Recovery Worship of Fargo, ND

Recovery Worship of Fargo, ND
A fellowship of Christians who have choosen to live by the 12 steps of Recovery.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Making the Old New

The events of this past week have put a cloud over this years Christmas festivities.  As I watched TV last night the lights on the Christmas tree seemed a little bit dimmer, I longed to hold my adult children, I prayed for my grandchildren.  I wondered why it is easier to buy an semi-automatic weapon then it is to get an appointment to see a mental health professional.  I have never owned a gun but have always been a supporter of the Second Amendment, however I wonder if our founding fathers had the Bushmaster 2 (the weapon used in the recent school shooting) in mind when they wrote the Bill of Rights.

I am also reminded that part of the Christmas story that is always left out of the children's Christmas program is the story of the killing of the innocent children by a tyrant King on the rumor that a King had been born in Bethlehem.  I have always struggled with this part of the Christmas legend.  Why would a loving God who came into the world in the form of a baby allow the deaths of innocent children.  Where was the legendary angel Michael, God's warrior angel? Why didn't God send ol' worrier Mike down to defend the innocent boys of Bethlehem?  God sent an angel down to warn Joseph to get Mary and the baby Jesus out of town.   No, as the story goes, he didn't, humans sinned, innocents died.  My hope has always been that this part of the story is a literary tool by the author to link Jesus with Moses and the Passover and the death of the first born children of Egypt.  

We are reminded this Sunday in the reading from the book of Hebrews that Jesus came to make all things new. The author of Hebrews looks at the past to see the future.  Once upon a time God required sacrifice as a sign of out obedience.  At Christmas we begin a journey that will lead to the cross.  The legend of the manger, Wise Men, shepherds and their flocks by night,  will lead to the reality of the cross, the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night will lead to O Sacred Head Now Wounded.  During these difficult days that seem to take on mythical proportions we needed to also be reminded the sacrifice of the cross, and that the singing of O Sacred Head Now Wounded will change, as if in flash of light to, Christ the Lord is Risen Today.  From the myth of Christmas to the reality of the empty tomb, in Christ all things are made new. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Biting the Hand that Feeds You


A few Sundays ago we had a woman in church that only seems to come when she needs something.  Help with the rent, gas money, you name the need and she has needed it; when things are going ok we don’t see her.  During the “Time for Sharing” she stood up and said, “I don’t believe in ‘organized religion’ anymore, all they talk about is money.”  I find this to be an interesting comment from someone who turns to the church when she needs help.  True, Recovery Worship is far from organized but anyway, you get the picture.

My question to her, and I plan on addressing this question in an up-coming sermon is: “Why do we expect church to be free?”  When we go out to eat we expect to give the owner of the restaurant money in exchange for the food we receive.  Does she expect her waiter to work for free? I am sure when this woman buys a pack of cigarettes she doesn’t complain about the American Tobacco Company or Stop & Go for taking her hard earned (or given) money.   Yes, there is an exchange of goods and services in these two examples, but there is an exchange of services in what we give to God through the church.

In this woman’s case it is help with her recovery, but she also hears God’s Word preached and God’s grace “poured out for you” in the Sacraments.  I am reminded of the woman I met in Kenya who gave a bag of cow dong as her offering.  It seemed strange to me at the time but as a Kenyan pastor told me, it was a day wage for her.  She was a widow who lived on the edge of the village and her only income was the milk she was able to squeeze from her skinny cow and the manure that the cow also produced.  I wonder, is church worth the cost of a pack of cigarettes to the lady at Recovery Worship, apparently not based on her comment.

I believe that we get what we give.  I have a ton of personal stories to prove my theory, stories that I would have written off as “pastoral imagination” when I was sitting in the pew, but I know today that it is true.  When we give we open ourselves up to seeing God’s work in our lives.  

Pastor Ray

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Naming the Elephant


One of my goals since I came to Recovery Worship has been to educate people about addiction and depression, and to take the stigma off of both of these diseases.

Recently, Sandy and I went to a funeral in Valley City for a friend who committed suicide.  Connie had struggled with her addiction for a long time. Whenever she was in treatment here if Fargo she would come to Recovery Worship.  A few months ago I was the principle speaker at Seminary on the Prairie, an educational event that drew pastors and lay people to Red Willow Bible Camp near Binford, ND.  Connie, to our surprise and delight was one of the students.  At first she didn’t think she belonged at the event, however, by the time the event was over she was pretty much the main speaker.  Everyone learned from Connie.

As the funeral began the pastor apologized for the “non traditional” funeral that the family had requested.  He took exception to the song “Spirit in the Sky” sung by the Kentucky Headhunters (On CD).  I chuckled, we had sung the same song, sung by its writer Norman Greenbaum the previous Sunday.  Norman is in recovery, for over 30 years, and he gave us permission to sing the song as often as we like.  The young pastor also promised a lot of laughter, which is just fine with me but never did materialize.

The service was pretty traditional up to the sermon.  During the sermon the pastor told stories he had heard from Connie’s family, and mentioned on several occasions the “bad choices” Connie had made in life. It became pretty evident that he did not know Connie.  As the sermon continued I began to wonder how well the family knew her.  There was no mention of suicide, no mention of the long battle Connie had waged against depression, and the word addiction, alcohol, or treatment was not mentioned once.  The church was full of Connie’s friends, they knew the truth.  All during the sermon I had a vision of this huge elephant up behind the alter, a kind of Dr. Seuss looking critter with a grin on his face because he knew that everyone was thinking about him, but nobody knew his name.

I am not faulting the pastor, I don’t know him, and I don’t know what the family had asked him to say or not to say about Connie.  But I do know that Connie would have wanted her addiction and depression talked about, probably the family did not.  They were in denial.  They had not even bothered to run an obituary in the paper, something that happens regularly in our recovery community. 

It’s sad, if I had preached the funeral I hope I would have insisted on naming the elephant in the room.  I am sure there were others in the church that struggle with addiction and depression.  Did Connie make bad choices in life you bet we all do.  She also suffered an illness, addiction and depression.  We should not be afraid to name the elephant in our church, there are plenty of them for us to identify.  By naming the elephant in a loving manner, we help force the elephant into the open and show it to the door.

Pastor Ray
Recovery Worship @ The Gathering

Monday, September 17, 2012

From the "More Things Change....." Dept.


My son Allen sent this to me, he is attending University of Southern Mississippi, working on his Masters in History.

I found this description of a church in colonial Virginia during the 1680s. Reminded me of Recovery Worship:
"It was, however, the face-to-face contact at services that was socially important, a necessary addition to lives lived in the neighborhoods. A traveler in the mid-1680s set the scene for us: A graying frame building in the woods, as dilapidated as the houses, with an array of plank benches surrounding it; the families straggling in, some on foot, some riding, striking up conversations with each other. What struck the traveler most was the smoking. 'When everyone has arrived the minister and all the other smoke before going in. The preaching over, they do the same thing before parting. The have seats for that purpose. It was here I saw that everybody smokes, men women, girls, and boys from the age of seven years.' What most strikes us is the social scene. Ninety years later the church might be brick, by the scene itself might be exactly the same, another visitor writing of 'the three grand divisions of time at the Church on Sundays, Viz., before Service giving and receiving letters of business, reading Advertisements [on the Church door], consulting about the price of Tobacco, Grain etc. and settling either the lineage, Age, or qualities of favourite Horses [the equivalent to talking football today]. . . . In the Church at Service, prayrs read over in haste, a Sermon seldom under and never over twenty minutes, but always made up of sound morality. . . . After Service is over three quarters of an hour [are] spent in strolling round the Church among the Crowd.'"
There is also an account of the failed attempt to form a three-point church co-op. The parishes shared a rotating staff of three clergymen, all Anglican, and ended up developing tensions because of jealousy and territorialism. The Middle Church was the oldest, wealthiest, and the largest. The business of the co-op was carried out at the Middle Church, but the other two churches began conducting meetings on their own. In time, the smaller churches made theological decisions in "rump vestries" without the Middle Church's representatives. The Middle Church ignored these decisions and allowed the North and South Churches to do their own thing. Of course, these smaller churches couldn't afford to support pastors, so they went years without having communion. The Great Awakening changed a lot of this since it allowed them to essentially elect pastors from their own congregation, whose salary was supplemented by almost unrestricted power and social status withing the community. Ultimately, the Middle Church was the only one to survive because it remained linked to the wider community of Anglican Churches, which supported when the area was financially devastated by aging demographics,wars, and economic downturns.

The social interaction is the primary reason many people attend RW each Sunday. How many Fargo churches have people drive 75 miles to church on Sunday morning.  "We need to see our friends who understand our problems...." (couple from Valley City, ND)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pitching my tent.

It has been forever since I last posted on this blog site.  As a matter of fact, with things as busy as they have been, I have forgotten I even had this blog. The other day I got some feedback from a blog I had written a couple of years ago, I was surprised, yet thankful that this kind person had taken the time to first read my blog, and second to send me a nice comment.  Well so, here I am, once again sitting on the  couch, dog in my lap, laptop resting on his back, giving it another go.

I am still working on this Sunday's sermon.  Hard to get into it this week, I know the attendance will be low this week.  The North Dakota State Round-up (an annual statewide event that any AA member worth their recovery will be attending this weekend here in Fargo) is going on this weekend and most of my folks will be attending.  So I have been kind of contemplating my change of call that took place this summer and where I have chosen to pitch my tent for the foreseeable future in my call to Recovery Worship.

Over the summer I resigned my position as the Director of Lost and Found Ministry in Moorhead in order to serve Recovery Worship full time.  Don't really remember exactly when this happened, seems like years ago but it wasn't.  There are things I miss about working at LFM.  What a ministry, the folks of Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead should be proud.  Having worked there for over five years I am not sure they truly understand the valuable service that ministry provides our area.  I was called to LFM on a 25%/75% bases and anyone who works such a setup knows what that means.  RW now desires and requires a full time pastor, and LFM requires a more than 25% director.  So I pulled up stakes and pitched my tent at RW.

So anyway, watch this spot I hope to get back to blogging as often as I can.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Night I Met God @ AA

There is a lot of talk about heaven and hell right now and I guess that is a good thing at the start of Holy Week. Rob Bell is the topic of the cover article of this weeks Time magazine, he has a new book out exploring old ideas about heaven and hell that will get the Evangelical all hot and bothered. I agree with most of what Bell has written, it isn’t all that new but seldom discussed and certainly rarely preached by any pastor who wishes to keep his/her job. Within the Christian tradition there has always been the desire to keep God far off in a heaven beyond the stars. Unreachable, all knowing and seeing, a God who lives in a heaven with streets of gold and 24/7 worship, a place that, by the churches standards few of us will ever see. On the other hand, hell is that place under the earth where there is tormenting and gnashing of teeth and will be the everlasting home for those who do not “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior” like Jews, Muslims, Democrats and pretty much everyone else. However, and don’t you just love howevers, I think Christian tradition is wrong. Heaven and hell are right here, right now. How do I know this, because God told me. Yep that is right, God, the Almighty, Powerful and everlasting God the Mother and Father of creation. God didn’t appear to me as a burning bush, didn’t engage me in a wrestling match on the banks of the Red River, God came to me, and spoke to me at an AA meeting the other night. Sandy and I were invited to an AA meeting where Max, a friend who attends Recovery Worship, was receiving his four year medallion. He was going to tell his story and wanted us to be there. Through Max, God told me about hell. Max grew up on an Indian reservation here in North Dakota. His mother was Native American his father was white. He talked about life and how he would regularly get beaten up by white kids because he was Indian, and beaten up by Indians because he was white. He talked about the hell of becoming an alcoholic while in high school and how his drinking cost him the possibility of playing basketball at UCLA. He told us about how his drinking kept him in constant trouble with the law and ruined his marriage and almost cost him his children. He then talked to us about his recovery and how AA has saved his life. As he was telling his story I noticed that his sixteen year old daughter Demi was there, and I could see how difficult this was for Max. After Max was done Demi went up front to present her Dad with his medallion. Then, suddenly God spoke to me through Demi and told me all about heaven. There were probably one-hundred people in that room and by the time she was done there was not a dry eye in the house. Through Demi God spoke words of love; love for a father who has changed in so many ways. Demi’s words describe a Dad who is now sober and who is now there for her when she needs him, who loves her unconditionally, who is a role model for her. Despite the inevitable divorce she told of how her dad has worked hard to keep the family united and functional. Demi talked about wanting to grow up to be just like him and how she wants to be the very best she can be because of him. Some people like to talk about the war between good and evil. Well, good wins, always does, always will. Evil will win its occasional battle but good will always win in the end (just read the end of Revelation!) In Max and Demi’s case, heaven wins! They are the miracle of recovery; they are what keeps me going when the burdens of ministry become heavy. Nothing fillls my heart with more promise for those struggling in the program then looking out on Sunday morning and seeing Max and his daughters Demi and Megan sitting in worship together, God is good! You want to learn about hell, you want to experience heaven; you want to meet God face to face? Go to an AA meeting or come and visit Recovery Worship.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Living in the midst of Reformation

It is an interesting time to be “church.” Some say denominationalism is dead. While I serve a worshiping community that does not consider itself a denomination we probably would not exist today if it wasn’t for the ELCA, so I would disagree with the theory that denominationalism is dead. Some denominations act as if they are dead, or dying, or simply running in place, as they have been for centuries. They view the world through the eyes of those Patriarcle Fathers who lived in a time and a place much different from where we are today. We Lutherans are as guilty of this as other denominations. Many in Lutheran Church today quote Luther as if he lived next door. Luther lived in Germany in the 1500’s when the Pope ruled supreme over Europe and few questioned his leadership and survived. What Luther and other scholars of his day knew of the Bible, the culture of first century Palestine, even the Greek and Hebrew language was different from what scholars know today. Yet, we hold on to every word that Luther wrote as if God himself spoke it. Before you email the Bishop and demand that he withdraw my Ordination papers don’t get me wrong, Luther is important but I think we need to set some of his writings are from a different time and place and their relevance to us today in 2011 needs to be reviewed. I think the church is in the midst of a reformation. The Episcopalians in the USA were first, along with one or two other protestant denominations. We ELCA Lutherans took the plunge at the last Churchwide assembly. I am speaking now of issues far wider than sexuality, I am talking about what it means to be church. By the simple act of ordaining homosexuals in a committed relationship, we have set ourselves free to be church. Sure, we have seen a relatively small number of congregations leave, and that is ok, for them, and for us. We live in a time of some great scholars who are very different, from N.T. Wright to Rob Bell. They challenge us to think, something rarely seen in some denominations. Bell especially challenges us to rethink scriptures, not in some modern New Age way but by doing something that people who say they read the Bible literally don’t, reading it as a whole and not picking one or two passages and building a fortress church around those words. He, along with N.T. Wright wants us to stop using the Bible as a weapon in the grand war between good and evil. Read Revelation, God wins! Love Wins! The church of the future will be the church with the largest capacity to love. In a hundred years, I believe people will look back at the church of today and see the reformation that is happening. Those denominations that are brave enough to change will thrive.