Privilege

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

Recently a pastor told me a family left the church simply because of a conversation a group at the church was having about privilege. It struck me how this term has become a lightning rod.

I’ve had this conversation with congregations on various occasions, sometimes surrounding a conversation about interviewing female pastors. Other times it is related to race. How do we get past this apparent impasse in the conversation?

At its heart, the conversation is really about the issue of injustice. When we approach it from this angle, I find we rarely get pushback. Everyone knows that life isn’t fair. We see it all the time in our communities. It’s not a level playing field. A child born into a family of subsistence farmers in the Central African Republic does not have the same opportunities as a child born to a millionaire in Switzerland. We all get this. Privilege is simply recognizing that some of us have been born with a decided advantage over others.

There are different kinds of privilege. Wealth, gender, race and more.

We see this in our office all the time. It takes considerably longer for a female pastor to get a call than a male pastor. This isn’t a coincidence. When looking for a call as a pastor, men have a decided advantage over women. When someone uses the words “male privilege,” this is what they mean.

It’s also well documented that when a woman gets a job, she will be paid less than a man in the same position. According to data from the US Census Bureau, the average gender pay gap in the United States is around 19.5%. This means that on average, a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar her male counterpart makes. Women’s median annual earnings are $10,086 less than men’s. That gap can be larger or smaller depending on the state someone lives in. In Louisiana, for instance, the gender pay gap is 30%, the biggest wage gap in the nation.

Privilege

What should we do about this? Feeling guilty helps no one. It helps if men will start by simply acknowledging the truth of the situation. Arguing that male privilege doesn’t exist, when it’s right in front of us, only proves that it does. Secondly, we can check our privilege. Groups will look at a male and a female candidate for a position and just “intuitively feel” that the man just happens to be a “better fit.” Our bias kicks in. Be aware of this force at work when calling a pastor or hiring a plumber. Third, those in positions of influence can be intentional about giving women, who all too often get passed over, opportunities for leadership positions.

What we do in the synod office is make sure there are women on every slate of candidates we give a congregation. Some congregations push back, “Well, bishop, I’m okay with a lady pastor, but I don’t think our congregation is ready…” We ask them to have a phone conversation with every candidate. We have discovered that often congregations speak with a dynamite female candidate, invite her for an interview, and a call is issued.

Once they get the call, female pastors are more likely to get inappropriate remarks, get touched inappropriately, receive comments on their “outfit,” and so on. Often those in leadership have to intervene and set boundaries for congregations who are new to dealing with women in leadership.

A similar dynamic is present in race. If a white person and a person of color apply for a position, often the white person gets the job. The white person is likely to be paid more. Trusted more.

If your family could afford to send you to college, you have a decided advantage over those whose families could not afford to send them to college. Those who go to college make 50% more than those who do not, according to a USA Today article.

If you are a person with family money, or who went to college and is making it well, good for you! There is nothing wrong with this. Just don’t look down your nose at those who are struggling. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that those who are struggling financially are lazy. They’re not. Many are working two jobs to get by.

For people of faith this stuff gets personal. We see the injustices in the world and are not ambivalent. We are called to be part of God’s healing presence in this world. Ignoring or discounting the injustices of the world heaps more hurt on those who have already been traumatized by the inequities of society.

At his hometown synagogue, Jesus quoted from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
~Luke 4; Isaiah 61

When we model our lives after Jesus’ ministry, we intentionally seek out those who have been dealt a bad hand and walk alongside them, as Jesus did. We listen, learn and love.

Reesheda Graham Washington
Reesheda Graham-Washington

The injustice of the world elicits our anger, as Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry say in their book Soul Force. “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” If we take on God’s priorities, we cannot help but be infuriated that so many people are dying of hunger-related causes.

Shawn Casselberry
Shawn Casselberry

We cannot help but be angry at the hatred and violence in our world. Bigotry will make us mad. That’s okay. It’s a good thing. What’s SOUL FORCE bookimportant is what we do with that anger.

 

Graham-Washington and Casselberry point out that people who are involved in the work of social justice have often been harmed themselves. Being comfortable doesn’t tend to motivate us to help others. Our work to make the world right often grows out of our desire to see the woundedness in our own lives made right.

Acknowledging the existence of privilege, acknowledging the playing field is not level, does not mean denigrating those who enjoy those privileges. It means being aware of the inequity and serving those in need. It means listening to those who experience prejudice and responding with compassion. It means working to level the playing field, so that all people might have freedom, food and safety. It means tipping the balance so that others might get a chance.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?
~Micah 6:8

Francis of Assisi and the Blessing of Animals

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

“Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.”
-attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Pet Blessing 1October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who is arguably the most beloved and popular of all the saints. Francis was born Giovanni Bernadone, but nicknamed Francesco, and grew up in a wealthy merchant household.

After a rowdy childhood and young adulthood, and a brief career as a soldier, Francis had a conversion experience that inspired him to renounce his family’s wealth and devote his life to God.

His dedication to poverty, humility, obedience, and compassion soon attracted followers- both men and women. In 1209, he received permission from the Pope to form a new religious order known as the Friars Minor (literally “the lesser brothers”). This would be followed by St. Clare of Assisi establishing the Second Order of Franciscans known as “The Poor Clares.”  And then a Third Order would be formed, comprising women and men who kept their secular lives, but committed to live “in the spirit of” the Franciscan way.

Pet Blessing 2Francis’ deep love for God overflowed into love for all of God’s creation. This was expressed not only in his care of lepers and the poor, but also in his joyful revelry in nature, the sermons he preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are our brothers and sisters.

This is why many churches hold Blessings of the Animals on or near the Feast Day of St. Francis.

Here is a sample Blessing of the Animals liturgy that your congregation can use in your own context.

Peace and all good!

Spiritual Growth through the World of Books and Library Services

Debbie Scott and her husband David are faithful members of St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Sugar Land, TX. They met in the church choir back in 1981 when the church was still located in the Sharpstown area of Houston. That property was sold and the new facility was set in the ever-expanding Houston suburbs to be more accessible to new neighborhoods. The church is now 60 years old, although the congregation has only worshiped in their new building since 2004. Debbie counts herself blessed to have been on the committee that envisioned the new building and how it would uniquely serve its members.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The current sanctuary at St. Martin’s is warm and inviting, with a large narthex that mirrors the widest area inside that sanctuary. Comfortable chairs in groupings invite members to linger in fellowship and conversation. A generous library with a meeting area is positioned close to the narthex for easy access. The coffee bar is the center of the complex, and classrooms and offices beyond reflect the warm and well-lit atmosphere of a modern facility.

Debbie’s contributions to the church design’s objectives are not where her interest stopped—it is what’s inside the library that marks one of her legacies to the church. As a technical writer in her work life at Chevron, she developed a healthy respect for data bases, organization of materials, and the value of research materials. It was with that knowledge base that she began to acquire, catalogue, and build a church library that would rival private and some public collections as well. The collection includes resources for children, young readers, adults, and serious scholars.

Not all the approximately 5,000 books, DVDs, and CDs are religious, but most address a spiritual need of some kind. Her goal is to ensure that the interest and needs of the congregation and others are met through the wide range of media in the library. Not only are they cataloged, but they are periodically “weeded” to maintain a fresh and vital collection that continually draws interest. As a volunteer libriarian, she provides displays in the narthex, participates in the congregation’s book club, and looks for ways to generate interest in the services the library provides. Debbie says, “It would be wonderful if everyone who uses our facilities checked out resources from the library, but that’s not realistic. I want to have the right resource for the right person at the right time, whether that be a reference book to answer a difficult Bible question, a self-help book to provide advice and counsel, or an inspirational biography or novel for uplifting entertainment.”

Although Debbie has had other leaders’ support for the library throughout the years, she hopes the Lord is planting seeds for others to rise up and carry the torch in the future–promoting the library services for the next generation at St. Martin’s. She would love to know that books and the world they open will always be there for the congregation. She would also challenge other congregations to start or refurbish their libraries. “If you have a love of books, you can learn the mechanics of managing a library. Start small, perhaps with a collection of religious books for children. That’s the most heavily used section at St. Martin’s.” She would be happy to consult with others who are interested in this ministry.

She knows first-hand about a love for Christ, his Church, and his people through her parents. Her father, L. G. Wehman was a pastor in the Southwest Texas Synod and has been an inspiration, modeling service to God’s work. Debbie worked with her mother, Jerry, to set up a library in their previous congregation. L.G. and Jerry now live near Orlando, Florida and attend a small church there. Debbie and her husband David, a retired chemical engineer, raised two children, Bethany and Jake, at St. Martin’s. Bethany has carried her mother’s love of books into a career as coordinator of digital projects at the University of Houston Library. Jake continues the musical tradition by playing bass guitar for special church services.

David’s talents have led him to harmonizing in barbershop and gospel quartets for fun. Debbie and David both attend conferences and conventions of their personal interest now that they are retired. Despite a retirement varied in interests and activity, their hearts are centered in the church and their 33-year love for St. Martin’s is evident!

The Scotts, like other congregation members of St. Martin’s, challenge themselves in new ways of showing God’s love to others. We say thank you to the Scotts and other congregation members who leave many legacies of caring at their home church.

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Worship Here is a climate-focused liturgy for the commemoration of Francis of Assisi. World Communion Sunday on 10/7 is a good time to worship with the entire cosmos. Check out this liturgy for One World Week (10/21 – 10/28). Consider these seasonal creation-focused prayers for Pentecost in year B. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education In observance of Indigenous Peoples Day (10/8), utilize these resources on environmental justice with indigenous peoples. Youth educational resources for One World Week are available. Join with people of other faiths for Green Events for Houses of Worship on Oct. 14. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on Sept. 30, China’s National Sword Policy & Its Impact on Recycling, and on Oct. 28, Scripture & Science – What’s the Connection? educate on creation care.  Plan now to attend All Earth is Waiting – An Advent Retreat on Nov. 30 – Dec. 1.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Encourage members to join the Lutherans Restoring Creation team for the EcoChallenge (10/3 – 10/24). Share the devotion that is posted each week on Facebook. Pass along the Taking Stock of Electricity Use tool to members and this material on understanding the source of their electricity to encourage energy conservation.

Building & Grounds Use this resource to consider how to conserve electricity in your building/grounds.  If you’re in The Woodlands, sign up for the Waterwise Challenge.  If not, you can still plan to turn off automated sprinklers from 10/15 – 4/15. Also, check out their other water conservation resources. To reduce waste from your operations, consider TRUE certification. When making purchases, look for Cradle to Cradle certification on products.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Encourage members to join the Lutherans Restoring Creation team for Bike Around the Bay Oct. 20 & 21, or the much shorter, family-friendly Park to Port ride. Observe Texas Native Plants Week (10/14 – 10/20) by planting the nine natives on your property or in cooperation with a local park.  Observe World Food Day (10/16) by working in a community or school garden, or establishing one on your property.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2018 is Stewardship.

Jordan Fengel
Jordan Fengel, Executive Dir., State of TX Alliance for Recycling

China’s National Sword Policy & It’s Impacts on Recycling
Sunday, Sep. 30, at 6 p.m.

In September, we welcome Jordan Fengel, Executive Director of STAR (State of Texas Alliance for Recycling).  For nearly 50 years, recycling has been a staple practice throughout many American communities. A recent policy change by the Chinese government in 2017, enacted in 2018, banning many recyclable materials from being imported, has created a conundrum in the recycling industry. The US has relied on China to process our mixed plastic and mixed paper recyclables for the last 20+ years. With China set to eliminate all imports of recyclable materials by 2020, Jordan will discuss what STAR is doing to turn the tide. He will explain how STAR sees this crisis more as a fantastic opportunity to build American processing and manufacturing markets that have been long needed. These markets will manage and create the products we use on a daily basis locally and regionally, creating Texas jobs and providing economic growth.   Please register for this talk, and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions.

Park to Port Ride

Saturday, Oct. 6, 7:30 – 9 a.m. start
Hermann Park

Park and RideJoin with other Lutherans/Lutheran families for the Park to Port ride benefitting Hermann Park in Houston.  The ride begins at the park, and is 20 miles round trip, with a stop for food/drink/fun at the midway point.  The ride features a rolling start from 7:30 – 9 a.m. and the post-ride party continues until noon. Don’t have a bike?  A limited number of bikes are available to borrow.  Join the fun and care for God’s good creation!  Register for the ride at:  https://www.hermannpark.org/calendar/park-to-port-bike-ride/.  Contact Cheryl Pfennig at cepfennig@gmail.com to find out how to meet up with other Lutherans for the ride.

What do you mean I’m “at risk”?

By Blair Lundborg

19do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.  (I Cor 6:19-20)

fitbitIt was one of the many e-mails that we rostered ministers get from Portico. It was an invitation to participate in a program to improve my overall health. The carrot was additional wellness dollars for me to spend on medications or the health care deductible. I don’t like to leave money on the table, so I explored the offer more carefully. It was a 16-week plan designed to help lower my risk of type II diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The program is called Omada. Some of you received the same invitation. Congratulations. Welcome to the “at risk” club.

If I signed up, they were going to provide a health coach, an app to track my progress, written resources to teach me a healthier lifestyle, AND a fancy smart scale that would track and upload my daily weigh ins. Portico was picking up the tab for the program and throwing in a bunch of wellness dollars to boot. How could I say no?

Later I learned that the reason Portico “invited” me to participate in Omada is that my recent blood work indicated that I was at “higher risk” of type II diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. That was not a news flash for me. I come by it honestly. It’s in my genes. Both of my parents and grandparents had the same risk factors. I’m grateful that Portico is interested in helping me address these health challenges, even if it is to save money on how much is spent on treating my long-term health risks.

I try to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Omada has been a good motivation to be more intentional about living a healthier and more active lifestyle. Sometimes it’s a challenge. The kind of work we do doesn’t always help. We often sit for extended periods at our desks, in our cars, in meetings. We are often guests at meals where healthy eating is a challenge. Add to that a full calendar and the stress of our work and we have a recipe for health challenges.

You have probably heard the news that sitting is the new smoking. Even for those who exercise on a regular basis, sitting for prolonged periods of time is a risk factor for early death. How much sitting is too much? The general consensus is an hour or more. Researchers are telling us that people who sit for less than 30 minutes at a time have the lowest risk of early death. It is recommended that we raise our heart rates through physical activity at least once every hour.

Remember those Fitbit activity trackers the Synod gave to rostered leaders a few years back? Most of those have bit the dust or been through the wash so many times they no longer work. I’m on my third Fitbit since the Synod’s freebie, partly because I’m a sucker for gadgets. But this particular gadget has been instrumental in changing my behavior in a positive way.

OK, I admit I get annoyed when my Fitbit vibrates on my wrist with a reminder that I’ve been sitting too long. My temptation is hit the “snooze” button. This gadget has trained me to think twice about ignoring the reminder. Looks like I’m not much different than Pavlov’s dog. I get up from my desk, make a couple of laps around the office. If I’m on my phone, I take the caller on a walk with me. Sometimes I do the budget Stairmaster thing and climb the eight floors of steps in the Wells Fargo building where the Synod office is housed. The Fitbit rewards me with another “buzz” and positive message to keep up the good work. I don’t always reach my daily goals, but I’m giving it my best effort. For the times I fail there’s always God’s amazing grace (grin).

As a demographic, rostered ministers are less healthy than the general population. We are more sedentary, overweight, stressed, and older than other professionals. Some of that is beyond our control. Most of it isn’t. Taking care of our health is really a matter of stewardship. Caring for our health is the first step in being able to care for others in our ministries. It takes work. Sometimes it feels like another job to check off our To-do list. Some of us need gimmicks like Fitbits and smart scales to keep us motivated. Whatever it takes, it is worth it. We are more effective leaders when we are healthy.

As the summer months wind down, let’s take some time to do a health check inventory. Let’s do it before the increased pace of the Fall Schedule. Be sure to take some of your vacation time if you haven’t done so already. Be faithful about your days off by making them a genuine sabbath time. Give some thought to what you eat and how it makes you feel. Join Omada if you’re so inclined. Find an accountability partner to keep on track. Whatever it takes, remember that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God” (I Cor 6:19). We only get one body. Let’s try to do the best job of caring for it as we answer God’s call to care for others.

Colorado Youth Bless Baytown Congregation

Over a thousand miles from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Baytown, is the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. But that distance did not stop members of Christ Lutheran from wanting to help out after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

Colorado youth helping Baytown 2

So when 39 youth and 12 adults from Christ Lutheran attended the ELCA Youth Gathering this past month, they headed to Baytown to help those still recovering. “We’ve done anything and everything here at the church,” said Gary Knutston, youth director. “We’ve been repainting benches, helped with the food pantries on Monday, we’ve done landscaping and fixed the lighting in the hall.” They group also fixed fences, and a wheelchair ramp, and other various tasks around Baytown.

Colorado Youth helping Baytown 1

colorado youth group

 

Sabbath: The Stewardship of Being

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

Sabbath 2Stewardship is more than how and where we’re generous with our money. It is also about how we are generous with our time. So many of us have such hectic schedules- working, raising families, going to school, paying bills. It is so easy to forget to be generous with ourselves. We fail to take Sabbath time, time for renewal and recreation, time to heal and to rest in the arms of our heavenly Parent.

I know this was the case for me. In my first ten years of ministry, I lost out of 23 weeks of vacation and continuing education time, not because it wasn’t offered to me, but because I’d stay busy all year, and then, in December, would find myself with two or three weeks of unused time.

Sabbath 1It has only been in the past four years that in December, I intentionally sketch out all my vacation and continuing education time for the coming year, even if I don’t know yet where or how I’ll use it. This is a good practice because it means it’s on the calendar, and then, if I need to move it, I can. But I’m less likely to skip out on the Sabbath rest that keeps me healthy and grounded.

This past week I had the opportunity to visit the Grünewald Guild in Washington state. The Grünewald Guild is a retreat center whose mission is “to welcome and inspire all who seek to explore the relationships between art, faith & community.”  Vonda Drees and Jim Drees are the co-directors.

I signed up for a writing workshop called “The Medium of Memory” as a way to hone my practice of spiritual journaling. They also offered classes in pottery, weaving, and stained glass-making.

Sabbath 3The breathtaking views, surprising hospitality, holy space to experiment and practice the arts, the community that formed around delicious meals, morning and evening devotions, and other activities, made for a week of slowing down, listening to God, and enjoying creation.

I encourage each of you to be sure to take time to engage in Sabbath-taking throughout the year. And if you’re looking for a sacred experience, I invite you to consider the Grünewald Guild as an option for continuing education.

www.grunewaldguild.com

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Worship Planning now for fall? Consider a Season of Creation observance in September. Don’t forget the World Day of Prayer for Creation on Sept. 1. Here is a liturgy for the commemoration of Francis of Assisi. Consider these seasonal creation-focused prayers for Pentecost in year B. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education Check out the Walking Tour of Your Day used at the Youth Gathering. Consider the book, A New Heaven, A New Earth as an adult study. Encourage members to participate in Awakening the Spirit, an interfaith environmental study offered by the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on Aug. 26, Sustainability at Rice University, and on Sept. 30, China’s National Sword Policy & Its Impact on Recycling, educate on practical creation care.  Plan now to attend All Earth is Waiting – An Advent Retreat on Nov. 30 – Dec. 1.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Pass along the Taking Stock of Car Use tool to members to encourage less driving or this consideration of air travel. Encourage members to join the Lutherans Restoring Creation team for Bike Around the Bay Oct. 20 & 21.  Direct members to the Wild Lectionary for home devotions.

Building & Grounds Get discounted rain barrels & compost bins from the City of Houston (sale opens Aug. 15).  Try before you buy by borrowing “greening” books from the Earth Ministry library. Reduce the environmental impact of staff commuting by considering alternatives to driving. Check out the options offered by Metro in greater Houston or the Harris County Transit site.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Observe National Public Lands Day (9/22) with an outdoor activity in a park.  Begin participating in the EarthEcho Water Challenge in observance of World Water Monitoring Day (9/18). Or, look for an event near you for National Estuaries Week (9/15 – 9/22). Petition the governor of TX to ban plastic straws.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.