Author Archives: Rob Moss

About Rob Moss

Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Master in Lakewood, Colorado, with a heart to proclaim, point out, and participate in God's activity in the world. D.Min. in Congregational Mission and Leadership. What is God doing? What does God want to do? How can we join?

“They Saved Us”

Florence, Italy is doing just fine, thank you. A thriving wine and olive oil industry is world-famous, and second only to tourism in feeding a fairly healthy economy.

Obviously, historic Florence has held much influence for centuries. A center of art, this city gave rise to Michelangelo, daVinci, and so many others in architecture, painting, and sculpture.

Yet Florence, in fairly recent times, was suffering. The wine industry was relatively unknown and tourism was nowhere near the boom it is now. Grapes and olives were only harvested in small amounts due to a lack of workers.

But then they received help from a surprising source. According to a winery tour guide I was listening to, immigrants from the Middle East and Africa increased in numbers, providing a work force that saved the wine industry. Florence regained lost status on a world stage.

Thanks to immigrants, apparently.

Some racism, xenophobia, and nationalism still exist from the Fascism days after WW1. Unfortunately, those narrow attitudes are still present among some of the young people of Florence and other parts of Italy.

My tour guide’s attitude seems hopeful yet objective. And somehow universal from the perspective of humanity. Immigrants? “They saved us.” It’s not that hard to believe.

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“I don’t recommend that for tourists.”

Wanting a fuller “Paris” experience, I ventured into an area about which I know nothing: food. Normally I can eat about anything (with a few exceptions, e.g., seafood), so I felt comfortable ordering a grade AAAAA sausage. Right? The French are known for their cuisine, so this ought to be great!

The server, however, upon hearing my order, frowned. “I don’t recommend that for tourists,” she said with significant emphasis. “Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m feeling brave.” “No,” she said again. “This is not good for tourists. It is very strong.” “Good!” says the naive tourist, who, by the way, is on a sabbatical the theme of which is “Listening.”

She brought the unique French sausage, called “andouillette,” and I quickly admitted she was right about the strong odor. Well, more than strong. Actually closer to a 2-week old teenager’s gym socks, stuffed into a wet mattress and left in the stairwell of a bus station parking ramp. But I’m in France, so, what the heck. I took a bite–after all, it couldn’t taste worse than it smelled.

Now, to my credit, I did swallow a bite. And kept it down. So far.

And then I made the mistake of Googling it. There’s a reason for the pungent smell. It’s made of all kinds of meat from all kinds of animal parts. Including the colon. Yes, I believe I ate a cow rectum.

When in Paris, and the native Parisian server says, “I don’t recommend that for tourists,” it’s probably a good idea to listen. And then order a nice French burger and fries.

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What’s Your Steak?

Enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Paris, I’m awash in thought about Lois’s and my time in Belgium. We stayed with friends just outside of  Brussels, who were were wonderful and gracious hosts.  Theirs were the first non-American voices I’ve had the chance to hear, and there were a few surprises.

First, America is confusing and maddening to them of late. Although that wasn’t so surprising, the vehemence with which it was expressed was.

Next, I was with them as Belgium took 3rd place in the Soccer World Cup. The patriotic pride was tangible, with the black, yellow, and red flags waving everywhere. All were cheering and slapping each other on the back. A feeling of contributing something worthwhile in the world was dominant.

On a more personal level, these dear friends shared some insights they’ve gained in the last few years. “Take care of yourself,” they cautioned. “Everyone needs to be true to who they are.” It’s like going to a steak house, my friend told me. No one should expect fish (or at least good fish) there, because it’s a restaurant that specializes in steak. If a customer is upset that you won’t serve them fish, you just point to the menu and state that you serve steak and are good at that. If they want fish, they should go to a place that specializes in fish.

What’s your steak? they asked. Too many of us try to serve everyone whatever they want in our lives. This results in nothing being very good, and everyone, including you, are unhappy. Find your steak–that about which you are passionate–and don’t apologize for being that.

Good advice from Belgium. Medium-rare, please.

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My Mom: Starting with Voices from the Past

I’m spending a few days visiting my sisters (and families) who all live in the Salt Lake City metro area. We’ve always been pretty close, but have bonded even more as our mother continued her difficult Alzheimer’s journey. Since my mom’s death a year and a half ago we’ve committed to staying close, so my first sabbatical traveling is, of course, to SLC.

Each time I come to Utah, I make sure I visit my mother’s grave site. Nothing macabre, no weeping or one-sided conversations; I just spend a minute in reflection and perhaps sweep a bit of stray grass clippings from the gravestone. I did so again this morning. In answer to my sister’s question, yes, she’s still there.

In reflection, I can still hear my mom’s voice, Boston accent intact. “Only three cookies per day.” “Do your jobs before you ride your bike.” “Who got into the Jim Beam?” But mostly I hear what she said every day of her life as a mother. Not really ever with words, but with every action and intention. “You are worth everything. I would sacrifice anything for you. That’s what love looks like.” Again, those were never her words, and I didn’t always understand it as a kid, but standing at her grave this morning, it was as clear as any words she could have spoken. Her life, once her children were born, was spent making whatever sacrifice was necessary to benefit her children. That’s what love looks like. It’s never about one’s self (at least that’s not the primary concern), but always about what benefits the other.

That’s my first voice–one that is deeply embedded in my past. Ellie Kilbourn told me with her life what love looks like. You do whatever you have to do for the sake of the other.

May I continue to hear that voice and grow in my own capacity to love like that. Thanks, Mom.IMG_20180707_100213

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Sabbatical Theme: “The Listening Tour”

Thanks for visiting this blog! It serves as my “missional church” site, and although I’ve not posted for a while, it has been active for several years. I invite you to look through it and see what’s interesting.

I am starting a 14-week sabbatical July 1st and will post on this blog periodically during that time.

The sabbatical is called “The Listening Tour,” because that’s what I plan to do. I will go to places I’ve not been to before and listen to voices and perspectives I’ve not heard before. For me, as well as for the congregation I serve (Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO, USA), listening has become a vital endeavor. As we seek to go deeper into a relationship with our congregational neighborhood, we have to actively seek ways to listen: not only to God and to fellow church partners, but also to our neighbors outside the church. As we do that, not only is trust built but we can actually begin to discern what’s important, what’s concerning, what’s frightening, and what’s comforting within the scope of our immediate context. What’s more, through listening we can also discern what God is currently up to in our neighborhood. With that info, we can plan a strategy to jump into the Holy Spirit’s work of compassion (or need for it), mercy (or need for it), inclusivity (or need for it), and grace (or need for it).

My hope is that this sabbatical can give me “new ears” with which to hear what God is doing and how God is present in our world.

Go ahead and click the “sign me up” button under the “Email Subscription” heading on the right hand side of this page. That way you will automatically be notified when I post something interesting I’ve been hearing.

Join me on this “Listening Tour.” Perhaps with your input we can enter into God’s work in new and deliberate ways! I look forward to listening to your perspectives on this site!

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This is Just Exhausting

Mental Health Awareness Week can easily be written off as one more token cause that, yes, we all should pay attention to, but probably don’t. I am one who deals with clinical depression, and I still haven’t paid much attenion to it, truth be told. 

But I’m graeful this year for the reminder. I need to do what I can to make sure I’m OK. And that isn’t easy lately. My work as a pastor can become all-consuming, what with the constant demands, criticisms, problems, disagreements, and frustrations. I am privileged to have a job that calls me to see something better for our world, but that also forces me to live in the brokenness of our reality. Living in the gap between the two is exhausting. 

Then there are hurricanes. Three of them in the US in the last few weeks. The devastation is inconceivable. The suffering and despair is beyond my ability to imagine. I listen to the stories, the outcries, the frustration, and the hope and find myself becoming numb. It’s not that I’m apathetic, it’s that it’s exhausting. The fact that I don’t live in an “affected” area yet still am dragging adds a tinge of guilt to the mix. Which is even more exhaustting. 

I woke up today to the news of the horror in Las Vegas overnight. Almost 60 dead, over 500 injured. Not including ongoing trauma that will be experienced by many thousands more for years to come. The ideolgogues are at work on every side of the “gun” issue, with very few people willing to listen to anyone else. Guns should be banned altogether (why don’t those politicians develop a spine and do something?!), guns are not the problem at all (why don’t those politicians quit politicizing tragedy?!), and everything in between. Not having the luxury of avoiding these issues, I am exhausted by trying to be rational, reasonable, and finding a way through the ideologies all around. That is exhausting. 

I’m an Enneagram 5, which means among other things that I am greedy with (in my case) my time. I need time to recover, to process, to introspect, to be alone. When I’m feeling pulled to constantly address injustice, speak clearly for peace, listen well to those who are adamantly opposed to my very reasonable perspective, and hold fast to positions of integrity that seem to invoke the ire of friends and foes alike, it’s exhausting. It feels like this will not end. I’ll be beating my head against a wall forever without making any difference. Yet, I am obliged to not let up. Too much is at stake. 

Not that my voice is the one that must be heard if there is to be peace. But for my own sense of integrity I have to continue to speak, to write, to proclaim, to listen. Integrity sucks. Because it’s exhausting. 

So Mental Health Awareness Week gives me a little more perspective this year. I’ll likely be a bit out of balance for a while, but I’ll lean a bit more heavily on those who love me. I’ll make sure to watch carefully for signs of encroaching depression and take necessary steps. Now more than ever. I’m exhausted, but grace abounds. In the midst of exhaustion, that matters.

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The Church and Love: Not Mutually Exclusive

​The other night my wife posted a quick note in a closed Facebook group to which she belongs. It had to do with an anonymous letter I received at our home in opposition to a public stand I took regarding some of the hate and division this recent election has revealed. Bear in mind the note I received wasn’t nasty or even mean-spirited. But it was anonymous. So, in keeping with long-standing practice regarding anything sent to me anonymously, I tossed it in the recycle bin. 

That’s not very interesting, and is actually commonplace for people in my profession. But what made this noteworthy is the response my wife received from her Facebook post. She had briefly stated that I had received an anonymous note, and that it was in response to my stance of inclusivity for all, love for all, and welcome to all in a sermon the previous Sunday (the sermon). She said how sad she felt that a message of love for all was met with fear, and that this response is far from in isolated incident. Many who espouse that all are worthy of love are ridiculed, harassed, and isolated. While I only received a brief note, others have received far worse. 

The response she received was surprising to both of us. Within about 10 minutes (and mind you, she posted this about 10:00 at night) there were about 50 return comments of support and care. We are Lutheran (I’m an ELCA pastor) yet encouragement came from across age and theological perspectives. Within a half hour of her post, more than 100 comments were made (not counting the “likes”), all of them positive and supportive. 

Several Jews asked her to keep up the necessary work of love. A former Pentecostal (now atheist) wrote that if she’d heard messages of love for all people in her church growing up, she may not have left the faith. Others longed for more people to stand in and for acceptance. Still others recognized how hard it is to publicly proclaim that all are to be loved. One or two bemoaned their own church’s failure to take this kind of a stance and wished there was a “loving church” nearer to them. Several asked my wife to pray for them, their church, and their clergy. On and on she read these comments, astounded at the depth of the encouragement and heartbroken by the longing for acceptance.

It seemed clear that my wife had struck a cord in her Facebook group. The simplicity of loving all people apparently is not broadly heard outside of certain circles. The longing for someone to say “you are loved right now, just as you are” was palpable. We went to bed moved, misty, and determined.

If the message of Jesus is to “love God, love your neighbor,” we don’t seem to be doing it very well. At least there are lots of people who don’t think so. Or who haven’t been experiencing that from church people. If one small Facebook post is any indication, we aren’t doing our job. 

What’s hard is that most congregations and congregational adherents believe they are showing love. We really think we’re doing a good job because we aren’t hateful, are fairly polite, are upset by violence and racism, and bothered by all kinds of phobias, including those singling out Islam and LGBTQ. People are yearning to be loved and cared about. Even though there are churches in their neighborhoods, they don’t believe the people inside would really love them. 

So here’s the message: what we’re doing is not enough. Love, care, compassion, grace, generosity aren’t quiet by nature, and certainly not private. Rather than patting ourselves on the back because xenophobia is irritating, perhaps we need to be seen publicly standing up for immigrants. Instead of feeling justified because we find those who take advantage of the poor distasteful, perhaps each of us should be broadly recognized as standing up for those who are economically challenged. If we are annoyed by homophobia or persecution of Muslims or sexism, maybe it’s time our love-in-action on their behalf was identifiable in our neighborhoods. 

If we aren’t known for being loving, perhaps it’s because we only do it quietly and safely. If people longing to be accepted aren’t turning to the church, I’m guessing it’s because they don’t believe they will find acceptance among us. 

If love isn’t shown, it isn’t really love. Love is active, risky, and relational. If those in our congregations’ neighborhoods don’t know we love them, it’s time we showed them. What can you do to get outside the doors of your church building and love your neighbor? What will that look like? Who are they and what’s going on in their lives? How can they know they are loved, by us, right now, just as they are? People are asking for acceptance, wanting to know they are considered worthwhile, longing to be loved. Doesn’t that sound like something we are called, equipped, and sent to do? 

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Good question to ask: Why Church?Why nothing seems to get people back to church – The issue at the core of decline

“People just aren’t committed like they used to be” This week, I came across this satirical article from the site BabylonBee “After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daugh…

Source: Why nothing seems to get people back to church – The issue at the core of decline

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Love Means Attending to What is Urgent: How the “Black Lives Matter” Movement Proclaims the Gospel of Jesus.

Everyone can probably agree that the heart of the gospel is about God’s love for creation, which overflows in us loving others. Love everyone, Jesus says: friends and enemies, rich and poor, people of all races, people of all sexual identities, immigrants and natural born, people of all religions, etc. We may not agree on what that looks like or how best to do that, but most would agree that love is at the heart of the gospel message.

One of our mistakes is assuming that love for one looks the same as love for all. Obviously this isn’t true. We are at different places and that must be taken into account. If your house is on fire, love dictates that it is more urgent to get firefighters to your house than to mine. That’s not saying my house is less important than yours, just that your situation is more urgent. Showing love for those with full stomachs may not mean giving them food. Yet for someone who is hungry, love requires providing them food. Love means attending to what is urgent.

Jesus makes this clear in (among many others) the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). All are given a day’s wage regardless of how long they worked. It’s not that those who worked all day are less important, it’s just that others need to eat today also. A day’s wage allows all to eat today. Those who worked all day complained because they believed they deserved more for working longer hours. And they actually do have a point. This pay scale isn’t “fair,” because it is favoring those who worked less. But the point Jesus makes is that love means attending to what is urgent.

Systemic racism in our culture reveals an urgent situation. Blacks in the US start at a different place than whites. Some might complain that the BLM movement isn’t “fair” because, they say, blacks deserve equal-to-but-not-more-than whites. But the house of African Americans is on fire. Love dictates that it is more urgent to get firefighters there. Love means attending to what is urgent. The situation of racism is urgent.

When parents of African American boys are forced to have “the conversation” in order to provide the best chance of safety when (not if) their sons are pulled over by police, the situation is urgent (see the NY Times op-doc, http://www.theconversationseries.org/).

When 80% of police stops in NYC were of blacks and Latinos and only 10% were of whites, the situation is urgent (this and the following statistics are cited and referenced at http://www.jbwtucker.com/ultimate-white-privilege-statistics/).

When blacks are 127% more likely to be frisked than whites in Los Angeles, even though they are 42% less likely to be found with a weapon, the situation is urgent.

When blacks aged 18-25 are less likely than whites to have use marijuana in the last 12 months, but are arrested at an astronomically higher rate than whites of the same age for possession, the situation is urgent.

When African American juveniles are 16% of the US population but are 28% of juvenile arrests, the situation is urgent.

When black men are nearly twice as likely to be arraigned on charges that carry a mandatory minimum, and are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison that whites (and receive sentences 10% longer than whites for the same crimes), the situation is urgent.

When whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color, the situation is urgent.

When black students are 3.5 times more likely to be expelled from school than their white peers, the situation is urgent.

When a white male with a criminal record is 5% more likely to get a job than an equally qualified person of color with a clean record, the situation is urgent.

When a college-educated white American has an average net worth of $75,000 while a college-educated black American has an average net worth of less than $17,500, the situation is urgent.

When a black man makes $0.72 for every dollar a white man makes (which, by the way, is $0.06 less than a white woman makes), the situation is urgent.

When voter ID laws disenfranchise millions of blacks and Latinos while purportedly preventing a kind of voter fraud that does not even exist, the situation is urgent.

Contrary to much white privilege thinking, BLM isn’t saying “only” black lives matter, but that love means attending to what is urgent. There is an urgency in recognizing the evidence that (whether we want to admit it or not) black lives actually do not matter as much as white lives in our culture. There is an urgency in giving priority to the house that is on fire; love means attending to what is urgent. Just as we would proclaim the priority that the hungry be fed and that the homeless be sheltered, Jesus’ gospel teaching on love declares that black lives matter.

The BLM movement is loudly declaring the urgency of the racism situation in our culture. When the situation is urgent, love means attending to what is urgent. In Denver, Colorado, the Black Lives Matter 5280 chapter states their mission in part,

Black Lives Matter 5280 assists in building more loving and united Black communities while eliminating anti-Black violence and racism. . . . Our work is to cultivate communities of abundant joy where all Black people are emboldened and empowered to lead, love, heal, and thrive.   http://www.blacklivesmatter5280.com/

Love means attending to what is urgent. That’s how the wolf and the lamb can lie down together. That’s how the rough places are made smooth. That’s how all earn enough to eat today. As Jesus taught, this is the gospel. And it is good news. Black Lives Matter.

Categories: american christianity, Black Lives Matter, Church in Context, missional church, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Emerging Neighborhoods

Well worth the read, UMC Bishop Ken Carter writes an article making the point that neighborhoods are no longer what they used to be. It is rare that people gather in their geographical neighborhood as their source of community. Now, community happens through networking, which has become the new “third place” for community (the first two being home and work).

The church must pay attention to this reality if we are to develop trusting relationships within our “neighborhoods.” People have long since given up using church (or even church buildings) as a central community place. They do not feel safe doing so. I find this tragic, but true.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg, quoted in the same article by Bishop Carter, recognizes a meaningful and successful “third place” for experiencing community exhibits particular characteristics, some of which are quite lacking in many of our churches.

Oldenburg writes about these characteristics of an inclusive “third place” community:

. . . [T]here are no economic barriers to entrance; there is food and drink; the space is highly accessible; there are regulars, who are usually present, and newcomers, who are welcomed and received with ease.  It is also often the case that a third place has the quality of a neutral space, that the dominant mode of communication is conversation, and that the mood is playful.

Coffee shops have come to fill a geographical niche here, as churches (including Sunday mornings) fail to achieve many of these characteristics. Special interests and participation in particular causes create natural networks that serve to fill our need for community in non location-specific ways.

The point seems to be that as long as churches continue to exist primarily for themselves and their members, and until we create an environment in which all are included (newcomer and charter-member side by side), our inroads into our neighborhoods seem to be limited.

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