Friday, November 1, 2013

Church, community, sugar, assumptions, and septic systems

St. John's Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Washington, has challenged my assumptions.

There was a time in my ministry in the Midwest when I made inside jokes to people in congregational life about slow to change Scandinavian-Americans. Maybe you know this classic--how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Eight--one to change the light bulb, and seven to complain about how much they liked the old light bulb better.

Sometimes these jokes were ecclesiastical sweeteners. If I could slip in a quip or a joke, it might make the prophetic challenges we all faced a little easier to digest (cue the song from Mary Poppins--a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down).

As I moved back to serve in ministry near where I was raised in the Seattle-Tacoma area, the efficacy of these quips has slipped dramatically. It's not that the jokes are too old--Garrison Keillor continues to get his share of laughs with these types of jokes. I find myself embarrassed that I ever used the jokes in the first place. I was kidding myself, rationalizing that the jokes were a cloaking device; neither did I have a typical Lutheran pedigree, nor a drop of Scandinavian blood in my body. Now I look into my congregation, and I see a typical cast of womb to tomb Lutherans sitting in the midst of a Ugandan family, a Vietnamese family, a Seventh Day Adventist married to Southern Baptist, a Mormon married to a Southern Baptist, three adults whom I have baptized in the last two years, developmentally challenged adults, and several people whom have served the military originating from places all over the world. I am in awe of what God is doing through them--their propensity to share love across boundaries is encouraging. I appreciate their desire to seek God and community, often beyond denominational labels.

This demographic conglomeration isn't necessarily unusual, only it bears witness to the evolution of what started as a church of Northern European immigrants in my tradition. I can assume almost nothing culturally in this day, only that people who contact with St. John's (social media, web, and digital tools have extended contact far beyond the worship space) seek witness to the holy, while making a few friends. We are blessed if we encounter Christ in our midst together. The experienced Lutherans might even recognize Lutheran theology coming from my mouth on occasion.

Whenever I get together with other Christians, I'm often intrigued by the assumptions operative in the group. Theological, cultural, and belief system assumptions collide. These collisions are often disconcerting, at least disorienting. My favorite conversations in the midst of these collisions are the ones that involve curiosity and grace. My least favorite conversations are the ones where the assumptions are considered normative across time and space. I resonate with feeling disoriented and without roots. Roots are important to faith and life. But even roots of a beautifully grand old tree, left unattended and uncut, destroy the septic system and clog the possibility of removing waste from the household.

I should have flushed many of my jokes and assumptions a long time ago.

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