Monday, November 29, 2004

Rowan Williams' Pastoral Letter

As we move towards the Advent season once again, I write with love and concern for the well-being of our Communion and the future of our common discipleship. In II.Tim.4.8, the apostle speaks of the Lord’s promise ‘to all those who wait with love for him to appear’ - or, in the older translation, ‘all them also that love his appearing’. The Church is - in human terms - the assembly of those who ‘love his appearing’. We are drawn together by love and gratitude for what we see in Christ’s first appearing - his birth in humility, his ministry, his saving death and glorious resurrection - and by loving hope for his coming again. We look forward, praying (in the words of one of the most profound of the Christmas collects) ‘that we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our judge.’

Read the rest here.

A good message for us Lutherans to hear as well.

From our Baptist friends, Tony Campolo and Gary Bauer say they know the difference between George W Bush and Jesus Christ. Thanks to Jesus Politics for this.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Christian-Republican alliance: Faustian bargain?

While conservative Christians are protesting the new Kinsey movie, the first ammendment center suggests why such tactics are inappropriate.

If it is true that North America has become a "secular" culture, would it neccessarily follow that Christians need to wage war against it? Is that what Jesus told his disciples to do?

Klein wins (surprise!)

PC 61
Lib 17

Boy! My numbers came mighty close yesterday.

With only 46.8 percent of the vote, an issue-less campaign, the loss of some prominent Tories, NDP Leader Brian Mason was right when he said that Klein has no mandate to ram through privatized health care.

But it still astounds me that folks vote for the PC's despite the contempt they've shown towards the voters by not bothering to cobble together a platform. Specifically, saying that they won't unveil their health care plan until after the election. Or, one could say that Klein has a mandate to govern on the platform he ran on and the issues he presented as his priorities.

But if Klein himself was what the PC government had going for them heading into this election, then what might happen in 4 years after Ralph retires? We might have (shockers!) a Liberal government in Alberta. Kevin Taft certainly has the ideas, vision, and ability to pull off a victory when Klein gets out of the way. The Liberals doubled their seats with no money and against a very popular premier. Imagine what could happen with a fully stocked war chest against some nutty cabinet minister who's taken over Klein's job.

Alberta politics just got interesting.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Like the Proverbial Pooch

This weekend was hell. A nasty stomach virus made its way through our household, sending both kids to the emergency.

Today is Election Day in Alberta. Or should I say Coronation Day. The media’s input has been less than riviting. Most headlines say something like: “It’s voting day in Alberta, but Klein is expected to win a majority.” In other words, don’t bother voting, it’s already a foregone conclusion. Stay home and keep warm and sedate yourself with a cold beer and Monday Night Football.

But it despite the PC’s hold on the province, neither the Calgary Herald nor the Edmonton Journal have endorsed Klein, but neither have they come out and endorsed one of the opposition parties, effectively sanctioning the status quo. As one who has lived here for only a year, I get the province's cultural conservatism (but am not part of it), but these conservatives do not represent the best of conservatism. They thrive on Fed-baiting, hurting the marginalized, and represent big money. The best of conservatism focuses on civic responsibility, rewards achievement, is fiscally responsible and community minded. These conservatives speak only one language: money.

Having said that, here is my prediction

PC 61
Lib 16
Alliance 2

Friday, November 19, 2004

December's Pastoral Letter

Too late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new,
too late have I loved you!
You were within me but I was outside myself, and I sought You there!
In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made.
You were with me, and I was not with You.
The things You have kept me from .
You were with me, and I was not with You.
The things You have kept me from You –
the things which would have no being unless they existed in You!

You have called, You have cried out, and You have pierced my deafness.
You have radiated forth, and have shined out brightly,
and you have dispelled my blindness.
You have set forth Your fragrance, and I have breathed it in,
And I have longed for You.
I have tasted You, and I hunger and thirst for You.
You have touched me, and I ardently desire Your peace.

St. Augustine of Hippo, 354-430

As I write this I can’t believe that I’ve been here for a year already. When I left Halifax, it was a beautiful autumn day. When I stepped off the plane in Calgary, I was met by snow and ice. But after listening to news reports, it looks like fortunes have been reversed, as Nova Scotia is digging out of a foot or two of snow and waiting for their lights to come back on, we are enjoying warm, October-like weather.

But weather is not the only reason I’m glad to be here. I am enjoying ministry here immensely. Mostly because I am surrounded by a people whose faithfulness to this ministry leaves me inspired and humbled. What drives me so intensely in ministry is being caught up in the vision that God has for our community. But that vision doesn’t happen in a vacuum. God’s visions come from a community grounded in worship and prayer.

Worship and prayer remind us who we are and whose we are. I liked that quote from St. Augustine because it reminds us that our true stance is toward God in prayer, hungering and thirsting for the presence of God in our lives and the world, but also being aware enough to know that we miss signs of God that exist all around us.

For me, one of the greatest challenges in preaching is finding hints of God’s presence in peoples’ lives and our community. Too often, I look for the big moves of God. The child healed of cancer. The marriage pulled from the brink of divorce. The radically transformed “sinner” into a card-carrying member of the church.

But God doesn’t always work that way. God, most often works within the smallest, almost imperceptible areas of life: the child giving a spontaneous hug to the older woman who just lost her husband. A bag of groceries dropped on the door step of the young family struggling to pay the bills. A brief prayer in the hallway between friends. Nothing earth shattering. But wholly life-giving.

It is my prayer that we will breathe deeply the fragrance of God and taste profoundly God’s grace in our lives, and that we will sing the song of our salvation to each other and to a world that so desperately needs to listen to God’s lyric of new life.

Grace and peace to you,


Monday, November 15, 2004

Jesus Sells

Jeremy Lott, offers a stinging critique of the Christian culture industry. Excellent stuff from an insider.

On a different note, Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, calls upon Europeans to stop blaming the Americans and confront the horrors and injustices of industrial globalization. It looks like the American Experiment may be about to emigrate...back to Europe. Thought provoking!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

To join the union or not to join the union, that is not the question

By my friend Kevin Little. Published in today's National Post.


I read with interest the debate over whether United Church
clergy should join the
Canadian Auto Workers union. I can't say I was surprised,
as a United Church minister I
have heard my colleagues expressing deep frustration over
how they have been treated for
years. My concern is not whether United Church clergy are
unionized or are represented
by the likes of Mr. Hargrove. My concern is whether my
church has a sense of purpose and
a confidence in its mission.

When a parishoner or someone off the street comes to my
office complaining of anxiety
and lack of fulfillment my first questions to her/him are
not about working conditions
and their level of salary. Frankly I know Nuns and Priests
who run soup kitchens and
encounter life disasters each night that I can't ever
imagine. Their salaries can't be
much more than the manager at the Burger King down the
street. But they have purpose and
mission in their work. They know that what they do matters.

I believe that some of the anxiety, the frustration, the
anger that many clergy feel,
that many lay people feel, is a result of what William
Willimon in his study guide "The
Search for Meaning" calls meaninglessness. "Spiritual
emptiness is a precursor of
hopelessness, depression, existential sickness..."

After fifteen years of ordered ministry, serving churches
in rural, small town, suburban
and urban contexts I have discovered that the church often
fails to understand its
mission. Most evangelical churches are more clear about
their purpose. They are there to
save people from damnation, to give people the joy of
Christ in their lives. For all of
the conflict and crisis in these churches there is still a
clear vision of what the
pastor and the church is about. Who needs a union when
everyone understands the rules
and the role of the participants?

But for mainline churches and their clergy this is not so
clear. We are not
fundamentalists. Some of us clergy think our role is to be
chaplains to a social club,
some of us think we are social workers, some of us think we
are teachers, some of us
think we are revolutionaries, and some of us just don't
know. And the churches we serve
are even more conflicted. They want to grow, but why? So we
can restore the legacy of
our forebearers? So we can civilize the state? So we can
civilize the masses? So we can
be a bright beacon shining on a hill? So we can show others
the way? What?

And this lack of a clear mission has real consequences to
the covenantal relationship
between clergy and the churches we serve. When attendance
falls, when volunteers are
tired because no one will replace them, when ministers with
seven years of university
education are paid less than any and all professionals,
when churches are forced to
merge or close, there is the inevitable blame game, finger
pointing. Clergy blame
listless laypeople and laypeople blame incompetent clergy.

My point is this; dwindling numbers in the pews wouldn't
matter to anyone if the church
felt it was making a meaningful difference to the
community, to each other. Volunteers
would find the time if they truly believed in the mission
of the church. Clergy would
take jobs as nightclerks and serve the parish by day if
they believed that the mission
of the church was crucial to providing purpose to their
lives. Churches wouldn't care if
they merged, moved to the school gymnasium down the street,
or just met in people's
living rooms, IF the congregation was motivated by a common
sense of mission.

Instead churches will draw up job descriptions that make
being the new CEO of Nortel
look like a cake-walk. They are looking for a Messiah to do
it all! Clergy quickly
become disillusioned with their churches and start looking
for Chaplain positions,
staff positions at Conference or National Office or
Outreach ministries. Why? In all of
the above the purpose and mission are much more clearly

My sense is that the church is the very place in our
consumerist, individualistic, and
narcissistic culture where the search for meaning can have
real consequences. Where
Jesus can speak to us. One possible solution for the United
Church of Canada is to adopt
a model for mission along the lines of the Church of the
Saviour. There to become a
member one must complete a rigorous two-year education
program in five fields; Old
Testament, New Testament, Doctrine, Ethics, and Christian
Growth. When I was confirmed
at 13 I can't recall a thing the Minister and my class
talked about. At Church of the
Saviour new members serve an internship in one of the
mission groups, usually in a inner
city context. Community discipline includes tithing,
keeping a personal journal,
reporting weekly to the group's spiritual director,
fasting, and renewing one's covenant
annually. Tithing is almost unheard of among members of the
United Church.

Still we in the United Church have a rich history of social
activism I am very
proud of; the equality of women, medicare, refugees, gays
and lesbians, care for those
with HIV/AIDS. If every denomination had our courage in
addressing these issues the Body
of Christ would be a bolder and more dynamic force to be
reckoned with! The missing
link, it seems to me, is to connect our hungry Spirits with
the nourishing work of Jesus
in our midst. Mission cannot be an after-thought or a busy
alternative to a deeper and
more profound encounter with the Divine. It has to permeate
every aspect of the church;
our Bible studies, our prayer life, our worship

Many of our churches are figuring this out. It is slow
evolution from being a church of
privilege and status like we were in the 50's (where
cabinet ministers would routinely
appear at groundbreaking ceremonies) to churches today that
offer sanctuary to illegal
immigrants and risk serving jail time. But this painful and
yet re-energizing
transformation won't be helped or harmed by unionizing
clergy. In fact it is irrelevant,
a distraction. Pay every clergy person six figure incomes,
empower Mr. Hargrove to
negotiate our contracts, engage Mr. Greenspan to represent
us every time we are in
conflict, and it won't change a thing if we don't believe
that what we do really
matters. That it has intrinsic meaning and purpose.

Kevin Little is a United Church minister serving in Ottawa.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Friday, November 12, 2004

From The Revealer

Barry Goldwater biographer Rick Perlstein reports on some surprising numbers crunched by political scientist Phil Klinkner. Bush's support among heavy churchgoers in 2000 and 2004? Identical. Bush's support among wealthy voters? Big surge in '04. "It's the wealth, stupid," writes Perlstein.

Jeff Sharlot offers a strong rebuttal to this claim. Click here for the rest of the article.

Also, Arafat was buried today and many folks are suggesting that this is a new day for Israeli/Palastinian peace talks. But Mark Levine has concerns:

As the Bush Administration and America’s pundocracy search for a new generation of pragmatic and non-violent Palestinian leaders, they should be heartened to know that they won’t have to look very hard to find them. But that’s because so many are either in the hospital, jail or exile. And like Arafat shriveling away in his besieged Muqata’a (which will now be his tomb), the Palestinian peace movement will continue to wither as long as Israel is more comfortable confronting Hamas than Ahmed Awad.

Read the rest of the article here.

For a summary of many religous leaders' responses to Arafats death, check out this article from the Anglican Journal.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Is Ned Flanders Keeping George Bush in the White House?

How would Homer vote? Check out how folks in Springfield might cast their ballot. A week outdated, but fun nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Tuesday November 9, 2004

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 1 Chronicles 7:14

Willow Creek Community Church, just outside of Chicago is, by any standards, a massive church. They have a membership into the tens of thousands, and on any given weekend they welcome 15 000 souls through their front doors. I had the opportunity to visit Willow Creek 2 summers ago and I left with deeply mixed feelings. After making our way through parking lot number 3, we found the front doors, where upon entry, we were greeted not by a smiling usher handing us a bulletin, or a bible open to John 3:16, or even a cross on the wall – but we were greeting by the smell of hamburgers frying at one of the booths of the food court. In fact, upon entry, there was nothing telling us that this was a place where God was worshipped. Beside the food court was a lounge with comfy chairs arranged in a circle so the overflow of worshippers could watch the 5:15 Saturday evening service while enjoying a fresh cup of java while watching the service on a Big-screen TV. I couldn’t help but ask myself, How does this place represent poor man from Nazareth named Jesus?

I also marveled at how well the brilliant strategy their senior Pastor Bill Hybels worked in attracted people to church. His strategy wasn’t new. The Jesuits have been doing same thing for the last 500 hundred years. 1300 years before them, the ancient Celtic church saw massive growth in the church as the gospel rippled its way across Europe. This strategy is now called “inculturation.” Basically it means to use the trappings of the culture to preach and teach the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel isn’t shared, heard, or experienced in a vacuum. The gospel needs a vehicle, and the vehicle that Willow Creek uses is the consumer culture of the affluent suburbs of Middle America. But I have to be honest, hearing testimonies of people whose lives have been transformed by the power of gospel through the ministry of Willow Creek, people who testify of relationships healed, addictions brought under control, the lonely finding community, I have to say that God working powerfully through that ministry.

But yet, I also have to ask myself if they’re missing a second step. At what point do we use culture, and at what point do we challenge culture? If we distance ourselves too much from the culture we run the risk of becoming irrelevant, an island unto ourselves speaking a language only we can understand. But if we use too much of the culture, we risk losing our distinctiveness, our prophetic witness to the alternative way of living that Jesus call us to. But the results will be the same; we will become irrelevant.

But while Willow Creek is an extreme model, I wonder if we Lutherans can fall into the same traps set for us by the world that surrounds us. What makes us different from the rest of the world? Are we a “counter-culture” that lives in sharp distinction to the rest of the world as many of the theologians suggest, or is our faith merely a “spare tire religion” where we pull it out when the wheels of life go flat? How do we live our faith that speaks to the good news we have received in Jesus Christ? Is our common witness to the life-altering, world-changing power of God evident in how we live our lives as a community? Do we use the resources that God has so graciously give us on ourselves or do we share abundantly with a world outside our doors who is starving for grace?

These are questions the prophets ask the people of God all throughout the bible. Whether its Amos and Hosea in the north or Isaiah and Jeremiah in the south; whether the times are prosperous or perilous, the message remains the same: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.”

In other words God is saying, “Always keep me in your sight. Remember who you are; a people chosen to be a light to all the world.”

I know for me, sometimes I let my dreaming, my ambition, my hunger for influence and status in the world distract me from where God wants me to be. I often get caught up in how my life will impact the world I forget how God’s world will impact my life. I like this text because it haunts me. When I mark an achievement in my life, this text reminds me of how fleeting worldly success is. When I hear the siren call to worldly power and status, this text calls me to greater humility. When I am tempted to wonder if the grass is somehow greener in another pasture, this text calls me to stronger commitment among the people I am called to serve.

But perhaps mostly, this text calls me to my knees to kneel in repentance, prayer, and to seek after the one who named me and claimed for his own. I think this is God’s message for us as people of God, God is asking us, Why do you spend your lives chasing after shadows that flicker and die, when what I’m offering lasts forever? I don’t need your riches. Instead of a big cheque, bring me your tears, bring me your diseases, bring me your broken heart. Instead of fancy buildings all I need from you is that which the world asks that you hide: your sickness, your sorrow, your loneliness.

This is kind of offering that God wants; for us to bring our brokenness and pain and to lay it at the foot of the cross to be crucified with Jesus, so we can rise with him in the freedom that belongs to the children of God. Jesus is offering us the love that sweeps us into eternity: unlimited life, love-filled life; joy-filled life; deathless life!

Monday, November 08, 2004

More Monday Musings

How different are Christians from the rest of the world?

This is a question that has been plaguing me lately. I sometimes look out into my congregation and, on the one hand, feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the compassion, care, and kindness that they have shown me and each give to each other. But I also wonder if this is all there is; a group of nice, middle class, Christians who attend church, give of their time and money to support the work of the church.

Then I wander into the local Christian bookstore and I am floored by how similar it is to a secular bookstore. Many of the books are different than at Chapters, but some of the themes are the same: Self-esteem. Financial management. Leadership. Self-help. The Christian musicians on the big posters at the back are of the beautiful people sort, and much of the music is below mediocre.

To me, much of North American Christianity has become a white-picket fenced, 2 car garage, 2.6 children religion that asks very little from us. The Christian sub-culture seems to exist for its own sake rather than for the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God.

Did Jesus die for this…?

Before the hypocrisy police come and take me away, I must confess that. my library is not completely pure. I have a few John Maxwell books on leadership and team building sandwiched between my Alban Institute stack and my systems theory stuff. I have a couple of business books to help me with my management skills. I even have The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People nestled between Motivating Employees and 100 Ways to Promote Yourself. Three books that came highly recommended by a church bureaucrat in Chicago.

Even reading these books, learning the latest leadership tactics of the CEO of Coca-cola, I felt that I might be barking up the wrong tree. These folks were talking about effective organizational management, visionary leadership, and winning strategies for institutional success. The backs of the book jackets all had 50-something men in $1000 suits. The question that kept haunting me was: “Would Jesus, the poor man from Nazareth recognize himself among these strategies? Or are these just religious recipes to make us feel good about our affluence?”

In other words, does Jesus ask us to build an effective organization? Is that what discipleship is all about?

I know that the church is not “pure” and will never be on this side of the parousia. No church has been without its temptations to worldly success and power, and all the trappings that go with it. My church is looking at a new building, but I sometimes wonder if a new building will simply stroke our consumerist impulses as we design, plan, and decorate. Will the simple act of building a new facility contradict the counter-cultural message of the gospel that we proclaim as salvation?

Just some random thoughts on my way out the door.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

More on Unionizing the United Church

Incredible. I wholly support the work of unions in the secular world. But the church is, somehow, different. As people of God, we have the mechanisms to resolve our conflicts without the need for third party intervention.

The United Church's response can be found here.

No sermon today. The youth took over the service so I was relieved of that particular duty. And they did a fantastic job!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Union[ize] With God?

Check this out. Some United Church of Canada clergy want to unionize, citing “psychological and physical abuse, bad working conditions, sweatshop wages and a corporate church that responds to their problems inadequately.”

I’m sorry, but this is just too weird. The pastor/parish relationship is not like that of an employer/employee. Sure, there’s problems in many churches, but is unionizing the best way to handle them?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bishops Hanson and Griswold Respond to Tueday's Election

The Griswold article comes courtesy of Fr. Jake. Read the full text here.

Having come through one of the most vitriolic and divisive election campaigns any of us has ever experienced, we now look ahead to the next four years and the continuing leadership of President Bush. For many of our fellow citizens this is a cause for rejoicing. For others it is an occasion for despair. Given the polarizing rhetoric that has been employed throughout the campaign, it may be very difficult to find our way forward. Therefore, what is needed now on all sides is a genuine effort to move beyond entrenched positions and to seek common ground. What is needed now is a unifying vision, clearly articulated, of our great nation as a servant of all the world's peoples in their yearning after justice and peace.

Our President has consistently named his religious faith as the guiding force of his decisions, and our nation proclaims in the "Pledge of Allegiance" that we are one nation "under God." Such obedience to God obliges us to look always to the well-being of a world broken and bleeding, which God loves so much that he came among us in the person of Jesus to reconcile to himself and to save. Such obedience obliges us to ground our national policies in much more than self-interest and self-protection.

Let us pray that in the difficult and challenging days ahead we together, regardless of our several points of view, along with our President, may be faithful to what the Lord requires. And, as the prophet Micah tells us, what the Lord requires is "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA pretty much says the same thing.

As a religious leader and a citizen with great regard for this country, I acknowledge as well the many voices that remind us of the significance of this election, not only for this country but for people throughout the world. We have heard the challenge -- and the plea -- that the economic, political and military power of the United States be exercised in ways that serve justice, peace and care for the environment. The American electorate has spoken in this election about its deep concern for personal moral values and faith. It is my hope that we will not separate personal morality from public responsibility for the complex moral issues of hunger and poverty, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, civil war and social inequities. May our faith not isolate us in fear but give us courage to work with others to find a just and lasting peace.

As Lutherans we affirm that good government is a gift from God when that authority and responsibility is exercised in the service of the common good. I will cooperate with this administration in working toward a unity in this country that is enriched by our diversity. I will also pray for President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their families as they continue to carry out the privilege and responsibility of leadership.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Bush Victory

Bush: 274
Kerry: 252

No one could accuse Kerry of not running a good campaign. Sure he made some small mistakes, but he was impeccable in the debates, picked a dynamic running mate to off set his perceived lack of personality, and stuck to his message. Kerry's only real mistake was being a Democrat running against a neo-conservative Republican. That’s how he went from war hero to war criminal in the space of four months.

A Republican White House. A Republican Senate. A Republican Congress. A Republican dominated Supreme Court. The checks and balances that provide a safeguard against tyranny and corruption have been compromised if not devastated.

The only hope there is for an effective opposition is for moderate Republicans for wage war within the GOP for a more balanced policy formation.

But we’ll see.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The American Voter is Engaged

Long line ups at polls. 73 per cent turn out expected in Ohio. 84 per cent in Washington. Extreme emotions on both sides. The American Voter is engaged. A charitable person might say that this is great for democracy. An uncharitable person might say that this is a product of a deeply polarized America. No matter who wins, the conflict may intensify.

Al Franken calls today a "hallowed day" - Election Day. A day when we not only celebrate, but also participate in the "majesty of democracy." Being a Canadian, I don't think that Americans have a corner on freedom and democracy. But for better or for worse, their self-described witness to the values of citizen participation in its own governance can be a model for the world. But for democracy to work, we need an educated, informed, enagaged, electorate and an honest, open, civil, and fair process.

Time will tell if the Americans will live up to the standard they have set for themselves.

So today I pray for my American sisters and brothers, for peace and justice to prevail, and for the power of democracy to shine through their process.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Musings for a Monday Morning

Tomorrow is the big day. Warren Kinsella has dire predictions of a Bush victory, and he just may be right. But time will tell, and the wisdom of the American voter will prevail. Now there’s a thought!

On a different note: here’s an article from Finland on how the C of F lost 70 000 member in the years 2002-2003. Yikes! That’s a big loss. Even for Lutherans. “But don’t despair!” The Lutheran World Federation would tell us, “There are 66 million Lutherans around the world.” So on the surface it looks like we are a formidable group. But check under the hood and we find that many of the numbers come from European state churches where attendance and church involvement hover in the single digits.

Also, my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, reports something like 150 000 Lutherans from sea to sea to sea (but Reg Bibby in his book Restless Churches reports that 600 000 Canadians think they’re Lutherans). But when I look at the stats for our churches, a typical entry is: Baptized membership 800, Confirmed membership, 550, average weekly attendance: 80. So where are the other 720 missing Lutherans? Do they count toward the 66 million that the LWF claims?

So the 66 million Lutherans declaration sounds a wee bit inflated.

But not that I’m a nut for numbers. (d minus, second time around in grade 10 Basic math). The church is not about stats, but they do tell us something about how we understand ourselves.

In my previous parish, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I wanted to have university students play a larger role in the life of the church – including voting. So I came up with, what I thought was a brilliant idea. Students who attended Resurrection and who wanted to keep their membership at their home congregations would be given a dual membership designation. It didn’t make sense to fill out transfer forms for the 8 months of the school year just so we could take advantage of these young people’s gifts. If we wanted more young people to take leadership roles then we should be bending over backward to accommodate them. But when I ran this idea past synod office I was told that “it would screw up the stats”! I thought to myself, “The stats are already screwed up!” Moreover, the church is not about record keeping!

I still think I was right.

But this is not about silly details like how we do administration. The loss of 70 000 Lutherans in Finland or the missing 450 000 Lutherans in Canada all point to a need for a renewal in the church. We can look at this as a problem (“O sure, they come when they want a wedding, but where are they on Sundays”) or an opportunity (“Great! That’s a great place to begin our evangelistic mission!”).

Some of my colleagues start frothing when numbers are discussed. “The church is not in the numbers game!” They would say. And they’d be correct. But that doesn’t excuse the church from being the church. The “righteous remnant” theology is too often a convenient excuse for being lazy.

Why am I so hopped up on this? Maybe it’s because I see Christianity being hi-jacked by George Bush supporting Fundamentalists or theology-lite mega-churches. The world needs justification by grace alone through faith alone, not angry anti-abortion homophobes who believe that same sex marriages are more threatening than preemptive war, or feel good suburban Christianity that reduces our faith to a self-help program. This wounded world needs God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus. And that is the message that Lutherans have to offer.