What can Lutherans do about Immigration?

One of the many things I have learned in my time as bishop can be summarized by the Anais Non quote. “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Depending on ones perspective, the headline to this blog post can be read in different ways. If you have a bias toward an anti-immigration view, you can read that question one way, if you have a more pro-immigrant perspective, you can read it another way. So, at the outset let me state my bias. I am very much a pro-immigrant bishop.

But, my reasoning differs from the typical arguments that dominate more left leaning politics.

First of all, I begin with a biblical understanding based on both the Hebrew Testament and the Christian Bible (aka the Old and New Testament) You can read a summary of those lessons by clicking here. The Bible is very clear that one of our callings is to be people of welcome and hospitality to strangers, travelers, migrants etc. This lays the foundation for my views on this topic.

Second, as a person who fully acknowledges that economic life is a central and undeniable reality to how we live and move and work, I am very aware of the value of immigrants in our society. This is a perspective that is acknowledged by economists on the right, the left and the center. Immigration is a positive for the economic well being of a society. It’s not just the argument of who will pick the strawberries, change the sheets in the hotel room; it’s also who is going to be your heart surgeon, the next social media start-up founder or software developer. Immigrants come to this country and they actually stimulate economic growth for all of us.

Third, and this one is particularly selfish of me. Immigrants make our food options far more interesting. I love being in New England where I can literally travel the world with our cuisine options.

Fourth, I’m here in the US because my grandfather immigrated in the 1920’s. I’m serving in a Lutheran denomination because previous generations immigrated to this country. There are Lutherans around the world because immigration allowed for ease of transport and movement throughout the world. Immigration is who we are as Lutherans.

So yes, I’m pro-immigration. Now, I do acknowledge that a system that addresses a fair and balanced form of how immigration should happen needs to be developed. In the past, Democrats and Republicans had proposals that were discussed but never acted on. Were they perfect? Of course not. If you want perfection folks, you are going to be waiting a long time. The problem today is that while we have lots of headlines, tweets and grand standing for political gain, there is no serious desire to solve this issue. The reality is that people in power today want this to be an issue that is used for political points. The harshness and brutality of this abuse of our civic life is horrific. The ones who are suffering the most are women and children.

So, let’s get to the question of what we can do about immigration:

  1. VOTE - If you don’t vote you can’t complain. Voting is not only a right it is a responsibility. Engage, and find out what candidates say they are going to do if elected.

  2. Consider becoming a Welcoming Congregation. This means you can simply gather a couple people in your church and engage in projects that support immigrants in different ways. Some churches have sponsored refugees and immigrants, others have accompanied people to legal hearings, others have engaged in public advocacy. Want to learn more? Send me an email and I’ll connect you.

  3. Learn more about what the ELCA Lutherans are doing across the country, as well as right here in New England. Visit the ELCA AMMPARO website. We just had two educational events in Providence and Hartford on this work, and I commend it to you.

  4. Have a conversation with someone from our New England Synod Refugee and Immigration Task Force. Doreen Rinas is a great resource. She can be reach at doreen.rinas [at] gmail [dot] com

  5. Consider going me on a Companion Church visit to the Lutheran Church in Honduras. We are going in late February 19-26, 2019. This will be a chance for you to meet Lutherans in Honduras, work on some lite construction at a church, help teach a Vacation Bible School. It’s a perfectly safe way to visit this country. Join me. More info here

Immigration is a part of our lives. Let’s embrace it and find a way to make it work.

Stir it Up - The Song

Click here to listen to this original song by Pastor Mike Lembke of St Paul Lutheran Church, Warwick, RI

Mike says he wrote this song in response to my Report to the 2018 Synod Assembly. I heard this news today, and it literally made my week, month maybe even year.

The Lyrics and Chords can be found here

Stir it up (Inspired by Bishop Hazelwood’s call to Stir It Up, Synod Assembly 2018) Copyright 1993/2018, Mike’s Music

So, let’s stir it up in the Spirit’s power.

Today is the day, now is the hour; 

for Grace and truth to blaze away;

we can stand in confidence, we have something to say.

 So, let’s stir it up not just survive;

or to keep the buildings open or to worship programs and pride;

but to further the Gospel; to meet our neighbors anew.

To go out in the air; to see what we can do.

So, let’s stir it up with Jesus to guide;

we do not preach ourselves, but Him Crucified. 

We risk ridicule; we consider in prayer; 

the neighbors in need to show them we care.

So, let’s stir it up in money and time,

put plans into action; something new is no crime;

Reformation’s a word with an edge to action, 

the joy of the Lord will give us strength and traction! 

So, let’s stir it up; comfort-convict, 

convince by our actions; confess with our lips; 

that opportunity lies just ‘round the bend: 

we’re just getting started who knows where it ends.

 Pr. Mike Lembke on the left in the black shirt, playing guitar at this years Youth Gathering in Houston. His daughter, (on the right in Tie Dye T) Pastor Heidi Johnston leads singing.

Pr. Mike Lembke on the left in the black shirt, playing guitar at this years Youth Gathering in Houston. His daughter, (on the right in Tie Dye T) Pastor Heidi Johnston leads singing.

East Jerusalem Hospitals in Need of our Help

Dear Congregations, Pastors, Deacons and all of the New England Synod,

In recent days, I have read of the news that impacts our companion church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land.  Our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran congregations of Palestine are in danger of loosing medical treatmentthrough the East Bank Hospital System in Jerusalem.

The White House has made the decision to withhold $25 million from the network that includes the Augusta Victoria Hospital.  These are funds that have already received congressional approval.  

Regardless of ones political affiliation, I believe that as people of faith we must put the welfare of people, especially the most vulnerable, above politics. Therefore, I am asking you to join with me, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and Lutherans all across this church to write to the White House and your congressional leaders.  Ask them to reinstate the funding for East Jerusalem hospitals.

What should I write?

As a person of faith who is concerned with the welfare of all people, I urge you to call for full restoration of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, including the release of funds designated for the East Jerusalem hospitals. 

Where should I send it?

https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ - Note: Unless you want to receive emails daily from the White house, uncheck the box at the bottom of the contact form.

https://www.senate.gov/senators/states.htm

For whom shall I pray?

Pray for the patients, nurses, doctors, orderlies, custodians of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, as well as the work of the Lutheran World Federation.

Where can I learn more?

https://jerusalem.lutheranworld.org/updates

 Thank you for your urgent attention to this humanitarian crisis, which can be averted.

  James Hazelwood +

 Bishop James Hazelwood

Embracing Stewardship DATE CHANGE TO MARCH 2019

Our Friends in the Western Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese have invited us to join them for an event on March 2019, with Chick Lane and Grace Pomroy.  If you are looking for new ways to practice generosity in your congregation, this is your best bet.  Click HERE for a link to the information and registration.

Below is a video of their presentation last fall in the midwest.

 

In Defense of the Practical Bishop

I've been enjoying a summer of reading, writing and arithmetic the summer.  In the last week I came across a speech delivered in 1962 by William F. Winter at Centre College in Kentucky. Winter later became the governor of Mississippi, and now continues his efforts in the area of racial reconciliation through a center he founded in Jackson, Mississippi.  The speech is titled, "In Defense of the Practical Politician."  It outlines an approach to politics that was challenging then, and even more so today.  Winter suggests the great value in getting things done. My favorite lines from the speech:

"In many cases, perhaps in most, the willingness to compromise involves great courage, and the more sharply defined the issues and the more deeply divided the partisans, the greater the courage that is required. Some of the most courageous public officials I know have been the quietly dedicated people of reason who have worked under the most unrelenting pressures to gain acceptance of unpopular but neccessary agreements, while bombastic orators denounce them as traitors or worse."

 William F. Winter

William F. Winter

In  many ways Winter has captured for me a central theme of what it means to serve as a bishop.  Winter had his convictions, as I have mine, but we both understand that in order to get things done there is a need to work with those with whom we do not agree.  

Compromise is not in vogue these days - in politics, religion, education, culture or little league parents.  If one mentions compromise, you are considered a whimp, or worse a shill for the opposition.  One of the most distressing comments I heard while attending a lecture this summer on the work of reconciliation and mediation was by the executive director of a midsize city.  "The process of mediation works.  The problem is getting people who are willing to participate.  Our biggest challenge is not the issues that divide us, it is the fact that people don't want to participate, they'd rather hold their positions.  And this is true all along the spectrum."

In 2014, I participated in a program at Duke Divinity school for new denominational leaders.  During the three days of learnings, we participated in a session on change theory.  THe basic idea was that people tend to gravitate toward one of three camps when it comes to change - resistance, pragmatics, enthusiasts.  In America, about 20% are resistors by nature, they just don't like change of any kind.  Another 20% are enthusiasts, they want change on a daily basis, they love variety.  But, 60% are pragmatists.  These folks want to look at the options, discover the reasons and evaluate the pros and cons, all with an eye on "will it work.?"

These seemingly random paragraphs are verses in a hymn titled "In Defense of the Practical Bishop."  While inwardly I am very much a mystic driven by intuitive expressions of God, I am outwardly a practical guy.  I ask the questions of pragmatism, what can be accomplished and how can we do it together.  On the inside I am all about the possibilities, On the outside I am all about the practicalities.

In another post, I'll have to write about the mystics, poets and prophets along with a few demons that inhabit my soul.  But, that's for another day.

Mid-Summer Night's Dream or Day Dream

I trust you are embracing the gift of summer.  Longer days, warmer weather and a slower pace.  I am about to head off for a bike/camping retreat, which will include a digital fast.  That means no social media, email, etc.  I'm bringing my bike, camping gear and some old school books - the kind with paper.

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider - I enjoyed his earlier book on conversion and this one promises some insights into the past and the present.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural history in FOur Meals by Michael Pollan - I've read a few of his other work on food and enjoyed his PBS series on eating, this one's a bit thick but hey, I've got time by the campsite.

Your Money & Your Brain by Jason Zweig -  Everyone thinks they are so rational when it comes to decision making, especially those investor types.  Zweig, who along with Ben Carlson and a few others are looking at money and investing in new ways, is at the forefront of connecting the science of Neuropsychology and Economics.  I'm interested in how this all might connect to generosity and stewardship, which leads me to this:

Great Blog post by Thom Rainer

Money is a subject too many pastors avoid—but they shouldn't. It's important to preach and teach on biblical stewardship. Today we explain seven ways that can lead to increased giving. Some highlights from today's episode include:

  • Pastors shouldn't be fearful about preaching on money or stewardship. 
  • According to some studies, giving increases threefold when someone moves from attending worship only to being a part of a small group. 
  • Consistent ministry involvement typically leads to greater giving involvement. 
  • People no longer give due to institutional loyalty—they give because they believe in the vision. 

The seven reasons we discuss are: 

  1. Pastors preach about money and stewardship.
  2. People move from worship only to small groups.
  3. Members get involved in ministry.
  4. Church leadership is clear and passionate about the vision of the church.
  5. The church has multiple channels for giving.
  6. Leadership is transparent about church finances.
  7. The church is outwardly focused.

Stay cool, enjoy your summer.  Both this blog and the Podcast are taking the month of August off.  We will be back in early September with two fine interviews with Community Organizer Patrick Spear and Mediation Guru Richard Blackburn

Two Podcasts on Climate Change

Just a brief highlight to call your attention to the two podcast interviews I did on the subject of Climate Change.  Go over to the podcast page and have a listen.  As we see these high temperatures, and more importantly receive ongoing scientific data which points to the warming of our climate, it's worth learning more about this topic and what we can do about it.

 

 

What does the Bible Say about Immigration?

People have asked me what I think about the current controversy over Immigration and Refugee Policy engaged by our current government. I decided to start reading the Bible. 

 

“I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Jesus the Christ - Matthew 25:45

Psalm 9:9   The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34

“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9 NLT)

“Is there an honest politician in the house?   Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil,     behind closed doors you make deals with demons.” Psalm 58:1

"This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes,   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,   being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on,   and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way.   The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer.   You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'  Isaiah 58:6. 

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”  Galatians 6:1b  The Message

Jesus told a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: 'My rights are being violated. Protect me!' Luke 18:1

“That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence-and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."  Luke 10:27

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)

Turning Money into Mission

 

Just an FYI - I'd like to remind all that the New England Synod has funds available for projects related to Sabbaticals, Congregational Renewal, Youth and Young Adult and Racism & Multicultural ministry. Every year we have funds that are not awarded because people don't apply. I'm not interested in being a Hedge Fund. Let's turn this money into mission. (OK that's corny, but you get the idea) Start meeting with your leaders and discuss. Plan now to submit in the fall. http://nelutherans.org/resources/documents Then click on Grants

What does a Bishop Do?

A short snapshot of three days

I walk, I talk, I listen.  I wish I drove less.

In the last few days, in a non-chronological order, this has been my work.  I talked with several different pastors from around our synod.  They had various challenges they were facing.  One has a staff member who is not playing well with others and this pastor sought advice and counsel on how best to address the matter.  We came up with some ideas.  Another was facing the challenge of boundaries, not sexual boundaries, but professional.  At what point is it appropriate to engage a colleague regarding their behavior?  How do we maintain the interests of the church, even when it calls on us to put our friendship with someone at risk?  Tough questions.  I later heard back from the pastor, and so far so good - but it was not an easy conversation.

I met with a congregation that is in the middle of a call process, but their finances have restricted them to searching for other models of ministry.  We discussed part-time pastors, part-time ministers from another tradition, lay leadership, partnering with other congregations.  The conversation was honest and open.  It reflected the changing times we are in, and the need to think differently about parish ministry.

I walked with someone who had some very creative ideas about how to address the clergy shortage, train a new generation of ministers and offer them an experience in community.  The ideas were alive, and fraught with all kinds of landmines, but suggested a new vision that is emerging.

I sat with our deans, leaders of conferences, as we learned the value of how to apply organizing principles to congregational renewal.  It was challenging, thoughtful and inspiring.  Our speaker framed every single step in a context of Biblical reflections.  I saw hope coming to life.

In the office, I sat with our Synod Assembly planning team coordinator.  We reviewed details and plans, made lists of tasks to be accomplished along with deadlines.  After three hours, I returned to my office exhausted and exhilarated.  I then sat and signed 60 some certificates for graduates from our coming School of Lay Ministry, and another 40 plus certificates for deacons and pastors celebrating anniversaries at our coming Assembly.  

My hand in a spasm from all the signings, I headed to the car.  On the way home, I listened to a pastor as we talked on the phone.  She shared her sorrows and disappointments in her work.  Her multi-year efforts to teach, preach and visit.  Yet, so many in her congregation don't seem to care or value the teachings of Jesus.

Another conversation centered around concerns for people in the LGBTQ+ community.  How can we as a church, a synod, and I as bishop, best understand, support, challenge, encourage, celebrate.

Three days.  A glimpse into the work I do.  In the words of a colleague of mine, "This work is relentless."

True, but it is also good work.

Keeping the Porch Light On

Our next door neighbor often leaves the porch light on through the night.  Despite the woods that separate our homes it shines in my bedroom window, so I pull the shades.  It has been two years now since her father died.  He had lived in that house for decades, and now it's hers.  I noticed new siding went up last fall, and the UPS delivery truck making more frequent stops.  All the benefits of a new owner or an inheritance, or both.  Yet, the porch light stays lit, as if expecting a visitor late in the evening...or hoping for one.

The Podcast is Hummin' Along

If you haven't jumped over to the Podcast page, I suggest you do that soon.  We've had some great conversations of late.  Jeff Thiemann of Portico, Carrie Smith of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem are two recent guests.  They will also be speakers at our June 2018 Synod Assembly.  So, have a listen and get a preview.

Reading the Bible

The following diagram has been making its way around the internet lately, and I've got a problem with it.  But not for the reasons you think.

 

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First, let's look at what the diagram gets right.  It's actually not a bad depiction of how we understand all the source material that went into what we read in the four gospels.  Most biblical scholars believe that Mark was composed around the year 70, Luke and Matthew around the year 85, and John later, maybe 90 or later.  So these are all gospels that were recorded at least 40 to 60 years after Jesus knocked on doors handing out leaflets in Jerusalem around the year 30 C.E.  (CE = Common Era, used to be AD, but that's another story) The purple represents material that is common to three Gospels, the Blue is just common to Luke Matthew, etc.  You get the idea.  John is off writing his own thing, probably at a Starbuck surrounded by a bunch of Greek philosophy students.  The chart communicates, with limitations, the essence of the idea that a) there are different sources for the three synoptic gospels and b) the gospels share a lot, but not everything.

But, here is my problem with this chart.  We are losing something in this deconstruction approach to biblical reading.  We are losing a sense of story.  Yes, it's true that the stories of Jesus were collected, handed down, oral tradition, told and retold, probably edited for the community that originated the narrative.  But, that doesn't mean they aren't true.  And I don't mean true as in literal newspaper reporting true.  I mean deep true.  Are the parables of the prodigal son and the good samaritan less vital and vibrant because they only appear in Luke and nowhere else.  Does that mean we should discount them as, maybe Jesus didn't actually tell them, or why did only Luke record them?  How's that for a run on sentence?

Even if you are a person outside of the Christian faith tradition, or just a healthy skeptic, you still have to appreciate the power of these stories, and the power of the Jesus story.  I mean come on people.  A man of humble beginnings encounters a radical prophet (John the Baptist) and his alternative community, participates in an initiation rite and heads into the desert for some kind of temptation experience.  After being tested in a wild mystical encounter with spirits and angels and demons returns to his homeland and begins teaching a new way of life and living.  As he begins healing people and teaching he dislodges the current religious and economic systems and brings his teaching right to the face of the empire that has dominated his people for decades.  They respond with brute force, persecution and death.  But, he and his message are so significant that the community and the power that initiated the whole movement lives on.  

That's a story that needs to be told again and again and again.  It's also a story that needs to be lived over and over.  You can't diagram that.  

Two quotes

I heard these two quotes today.  Different but both significant.

"Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes God calms the sailor."  - Anonymous

"Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”  - Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Talking with Reggie McNeal

No, not the former NFL player.  This Reggie McNeal is the author of the Get off Your Donkey, and most recently Kingdom Collaborators.  I had the opportunity to speak with Reggie via a Skype call, and recorded it for the podcast.  You can listen to it here.

Reggie has a perspective on US American congregational life that spans the range of mainline as well as evangelical christianity.  He used to work with leadership Network, as well as serving as a denominational executive in the Southern Baptist church.  But, now he is working on a new project helping cities discover ways they can improve the quality of their communities.  Check out what he has to say about being a 21st Century church.