Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Yesterday (9/14) was the second anniversary of my ordination. It's hard to believe it's been two years since all those hands and prayers pressed down on me. I remember other pastors talking about how heavy that felt on their ordination. It didn't to me at the time, but I suspect the weight increases over time.

I had particular reason (and time) to reflect on my own vocation yesterday as I sat in an Anchorage courtroom and waited out a jury selection. Despite having a relatively low draft number (so to speak), I was not selected. I did not try to get out of service. I try to fulfill the duties of citizenship, since I do enjoy its privileges. A few people asked if I was going to wear my collar and I said I wouldn't. I didn't because I don't wear it on a day to day basis. It's not really part of my wardrobe and not totally expected from my community.

However, there was another collar in the jury pool. A late-middle-aged man wore a black shirt with the little white tab shining prominently at his throat. He looked like a priest out of a book a picture book. In one of the toddler books of opposites around my house, a picture of this man would have been "a priest" and a picture of me would be "young upstart".

Of course, that's not really the way I see myself, but sometimes... This gentleman made to questioning where he revealed that he was an Orthodox priest, had been for many years and felt he would be an excellent juror because he's used to listening to people and thinking things through. When asked about wearing his collar, the prosecuting attorney gestured to an airman in the room and said, "It's like your uniform?" The priest said, "It's what I put on every day." The attorneys referred to him as "Father" and he was seated on the jury, wherein I'm sure he'll do an excellent job. His only concern was that people might find it difficult to disagree with him and he wanted people to see him as a regular person.

As I listened to him, his thoughts about his collar and how the lawyers spoke to him with care, I reflected on my own thoughts about my collar. In general, the shirts for women aren't very comfortable. The cotton ones bind and the microfiber ones are pricy and not easily replaced, which doesn't translate well to picking up toddlers or any number of things I do on a daily basis.

My experience, though, tells me it's not the collar that makes a pastor. It's not even the ordination, though that helps. It's the time. The time you spend in prayer and reflection. The time you spend listening. The time you spend sitting. The waiting time. The talking time. The travel time.

I wear a collar to early morning hospital visits and to "official" events. I wear one for most church services and for some house calls. There are also people, in the church, for whom the collar is a barrier to communication. I don't wear it when I thin raspberry bushes, when I take a walk, when I stop by after work.

I did promise to wear my collar every day for a week at once point and I need to uphold my end of the bargain. I feel eyes go right to it when I do wear it, but maybe I need to feel that. And maybe people need to see a wider variety of people in collars these days.

I keep thinking of the priest saying, "It's what I put on in the morning." If that was a question, (What do you put on the morning), I would answer, "Christ."

That's the most important part. The remaining question is, am I willing to let everyone see that?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Koinonia and Social Statements

I recently finished reading the ELCA's Draft Social Statement on Genetics (found here). It's broad document, like most social statements, that seeks to provide a biblical and ethical framework for discussions around the topic of genetics. When people hear the term genetics, they may believe the conversation is linked to heritability within human or animal populations, but the conversations around genetic research stretch into farming, global communication, insurance, social service programs, cloning, artificial reproductive technology, food distribution, medicine... and on and on.

As with most of the ELCA's social statements, the draft social statement on genetics offers a few strongly worded passages on the church's stands and, also, much acknowledgement of the reality of sin in the world and in our lives.

At the conclusion of the statement (p. 35) is this passage:

Since the earliest days, Christians have claimed to be part of a koinonia. They have understood this Greek word to carry dynamic and layered meanings of "mutuality," "fellowship," "community" and "union." Together these meanings suggest a fundamental commitment to shared participation and a "holding in common."

Christian mutuality (koinonia) is not a goal or an end in itself but the means and evidence of being held as one in Christ while sharing in God's love for each other. Such mutuality is grounded in God's love for each other. Such mutuality is grounded in God's grace to each member, even though all fall short of deserving it. God's love is the basis, model, source and motivation for mutuality in the Christian church (John 13:31-35).

Of everything that I read in this statement, these are the paragraphs that will stick with me, especially the difference between community as means and community as an end.

I often hear of calls to make church like it used to be. I realize this comes out of people's longing for a time they felt they understood, with less change, with more familiarity. We frequently try to envision a future for a congregation that looks much like our not-too-distant past without really considering the way the world and we have changed between now and then. Through that kind of goal-setting, our hope is achieving the community we once knew or thought we did.

However, if we recognize koinonia, or Christian community, as our means, rather than our end goal, it changes how we look at our church life. If we understand that we are called together to support one another, in certainty and uncertainty, with our eyes toward the fulfillment of our faith as the end goal. The existence of our community of faith is evidence of the continued work of the Holy Spirit, granting and stirring up faith, and we discover and celebrate that evidence together.

This sharing in community is what keeps us going. It is what's kept the church going for, lo, these 1980 years or so as we await the return of Christ, in whom is our beginning and our end.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. That tie is koinonia and it lasts and keeps us going, through all kinds of changes, until the end comes.