LEAN Names New Advocate

By Sheila Freed

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada is pleased to announce it has retained a new Advocate.  William (Bill) Ledford will be LEAN’s voice at the Legislature in 2019 as well as the organization’s representative in congregations and the larger church.

Ledford comes from a not-Lutheran background, and therefore provides a fresh perspective on our issues and activities. He is presently a Master of Divinity student at Multnomah University, and did his undergraduate work at Simpson University in Redding, California. Until recently he was the Youth Pastor at Valley View Christian Fellowship in Reno. Before that he was Youth Pastor at Discovery Fellowship Baptist Church, and while an undergraduate he led youth activities at faith organizations in the Redding area.

Ledford is articulate and thoughtful, and brings to the job an ability to form relationships.  This skill is central to advocacy.  In reviewing his qualifications, the LEAN board asked him to read the ELCA Social Statements, since all LEAN’s advocacy springs from them.  His responses overcame any concerns about his conservative evangelical roots.  Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“It is not an easy time being a more liberal “socially minded” Christian in the cliché Evangelical environment that I have been in for years.  . . . . I have found it impossible to divorce my devotion to the Gospel with my desire to defend the oppressed, the marginalized, and the environment.  . . . . While I have not spent any time with a Lutheran church, I have familiarized myself with the Social Statements and find myself refreshed in my agreements with almost all of them. . . . . These issues [social justice] are my life, my faith, my passion.  . . . . And it would be my absolute joy to prove this to the organization and, in so doing, make a difference for the Gospel in my state.”    

Ledford starts work with LEAN on December first.  Two previous Advocates and continuing Board members, Allan Smith and Pr. Mike Patterson, will train him and introduce him to church officials at all levels.  In the coming year will find Bill will reach out to congregations throughout Nevada while parishioners share with him their hopes and concerns for the 2019 Legislative Session.

To read the ELCA Social Statements visit https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements.

A Holy Respite in the Legislative Fray

Conservatives and Progressives, Democrats and Republicans, Jews and Christians, together in the Nevada Legislative building together celebrating a Passover Seder…yes it actually happened. For a short time on April 7 politics was put aside and people from every persuasion joined in a learning moment to remember that the Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week shared a historical connection.

The director of Lutheran Episcopal Alliance in Nevada, Rev. Mike Patterson, was invited to this event and helped with the Host Committee. The leader for the meal was Cantor Bob Fisher who explained the ritual feast and why the Passover meal used the various elements to remember the Jewish history around the events in Egypt. The cantor also reminded those present that the Last Supper celebrated by most Christians was actually the Passover feast that Jesus and His disciples practiced on the night before the events of the crucifixion.

It was for many a time away from the divisive political atmosphere of the legislature and a time to remember what most of us share together. Everyone present was appreciative of the work done putting on this event by the Nevada legislative Jewish Council and the Host Committee.

Creating Change from … Nothing

Editor’s Note: The following is from a March 27, 2015 Lenten e-mail message by ELCA Director of Advocacy Stacy Martin. It goes to the heart of why Christ-based advocacy matters.

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.”

Mark 6:42-44 (NRSV)

Like Thomas Jefferson, I’ve never seemed to have much patience for the Bible’s miracle stories. They’re difficult to deal with. To my modern mind, it’s hard to imagine that seas can part, food can appear from nowhere and that the dead can be raised.

It’s so tempting for me, in my very modern way, to domesticate miracles – like reducing the feeding of the 5,000 miracle to an idyllic picnic or desert potluck. Not that thousands of human beings sharing isn’t miraculous. It is. In the four Gospels, there are six accounts of this miracle. Six! It must be too important a story for it to be about people sharing their lunches. Miracles are tricky that way.

In the Gospel of John account of the miracle of feeding the crowd, the disciples estimate that the crowd is so large that not even six months’ worth of paychecks would be enough money to feed the mass of people assembled. By expressing the amount in such stark terms, what I think the disciples are really saying is, “We don’t have enough money to feed all these people.” And Jesus is saying, “Exactly. Isn’t that great?”

Isn’t that just like Jesus?

One disciple retorts with what I hear as screaming sarcasm. “There’s a boy with five loaves and two fish,” he says. Imagine! Five thousand hungry people on the side of a mountain, and only five loaves and two fish in sight to feed them with. But it seems that this is exactly what Jesus wanted. The funny thing about God is that we are called to be God’s hands in the world at precisely those times when there’s a whole lot of nothing to work with; which is to say, God calls us all of the time. God even sets God’s communion table so that we come with nothing. It seems that God likes it best that way.

God also likes to turn things on their heads. Jesus’ disciples, who expected to be the ones to provide what was needed, found themselves surprisingly dependent upon the generosity of a small child. The Gospels’ accounts of this miracle indicate that the boy gave over his lunch with the kind of abandon and generosity that we only associate with God. It is just the kind of juxtaposition that God seems to enjoy best. Jesus’ faith is placed in a little child to stave off what might become a riot if the crowd is not fed. This is the same kind of juxtaposition we find ourselves in as church when we advocate in the halls of power in Washington, D.C.

This story about feeding 5,000 with so little is, among other things, a story about perspective. The disciples’ main mistake in this story, I think, is that they have no idea what it is that they have. Namely, they have a God who can feed many on nothing. A God who created the universe out of nothing. A God who put flesh on the nothingness of dry bones. “Nothing” is God’s favorite material to work with. Perhaps God looks upon that which we dismiss as “nothing,” “insignificant,” “worthless,” and says, “HA! Now THAT is something I can work with!”

It is our poverty that we are asked to bring to God, not our treasure, because whether we think we have it all or we think we have nothing, we are all of us beggars fed at the table of God’s mercy. What do we have? Five loaves, a couple of fish? Not much. We believe that even when we want to make a difference in the world, we have to arrive fully prepared, fully equipped and fully funded.

I hear often from church folk and non-church folk alike that Lutherans, any faith community for that matter, can make no real difference in Washington. “Why bother?” I’m asked. Compared to big lobbying firms and corporations, they have a point. By comparison, we don’t have money, or connections, or power, or, often, technical expertise. What do we have? Five loves, a couple of fish? Only a smidge shy of nothing even on our most prosperous days.

It’s on the darkest of days when even bishops suggest that all is hopeless in the halls of power, when I’m dismissed by a member of Congress because I don’t come with deep pockets, when I’m ridiculed by a think tank because I attend to this work from a place of faith and not a place of “real” expertise, when I’ve received the tenth angry letter from a fellow Lutheran who is frustrated with me for even considering advocacy as a legitimate vocation, when I feel that we as the church simply don’t have enough power to change things for the better. It’s on those darkest days that I re-read this miracle story.This tricky little miracle story – the one told six times over in the Bible – says otherwise to the “why bothers” of the world. In this story we glimpse God’s inverted economy of free bread and fish paid for by, you guessed it, nothing. This is part of the juxtaposition I mentioned earlier. It is out of nothing that God will create something, even something as big as justice and peace. It is a tricky little miracle for sure.

In the last days before Easter, as we await the biggest miracle of them all – the bringing forth of life from the vast nothingness of death – may we remember that our nothingness is all that God asks or needs.

LEAN MLK Day event sheds light on urgent Nevada needs

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada thanks everyone who helped with our event on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — all who attended, all who responded to our appeal for donations, all who stuffed backpacks, and the businesses and individuals who provided food. We especially thank our outstanding speakers, and Office Depot for the generous discount on school supplies.

Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty speaks at LEAN's Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday event at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Jan. 19, 2015.

Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty speaks at LEAN’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday event at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Jan. 19, 2015.

Volunteers prepare school materials for backpack stuffing at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Jan. 19, 2015

Volunteers prepare school materials for backpack stuffing at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Jan. 19, 2015

LEAN’s event on the King holiday was to learn about issues that will be coming up in the 2015 legislative session, and to do the “Backpack Challenge,” designed to demonstrate to legislators that our schools need proper funding. Those who attended heard speakers, some in Las Vegas, some in Reno, connected by video cast.

James Hardesty, Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, was the featured speaker. He began by giving credit to the faith community for its advocacy in past years for rehabilitation and re-entry programs. He said it has had the effect of changing the culture at the Nevada Department of Corrections. Justice Hardesty described the work of the Nevada Commission on Administration of Justice, and shared some items the Commission will propose to the Legislature. Among those are uniform assessment tools, so that regardless where in the state one is, the same criteria will determine whether a person is fit to release on bail, or whether that person should be paroled. The Commission would like more money allocated to Drug Court and Mental Health Court.

Mr. Mike Raponi spoke about education. He is director of the State of Nevada Office of Career Readiness, Adult Learning, and Educational Options. Some exciting programs are gearing up to train Nevada’s workforce for the technical jobs of the future. Built into the program are incentives to stay in school and graduate on time.

Mr. Shane Piccinini spoke in Reno on behalf of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. As the public policy advocate for the Food Bank, his agenda is ensuring that federal funding for food programs is not cut. It might be surprising that at the state level, there is sometimes resistance to federal food programs. There are start-up costs and matching-funds requirements that some legislators reject. Who knew there is a Governor’s Council on Food Security? This group is working with the Legislature to remove barriers to federal help for hungry people, especially school children.

The Reverend Lionel Starkes, chair of the Union of Black Episcopalians, spoke in Las Vegas. He recalled some of the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He linked Dr. King’s words and actions to the biblical charge to proclaim freedom to the captives. He noted that many remain captive today—to racism, economic and educational inequality, and that it is incumbent on us in the faith community to continue to work for equality for all.

Do Lutherans Do Revivals?

On October 1, 2014, a press release went out from the ELCA News Service, which is part of the national ELCA.   The release announced a “Prayer Revival” to be held the next day, on the opening day of the annual Conference of Bishops. Since when do Lutherans do revivals? When did you last see a bunch of bishops at a revival? And why now?

The body of the press release explained that the Revival was intended to be a public statement by the church in response to violence generally, but the timing suggests it was mostly a response to the violence in Ferguson, Missouri just a few weeks before. The format was mostly a prayer service, but featured the anointing of hands, as each participant made a commitment to some particular action to enhance peace and justice in his/her own community.

Revival organizers explained that the goals of the event were to “demonstrate that the ELCA is deeply concerned about the violence happening in Chicago and other American cities and the need for improved relations between police and the communities they serve, and to come together as people of faith and pray with each other about these issues.”

The Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod noted that while the church does not have the power by itself to stop violence, it must take every opportunity to “announce in the public square that we stand in opposition to violence as an acceptable way to resolve human conflict.” He added that collaboration among law enforcement, community organizations, medical and social service providers, political and business leaders and ordinary citizens is essential to address violence.

Advocacy is about making statements in the public square, and ordinary citizens can get involved with just a few clicks of a computer mouse. Although the next Legislative Session doesn’t start until February 2, 2015, individuals can begin to learn about the issues. There is something called a “Bill Draft Request” which is an outline or proposal for new legislation. These “BDRs” are given to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, whose job is to draw up the legal language. Ultimately the bill is introduced into the Legislature. Bill drafts typically are not made public before they’re introduced, but it’s possible to get an idea what a bill is about by its working title.

There are already over 500 bill draft requests, many relating to violence. There are proposals about firearms, bullying, abuse of children and animals, and more. Other subjects for BDRs include education, mental health, economic development, the environment, and even a proposal to allow dogs in bars! A survey by LEAN last spring suggested that our advocacy agenda should focus on education and mental health, but that can change, depending on what we hear from parishioners.

To see the list of Bill Draft Requests, go to www.leg.state.nv.us. This is the home page for the Nevada Legislature. At the top right, under “78th (2015) Session” look for “BDR List.” If you choose “Divided List” you will get a search window where you can put in a topic and get a list of all the BDRs related to that topic. The search tool only looks for words in the BDR title, so scanning the full list will bring in more. The Legislative website has so much information, and it’s quite user-friendly, so anyone who wants to learn how the legislative process works or follow particular issues should definitely spend some time on the website.

LEAN will continue to publish “how to” information as we move through the Session. There are a couple of easy ways to express your views through the website.

LEAN has been working to get the message out that the concerns of individuals and congregations are the foundation of our advocacy agenda. We’ve asked to meet personally with parishioners in order to learn these concerns. So use the website, but please talk to your Parish Communicators as well.

— Sheila Freed