storm was approaching.  And I don’t advocate for ignorance.  But weather forecasting seems to be more about tapping into human fear then giving information and letting the listener make decisions.  If I parented like weather forecasters share information, my daughter would be in permanent counseling.

It snowed this past weekend. Blaine received between five and six inches.  It came down hard on Saturday night and early Sunday.  Driving at times was treacherous.  How much more do I need to know?

Instead the weekend was about the impending storm.  At one point I heard a forecaster share the precise time when the rain was going to start and when the rain would turn to snow as if the storm was an advancing army ready to obliterate anyone in its wake.

I actually enjoy snow storms.  And the high amount of snow since the start of February has tempered my joy.  Since receiving information about weather is now more about judgment than poetry it’s hard to appreciate the beauty.

Weather can take our breath away in awe. All of us have had experiences of watching a cloud formation come in, or enjoying a practically perfect June day in Minnesota, or seeing the delight of a toddler in experiencing the first snow of the year. And when it is frigid most have taken boiling water and thrown it turn into snow.  Wow.

The takeaway that I'll still carry in six months about this past weekend's storm was the beautiful picture [shared above] that another person from Chain of Lakes sent me.

Now weather seems to be more about inducing fear and the performance of forecasters.

When it rained more than anticipated on Saturday, weather forecasters either didn’t tell us that they weren’t a hundred percent correct or blamed the weather for not performing as predicated.  One laugh I received this weekend when I read a tweet from a forecaster that the weather was underperforming. 

It doesn’t bother me that a forecaster wasn’t precise with what was going to happen.

And I will give forecasters the benefit of the doubt.  Weather can generate fear and fear generates interest and interest in forecasts can generate ratings and ratings generate money.  As part of the public, I know this.

Times do exist when the public needs to know precisely what is happening.  I need to know if a F4 tornado is coming; I need to know if a river has flooded and I need to find higher ground.   But the precise time when rain turns to snow and when the advancing storm will hit?

Taking one look at the piles of snow leads anyone who can breathe to know that flooding will be a concern this spring.  Already forecasters are placing the seed of fear that flooding will happen this spring.  

The information I want to know about flooding is this: the potential for flooding is high; be aware.  Statistics and percentages and exact dates when rivers crest might be important for some, but I don’t need to know.  And yes I can turn off the television and radio and not read articles on the Internet.  But it’s hard to escape.

When it comes to the weather I’m happy to know the facts—and as few as possible.  Don’t give me opinions.  Like the rest of the public I’m capable of forming my own.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

My own road to accepting the LGBTQ community with thoughts on the Methodists

I normally don’t write about the issues over which other Christian denominations are wrestling; however I can’t help but share some thoughts on the decision of the Methodists regarding homosexual ordination and gay marriage.  Last week the United Methodist Church voted to continue its opposition to the ordination of gays and lesbians and its opposition to same-sex marriage. 

The Methodists are the only main-line denominations that don’t ordain gays and lesbians and don’t permit congregations to celebrate same-sex weddings.  The United Church of Christ; the Evangelical Lutherans, the Episcopals and the Presbyterians can ordain gays and lesbians and celebrate same-sex weddings.  .

The decision by the Methodists has prompted me to share my own journey about accepting and celebrating the LGBTQ community. 

This acceptance is part of the policy of Chain of Lakes Church.  Last month Chain of Lakes celebrated a same-sex marriage. It might have been one of the first same-sex weddings celebrated in a church in Anoka County.  The Session of Chain of Lakes approved its celebration, and the people of Chain of Lakes embraced the moment.

However I know that for some accepting a gay or lesbian with a Rev. in front of their name is hard; accepting that a church would celebrate a same-sex wedding is just as difficult.  I understand how hard it is for some to accept these views. 

I have taken a long winding road in my own views about homosexuality.  I grew up in Worthington, Minnesota, a town of 10,000 on the southwest Minnesota prairie.  If you had asked me in high school if I knew any homosexuals I would have said “No, we don’t have homosexuals in Worthington.” How ignorant could I have been!  I discovered that some of my classmates are homosexual.  They just didn’t feel safe in coming out. 

In high school and college I spent a lot of time in locker rooms with other football players.  My sense of masculinity was initially formed in that environment.  In those locker rooms it would have taken a great amount of courage to admit a same-sex attraction.
In my early 20’s when I worked with the farm workers in California, I developed a friendship with two gay men.  I learned that they weren’t much different than me.  We just had a different sexual orientation. 
As I developed friendships with gays and lesbians I learned that their sexual orientation was not a choice.  Once in a conversation I was asked, “Did you choose to be heterosexual?”  The question startled me.  I had never thought about it.  “I have always been attracted to girls.  This is how I was wired,” I said.  “This is how it is for me,” said my gay friend.  “I’ve always been attracted to boys.  It’s how I was wired.”
My gay and lesbian friends would go on to tell me that they had experienced harassment because of their sexual orientation.  They had been called names that I would not repeat, or they had not gotten a job for which they were qualified.  They had moments of fear for their physical safety because of their orientation. 
My gay and lesbian friends would ask me, “Why would we choose a sexual orientation that can cause us pain?”  The answer is my homosexual friends didn’t choose.  My friends would ask me, “If you suffered harassment or were called names or were denied a job because you were heterosexual would you choose to stop being heterosexual?"  “Well, no” I would say.  “I can’t stop being heterosexual.  That’s who I am.”

A foundational teaching in Genesis is that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.  The way we come into the world is part of God’s design.  We have no choice about our own gender and even our sexual orientation.  If we accept that we’re created in the image and likeness of God, then we believe that God didn’t make a mistake when approximately ten percent of the population came into the world as gay. 

Doesn’t the Bible say homosexuality is a sin?  There are five, maybe six passages in the Bible that talk about homosexuality.  Two of them are in the Old Testament and four of them are in the letters of Paul.  Jesus never talked about homosexuality.  It wasn’t an issue that concerned him. 
However Jesus spent a lot of time with people who the culture described as outcasts.  He loved them, he cared for them, and he went out of his way to defend them.  Of course, I don’t believe that homosexuals are outcasts, but throughout history the culture has identified and treated them as outcasts.  I believe that if Jesus was alive today he would spend time with homosexuals—he would eat with the, he would care for them, he would go to parties with them.  And most importantly he would love them.  He would have had a blast at the same-sex wedding we celebrated last month at Chain of Lakes.

The Scriptures teach that sexuality is a gift from God.  I believe that sex is meant to be enjoyed in a loving, mutual, and monogamous relationship.  If this is the case, it only makes sense to me that gays and lesbians can make a life-long commitment to another partner.  This is why my own personal faith led me to encourage the Session of Chain of Lakes to develop a policy where same-sex weddings would be celebrated. 

Some people believe that to celebrate a same-sex marriage is to deny the authority of the Bible.  This view has always bewildered me.  To celebrate a same-sex wedding means we’re throwing out the whole Bible?  Do we think the Bible is a big jenga game?  It all comes tumbling down if we celebrate a same-sex wedding? 

For me personally there’s not a book I love more than the Bible.  I’ve been preaching and teaching from the Bible for over 25 years, and I still want to learn more.  Right now I’m developing a video series on the gospel of Luke; I’m teaching a Bible Study on Sunday mornings on the book of Revelation.  My faith resolution of the year is to read through the Bible using Eugene Peterson’s, The Message.  I’m reading four chapters a day.  I own at least ten Bibles and would not hesitate to purchase more. 

My reading of the Bible does not lead me to exclude the LGBTQ community; instead my reading of the Bible leads me to accept, welcome, and celebrate the LGBTQ community.

The LGBTQ community is welcome at Chain of Lakes Church. You will be accepted and loved. Our faith informs our welcome.

I’m grieved that the United Methodists have not come to this conclusion. I look forward to the day when they do.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Cheering for Green Book

I let out a shriek of joy last night when Green Book was announced as the winner of Best Picture at last night’s Oscars.  My daughter, Hannah, and I saw the movie a few weeks ago.  Immediately after seeing it I posted on Facebook that it was a movie for the ages that everyone needs to see.  

Only recently have I read about the criticism and controversy surrounding the film. A summary of both is offered by Time magazine at this link:

The story of the film is about a friendship between an African-American pianist, Donald Shirley played by Mahershala Ali and Tony “Lip” played by Viggo Mortensen, an Italian-American driver.  The two traveled the segregated South on a concert tour for Shirley in the 1960s.  How accurately the movie depicted the friendship is not for me to know.  The story the movie depicted of the relationship is what touched me.

The title of the movie was based on a green book that African Americans kept in the 1960s. The book shared hotels, restaurants, and other accommodations where African Americans could safely stay.

The ugliness of the time was revealed.  Shirley was close to being seriously injured by a white gang in a bar; he was thrown in jail for a consensual, sexual encounter with another man. The encounters with police shared what happened then and still on occasion happens today. 

Ultimately what touched me was the slow mutuality in the relationship that developed.

Shirley was in charge. He hired Tony, paid for the trip, and performed for adoring audiences. He instructed Tony on writing letters to his wife.  He was an erudite, dignified African-American man.  In one scene he poignantly shared, “You only win when you maintain your dignity.”

Tony was also in charge. He helped Shirley out of a number of dangerous situations. To call him a “white savior” as some have is unfair. Shirley saved Tony and got the two out of jail when he called the Attorney General for help.  Tony grew to see that one of his tasks was not to let his boss get hurt.  He was going to resist the horrible mistreatment that was inevitable in the South towards an African-American in the 1960’s.

One of the best scenes was at a final performance on tour in Birmingham, Alabama. Shirley was refused entry into the whites-only dining room of the venue where he had been hired to perform. Ultimately Don refused to play. The two ended up at an African-American blues club where Shirley wowed those present with his music. The pairing of the settings and the lack of acceptance and then moving performance by Shirley left the viewer with plenty to ponder.

Green Book helped the viewer see race through the lens of one relationship. The ultimate friendship that developed despite the differences of race is a microcosm of what needs to happen.   For depicting the nuances of this relationship, Green Book deserves the accolades it’s received.  This movie does need to be seen.  And better yet take along a person with a different skin color.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Attending Senator Klobuchar's Presidential announcement

Yesterday Hannah & I attended Senator Amy Klobuchar’s announcement that she is running for President. Many people from Minnesota have run for President, but it still felt like something special was happening yesterday in the Twin Cities.  As a pastor I welcome people of all political opinions to participate at Chain of Lakes Church. As a father I look for opportunities to make memories with Hannah.  So after worship at Chain of Lakes the two of us traversed the snowy roads of the Twin Cities to Boom Island Park. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there, but as I got closer it became apparent that this would be an event. Parking was a “every person for themselves situation.”  We were running late, so I quickly pulled into an alley and found a place to park.  Hannah and I literally skipped quickly over the snowy sidewalks under the snowy sky and arrived on time.

Snow was a theme. And though the Klobuchar campaign wouldn’t have planned this optic, it can’t hurt. Few people remember much about an opening announcement of a Presidential campaign, but they do remember the place.  I remember President Trump announced at Trump Tower in New York City. I remember that President Obama announced on a very cold day in Illinois. If people remember anything about yesterday’s event it is that Senator Klobuchar announced her campaign in a light Minnesota snow storm. It’s not a bad optic.

When we arrived at Boom Island Park Hannah and I moved around so at least we could see the speakers.  I’m not good with numbers, but I would guess that at close to a thousand people attended.  The two of us finally found a spot to the left of the podium about 50 yards away. 

The program then started.  After a drumline from a local high school, the mayors of Minneapolis, Duluth, and Moorhead briefly spoke. Senator Tina Smith spoke; Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan spoke; Governor Tim Walz, wearing a lumberjack, red and black plaid and very Minnesotan shirt, spoke.

And finally Senator Klobuchar gave her speech. A video is on the Star Tribune web site is here:

The parts of her speech that touched me were her personal story. She talked about her grandfather working on the Iron Ranger; how her mother was a schoolteacher and her dad was a journalist. She shared a story of a Somali girl whose family was rudely treated at a restaurant by a man who told them to go home. The young girl said that she didn’t want to go to her home to eat dinner, but wanted to stay in the restaurant. Senator Klobuchar shared some traditional Democratic policy positions, but not too much. The time and debate on policy positions will come later.

When the speech was over Hannah and I went over to the gaggle-line of well wishers. I wanted Hannah to have an opportunity to shake Senator Klobuchar’s hand.  We waited patiently and finally Hannah had her chance for a hand shake. It was meaningful for her.

After the speech President Trump and Senator Klobuchar engaged in a hilarious tweet exchange about holding a speech in a snow storm and global warming.

When the event was over Hannah and I trudged back through the snow to talk about what we had just witnessed. 

Who knows if Senator Klobuchar will break through the log-jam of Democratic candidates to become the nominee for the Democratic Party in July 2020?  So much is going to happen in the next seventeen months that it doesn’t even seem worth the time to speculate. The city that will host the Democratic convention has not even been chosen.

What I do know is Hannah and I have a memory. The two of us will probably not have many opportunities to attend a speech of someone announcing a presidential run.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Super Bowl LIII

For the 50th time I joined millions of people and watched the Super Bowl LIII.  (I was too young to remember the first two Super Bowls—sorry Packer fans—and I missed the 49ers blowing out the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX when I was traveling.)  My earliest memory of a Super Bowl was watching an interview of Joe Namath after they upset the Colts.  I sat on a small couch on January 12, 1969 and watched on a very small black-and-white television. I surely didn’t appreciate what I was watching—I just remember Joe Namath was very happy. 

The Super Bowl is still an event that brings together our divided country.  Even though its ratings are going down, nineteen of the top twenty most-watched television events have been Super Bowls. 

I can’t help write about the Super Bowl without mentioning the Vikings.  I’ve written before about the pain of a Vikings fan.  And not winning the Super Bowl is the source of this pain.  The first time I ever remembering crying was watching the Joe-Kapp led Norsemen lose to the Chiefs in 1970.  Super Bowl and tears didn’t stop then.  Losing to the Dolphins when it was obvious that the Dolphins were better didn’t stop the tears from flowing.  I didn’t cry when the Purple lost to the Steelers the next year, but the game was a dud. I was reminded yesterday that the score at halftime was 2-0 Steelers.  Losing to the Raiders on a frigid January day in Minnesota was the worst. Oh yes I remember the early missed field goal by the Errol Mann and then the blocked punt that gave the Purple the ball at the three yard line of the Raiders.  For a moment it seemed that this game would be different but—I don’t need to go down that rabbit hole of misery. 

Yesterday Chain of Lakes had a Puppy Bowl party so the two red-heads and I watched the game at our home.  No Super Bowl party with others this year.  I watched everything—pre-game, ads, game, halftime, postgame.

I never had the sense that the Rams would win the game. Even though Patriots were only ahead by a field goal for much of the game and even when the Rams tied the game, it seemed natural that the Patriots would make a play to win the game.  Isn’t this what the Patriots do?  And though it is tiring to see Brady and Belichick win for the sixth time at some point I’ve let go of jealousy and grabbed hold of admiration.  I’m impressed by excellence and those two display it.  And yes Spygate and Deflategate tarnish Belichicks’ reputation and it’s not hard to find reasons to dislike Tom Brady.  But—they win. 

I’ve never listened to Tony Romo do color analysis for an entire game.  I liked him.  It was hilarious to hear him say that Jim Nantz jinxed Stephen Gostkowski when Gostkowski missed an early field goal.  And he always seemed to know exactly what was going to happen in the game.  He predicted that Julian Edelman would win the MVP, which I think Edelman deserved.  And to think that Edelman was once the starting quarterback for Kent State and his first game he experienced a 44-0 thrashing by the Gophers is a reminder to never give up on any dream.  Thanks to Jim Souhan for that story.

When I watch the Half Time show I’m reminded of how out of touch I am with Pop culture.  I had never heard of Maroon 5.  But Hannah had and she was singing along to all of his songs.  When Adam Levine ditched his shirt I was more curious about all the tattoos he had than what he was winging.  

My favorite Super Bowl commercial was the NFL’s 100-year game commercial.  How much fun would that have been to make?   In a survey USA Today’s Admeter ranked it to top commercial.  I liked the Bud Lite commercials, but am confused why it’s important to me that they don’t use corn syrup in their beer. I don’t drink beer, but I never thought that not having corn syrup would be an incentive to purchase it.  I posted a Facebook post about this and got all sorts of comments.

The Super Bowl continues to be a reflection of the best and worst of America.  I can sit on my couch for over five hours, be entertained, watch incredible athletes, and scratch my head at what some are doing.  The Super Bowl gives us a common experience as I’m guessing you watched it too.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Leadership in a new culture. Learning from Tod Bolsinger and "Canoeing the Mountains"

“Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.”  So began Tod Bolsinger in a presentation he gave this past Thursday & Friday at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie.   

Bolsinger currently is vice president for vocation and formation at Fuller Theological Seminary.  In 2015 he published Canoeing the Mountains.  The book is a brilliant presentation of the principles of Adaptive Leadership that Bolsinger shared through the story of Lewis and Clark.  The key moment of the story of Lewis and Clark is when the expedition reached Lemhi Pass expecting to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean.  Instead they saw the Rocky Mountains.  They realized that the canoes they had with them would no longer be useful.  The expedition had to either adapt to their situation for which they were not prepared or fail in their mission.

This is the situation that church leaders—especially main-line church leaders—face today.  We are facing a culture for which we were not prepared to encounter.  The choice we have is similar to the one Lewis and Clark made.  We can either apply the principles of adaptive leadership or fail in our mission.

I read the Canoeing the Mountains shortly after it was published.  At the time I was wrestling with how to continue the momentum of starting a new church even as I encountered a vastly different world.  In 2009 I attended a New Church Development conference hosted by San Clemente Presbyterian church, the church Bolsinger served at the time as Head of Staff.  I have a high amount of respect for his insight and the lessons he communicates. 

I can’t do justice in a 800 word blog to all that Bolsinger said, but I can share the most important ideas.  Which is the point that Bolsinger borrowed from Jim Collins and communicated this past Thursday and Friday.  Once a leader has determined what must never change, the leader must be prepared to change everything else.  Just as if leaders are at Lemhi Pass, we must decide what is most important to carry forward on the journey into this culture; we then must be willing to let go of everything else.

Not an easy lesson for a church (on the whole) or church leaders who value traditions and who are more comfortable looking to the past instead of navigating a path to the future.

Bolsinger shared in the book the importance of knowing the difference between a technical problem and an adaptive problem.  “Technical problems are those where the solutions are available to and ‘within the repertoire’ of the community.  These solutions come from best practices, or are known and offered by an expert of implemented by a capable practitioner, professional or manager.”  (page 41 of Canoeing the Mountains.)   “Adaptive challenges, by contrast, are those that ‘cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behavior.’  These are systemic problems with no ready answers’ that arise from a changing environment and unchartered territory.  These are challenges leaders face when the world around them changes so rapidly that the planned strategies and approaches are rendered moot.” (page 42 of Canoeing the Mountains)

At the conference Bolsinger shared two adaptive principles from his book.  The first one is “people don’t resist change; they resist loss.”  The task of the leader is to take people through the loss into the future.  The second adaptive principle is “for change to last it must be a healthy adaptation of the DNA of the group.”

Other quotes from Bolsinger from his presentation that garnered stars in my notes are:

“At the moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion; you will default to your training.”

“Adaptive work is conservative work. We are conserving what is most important to go forward.”

“The task of the leader is to stay persistent [and I would add non-anxious] in the face of resistance.”

On Friday Bolsinger shared a powerful talk on the practices a spiritual leader needs to live through the inevitable sabotage that the leader will inevitably experience.  He encouraged everyone present to have a coach, a counselor and a spiritual director. (I’m one for three and am committed to being three for three in the next six months.)  He shared his own story of learning how iron is transformed into art.  This tempering process happens only after the iron is put into heat so hot that skin will be torched with contact.  It’s this continual tempering process of forming and reforming that helps the leader be prepared for tasks at hand.   

I'm grateful to St. Andrew Lutheran church for bringing Bolsinger to the Twin Cities.  My own quibble with the event is I would have preferred to hear another lecture from Bolsinger instead of breaking into workshops led by local church leaders.  

I hope to continue my own exploration of being an adaptive leader in the context of the 21st century. I know that if I can only carry one book it will be this one.

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