Thursday, March 29, 2012

Church Wuss: Part 8

When I started the series "Church Wuss" I was still using MySpace. Yeah.

One or 2 of those posts didn't make the journey to Blogger (may they rest in peace).

So, this is the 8th or so post about church and guns/violence, and even as much negative media attention that these events generate, churches still use all sorts of violent themes, imagery, and language to "teach" about Christianity.

For this installment, we welcome Glad Tidings Assembly of God to the spotlight. Recently, GTAG pastors and adults kidnapped teens at gunpoint to teach about the persecuted church. Students were injured by seemingly overzealous "kidnappers", who used real firearms (with no ammunition) including handguns and assault rifles to round up the teens into a van. Students were covered with pillowcases and their hands were bound behind their backs.

The lead pastor of the church stands by the activities, and said, "It was a youth event to illustrate what others have encountered on a regular basis." The students were not informed about what was going to happen, or that it was a teaching moment.


Hey everyone, seriously... what's going on here? Who are the brain surgeons who thought this was a smart idea?

If this was about helping students have an understanding about what dangers others face because of their faith, I wonder if the follow up conversation included other faith traditions as well. Certainly in our lifetimes we have witnessed this kind of persecution of Muslims, especially after September 11, 2001. I wonder if the topic of Christian-sponsored violence and terrorism was addressed.

What's next for churches? Burning down someone's home so they learn what it's like to experience loss?

Once at a church I served we had a lock-in style event that focused on the "underground church" in Roman controlled first-century Palestine. We made up a secret code, we had an "underground" secret worship meeting, we had fun dressing up in old VBS and Christmas pageant clothes. There were no kidnappings, though we did blindfold students and walk them around the fellowship hall. There was a permission form. There was a schedule that was made available. There were no guns or terrorists or fake blood.

What does a teenager learn about the love of God when coming face to face with an AK-47? What good does it do the church to terrorize their young people into not feeling safe or secure at a regular youth meeting?

Next to giving out a gun at a youth rally, this has got to be one of the most irresponsible youth ministry ideas I've heard.

(Speaking of irresponsible youth ministry ideas: I was 2 weeks into my first ministry position, over 12 years ago, and some of the youth talked me into showing 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery' at a back to school gathering. A parent walked in right at the end of the movie when Elizabeth Hurley's character stands up from behind the couch, naked, holding cantaloupes in front of her chest. Much grace and forgiveness was shown to the rookie.)

When will us Youth Ministers learn? 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The one where I start an online social movement Part 2

If you haven't read the first post in this series, stop. Do that, then come back here. 

Last week, the esteemed and fancy mustached Geraldo Rivera made comments concerning Trayvon Martin's murder. Martin's hoodie, Rivera claims, is as guilty as George Zimmerman in the death of the 17 year old high school student.* Because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie he was automatically suspected as being some problem. There's lots to the Martin/Zimmerman case, which I won't get into.

But what Rivera has done, is open the door to the larger conversation about the underlying fears and anxieties we hold about the unknown "other". He's pointing out the truth about fear of strangers. But when that stranger is already a marginalized and suspect person, as with the teen Trayvon, then the responsibility to carefully craft one's words becomes even more critical.

Except, Geraldo Rivera didn't craft his comments well, and they sparked a firestorm of controversy. To say that a hoodie is as at fault in someone's death as the person wielding the handgun is absurd at least, and blatantly irresponsible - especially by journalistic standards.

I mentioned in my earlier post (if you haven't read it, you really need to - good background info), I work with teenagers - all of whom have worn a hoodie at some point in my knowing them. Every single one of the mostly white, middle class students I encounter own multiple hoodies.

So I got to thinking, what if I asked the youth group to wear a hoodie to church. And what if we talked about the importance of using responsible language when describing or talking about others or other ethnic groups than the one(s) we affiliate with? And how does this relate to becoming young Christian leaders? How is the bible shaping us to engage this story on a faithful level? Would the students really wear hoodies to church?

Then a friend on Twitter chimed in - "Hey you should start a facebook event." So birthed the #WearAHoodieToChurch event. I invited a bunch of my facebook friends. They invited their friends, who invited their friends etc...

Today, there are over 300 people who are "attending" to wear a hoodie to church.

But this hasn't really solely been about, and is not a protest over Trayvon Martin's murder. This is an awareness campaign to support the work of reconciliation by our churches.

At last check, #WearAHoodieToChurch involves persons from Catholic, Presbyterian and Quaker traditions, and persons from the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalists and the Bahá’í Faith traditions. People from Pennsylvania to Honolulu have accepted the call to stand up for justice and unity from their specific religious contexts.

On Sunday, 3/25 at the congregation where I serve, 23 people wore hoodies, standing in solidarity with victims of violence of many kinds: domestic, sexual, racial & ethnic. In my denomination, one of the main areas of ministry happens through the work of the Reconciliation Ministry. This arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) focuses on anti-racism and "the elimination of the primary causes of racism in North America."

So this event is beyond Trayvon Martin - though inspired by his hoodie. #WearAHoodieToChurch is a call to reject the assumptions about others that society puts on us and them. It is an opportunity to engage someone or some group in a meaningful and transformative way - for either party.

From my perspective, I hold to the hope that the God of Love enfolds both victims and perpetrators of violence. Maybe by wearing a hoodie, we'll be reminded once again that the person on the inside is what matters.

* Rivera has since "apologized" for his statements.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The one where I start an online social movement. Part 1

I had heard of the murder. It was a brief news clip on NPR about a Florida teen being killed by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer. It wasn't until late last week that the story began to emerge again for me.

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old high school kid. I work with high school students every week, and have for 13 years. And even though so much has changed in the last 13 years, one thing has been consistent: teens wear hoodies.

The zipper kind ... the pull-over kind, whatever.

They're comfy.

They're easy to haul around.

They have big pockets.

Kyle was in the youth group at a church I served. He came to Sunday school and worship service. He sat with me almost every week. He played drums and we would jam with other boys in the youth group. He was baptized in that congregation the Sunday after Easter. I cried.

He was a skinny, short kid - had asthma. Kyle liked to skateboard, and was good at it. He didn't live too far from the church, and would often roll over to skate in the parking lot. I even bought him some skate wax to apply to the curb to make it easier to grind.  

Yeah, I was the cool youth pastor.

We talked about the differences in Airwalks and Vans. If Element gear was really worth the price. I shared one of my hoodies with him - he wore it home from the hospital after a 2 week stay, the result of a severe asthma attack. That hoodie became part of our relationship. It's a blue Jedidiah Boarding Company hoodie. I bought it one year at a youth workers conference. It's HUGE.

Kyle's dad skipped out on the family years before. His older brother was a first-class jerk. Kyle latched on to the security, friendship and hospitality of the youth group.

I was floored when one day Kyle came up to my office in tears. It would be one of the last times I would see him. Earlier I watched him practice kick-flips in the parking lot. I made sure the soda machine had Mtn. Dew in it. I didn't hear him come in my office - he spun his wheel and got my attention.

Someone had just told him he didn't belong at the church - that he looked suspicious - that if he didn't "get off our property" the police would be called. Kyle looked at me with giant questions. Huge accusations about the church and my role in it.

It was strange how after I took him home later that afternoon, he tried to "clean up". He found a button up white shirt and a clip on tie. He wore it to church. He wore it to Sunday school. People thought he was a visitor. I heard comments about "that nice boy".

Kyle stopped coming to church. He stopped taking my calls. He stopped playing in a band with the other church boys. He was hurt, deeply. We were hurt.

Kyle was never a problem. He was generous, approachable, comical, warm and compassionate. It wasn't his behavior alone that some found objectionable. I later learned that the skateboarding was "damaging the parking lot." No, it really was that damned hoodie.

Trayvon Martin was killed because someone else was unjustly afraid of him. But that wasn't Trayvon's problem. He had no control, as a person of his immediate culture, over what another person thought, or believed about him. That is common for all of us - we do not, and cannot control how other people choose to see us.

And even though I speak from a position of privilege, I think I can say (a privilege in itself) that this is common for most groups.

It's true for women. It's true for Hispanics. It's true for athletes.

Someone, somewhere is going to base their opinion of another person or group on what they think they know to be true. And those assumptions are made from deciphering visual appearances. If someone carries a briefcase, society (correctly or not) suggests that they are in business. If someone wears overalls, society (again, correctly or not) suggests to us that they are in agriculture.

If someone wears a baggy shirt with big pockets and a hood over their head, society - rightly or wrongly - often suggests that the person is 1) cold, 2) a college student, 3) a middle class soccer mom, 4) a high school athlete, 5) a girl scout, 6) an insurance agent taking advantage of "casual Friday", 7) a Division 1 Big 12 football coach, 8) a presidential candidate on the golf course in February, 9) a cold-blooded, crack-infused, homicidal maniac set out to destroy the very fabric of our great nation.

Trayvon Martin was killed because someone was unjustly afraid of him.

Click here for Part 2 of this series.

Note: I want to reflect on this story theologically, considering how the story of Jesus' crucifixion can also speak to the fear of the unknown. Maybe something on that later.

Friday, March 23, 2012


The following is a letter I sent to the youth and parents of the church I serve. It is my hope that through the education of our young people, that one day the undercurrents of racism in our culture will be once and for all replaced with respect for one's neighbor. 

Friends, maybe you have heard of the tragic murder of a teenager in Florida last month. He was walking to a friends house when he was confronted by a man who was suspicious of his activity. The 2 struggled and Trayvon was shot in the chest and killed. So far, no charges have been filed against the attacker, though he says the murder was in "self defense".

To read more about the incident, National Public Radio has a thoughtful article here:

Today, a national television personality suggested that because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie (sweatshirt with a hood), he looked suspicious and possibly invited the attack. This suggestion is pure stereotyping at its worst. It is nonsense.

The General Minister and President of our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Reverend Sharon Watkins has a blog post about Trayvon and the racism involved in his murder. She also comments on the work the denomination is doing in reconciliation.

As a way of showing support for this work of reconciliation and the call to wholeness the church proclaims, I am asking our youth to wear hoodies on Sunday morning to church, and to youth group that night. We'll talk about a Christian response to violence and what it means to be a young person proclaiming God's peace in a violent world.

This Sunday, support peace - support reconciliation - share your hope for a safe future by wearing a hoodie to church.

Peace be with you,
Andy Beck

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Theology Thursday: Creating Christian Consumers

I'm a Gen-Xer, and was a teen in the early 1990's. My generation has hardly known a world without cable TV, home video game and movie systems, big box stores and shopping malls. For most of our lives, we have been swimming in an ocean of materialism - and living in a culture that says "too much is never enough". We've come to expect to be catered to at our every desire. We grew up hearing slogans like "Have it Your Way" and "Once You Pop You Can't Stop".

Every aspect of our lives has been qualified into consumable partitions. The economics of living in our culture requires us to spend time relaxing even as we earn our paychecks.

So how does this relate to the church?

Recently I've heard the phrase "the church is a business" and it has stuck with me in a not so pleasant way. I've been wrestling with this notion and trying to justify it by thinking of ways the church is "business-like". We propose budgets and share expense to income reports. We have established rules and policies and have an organizational structure. We have departments and chairpersons and meetings (God do we have meetings). So in these ways, yes, church - I suppose - is like a business.

And the model seems fairly accurate on the surface: the more people who come to the church, the more spiritually healthy the church and it's attendees must be - the better the ministry must be - the closer to God the pastor must be - etc. The more meetings we have about doing things gives us the sense of actually getting our product ministry out there.

The language we use to describe our churches is straight out of a Marketing 101 textbook. We want to advertise our services to the community so we can grow our presence in the marketplace area.

But is this what being in the kindred community of God is about? That we are consumers of what the church is "selling"? If so, that turns each person not into a child of god but a number. And if the church is a business, then the bigger the number the better.

But is this what Jesus talks about in John 10:10? Is this how we have life and have it to the fullest? By being consumers rather than participants, shoppers rather than makers, numbers rather than people? Is this what clergy like me have been creating, supporting, sustaining and promoting for decades?

Having meetings about ministry is not ministry. Fund raising for glorious structures leads to navel gazing not service. The "if you build it, they will come" approach might work for mystic baseball fields, but that was one of a kind. It's said that there are "three churches on every corner" where I live. If you build it here, so what. There's one just like it just down the street.

In an economy that is justified and sustained by consumerism, the church has adopted a similar approach. "Come here and consume what we offer so that we can count you among us". The relationship is broken. There's no intimacy. They come because they feel like they need to consume religion. We offer it because we want to count heads.

It's hard to think that perhaps the most successful ministry had only a few dozen people in it, one of whom killed himself after turning over the leader to be murdered. Perhaps that's the point. That ministry ought not to be about counting heads or even "selling" the right style of church. It ought to be about dying to ourselves day in and day out for the Love of God and God's people.

I mentioned to someone earlier this year, that if the church is a business, then I want my money back. I would like to think that Jesus would share my sentiment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Garden Time

They say in Oklahoma, don't plant until after St Patricks Day. Today is the 18th.

We (the royal we) built a 3rd raised bed, taters only.

Still to go: beans (green and black), peas, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, sunflowers and a raspberry bush.

Brother-in-law Mike helped haul a heaping hunk of horse manure compost:

Thus begins the garden-palooza blog posts of 2012.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ship Happens (complaint)

In the past 3 weeks I have ordered 3 items via the Internet. Some repair parts for our garage door opener and our lawnmower - and some postcards for work. With each order, the shipping was somehow messed up.

Let me explain. No, there is no time. Let me sum up:

1) mower parts - order never made it to shipping
2) garage door parts - shipped to wrong address
3) postcards - UPS returned parcel to post office, who returned it to company I ordered from.

While both repair jobs have been finally completed, I just found out about the postcards today. UPS attempted to deliver them to our office but no one was there to receive them.So UPS left a notice for us and took it to the post office where the parcel sat for a week. I didn't ever see the UPS notice, and my secretary says she didn't either. But UPS says they left a note.

So, either the post office didn't tell us it was there waiting, or my secretary ignored the card the post office puts in our PO Box when these things happen and never got the box. The post office returned the parcel to the sender, the company I ordered them from - who is now rush printing and delivering a new batch TO MY HOUSE on Monday.

Final thoughts:
1) No wonder the Post Office is in such a financial mess
2) Brown can't do much for me, it turns out.
3) I need a secretary who can do more than answer the phone, read novels and play Solitaire. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

'Bytes Article 3-12-12

The following is a newsletter article I wrote for the church I serve. We are a church currently in transition, and are experiencing a power vacuum of sorts. Here I attempt to call it out and to remind myself and others of the focus of Lent.

In the days that lead us into Holy Week, the anxiety of what that time brings can be powerful. We're reminded that the season of Lent is inward-looking for a reason. If we take the season seriously, Lent forces us to ask questions of ourselves concerning what fears we have and the accompanying anxieties that the unknown brings. Lent is about humility - when we put on sack cloth and sit in ashes. It is not a time for boasting, pride, arrogance or greed. Lent reminds us that we are merely human, and that it's good to be so.

It's been just over three weeks since Les' retirement. There has been lots and lots of activity on Sundays the past two weeks - with committee and leadership meetings, study groups and fellowship opportunities. But let us not get lost in the wilderness of church busy-ness and miss the work of Lent. Let us not forget in these weeks leading up to Easter, how to be humble, how to sit in ashes, how to be reminded of our anxiety and grief, and how that makes us human. But mostly, let us be reminded during this season of Lent, that we travel this road together. We share the weight of unease with our neighbor and friend, and remain hopeful in the God of promise who guided Jesus out of the wilderness, who cared for the Israelites in the desert, who comforts us in our anxiety. If only we allow the opportunity.

Be EXCELLENT to each other, as God has been to us. <>< Andy

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Theology Thursday: Hebrew Bible after the Shoah

Here's a post I thought I had published - apparently not so. It's a few weeks old.


Today I'm reflecting on some seminary class discussion. I am taking a Biblical Theology course on violence and suffering in the Bible, and we are beginning to build a frame for guiding our conversations in the future.

In order to do this we are discussing the nature (characteristics) of God and what implications those assumptions have on our theology, both as group and as individual.

This is important because as we all reflect on our understanding of God, we do so through the lens of our experiences. To begin with, I understand God through my lens of being Caucasian, male, married, American, Gen X, heterosexual, etc. So my theology is informed by the experiences I've had, which are shaped by all that I just listed.

This is all to say that we began as a class diving into an understanding of God through the lens of Jewish theological scholarship, particularly writings after the Shoah (holocaust). We began examining the nature of God as described by the Hebrew Bible (old testament).

The question of God's fidelity came up - asking "is God faithful?" Certainly a good question to be asked, especially by Jewish communities. Why do we have faith in God? What makes us think that God has to be faithful, trustworthy or committed?

When we claim to be God's people, we also assume a certain persona of entitlement or expectation; in that God will provide. But what about when God doesn't?

In the context of the holocaust - in many ways, God the Deliverer of the slaves in Egypt was nowhere to be found. How do we understand God when quite literally, all hell breaks loose?