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.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Church

Here is my sermon from Pentecost Sunday. The text was Acts 2:1-21:

Today, which is Pentecost Sunday, has often been seen and called the birthday of the church.  I can certainly understand that idea, but I think it is wrong on many levels.  One of the main reasons is that because a birth of something tends to indicate that something entirely new is created, that before this thing was not there, and now it is.  There can also be a sense that this new beginning, a discarding of the past.  But that is not what is going on here, as is indicated even in the name of Pentecost.  The passage begins “When the day of Pentecost had come.” Which means that Pentecost as a celebration existed and was taking place even before what we consider Pentecost had actually occurred, meaning this is not a new birth.

Pentecost literally means 50 days, and it was a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 50th day after Passover, and is better known as the festival of weeks or the festival of the first fruits.  It is one of the three major holidays called for in Exodus and Deuteronomy in which people are called to come to Jerusalem for pilgrimage.  The other two holidays are Passover and the festival of booths.  Booths and Weeks are both agricultural festivals, with booths representing the fall harvest, and weeks representing the spring harvest, and so Pentecost is also known as the festival of first fruits, in which people would bring in their offering to God, giving from their first fruits from the first harvest of the year.

Although Luke, who is the writer of Acts, tells us that there were people from all the nations living in Jerusalem at the time, which is probably true, the crowds of people who spoke different languages would have been even larger at the time because so many people had come to Jerusalem for this festival.  Now weeks was the least observed of the three, but it still had importance, since it is even mentioned that these things happened when the day of Pentecost had come.  This connects this moment to the history of God’s purpose and the history of the people.  It connects the disciples to their Jewish heritage, and through that connects us to it as well.  This is not some incident that is happening without meaning or context, and something that is only about this new beginning.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Worry Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:25-34:

Today we conclude our series looking at the things that Jesus told us not to do.  We have looked at not fearing, not doubting; not sinning and not judging, and I would encourage you, if you missed any of those, to go watch them on our website or YouTube page.  But today we conclude by looking at Jesus’ injunction not to worry.  Now when I was putting this series together, my wife Linda, and the mother of our daughters, asked what I was going to be preaching on after Easter, and so I told her, and she said to me, “On Mother’s Day you’re going to preach on how we shouldn’t worry,” and I said “yes,” to which she said, “do you think that’s a good idea because worrying is what mothers do. It’s who we are.”  Well obviously I didn’t listen to that sound advice, and I have been worrying about it ever since, but I didn’t move it because I thought that if there is a group who is worrying all the time, then perhaps this is the message we need to hear, and if I’m wrong, please tell Linda that she was right which will be the best Mother’s Day present she will get today.

But, just like with the other “nots” we have covered, Jesus is not really telling us not to worry about things in this passage.  Indeed, there are troubles that can occur in our lives that it might be legitimate to worry about, but it’s a matter of what we consider worry worthy, and what we do with that worry, or really what that worry does with us, and this does tie into Mother’s Day.  The creation of today as a holiday came about from two movements, one of which comes from Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, who after the end of the Civil War called for the creation of a day for mothers to gather and be honored and call for peace and the end of war.  The other movement was from Anna Jarvis, who instituted the first Mother’s Day in her Methodist church, in honor of her mother who was a nurse during the Civil War, and later an advocate for peace and women’s health issues.  It is this anti-war piece that I think ties into this because there are good times to be worried, as every mother does, and one of those in when their children go off to war.  One mother at a church I served told me, after her son was sent to Afghanistan, that for the first time she truly understood Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, because that is what she had begun to do.  So, if you have worries, that are okay, but it’s what we are worried about and how we handle that worry that makes the difference.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Judge Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 7:1-5:

We continue today in our series on the things Jesus commanded us not to do with the one that is probably the most famous. It is certainly the one that the most people outside of the church know of, even if they don’t know that it was Jesus who said it, or even where to find it, but they do know that the Bible says “Do not judge.”  As a result it is a phrase that gets thrown back at the church and Christians on a fairly regular basis, and in my opinion often rightfully so.  But in the ways it is used by non-Christians it is clear that they don’t understand what Jesus was actually saying, but more importantly for us as Christians, it is also clear that many of us do not understand what the statement means for us as individuals or as a church.  So what does Jesus mean when he says that we are not to judge?

First we have to understand and remember what one of Jesus’ biggest pet peeves was, which was hypocrisy.  One definition of hypocrisy says it is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.” So one of Jesus’ constant complaints was that some of the religious leaders and religious groups were looking at what others we doing, finding what they did did not rise to the same level as themselves and therefore condemning them, while simultaneously ignoring all the areas in which they were violating the law or not living up to and into the same standards that they themselves were promoting.