Patriotism and Faith

On this weekend when we celebrate Independence Day, I’m reflecting on the “dual loyalty” of being a Christian in America (or any other nation). How are we to hold together both a national spirit which sings “God Bless America”, and also the conviction of our faith that sings “O God of all the nations” (in the hymn “This Is My Song”, #591 in the New Century Hymnal)? It feels all the more challenging when we remember how much distance there is between our nation’s noble ideals, and the actual sinful practices of racism, sexism, and ethnic hatred that are an overwhelming part of America’s history. How can Christians praise the God of all nations, and recognize the failings in our own, while still feeling proud to be Americans?

Continue reading “Patriotism and Faith”

Truly Good Worship

Today I had the gift of worshipping at Javen’s church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. I’m grateful for eyes to see there the upside-down realm of God, among us right now. In truth, it’s American society that feels like The Upside-Down, given #ICEraids, entrenched politicians, social alienation, climate disasters and God knows what else. Yet today brought a glimpse of what God intends human community to look like, oriented to praise God and serve neighbor rather than to worship power or glorify wealth.

Continue reading “Truly Good Worship”

Pastoral Statement on the Immigration Crisis

In recent days, I’ve been continually more disturbed by the conditions our government is creating for migrant families fleeing for safety from Central America, crossing Mexico and and seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States. The nation’s immigration and asylum systems are stretched beyond capacity by this humanitarian crisis, and our government’s response has been to try to deter those seeking safety with further hardships at the border: rightful requests for asylum denied, months-long lines in Mexico, squalid holding conditions, inadequate access to legal aid in native languages, parents separated from infants, forced relocation for thousands of “unaccompanied” minors, and children facing judicial hearings without any legal help whatsoever. Being under orders to perpetuate this sinful abuse has sickened the souls of those charged to protect the border on behalf of the American people, exposing terrible racism and prejudice in some who wear the uniforms of our government.

Continue reading “Pastoral Statement on the Immigration Crisis”

MN House Testimony

Good morning. I am the Rev. Oby Ballinger. I serve as pastor of Edina Morningside Community Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Edina. In my ministry I have seen the grief and loss caused when a driver’s license is taken away. Without a license, one person has to settle for the minimum wage job that’s within walking distance. Another has lost the freedom to attend worship or get groceries independently. Children become chaperones as their parents talk about the loss of dignity that comes without a license. None of these people are new to Minnesota, but theirs is the experience of any immigrant who was here when drivers’ licenses were taken away, causing untold grief, job-loss, and harm to human decency.

Continue reading “MN House Testimony”

The Worship Challenge

It’s come very quickly, but the church season of discipleship and renewal that we call Lent begins next week! If it takes twenty-one days to learn a new habit, the forty days (plus Sundays) of Lent give Christians more than twice that time to renew a past practice or start a new commitment. You may already have something in mind for Lent, but if you don’t let me invite you to double down on the church “habit” this year. I challenge you to attend worship every time it’s offered in Lent. If you’re out of town from your customary place of worship–like I will be on one Sunday–the challenge means finding a service where you are at. This starts with Ash Wednesday next week, continues with each Sunday between February 18th and April 1st, and culminates with Holy Week worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. (Some churches also offer Easter Vigil worship on Holy Saturday–it’s a remarkable service!) For anyone who is out of the regular worship habit, I challenge you to get these dates on your calendar now. Even for those who regularly lead worship as singers or readers, this may be a challenge if you’re tempted to take a day off rather than to come and receive the spiritual nurture you so often share with others. And if Sunday mornings don’t work in your calendar, most churches offer some sort of weekday evening enrichment possibility in Lent. Continue reading “The Worship Challenge”

From Bystander Silence to Claiming our Voices

Last night, Javen and I joined members of my church to see a church youth (pictured) perform in the Edina High School production of MEAN, a musical about bullying. The show emphasizes that people can find every reason to pick on one another (reading ability, headscarves, weight, sexual orientation, etc), and the consequences can be deadly. It struck me as relevant for people of all ages, since our society has become toxic in its displays of intolerance, partisan taunting, and bitter division. Yesterday afternoon, for example, Javen and I joined others from our congregations at an interfaith solidarity response at Dar Al farooq Islamic Center, after Muslims in Minnesota were slammed for “infiltration” simply because they were learning how to caucus. Bullying happens long after teens leave their high school cafeterias.

Continue reading “From Bystander Silence to Claiming our Voices”

A Public Faith, Following Jesus

This past Sunday after worship, almost a dozen folks from my congregation gathered in the church library to hear about Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, who are a church-started organization advocating for affordable housing in the Twin Cities. Then yesterday, I joined with others from Edina Morningside Church (above) to attend a training and press event by the statewide, multiracial and multi-faith group ISAIAH. We helped announce the Claiming Our Voices Faith Agenda, developed from house meetings with thousands of Minnesotans over the past three months. It names the top priorities of these faithful neighbors as we anticipate the 2018 election season, including a caring economy and a democracy that honors the God-given dignity of every person. Javen and I are joining with others across the state to be trained as “Faith Delegates”, taking these principles into the caucus and convention processes of both major parties. (You can sign up for trainings here, or join Javen and I at a Mayflower UCC one next Thursday night.) We’ll stand together across artificial partisan and geographic divisions, asking whoever would lead Minnesota in the coming years to hear the cry of God’s people for loving justice in every corner of the state.

Continue reading “A Public Faith, Following Jesus”

Epiphany Blessings

Blessings to you in Epiphany! This is a season of the church between Christmas and Lent that starts on January 6th, after the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany traditionally marks the arrival of the wise travelers to the child Jesus, when they present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Epiphany themes include light in the darkness, worldwide appeal of Jesus, and gaining wisdom.

Continue reading “Epiphany Blessings”

On Farming and Faith

Last month I spent the better part of a day at Prairie Oaks Institute, a working farm and retreat center in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. While exploring the 110-year-old farm, I began noticing connections between where I was and the community that I serve. Both farms and churches have existed for millennia, yet both must also adapt vigorously to the 21st century. Reflecting since that day, I’ve noticed at least three common characteristics between farming and faith communities (at least those of the mainline Protestant persuasion).

Continue reading “On Farming and Faith”

Fear and Abundance

As I listened to the news this morning, I noticed a common theme running through several of the stories: fear. The Greek parliament will vote this evening on whether or not to adopt new terms for a financial bailout. Nobody likes the deal, but they’re driven by fear of what the future might hold otherwise (and the reality of terrible conditions currently). The International Monetary Fund is fearful that the Greek bailout won’t be enough, and they’re afraid that without a more dramatic rescue plan from Europe involving a much longer repayment period, Greece will never be able to get out from under its current debt burden. Other news includes the announcement of a deal between six world powers and Iran to curb Iran’s nuclear activities and lift international sanctions. President Obama now has sixty days to convince a skeptical Congress to approve the deal or at least take no action. Politicians across the spectrum fear that an unchecked Iran will use this as an opportunity for further aggressive expansion. Leaders in Israel, including most especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, live in existential fear that Iran will succeed in its stated goal of wiping Israel off the map. Fear drives much of the discourse between nations today, and it causes elected leaders to act with suspicion toward one another. Fearful mistrust colors their actions, and so they hedge bets, make half-hearted promises that have clear escape clauses, and protect their own survival above all else.

Continue reading “Fear and Abundance”