Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hearing it Anew: A Holy Week Meditation on the Need for New Venues

My first ordained call in 1993 was to a small southern church in Rural Tennessee.  The town had 10,000 people during the day when the pencil and air conditioning factories were running, but it dropped to 5000 at night when those people went home.

While serving there I was blessed that some of the youth began to bring their friends.  These were the children of farmers and factory workers.  Their parents didn't go to church and in one case strongly objected to their children coming.  They wore jeans and t-shirts and knew nothing about proper church etiquette.  Many of the older, lifelong church members pressured me to teach them the proper way to behave in church or ask them to leave.  My answer was always firm.  They are wearing their very best.  They sit in the front row because they want to hear what is said and the youth form the church talk about football, baseball, or their date from the night before on the back pew and it was too distracting.  (Of course, I did not say that they also made faces at me when I was in the pulpit, trying to get me to mess up.)

I loved having these youth.  Yes, they tended to stir up the youth that were brought up in the church.  But, as a pastor you often tell church members to pretend you are hearing this story for the first time.  These youth were.

One Sunday the sermon was from a passage in Acts 5.  I can't remember if the head pastor or I was preaching.  But when we came to 5:30 that says, "The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree" half a dozen faces in the front row looked up at me with mouths open in shock.  You see, in the rural South hanging someone from a tree has a very specific meaning.  It was usually done by those wearing white sheets.

As soon as the service was over this group of Middle Schoolers in their jeans and tennis shoes ran up the aisle dodging  long time church members in suits and ties undoubtedly fueling another lecture on how I need to teach them how to behave in church.  They butted in front of all the people filing out to shake the pastor's hand.  The ring leader (Yes, that is a very apt description of what she was) held a pew Bible open to Acts 5:30.  It would be more impressive if these youth hadn't figured out there was an index in the front, something many kids who grew up in the church don't know.

They all earnestly looked up at me, horror on their faces.  "Pastor Karen, in Sunday School you said Jesus died on a cross.   But here it says he was hanged!  Was Jesus lynched?"  I excused myself from the greeting line and went back and sat with them on the front pew.

I started with explaining that Jesus was crucified, but sometimes the cross is referred to as a tree.  I went over the horrible punishment of Roman Crucifixion and what an excruciating way it was to die.  These innocent youth asked the theological question of the ages, "Jesus was good.  He didn't do anything wrong.  Why did he have to die like that?"

I told them of the Jewish concept of atonement.  For every sin, everything you did wrong you had to make a sacrifice.  Sacrificing a dove, sheep, or goat would make you clean again in God's eyes, but if you sinned again it would start all over.  Jesus offered himself up, innocent, to suffer and die so that all our sins would be paid for.  No more sacrificing.  Jesus did it once and for all.  There were lots of tears and a much deeper understanding of the love of Jesus.

So, ask me why I want to re-imagine church.  Why do we need new ways to tell the story?  Jesus said it himself in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  If you are well you don't need a doctor.  Those long time church members didn't need me to tell them what was in the Bible.  They probably knew the stories as well as I did.  But the story is important!  What Jesus did for us, dying on the cross, is important.  You don't get the real story out there in society and definitely not in the media's portrayal of the church.

Yes, the church is full of sinful people that Jesus died for.  The church does make mistakes, but if that is all that the media or society tells you, then why would anyone want to walk through the doors of a church?  The stories that we have are life-giving.  They are freeing.  They are world changing.  We can't just wait for those who haven't heard to come to us, because they won't.  We have to go where they are whether that is coffee houses, bars, or even comic book shops.  We have to bring Jesus back out where he originally taught, among the people.

May your Holy Week open your eyes, like those Middle Schoolers and break your hearts so that you will be ready for the joy of Easter.

Blessings,

Karen

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"That is NOT Us" Vs. "Yes, That includes You"

As I work through Geek Church and what that may look like, my first thought is that the word "Church" has come to have a negative impression among many people including those that I want to involve.  Maybe "Geek Spirituality" or "The Spiritual Geek" would be a better title.  But like those churches that drop "Presbyterian" from their signs because it gives a "negative image", I am sad because the negative image that society has of the church is NOT us.  That is not who we are or at least not who we should be striving to be.

The media seems to equate the church with the far right of the political spectrum.  But in reality the church covers the whole spectrum ultra conservative to ultra liberal.  But what really makes me angry is that it is portraying political views as what the church believes or what Jesus wants.  God is NOT part of a political party!  No politician, Republican, Democrat, or any other party is putting forward God's agenda.  As well meaning as they may be, they are serving their constituents at their best, and at their worst, themselves.

There are churches out there advocating for what certain politicians are doing, but that doesn't make it God's will or even in line with Jesus' teachings.  Don't get me wrong.  Some political decisions will be for the good of the people.  I will support some candidates because of what they say that they will do, but that still doesn't make them God's agents.

What I do know is churches are filled with sinful human beings.  I believe that some churches are actually going against what God wants us to be doing.  Believe it or not, it has ALWAYS been that way.  If you read the New Testament the times that Jesus got the angriest was when the religious leaders started telling people that they weren't good enough.  When religious leaders exclude others it really made Jesus angry.  I assume it still does.

John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the WORLD that God sent Jesus.  It doesn't say that God loves those who follow the rules the best.  It doesn't say that God loved those who voted for the correct candidate.  It doesn't even say that God so loved those who protest the loudest on social media.  God loved the world.  Every last one of us.  Guess what, that even means the Muslims, the Jews, the Hindi, and even (gasp) the Atheist.  God so loved the world, and God didn't tell us to go out and condemn and hurt those God loves...

But not all churches do that.  The press would have you believe that the church is built on hating anyone who is different or believes differently.  While that does happen way too often that is NOT the way it is supposed to be.

In both the church I served in Memphis and here in Oviedo my husband and I wound up leading the young adult Sunday School class.  One of our best attended series was a survey of religions.  The purpose was not to try to convince other religions that we were the best.  We  wanted to learn from our fellow brothers and sisters.  We invited not only members of different Christian flavors like Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witness, but also Muslims, Budists, Hindu, and Jewish people to come and talk with us.  We asked then what they believed and what was important to them.  We learned a lot!  We came to understand our brothers and sisters better.  It was a time of coming together, respect, and gaining understanding.  That is who the church should be.

In my last blog I lamented that many of my dear friends in Geek culture were either openly turned away or felt judged and unwanted in the church.  That is wrong.  Whether they were condemned because they played Dungeons & Dragons, believed in The Big Bang Theory and Evolution, or even for their sexual preference, that was not what the church should be about.

Jesus didn't come for the religious leaders and the righteous few who think they do no wrong.  Jesus came for the outcast, the misfit, the ordinary.  Jesus' disciples weren't scholars.  They were stinky, unwashed fishermen, tax collectors (who were even more hated back then then the are in April here in America today), women (gasp), and even non-Jews!  My last sermon I preached was about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  She wasn't Jewish.  Jews and Samaritans hated each other because of their theology and beliefs.  She was a woman, which meant that Jesus shouldn't be talking to her in public at all.  But in her day she would have been considered a loose woman.  She had had multiple husbands and was living with a man without being married.  So, Jesus, like the church and probably everyone in her village condemned her and sent her away in shame, right???  WRONG!!!!!  Jesus discussed theology with her and then sent her out to spread the Good News.  He made that outcast woman, the one that the church would probably kick out a disciple!  That is what is on Jesus' agenda, reaching out to those who need healing and those who don't feel like they fit in.

One last thought on who is included in God's love and God's call.  In Matthew 25 you will find one of Jesus' parables about the sheep and the goats.  It is a parable about what is most important in the kingdom.  What is the most important thing to Jesus?  He said that the greatest commandments are "Love God" and "Love your neighbor."  This parable is the clearest image of how we are supposed to do that.  (Matthew 25:35-36) "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took  care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."  That is what we are supposed to be about.  So, when a politician says, "This bill is doing God's will" be sure to check it against this list.  When I question turning away refugees, I am not making a political statement or supporting one party's views over another.  I am trying to follow Jesus.

I know that this may upset some people.  I know that I am just as sinful as everyone else.  I know that I am going to make mistakes.  But I see my friends who have been rejected by the church or turned away on their own because they didn't like what they saw, doing what Jesus wanted them to do. Dragon Con gives more than $100,000 to charity at their convention every year!  In 2016, it was the Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency, which works with homeless and jobless citizens on job training and resumes.  ( From: "Dragon Con’s Pat Henry on Building a Convention Community" By Hayley Panagakis, April 3, 2017 on connectyourmeetings.com)  They also hold what may be one of the biggest blood drives in Georgia.  Geeks are really good at Justice, equality, and caring for the least of these.  That is why I want so badly to engage with my fellow Geeks to redefine what it means to be church.  I want to create a place where everyone feels loved and welcome even if you do not consider yourself a Christian.  I want a place where it is OK to discuss faith without worrying about being judged by others.  I want a place where Geeks can feel comfortable enough to be themselves knowing that God doesn't really care whether they know all of the churches liturgy by heart and can sing hymns with gusto.  I want a place where we can serve and make a difference together.

If you long for a place like that, too, I encourage you to join me as I try to figure out what Geek church should look like and be.

Blessings,

Karen

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Geek Church"... a joke? a dream? necessary for the future?

This blog comes deep from within my soul... that tortured part that is trying to find my way and God's will for my life.

Now, I am purposely writing this blog for my Geek friends; D&D, cosplay, convention attending, science fiction and fantasy loving friends.  I truly crave your thoughts and opinions, but please no "hate" comments, because I am truly seeking what can or even should be done.

First, I feel the need to establish my Geek Cred.  I have always been a stereotypical nerd.  I have been bullied because I was smart.  In elementary school I walked over a mile to catch the bus so that I wouldn't be pushed down and forced to eat dirt or worse yet worms.  I snuck down to my brother's room to watch Star Trek and Logan's Run, because my parents thought Science Fiction was too scary for a 5 to 6 year old girl.  I went to my first Star Trek convention when I was 14 and when I realized that people actually went in uniforms I had my mother help make costumes for my brother and me.  I have been cosplaying ever since!  (Well, unless you count being Princess Leah for Halloween in 77, 78, and 79... if so then I have been into cosplay since I was 10.)  I discovered D&D in Middle School back before it was even AD&D.  In High School I was BOTH a theatre and choir geek... Not to mention having a 4.0.  I met my husband in the college gaming club, which while I was an officer we officially changed our name to Vanderbilt University League of Gamers and Roleplayers... even though the yearbook refused to list us as V.U.L.G.A.R.  Through all this I still had a strong faith.  When I felt called into the ministry my mentor asked me two questions that should have tipped me off to some of the problems I would face in the church.  1. How will you respond when you encounter who believe that women shouldn't be ministers? 2. How will you respond to the people who think that D&D is the equivalent of Satan worship?  (To be clear, he didn't agree with either view, but he knew what I would soon learn.  The church is made up of sinful people just like the rest of the world, and it is most dangerous when it believes it is being "righteous.")

It has always bothered me that the people that I feel the most kinship with are for the most part absent from the church.  I have spent many long nights in college, over D&D tables, and waiting in line to see the latest Dr. Who or Arrow guests discussing why that is so.

I have discovered that most geeks fall into two categories.  The first I will call the "Sheldons".  Like Sheldon Cooper in the "Big Bang Theory" they were raised (or just encountered) churches that taught that you couldn't believe what science taught.  They believed that all Christians believed in Creationism and that the world was only a few thousand years old.  They were shocked when I said that isn't universally true.  The Presbyterian Church doctrine says that there is nothing in science that contradicts what we believe.  For instance the Bible itself says that God's time is not our time.  A thousand years is just a moment to God... So, creation could have easily taken Billions of years.  Also, not all Christians believe everything has to be taking literally.  My example:  God said, "Let there be light" sure sounds like a description of the big bang to me.  Hebrew culture, that wrote the Old Testament is filled with parables, analogy, and (gasp) even poetry.  There is a group of NASA scientist that write a Christian journal for the scientifically minded discussing new scientific discoveries and how they show God's Glory.  (They happen to be Presbyterian.)  Those weird off putting black robes that most Presbyterian ministers wear that creep out some church visitors have their origins in Masters' robes.  Education was so important to John Calvin, one of the Presbyterian Church's founding fathers, that you wore your graduation robe to prove you had a formal education.  Presbyterian ministers are still REQUIRED to have a Masters Degree... (and "yes" it is a real Masters Degree... You wouldn't believe the number of times people have asked if a Masters of Divinity is a real degree or just honorary...  Three of the most challenging years of my life including learning to read both Greek and Hebrew, argue, "yes" it is a REAL Masters Degree.)

The second category I will call the "wounded".  Just like in school, many of my Geek peers feel unwelcome in church.  Whether it is because they played D&D, believed what they learned in Science class, or because their sexual orientation didn't fit with what some well meaning, but misinformed church members in their past told them, or whether they were actually asked to leave because of who they were or what they believed, these friends have real reason to mistrust the church. I do my best to explain to them that it isn't God or Jesus who rejected them, but sinful, fallible, human beings.  The Bible teaches us that God so loved the world... not just the chosen few.  We are called to love our neighbors, and even more our enemies.  We are told NOT to judge.  No matter how much of God's healing, grace, and love I am able to show I have very little belief that I will ever get them to go through a church door.  It is clearly not just a problem of my friends... At Dragon Con there is one lonely "fans for Christ" table and more than 16 "Good without God" type groups represented.

From my experience most Geeks are good people.  They volunteer, they give to charity, they give gallons upon gallons of blood, they march for equality and serve their fellow human beings whenever they can.  They fight for justice. They are also spiritual.  They hunger for meaning and seek the truth.  All of these things are things that Jesus taught and God wants from us and it breaks my heart that we as the church have driven off or alienated these wonderful, beautiful, human souls.

So, a couple of years ago as Jon-Paul and I were admiring a "Geek Easy" (a grill and bar in the back of a comic shop) he only half jokingly suggested that I start a Geek Church (Geek Orthodox Church in his words... but the word orthodox has too much negative baggage for me.)  We could meet in the back of comic book shops and discuss faith in comics and movies and work together for good.  I rolled my eyes at the time, but it has been gnawing at me ever since.  I also keep running upon a relatively new Presbyterian phenomenon, the 1001 Worshiping Communities.  This is a program that is helping us re-imagine what it means to be faithful.  There is one group that is Cyclists for God.  They bike 10 or 20 miles then stop for a meal and worship.  Then, this past Saturday Katy gave an update on her "Missing Piece" worshiping community.  The people who were coming together in homes, coffee houses, and parks to "Worship through Cerebral, Spiritual, and Physical and service"  sounded like my Geek friends!  They were doing it!  They were reaching these people who felt a strong call to serve, but for one reason or another had turned away from the church.  Katy was actually excited when I mentioned my silly dream of reaching out to my fellow Geeks, and her thoughts were seconded by two other Geeks who happened to come to speak to Katy about similar things.  Katy suggested that I start to talk to people about my dream and write about it.

So, Katy this is probably my longest blog to date.

My question to all of you is, "Is this just my silly dream?  Am I being called to reach out to the intellectual, comic book reading, roleplaying, cosplaying community?  Would there be any interest to meet over drinks(Yes, Jesus drank wine and probably danced as well), before or after super hero movies, or even around a gaming table to discuss faith, being faithful, and what is the meaning of life?  (I know... 42)  But most importantly, does the church itself need the re-imagining that the Geek culture could bring to it?

Faithfully yours,

Karen
Blogger, Preacher, Cosplayer, AD&D Roleplayer, sci-fi/fantasy amateur author, and humble seeker of truth


Monday, January 23, 2017

An Open Letter to God

Gracious Lord,
I am heart sick. I am falling into despair. I ask for your intervention. Our nation and our world are in trouble. The world, the media, and the politicians are telling us that it is OK to hate your neighbor if they disagree with you. They are telling us that if someone has a different opinion that they are the enemy. They tell us that anyone or anything that is different from what you believe needs to be stamped out and destroyed. God help us, so many good people are beginning to believe this. This is not what you teach!

Lord, we need You to help us, because we clearly cannot discount the voices of the world on our own. Fill our hearts with love for our neighbors. Remind us that every single person is your beloved child and deserves, love, compassion, respect, and grace. When we start to listen to the world saying "they are your enemies", remind us that you said, "Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you."

Fill us so full of your love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace that we can't help but to treat each other with love and respect. Let us see through Your eyes, so that we see each person (even those we disagree with) as precious, valuable, children of God.

Lord, help us to remember that we are not supposed to judge. That is your job. There is so much judging and so little justice. Take away our need to judge, criticize, and grumble. Replace it with the desire to reach across the divide of politics, gender, race, and all other forms of prejudice and discrimination.

And Lord, I know that it is a lot to ask, but touch the hearts of our elected leaders. Fill them with the grace, compassion, and spirit of compromise. Help them to put the good of the people and the good of our nation above their own political agendas and self centered plans.

Lord, I know that I am not exempt. I get angry. I want to spew hate right back. Stop my tongue (and my fingers) when I want to give in to the hatred that the world says is normal. Lord intervene! Please, Lord, break our hearts of stone. Fill us with your Spirit of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2016

An Open Letter to All Politicians

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our election season is barely underway and I am already being bombarded with hate, slander, and mudslinging on TV, the radio, and online.  It makes me sad for our nation.  How can we stand together when we are told that one half of the nation is supposed to hate the other half?

I have one wish and prayer for every election season.  I would like every candidate to focus on what they would like to do.  We don't want to know what you think of your opponent.  We don't want to know how corrupt, inept, or downright evil that you think they are.  When all the campaigning is negative we have to choose the lesser of evil.

It would be so much more helpful to hear your hopes, and dreams, and goals.  What would you like to do if you are elected?  What do you believe?  What do you stand for?  What are your priorities?  How do you plan to work WITH others to get things done?

It would also be helpful if you knew what powers of your office entails.  World Peace is a wonderful beauty pageant answer, but it is not in every politician's job description.  If you promise things that your position doesn't allow you to do, then the voters feel let down, even when it isn't your fault.

Finally, could you try to see your opponent as a human being?  Assume that even though they disagree on ideologies and methods, that they might want what is best for us, just as much as you do.  If you tell us what you would do and your opponent does the same, then we can make an educated choice on who we feel is best for the position.

I pray that some day I might not dread election season.  I dream that candidates will be civil and honest.  I dream that the parties learn to work together again and stop villainizing each other.  I believe that our communities, states, and nation are still a wonderful place to live.  I know you do too.  So, I ask you do do your part to make it a positive and productive election.

Thank You,

Karen Estes
(Voter)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub,

OK, just to give credit where credit is due...  My title is a quote from "Hamlet."

I have discovered a weird phenomenon on-line lately...  There are so many celebrity death hoaxes that when someone really dies, people don't believe you.  It is an Internet boy who cried wolf syndrome.

I personally have never thought the death hoax stories were funny.  I was sad briefly thinking the world had lost another piece of my childhood until people started calling me stupid and laughing at me...  Then, I got mad.  Never did I find them amusing.  OK, maybe the "Betty White Dyes" article was a little funny, because the spelling alone should have told me something was up.

Today, Patrick MacNee passed away.  He played John Steed in the "Avengers" TV show in the 60s.  JP and I did a cosplay of Steed and Peele a couple of years ago.  So I was saddened to hear of his passing.  But burn me once, shame on you.  Burn me twice, shame on me.  So when I first read it, I went to research it first to make sure it was true.  The BBC, the Telegraph, and his own personal web site all confirmed that he died this morning.  I noted this on the post as I shared it...  Still, more than one person posted a link to an article saying it was a hoax...  So, I checked again.  The Associated Press, ABC, CNN, and the entertainment magazine Variety are all now confirming it.  Still, people are linking back to an online magazine I have never heard of and saying that all of these news sources must not have checked their sources, because so and so assures us that he is alive and well.

Personally, I think I will trust the dozen or so legitimate news sources that are required to do their research rather than a random person on the web.  (Yes, I know I am also a random person on the web, so feel free to believe me or not.  But at least I try to check my facts.)

So, what I am wondering is why is there suddenly such an obsession with celebrity death hoaxes?  When someone really has passed on, why tarnish their memory by posting a hoax that it is a hoax?

Maybe it is the fact that much of our culture fears death and wants to avoid it at all costs.  As a Christian, I don't fear death.  I do not necessarily want it to come soon, but I am not afraid to go when it is my time.  I know that Jesus promised that he went to make a place for us.

At funerals I tell people that it is OK to be sad.  A person you love is no longer there and you will miss them, but do not be sad for them.  They are safe in the arms of the Lord.  They have earned their heavenly reward.  They are in the presence of their Lord for all eternity.  It is a good thing!  They are happy and at peace.  I believe that I will see them again when I join them in glory.  That is the Good News of the Gospel.

So maybe we need to be less obsessed with death while we live.  We should live like we know where we are going and spread grace, love, and peace rather than hurtful rumors.

Peace!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Messed Up Priorities

I have spent the past several days ignoring the thousands of posts about Bruce Jenner's sex change.  I am not going into whether it was right or wrong, but seriously folks...

It seems that every conservative Christian publication or broadcast is now focusing all of their time and energy on preaching against Bruce Jenner's "sexual deviancy."

First off, people are calling him horrible ugly names.  If you think he has committed a horrible sin what do you think Jesus would do?  Would Jesus call him names and be all hateful?  Jesus loves sinners.  Jesus loves us enough to die for us!  For those who are quoting their Bible all over the place, "You who are without sin, cast the first stone."  Stones are being thrown all over the internet!

More than that, is one man wanting to become a woman really the worst evil going on in the world right now?  Really?

What about everyone who is being murdered by ISIS?  What about the Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and Africa?  What about the innocent children being sold into sex slavery all around the world?

Then again, if you would rather focus on the positive things we should be doing as Christians rather than the negative things that need to be preached against...  How many natural disasters have occurred over the past couple of months?  There are people who have lost their homes or even their lives in the floods in TX.  That is just here at home.  Where could we be using the internet to get people to do positive things to help those in need?  Where could we be bringing attention to "the least of these?"

Over the past couple of days I have actually been embarrassed on behalf of Jesus and God's church.  All I saw was ugly, mean spirited, name calling, and rock throwing.  That is not what we are about as disciples of Jesus Christ!

As Ron Weasley said in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", "[We] really need to sort out [our] priorities."

May Christ's Peace be with you!