Thursday, October 22, 2020

Pope Francis and Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples

At some point yesterday, I became aware of Pope Francis' approval of civil union as an option for same-sex couples, the comment that was part of a documentary released yesterday (October 21).

To be honest, my first thought was to wonder if this approval was truly newsworthy.  Hadn't he already signaled his support?

Yes in some ways his support has been there, but yesterday may have been the clearest statement of approval.  I have Catholic friends who pointed out that he's not opening up the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples, but that his approval of civil unions is a step forward.

I know that some people might be frustrated with these steps forward, at how small they seem.  I know that some people might wonder why the Supreme Court of the U.S. is moving forward at a faster pace than the pope.

Some people might say that the pronouncements of a pope no longer matter at all.  But that's not true; this article in The Washington Post tells us otherwise:  "Researchers have found that people are more likely to express support for same-sex marriage when they have been exposed to that message from an “in-group” leader, such as a politician or a pastor. In one experiment, [Brian] Harrison* found that religious participants who read a statement in support of gay rights written by a prominent religious figure were more likely to agree than if the statement had been written by an anonymous writer."

I saw this tweet from James J. Martin, a famous writer who is a Catholic priest:  "For those who think the Pope's comments about same-sex civil unions are no big deal: Perhaps in the US or Western Europe. But in places like Poland, where some bishops are virulently anti-LGBT; or Uganda, where bishops side with laws criminalizing homosexuality, it's a big deal."

And let's put the matter in terms that are more stark.  In many parts of the world, homosexuality isn't just a crime, it's a crime punishable by death.  Will those places immediately change because of the pronouncements of the pope?  Probably not.  

But the history of social change shows us that these changes happen incrementally--the landscape won't change immediately, but in 10 or 20 years, it will be different.  The pronouncements of religious leaders do still shape the direction.  And although I'm not Catholic, I'm glad that the pope is helping to move the world towards more inclusivity.

*Harrison is a political science lecturer at the University of Minnesota.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel for Reformation Sunday

The readings for Sunday, October 25, 2020:

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm: Psalm 46

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28

Gospel: John 8:31-36

In past years, before the pandemic, I might have written a meditation about reform and how we shouldn't be afraid of times of reformation.  It's easy to write those kinds of words in gentle times, when we think we can control the pace of reform.

It's easy to be pro-Reformation when we're thinking about times of reformation in the past.  It's also easy to remember the positive elements of those times of reformation while forgetting the upheaval that times of reformation can bring.  Those of us who love elements of Celtic Christianity may have forgotten that we have those elements because of a time of Roman invasion and immigration.  Those of us who have memorized all the words to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" may have forgotten how that Martin Luther's ideas triggered centuries of destruction in the name of God.

Now we are in a time which might come to be seen as just as important in terms of how we think about church and the ways to do and be the church.  Many of us will not be singing together this Sunday, and certainly not in ways that we used to sing together.  Many of us now see our worship on a screen.  Some of us mourn this fact, but for many others, this move online has given much more access to a wider variety of people, and not just the people who can't leave their houses.

When we can gather again in person, I hope that we keep elements of this online life too.  I hope that we can find ways to integrate our online presence and our in sanctuary presence to make a community that's much more inclusive than we've been before.

We should take comfort from the knowledge that the Church has always been in the process of Reformation. There are great Reformations, like the one we'll celebrate this Sunday, or the Pentecostal revolution that's only 100 years old, but has transformed the developing world (third worlds and those slightly more advanced) in ways that Capitalism never could. There are smaller ones throughout the ages as well. Movements which seemed earth-shattering at the time--monastic movements of all kinds, liberation theology, ordination of women, lay leadership--may in time come to be seen as something that enriches the larger church. Even gross theological missteps, like the Inquisition, can be survived. The Church learns from past mistakes as it moves forward.

Times of Reformation can enrich us all. Even those of us who reject reform can find our spiritual lives enriched as we take stock and measure what's important to us, what compromises we can make and what we can't. It's good to have these times where we return to the Scriptures as we try to hear what God calls us to do.

Once the dust settles, each of the previous time periods of Reformation has left the Church enriched, but enriched in ways that no one could have predicted--that's what makes it scary, after all. As we approach Reformation Sunday, I'd encourage each of us to tap our own inner Martin Luther. What is the Church doing well? What could be changed for the better? What part can we play?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Spiritual Scraps from Quilt Camp

The time at quilt camp did inspire me to think about quilting as metaphors for our spiritual lives.  Here are some initial ideas:

A wide variety of quilts can be made from the same medium, cloth.  

God, the ultimate quilter, can use small pieces or large swaths to create something new and more than the sum of its parts:

Quilts themselves have a variety of purposes:  to keep us warm while we sleep, to protect us from the floor, to decorate, to make us smile:

Some of us may feel that our lives are not a whole cloth, that we just have a collection of small pieces or scraps even more slender than fingers:


Happily, God is a talented quilter who can use every bit, no matter  how small.

You may protest that your life is shredded too small to be made into a whole cloth:

But God can create something delightful:

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Spiritual Side of Quilt Camp

I wasn't sure what to expect from quilt camp in terms of the spiritual aspect.  I knew that we'd have devotions each morning, devotions led by our leader who has graduate level training.  Would she tie it into quilting?  Would there be a larger theological theme?

Our leader, Mitzi Spencer Schafer decided to focus on prayer for our theme.  On Thursday morning, we thought about the Lord's Prayer.  Mitzi talked about how many of us see ourselves as the actors in our prayers, but we don't always think about God and the actions that God takes.  We took some time to meditate on what the Lord's Prayer teaches us about the priorities of God.  For more, read Mitzi's blog post here.

On Friday morning, we talked about prayer breathing, and then we went through the process together.  If you'd like to try it, Mitzi's blog post is the next best thing to being here with us.

On Saturday morning, we had a brief session where Mitzi introduced the concept of Mad Libs.  In my child, we used them to create a HILARIOUS piece of writing.  You'd fill in blanks with an adjective or a color or a way of doing a verb or something you'd find at the beach.  Then you'd get the information around the blanks, and if you were lucky, unintended humor ensued.

Mitzi had created a Mad Lib around Psalm 150--if you want to try for yourself, her blog post has a downloadable form.  Mitzi asked us to spend the day thinking about how we'd fill in the blanks and said we'd read them in the evening, if we felt OK with sharing.  Here's what I created:

We had great responses.  I loved how we filled in the blanks with activities we were doing during the retreat, along with larger aspects.  One person wrote "with tired eyes and just one more row."  Laughter showed up on more than one list.  

I loved this process for the reasons that I love poetry--at its best, it was a great way to get us thinking about what we'd been doing and what God has been doing in a new way.

In fact, that was one of the recurring themes of the devotion time, and I can't think of many better ways to spend our reflective time together.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Feast Day of Saint Luke in a Time of Pandemic

On October 18, we celebrate the life of St. Luke, an evangelist and a doctor, or perhaps a healer would be a more accurate way of thinking about the ancient approach to medical care. 

But St. Luke was so much more: he’s also the patron saint of artists, students, and butchers. He’s given credit as one of the founders of iconography. And of course, he was a writer--both of one of the Gospels and the book of Acts. As we think about the life of St. Luke, let us use his life as a guide for how we can bring ourselves back to health and wholeness.

The feast day of St. Luke offers us a reason to evaluate our own health—why wait until the more traditional time of the new year like the start of a new year? Using St. Luke as our inspiration, let’s think about the ways we can promote health of all kinds.

Do we need to schedule some check-ups? October is perhaps most famous for breast cancer awareness month, but there are other doctors that many of us should see on a regular basis. For example, if you get a lot of sun exposure, or if you live in southern states, you should get a baseline check up from your dermatologist.  If we've put off medical care because the nation is in the grip of a pandemic, this feast day is a good opportunity to think about how to get that health care safely.  The pandemic will be here for awhile, so let's not delay any longer, if we need professional care for our physical selves.

Many of us don’t need to visit a doctor to find out what we can do to promote better health for ourselves. We can eat more fruits and vegetables. We can drink less alcohol. We can get more sleep. We can exercise and stretch more.

Maybe we need to look to our mental or spiritual health. If so, Luke can show us the way again.

Luke is famous as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, but it’s important to realize that he likely didn’t see himself as writing straight history. He was maintaining a record of amazing events that showed evidence of God’s salvation.

It’s far too easy to ignore evidence of God’s presence in the world. We get bogged down in our own disappointments and our deeper depressions. But we could follow the example of Luke and write down events that we see in our own lives and the life of our churches that remind us of God’s grace. Even if it’s a practice as simple as a gratitude journal where each day we write down several things for which we’re grateful, we can write our way back to right thinking.

As we think about St. Luke, we can look for ways to deepen our spiritual health. In popular imagination, Luke gets credit for creating the first icon of the Virgin Mary. Maybe it’s time for us to try something new.

We could experiment with the visual arts to see how they could enrich our spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke knew that there are many paths to health of all sorts. Now, on his feast day, let us resolve to spend the coming year following his example and restoring our lives to a place of better health.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Camp and the Changes that Plague Makes Necessary

It's been interesting being at Quilt Camp at Lutheridge.  Faithful readers may or may not remember that Lutheridge is one of my all-time favorite places, one of the few places on earth where I truly feel at home.  I've been coming to this camp since I was a child, and my mom was one of the first camp counselors back when Lutheridge first opened.

It's a different year, this year.  It's strange, in some ways, to gather as a group when a highly contagious virus with no vaccine and no cure burns across the planet.  But we've all been wearing masks for months, so it's not as strange as I thought it would be.

We're meeting in the dining hall not the Faith Center.  The Faith Center is being used by the YMCA, which is running an all-day program for kids whose parents have to report to work away from home.  The children are in virtual school, so they spend time "in class" in the Faith Center and take breaks outside. It's interesting to hear children's voices echoing across Lutheridge in a non-summer season.

We are meeting in the dining hall, and for the most part, we stay at our tables.  If we leave our tables, we wear our masks.  At our tables, some of us continue to wear masks, but most of us don't.  

Meals are different these days at camp.  The main difference is that we don't serve ourselves, and we take our food back to our work tables, so we're eating socially distanced.  I thanked one of the workers and said that I wished she didn't have the extra work to do.  She said, "We're just so grateful to have jobs."

I've been thinking about this retreat and whether or not the Create in Me retreat could meet in a similar way, and I have to conclude that we could not.  Of course, we could change the retreat radically, and it may be time for some changes that makes the retreat a little easier to plan.

And I'm aware that after almost 20 years, it may be time for that retreat to retire.  The camp still hasn't replaced the program directors who announced their retirement a year ago.  The new program director may have very different ideas of what should be offered.

I have really enjoyed having huge swaths of unstructured time to work on our own projects.  It's still inspiring to see what people are doing.  We're still able to learn from each other.

Could the Create in Me retreat work in a similar way?  Most everyone who attends does have a creative practice.  I'd enjoy that kind of retreat, a chance to bring the projects which are speaking to me most.  If I don't get to try out new things, that would be fine with me.  There have only been a few practices through the years that I took home with me and was still doing a year or more later.  It's been useful to figure out what I didn't want to do because I had a chance to experience them at the retreat.

One difference with this retreat is that we could arrive on Wednesday afternoon, and for just an extra $35, we could get an extra night (some people are sleeping off site and wouldn't need lodging) and have Thursday morning breakfast.  I'm so glad that I did this!  Several Create in Me friends are at this retreat, and as we've talked about possible changes to that retreat, they've talked of shortening it so that we'd arrive on Friday.  But I think expanding it to include an optional Wednesday arrival would be cool, especially for people like me who are coming from far away.

I'm so grateful to have had time away, to have had a chance to create, to have a space to share.  And the retreat isn't over yet--we don't leave until late tomorrow morning!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Quilt Camp!

I am writing from my room at Lutheridge--at long last, I've made it to Quilt Camp!

I say at long last, because I wanted to go last year.  But last year's Quilt Camp happened just before our big accreditation visit, and I knew I wouldn't enjoy it even if I could get away from work, which I probably couldn't do.  I was determined to go this year.

This year, it was unclear that the retreat would happen, given that there's a pandemic raging across the country.  But the camp folks figured out how we could be socially distanced and masked and reduce our risks.  It seemed worth the risk to me.  We are not working in close proximity to each other; we're spread out across the camp dining hall.  We could open windows and doors, if we want additional air flow to reduce risk.  There are only 13 of us.  Here's a sense of how the room is set up:

I had some vacation time that will vanish if I don't use it before Oct. 31, so I am even happier to be here, using that time for a real treat of a get away:  quilts and Lutheridge and the mountains and a trip to the apple orchard that's still open!

I'm also interested to see how this retreat will work.  The retreat  is mostly long periods of unstructured time.  One devotion in the morning, and a sharing time in the evening (sharing as in more like show and tell than emotional sharing). The room is open around the clock--last year, one group of women worked until 3 a.m.

This schedule is unlike the Create in Me retreat schedule, where there was more Bible study and worship.  Of course, if we have a Create in Me retreat this year, the schedule might be different too.  I know that the planners for this Quilt Camp retreat have been very focused on how to do this quilt retreat safely.

Truth to tell, I'm fine with less Bible study or small groups or any of the other things a retreat schedule might have traditionally.  I really want to get this quilt finished:

I'm also interested to see if we could do something similar at my church--and I'm interested in what I can learn for how we might run the Create in Me retreat safely.

More to come . . .