Friday, January 15, 2010

Responding to Need in Haiti

We serve Christ by serving those in need.  I encourage anyone looking to make a financial donation to support relief efforts in Haiti to consider the ELCA’s International Disaster Response - Haiti Earthquake ReliefOne hundred percent of your donation will be used for the relief efforts in Haiti.  ELCA Disaster Response ministries have a long history of faithful and responsible service to people in desperate need.

Presiding Bishop Hanson of the ELCA has written an open letter to the members of this church summarizing this church’s response to the disaster, and encouraging all of us to give generously to those in need and to encourage others to do so as well.

To make a donation online, visit  This site also provides information for mailing checks and money orders.

-John Page

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Good Ideas Have Legs

By John Page

“Good ideas have legs” says JIM DWYER of the NY Times in his article Where Unsold Clothes Meet People in Need.  The article provides an example of how a single person can make an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of needy people.  He briefly describes how in 1985, Suzanne Davis asked the president of Phillips-Van Heusen if his company had any excess (unsold) inventory that could be used by homeless men.  That got the ball rolling, and the following year, she organized the New York Clothing Bank, where unworn garments, which might otherwise have been destroyed, are recovered and given to the needy.

While many clothing manufacturers or retailers have gotten on board with this, or similar, efforts, many still destroy unsold inventory.  As Dwyer says, “the reasons are complex.”  There’s a fear of competing with one’s own garbage.  There’s concern that the millions of marketing dollars spent on creating brand images may be wasted if the “wrong” kinds of people are seen wearing brand-name garments.  No doubt there’s also a good measure of indifference and ignorance as well.  When Dwyer reported that a graduate student at City University recently discovered that a branch of clothing retailer H&M was slashing and trashing unsold garments, it triggered an avalanche of responses, including emails from people who knew of retailers all across the U.S. who routinely destroy unworn clothing.

Stories like this illustrate for me the tension between Christian discipleship and the way of the world.  On the one hand, I understand perfectly well how a healthy economy works, how the expectation of reward or profit encourages creativity and risk, and how creativity and risk can lead to advances in knowledge and quality of life.  I understand why people want to minimize risks – risks like competing with one’s own garbage or undermining brand image.  And I understand that some people just can’t be bothered to think too hard about it.

On the other hand, I understand that Jesus of Nazareth expects self-sacrificing love from his disciples.  Our neighbors in need – the least among us – are to be of paramount ethical concern for us.  Our neighbors in need are Jesus in need. (Matthew 25:31-46)  Professing “Jesus is Lord” is completely disingenuous if we treat our Lord with contempt or indifference.  Christian disciples must live in and navigate through this world, never forgetting to whom we owe our lives and everything else we possess.  Our neighbors in need are to be the beneficiaries of our debt.

Christian disciples typically want to be both faithful and pragmatic, which can lead to tension.  We are to be wise and clever in the ways of this world, but we must not be disciples of the ways of the world.  We must render to Caesar what properly belongs to Caesar, but never forget that all things, including Caesar, belong to God.  We are to be mindful of the “powers and principalities” that appear to govern the world – economics, physical sciences, human nature – but we must never permit them to become our lords.  Whatever authority God has given to individuals or to the natural mechanisms of creation, God has not relinquished God’s own authority.  Our Lord stands over and against all other pretenders.

Good ideas are not always pragmatic, but Christian discipleship requires that we sometimes act more faithfully than pragmatically; that we sometimes give up some benefit or advantage for the sake of others, especially for those in need.  This is not so much the way of the world, but the Way of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Singing Church

By John Page

In a recent blog post, Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the demise of congregational singing in many churches.  LutheranChik also observes how anemic congregational singing can be in churches these days.  Both consider the reasons for this development, especially in churches which historically encouraged enthusiastic singing from the pews.

Both critique the trend to professionalize music in our culture.  Singing seems to have become an exclusive art in peoples’ minds, for which some have the appropriate talent and some do not.  Those who suppose they “do not” mute their voices or don’t bother to move their lips at all.  So many people seem reluctant to sing out with joy and vigor, even when familiar hymns are sung.

But, singing is NOT an exclusive art.  Singing is a normal way for all people to express themselves; it is built into our human nature.  And communal singing has long been a way for whole communities to remember, tell, and celebrate their common experiences.  When Martin Luther wrote hymns set to the music of well-known tavern songs, he did so specifically to encourage EVERYONE to sing in worship of God.  One did not have to be a professional or trained musician to make the music of worship; the music of worship is meant to come from us all.

During the first of our two Christmas Eve services this year, the choir began singing a descant over the third verse of Silent Night, expecting the assembly to continue with the verse; instead the people in the pews fell silent and all that could be heard was the descant.  Ooops!  During the second service, the organist increased the volume for the third verse, in hopes that the people in the pews would be encouraged to continue singing.

So, how might we encourage confident and enthusiastic singing from the pews?  That’s a question well known to worship and music leaders.  Some churches ban instrumental accompaniment, and insist on a cappella music only.  Some church musicians have been known to stop playing instruments during some verses of hymns to emphasize the singing.  Personally, I’d like to get away from choir anthems during worship, precisely because “performance pieces” during worship seem to feed the idea that the music is for passive consumption – entertainment – and best left to the “professionals”.  Instead I’d like to see choir and instrumentalists intentionally find ways to encourage, enable, and facilitate singing by everyone in the worshiping assembly.

As Luther might have said: Sing boldly, that grace may abound!