Monday, July 11, 2016

Mend The Bond Torn By Pride

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Ephesians 4:25-5:2:

We continue today in our series on the gospel in Pixar looking at the movie Brave. This is the first Pixar film to star a female lead, a redheaded female at that, and it is also the first in which the entire story real centers on and focuses around two female characters, Merida and her mother Eleanor.  It is also the darkest of Pixar’s films, in that it resembles some of the fairy tales we all know, although Merida doesn’t need any gammy boy to come to her rescue, she can do things quite fine all by herself thank you very much.  Eleanor is trying to raise up Merida to be a proper princess who will be able to lead the kingdom along with her husband in strength, just as she has done. Merida, however, doesn’t want to be the person her mother wants her to be, this is another example of the sense of identity that runs throughout Pixar films. Eleanor invites the other clans and their first born sons to come and compete to claim Merida as a bride, but Merida has other plans, and first subverts the contest that is to decide who she will marry. Then she gets a witch to cast a spell to change her mother, which Merida hopes will convince her mother to change her mind on forcing Merida to get married, but instead gets her mother changed into a bear. Merida is then told that if her mother isn’t changed back to a human by sunrise of the second day that she will remain as a bear for the rest of her life. As it turns out this is not the first time this curse has been laid on the kingdom, and to overcome it, to change her fate, the witch tells Merida that she must “look inside, mend the bond torn by pride.”

I already told this story a few weeks ago, but at annual conference this year, Bishop Cynthia Feirro Harvey told a story about her husband. She kept telling him things, but he said he didn’t hear them, or was acting as if he didn’t hear them, and so, getting a little older decided to get his hearing checked out. At the end of the appointment the doctor asked him why he had come in and so he told her, and the doctor said, well you’re hearing is just fine so perhaps it’s not your hearing but your listening that’s not working. We hear but we don’t listen. Merida and her mother are encountering exactly the same problem in that instead of talking to each other, they are talking at, or around each other, or not even to each other…..  Does that seem like a familiar story? Each of them have something to say, each of them have reasons for doing what they are doing, but neither can express that to the other, perhaps because even if they do they think they won’t actually be listened to.  And there is that moment, when literally and metaphorically Merida feels like she is being stuffed into something that is too tight, that constrains her too much, that is not who she is, and for a brief moment both of them appear to let down their guards, and are going to be honest and open, but then Eleanor can’t do it, and Merida can’t do it, and they go right back to their own positions.

Monday, July 4, 2016

He's Loyal To The End

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 15:9-17:

Today we continue in our series on the gospel in Pixar, and a reminder it’s not the gospel of or according to Pixar, by looking at Toy Story 3. It’s very rare to have the third film in a series be as good as the original, especially if there was no plans to make a third film when the series began, but Toy Story 3 is one of those films.  This film also holds a special place not only because it was the first film we took our daughters to see in the theater, but also because it totally ruined me and fills me with guilt anytime we get rid of a toy, especially a broken toy that ends up in the trash.  But, Toy Story 3 tells the continuing story of Woody, a cowboy doll, and Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure, and the toys they live with, although now diminished in numbers as Andy, their owner has grown up, and no longer plays with them. Andy is leaving for college, and in cleaning up his room, in a mistake by Andy’s mom, the toys, except Woody, end up out on the street as trash. Woody, who had been put into the box to go to college with Andy, knows the truth and risks himself to go out to save them, but they don’t believe what Woody has to say, and are happy to instead jump into a box of other toys to be delivered to Sunnyside Daycare.

When they arrive everything seems great, but they don’t know that the facility is actually run by a dictatorial toy, by the name of Lotso Hugging Bear, who smells like strawberries, but who controls things for his own interests and protection. Woody, still trying to get the other toys to understand that it’s a mistake that they belong to Andy, can’t convince them to go with him, so Woody leaves the daycare and ends up at the home of Bonnie, a little girl who loves to play with her toys, while the other toys remain and are ravaged by the toddlers who don’t know how to place with them nicely. As Woody is preparing to leave Bonnie’s house to go back home, he is told that Sunnyside is a place “ruin and despair,” and so Andy goes back to rescue his friends and bust them out in order to get them back to Andy’s house before Andy leaves for college, and in doing so Woody risks his own freedom, and perhaps his life in defense of his friends.

Monday, June 27, 2016

You Are A Toy

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Galatians 3:25-4:7:

Today we begin on a journey that will take us through the next six weeks looking at the gospel messages we can find in the movies of Pixar.  Now notice that I am not saying that we are looking at the gospel of Pixar, or the gospel according to Pixar, but instead the gospel in Pixar. I think that distinction is important because we have four gospels already, and last I checked Pixar was not one of them. But we can find important themes and messages in these movies that resonate with us and our understanding of the Christian life, they have things they can teach us. Indeed, one of the things that makes Pixar films so special is not just their attention to detail and storytelling, but that there are so many things going on in them that are so true to life, even if they are normally told through non-humans. And so my disclaimer here is that I have no intention of looking at everything that might be seen or discussed in each movie, but will only be focusing on specific ideas.  We start, perhaps appropriately enough with the first feature length Pixar film, Toy Story. Not only was this their first film it was also the first feature length film created entirely with computer animation, also known as CGI, and it forever changed animated films, and it also has lots of Star Wars references in it.

Toy Story, in case you are not familiar, tells the story of a collection of toys that belong to a boy named Andy, and when humans are not around, the toys come to life and interact with each other. The head of the toys, and Andy’s favorite, is a cowboy doll named Woody, and his world is turned upside down when Andy receives an action figure by the name of Buzz Lightyear. Woody becomes jealous of Buzz, and in trying get Buzz stuck behind a desk so that Andy will play with him instead, Woods accidently knocks Buzz out a window and Woody and Andy get stuck in the home of the next door neighbor inhabited by Sid, a terrible kid who destroys toys for fun, and Woody and Buzz begin an adventure to try and get back to Andy before he and his family move away. Now one of the biggest problems for Woody is that Buzz believes himself not to be q toy, but instead to be the actual Buzz Lightyear. Check out this scene set after Woody has knocked Buzz out the window, and they find themselves lost in a gas station….

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Sins of Omission

Here is my sermon from Sunday:

One of the advantages of going down to Sacramento Methodist Assembly is that because it’s in the mountains there is only very limited cell phone coverage, and their Wi-Fi access is not very good, so even if you want to be distracted by the world, it’s very difficult. And so last weekend we were cut off from the world. My phone will occasionally get a good enough signal that I would get an update on the final score of the Yankees game, they won once and lost twice, which about sums up their season, but that was about the extent of our knowledge of the outside world.  So it wasn’t until we stopped for lunch coming home that we were able to do anything online, and Linda went onto Facebook, and saw a bunch of posts asking for prayers for Orlando, and so I looked up on my phone to see there had been a shooting that had killed 50 people.

I’ve said before that one of the things with which I struggle as a preacher is when to change my message versus when to lift something up in prayers, but still say what I was going to say. Unfortunately, there is not any hard and fast rule that can be applied to this situation, and the truth is I could talk every Sunday about some tragedy or even triumph that had occurred in the last week.  Just two weeks ago when reporting on Annual Conference we brought a request from the mayor of Roswell that we pray for his city and the violence they are experiencing, and so it wasn’t just the shooting in Orlando, there was also the shooting in Roswell in which a man shot and killed his wife and four daughters, ages 14, 11, 7 and 3. Every day in the United States an average of 39 people will be killed by guns and another 76 will be injured. Every day.

But simply dealing with guns won’t do anything unless we also try and deal with our obsession with violence in this country, we might also call it hyper masculinity. The need to strike back if we feel victimized, or strike out against someone has attacked us, or even to just call us a bad word.  And unless that begins to change, and we actually hear what Jesus says to us about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, and I do think he was serious about that, then we aren’t going to change anything. But even more importantly than our obsessions with violence, we also need to move past this obsession we have with making people the “other”, someone different, someone not like us, someone to be looked down upon, or deemed or to be less than human, or perhaps even not human at all, because when we do that then it becomes really easy to strike out and attack and kill.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Long As Those At The Top Don't Get In Trouble...

Earlier this week I wrote about what has been happening at Baylor University and their cover-up of sexual and domestic abuse claims against athletes at the university (including retaliating against at least one victim), and I wondered why Ken Starr wasn't showing the same moral outrage on this as he did against then President Clinton.

The results of the report submitted to the Baylor board of regents came out today, and while there were firings the people at the top were largely not included.

This included Ken Starr who, while he is being removed as president, will now become chancelor of the university on terms "still being discussed." I'm guessing that means he will be getting a raise?  He will also still be a professor of constitutional law at the law school, because nothing says you can teach constitutional law like overseeing people covering up law breaking.

This includes the athletic director Ian McCaw who has been "sanctioned" and put on "probation" but will still be retaining his job, because why would you remove someone who oversaw programs that lacked institutional control?

Art Briles, the head football coach, is being suspended with the intention of seeking his dismissal "according to contractual procedures." Does that mean he might still be retained? Or is it another way of saying he will be dismissed but with a nice compensation package on the way out? Since they are a private institution they are under no obligation to report any compensation package unless they want to, which they are clearly not going to want to do.

Now there were some firings that did take place from the administration and the athletic department, but they say "Neither these individuals nor the disciplinary actions will be identified publicly." That's even though they did just say what the disciplinary action was, they were fired, we just don't know who they are. Which means these are people way down the totem pole, people that were clearly expendable, people not covered by million dollar salaries and contracts, so people that are easy to scapegoat and push out into the wilderness.

So, once again, we all learn the lesson that if you are at the top and things go badly, rarely is the buck going to stop with you.  Instead it lands on those way down at the bottom. What does this teach anyone, and what does this say about our understanding of leadership? Or, I might ask again: Where, Mr. Starr, is the moral outrage?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On Transgendered Bathrooms

Here is a powerful witness about the debates currently taking place around bathrooms from Rev. Emily Heath. Rather than posting her thoughts here, you can see her thoughts on her blog.

Here is a more conservative take, although I was pleasantly surprised by it's position,

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Trinity

Here is my sermon from Trinity Sunday. The text was John 16:12-15:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And his disciples answered,
"Some say John the Baptist; some Elijah; others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And Jesus answered and said, “But who do you say that I am?

Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple."

And Jesus looked at Peter and said, "What?"

A little Trinitarian humor for today when we look at the idea of the trinity, and we do so for several different reasons. The first is that today is Trinity Sunday, and so it seems appropriate for that reason alone.  The second is that I have had some people ask me to explain the trinity, and so rather than explaining it to a few, I can explain it to all of you at the same time, and I won’t tell you who asked for their protection, and the third is that as our faith development team has been working they have been talking about how a knowledge of Christianity and it’s beliefs, or knowledge about Methodism, is no longer a given and so what do people who are new to the faith or to Methodism need to know. So I thought that we should put together on our website a series of sort of doctrinal sermons, things that we believe either as Christians or as Methodists, that tell people about who we are and what we believe.  And if we are to do that, the Trinity has to be a key part of that because the trinity is at the heart of Christianity. It is not something we can believe in or not depending on our opinion; it is the orthodox position of the church. It is the basis upon how we decide if people are Christian or not, is their belief in the trinity. Indeed the entire reason why the eastern side of the church is called the Orthodox Church, whether they are Greek, Russian, Arminian, or whatever, is because they separated from the western church as it reinterpreted the structure of the trinity.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sure He's A Jerk, But He's A Genius, So It's Okay

I just finished Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drive's Apple's Success by Ken Segall who was in advertising for Apple and came up with the idea of "i" for their products.  It was a good book, although for a book on simplicity, it could have been a lot simpler, without the same stories being told over and over again. Rather ironic.

The one thing that I found most interesting was his description of Steve Jobs. Much has been made of Job's tendency to "unload" on people, and Segall certainly recounts several of those stories. What he called it was Job's turning his "turret" on you, just like a tank, and letting everything he had shoot out at the unfortunate victim. It was a clearly unpleasant thing to watch, and even worse to experience.

But he is then quick to point it that it wasn't "personal", that everything would be just fine the next day and Jobs would be buddy-buddy again, and it was just Jobs being "brutally honest." When did honesty become "brutal"? And when did someone being a jerk become okay as long as they didn't hold a grudge against you? What about the person who was "brutally" attacked? Don't they have some say in it? And not once does he ever say that Jobs ever apologized for his behavior.

I suspect, and Segall certainly says it, that everyone tolerated this behavior, and even made excuses for it, as Segall also does, because Jobs was a genius at what he did (or at least portions of it). But I don't think that being a genius, or even being really good at your job, absolves you if you are a jerk. If you are a jerk and treat other people badly, then you are simply a jerk, and should be dealt with accordingly.

The sooner we learn to call bad behavior for what it is, and address it as such, especially in the church, the sooner it will end and go away. We create the culture in which we live and we receive the treatment we allow as a result.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Derogatory Names And Polls

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a headline, based on some polling they had requested, that said "New Poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren't offended by Redskins Name."  This was pretty shocking to lots of people and led many sports talking heads to say something along the lines of "well, I guess it's not as bad as I thought it was."

My first thought was about the margin of error, which no one was reporting.  As a political science major in college, I can remember back, vaguely in some cases, to a class I took on political polling, and the one thing I definitely remember was being told that any poll that had a margin of error greater than 3-3.5% was meaningless.

It was meaningless because the sample size was not big enough to actually provide you with information that was readily applicable across the entire spectrum of the polling sample.  There are exceptions to this rule, one of the biggest being for small local samples and local polling.  But, that's not what this poll was for nor what it claimed to represent, which was a cross-section of the entire country and how Native Americans felt about the name. So just on the margin of error I'm going to say don't take this poll to mean anything, and I highly doubt they would have run a presidential poll with a margin of error being this high.

The next thing to pay attention to in polling is the questions that are asked, because it's really easy to sway people to say the things you want them to say simply by how you word the questions. So, my next step was to look at the questions, which the Washington Post was good enough to provide.

If you were going to run a poll seeking the Native American response to a question, what would be the first question you asked? I would think it would be "Are you Native American?" They never asked that question. Let that sink in for a moment.  Instead the first question they asked was "Are your currently enrolled as a member with a Native American tribe?" A decent follow-up to the first question they should have asked, but still only 44% answered in the affirmative.  But they do say that the answers were the thoughts of "ordinary Indians." I guess that's in comparison to the extraordinary ones?

Even more puzzling was the fact that of those polled 56% of the respondents said they knew "not much" or "nothing at all" about the debate that's been going around about changing the name of the Washington football team. I suppose it's possible that more than half really had not been following this story which is decades old and extends to college and high school mascots, including tribes considering the appropriateness of their own mascots as well, but I find that really hard to believe.

Finally, contrary to the headline, 21% of those polled said they consider the word "redskin disrespectful to Native Americans."  If we did a poll that said that only 21% of African-Americans considered the N-word to be disrespectful would we then conclude that it was therefore okay for everyone, especially whites, to begin saying the N-word? Of course we wouldn't because it is still offensive to a not statistically insignificant portion of the population.

Let me phrase this another way. What would the response have been if the headline, instead of using the term Native American, had instead said "New poll finds 9 in 10 Redskins do not find the name Redskins offensive"?  I suspect the response would have been one of offense, and so if we don't/won't/can't use it in reference to a group of people in a headline then we shouldn't use it in naming a sports team.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Where Is The Moral Outrage?

In the mid-90's, Ken Starr led a moral charge against Bill Clinton for his affair, even though that was not what he was hired to do. Of course that action led to Clinton's impeachment.

Since 2010 Starr has been the president of Baylor University.  During that time, the Baylor football team has moved from mediocrity and obscurity, to a national powerhouse. Perhaps that rise came with the cost of overlooking, or maybe even enabling, illegal behavior by it's football players including assault and sexual abuse.

There have already been several investigations and allegations of what the school did not do, and the way it treated the victims of these crimes. ESPN's Outside the Lines has uncovered even more cases that had never been reported before and that included the Waco police department working to make sure these cases never saw the public light. The accusation is being made that at the very least that the football coaches knew about these events, and perhaps even known by those at the top.

So, my question Mr. Starr, is where is your moral outrage? Where is all the work you did to bring down the President in order to make sure those who are committing violence against women are brought to justice? At least you will be able to say that you had a winning football program.