Several stories in one story; or, the other grievous thing that happened.

Milky Way photo from Morguefile user Naturestock, with my color edits. Text from the ESV version of the Bible. Poster published in the March-April 2022 issue of Connections magazine from Sola Publishing. Used by permission.

Four thousand words! Dear friends, and especially new readers, I have previously never written this many words at one go in my life — not in college papers, not in high school papers, none of it. Chances are good I will never do it again, but the existence of my five kids proves I should never say never. I don’t apologize, though. This has to be told.

I have to start with a trio of way-back-jack stories.

Backstory One: Clovis Man.

Where did you grow up? I genuinely always want to know the answer to this, and if I know someone who’s from where you’re from, I guarantee I will try to connect the dots.

My answer is: I grew up on wheat harvest on the Great Plains, but mostly in New Mexico because that’s where home-home was from when I was 2 to when I was 13. Specifically, I grew up on the outskirts of Clovis, when my road was red dirt and caliche, long before it became a three-lane-with-paved-shoulder bypass to the air base.

One of the things we did as schoolkids there was visit the museum at Blackwater Draw, outside of Portales. I should intentionally return for a visit as an adult because kids tend to take really amazing things for granted, maybe because of proximity or just lack of alternate experience.

Now they’re calling the culture the Clovis People, but the Archaic and Paleoindian people I learned about as Clovis Man lived 13,000-ish years ago, and, to vastly simplify the science, the archaeological site at Blackwater Draw reveals that these people used fluted points and other tools, and hunted mammoths and other prehistoric beasts.

This, kind of like God and my parents and Tara and Jeremy, is something I never didn’t know. People, a long time ago, millenia before Jesus, hunted now-extinct animals practically right outside my house. Cool.

Backstory Two: “God Is.”

In 1991, my best friend from high school in Colorado attended the Nazarene Youth Congress gathering in Florida. Every participant received a cassette tape, and I kid you not, we wore it out.

Some of the groups on that cassette are still up and going — it was where I first heard Newsboys, for instance.

One of the songs on the cassette was a rap, “God Is” — pretty edgy stuff for Christian music in 1991. I remember a lot of it, but my sister Tara, who’s excellent at this music thing, remembers every word. It is pretty awesome, making some of Job into a bunch of teen-friendly sarcasm.

It’s a terrific song that hits home on so many levels. God is omni-everything, and humans don’t even know what we don’t know — there’s too much.

It is a big downer that the song is seemingly no longer available, anywhere. It’s not on the internet. Caroline’s original cassette is long gone. My copy (of course we made a copy, because 1991) inadvertently got recorded over with, of all things, Garrison Keillor, which itself is blurry because the tape is so worn out it’s stretched. None of us remembers the group name. The Nazarene Church archivist doesn’t have a copy of the cassette in the collection, and yes, I absolutely asked.

What I do have is the lyrics. Tara and I can sing them, and probably Caroline and her sister Sara also, but how about not right now. Here you go.

(God is)
Omnipotent: God is all-powerful.
There is no one above him; no one can compete with him.
Omniscient — he knows all things
(even how you burned those chicken wings).
Omnipresent — everywhere at all times.
I’d like to see you try it. Don’t waste your time.
You have an explanation? Well, go ahead.
You ask me, your brain is too big for your head.
Where were you when he painted the sky blue?
Can you come up with something? You have a clue?
How ‘bout the rain, does it have a father?
How ‘bout the snow? Think a little harder.
Where does darkness go when light appears?
When was the first and when’s the last years?
Of course you know. You were born then, right?
Then how does the day split from night?
How does a man get an appetite?
Who sets the clock that sets us all right?
Words, words, words without knowledge, and we spend a fortune to go to college.
The answer is simple. Man knows half the story.
But we insist on robbing God of the glory.
No lights, no camera, no showbiz.
That’s the Creator, who He is.
(God is…)

Backstory Three: Religion 101.

I grew up — baptized and confirmed, and active congregant — in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Some people will say this is just one step short of Catholicism, but trust me, no. There are a number of Lutheran synods/associations/whatever that are much closer — and also quite a few that are further away.

When it was time to go to college (ah, 1994, such an illustrious year), I was pretty determined to go to an LCMS school, Concordia in Seward, but had basically the world’s worst tour. We checked in but our tour guide didn’t show up, and an older gentleman who normally handled paperwork for transfer students, not tours for prospective freshmen, showed us around. We found our tour guide in a practice room with his trombone, and he was nonplussed and completely didn’t want to leave his practice room to give the tour. Talk about discrediting a whole institution based on a wasted hour plus 16 hours of drive time — that did it. (Let this be a lesson to you, institutions.)

Back home, I dug through my two paper grocery bags of college propaganda and set up a second tour, at Bethany in Lindsborg, another Lutheran school — basically fell in love at first sight, had a great tour guide who eventually was a friend and married a closer friend, and visited with the political science professor who is just not like anyone I’ve ever met before or since. Some scholarship money later, I was enrolled.

Evidently, I was supposed to not go to Concordia, and I was supposed to go to Bethany. I can’t explain it, so we will allow it to be a God thing.

Imagine my shock in that first semester when I learned in the sole required religion class, RL101, that there were different ways to interpret the Bible even though we are all Christian.

Well, I mean, you can’t accurately imagine it. You can’t without being in my wee, naive head.

As it turns out, people have been reading and interpreting the Bible for thousands of years. Different people, different interpretations. I grew up LCMS. Bethany is Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. You don’t really have to dig very far to figure out they’re pretty different.

Absolutely crazy. Eye-opening. I’m a born skeptic. Bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool, raise-a-brow-at-everything skeptic. I’m beyond grateful for the faith of my forefathers and that I previously never knew anything besides faith because if I didn’t have that background, I’d have given up on God, right then and there.

But, as you surely already know, I didn’t. I’ll forever be thankful to the religion teacher, now deceased, and the campus pastor, the incomparable Noni, for being patient, not just brushing me off. What an experience, though. I am a much more invested and educated layperson as a result (key word layperson). I find the different points of view fascinating, though I have strong words to say about points of view that are based in human agenda and/or are contrary to Scripture.

Chapter One: It’s a tale of misery.

Fast forward to now, when all these pieces of my personal history inform my response to the implosion of our household’s longtime church home.

For several months, this has been all Jeremy and I have talked about. Well, when we weren’t talking about Brad, anyway. And the double whammy … horrific. I do not wish this on anyone.

A day that goes by without a conversation on this topic with each other or with someone outside or inside the situation is basically a red-letter day. It’s living rent-free in our heads, and to no good end.

Has this ever sucked. There are churches around. We have an interim plan for church attendance and Christian education for the kids, and we have a few months before we have to form a more permanent plan. It’ll take work and a bunch of things introverts hate, like going to new places on Sunday morning. Maybe the answer will turn out to be Hope. Maybe it’s not. Time will tell.

For me it also includes rebuilding a social structure because I put almost all my social eggs in the church basket, which, in hindsight, was dumb-dumb-dumb. I’m an introvert, and that was an easy method. Now I have to figure out how I’m going to talk and interact with people. Plus I was all excited about three developing friendships, which became four developing friendships, and that has gone to dust, too.

The thing is, people have behaved in line with what they believe is right. The other thing is, I love them and, for some, I strongly disagree with the behavior AND with what they believe.

I have to be careful about how I tell this story. I don’t know if I can be careful enough, and I may just have to accept that risk. Large parts of it involve many people, not just me and my family. Also, in a small town — a huge factor in this story, in and of itself, because there is zero anonymity in a small town — stories that involve many people can tend to make the storyteller an outcast. It’s a fine line to walk.

So, commencing the present-day tale. It’s a little tangled. Or a lot.

Hope has a history of implosions. Since its founding in 1891 as the result of the Germans not being able to stand worshipping in the same building as the Swedes for one minute longer, Hope has never had a pastor for longer than 13 years. Most were in the pulpit five years or less. Personally, as a member for 19 years, I’ve seen three of these implosions — one after nine years, one after five, this one after three. First time funny, second time silly, third time a spanking.

There are strong dynamics at work in this congregation. One is the influential presence of a sizable extended family. This family also has a ton, a veritable ocean, of multi-generational business- and school-related social capital in the community. Another is a sense of independence. As far as I can tell, if Hope is told to do something, or not to do something, but it doesn’t fit Hope’s established narrative, it’s like a match to a powder keg. A third is that Hope reflects the larger community in that its main focus is children. Anything “for the kids” will go gangbusters. Any type of adult fellowship or ministry — nothing. Just crickets.

Three years ago, I was on the call committee which searched for the most recent pastor. Wow, did we get a good one. Theologically sound, personable, very educated, a conscientious teacher and thorough preacher. One thing that was of high importance to me because I love baptism so very much: He was baptized as a teen but through his studies and meditation came to embrace infant baptism and endorses both. Bonus: He’s a young man, with a wife and three young kids, and they were very committed to seeing the kids start and finish school here, maybe even stretch his call here to his retirement.

The pastor and I liked the geographic coincidence that the guy who founded Bethany College was from his hometown, and when the King of Sweden visited the U.S. in 1976, he first visited that town before visiting Bethany.

Also, to jump ahead a bit, our five-year-old and their five-year-old have planned for the last two years to get married, and the number of children from this union will be either 16 or 30, depending on which day you ask them. So lest you think this involves only the adults, or maybe the adults and older students, think again.

Chapter Two: Creation beliefs as a complicating factor.

One thing that plays into this story is a 2019 charter bus trip to the Ark Experience and Creation Museum in Kentucky, just a few months after we installed this new pastor. Many youth group members, parents and teachers went on this trip. This was more influential than I ever possibly could have realized at the time. Some people were really taken with the very firm idea that creation was six literal days and further that if you don’t believe that, then you don’t believe the rest of the Bible.

Hogwash. If you dig deeper into the guy that promotes this, you’ll find that his main interests are getting as many people to that giant land-bound ship as possible and using that money to promote a very black-and-white agenda on homosexuality and abortion. I will not provide links. I am ashamed of that whole thing. It’s a black eye on Christianity.

Keep in mind the lessons in my cute little backstories.

I grew up with the 13,000-year-old Clovis Man out my front door (oh, and phytosaur fossils on our neighbors’ granny’s ranch).

I’m really big on the omnipresence of God. Everywhere at all times! We humans literally cannot fathom it. I would LOVE to be outside of linear time! Time is hard! I cannot wait to escape time.

And then there’s the interpretation facet, where in no part of church history have Christians ever agreed on a timeline for creation. We all agree that God is the one Creator. We all agree that Jesus, as one of the three persons of our single God, was present for the events of creation. Man is created in God’s image. Here we are. It’s enough.

Personally, I don’t care what anyone thinks about the creation timeline. It doesn’t make me one whit of difference. I am wholly indifferent to church policy on this topic. LCMS is the only Lutheran body with a policy, as far as I’m aware.

How do you believe? No opinion? Fine. Young Earth? Fine. Old Earth? Also fine. Old Earth plus the process of evolution? Fine, but evolution and Darwinism are different, so make sure you know what you’re talking about. I’m not on board with Darwinism because it excludes God.

It turns out it is dangerous in our community to be an old-Earth-plus-evolution kind of person. For better or worse, that’s me. It’s a product of my life experience, which I also believe is God-given.

But: I do not care.

There is absolutely no reason to have an argument over this when the bigger challenge facing us is to go out and tell others about Jesus. Our Creator gave us creation and sent himself to us as Jesus. We know a lot of specifics about Jesus, and we know there was a lot of stuff he did that wasn’t recorded. People were not here writing stuff down when God painted the sky blue, which is probably good because I suspect the world couldn’t hold the books that would have to be written.

Love God; love one another; tell others. That’s what we are called to do. Talk about salvation, people. Don’t get lost in the weeds of the creation debate that we will just have to wait and visit with God about because WE DO NOT KNOW. Man only knows half the story … if that.

Chapter Three: So, what happened at Hope?

Across all of society, we need a spirit of openness and truth in communication. We need good, quality communication. We fail at communication, even while we win at back-room politics and pot-stirring, which humans are naturally good at.

So with this part of the story, I’m going to be as above-board as I possibly can. All this should have been said months ago, and I’m very sorry that I realized it too late.

Bad timing is the story of my life. Again, time is hard. I absolutely envy God his position outside of linear time.

Anyway, all the usual caveats apply. You’re reading facts; they’re from my point of view. Feel free to comment. I moderate all comments. Be nice. If you’re kind and disagree, fine. If you’re disagreeable and disagree, not so fine.

Along with a new pastor and stupid covid came some complications. Change is difficult, and it is human nature to nurse hurts.

Not everyone liked our increasingly traditional style, a facet of worship which is usually highly influenced by the pastor. For the record, tradition was on our wishlist as a call committee, and we got it.

Some pastors wear regular clothes, no extra robes, for services, but this pastor dons all the traditional vestment layers but one. He prefers to have communion every Sunday, which council approved. We set up communion a little differently, and all the linens have names, which is neato, but even as a longtime sacristan, I have a hard time remembering the names. We added the spoken introit to the service.

We used new hymns. We started intentionally teaching Lutheran catechism to students of all ages. Have you ever read the Book of Concord? Or even just the Large Catechism? I haven’t read the whole thing of either one, but — fascinating. A couple times we used alternate readings from apocryphal books, which, yeah, gave me pause a bit, but the readings weren’t weird and are in fact in line with everything I’ve learned over the last 46 years since my baptism.

Maybe it’s because I have experiences in all kinds of churches, in all kinds of locations across the Great Plains, and friends of all sorts of different denominations, including many pastor friends, but here we are again: I don’t care. Style of worship isn’t a make-or-break thing for me. Worship itself IS a make-or-break thing for me. I happen to prefer liturgical worship, but it’s not the be all, end all.

And then, covid.

Generally, Hope weathered the pandemic fairly well. Our pastor researched and collaborated with his peers and figured out how to do a good job crafting a church service for the sole purpose of streaming and drafted his oldest kid as his assistant. He dug into things like communion over Zoom and made decisions based on theology, not convenience (answer: nope, no communion over Zoom).

One of my favorite people wrote for a huge covid-related grant and we were able to do a bunch of good with it, even kind of had trouble spending all the money, it was so big.

Covid prevented pastoral visitation. That was hard on everybody.

When we went to put the hymnals back in the pews, it was suddenly apparent that they were completely worn out. But Hope has money for things like that. The council chose to buy new hymnals, which not everyone liked.

Change upon change. Life is all change, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Let’s return again for a moment to my third little backstory above, the one about being shocked in college that there are different ways to interpret the Bible, and to the events and opinions in Chapter Two, about creation beliefs. Our pastor paid a visit to the Hope youth group to discuss the other ways to look at creation besides literal six-day creation. He does have an opinion, and doesn’t mind sharing his own opinion, but he doesn’t teach his opinion. We don’t know the answer, remember? His goal with that visit was to make the students aware that in the wider world, there are other ways to think besides literal six days.

Really, I wish someone had done that with me as a high school student. It definitely could have saved me some shock and heartache as a college freshman, a time of life when faith ought to be the one thing that isn’t changing by the day. But it’s water under the bridge. I survived.

Another change, an invisible change that would have changed Hope’s own paperwork not at all, involves the variety of Lutheran bodies.

A decade ago, Hope left the ELCA and became part of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. LCMC plays really hard to Hope’s independent streak. “Free in Christ, accountable to one another” turns out to be maybe not the best for pastors who prefer some structured accountability, so our pastor identified another synod that he wanted to roster with in order to get that structure. No biggie; dual rostering is allowed in Hope’s constitution. (Here’s a link, but it’s behind a login, so it’s only helpful if you’re a member.) It’s kind of like a volleyball coach becoming a member of a coaches’ association in order to talk shop with other coaches, and to get ideas and maybe continuing education.

But this didn’t sit well with people, either. I’m pretty thoroughly traditional, but the Lutheran Orthodox Church is much more traditional than I personally am comfortable with. I talked it over with him. You know, communication. Adulting. Still not a huge fan of the LOC, but this would not necessarily have affected me, and would instead provide something the pastor was missing. We don’t have to agree to love.

There’s a coincidence in this for me, too. The only person I know of in the LOC is the first editor I worked with at my college paper. I mentioned his name to the pastor, and it turns out this guy from lo-verily-decades-ago is the bishop of the LOC and the person with whom our pastor was communicating. Honestly, someone I have not been in touch with since 1995 — absolutely crazy that he’d have a peripheral role in this story. It took a good couple weeks to get used to that idea. (The LOC bishop sat next to me in college anthropology, too. Just so you know. And I had not remembered that until writing this.)

All these things built up — and yes, mainly among the strict six-day folks, though not exclusively — and two years and nine months into our pastor’s stint with Hope, kerblooey.

Instead of using communication skills, things turned mean. Overnight. Lines were drawn in the metaphorical sand of these experiences. People chose up sides.

Honestly, I have witnessed some incredible, unbelievable, terrible behavior. I have witnessed beloved anti-bullying advocates participate in bullying like I never could have imagined among adults. These are people whom I love and, further, like, and yet now it’s hard for me to look them in the eye. If you got a phone call, or if you were approached at a ball game or event, you know what was said. I flatly refuse to repeat it.

It got to the point where our pastor’s family could not even go to the gas station or grocery store and felt uncomfortable at school concerts.

They moved. Who could blame them? Given the ability to pick up a physical farm and move it, I very likely would, too. It has been that bad.

I have no choice but to pull up my big-girl pants and carry on. It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine. Right?

Chapter Four: WHAT IN THE WORLD, PEOPLE.

I still, many days, cannot believe this has happened. It is so surreal. I pray and grieve and cry, and work to sleep, and try to make decisions, but it’s still just exactly as if it’s not real, like we could go back to the exhilaration of the last pre-covid VBS and carry on as normal from there, like maybe even my brother will drop by on his way back from somewhere to his family.

But no.

And to top all that off, everything is so dysfunctional that we don’t even have the communication tools or capacity to be cool, calm and collected so we can talk and either resolve our differences or agree to disagree.

Why? I have no idea.

This old world is so full of heartache and tragedy.

Linear time is hard.

Jesus, take the wheel.

3 thoughts on “Several stories in one story; or, the other grievous thing that happened.

  1. Did-function in the church happens all the time. I’m sorry. Change is the hardest of them all. I believe the LCMS didn’t stop German services until 1954 or later because change was so hard to get everyone on board.

    All over the world the devil through the pandemic (#1) is having its heyday. Isolation, stopping our worship, going our own ways all are playing into his fun with us.

    But on a physical part of your dilemma, attend church, get VBS going again. Take a step backwards in time and try to have VBS, worship as it once was. Yes, no pastor, but the Lord is where more than one worships in His name. Use the Bible. And through small bible study and worship, one could say, a while blossom appears.

    The church building draws ppl back to it. For a rural community, the church is a main artery of their lives. When they hear of BS happening, especially for finding the truth in worship, ppl come back. Let the Lord do the leading. In all things let the Lord speak loudly in doing His healing; for both of your situations. He will, and He is.

    Like

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