Friday Link Love

Right to it:

Beautiful Imperfection – O Magazine

This week, as the Miss Representation trailer has been zipping around Facebook, O Magazine hits the stands with a photo of a model with lines where she would need to be ‘shopped or sliced in order to look like Barbie:

I’m a little boggled that the model above is identified as being “plus sized,” and a few of the comments I read insisted that this beautiful gal was overweight and unhealthy. Aroo?

I hope this photo circulates widely. Kudos to photographer Matthew Rolston.


Coming Out as an Evangelical Supporter of Gay Rights – Mark Achtemeier

This Saturday I was privileged to speak at the ordination of a man I believe will be a wonderful minister. That man, Scott Anderson, happens to be the first openly gay person ordained in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), since a historic policy shift last July.

Scott’s congregation in Madison was bursting with celebration during the service. However, not everyone in our denomination felt joyful.

I understand this distress because, as a lifelong conservative Christian, for most of my life I would have felt the same way.

Thanks be to God for Dr. Achtemeier’s conversion and witness.


Laughing in Church – Faith and Leadership

Levity is still considered excessive in some churches. (Believe me, I’ve visited them and worshiped in them.) And when bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, ministers, pastors, elders, pastoral associates, music ministers, hospital chaplains, directors of religious education, and religious education teachers act as if they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, that no job is as difficult as theirs, and that they alone are responsible for doing God’s work, then we’re in trouble.


10Q: Reflect. React. Renew.

A place to write and reflect on ten questions, in commemoration of the Jewish High Holidays. Why don’t Presbyterians do anything this cool?


With Time Running Short, Jobs Managed His Farewells – New York Times

If you’re not tired of all the Steve Jobs articles, this is a good one. People wanted to give him awards and honor him at banquets, but near the end, he just wanted to have dinner at home with his kids. This is a good one about saying “No” in order to say a bigger “Yes.”


How Yelp Is Killing Chain Restaurants – Ezra Klein

Business at chain restaurants is decreasing as the popularity of Yelp increases. Good stuff!

We use Yelp a lot, and have even started using it on road trips, a practice Robert instigated. I often bristle at first, because local restaurants are typically a few miles off the interstate and I just like to get where we’re going. But it almost always turns out much better—more pleasant and interesting than the fast food options.


Pendulum Motion (YouTube)

This delighted my kids the other day:

Have a great weekend.

I Made a Video!

Bruce Reyes-Chow is coordinating the We Are Presbyterian 2011 project, in which people made videos addressing our denomination and saying whatever they’d like to say. Click on the link above for the complete listing—I can’t wait to dive into them! What fun.

My thoughts originated with a conversation at Preacher Camp, then a few weeks ago I woke up from a dream and the video was fully formed in my mind. (I wish the book would work like that.) For those of you who’d like a different metaphor for our church than “deathly ill,” I provide a counter-testimony—an alternate diagnosis.

There are a lot of things I would change, and there was a span of time when I was cursing the families of those dastardly people who wrote iMovie, but I learned a lot and can now add “video production” to my bag of tricks.

We Are Presbyterian 2011 — A New “Diagnosis” for the Church from MaryAnn McKibben Dana on Vimeo.

Constructive feedback welcome. Comments on the ideas especially welcome.

What is a Denomination?

The latest from Seth Godin:

Organization vs. movement vs. philosophy

An organization uses structure and resources and power to make things happen. Organizations hire people, issue policies, buy things, erect buildings, earn market share and get things done. Your company is probably an organization.

movement has an emotional heart. A movement might use an organization, but it can replace systems and people if they disappear. Movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers. The internet, it turns out, is a movement, and every time someone tries to own it, they fail.

philosophy can survive things that might wipe out a movement and that would decimate an organization. A philosophy can skip a generation or two. It is often interpreted, and is more likely to break into autonomous groups, to morph and split and then reunite. Industrialism was a philosophy.

The trouble kicks in when you think you have one and you actually have the other.

So what is a Christian denomination? Is it an organization, a movement, or a philosophy?

The answer to that question helps determine the level of angst one feels over being in a post-denominational reality.

Can You Love An Institution?

I don't know. Really?

A word of caution: the thoughts are not fully baked on this post. The toothpick does not come out clean. I’m hoping for some back and forth.

Rob Bell did an amazing series on forgiveness two summers ago, and one of the things he said repeatedly is that you can’t forgive an institution. You can’t forgive the company that fired you. You can’t forgive The Church. You can forgive the people who wronged you, and that can include people within that institution—possibly even most of the people in that institution, either for wrongs done or complicity through silence. I think what he’s getting at is that forgiveness is a relational thing. Forgiveness requires a face.

What do you think?

Some of our Reformed theologians talk about societal-level sin, the “isms” and idolatries that pervade an entire people, that are built into unjust structures. I resonate with this, and yet I am intrigued by Bell’s assertion about forgiveness being personal. Do you think these two thoughts are mutually exclusive?

There was a short but interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday about whether it is possible to love an institution. I know (and love) people who say, “I love the PCUSA.” I feel like that needs some unpacking. Is “love” the right word? And what is meant by “the PCUSA”? Its connectional structure? Its history? Its theology? Its people?

I do love the people. And I think our theology is rich. Our history is complex, instructive. And our connectionalism is pretty rad as a guiding structure. Or some might say, “connectionalism is the worst system of church government, except for all the others.”

But something in me stops short of saying that I love the PCUSA. That, to me, is like saying I love capitalism, or representative democracy. Does love, like forgiveness, require a face? Does love presuppose at least the possibility of being loved back? The institution has been good to me. But the institution does not love me. People within the institution love me.

There’s a lot of anxiety in some quarters about the future of the denomination. The impetus behind our proposed new, smaller, more flexible Form of Government is in part an acknowledgement that the bureaucracy that has been built up since the 1950s no longer serves us. Some find that shift necessary. Others find it simply scary. Some find it scary AND necessary.

Will the PCUSA as we know it cease to exist? It’s worth remembering that the PCUSA is younger than I am. As I said yesterday on Twitter, our history, our theology, will live on in this Reformed branch of the tree. I don’t worry about that.

Anyway. If it is possible to love an institution, how does that love play out with an institution that needs to (and will) change, or maybe even cease to exist in its current form? It could be a positive or negative effect.

On the positive side, love requires attentiveness, intentionality. Real love is not blind. Real love calls forth our best selves, not to get too Oprah-ish. So maybe that love of the PCUSA could call forth something really exciting.

But on the negative side, loving an institution is fundamentally different than loving a person or a pet, who have a finite life cycle. At some point, the object of our love must die. Institutions, on the other hand, can theoretically be immortal. So love could also compel us to keep the denomination on life support way beyond what is helpful or faithful.


My Most Controversial PCUSA/10A Post All Week

Well, I think it is, anyway. I’ve written two other posts related to 10A this week. (Amendment 10A changes the ordination standards to permit gay and lesbian people in committed relationships to be ordained; more here.) But more than the other two, this post has me quaking a bit, because I want to be as precise as I can.

Preface: I am with Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the PCUSA, in placing a high premium on graciousness, even and especially when one’s point of view prevails. I write this in that spirit.

There’s a lot of stuff floating around the intertubes since this decision—here’s one great list of responses. There is a concern, or perhaps just an awareness, that congregations might be leaving the PC(USA) over this decision. Some already have—one estimate is that 100 congregations (out of our 11,000) have left in recent years over this.

One item zipping around the ‘tubes is a letter to those who are troubled by the decision—when I see a copy on the Internet I’ll link to it. It was written by a couple of pastors in Chicagoland, but signed by several other folks, including some friends of mine. I was asked to sign this letter but opted not to. This blog post tries to explain why.

In essence, the letter expresses gratitude for the passage of 10A. At the same time, it asks those who are disappointed not to leave the denomination. The PC(USA) would be poorer without you and your voice, as we believe it would be without us and our voice, the authors write. I have heard this sentiment expressed from many quarters—24 former moderators of the PC(USA) offered a similar letter, saying, We believe that the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs the voices and gifts of all of us, whether we agree with Amendment 10-A or not. Our unity is strengthened by our diversity, and vigorous debate as well as mutual forbearance is essential to the body.

This sentiment is practically sacrosanct in certain liberal circles (not that all of our former moderators are liberals). And I completely agree that a denomination is strengthened by hearing a diversity of voices. This is fundamentally theological: we are united in Christ through our baptism, not our opinions. We are adopted into this family, this crazy, cranky, contentious, sometimes and unexpectedly beautiful family.

And engagement with people of differing views helps strengthen and hone one’s own view. And sometimes, people’s hearts are changed. I need my heart changed on a great many things. Not to mention the fact that, while I might disagree with people about GLBT issues, I might agree with them, and even find common cause with them, around other issues. We are not a single-issue denomination.

That said, here are a few reasons why I can’t sign on to pleas for people to stay:

1. Public witness to those outside the church: Yes, community across theological lines is important. But at one point does unity compromise our witness? I have a number of friends, non-religious friends, who find issues of GLBT equality to be a complete no-brainer. (In fact, it’s worth mentioning that the number 1 view of Christians from young people outside the church is that we are “anti-gay”.) It’s hard enough for them to understand why I would remain in a denomination in which so many people oppose gay rights and the full equality and participation of gay persons. What does it say to them about my conviction on these matters when I start begging people to stick around who don’t value that? What does it say to GLBT people who have been hurt by the church?

This works the other way too. For people who feel that they are being biblically faithful by opposing GLBT inclusion in leadership, perhaps it dilutes their mission and ministry to remain in fellowship with me, who clearly interprets the Bible very differently. More on this in #5.

2. It acknowledges our post-denominational, decentralized reality. I recently heard a lament that there are 38,000 denominations world-wide. Though it might be heretical to ask this, why is this so bad? Is our goal really one big super-denomination? We already have that; it’s called the church universal. I think 38,000 denominations is a good thing. If anything, we could stand to be even more decentralized. The Internet provides manifold ways for congregations and individuals to connect—we no longer need a bureaucracy to do that work for us.

Also, if the Presbyterian Church down the street leaves the denomination, it’s not like I’m suddenly going to brand them as evil. They’ve just… left the denomination. They are still my brother and sister in Christ. Perhaps it’s because I’m relatively new to the PCUSA, but I simply do not understand the grief over this. This is not the Civil War. This is denominational affiliation—something people care less and less about when “shopping” for a church.

3. Theologically: it makes an idol of unity. We are called in our ordination vows to uphold the “peace, unity and purity” of the church. Pleas for people to stay seem to elevate unity over the other two. People have been saying, “this allows people to ordain those whom they deem suitable, but nobody’s going to be forced to ordain gay people.” I totally get that and am not arguing for quotas or anything. But isn’t this trying to have it both ways? Do we value the full inclusion of GLBT people, or do we only value it up to the point that other churches begin to leave?

4. From a systems perspective. Simply stated, I don’t know how a self-differentiated leader justifies going after people who threaten to leave, trying to talk them into staying.

Granted, I have only had one person threaten to leave a congregation. (I know, give it time.) Here is what I said to that person:

“That is a significant threat that you are making. I need you to know that I take threats to leave very seriously. And I will not try to talk you out of this. I will be sad to see you go, but you need to follow what your conscience leads you to do. Please let me know what you decide.”

I don’t know how a self-differentiated leader does otherwise. Sure, there are some issues that can be ironed out. I’m not saying you boot someone out the minute they make a threat. But let’s be honest. Some folks threaten to leave just to yank your chain, or to hold a community hostage. Others do it because they sincerely can’t go where you’re going. In both cases, it seems to me, the reaction should be the same—to take the request seriously and not be captive to it. Which leads to…

5. (and most important) It seems disrespectful to the other person’s point of view. To ask people to stay belittles how important this issue is to them. For many folks this is nothing less than an abandonment of biblical standards. While I obviously don’t agree, and can scarcely even put myself in the place of understanding such a view (though I try hard), it is nonetheless a deeply held view. It seems to me that saying “No no, please stay” does not honor the dignity of the other person’s deeply held view.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying “We win. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Quite the opposite. I have quoted the Princess Bride many times on this topic, which I picked up from a training many years ago. That is, that if you sincerely feel that the Spirit is leading you a certain direction—as a denomination, as a congregation—and someone really cannot or does not want to come along, the most faithful response is to say, like Wesley, “As you wish.” And remember, “As you wish” always meant “I love you.” I love the people who are hurt by this. If they really and truly do not feel that they can remain in our denomination, then I want to bless them on their way.

One of the basic foundations of love is freedom.

Love does not make threats, but love does not beg, either.

Letter to the Congregation

Here is what I wrote to the congregation in an e-mail this morning…

Dear friends,

News of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has hit the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and many other news outlets. Let me tell you what I know and offer a word as your pastor.

Yesterday the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area became the 87th presbytery in our denomination to approve “amendment A,” which means that this amendment will become part of our Book of Order (church constitution) this summer. Amendment A removes language that prevents gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships from being ordained or installed as deacons, elders or ministers. In other words, GLBT persons can now be ordained in jurisdictions that elect to do so. Here is the new language:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

What does this mean in practical terms? I recommend the following article that describes what is different, and what is the same, under this new language:

And here is a video message from our moderator, Elder Cindy Bolbach:

I know that reactions across the Presbyterian Church (USA) are mixed today. For some people, this decision comes with grief and concern, even pain, that we seem to have abandoned scriptural authority in favor of cultural “relevance.” Others are celebrating the arrival of justice for those whom God has called to ministry, regardless of sexual orientation. For the former, the adoption of amendment A seems unthinkable. For the latter, it is a no-brainer that has been a long time in coming. I suspect we have both views represented at Idylwood Presbyterian Church.

One of the stated values of IPC is its diversity and inclusiveness. It is something you all lifted up in your Church Information Form when you were seeking a pastor, and it is a value that I hear you all talk about frequently. Here is our chance walk the talk, as we seek to be faithful toward those who differ from us.

I am available and happy to talk with any of you further about this shift, how I interpret it, and what it all means–and I’d like to hear your thoughts as well.



Here I Stand

I was sifting through some old writing recently and found a piece about some family friends that I am editing and updating a bit for today:

This summer will mark the 35th anniversary of D & B, who are family friends. Their daughter L was a playmate growing up. They lived in a small bungalow one street over from us, close enough that I didn’t have to cross the Big Street in order to walk there.

D & B are both attorneys, and they had given L a bunch of old textbooks which we used in our games of School. We spent many hours underlining them using a variety of felt tip pens. L also had an impressive assortment of Star Wars toys. My favorite was the Death Star trash compactor complete with spongy debris.

D & B were very calm and collected parents. One afternoon L and I got into the cookie dough while they were out on a quick errand. They pulled into the driveway just in time to see us through the window, closing the refrigerator and hustling back to L’s room. They came in and asked, “What were you all doing?”

The ritual at my house was to answer “Nothing” right off the bat, which both parent and child knew wasn’t true, but it was a way of easing into it. This time, my reflexive “Nothing” coincided with L’s “Eating cookie dough.” I looked at her in awe. Wow, she tells the truth the first time!

They taught her honesty and self-assurance both. One time we were kicking the football around in the front yard, being silly, when some older teenagers across the street burst out laughing. I decided they were laughing at us and wanted to stop playing our game. L was genuinely puzzled. “Why should we stop? We’re just playing around. Why do you care what they think anyway?”

Why indeed? I still ask myself that question.

Anyway, D & B have been together thirty-five years. I can’t quite fathom what thirty-five years is like, but they inspire me to give it a go. Robert and I are less than halfway there and it seems like we’ve already been through a couple of lifetimes’ worth of stuff. We’ll hit thirty five in the year 2029—we’re talking hovercraft and apes taking over the planet. D & B’s thirty-five years began in 1976, amid the red, white and blue of the bicentennial, I suppose. Now we have $4 gas and the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Thirty-five years. That’s more than twice as long as my parents lasted. Robert’s too. Which is peculiar, seeing as how our parents are all straight, whereas people continue to insist that the union of D & B could not possibly be blessed by the God of the Old and New Testaments.

I think those people are wrong.

Today, a vote was taken that clears the way for gay and lesbian Christians to be approved for ordination as leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I know people who will be heartbroken at this shift. They are not evil, bile-spouting hate-mongers, by the way. And I also know others whose hearts were broken a long time ago when the church that baptized and nurtured them refused to affirm their call to ministry simply because of who they love and how they’re made. Some people find today’s decision unthinkable. And others find it a complete no-brainer.

As for me, I’ve studied the Bible, I’ve heard all the arguments, I’ve read the books and the white papers and the word studies. Like Inigo Montoya, I do not think it means what you think it means.

I’ve also been very aware that in another time and place, it would have been my suitability for ministry that would have been up for a vote. It would have been my call that, when approved, was a grievous sign of our abandoning of biblical principles in favor of what’s culturally popular. So it goes.

I am sure some will read my little story about D & B and conclude that I have let myself be “blown about by the whims of culture” in supporting the inclusion of GLBT persons in leadership. In a denomination that affirms scripture as our authority, this is a serious charge. And sure, I am as much a product of my culture as anyone. But in fact these folks have it backwards. The God whom I encounter in the Bible and in the stories of Jesus of Nazareth becomes enfleshed in the lives of people who have nurtured me and shown love and faithfulness. D & B’s steadfast relationship is just one example of that. I’ve also seen this God in the lives of single people, divorced people, and countless others.

So today, I celebrate. I celebrate with gifted ministers like M and K and K and many others, and for folks I don’t even know.

I can do no other.