Monday, November 23, 2015

With Great Expectation

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 1:4-8:

When I was growing up, every Thanksgiving my brother and I would wake up and then go curl up with our parents in their bed and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.  Santa making his triumphant entry at the end was always the best part because that meant we could “officially” start listening to Christmas music, and so we would all climb out of bed and my mom would get out the Christmas records, and it’s nice with this group because we all know what a record is, and then we would begin getting ready for the trek to my grandmother’s house for dinner, although since it was Phoenix, it was not over the river or through the woods  Being curled up in my parents’ bed watching the parade is one of my fondest childhood memories.  In working to create our own family traditions, by tapping into the traditions that Linda and I had as children, we too watch the parade each year, and when we lived in Boston we twice went down to New York to see the parade in person.

But watching the parade live is very different than watching in on television.  When you are there in person, there is a lot of waiting.  First there is the fact that in order to get a good spot to watch you have to show up by at least 6:30 am in order stake out your location.  The parade itself doesn’t start until 9, and then doesn’t get to where we are sitting until 9:30.  That means we have at least three hours of sitting or standing on the streets of New York waiting for the parade to arrive.

Our first year the crowd was singing songs, and led by the police officer “guarding” the route, he had each side of the street chanting back and forth to each other.  It was a lot of fun.  Our second time there, the crowd was more subdued and there was no police officer to keep up under control, so we were left to our own devices to occupy our time.  But, of course, the longest period of time seems to be once you can see the beginning of the parade, you know its right there but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  The anticipation and the excitement build and you know the end is in sight and yet it’s not there just yet, there is still a delay of time, and it is in times like this that we realize we have to hurry up and wait.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who are We Together?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a:

For the past two weeks we have been seeking to answer three simple questions posed by Bishop Reuben Job in his book by the same name.  Those questions are, who is God, who am I, and who are we together?  Of course those are anything but simple questions and a very brief recap, we started with what I thought was the hardest, and really is the building point, who is God.  What I said was that God is love, an idea of God found throughout scripture and everything else that we might think about God can build from that point.  Because God is love, that also means that God wants to be in relationship with the creation and most importantly, at least for us, God also wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us because we are all children of God, which led us into our second question, Who am I, and that is that we are children of God and we are made in the image of God.
We hear in Paul’s writings that when we clothe ourselves in Christ, that all of the distinctions that we like to think are important, or that society says are important, are blown away because of the freedom we achieve in Christ.  For Paul, and for us, this is best represented in the act of baptism, an outward symbol of our adoption by Christ, to recognize that we are sons and daughters of God.  When Martin Luther was feeling unsure about himself, when people were attacking him, or he had doubts, he said that he would stop and tell himself “remember you are baptized.”  When he did that he said he was reassured that he was a beloved child of God.  I suggested that we should do the same in our own lives, that our mantra should be, quoting from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, where God says to us “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”  But when we recognize and remember that we are children of God, we must also recognize and remember that everyone else is a child of God as well.

Bishop Job says “When we claim our full inheritance as children of God, then we are able to see clearly and to know in the depth of our being that when we look at another human being, we are looking at a sister or brother who is God’s beloved child, just as we are…. Our identity is not something we create but something that is given by the God who made us, leads us, sustains us, and loves us.  We can, however, give up our own identity and inheritance.  When we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God.”  Because when we do that then we stop following Jesus’ example and injunction to love others as God has loved us.  And that too is part of baptism, because we don’t become Christians through baptism and then seek out a church to join. Instead, when we are baptized we become part of a community.  Baptism is an initiation not just into the faith, but also into the community, into the body of Christ.  To recognize that we are children of God and baptized members in the faith is to begin to answer the question who are we together.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who am I?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Galatians 3:23-29:

Last week we began a new series looking at Bishop Reuben Job’s book Three Simple Questions, but as it turns out those questions are really anything but simple.  The questions are, who is God, who am I and finally who are we together.  Last week we tackled the first one, which is, at least in my mind, the hardest question which is who is God?  We looked at several different aspects of God, and twenty minutes greatly condensed we stated that understanding who God is is to know that God is always beyond our ability to completely understand, as well as to communicate that nature of God, and yet we can also say that God is love.  But what we also discussed is the fact that since God is love that God wants to be in relationship with the creation, and most importantly to be in relationship with each and every one of us.  For God so loved the world, John says, and God loves us and we should understand ourselves as sons and daughters of God, which is how we answer today’s question.  Who am I?  Who are you?  We are the sons and daughters of God, we are brothers and sisters in the faith, and since we’ve answered that so easily and so well, let’s all go home, right?  Well, it’s not quite that easy.  So we start back at the beginning again where we were last week.
In Genesis chapter 1, we are read “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Notice that in this version that man and woman are created at the same time, and this will be important when we come back to the passage from Galatians, and after God creates mankind God blessed them.  The word for God in Hebrew is אֱלֹהִ֤ים. The last letter of the word as we read it, which is actually the first letter of the word since Hebrew is read from right to left rather than from left to right, is that sort of n looking character, which is known as aleph.  It has no sound, so it’s not actually pronounced, but as the first letter of the alphabet holds a position of preeminence, and so perhaps says something to us about the mysteriousness and unutterability of God.  There is a wonderful Midrash which asks why the aleph is not the first letter of the Torah, that is the first letter of the Bible.  The story says that all of the letters came to God to say why they should be the first letter to be used, all except the aleph.  When God asked aleph why it didn’t give an argument in its favor, it said since it was silent it had nothing to say.  But to honor the letter’s humility, God honored it with being the first letter of the alphabet and to also take God’s name.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who is God?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 17:22-31:

Several years ago when I was appointed here, we did a sermon series based on a book by Bishop Reuben Job entitled Three Simple Rules.  Bishop Job didn’t create those three rules, instead they came to us from John Wesley, the found of Methodism, and they were his general rules, the things we were supposed to do if we were to call ourselves Methodists, and those three things were to first do no harm, second to do good and third was to stay in love with God.  Several years after Bishop Job wrote that book, he wrote another book entitled Three Simple Questions.  These questions go to the heart of our faith even more than Wesley’s rules did, and those three simple questions are: Who is God?; Who am I?; and Who are We Together?  Now those three questions might be a lot of things, but I don’t think they are very simple, and yet we have to answer them in order not only to proclaim a faith, to have a set of beliefs, but also, more importantly, to live our faith because how we answer those questions should impact our actions, although sometimes there is a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we actually live our lives out and the God that we worship in our lives.
Everyone has to answer who is God.  Even atheists and agnostics have to answer this question, and every one of us has a god, whether it’s the God, or a different smaller god, money, fame, fortune, power, education. But there is something that holds our allegiance, something or someone we serve to give our lives meaning and purpose, something gives us the rules, guidelines, whatever you might call them, about how we are to live our lives.  So what can we say about God?  First is that God is obviously a baseball fan because it’s the one sport that’s mentioned the most times in scripture, the other is tennis.  And second, and most importantly, we can say that God is a Yankee fan simply because the Yankees are twenty-seven time world series champions.  That’s more than the next three best teams combined.

I know they haven’t won in a while, but that’s because God has to give other fans a chance as well, right?  But isn’t that what we hear all the time, that someone is winning, especially in sports, because God is favoring them, and so athletes point to God, or where they imagine God is, when they score, or do something great.  So that must be who God is and how God works right?  And anything that contradicts that must be wrong right?  When Arian Foster of the Houston Texans says that he doesn’t believe that then it must mean that he’s an atheist right?  But perhaps the players who say things actually believe in a different idea of God, but don’t live that reality.  Who we imagine God to be is incredibly important to who and what we are.  So who is God?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sowing and Reaping

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Corinthians 9:6-15:

The last church we served in Massachusett several acre plots interspersed with still operating farms.  For my fellow sports fans, it was were Babe Ruth lived when he was with the Red Sox, and it is also where Shaquille O’Neill lived when he played for the Celtics.  But ever since Martha Stewart began touting the idea of owning your own chickens, lots of former city dwellers have tried to take on the role of gentlemen, or gentlewomen, chicken farmers.
One of those former Bostonians decided he needed to own some chickens for his property and so went to see one of the local farmers.  The farmer told the man he should start small with only a few chickens, but the man was insistent that he needed 100 chicks.  Knowing the mistakes that would be made but wanting to be neighborly in order to avoid future arguments, the farmer said, “You know, chicken farming isn’t easy, but to help you get started, I’ll give you 100 chicks."

The man was thrilled. Two weeks later the farmer dropped by to see how things were going, and the man said, "Not too well. All 100 chicks died." The farmer said, "Oh, I can’t believe that. I’ve never had any trouble with my chickens. I’ll give you 100 more." Another two weeks went by and the farmer stopped by again. The man said, "You’re not going to believe this, but the second 100 chickens died too." Astounded, the farmer asked, "What went wrong?"

The new farmer said, "Well, I’m not sure whether I’m planting them too deep or too close together."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Laborers in the Field

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 10:1-9:

I have two friends who once ran a 57,000 acre ranch in southern Colorado.  Every year they allowed a company to come in and cut the alfalfa in some of their fields, and in return the company baled hay for their horses.  One of the times I was up visiting, one of the fields had recently been cut and the bales were all still sitting out in the field, when a storm moved in. So we stopped what we were doing, hopped in a truck and rushed out to the field and started bucking the hay.  Bucking hay is the act of stacking it in a truck or barn.  During a normal day it would have only been Lesli and her partner Anna there to get the bales in, but not only was I visiting, but Anna’s mother was there as well, and so there were two extra sets of hands to help get the hay out of the field.  I don’t know how many bales there actually where, but with one person driving and three of us throwing the bales into the truck, and two loads worth, with me spread eagle on top of the load to keep them from falling off on the way to the barn, we were able to get them all back to the barn before the heavy rain started.  And not only did we get the bales out of the fields, but we also got to tangle with a badger who happened to be hiding between two of the bales.  It was the only time I’ve met a badger, and I hope it is my last time, because badgers really are as mean and nasty as everyone says.
Now could Lesli and Anna have gotten the bales in by themselves?  Yes, eventually, but it would have taken them awhile, and they never would have been able to get them out of the field before it started pouring.  So having two extra people certainly helped them out immensely.  Not long ago it would have been inconceivable for two people to even consider bringing in a harvest of hay, or really most any type of harvest, by themselves.  Before Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper, and I use the term invent very loosely here, and then later marketed the first mechanical bailer, everything had to be done by hand, and therefore had to be done with a large group.  After all the hay was cut, it would be raked into hedgerows and then people using pitchforks would throw the hay up into a wagon, where another person, also with a pitchfork would position the hay in the wagon.  Harvest was the time in which the community would come together and help each other out, not just because it was the neighborly thing to do, but because they had to.  Everyone understood that you couldn’t do these things by yourself.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Manure Happens

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 13:6-9:

There was a little boy, and all he wanted in the world was to have a horse.  Every day he would ask his parents if he could get a horse and every day his parents told him no. When he would ask why, he was told that horses took a lot of work and he was just not old enough to handle the responsibility.  But he kept asking every single day.  Finally his father got tired of it and decided he could end it if he could show his son just how much work a horse required, and so while the boy was at school, he had a large pile of horse manure dropped off in the back yard.  When the boy came home from school, as he approached the house, he smelled the distinct odor, and began to whoop and holler and ran through the house into the backyard.  When he saw what awaited him, he started screaming and shaking with joy, and then ran into the garage and came running back with a shovel.  While still singing and dancing and whooping and hollering, he started shoveling the manure.  Finally, his father came out and said, “What are you doing? Why are you so happy to be shoveling all this manure?  Don’t you realize how much work it’s going to take to get this all cleaned up?”  and the boy said “yes, but with all this manure there’s gotta be a horse in here somewhere.”
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at lessons we can learn from life on the farm that can teach us about how to grow in our faith.  The first week we talked about being stuck in the mud, and the fact that when you get stuck, that our natural inclination is to step harder on the gas, and spin our wheels, which of course just gets us deeper and deeper into the much.  Instead, to get out of the mud of our lives, we first need to accept that we are stuck in the mud, accept that reality, surrender and begin following following Christ.  Then we looked at how if we are neglectful of our spiritual lives, that we can allow weeds to grow up that will choke out our faith.  There are lots of things we can do to keep the weeds from growing, but we talked about some recommended by John Wesley the founder of Methodism, which included daily scripture reading and prayer.  Last week we were going to hear about the need for community in building up our faith, but since I didn’t get to deliver that message, we’ll come back to that next week.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Realities of College Freshmen

Every year Beloit College publishes their mindset list of what the typical freshmen entering college has always known, or never known, and each year I feel a little bit older.

Here is this year's list:

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:
1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.”
3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
5. Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.
6. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
8. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
9. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
10. Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Go Read a Banned Book

Just found out that this past week was Banned Book Week (it ends today).  As you can see from the lists of books I have read this year on the right side of the blog, I love to read.

Looking for a book that might challenge you, and that have certainly challenged others? Here are the most commonly challenged/banned books from the years 2000-2009 from the American Library Association.  (Books in bold are ones I have read)

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Friday, October 2, 2015

4th Downs, Pitching and the Blame Game

Gregg Easterbrook, who used to write for ESPN until their purge of people critical of the NFL, now writes about football for the New York Times.  One of his constant complaints is about coaches punting on 4th down, especially when it's 4th and short, and definitely when they are on the opposition's side of the field.  It is Easterbrook's contention, and he has the stats to back it up, that possession of the ball is a much more significant to winning the game then is trying to win "field position."  In addition, he says that by going for it, by being more aggressive, that coaches signal to their players that they want to win and trust and believe in the players to get the job done.

But, he argues, if coaches go for it and the attempt fails, the coaches are much more likely to be questioned and take the blame.  Whereas, since punting on 4th down is conventional wisdom, if they punt and the defense can't stop the other team, then it's the players fault.  It's a type of blame shifting that is bought into by the media, and because of them, by the fans as well.

Which leads me to pitching, and in particular the pitching of the New York Yankees.  There is a much lamented refrain in the media this year that the Yankees' bullpen is tired because their starting pitching is not giving them enough length, and so the bullpen pitchers are having to throw too many pitches.  This places all the blame on the pitchers, even ultimately on the bullpen pitchers because "they have to make their pitches" and if they don't it's certainly not the manager's fault.

The problem with this analysis is that it totally dismisses the manager's role in leaving pitchers in or taking them out.  Girardi seems to have the belief that if a pitcher even comes close to throwing 100 pitches that he has to be pulled out of the game.  There are lots of times when he has yanked a starting pitcher who is cruising for seemingly no other reason other than he is approaching 100 pitches.  Then when the bullpen blows the game, it's not Girardi's fault, it's the bullpen because they are tired from having starting pitching not going deep into games.

Similarly, a bullpen pitcher will be doing great when they are yanked and someone else brought in because "conventional wisdom" is to make the move.  I have never figured out why starting pitchers can face both lefties and righties, but bullpen pitchers can only seem to be able to pitch to one of the other.  Unless, of course, they have a specific role such as "set-up man" or "closer" and then can see both batters, but can never be used in any situation other than what their role is.  You absolutely cannot bring in the closer, you're 9th inning guy, in the 8th to face the heart of the order of the other team, because that's not their "role."

That of course is also blame shifting.  It's not the manager's fault if the pitcher messes up, that's all on the pitcher, even if they never should have been there in the first place.  It also signals to his pitchers whether he believes in them or not, and you cannot learn how to pitch out of a jam unless your manager allows you to try it.

The one exception to this rule this year is Matt Williams, the soon to be ex-manager of the Washington Nationals, who is blamed for not bringing in pitchers out of their designated roles.  But Williams is definitely the exception to the rule in this case, otherwise the mantra in sports, and the actions of managers and coaches, is to make the decisions so that the blame goes to the players rather than to the person making the decision, because they did what "everyone else does."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Introverts in the Church

I was at a conference last week, and the presenter who was not only clearly extroverted, but said that he was extroverted, said that every clergy person needed to spend a minimum of 10 hours a week out in the community meeting new people.  This was about more than just not being locked in your office, this was about going out and meeting new people, and getting their names and addresses for follow-up.

As part of this injunction he said that it didn't matter if you were extroverted, introverted, shy, outgoing, whatever it might be, pastors had to do this.  My thought, as in introvert, is how easy it is for him, as an extrovert, to say that.  Now I don't disagree with his premise.  As an introvert it's way to easy, and too much of a default, to keep to myself.  But, to totally disregard who I am (who God made me to be) was a little over the top.

The reverse would be for me to say to extroverts: You need to be spending at least 10 hours a week by yourself, with no outside interaction, in prayer, scripture study or reading.  For most extroverts that would be an excruciating idea, one which would probably leave them physically and spiritually exhausted.  They would have to get out in order to try and recharge their batteries, if they could even survive doing that week in and week out.

There has been plenty written about introverts lately, and strangely much of it written by extroverts, so I'm not going to delve into that now.  I also know that I am an introvert, as many clergy are, who inhabits what is typically seen as an extroverted role.  But, I bring gifts and graces because of that make-up that extroverts don't bring, just as they also bring gifts and graces that I don't bring.  But to totally dismiss me and say I have to be like you, to do something that's easy for you, just seemed a little extreme.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Direct TV and the NFL's View of Manhood

If you are watching TV, by now you have probably seen one of Direct TV's ads for their NFL package staring Randy Moss, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck.  (If you haven't you can view them all on youtube).  They build off of their popular Rob Lowe "Don't be like this me" ads of those who have Direct TV and those who don't. Except these are about people who have the NFL Sunday ticket and those who don't.

My biggest problem with these ads is the view of manhood or masculinity that they are portraying. The opposite Randy Moss is short, the opposite Peyton Manning has a high voice, the opposite Tony Romo does art and cooks and the opposite Andrew Luck has cats.  So in other words if you don't fit the narrow, confining idea of who and what a man is in our culture than you aren't a real man, and real men, of course, watch the NFL.

As someone who is 2" shorter than the average height for white males in America, has a voice higher than I would like and owns two cats, I guess I simply don't qualify to get the NFL package.  Although the truth is it's because of the ridiculous amount of money they charge.  I get 162 games of the Yankees, and every other MLB team, for less than 1/2 the cost of the NFL package which only has 16 games.

It seems sort of surprising in the year 2015 that we would still get this idea of manhood portrayed, and yet at the same time it's not.  But you would think that with all the problems the NFL has had over the past year, as well as their marketing drive to try and get more women to watch, that they would be trying to tone down this idea of ultra-masculinity, rather than pumping it up.  But instead the opposite is being done here.

It's time for other companies, perhaps Dish Network or one of the cable companies, to come out with "Don't be like this Direct TV" and give us some positive role models of men who don't fit the "normal, acceptable" role of masculinity.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Down on the Farm: Is This a Weed?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 13:24-30:

Before being appointed here to Mesa View, we served two rural congregations outside of Clovis.  We worshiped in House, New Mexico at 9 am, and then I quickly got into my car for a 30 minutes to drive to the larger of the two churches in Melrose, and that’s 30 minutes going much faster than the speed limit posted on the county roads because there was nothing in between except farms and ranches.  One day as I was driving out to House, I saw a man who was just standing out in one of the fields.  I thought it was a little unusual, and on the way back to Melrose he was still standing there.  Again I thought that was a little strange, but what do I know about farming?  Perhaps there was a perfectly reasonable excuse for what he was doing.  But the next week he was out there again, just standing there, and so now my curiosity got the better of me and I had to stop, and so I got out of the car and yelled over to him and he smiled and waved, and I said, “I just have to know what you’re doing?”  And he said “I’m trying to win the Nobel Prize” and I said, “The Nobel prize,” and he said, “Yeah, it’s pretty prestigious, and I heard that if you win one they give you more than a million dollars.”  I said that was true but didn’t really understand how he was going to win the Nobel prize, and he said, “we’ll what they say is that to win the Nobel prize, you have to be outstanding in your field, and since I’m the only one standing in my field, I think I’ve got a pretty good chance.”

Last week we began a new sermon series in which we are looking at what we can learn about growing our faith based on lessons from the farm, and idea I stole from Rev. Adam Hamilton, and today we continue with another agricultural parable from Jesus.  There are only two times we have Jesus talking about weeds.  The first is in today’s passage, commonly called the parable of the wheat and the tares, and the second is in the passage we heard last week in the parable of the sower.  In that passage, Jesus says that a sower went out to sow seeds and some fell on hard ground, and the birds ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, but the soil wasn’t deep enough for the roots to take hold, and so when the son came up the plants withered and died, other seeds were planted among the thorns, or weeds, but the weeds grew up along with the other plants and choked them out, and finally some of the seeds fell on the good soil and those seeds grew into a bountiful harvest.  Now the analogy that Jesus is making in that parable is that the soil is supposed to be our hearts, and the seed is the word of God.  And we should ask ourselves how prepared we are to receive God’s word, to have it take root in our lives.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Down on the Farm: Stuck in the Mud

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 13:1-9:

Once upon I time I worked for a non-profit group that built low income housing using environmentally sustainable building materials.  As one of our projects, we built a demonstration house out of straw bales on the Navajo reservation for an 86 year-old woman.  In order to help prepare for that, I borrowed my dad’s truck and picked up a 15 foot trailer in Gallup, along with a full load of straw bales and headed out to the building site.  I pulled the truck up to where we thought would be the easiest place to unload the bales and once I stopped, the truck and trailer promptly sank into the sand.  After we got the bales unloaded we then tried to get the truck out, and try as we might it didn’t want to go.  The tires just spun and we got more stuck. Eventually two other trucks with four-wheel-drive were able to pull me out.   I’m sure it’s an experience that many of you have had, whether it’s sand, or snow, or mud, where no matter what you do you can’t get out and you spin and spin your wheels and wait for something or someone else to help.  Being stuck in the mud could be a metaphor for the human condition.

Today we begin a new sermon series looking at how we grow our faith, based on lessons that we can learn from life on the farm, an idea I stole from Rev. Adam Hamilton, and today we begin by looking at soil and mud.  I know that some of you grew up on farms, but I did not.  Although the house I grew up in was surrounded by agriculture, there was a cotton field a half block from the house, and orange groves less than a mile away, our agriculture was limited to a small garden in the side yard, and all that I can really remember about that, besides having to pull weeds, is the big green caterpillars that loved to attack the tomato plants, and the only thing I grow now is hair, and I obviously can’t even do a very good job at that anymore.  So I’ve spent a lot of time recently trolling the extension programs of different universities around the country trying to learn a thing or two about farming, and may have learned just enough to make me dangerous.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Who Are We Going To Blame?

This past weekend I was at a retreat, and during some free time there was horseback riding offered, which my family and I decided to do.  As we headed out, there was a wrangler at the head of the line, and then there was one person between her and me in the third spot.  As we were riding, the person in front of me was very concerned with her horse getting too close the wrangler's horse and kept pulling back on her reigns rather unnecessarily.  Rather than letting her horse do what he wanted to do as a trained trail horse, she wanted to keep a tight reign on him.

As we kept going and started climbing up a hill, the wrangler's horse either got spooked, or just acted up, and turned and jumped.  This caused the person in front of me, who was already too tight, to start pulling back on her horse to try and get away, but then rather than stopping, she kept pulling back on the reigns, and pulling back, and pulling back.

If you are familiar with horses, you know that pulling back forces them to go backward, and so the more she pulled, the more the horse went backward and the faster he started going.  Even though the other wrangler who was riding next to us was yelling at her to stop and let go of the reigns, she didn't stop.  This then caused the horse to get into a position he couldn't sustain and to fall over backwards, which then threw her out of the saddle, and fortunately to be able to get out of the way as the horse then rolled over the same way she had fallen.  She was a little dirty and sore, but escaped what could have been a series accident.

As this was happening, I quickly pulled back and to the right on my horse to get him out of the way, but then let up and he settled down and we stopped and stood where we were.  This is not to praise the way I handled it, because if I had been where she was perhaps things would have gone differently, and I would have reacted differently.  It's always really easy to say "If I would have been there, I would have done X" because you don't know.  I did trust my horse to do what it needed to do once we were clear of the immediate danger.

But, it's what happened afterwards that is the point of this story, because rather than taking any blame on herself for pulling back on the reigns forcing the horse into the situation she got into, instead she blamed the horse.  It was the horse that acted up, it was the horse that bolted, and she said she's had horses act up before but she doesn't put up with it (she told a story of a horse biting her to which she slapped it on the head and it never did it again).

After the next group to ride came back, everyone else wanted to know who rode that horse and if they had any problems.  Of course they didn't because what happened was first of all a fluke, and secondly it was never the horse's fault.  The horse did what the rider was telling him to do, and never should have been blamed in the first place.  But isn't that our nature?

Rather than taking responsibility, we look for who else might be responsible, who else can we blame. And I am just as guilty of this as anyone else.  After my first year in my current church, I said that I could no longer lay responsibility for things at the feet of the former pastor because now it was getting to be all my responsibility. There are still lots of things I want to blame others for, but the truth is I am just as culpable now.

But even worse, the blame game not only shifts responsibility, it also shifts, or stops, the ability to try and do something different or to learn from our mistakes.  Until we learn to admit our mistakes, and not blame others, then we can never learn from what we did wrong, and use that to make us better at whatever it is that we want to do.