Quick Thoughts on the Metropolitian New York Synod Assembly

Well, I’m back! While I’m here catching up on episodes of 30 Rock, I thought I’ve give some first impressions after coming back. There’s a chance this will be very short. There’s also a chance it will be long. We’ll see how many 30 Rock episodes I watch.

I started to write a long detailed post and then realized when I got to the 1000 word point, I hadn’t even finished Friday afternoon’s session yet. That’s too long and I was even trying to be brief. I’ll keep it to just the highlights.

K and I were hoping for fireworks when it came to the resolution supporting gay and lesbian ordination and some sort of recongition of same-sex relationships. In August, the ELCA will host a church wide assembly and that will be one of the discussions. The fireworks were rather muted. Sure, we had the person stand up and basically say that all gay men are pedophiles. And the person asking us to stall and really define what we mean by man, woman, gender, and sex. There were the comments about how a former bishop of ours was gay and how denying love to people is wrong. Amendments were added to the resolution and all were defeated. Even the so-called anti-gay war party basically gave up. We had the one guy wanting a written ballot so he could sign his name to his no vote. The other guy, who in the past had no problem going on a tirade, just asked if his congregation could leave the ELCA quickly (like that would happen). And there was the one guy who brought up his long military career for no real reason at all. But that was it. Everyone was pretty much tired of talking about sex all the time. For the last decade, the MNYS has had to talk about it. Even a theological dialog on Christian Ethnics recently devolved into a discussion of homosexuality. People were just tired of talking about it so much. It passed 75% to 25% roughly. We’d vote by holding up a red card for no, a green card for yes. I expected a 60-40 split. It turned out better than I expected.

Bishop Rimbo is a funny and charismatic guy. He wore a big silver cross to mark him as bishop even though it would be hard to miss him because he’s 6’5″. At lunch, I shook his hand, and his “bling” hit me in the back of the head. Stuff liked that happened all weekend long.

The first part of the Bishop’s report scared a lot of people in the room. We currently have 212 congregations with 69 in a transitional phase for a new pastor. 28 are going to be able to call a new pastor. 41 can’t. And only about 50 congregations have an average weekly worship attendance over 100 people.

Is anyone amazed at the fact that we passed resolutions supporting women’s rights, reading the bible, and being against hunger? And we passed that last one right before lunch on the first day. Hmmm.

The food was bad though I still ate it. Everything was chicken related. Even the desserts were made with eggs and I swear that the Turkey sandwich served today for lunch was probably a chicken in a turkey dress.

The Seminary in Philly threw a good party. Lots of different wines, beer, lots of chips and salsa. The President was very nice, asked me when I was going to attend Seminary (after some hinting by my pastor’s wife) and also asked me to review their website after finding out I was a web designer.

The GLBT people throw an AWESOME party. Lots of great people, awesome food, but the alcohol situation was limited. K took a mexican rubber ducky. I hope they don’t mind.

The resolution on torture (i.e. we’re not for it) went 66 to 44 and looked closer than it really was. We voted by holding up red or green cards and someone asked for a count so we had to do a Serpentine vote. That was neat.

I actually got to vote on a position that only had like 3 other people on my side.

The beds at the Marriott hotel seemed to be curved with a large hump in the middle. And all their tvs are crappy.

There was a prom held at the hotel on Friday night. Nothing kills a prom like showing up and finding 200 clergy walking around the hotel. But when finding out that the clergy partied harder than the teenagers, I bet those teenagers probably wouldn’t mind. K did see one prom goer barely awake, slurping coffee at the lounge, at around 10:30 the following morning.

The Eucharist on Saturday was this big giant loaf thing. It was delicious.

Lutherans love to eat candy.

Lutherans also love to defend their position by comparing themselves to Martin Luther. We can’t help ourselves.

And, from what I can tell, I don’t think Trinity is going to have any problems finding a pastor. It’s good to be at a congregation that is growing, has a stable financial source, and a beautiful building. I’m hoping that the Call Process (that I will be the head of) will be easier than I’m afraid it could be.

Are you ready to get your Synod Assembly on?

Friday through Saturday, the Metropolitan New York Synod (belonging to the ELCA in case you didn’t know) is holding their annual Assembly. That means that close to 80% of all congregations in the NY Synod (numbering around 230 or so) will be in attendance. The assembly will be a time to mingle, to meet pastors, to hang out with the bishop, and get some time in at the hotel pool! I’m excited.

I spent almost 3 hours today talking to my pastor about the Assembly. Him, his wife (who is also a pastor), my fiancee and I will be there as voting members of the assembly. Resolutions will be brought up and passed or rejected. We’ll be given red and green cards to vote no and yes. Synod staff will give their reports about the budget, certain ministries, and other such things. Talk will revolve around how the Synod is handling certain internal issues – from the congregations under synodical administration (and to the one in Brooklyn that we’re in a quasi scuffle with over the property). But the big story, of course, will be about sex. It’ll be the same argument that’s been brewing for the last 40 years and has completely distracted the ELCA for the last decade. This has, of course, occurred to many other denominations in the US. Some are pro the recognition of same-sex unions, others not so much. The ELCA will be having it’s church wide assembly in August where the topic of recognizing some form of same sex unions and rostering gay pastors in same sex unions will come up. Synods across the country are deciding in these spring and summer months how to respond to the statement on human sexuality and these recommendations that an ELCA taskforce put forward. Some will reject; others will support. My guess is that most will probably not respond and have a wait and see attitude. One guaranteed thing though is that people at all these synod assemblies are going to stand up and give passionate statements about why gays should get married, why they shouldn’t get married, and why everyone who doesn’t believe that their side is right is a failure when it comes to being a Christian. Well, maybe no one will come out and say that but you can bet a lot of people will think it. I’m looking forward to see the sparks fly.

I’m not a life-long Lutheran. In fact, I might be the first Protestant in my family in three generations (I know I had a great grandmother who converted to Catholicism so she could marry my grand dad). For all I know, I’m the first Lutheran (that great grandma was Episcopalian). I don’t come into this Assembly experience with a lot of non-Catholic (or non-atheist/agnostic) church body experience. As a relatively new Lutheran, it’s exciting to not only see how the “system” works but also to just go out and meet other Lutheran clergy, lay Lutherans, and to see what this whole big 10 million member strong denomination looks like in the flesh. I know what “Catholics” looks like. I know what “secular humanists” look like. And, because of where I grew up, I know what “mormans” and “the evangelical right” look like. But Lutherans? All I got is my history books, a few blogs, my pastors, and my congregation. Luckily, my church is fantastic and my pastors are wonderful. I’ve also got a copy of the Book of Concord on my shelf and I know why it’s there. That has to mean something, right?

But it’s not hard to, when looking at the Agenda, the bulletins, the minutes from last year’s assembly, and just basic conversations with my pastors, to not feel a little behind. I’m at the point in my life where I can comfortably say, and acknowledge, what I don’t know. I don’t really know the history of Lutheranism in the US. I couldn’t explain to you, right at this moment, how Lutheran theology evolved, how it is different from all other denominations, and even how the different Lutheran denominations in the US handle it. I’ve read about it, of course, but I haven’t felt it or lived it. There is still a feeling of distance to it that I’m still struggling to overcome. I also don’t have the basic creeds memorized even though we say one every week at service. This past Easter, I made a vow to memorize them but I didn’t. I kept my Lenten fast (no Mexican food) but not the other thing. Repetition, sadly, is not how I can effectively memorize things. If that was true, I’d be able to sing out loud at least a thousand songs that I’ve heard a thousand times but I can’t. I’m cool with not knowing everything, at the moment. I know I’ll figure it out eventually. And I know when I attend this Assembly that there are many who feel as I do and there are many who know less about these things than even I know. My faith does not depend on merely what’s in my head but my personal faith grows and is nurtured by the more I know. I still feel as if I’m playing catch up though I’m not sure what I’m catching up too. It’s a struggle.

I’m not sure exactly how this Assembly is going to turn out. My guess is that there will be a 60-40 split in support of the recommendations spelled out in the ELCA’s Statement on Sexuality and its resolutions to roster gay pastors and support same-sex unions. I expect to hear a bunch of random stories that, while passionate, will not be necessarily relevant to the discussion at hand. I expect my pastor’s kid to run around and keep me entertained during the parts that make me yawn. I that there will be a lot of references to Lutheran traditions that will go over my head. I expect to find myself talking to my pastors quite a bit going “what does that mean?” when the talk turns legal and bureaucratic. And I also expect to sit there several times and, while watching the speaker at the microphone, ponder if anyone in the audience has a yellow card and how I could get them. I can’t be the only one who heard about the red and green cards and instantly though about soccer. Am I?

Postville – 1 Year Later


A statement from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and 16 ELCA bishops (including Bishop Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod) calling for the Obama administration to overhaul ICE and how they handle illegal immigrant families. I like this statement quite a bit and find it very encouraging in light of the upcoming Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly that is upcoming in a few days (and that I’ll be attending). Postville will hopefully be the watershed movement behind the reformation of ICE. The Supreme Court recently ruled against the standard ICE practice when it came to detaining and prosecuting illegal immigrants – getting immigrants to plead for shorter jail sentences in the face of major identity theft charges. And I’m excited to see that the Lutheran church in Postville is actually paying attention to the stranger. I find this all encouraging for the direction of the ELCA. Now if only the government would listen….

The ELCA on a tv near you.

The ELCA is harnessing the power of television to spread the word. And what are we saying? I guess we’re saying that we exist, that we participate in social ministries for the poor and unappreciated, and that our mission is worldwide in scope as we help women in Senegal start their own businesses. The ELCA’s slogan, at the moment, is “God’s work. Our hands.” after all. These two commercials fit that idea very well (and it also doesn’t hurt that the first ad name drops a church with the same name as mine though it is the #3 most common Lutheran church name in the US).

Of course, I have to wonder why these commercials are going to be on Glen Beck’s show unless the ELCA is trying to undermine the ideological sway that Glen Beck has on his viewers. What better way to combat ideological conservative narrow mindedness than with an expression of the all inclusive message of Jesus Christ? It could be the initial salvo against the armor of xenophobia, racism, ignorance, and other such idolatry. Or maybe someone on the ELCA advertising committee is a fan of Fox News. Sometimes being a big tent denomination means that not everyone shares your theological and political viewpoint. Ah well.

Bring some POP as a Crucifer at Trinity LIC.


I don’t have a lot of shoes. I tend to only wear two or three pairs before they wear out and develop holes in the bottom (which seems to only take about two months it seems). Currently, I’m wearing red Converse All-star Chucks when I go to the gym. I wear black low top Chucks when it’s hot and I bust out the sorts. And I wear a pair of Oxford clones from Urban Outfitters as my work/everyday shoe. The problem with the Oxfords is that they don’t have much traction on the bottom. In fact, they have none. I can slip and slide down a sidewalk like I’m skating in Bryant Park. When I’m carrying groceries from the store, that’s not very fun.

So, today at church, I was going to be the crucifer (and I ended up filling in as a chalice bearer during communion). As a crucifer, I lead the four processions that occur during service, carrying a large cruifix in the process. I’m also dressed in a white and black robe. My plan was to wear my oxfords because that’s kinda dressy and I tend to dress down for church and I wanted to be a little different today. But then I realized that the church’s floors were waxed two weeks ago. I spent all day yesterday running nightmare scenarios in my head where I slip while carrying the cross and it lands on my head and kills me. But since I’m already at the church when it happens, the funeral is short and sweet and quite lovely. And then Aretha Franklin comes by, wearing one of her hats, and brings the house down with her beautiful voice. The place would be packed of course. Hundreds of people would fill out into the streets. And my fiancee would throw herself onto my casket going “I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU!”. It would be very Hollywood and Michael Bay would do the special effects. I’d then haunt the church which would be nice until it’s eventually razed and some condos are put in its place. That’s how it always goes.

Anyways, not wanting that to happen, I wore my red Chucks instead. Nothing makes the old ladies at church excited than seeing my red Chucks carrying the cross or when they bend down and say “Amen” after they dip the bread into the cup. One even told me that she liked my shoes before she said Amen right after I said “The Blood of Christ shed for you”. I couldn’t help it but say “Thanks!” I’m not sure the Church Fathers would have approved.

Stations of the Cross on Good Friday

A print of a watercolor showing Trinity Lutheran Church in Astoria, NY

Due to recent changes in my job (*cough* unpaid vacation until April 27th, recession, blah blah blah *cough*, I was able to attend both Good Friday services at my church yesterday. The noon service was a bare bones service, no holy communion, the altar was bare, there was little music, and the cross was a chipped, wooden artifact that had seen many outdoor services when Trinity use to conduct those a generation ago. My fiancee and I were originally scheduled as lectors (she read from Isaiah, I read from Hebrews) but had, at first, thought we’d skip it and only attend the 7:30 service. However, things didn’t turn out the way we originally planned.

During the noon day service, we prayed for an interfaith reconciliation and prayed for an ecumenical reunion of the Church and of people of all faith. We pray for this quite frequently at our church. As a member of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and part of the larger world body of the Lutheran Federation, and in communion with some Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, the ecumenical movement is something that we focus on quite a bit. Pentecost and the Unity of the Church is something that we seek which our denomination holds onto as not only a historic relic from Martin Luther’s original attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church, but also as a fulfillment of the new commandment to not only love our neighbors as ourselves but also to love one another. It is sometimes easier to do the former than the later.

As a nice book end to that short intercessory prayer said during the noon service, Trinity participated as the Fourth Station of the Cross in Most Precious Blood’s annual parade. Most Precious Blood is our local Catholic Parish. They march down the road, music playing, close to 1000 members with candles and lights. They carry a statue of Mary, several of Jesus, and a glass coffin containing an image of Jesus’s dead body. We meet them at the front steps of our church. There’s roughly 30 of us compared to them but that’s how it is every year. I’ll have pictures of the event posted soon.

As the Fourth Station, our pastor reads a little bit about Mary, says a short prayer, and a hymn to Mary is sung by the procession. Mary isn’t typically part of our piety (though she’ll always be a part of mine – the Lady of Guadeloupe has had special reverence for me even when I wasn’t Christian) and the procession even asked before had if it was ok if a hymn to Mary was sung in front of Trinity. My pastor said of course it was. Before the prayer was said, several members joked whether the coffin would be brought into our church and paraded through. A member of our choir told us that had happened before and then related a story that is, in my mind, a sign of our previous noon day prayer.

She told the story of how our synod’s bishop came to worship at Trinity (or was installed at Trinity). The glass coffin was brought in to the church, marched through one side and out the other. While there, the Catholic procession saw the bishop in his vestments and immediately approached him and began to kiss his ring. It freaked the bishop out at first – this isn’t something Lutherans do. He tried to tell them that he wasn’t a Catholic bishop but they didn’t care. He was, for a moment at least, their bishop. Five hundred years of schism, countless wars, excommunication, strife, and theological distance between the two denominations were reconciled for a brief moment. And on that Good Friday, it’s compelling to see that even 2000 years after Joseph asked for Christ’s body, as Jesus is lifted on the cross, he still brings all to him.

Which totally reminds me that I still haven’t memorized the creeds like I said I was going to at the start of Lent. Sigh. Someday. Someday.

Rick Warren talks to Christianity Today, remains completely unsexy while doing so

Sigh. Rick Warren did an interview with Christianity to Today to talk about gay marriage, the inauguration, the recession, and himself. In fact, it was mostly about him talking about himself. He is, after all, a personality. His churches and ministries are a mixture of a cult of personality and charisma that he reinforces through his speaking tours, his interviews, and his constant attempt at weaseling himself out of being labeled and being called out for what he does. He walks the fine line between integrity, commitment, and being a charlatan. His actions, and his mouth, tend not to agree with each other and he demands, and expects, that “others” will give any statement or action he does the benefit of any doubt. Everything he does is a positive gray and if it’s not seen as such, it is his detractors who are at fault, who are misinterpeting him, who are flawed. A rock is never just a rock it seems.

Rick Warren and I stand opposed on quite a few issues. We look at the same scripture, at the same religious traditions, at the same beliefs, at the same Trinity and His history with all people, and we come to different conclusions. That’s fine; Christianity is bigger than both Rick Warren and I. Where he sees literalism as religious tradition, I see cultural behaviors interfering with the work of the Holy Spirit. Where he sees a war between secularism and religion, I see a cultural struggle between science, the evolution of society, and the struggle with other. Where he sees persecution and reverse discrimination, I see a failure to approach oneself as critically as Scripture demands. Where he sees the story of the community of John’s expulsion from the synagogue as a required constant in the proclamation of the Gospel, I see a belief and faith structure that doesn’t realize that it is the synagogue. Where Rick Warren sees seekers as the primary mode of human existence, I see a failure to remember the young man who fled naked from the garden.

And on this day before Good Friday, I’m reminded of Peter’s 3 denials which I think Rick Warren, and his ilk, would do good to remember. Peter, standing tall, had no problem telling Jesus that Peter would not deny Jesus even if it lead to Peter’s death. Rick Warren always falls back on what “love” is. He, like many of the evangelical right, come under the misguided notion that “love” is less action and more a righteous of statement. He is right that we are commanded to love but he is wrong in believing that just by saying that, he does love. He is wrong when he believes that he is outside the political system when he brings presidential candidates to his church. He is wrong when he tries to act independent from his cultural surroundings when he, in reality, is merely an expression of it. He is wrong in embracing diversity while caught in a lie about his support for Proposition 8. He is, in a sense, trying to falsify who he is, where he stands, and what makes him who he is and how he is viewed on a national stage. His mind is turned toward human things.

Rick Warren comes out and lies, saying “You can discuss any issue except sexuality. That’s off the table. It’s the one area that is taboo.“. Coming from a member of the evangelical right, I find that to be very funny. Proposition 8, the gay marriage bans in 26 states, the fight against feminism, and even today’s attempt in Iowa of republicans in the state house trying to strong arm a gay marriage amendment, shows that sexuality is not off the table. It never has been and never will be. For almost 2000 years, Christian churches have been talking about sex. For 10,000 years, modern civilization has as well. We, as a species, like talking about sex. What Rick Warren is really saying is that sexuality is taboo because people disagree with him and they won’t shut up about it. For someone who believes that disagreements are not a sign of an inability to love, that is a very curious statement to make.

Rick Warren struggles with what we all struggle with, the idea that it is difficult to look past the film covering our eyes. Our cultural heritage, our language, our societal training, our parents, our families, our loved ones, our peers, and our little private worlds of individuality, all make it difficult to love as God loved us. Today, as Christians reflect on the Last Supper, it’s time to really embrace the new commandment that we were given. Look beyond our own private enterprise and turn to those that Jesus turned too – the rejected, the minorities, the outcasts, the sick, the poor, and the unrighteous. And not to make the mistake of Rick Warren and to miss the fact that us Christians, as the super majority religious belief system in the United States, are not just the persecuted but also the persecutors. We reject, we cast out, we separate, and we judge. And until we acknowledge that, believe it, and understand it, we will always make the mistake to create our own definition of love, a definition that falsely reflects human things at the expense of what comes from us above.

The End of Christian America

The End of Christian America is, of course, not about the end of Christian America. It is about the end of the evangelical right’s dream and vision of their Christian America which is rightly identified as one of the temptations that Jesus said no to but one that the Church said yes too. As much as I agree about this article, I can’t help but question how much of our religious and cultural history is tied to the fact that we value rebellion, stressing it even more than the article above.

It reminds me of a story I read on another blog about how a mega church had discovered that their young people were now seeking high church services – services that were the opposite of the services their parents were participating in. The pastor of that story had success learning about liturgy (which was something he never heard of before). He went to discuss his findings at a conference only to be confounded by others from high church services who’s young people wanted low church/contemporary services. The pastor said that young people were “complicated”. Or maybe it has less to do with complication and more to do with our inherent desire, as young children, to seek out what is different from our parents.

The trick, of course, is that most revert back to their parents in some way as the years go by. But Americans have always valued the young and as our young generation now looks different than the old – more multicultural, more brown, less family oriented (even though the religious right tried to create a generation against that; they failed), the gen xers and millennials are now reverting away from what their parents wanted. And why? Because not only does America value rebellion (within a specific guidelines of course), America also tends to rewards them as well with a stable life. Societal mobility does not only mean that one is no longer limited to the status of ones birth – it also allows one to escape and move beyond the status of their childhood and life. As mainstream Protestant Christianity faded from the public eye and was replaced by the evangelical right, a large generation has begun to rebel away from their evangelical right traditions. And with the cultural makeup of the United States changing as well (when a town like Irving Texas has 70% of their elementary school students of hispanic descendent, that is a large cultural shift), there are currently other cultural and societal shifts that can consciously and subconsciously occupy our time.

The Evangelical Right’s political muscle broke in 2006 and started to fade as quickly as it had appeared. And it’s definition of what religious tradition is in the United States is going to fade as quickly as every other blowback has in the US tradition from various other Great Awakenings. The culture wars of the last decades does not necessary have to be defined by morality, judgment, class or race. It is, actually, defined by the fact that Americans are focused on the individual. We dislike “others” telling us what to do. And that, like the author says, is the United State’s real religion which is something that many people, on both sides of the aisle, don’t want to agree on because if everyone hates “others”, then we’re all the same. And if we’re all the same, the demons of our society are far too close to home.