Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Future of Church?

A thread got started in a Facebook forum for ELCA pastors in response to this simple post:

"The future of the Church.  Discuss."

I bit.  Here's what I wrote.  Probably needs some unpacking... let me know which parts make you go "Huh?"

The larger community gathers monthly, with Luther-style Third Order/house church groups gathering the other weeks. At the monthly you get full meal deal celebration worship and a sermon/message/teaching that's been a month in the making. No more time pressure to be done in an hour. Plus the band/choir is awesome because they get a month to prep for every gathering. Always linked to a community meal. Prayer requests and praise reports from the weekly groups. In the weeklies, you have a month to process and work on applying the teaching in a supportive accountability, shared-life community. Parents collaborate and support each other in nurturing the faith of the kids. Pastors get to take the time saved from the weekly worship cycle and devote it to mentoring the leaders of the weekly groups. Oh, and since you only need the building one Sunday a month you can have the whole thing shared by four congregations and cut your facility costs by 75%. Even more if you can team up with some wackos who think it's OK to worship on some other day of the week. Yeah. Something like that.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Piano Keys and Faith Keys

Quite a while back my wife wrote a really nice reflection for her congregation about nurturing faith at home that I thought I'd share here.  (She refers to "Professor Martinson" who is Rollie Martinson of Luther Seminary in Saint Paul.)

Piano Keys and Faith Keys

My youngest daughter Rebecca began playing the piano about 15 months ago and is really enjoying the experience.  She has a weekly lesson with her piano teacher and has participated in 3 piano recitals so far with one coming up June 5. 

Sometimes it’s hard to fit in the practicing at home in between lessons but we keep finding that what’s necessary for her development as a piano musician is to keep up a consistent practice time at home. And we have found that it’s best when I sit down at the piano bench with her and help her.  We count out loud together.  I check her finger positions.  I ask her to read the notes out loud to be sure she’s got them right.  It just goes better in these beginning years when I can guide and help her.

This made me think about the way that the church “does” faith formation with our children and youth.  Somehow as parents we have the idea that if we bring our kids to worship or even just Sunday school, they will gain all that they need for a life of faith.  It’s like bringing your child to the weekly piano lesson but never touching the piano in between the lessons.

It takes time and practice at home to grow in piano skills and it takes time and practice to grow in faith.  So, as parents and grandparents, our “job” is to be that coach, that mentor, that helper in the home so that our children can learn and develop their faith practices.

What could that look like?  Professor Martinson outlined “4 Keys to Nurturing Faith” that families can practice at home:
  • Caring Conversations
  • Family Devotions
  • Family Service Projects
  • Family Rituals and Traditions

Over the next few months we will be exploring these “4 Keys” and sharing thoughts and ideas that you can practice at home with the young people in your lives.  The more we practice these 4 keys, the more we will grow together in faith.

I help my daughter with her piano practicing because it helps her master the piano pieces she has been given.  But there is an added delight!  The more time I spend helping her, the more my own piano knowledge (long forgotten) is rekindled and I relearn the old lessons from long ago.  And we get to spend time together, side by side.  We are even practicing a duet for the piano recital.

That’s what happens when families practice their faith together in the home. Not only does your child’s faith grow but your own relationships are strengthened from the time you spend together, loving and serving God.
So, let’s get ready to explore, practice and make some faith music together!

Pastor Kisten

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Theological Reflection part 3 - The Artist in Residence

(For part 2 go here.)

And what of James Holmes, the shooter?  Together with us, he is a member of the shattered creation and the broken human community.  Was his part of the sphere even more utterly shattered somehow from his birth… broken genes bearing sharper edges we now can see?  Were there things that happened to him in his life growing up or in recent months that shattered him as never before?  He had a mother and a father.  Was he a beautiful sphere on whom they gazed with delight before this day?  There was beauty in him: colors of the first creation.  A merit scholarship out of high school, honors on graduating from college.  I see the hues of a capable, creative mind.  Even in its shattered fragments, capable of careful planning for his attack and booby-trapping his apartment. 

Can anything good or beautiful ever be built out of the fragments of his life?  Perhaps.  John Newton shattered a host of lives working in the slave trade, yet even so, God managed to build out of this man the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.  Is this also possible for Holmes?  I confess, I believe it is possible, and I confess, I don’t believe it will happen.  Perhaps that’s part of my brokenness.  But I do believe that his jail cell is another place where God is present, bleeding, weeping, and now at work picking up the pieces.  I’m sad for both of them.  I think they will be there for a long, long time to come.

Theological Reflection part 2 - The Artist in Residence

(For part 1, go here.)

He knelt down
among the fragments to search out every shard
collecting them so carefully, yet even so
his hands were wounded further by the work.

And even more as he began to set them alongside each other,
creating again,
building beauty of the sorrow:
a lamp.

To stay involved in this broken creation and the lives of his human children comes with a cost for God.  Whatever suffering and pain he encountered in the “shattering” event, he adds to it in the course of keeping his hands on us and involved in our lives and our sharp-edged brokenness.  No clearer illustration of this is there than the wounds Jesus received in the course of his work to pick up, handle, and refashion the slicing, piercing shards of humanity he encountered in his life.  But the artist God is at work, not to put it all back together the way it was – that can never happen – but to build something new from the pieces.  The lamp image here is specific for me and calls to mind the Tiffany lamps, made with bits of colored glass, and although I didn’t make that explicit in the poem I hope the image does come through.  The phrase set them alongside each other is intended to nudge the reader’s mental imagery in that direction.

That phrase also has resonance for me in the details of the shooting event.  I heard stories of one person in the theatre, who had been wounded, throwing his body over a friend who had also been shot, into order to protect him.  I saw pictures of people holding and comforting others, with blood on one or both of them.  These are shattered fragments, set alongside each other.  This is beauty being created: the beauty of compassion, the beauty of self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

Through which a light would shine
revealing still the colors of the first creation
and the blood stains,
some dried and left in place
some washed away by tears.

I think of the town of Aurora as being like the gazing sphere.  It had a beauty and no doubt a sense of peace and security that was shattered in this event.  In its initial beauty I know that there were people of love and compassion and courage there.  These are the colors of their “first creation.”  In the shattering, some of those colors are actually now more prominent and easier to see – they have been put on display for the world to see as a light shines through them.  I’m thinking here of citizens and first responders who threw themselves into the situation, with all its horror and danger, to try and help.  I’m thinking of the bomb squad people, working still even as I write, the courage and skill that was in them yesterday now on bright display today.  Yet the same light that reveals the beauty of their character also shows us the blood of the victims.  The artist God, I think, intentionally leaves some of that blood dried and left in place to honor sacrifice and suffering by preserving them in memory.  Even the resurrected Jesus, remember, still had his scars.  But much of it is also washed away by the tears of the creator raining down from above as he goes about the work of building something new, something beautiful again.

Shattered goodness can be fashioned again into beauty.  I believe this is always what God is up to and the answer to the question “Where is God in my/our suffering?”  He is now most clearly, and most hidden, walking and kneeling among the people of Aurora, bleeding and weeping as he picks up the people and the pieces, already setting them alongside each other to make something beautiful in time.

Part 3.

Theological Reflection part 1 - The Artist in Residence

I hope that the poem can stand on its own, but for those who want to read it here is my own reflection on it in three parts.  The text of the poem is in bold italics.

The Artist in Residence: Aurora, Colorado, 2012

I’d heard the phrase “artist in residence” before and it felt important to lead with that.  To me it conveys that God is not one who comes and goes but who stays in the community, especially in the midst of hardship and tragedy when our pain makes God seem absent.  The overall witness of the Old Testament is of a God who stubbornly refuses to turn his back on his people and just walk away, no matter how they treat him.  One of the most beautiful metaphors in the New Testament, somewhat hidden in the English translations but clear in the Greek, is in John 1:14 where it says the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us.  That “dwelt among us” phrase comes with the image of “pitched his tent.”  Remember that while for us, pitching a tent is a very temporary stop, in ancient days and among semi-nomadic people, it’s an image of permanently joining the family/community. 

The Artist worked in glass, and blew a glorious gazing sphere.

Luminescent, layered, rainbow swirls of every color.  The object of delight reflected his face, his eyes, his smile.

He held it close.  It sang to him.

Creation was good, beautiful, a “reflection” of the goodness and beauty of the Creator, yet apparently quite fragile.  The object of delight was not just a “thing” but in relationship with the Creator: it sings to him.

It shattered
in his hands.

This is the core.  Creation is broken, humans are broken.  Not just flawed or “imperfect,” not just cracked or in need of some glue or a band-aid, but in a real sense shattered beyond repair.  Those who have thought deeply about the human condition, or looked deeply into their own hearts, I believe, recognize this truth. 

Why did it shatter?  Did it “leap” from God’s hands?  Did God hold the fragile sphere too tightly or drop it?  Did someone else play a role, or was there a flaw in the design?  These questions are not addressed, but the fact that the questions exist is acknowledged in the poem: it shattered in his hands.

Shards of glass
cut deeply in his flesh.  He bled, he wept.

The depth of God’s love for and delight in creation is matched by the depth of his pain and suffering over it’s brokenness, and matched by the depth of his commitment to caring for and redeeming it.  Any insight you gain into the depth of God in one of those areas illumines for you the depths of the other two.

Part 2.

The Artist In Residence: Aurora, Colorado, 2012

The Artist worked in glass, and blew a glorious gazing sphere.

Luminescent, layered, rainbow swirls of every color.  The object of delight reflected his face, his eyes, his smile.

He held it close.  It sang to him.

It shattered
in his hands.

Shards of glass
cut deeply in his flesh.  He bled, he wept.

He knelt down
among the fragments to search out every shard
collecting them so carefully, yet even so
his hands were wounded further by the work.

And even more as he began to set them alongside each other, 
creating again, 
building beauty of the sorrow: 
a lamp.

Through which a light would shine
revealing still the colors of the first creation
and the blood stains,
some dried and left in place
some washed away by tears.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th, 2012


I do not like to write about politics. People get angry. Shouted absolutes obscure grey areas and true lack of certainty.

But on national holidays I think of soldiers who took *actual* risks for my country, our country. If I'm unwilling to take even the small risk of saying something in public, well, how messed up is that? To be ashamed of staying silent is appropriate, I think.

So out of respect for those in the service, I will do one small part of my duty as a citizen today and say something. Please accept this small token of my partnership with you for the good of our Nation.

In addition, I don't like writing about politics because I work in the church. Church and State is a busy intersection with really fast traffic and the lights aren't always synchronized just right. Not to mention the people who rush the yellows and run the reds.

But as one who believes in a God who cares more than a little about so called "secular" things, as one honored and entrusted to lead in the church, again, I feel an obligation to speak, to risk the ire of those who disagree, and to risk being wrong out loud.

So, here it comes. Thoughts on the Nation in a voice of the Faith.


July 4th, 2012

The word of the Lord came to Tim of New Brighton to say;

“There is a God, and God loves all people!  This God showed His face in Jesus of Nazareth, and gave his life as well, so that we could live, and love, like him.”

Additional words also came.  Whether they are also from the Lord or not, judge for yourself.

On the morning of July 4th, 2012, I sat in my easy chair reading the prophet Amos on my tablet, drinking coffee.  I heard these words.

America, America, God has shed his grace on thee.

“God bless America!” the bumper stickers beseech.  Is there any blessing that has been withheld from you?  And what, indeed, have you done with the blessings you have received?

You send your sons and daughters, your fathers and your mothers, out to war.

They lose their arms, their legs, their minds to TBI, PTSD, darkness and depression; wash up on your shore like debris from a red tsunami, and you say; “This beach is icky. I don’t like it.  Let’s go swim somewhere else!”  Homeless veterans are beached beneath the bridges of your cities.  The rumble of your SUV above, driving to the lake; their lullaby.

The debts for their care, and the debts for your war, you put on the National Card.  Out of sight, out of mind, out of the way of your spending on smart phones and flat screens, take out and trips, tablets and coffee. 

Users!  Is there not a responsible adult among you?!  Pay your #&*%+!@ bills!!  You pay them, and you pay them now.  Do not visit your sins upon your own children to the second, and third, and fourth generations.

Does a soldier lose a limb?  No further taxes due – that debt is paid.  Two limbs?  Then the same for the spouse.  Lose life in service to the country?  Your sacrifice shall cover the debts of your children as well.  The rest of the citizens, had they any decency at all, would pick up that tab in a heartbeat.  Or is “The thanks of a grateful nation” just an empty phrase?

America, America.  Land of the free-from-responsibility-for-my-neighbor.  Home of the brave-enough-to-be-selfish-in-public.  “Me the Taxpayer!” tramples “We the People” in parade, carrying the flag of our “Union” so proudly.  Don’t Tread on Me indeed.

You have stretched the rubber band of inequality too tightly between the rich and poor.  Will the bands that unite you snap, and destroy what generations have built?  Will it slip from your grasp, get out of control, and send the two extremes crashing towards each other in conflict?  Little and Much are not your enemies, but Too Little and Too Much will surely kill you in their crossfire.

With false pride and short memory, you angrily protest; “Keep those nasty immigrants out of my country!”

My country?  MY country?!  HOW DARE YOU!  Did you stand up the Rockies on this land?  Wasn’t it I who drew the Mississippi on a lazy afternoon? Or was it you, you mighty ones?  Please pardon me if I have remembered it incorrectly.  I am so old, you know.

I tell you now, in no uncertain terms, that this land is MY land, this is indeed MY country, and those nasty immigrants are my own dear children, your brothers and sisters.  If you insist that newcomers are not welcome, then by all means, let me build the boats for you to sail back home as well.  Even the earliest tenants on my farm should remind themselves of the land bridge I built for them to cross so long ago.

And besides, there are rules in my family for how the children should treat each other.  Another of your siblings once had the gall to ask me if he was his brother’s keeper.  So tell me now you wise ones, have you not yet figured out the answer to that question?  Believe me when I tell you, this will be on the test.

The Cows of Bashan have nothing on the Pigs of Peoria.  An epidemic of obesity?  Can you possibly be serious?  Do you think no one is looking at you from across my globe?  Just what do you think I am hearing, day in and day out, from your brother in Bangladesh and your Sister in Somalia?  Because you will not share, they fear I do not care.  And the size of your bodies is nothing in comparison to your appetites for comforts and distractions.  You are indeed a city on a hill, but you shine a light on the lie that I play favorites with my children.  In so many ways, my own reputation is in your hands.  Well, that can be changed.

So then, what should I do about you, my gifted child, whom truly I do love?  Should I bring catastrophe and calamity to get your attention?  Smack you upside the head and shout WAKE up!!?

Well, why should I punish you when you destroy yourselves?  Why should I bother to discipline you when you throw yourselves off the cliff?  On the high elevations of Mount Cholesterol, you don’t need a push from me to fall to your doom. At the foot of the Tower of Debt you have raised up to the heavens, no need for me to tip it over upon you.  If only you knew who has prevented the falling for so long already.  But then you might be grateful instead of gluttonous.

Is this too harsh?  Does it offend and upset you?  Remember and meditate on this: If I did not love you, I would ignore you.  The one who truly cares is the one who pays the price for confronting you.

Look me in the eyes, now.  Listen to my voice.  All you have belongs to me.  If you refuse to use the blessings faithfully, I may well need to give them to others who will. But at this rate I will not have to.  You are letting it fall from your grasp on your own. 

Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.


On the morning of July 4th, 2012, I sat in my easy chair reading the prophet Amos on my tablet, drinking coffee.  I heard these words.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spiritual Navigation among the Asteroids

A quick update on what I'm working on at Gethsemane:

Launching on Sunday May 20th, an event called Spiritual GPS (Growth Plan Sunday) that will become a "quarterly" practice of rebooting one's faith journey.  Built on the metaphor of "The Asteroid Field" which says that in a dynamic/chaotic environment (i.e. modern life) there is no map, so you have to navigate by constant course correction: OAR - Orient, Act, Repeat.

For more on that, and to see my video introducing the asteroid field concept visit the Gethsemane Spiritual Growth page.  This is "free and open to the public" as they say.

Got questions or comments? I'd love to hear them here!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Church Can Be Less Expensive

I just spent a couple days at Funding the Missional Church with a diverse group of church folks ranging from large conventional congregations to bi-vocational church plants.  Funding is a problem all around.  A lot of the funding problem is rooted in the assumptions we bring to church life  Assumptions that come with big price tags:
  • The pastor must be full time.
  • The pastor must be an academically trained professional and paid as such.
  • You need excellent musicians.
  • You have to have a building. and so on.
I noticed one assumption however that seems to keep escaping notice, and yet is a huge factor is setting the "cost structure" for a faith community:

  • You have to gather the entire faith community for worship every week.

In my Lutheran Tribe, we like to talk (among the academically trained professional clergy, anyway) about the Freedom of a Christian. Well, what if we considered how we could serve the Kingdom if we explored the freedom we have from that fifth assumption?  Just as one example, what if the whole community gathered monthly on a Friday night, renting from an existing church, and home-sized groups gathered weekly, perhaps following the path described by Luther himself?  

Point is, church can be different, and it can be way less expensive.

Along these lines I am always glad to hear from my friends at Simple Church who are very big on keeping the Gospel as portable as possible.  So let me lift up a recent post from them on keeping things simple (which also tends to be less expensive) that begins with this wonderfully challenging quote from a Filipino church planter; "Never do anything in church that a one week old Christian would be unable to duplicate." 

Hyperbole?  Perhaps.  Worth reflecting on for people called to equip others?  Absolutely.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Meaning of the Verb "To Love"

Continuing my reflections on The Message of Hope...

Finished up the Gospel of Mark this morning with the Crucifixion, and the crazy ending (they all run away and say noting to anyone) and the Centurion's "confession" (don't get me started on that!!!)  Couldn't help but think about my sermon for this Sunday on "The Meaning of the Verb to Love" (Yes, that is a shameless reference to my beloved rock icon Todd Rundgren.  Click the "video" to hear the tune in reference.) 

We're called to love one another as Jesus loved us, and for my money, that means sacrificially. But people land in different places around that at different times in their lives. For some, it's time for them to be on the receiving end of the sacrifice of others. For others, it's time to reflect on and hear God's praise for the sacrificial life they are now living. And for many, it's time to listen for the call to sacrifice and maybe really hear it for the first time. Three frames for looking at love in a way that transcends the pale and pathetic substitutes our culture wants us to buy into instead. 

I thought I might be different today by being on alert for clues as to which frame the people I met were in. But truth be told, I was so hurried through most of the day that it never even crossed my mind again until I had the chance to write this post. Ah well, some times that's just how it is. Mindfulness in the modern world is not an easy thing.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Eye-dentity in the Hurricane of Task

Continuing in my reading of The Message of Hope with the folks at Gethsemane, I wrote a reflection for our Facebook group on Friday that now has an interesting bookend with the one I wrote today:

From Friday, April 27:
Read today where Peter says he's ready to die with Jesus, but a few verses later he can't even stay awake with him. I'm hearing in that a caution not to over promise, either to God or to myself, things I may not be able to follow through on. I'm not Jesus, I'm not even Superman, and thankfully one Messiah turns out to be quite sufficient for the world. I think this is also why I like the story of the loaves and fishes... where the little boy offers up what little he has to feed the thousands. Sometimes I feel like all I've got to offer is a loaf and a fish, but that's okay. My job is just to offer what I've got. It's up to Jesus to multiply it and make it into enough.Read today where Peter says he's ready to die with Jesus, but a few verses later he can't even stay awake with him. I'm hearing in that a caution not to over promise, either to God or to myself, things I may not be able to follow through on. I'm not Jesus, I'm not even Superman, and thankfully one Messiah turns out to be quite sufficient for the world. I think this is also why I like the story of the loaves and fishes... where the little boy offers up what little he has to feed the thousands. Sometimes I feel like all I've got to offer is a loaf and a fish, but that's okay. My job is just to offer what I've got. It's up to Jesus to multiply it and make it into enough.

From Monday, April 30:
In my post on Friday I was connecting with a "who I am not" idea: I am not the Messiah, not even Superman. Today I was struck by the exchange between Jesus and Pilate in Mark 14 (top of p. 64). "Are you the Messiah...?" Pilate asks; "Yes, I am..." Jesus replies. That's a "who I am" moment, very different from the "who I am not" perspective from Friday. I think both ways are useful in dealing with difficult situations, but it strikes me that the "who I am not" approach is kind of like playing defense. In response to external challenges and demands that feel too much for me, I push back against unreasonable expectations. But the "who I am" approach is more like offense. I take the initiative by claiming a clear identity that external challenges can't begin to threaten. In the first, my attention is "out there" but in the second, it's "in here." Rather than starting out in the challenging, task-and-demand-filled world and then retreating into myself for safety and to do what I can, I can start in the security of who the Lord tells me I am, and then move out from there into the world to be who I am.

So. Who am I? I am a Son of the King. Nothing can change that. Regardless of what I do or don't get done today, that is who I get to be. That's the calm in the storm; the eye of identity in the hurricane of task.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The God who Listens

Continuing with the Bible reading journey at Gethsemane using Peterson's The Message of Hope... here's my reflection for today:

The story from Mark 9 (pages 37-39) where Jesus heals a father's son is one of the most meaningful stories in the Bible for me. I've wrestled with my emotions many times in my life (and I thank God for the gift of medication to help with that) so the way that Jesus relates to the *father* in this story has always been big for me. There's a point in the story where everything has come to a head: a huge crowd is getting even bigger, religious leaders are going after the disciples who are distressed because they haven't been able to help the boy, and the boy himself is flung to the grown in front of everyone in a dramatic seizure/demonic attack. In that moment, Jesus turns to the father of the boy and says... "How long has he been this way?" You can just hear the years of sorrow pour out of this man as he answers... "Oh, it's been going on ever since he was a child... and sometimes it's been like this.... and other times its been like this..." It's just astonishing. Jesus makes everyone wait - including the boy writhing on the ground! - so that this dad can share his heart while Jesus just stands there and listens. That poor guy's feelings *matter* that much to Jesus. It almost feels like there are two healings here... one for the father and one for his son. (Similar to the incredible story in Mark 5 where Jesus is interrupted by a woman needing healing while he's on his way to heal a little girl!) But for me, it's just this powerful witness that feelings - my feelings - really matter to God. So much so that there are times when other things - really, really important things - need to take a back seat for a while so that I can simply share my heart with the Lord who really, really listens.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The reading for today included parts of Mark chapter 4 with two stories about sowing seeds.  Here's my reflection on that:

Today's reading makes me think about how patient Jesus is and how he doesn't expect everything to work every time. Tons of seed scattered never amounts to anything and when it does it takes time. In contrast, I keep wanting to think that "surely everyone will respond enthusiastically to my latest, greatest church thing and congregational life will be transformed overnight!" Yeah, not so much. I too am a product of my "right now" culture. I even expect myself to change overnight! (Reminds me of a favorite old one-liner; "I once knew a woman who was so impatient that she put her instant breakfast in the microwave oven and turned back time.") How will I be different today? Obviously, I'll just be more patient. IMMEDIATELY.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Caught in your own nets?

I'm working at Gethesmane Church and as a part of our revitalization effort I've started a six-week Bible reading journey, using Eugene Peterson's wonderful little book The Message of Hope. For each day's reading, I've invited people to see if either or both of the following reflection questions is helpful:

  • What does this tell me about Jesus?
  • How will I be different today because of what I have just read?
(Yes, I totally stole that second one from Wayne Cordeiro's wonderful Life Journal resource.)

Along with the reading plan, we've set up ways for people to connect for conversation, including a FaceBook page, and while I'm not very disciplined about writing daily reflections (or monthly blog posts for that matter!) I did have something to share today and thought I'd post it here as well. The reading covered about the first half of Mark Chapter 1.

What does this tell me about Jesus? That he's an intervener. If John is like thunder in the desert, then Jesus is like lightning. He flashes into the scene and makes stuff happen. Like with the guys who were just fishing and doing their regular work. Jesus shows up and WHAM! Now they are off on a whole new thing.
How will I be different? "Change your life" sounds good today. Last week I did the funeral for Joan Will & heard family stories about her playful, lightheartedness. More of that would be a good change for me. This may require walking away from some nets that want to insist that I stay focused on the tasks in front of me. We'll see how that goes. Fish aren't the only ones who can get caught in the nets.