Two Questions from our Resident Interlocutor
I received three questions (all of them very good) since the first installment of “ASK GREG” and I will get to them starting next week. This week, however, I will reverse the normal flow and I will ask two questions. (Every now and then “GREG ASKS” will be the theme.)
FIRST QUESTION: Will you help Joe Scarry, Jeannine Singleton and me prepare for a conference on continuing education for lay ministry?
From November 1-3 the three of us will join members of other ELCA congregations from around the country to discuss more effective approaches to adult education and faith formation. Do you have some concerns or ideas you would like to share with us and with the larger discussion of which we will be a part? Join us on Sunday, October 27, and let us know what your think. Or send me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will forward it on to Joe and Jeannine. Or tap anyone one of us on the shoulder next Sunday before or after worship and give us your input.
SECOND QUESTION: Would you like to be part of a book discussion group that takes a no-holds-barred honest look at faith and the Church?
Some of you may have heard of (and perhaps read) Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (New York: Jericho Press, 2013). She is a remarkable Lutheran Pastor with a penchant for honesty and the ability to cut through a great deal of high-flying rhetoric and get down to basic issues. Here are a couple of snippets from her book to whet your appetite:
“Attempting to redirect my general disdain for whatever human idiocy has us all stopped on the freeway, and in one of the countless attempts in my life to “be more spiritual,” I tried to be present and find something beautiful to distract myself. The beauty of Colorado is something you have to try to actively ignore rather than something you have to try to find, yet so often I forget this. The sky on that day was the kind of clear blue that cannot be replicated or sufficiently described. Most human attempts to recreate this particular blue, while well meaning, are facile. It can only be experienced. And on that fall day, it filled every inch of sky, only occasionally punctuated by a fluffy, little Bob Ross cloud. The sky was so gorgeous that I rolled down all my windows and leaned forward to try to see more of it out of my windshield. A trucker next to me winked and eyed my tattooed arms— unaware, I’m certain, that the big tattoo covering my forearm was of Saint Mary Magdalene and that I was a Lutheran seminary student, soon to become a Lutheran pastor. Truckers, bikers, and ex-convicts smile at me a lot more than, say, investment bankers do. I smiled back, and then returned my glance to the blue sky above, becoming lost in the thought of the outrageous out-there-ness of space. The beauty of our sky is really just a nice way for the earth to protect us from the terror of what’s so vast and unknowable beyond. The boundlessness of the universe is disturbing when you think about it. It’s too big and we’re too small. Suddenly, in that moment, all I could think was: What the hell am I doing? Seminary? Seriously? With a universe this vast and unknowable, what are the odds that this story of Jesus is true? Come on, Nadia. It’s a [explicative deleted] fairy tale.
“And in the very next moment I thought this: Except that throughout my life, I’ve experienced it to be true.”
“A lot had happened to me in church basements. I’d had my first kiss, had been taught to fear an angry God, learned to trust a higher power, and now had my life changed again. In short, here’s what Pastor Ross taught me:
“God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift.
“No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement.
“We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.
“The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.
“The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.
“(Write out these bullet points, memorize them, and you could save a lot of money not going to Lutheran seminary.)”
If this interests you, contact me at email@example.com or chat with me before or after worship some Sunday. If two or three or more come forward we will meet to discuss when, where and how we want to engage this provocative and faith challenging book.
To talk further about this or any other related interests write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-294-1194. If extended conversation develops we’ll meet for coffee. In some (perhaps most) cases, I’ll refer the matter to people in the congregation who are more qualified to address the issue. To ask a question which will be answered in this space, write to email@example.com. Please indicate whether or not you prefer for your question to be posted anonymously.