Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Some quick reflections on last night's election

The Republicans and other conservatives lost nearly every facet of the election. Here, in my opinion is why

The Presidential Election

  • I believe, in large part, the Republicans lost for four reasons
    • Reason 1: Axelrod and the new DNC have exceeded Rove's wizardry in targeting votes and getting them to the poll. Romney ran a lot of TV ads. Obama worked harder on organization. Organization and door to door politics made the difference.
    • Reason 2: The Republican party candidates need to find something to run for, and not just run against someone they do not like. Romney had no clear and specific plans, and it hurt him
    • Reason 3: The Republicans need to find someone likable to run for president. By likeable I mean: a/ someone easy or entertaining to listen to b/ someone who doesn't struggle to smile c/someone who seems like "one of us" and d/someone people could imagine having over for dinner and not worry they were going to ruin the fun for everyone
    • Reason 4: Republicans need to ruthlessly eliminate any hint of racism from their party. Bush worked hard on this. The twenty-first century Republican party will die unless it intentionally eliminates and speaks out against anything that might be perceived as racist. The Republicans repeatedly believe they can win an election by appealing to the fears and values of middle aged white, heterosexual men, and people who sympathize with their plight. Romney won by 20 points among whites, but still lost the election.

The House and Senate

  • The tea party is killing the Republican party. It is parasitical. By attacking strong Republican candidates in the primary, they are destroying their host.
  • Several candidates need tactical and diplomatic training to run an effective campaign on the GOP side.  Not only on the abortion issue. Walsh's treatment of Duckworth in Illinois showed not only a lack of class, but a lack of political skill
  • Again, the Dems did a great job of strategically organizing their party and using their finances. At points they also did a good job of convincing people they did not have to run a "straight one party ticket". Montana and Missouri are two good examples of this
  • As the Dems gain in votes, you see them becoming more of a big tent party, with two pro-life Dems winning elections last night. This makes it easier to win, but harder to govern even when you control parts of congress and the executive branch

The Initiatives

  • The ballots are clear. Gay marriage is going to be a part of American life for the foreseeable future. Like it or not, folks are going to have to adjust to this reality. Candidates on both sides of the aisle are going to have to address this as a reality, instead of fighting against it.
  • People like to smoke pot. Legalization and medical marijuana will continue to grow in unexpected places. In many states, it is going to be a decision on whether the government controls the trade, or whether it is given to free enterprise and/or organized crime

The Electorate

  • Is becoming more socially liberal
  • Is still going to be more fiscally conservative
  • Has a more positive view of government's ability to lead on "big issues"
  • Wants government to have less of a roll in defining ethics and in personal matters
  • Is becoming more racially diverse.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Growing Up, Raising Kids, and Raising a Church

I began ministry in my twenties. Many of my peers believed it important while they were attending seminary to give themselves completely to the "ministry of preparation". For many of these folks, this practice worked. I knew it would never work for me. Was I too impatient? Too eager? Too foolish? I don't know, but I could not just spend most of my time in classrooms and cubicles. I needed to get out among people. I needed to get plugged into the church. And, besides that, I needed a little bit of income to support myself. Why not start my career in ministry working part-time in a small church while I was in seminary? So that is what I did.

As I began my ministry, I was blessed to be single. This allowed me to devote all my time to ministry and to school. No family to care for. No time to be home. No children to bathe. Just a degree to complete, and kids to reach out to as a youth pastor in a small inner-city church. I am not sure I did that great of a job. I am not really sure whether I can judge that. What I do know is that I loved the kids I worked with, and to a lesser extent the church that I served.

This same lifestyle allowed me to take on other responsibilities. I became chair of missions and outreach on the student council at the seminary, and let folks at the seminary in a few experiences of hands-on compassionate ministry. I took on responsibilities at a local urban outreach. I even did an internship at a well-respected suburban church not too far from our seminary.

I moved on to take on a youth pastorate in Montana, and then an associate pastorate in Colorado after seminary. Each congregation called me to minister primarily to youth and young adults. I slept in, and then I worked late into the night most days. I grabbed dinners at 24-hour grocery stores after everyone else had settled in for the night.

I got married when I was 34 years old. I was just wrapping up the youth ministry phase of my ministry, and within a few months after getting married, I had accepted a call to be a pastor of a small church in rural Colorado. For a little under two-years, it was just the two of us. But in the fall of my second year in our small town pastorate, my wife announced that she was pregnant. My life changed.

Now I am a pastor of an average sized church in South Dakota. My wife and I have had our second child. With a little toddler running around and into everything, and an infant that wants our attention as well, our lives have morphed again. Like many pastors, I find myself serving an aging church in need of revitalization and reorganization. United Churches Hot Springs is healthier than many churches, but it is also an aging congregation struggling with declining attendance and significant budget concerns. Strangely, I find the process of learning how to be a dad, and learning how to pastor this church a remarkably similar process.

Perhaps it was presumptuous of Catholic parsons to give themselves the moniker "father", but the process of raising a child and leading a church toward renewal a similar one. You work hard at both, you never know if you are doing anything right. You seek to be faithful. You seek to help them grow in a healthy manner. You live by faith.

So, in the next couple weeks, months, years, or whatever, I am going to occasionally post how my experiences in leading a family and leading a church intersect, and perhaps where they are a little bit different as well. I invite you to join me on the journey.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Book Review of Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess

Flunking Sainthood
Flunking Sainthood
Jana Riess
ISBN 978-1-55725-660-7
Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The Christian book market has been flooded by spiritual autobiographies and books that attempt to both entertain and model authentic Christian faith for the masses. It is for good reason these books are being published in great quantity. If the books of Donald Miller, Anne Lammott, and Kathleen Norris are any indication, people inside and outside of church circles enjoy these books and buy them up as fast as they are published.

Into the world of spiritual autobiography comes a wonderfully written book by Jana Riess. Flunking Sainthood describes a year-long journey into the life of Ms. Riess where she takes on a different spiritual discipline each month in an attempt to understand the Christian journey and grow in different ways.

Ms. Riess is married with children. This gives her a helpful perspective with many of her readers. She has a sense of humor (I laughed out loud when she told her husband she was taking on celibacy for a month as a joke). In some months, the disciplines she uses help her to grow. In other months, she comes to some rather insightful and life-changing insights from her failures. I particularly thought her thoughts on the relationship between humility and fasting were important, insightful, and thought provoking. I loved how Riess' family became a part of the story at points with each of these disciplines. It made the whole book more authentic to me.

What becomes disappointing to me with these types of books is how many of them are written by academics that float around the literary world. These books to have a certain background and tone that is thoughtful and   insightful, but that also lacks the breadth of human experience in this regard.

Having said that, Riess' voice is a needed voice in the landscape of spiritual formation, if for no other reason than her ability to express herself with a sense of humor, while still being very honest and serious about the change she is seeking. There needs to be more honest humor in the literature of spiritual formation. Just because we take our faith seriously does not mean we always need to take ourselves so seriously. I certainly look forward to more writing of this style from Riess. I hope others will as well.


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