Monday, May 31, 2010

Remember the Purpose

Today is Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Let us remember the soldiers on both sides of the conflicts who gave their lives. It is after all a day which came into practice after the Civil War.

But let us also remember it is not a day to honor all veterans. There is a separate day for that called, of all things, Veteran's Day. That is the day we honor everyone who served, and I do give my thanks, but today is about those who died in that service. Whose lives were cut short. Those whose dreams and ambitions, and those of their families, were lost on a battle field somewhere around the world. Let us focus on honoring them today.

Perhaps if we go back to the original title, Decoration Day, we will recapture what the day was about, a time to go to the cemeteries and decorate the graves of the soldiers with flags. Gen. John Logan, who was the first to call for the remembrance, chose May 30, because there were no Civil War battles fought on that day, so it did not remember any one battle, or the victory or loss of any one side. Instead it was about the sacrifice of all soldiers who died. So let us remember them today, and focus on all veterans on the day set aside for them.

Here is a prayer written by Austin Fleming, priest at Holy Family in Concord:

Memorial Day Prayer

In the quiet sanctuaries of our own hearts,
let us call on the name of the One whose power over us
is great and gentle, firm and forgiving, holy and healing…

You who created us,
who sustain us,
who call us to live in peace,
hear our prayer this day.

Hear our prayer for all who have died,
whose hearts and hopes are known to you alone…

Hear our prayer for those who put the welfare of others
ahead of their own:
give us hearts as generous as theirs…

Hear our prayer for those who gave their lives
in the service of others,
and accept the gift of their sacrifice…

Help us to shape and make a world
where we will put down the arms of war
and live in the harvest of justice and peace…

Comfort those who grieve the loss of their loved ones:
in our hearts let your healing be our hope.

Hear our prayer this day
and in your mercy answer us
in the name of all that is holy.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

Yesterday the Supreme Court delivered a serious blow to the NFL and its ego.

Several years ago, the NFL signed an exclusive ten year merchandising contract with Reebok. One of their former suppliers, American Needle, filed an anti-trust suit against the NFL claiming that they should have the right to bargain with each individual team for contracts. The NFL argued that they were not 32 independent teams, but instead one body with 32 locations. The NFL won at every level on this issue. But, after they won at the federal appellate court, they joined American Needle in appealing to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. The NBA and NHL also filed friends of the court briefs supporting the Court in ruling on this issue.

Of course, what the NFL figured was that they had won all along, and so why wouldn' t the Supreme Court also rule with them, after all they are the NFL. What they were really seeking had nothing to do with merchandising rights, but instead they wanted anti-trust exemptions. This would give them huge powers in negotiating rights, especially with the player's union. But their arrogance blinded them to Lord Acton's famous statement: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In their 9-0 decision (what divided Court?), the Court ruled that the NFL is in fact 32 different entities operating collectively, but they cannot act as one on certain issues, like merchandising. It is not yet clear what all the ramifications of this ruling are, but this could be a landmark decision in regards to how sport leagues are dealt with on these issues. The one exception is the MLB which does have exemption. Gregg Easterbrook wrote a great piece on the case after oral arguments (you can find it about half way down).

The Court clearly put the NFL back in its place. This is a positive for any entity that gets too big for itself, which the NFL clearly did. While it is unknown whether the Court would have heard the case only on American Needle's appeal, the fact that the NFL appealed its own victory speaks of their presumptuousness and arrogance.

Never believe that you are so big and so entitled that you can't have your hand slapped out of the cookie jar (are you listening big banks and corporations?). Churches are also learning this lesson the hard way.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Social Security Again

I've written about social security before with some of my ideas of changes to make. One thing I didn't address was the ridiculousness of having a cap on social security taxes. Here is something I just found on Yahoo!

"Workers pay into the Social Security system on earnings up to $106,800 in 2010. About 83 percent of worker earnings were subject to Social Security payroll taxes in 2008. If all earned income above $106,800 annually were subject to Social Security contributions but did not count toward benefits, Social Security's projected deficit would be completely eliminated. If the higher income counted toward Social Security benefits, about 95 percent of the shortfall would be absolved."

In other words, if we were to tax everyone fully (it's really a regressive tax as it exists now), all of the arguments about how to fund social security would disappear. The fact that this will never happen shows the power wielded in Congress by those who make the most, which includes many of those in Congress.

And as long as I'm thinking about people who are not just part of the system, but who really are the system, could we please stop saying that Rand Paul is an "outsider." He father is a congressman who has a significant national political base. He is not an outsider! He is not an insider the way the Bush's are insiders, but he's pretty close.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wherever Two or More are Gathered, part 1

I recently attended a meeting to hear the conference’s plan for new church starts. Some of it was very heartening, and other pieces were disheartening, especially some of the comments made about closing churches.

What the bishop has instructed the cabinet and the congregational development people to know is that he will not close a church which has two people who are in love with Christ. While that’s great in theory, what does that actually look like? How do we know they are in love with Christ? And is this really a viable stance to take? Certainly we want to keep these people connected, but does that need to happen in the church building?

I have just started reading The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist. I don’t fully know Groeschel’s argument yet, but can’t help but want to try and apply it to this situation. Aren’t we an Easter people? We are so afraid of death? Isn’t it okay to let a church die so that it can be reborn? We are so fundamentally hooked up in the support and structure of our buildings, that they are becoming our God. If the remnants of a congregation want to continue gathering and forge something new, that’s great, and we should encourage that. But maybe the best move is to get out of their current building, and start over again in someone’s home and then build back up. Why do we have to retain the building? Wasn’t the tomb empty? Why do we want to hold onto it?

Now, I know that congregations “love” their church, by which they mean they their building, but that is part of the problem. The first question the bishop or DS should ask when someone says they love their church and don’t want to lose it, is when was the last time each person invited someone to church? If they are not inviting people to church then I wonder how much they truly love it, because don’t you want others to participate in the things you love? And if they claim that they love Christ then they also have to be inviting people, because that is what Christ commanded us to do.

If we are not inviting people to church can we truly claim that we love Christ or our church? Otherwise we end up more like the women at the original ending of Mark’s gospel where they flee in terror and don’t tell anyone what they have seen. This is Mark’s perfect example of what discipleship should not look like

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sing A New Song

Last Sunday we closed with a hymn that I’m sure was unfamiliar to most. Lonely the Boat was written by Helen Kim in 1921 and is based on the story of Jesus’ stilling of the storm found in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). But, more importantly it tells the story of suffering that many Koreans, especially women, were facing at the time it was written, and reminds us of “the abiding support, love, and peace afforded by God in Christ for the Christian on ‘life’s cruel sea.’” Although an older hymn, it did not appear in a hymnal in English until 1983. Its subject matched the theme of Stephen Ministry Sunday very well, but its Asian tune marked it as very different from our normal hymns.

We pastors usually hear more about our hymn selections on Sunday than just about anything else we do. When we sing hymns that people love, we receive thanks. And when we sing hymns that people are unfamiliar with then we hear about it as well. Usually the refrain goes something like this: “There are so many good tradition hymns, why do we have to sing ones we don’t know.” While we do take these comments seriously and keep them in mind when we are choosing hymns, there are also sometimes puzzling to me.

For example, another hymn we sang on Sunday was Here I Am, Lord. This hymn is certainly on many people’s short list of favorites, including mine. But, as hymns go, it is very new. It was only written in 1981, and was not included in the United Methodist Hymnal until the last version was published in 1989. That means this hymn, now considered one of the “good traditional hymns” has only been sung in most congregations for, at most, twenty years. At some point in the life of nearly everyone who is reading this, this hymn was sung for the first time. Did everyone love it immediately? Possibly, but my guess would be that many people came to love it more every time it was sung.

Other “traditional” songs include Lord of the Dance, which, although it uses an older tune, was not written until 1963. Hymn of Promise which is becoming a standard at funeral and memorial services, and which we will sing on June 6, was written in 1986. We Are the Church was written in 1972, and I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry, another of my favorites, was written in 1985. I could keep going, but I think you can see the pattern.

The simple fact is, at one point every song in the hymnal was new. At the time they were written, the hymns of Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts were viewed with disdain by many people. People said they were not as good as the old hymns, and didn’t want to sing them. Now there would be near riots if anyone even considered removing them from the hymnal.

While there are times that we are going to sing hymns that are tough because they are unfamiliar, I ask first for your forgiveness and second for your patience. Who is to say that the new hymn we sing next week won’t be one of your favorites in a few years? Sometimes they need to have the space and time to grow in order to flower in our hearts.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Contemporvent Worship

Although this parody could probably be done for all worship styles, I find this one particularly amusing:

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Class and Medicine

Class is the one sort of taboo subject in this country. We like to believe that we are a classless society, but nothing could be further from the truth. We just like to mask the issues, and often this is done through the use of race to break up the classes, in particular among the lowest levels of society. If working class whites hate working class blacks and Hispanics, and believe that everything wrong in the world is their fault, then they will never band together to work on issues they have in common and to truly deal with issues. But class does exist, and here are two stories from medicine that indicate part of the problem.

A friend of mine was rushed to the hospital after a cyst on her ovary had burst. On intake she could not provide them with insurance information, and so her paperwork listed her as not having any insurance. She said the doctor's and nurses were sort of rude with her following the surgery, and then when she told them she did have insurance the treatment changed.

Then when the doctor found out that she lived on the largest ranch in the area, the treatment became spectacular and everyone was very doting. Then they found out that she just worked there, that she didn't own the property, and suddenly they were not as concerned about her well being. Finally, in conversation with the doctor, she told him that she was an alumnus of Columbia, and again she was put back into the upper echelons of society and was treated as such. She had gone to an Ivy League school so obviously she was someone of worth, and her treatment again reflected that.

She was shocked at how obvious the changes were, and realized that if she had just been a working class woman, without an education and without insurance, that her outcome and her treatment would have very different. She also had to battle the hospital during this in order to have her partner allowed to visit and to make medical decisions. Once the doctor knew who she truly was, he became an advocate for her on this issue. But this is also a huge problem for gay and lesbian couple.

And, here is a report from Kevin Jennings in his book Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: "I've been all over the doctors throughout mom's stay, demanding information, questioning every decision they make until I am satisfied it's the right one, confirming every stereotype that Tar Heels have of Yankees from New York with their pushy-pushy ways. At first they're resistant, but then one day a surgeon takes note of my Harvard class ring and all of the sudden audiences are granted to me whenever requested. I am treated with a deference and respect that I note other families in the ICU waiting room, families with less means, families with little education, white-trash families -- families like the one my mother grew up in, families like mine before I got my fancy Ivy League education, which changed the balance of power -- are rarely given."

As someone who will be wearing a Harvard class ring in just 21 days I know that doors will now be open to me that were not open before. I also know that in large segments of society I will be treated differently. Sometimes treated better, and sometimes treated worse. This troubles me, but I don't know what the answers are.

One final story, a professor of mine was going to a tennis tournament with a very wealthy friend who drives a Rolls Royce. They pulled up, and the friend parked in a fire zone. My professor said he couldn't park there because it was a no parking zone and he would be towed, and was told "No one tows a Rolls." After they got out the man told the police officer to watch the car, and sure enough when they came back out the car was right where they left it, they thanked the officer and then drove off.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Coming Out - Country Style

So apparently Chely Wright has come out. I am a country fan and had no idea who she was. I did know her number one hit "single white female," but did not know her name. I congratulate her on this and encourage others to come out as well, although the big deal that is being made will probably keep others closeted. But, what I don't understand is everyone saying that she is the first country artist to come out. That's not true. Everyone seems to be forgetting KD Lang was originally a country artist and came out as a country artist. I even knew who she was when she came out.

I'm sure most people have forgotten about her as a country artist since she has changed genres. But, it should also be noted that it was not her being gay that killed her music from being played on country stations, but the fact that she came out as a vegetarian and said that eating meat was bad. That was Lang's downfall.

Now the big thing will be for a male country artist to come out. While coming out for anyone is hard, it is my impression, especially among men, that being lesbian is somewhat okay, but being gay is altogether a different thing. That will be the next hurdle for country music, and for sports as well.

I think the church's position on this issue is well known, and one I disagree with so I will not put up the statement, except to say that it does say that we are all "of sacred worth."

Update: Just finished Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son by Kevin Jennings, founder of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network), which was actually started just up the street at Concord Academy. He has some truly horrific stories, not only of his experience growing up in the south as a gay man, but also from around the country of what takes place in schools. One of my true regrets, and one I'm not sure I will ever forgive myself for, was the harassment we gave to someone in elementary school. He was routinely tormented, and was called Pauline, instead of Paul, by everyone except the teachers, and that includes me. I have no idea what happened to Paul, but I sure pray that he made it through okay. What also stands out for me is that the teachers knew this was going on and they did nothing to stop it. At no point were we told that this was inappropriate behavior. They seemingly turned a blind eye, and in turning away and ignoring this behavior they said it was okay. The same we do today when we don't stand up and say that this is unacceptable. I highly recommend the book for those interested.

I give thanks that things are changing, and that my daughters are going to grow up in a world very different from what I saw as a child, but know that there is still a lot of hate out there and that the battle is far from won. So let us rejoice in the changes that have occurred, but let us all keep working because we are not there yet.


I know I sound like an old man in saying this, but I'm tired of the deterioration of language. The one that really gets me is the use of "pre." What does this mean? It means to do before. Prevenient grace, is the grace that comes before. "Pre" cannot be added to just anything.

Last night on one of my favorite shows, they said they were going to preassemble bookcases before taking them to a house. They weren't preassembling the bookcases, they were assembling them. Now if they were doing it make sure they fit together properly and then took them apart and then reassembled them, then maybe you could say they were preassembled. But, even that is a stretch. You also cannot preboard an airplane. That would mean you were going to get on before you got on. If people are boarding before everyone else then they are boarding first, they are not preboarding.

Another pet peeve with the airlines is changing nouns into verbs. You cannot "deplane." You can depart, leave, exit, evacuate, etc., a plane but you cannot deplane.

Finally, let's please stop adding "gate" to every scandal that comes up. Watergate was the name of the hotel that was broken into, it was not some special name created for the scandal. Let's not be so unoriginal that we can't at least try and be creative in thinking of new names, or maybe just call it what it actually is rather than just adding "gate" to everything. Besides, it was almost 40 years ago, surely we can think of more recent scandals to use. How about we add "ski" to the end of everything a la Monica? The problem of course is that she became Lewinskigate.