A new videocast is underway at Shepherd of the Valley! Whitney Springston from Idaho Youth Ranch joins Pastor Dave to talk about the ins and outs of parenting! Join us each week as we tackle a new challenge facing parents today.
This week we talk about the things kids need to hear their parent say at one point or another, probably repeatedly! You can watch the videocast below or find all our episodes in podcast form at feeds.buzzsprout.com/1104131.rss
Public discourse in the United States is not in a healthy place. It’s hard to know what, or who, to believe when someone steps in front of a microphone anymore. Our discussions have become mercenary. Whatever it takes to get the job done, we will say and justify as right.
One of the first casualties in this environment is our communal language itself. We’re all familiar with the concept of “a war of words”. What about the war on words?
We usually identify propaganda and histrionics as attempts to attack people on the opposing side of an issue. What if that isn’t the whole point? Outrageous public declarations aren’t mean to convince you. Those who make them couldn’t care less if only 10% of people really buy in, or if the other side raises Cain in response. Outrageous speeches are designed to attack language itself, to rob us of the chance to communicate in meaningful and powerful ways, thus preserving the power of the speaker with the microphone.
One of the favored tactics of people having marital affairs is to turn the matter around, accusing the spouse of having an affair first. There are plenty of psychological and relational reasons for this; all are icky and we won’t get into them. This kind of accusation also has a communal effect, though. When you’re doing something wrong, accusing the innocent party of doing that wrong first robs the counter-accusation of power.
Let’s say I am doing Wrong X. You discover it and cry it aloud to the community. The community will be shocked, look at what I’m doing, and probably agree with you that it’s wrong. Blame will fall on me. My offense will be condemned. I will lose power and standing. As long as I remain in the community, it’ll be hard to keep repeating my wrong.
But let’s say I am doing Wrong X, but before anybody discovers that, I cry loudly that YOU are doing it. The story changes now. If people investigate and find the charges to be ridiculous, so be it. We have now established that charges of doing Wrong X are ridiculous…like “crying wolf”. If you discover me doing wrong and cry it aloud, people will view your accusation through that same lens of ridiculousness. Some will assume you are only accusing me to get back at me. Others, having once been fooled, will be tired of the whole conversation and want the matter to go away. At best, most observers will deem it a “he said-she said” situation where we don’t know what actually happened but both parties are accusing each other, so let’s just throw up our hands and leave.
Notice how, by making a false accusation, we have turned an “I’m 100% wrong” situation into, “It’s 50/50 at best”. We haven’t done it by changing reality or morality. We’ve reframed the language we use to talk about these things, turning once-important words of accountability into ridiculous arguments.
Notice also that telling an untruth isn’t a liability to my agenda as the wrongdoer, but an aid. I want the accusation to sound, and be, utterly ridiculous! My goal isn’t really to accuse you credibly, it’s to rob you of the language and ability to accuse me. I want to throw the whole notion of truth and accurate speech into doubt, so you cannot convict me of my wrongdoing through it.
The further public speech gets pushed into unreality and ridiculousness, the more language gets devalued. The Yelp/public review era has taught us this already. A four-star review out of five is supposed to be admirable. Instead it’s viewed as a disaster. If it’s not at the absolute upper extreme, it’s no good. When every meal is the best ever eaten in the history of the planet, saying, “Yeah, it was great,” sounds like an insult by comparison. But since “best in history” is repeated so often, even those extreme words lose their meaning. We can’t find words to accurately describe goodness or greatness anymore. We’re left guessing what everybody means, trying to parse out how much we trust the speaker personally instead of how much meaning their words carry.
Over-the-top accusations in the public square have the same effect. If I’m hurting you, but in the process I take language to an utter extreme, now you have no words left to accurately express the severity of pain I’m causing. Is it four-star pain? That’s less than five-star, so it must not be that bad. Is it five-star pain? Everybody says that. No big deal. Are you going to invent a new category of six-star pain now? That’s the same kind of exaggeration I just engaged in. Nobody’s going to believe you any more than they believed me. If they did, I’d just invent a seven-star category out of thin air and watch you scramble to catch up! I don’t have to convince anybody that my outlandish exaggeration is right. All I have to do is rob you of the ability to convince people that you have a point.
For those in power already, reducing language to rubbish creates a stalemate that will leave them in power and everyone else outside of it. That’s the point of “crazy speech”.
Once again, making words seem valueless and ridiculous isn’t a sad side-effect of the agenda of powerful wrongdoers. It IS the agenda.
Devaluing words has one last sneaky side effect, among the most important of all. Words are the means we use to communicate. We use them to identify, strengthen, and define relationships. They bind us together like glue. When that glue gets weaker or disappears, we’re isolated. We have nobody to rely upon except ourselves and whatever voices can break through. Inevitably those are the voices already in power. Stripping words of their authority is an attempt to strip all other authorities from the life of the listener, who is now at the mercy of whomever is behind that microphone.
For all these reasons, the devaluation of words has immediate importance to communities of Christian faith. Stop and think for a second. How do we know God? How did you learn about God? How do we say God speaks to us today? God works through words. We do not worship the Bible as God. We do say that the Bible is the central means by which God’s being and passion are made known to the world. Words are the means God has chosen to be with God’s people.
For the person of faith, devaluing words is the same thing as devaluing God. Robbing language of its power and authority is an attempt to rob God of same. This is not an accident. People who engage in this kind of public discourse want no authority but their own. That includes any deity. Even if they claim to revere a god with their words, ultimately those words are as ridiculous and powerless as all the rest. It’s a parlor trick, meant to weaken and distract the listener as the speaker grabs tighter to the reins of power.
The upshot is clear: There’s no way people of faith can stand with, or behind, this kind of speech and remain faithful. Ridiculous, disempowering diatribes that through their very utterance blanch language of its authority are the opposite of faith, no matter what actual words they contain.
Think of all the times you’ve heard people claim that there’s a “War on God” (or Christmas, or religion, or whatever you hold dear). Did you ever consider that the person speaking those words might also be the one prosecuting that war? Have you thought that we might be losing it precisely by listening and giving credence to those accusations? If not, you might want to take a minute and consider it.
Part of reclaiming the sanctity of faith in our culture is reclaiming the sanctity of the words that convey it. We cannot lift those as two separate matters. They are intertwined. Language and faith go hand in hand. Devaluing language harms faith and all the neighbors that faith is supposed to serve.
May the words you speak and hear this week have power. May they also bring goodness to the world and the people around you.
I have realized that I have talked a lot about being a deaconess student, but some of you might not know what a deaconess or deacon is. A deaconess/deacon is someone who serves and is called to the ministry of Word and Service, versus a Pastor who is called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Those may seem like big churchy words, but the basic gist is deacons and deaconesses do service. On the website of the Lutheran Diaconal Association (my diaconate) they explain it this way:
A deaconess or deacon is someone one who serves. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and instructed them to do the same for others. Sometimes deaconesses and deacons do actual foot-washing like Jesus did; but more widely, they serve Christ by walking with those the world easily forgets; the marginalized, the poor, the powerless, the sick. People who reach out to others in this way—with care and compassion in a hurting world—are practicing diaconal service. Some of them desire to do this as a professional in ministry, and enter a more formal training and formation process to become deaconesses and deacons.…Deaconess/deacon ministry has come to mean many things: it means serving others on bended knee, and from positions of leadership. It means entering the hurt parts of society and carrying the light and love of Christ in service to others. It means telling the story of God’s love, and helping others to hear God in their own story. It means welcoming the stranger in our midst.
The role of deacons/deaconesses goes back to the Early Church, and was created as a way to reach out and care for those on the margins as the church was growing. Some of those early deacons named in the New Testament are Stephen, Phillip, and Phoebe. There were a few main roles that deacons filled in the early church from table service to working as missionaries. A sister from my community has written and spoken about 5 Images of Diakonia. These images being foot washing, table waiting, storytelling, doorkeeper/go-between, and light bearer. These images stem out of those traditional roles of deacons and deaconesses in the early church.
Foot washing, often represented by a basin and towel is probably the most iconic image of diaconal ministry. It is the servanthood modeled by Jesus as he knelt to wash his disciples’ feet. This is hard and humble work, responding to real need, often in places that we would rather not see or acknowledge exist. But it is often there where we meet Jesus.
The table waiting image stems out of the diaconates role in the early church’s agape meals- gathering, preparing, and serving food. In the early church the deacons also filled the role of what we now call assisting ministers, preparing the communion table and helping distribute that meal. As well as being the ones who carried out that meal to those who could not be present, like our visitation minsters.
The image of story teller in part comes from the fact that Jesus himself often used stories as a way to teach and the role of the diaconate to help the stories of the Bible come alive for people. But another important piece of the story teller image is to help people tell their own stories, of pain, of joy, of suffering, and of resurrection. Especially creating space for those whose stories are often the ones that are ignored or told by others rather than themselves. Part of the role of storytelling is listening. Listening without an agenda. Listening to learn something from the person who is sharing their story with you.
In the early church there was a lot of persecution, so when the community gathered the deaconesses/deacons would stand at the door to welcome and check those coming in. They were the door keepers. They provided the hospitality and were what we might call ushers or greeters. They were at the boundary between the church and the world, and were the go-between as they carried messages connecting the bishop to the community and the church to the world. The go-between was also a role of mediation and reconciliation. Bringing together those from differing ideals and understandings and helping build conversation.
The light bearer image stems from the role of the deacon/deaconess during the Easter Vigil service, blessing and lighting the Pascal candle. They carried the burning candle into the darkness of the worship proclaiming “Christ our light.” The diaconal role of bearing light is about bringing hope, and that the night does not have the last word. The role of bearing light can be one of vulnerability, being willing to uncover the not so pretty parts of our world. Exposing places where the vision of shalom, the wholeness of creation, is distorted or obscured. Calling people back to this vision over and over. Seeking to see with the eyes of God and speak with the voice of God.
These images of foot washing, table waiting, storytelling, door keeping, and light bearing are central to the many roles of deacons and deaconess in the early church and today. But there are also ways the whole church is called to serve and reach out to others. The work of diakonia, of service, belongs to all the people of God, deacons and deaconesses are those who do this as their work and help others to see their diaconal role as well. We all do the work of diaconal ministry in our everyday lives. Where are you doing the work of diakonia?
If you have more questions about what a deaconess is I am always happy to chat!
Ep. 78 - Should pastors talk politics? Justin and Dave debate the role of faith in community live during turbulent times.
The Geek and Greek podcast is a show where two reverends talk honestly and clearly about faith, Christianity, scripture, and life.
Follow us at GeekAndGreek.com!
This week’s Art and Theology piece comes through a sketch from our regularly-contributing artist, Rosanna Cartwright. She’s submitted a pencil drawing of someone having experienced one of Jesus’ miracles, transferring from blind to sighted.
Several things about this drawing stand out. I’m not a huge fan of leaning on the “sighted is way better than blind” narrative. People who can’t see are also bearers of God’s Spirit. Plenty of people who can see with their eyes don’t see clearly with their hearts. I know there’s a temptation to define “normal and right” as “just like most of us are”. I don’t think Jesus’ miracles were meant to transform people on the edges of our culture into “normal” folks. Our normality is neither the center nor the goal of the universe.
Still, I like this depiction because of the sense of wonder in the expression of the subject. We can take or leave his eyes being opened to perceive light waves. His eyes flying open in wonder speaks volumes. “I can see” encompasses so much more than physical sight. He, himself, is open to the world and all its possibilities! His expression leaps off the page.
The phrase, “Lord, I believe” isn’t just a matter of internal conviction in this drawing. The word “BLIND” at the top is bound up in chains, straight-line pencil marks. It’s limited, tied down, a weighty, self-contained thing. By contrast, “I believe” is duplicated, replicated, echoing across the page, seemingly in multiple dimensions. The words themselves reach out, just like the man does. This new thing is rolling through all creation, encompassing the subject and everyone who views him.
I also love that this drawing looks like a sketch, almost an unfinished prelude. That’s exactly what this miracle moment is. It doesn’t point to itself. It’s the beginning of a lifetime of questions and interactions. We know that sketches like this usually get filled in with more concrete lines, colors, perhaps backgrounds. We don’t know what that will look like yet, and that’s wholly appropriate! Viewing it, we’re invited to ask not just what this moment is, but what it will become, one of the key questions of faith.
Thanks to Rosanna for letting us share in this work! You can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosanna.cartwright.3. Come back again next week to experience more of the connection between faith and art!
Ep. 77 - Salvation! It's an enormous topic, but seldom done well. Justin and Dave discuss their responses to the semi-annoying question, "Have you been saved?"
The Geek and Greek podcast is a show where two reverends talk honestly and clearly about faith, Christianity, scripture, and life.
Follow us at GeekAndGreek.com!
Congratulations to our Shepherd of the Valley members who graduated this spring from High School, College, and Grad School! Though things have looked very different this spring we want you to know that we are proud of you and we know that you are going to go on to do amazing things! We weren’t able to have our usual graduation celebration at church, but we have put together a video slideshow celebrating our Graduates! Congratulations to: Charlyn Anderson, Danny Auston, Kendra Gottesman, Jordyn Robinson, Aaron Serio, Mark Steward, Madison Liquin, and Laurel Johnston.
We’re living through times of intense debate on political, social, and economic issues that rock the foundations of our society. The questions of the age revolve around, “Who am I?” and “Who are we together?” Turning on the TV, browsing the internet, or talking around the family table, these issues permeate the environment as surely as the air we breathe.
I’m not one to shy away from debate. I think it’s good that we’re having out these issues. Wrongs long-buried are finally coming to light. Many of the things we presumed as solid are actually more cracked than we supposed. We need to be shaken out of our presumptions, the better to see each other and find good ways forward.
As I was pondering these things, I asked myself another question: Should any matters not be debated? Do we hold any things so foundational that without them, our existence has less—or even no—meaning?
When the pressure becomes too much, when the slabs beneath our feet crumble, what’s left?
I have two children, ages 9 and 12. They’re not yet to the teenage years, but they’re ahead of the curve. They’ve landed with both feet in an age of exploration, pushing the boundaries of what they once knew in a quest to find out what they’ll become. Part of that boundary-pushing is shrugging off once-instant obedience to parents in favor of arguing back or passive non-compliance. Anyone who wants to see a great example of civil disobedience should ask a 12-year-old to clean their room. I defy anybody to spend as much time in the general area of a problem, appearing to comply with authority without actually doing anything about it.
Naturally, this leads to some push-back from dad, who still lives in the world of, “If my voice says it, it’s automatically important.” When dad flares up and kids resist, there will be conflict.
At the end of the day, no matter what has happened—no matter how hard or easy the relationship has been—I always spend time with my children, giving them hugs, sitting and talking a bit, reassuring them. It’s not time for lessons or arguments. It’s time for us to affirm what’s really important.
During those times, I tend to repeat the same things: You are beautiful. You are loved. I am your dad. I will never stop being your dad. I think the world of you and I’ll be there for you. I am so glad we get to be together. Those words form our foundation…the “not debatable” part of our relationship.
I don’t think they’re that different than the words God says to all of us in this, and every, time. God doesn’t just say them when things go right. They’re not reserved for times we feel at peace and one with the universe. God doesn’t limit them to churchgoing folks with particular points of view in the most faith-populated sections of the United States either. God uttered those words to ancient nomads, itinerate shepherds, and Roman centurions. God has whispered them to plague-sufferers, abuse survivors, beggars and thieves, prisoners and slaves, women and men, young people and old people.
God does not let go. God never stops loving us. Should the world hate us, even when everything goes wrong, we are children of God: beloved, beautiful, and treasured. That is the core of our identity.
It’s sad when you look at all the systems and choices we’ve made that don’t reflect that identity well. Debates are important, disagreements valid. When our debates and disagreements lead us to answers that don’t convey that core message of love, nobody wins. It’s like basing a relationship on how clean a room is instead of how deeply you’re bonded to each other and care for each other.
At the end of the day, as a parent, I say, “Forget the room. Give me my children.” God says the same thing. Let’s think about that God-given gift, and the identity that comes from it, as we consider how to make decisions in our own lives and the world.
It’s Wednesday, and time again for theology and art! Today we have a series of pieces from Shepherd of the Valley member Jack Rodriguez. Jack has been busy during our hiatus, as you can see!
These pieces fascinate me in a couple ways. First of all, I’m in awe of what Jack is able to do with his hands. The Bible is full of stories of people who build things, from tabernacles to palaces. Jesus even grew up as the son of a carpenter. It’s all foreign to me, though! My hands and brain just don’t work that way. In fact, I’m not very artistic at all. If I looked at the pile of stuff Jack made these out of, I’d probably just see scraps of randomness. Somehow, Jack’s eyes saw--and his hand fashioned--crosses and symbols meaningful to all of us. One can almost sense the moment when God saw a “formless and void” universe and said, “Let there be light and land and trees and sun!”
What’s more, all of Jack’s works are made from reclaimed material…things that other people literally threw out as junk. What a powerful testimony to the work of the God who takes things that others consider unworthy and calls them beloved and precious. That’s the great hope for all of us. It shows through in Jack’s collection.
Thank you Jack for sharing your talents with all of us! You remind us how powerfully God works in our lives!
Come back next week for more art from the people in Shepherd of the Valley’s orbit.
Dear Shepherd of the Valley Community,
Summer is upon us. Many of our friends and neighbors are getting out, enjoying the weather. If you are among them, we pray that you stay safe and well.
I wanted to update you on the progression towards in-person worship. We have formed two task forces, one to arrange for deep cleaning the church, the other to discuss short- and long-term worship planning as we consider getting together again. Both task forces are in their infancy. We don’t have firm answers yet. We don’t anticipate it’ll be too long before we have a road forward.
Whatever that road looks like, three things will take priority:
1. We’re not going to be cavalier about health. States that have re-opened early are also seeing a strong resurgence of COVID-19. I was in the grocery store the other day and I’d estimate fewer than 10% of the people were masked. Frankly, this scares me. As a church, we need to take precautions to make sure, as best we can, that we’re not spreading the virus. Doing a risky or bad thing in God’s name doesn’t make that thing good. We know that other churches are opening up around us. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we do it right.
2. When we do get together again, it’s not going to be exactly the same. In order to make sure as many people as possible can feel comfortable participating, we’re going to need to look at issues of seating, communion, music, and more. The transition will not be simple. The worship task force and council will have recommendations for us soon, but actually implementing those recommendations may take time. It’s likely that we’re going to need to do some type of transitional worship (perhaps outdoors?) in the interim as our interior spaces and practices are being reformed.
3. Through all of this--and afterwards as we resume in-person--we will remain committed to our video and remote services. This isn’t just to catch people who can’t come in person, but to reach out to the people around us. More than ever as we put out these videos, we’re finding that people have not heard the message the way we share it. Things that some of us take for granted are absolute revelations to our neighbors around us, who have heard very different things about God. Not everyone will respond, of course, but the people who do are quite grateful. Digital ministry should remain a part of our calling even when we gather together in person again.
Until we have a firm course of action, I still can’t give you a date for resuming in person, nor the manner in which we’ll do so. I’ll say we’re closer now than we have been since the COVID hiatus started, and I’ll ask you to watch this space and your weekly emails the remainder of this month for further details.