The Holy Spirit as a Wild Goose

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Ancient Celtic Christians used the Wild Goose as an image for the Spirit of God. As a Christ follower of Scotch Irish descent, I can imagine my ancestors arguing that the traditional image of the Holy Spirit, the dove was well, too tame. Doves are pretty and often depicted as clean and white. But wild geese are, well, wild.  They get down in the water and mud in their untamed, unpredictable and unleashed noisy way. One cannot miss the presence of a wild goose. The Spirit of God is not caged as the institutional church has most often perceived her to be, but is unleashed, honking and chasing us all to notice God in the wind, water and mud of life.

As a mainline church pastor, the Wild Goose of God has been circling around my comfort zone and nudging my thinking about the future of faith in the post-Christian context we live in. My Lutheran theology of the cross and experiencing God where we least expect, moved my exploring continuing education and retreat options from those offered by the religious establishment, to something a little more, well, wild. As I searched and prayed, I found the Spirit of God sending me to the Wild Goose Festival. For that, I am thankful.

It was in the wild and beautiful mountains of North Carolina last week that this Christ follower was affirmed, challenged, and energized for my work as a parish pastor through four days of music, justice, spirituality and art. The festival flew on the wind and wings of the metaphor for the unpredictable Spirit of God as we engaged in the theme of ReMembering the Body. The incarnational images of God were abundant…

  • ReMembered in the creation and mud (remember you are dust and to dust you shall return),
  • ReMembered in the rain and roaring French Broad River (the water of baptism and life), and
  • ReMembered in the bodies of more than 2,000 gathered in community (the body of Christ).

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Can the A&E Television Show Hoarders Fix the Church?

The reality show that documents the struggles of people who cannot part with their belongings and highlights the intervention and roads they take to recovery could be a model for the Church. The show does not sugarcoat that hoarding is a serious pathological condition. Instead, the show connects hoarders with professionals who then recommend treatment and resources to recovery based on the specific needs of the people who struggle with hoarding.

The Church has experienced declining membership and participation, and many long for recovery. For some that longing is for recovery to the vibrant peak of denominational Christianity of the late sixties and seventies. Few would admit that the Church is suffering a pathological condition, but we are. We hoard and hold on to dusty buildings and traditions that are falling down and overflowing with outdated stuff. We are not unlike the Church of five hundred years ago that got rid of the stuff that got in the way of the Good News, taking the road of recovery called the Reformation.

Today those of us on that Reformation road have become as pathological as the Roman Catholic Church of the 1500’s. We have a history of hoarding regardless of which Protestant side street we may have taken. We have complicated our current condition with pathological denial that recovery must include casting off, letting go, and finding new roads. While the A&E show highlights the struggle, freedom and new life that comes along the hoarders’ recovery road, we know that the road runs through the Cross and Resurrection.

As traveling the Reformation Road has been slowed down by our pathological conditions, some of our fellow travelers like authors Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle have served as traffic reporters in much the same way as loved ones do on the A&E show. Both point to the Good News of the Cross and Resurrection as the GPS on the recovery road. Tickle sees new expressions of church emerging on the map and encourages existing ones to explore the roads of reconfiguration and revitalization.

Our denomination leaders are called to positions to serve as therapists and coaches that help us see and get rid of the stuff we have been hoarding and holding onto. On the television show, not all hoarders survive the recovery road, but as resurrection people, the questions and lessons from Hoarders can be a road map for the Church…

  • Who are the people in your faith community keeping the church bus on the same road it’s always been on?
  • What is the stuff your faith community hoards, holds onto and gets in the way?
  • When is your faith community going to run out of gas, crash and burn, or just rust away?
  • Where are the roads of reconfiguration and revitalization your faith community travel?

 

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Denomination Survivor: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast OR Build Social Networks and Relationships

Recently friend and fellow pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Keith Anderson asked for some feedback on his thinking about the role of social networking in light of our denomination’s belt-tightening measures that included a layoff of 18% of staff in the church-wide headquarters in Chicago.   His blog post Social Networking and the Future Church Seven Key Characteristics of Social Networks  got me thinking about the need, and not just the potential, for utilizing social networks to support the mission and ministry of the church. 

Keith’s guess that we will need to utilize smaller, informal, grassroots networks for learning, sharing, communication and coordination is on target and I believe will be the new reality if denominational structures are to survive.  I’m grateful for the way Keith connected social media to mission in seven areas.  He has helped me to think of denomination mission support outside the traditional structure of a budget, synod/diocese/local judicatory, or church-wide denominational organization.

Keith raises an important point that both resonated with me and one that I believe is the key to the future of the ELCA (or any denomination for that matter).  He does this by way of beginning his third characteristic “Virtual and Personal” with a disclaimer  (one note here…), which for me is THE proclaimer here.  The Church of Jesus Christ is relational.  It is all about relationships and connections that happen… in relationship, in dialogue, in sharing highs and lows, joys and concerns, questions and best practices to be the Church we are gathered by God to be.

We are relational because God is first.  We are a priesthood of all believers (non-hierarchical) because we are all connected (not necessarily geographical) as the body of Christ the Church.  We are called as the body to be in relationship with God and each other (virtual and personal), praying, interceding, proclaiming the Word, and confessing sins to each other. We share (open source) because of God’s abundant blessings given to us and we share (generous) them (voluntarily) with our neighbors next door + around the world (multifarious) not out of obligation, but out of joy and love for the blessings God gives us.

The future of the organized Church in the developed world lies I believe, in observing, experimenting and integrating the lessons of relational networking found in both the emergent church and social media phenomena.  The ELCA and other denominational leaders would benefit from having the following on their reading lists:

  • Seth Godin who is a best-selling author and successful business icon, writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, how to meet individual and organizational needs, and leadership in the midst of the change we are in the midst of
  • Robert Putnam who is a Harvard sociologist, Professor of Public Policy, and social capital guru of Bowling Alone fame, has just released American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us  co-written with political scientist David Campbell,  is the most important book in decades about American religious life and an essential tool in understanding religion in post-modernity.
  • Phyllis Tickle  who is the founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly is a respected authority and speaker on religion in America today and a keen observer of the current religious landscape.  Her book  The Great Emergence:  How Christianity Is Changing and Why describes how North American Christianity is presently undergoing a change every bit as radical as the Protestant Reformation, possibly even as monumental as its natal break with Judaism.

The institutional church is not about to turn, it is.  Phyllis Tickle notes that denominations won’t cease to exist, rather they will give way to something new.  As for my beloved denomination, my sense is that unless we as the ELCA rethink and reform what it means to be the church nationally and locally (remembering that it is ALL about relationship), not a stone will be left on stone at Higgins Road (Chicago church-wide headquarters) or on the steepled towers of many once proud congregations.