Monday, June 28, 2010

Like A Pretzel

This is a photo from the AP of Yankees Pitcher Dave Robertson. All I can say is that looks like it would hurt.

Disposing Of A Bible

Someone recently said they had an old Bible that they needed to dispose of and didn't know what to do with it, and so they contacted me. To be honest, I didn't know what the proper method was either. So, I did a little research.

Jacquelyn Sapiie, Library Services Supervisor at the American Bible Society offered this advice, “There is no Christian ceremony or procedure for the disposal of old, worn Bibles. Although everyone agrees that if a book is worn and no longer usable, it should be discarded; discarding a Bible is a difficult act for many people...."

Here are several different recommendations:

1) The first is to try and make the Bible usable. It can be rebound or reglued if necessary, or it can be given to others who may need a Bible. If it is an old Bible (more than 100 years) and the pages are in good condition, it is possible that a local library, college/university, or historical society may be interested for their rare book collection (especially if it is of significant interest for the area). However, having worked for the BPL in the area that dealt with donated books, do not assume that it will go into their collection. They might dispose of it as well. I say this having thrown thousands of books into dumpsters because the library did not want them.

2) If the Bible is not in good condition and not salvageable, according to the American Bible Society, the best thing to do with it is to recycle it. "It should be remembered that a Bible is a book. It may be helpful to think of the ways we discard books. It would be a good thing to make it useful, and one way to do that is to recycle it. Recycling is an honorable act and that is fitting for a book such as a Bible." In recycling it, we remain good stewards of the earth. It is better to have the fibers reused then lost. In this manner God's word continues. It is recommended that you wrap the Bible in clean paper and then taken to a paper recycling location. Make sure that it will be recycled and will not end up in a landfill somewhere.

3) Another way of recycling that is a little more controlled is to bury the Bible. You may dig a hole somewhere, wrap the Bible in a clean clothe, and then put it in the hole. You can also build, or buy, a small wooden box that will fit it to bury it in. Nature will then recycle it, and have it return to the earth. This is how it is done in Judaism, although they are usually buried in cemeteries, often with a body.

4) The final disposal method is similar to how flags are properly disposed of, which is to burn it. This is what the Catholic Church calls for. This one does have some issues, because of other times books are burned. However, like with the flag, if done appropriately it is a respectful way to dispose of the Bible. Make sure that the fire is hot enough so that there are no pieces left, and then scatter the ashes back into nature.

In all of these cases, please check the Bible for sentimental or other important materials. You do not want to destroy several generations worth of birth, baptism, marriage or death records, which many family Bibles contain. If it is a Bible from a former church it too may contain similar information.

Whatever means you choose, when disposing of the Bible do so respectfully offering a prayer or a liturgy of thanksgiving and remembrance. But also remember, that we do not worship the Bible, we worship God. It is the content of the book, not the ink, paper or cover that make it sacred. Finally, whatever means you use, someone may be offended with what you did. So don't simply say, "I burned my Bible this morning," give some background about why, what you did before hand, what you did with the ashes, etc. to make sure the other person knows the seriousness with which you addressed the issue.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Coming Out Of The Dark

Starting tomorrow, a team of members from Sudbury UMC will participate in the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention here in Boston. The event is a 20-mile walk over the course of one night. Net proceeds benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, funding research, education, and awareness programs – both to prevent suicide and to assist those affected by suicide.

The team's goal was to raise $25,000 in memory of Lily Karian who died by suicide at the age of 19. To date the team has raised $26,275. If you would like to donate to their team, go here and then scroll down to "Walk for Lily," click on the name and then choose a team member to make a donation.

Here is the statement from the Social Principles on suicide:
We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide. We encourage the church to provide education to address the biblical, theological, social, and ethical issues related to death and dying, including suicide. United Methodist theological seminary courses should also focus on issues of death and dying, including suicide.

A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.

We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Congratulations and Blessings

My blessings go out to Amy, a dear sister in the ministry, who yesterday adopted the two boys she has been raising as foster children. This has been a long and arduous road for her and the boys, and I am so grateful and give thanks to God that the process is completed. Please include Amy, Derek and Caleb in your prayers for continued blessings and happiness. Also pray for peace, understanding and healing for the birth parents.

We also continue to pray with the Bell family who have gone to China to adopt a child. Pray especially for their return flight, which will be 18 hours with four children.

Surprisingly I can find nothing in the Social Principles nor in the Book of Resolutions about foster care. At the annual conference we did renew our support of orphanages and adoption processes, and a friendly amendment was accepted to include foster children in that resolution, but I won't have a copy of it until the journal is published.

Here is the statement on adoption from the Social Principles:
Children are a gift from God to be welcomed and received. We recognize that some circumstances of birth make the rearing of a child difficult. We affirm and support the birth parent(s) whose choice it is to allow the child to be adopted. We recognize the agony, strength, and courage of the birth parent(s) who choose(s) in hope, love, and prayer to offer the child for adoption. In addition, we also recognize the anxiety, strength, and courage of those who choose in hope, love, and prayer to be able to care for a child. We affirm and support the adoptive parent(s)' desire to rear an adopted child as they would a biological child. When circumstances warrant adoption, we support the use of proper legal procedures. When appropriate and possible, we encourage open adoption so that a child may know all information and people related to them, both medically and relationally. We support and encourage greater awareness and education to promote adoption of a wide variety of children through foster care, international adoption, and domestic adoption. We commend the birth parent(s), the receiving parent(s), and the child to the care of the Church, that grief might be shared, joy might be celebrated, and the child might be nurtured in a community of Christian love.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Consummate Professional

Last night the Yankees got thumped by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Before the game Matt Williams, Mark Grace and Luis Gonzalez all threw out the first pitch. That trio played on the 2001 World Series team which beat the Yankees in seven games. Widely considered the greatest world series ever, four of the games were spectacular, including game seven which ended with a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth. I was at three of those games, but unfortunately they were the three blowout games, not the three good ones.

As the TV announcers were discussing that series, they said what really struck most reporters covering the series was Mariano Rivera's behavior after game seven. In the bottom of the ninth, up by one run, Rivera blew the save and lost the game on a little Texas leaguer off the bat of Gonzalez. The trouble all started when Rivera committed an error by throwing wide of second base on a comebacker. But after the game, Rivera stood in front of his locker for more than an hour answering the same questions over and over again. He never snapped at the reporters, he never showed frustration, and he didn't hide, which he also could have easily done, and who would blame him.

He had just blown one of the most important games of his life, but he stood there and took the blame and the heat. He didn't shy away from responsibility and he didn't take his frustration and disappointment out on others.

He is the best closer in the history of the game and yet he helps others pitchers out answering their questions, giving small pointers and tips, and he never shows up opposing hitters. He simply goes out and does his job and when he is successful he is the same as when he fails. He is the consummate professional and we could all do well to learn from him and follow his example.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts on Annual Conference

Back in the office after being at Annual Conference last weekend.

This is my fifth year going to conference here in New England. About 4 miles before the exit, there is an office building with a sign promoting their facilities which says "If you worked here you'd be home now" on one side and the other side says "If you worked here, you'd already be at work" on the other. Then there is the banner about office space being available. This sign has been there every year for five years (and probably longer). If this was my building and after five years I still had space available I might begin to wonder if maybe my marketing campaign wasn't working. I get tired of seeing the signs and I only go by once a year. I don't think it's as effective as they hope it would be, but they keep trying. As they say, insanity is trying the same thing over and over again hoping for a different response, and this sign is clearly doing that. What "signs" do we have in our churches?

They say that having children is the greatest sign of hope for the future, because people would not want to bring children into a situation in which there was no hope. I often get the same feeling at annual conference. Every year we see and hear about the decline of the church (although there year there was no report from the statistician), but we keep ordaining new members. This year I believe there were 13 local pastors received, six provisional elders and one provisional deacon, and 1 deacon and 7 elders were ordained. If there was no hope for the future, we should stop receiving in new ministers, but we don't. In spite of all the rhetoric of decline, each Annual Conference I am enlightened by these strong signs of hope for the future of Methodism.

On the same note, at clergy session, one person noted her concern that of those received into provisional membership for elders in the last two years, all of them have been men. I understand the issue she was raising. My closest friends and mentors in the ministry have all been women, and I recognize the special issues that fall on my female colleagues that I don't have to deal with. But at the same time, I am also offended by that statement. My call is not less than because I am a man. It is also not greater than either. I cannot help that I was born a white male, I do recognize the privileges this gives me, but I also recognize the call that I was given by God. I too have a place in this church. What she also did not acknowledge was that last year all of the persons ordained were women, and this year, of the eight people ordained only one was male. Let's recognize the triumphs and not just thump on the negative.

It's still amazing to me how technologically backward the church is. At what should be the biggest event, we still don't have real-time availability of information, like resolutions or even the videos. When I attend conferences I can buy a DVD of the event literally minutes after it is over, and they can make changes to documents and have them appear as they are begin discussed, but we somehow can't here. We're also voting like it's the sixteenth century by raising ballets in the air. In Linda's classroom her students are able to wirelessly vote on what they think the right answer is, and yet we are using paper ballots held up in the air.

I would find it very hard to believe that there is not a wireless voting system that could be used. It would certainly be more effective and efficient than having people stick their hands in the air and guessing which had more, especially on close votes. It's little wonder that our churches are technologically behind, and hesitant to move forward, when even the conference is behind. I do want to congratulate them on streaming annual conference this year, although the one time I tried to get on I was unsuccessful. I am also in constant amazement how few other people are working on laptops or even PDA's during the conference.

And one other thing, I understand that there are last minute changes to some things, but please please please, let's be as prepared as we possibly can with our documents so we are not wasting time making changes or updating things, and when we do have to make changes let's put them up on the screen. None of these documents were created on a typewriter so they should all be available electronically for projection. Let's just set a rule for next year. If you do not provide an electronic copy for projection, you do not speak. This is especially important for resolutions which did not make the printing of the conference book.

Finally, is just my constant frustration with Annual Conference's structure. I don't think I will surprise anyone by saying I'm not a fan of meetings. There are times when they are truly productive and useful, but large amounts of time are usually completely wasted and to be honest I have better things to do with my time. As someone once said, "meetings take minutes, but last hours." I feel the same way about Annual Conference. There are definitely things that have to take place, be discussed and voted on, but I find most of it a waste of time. There are better things that we could be doing with the gathering that could deeply impact the local church. Why don't we combine it with the School of Congregational Development and offer those workshops during that time? Make it more like a real conference in which there are learning sessions, side sessions on issues to be discussed, etc. I appreciate the learning sessions they have now, but I can't attend because they are done during meals and I have my girls with me during the meals.

And speaking of which, child care also needs to coincide more closely with what is actually going on. As it stands now, I have to leave each session early to get my children because child care ends at a specific time which does not coincide with what is actually happening. So either the bishop needs to keep on schedule, and tightly control it, or the child care centers need to be more flexible.

Finally, one thing for speakers. If you say something is going to be short, please make it short. Don't take five minutes to tell me how short it's going to be and then ramble on for another twenty minutes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Phrase That Needs To Go Away

“It’s my church…”

That is never a phrase that leads to positive outcomes. It’s used almost exclusively to stifle change, new opinions or even the welcoming new members. It is a claim of power and status, of insiders and outsiders and of exclusiveness in being able to decide what is going to happen.

But here is the reason the phrase needs to be removed from everyone’s vocabulary: It’s not your church. It is God’s church!

Anytime that we try and take ownership you can be assured it is the same time that we stop following God’s will and desire for what we should be doing. Saying “it’s my church” puts the power, authority and importance on the person saying it instead of on God.

I have had several conversations recently in which this phrase was used. All of the conversations had to do with potential changes to the church which would certainly upset the status quo. Each time this phrase was used it was done as a way to stop the change not only from being implemented but even from being discussed. It was the line being drawn in the sand in which the person was saying if they didn’t get their way, which was to preserve the way things have always been, then they were going to take their ball and go home, thank you very much.

"It's my church..." is also often accompanied by the statement “I give my money to this church.” Threatening to withhold money is another power play which inverts where the focus of the church should lie, and is another phrase that should be eliminated.

We are God’s church, hopefully doing God’s will in the world, and therefore we should always be thinking about what God want us to do for God’s church, not what should we be doing for "our" church. If we approach things from that perspective, I believe that many of our churches, including this one, would be doing things very differently. So, let us please remove this phrase from our usage, and also be ready to call to account anyone and everyone who uses this statement.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Show Me The Money

According to a news report from, FedEx has offered to pay any of the BCS conferences $10 million a year if they take Memphis as a member (FedEx has denied the claim). This was met with disgust in the press because it smacks of bribery, greed, etc.

But, yesterday the commissioner of the Big 12 offered Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M $20-$25 million dollars a year from the television contract if they stay in the Big 12. The other remaining 7 schools will only receive $14-$17 million from the same said contract. In other words, the big three will receive anywhere from $3 to $11 million more a year to be in the Big 12. How is that any different from what FedEx was reportedly offering?

Friday, June 11, 2010

How Often Do We Do Similar Behavior?

My oldest daughter said she wanted pasta for dinner, so I asked her what type she wanted. She went to the pantry and pulled out two boxes. She then took them to my youngest daughter and asked her which ones she wanted. Daughter number 2 pointed to one box, and daughter number 1 said, "no, I want this one," pointing to the other box, "so could you please point to this box?"

How often do we have predetermined outcomes in mind and then pretend to offer people the choice when in fact they really don't have one?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sports Thoughts For The Week

Congratulations to the UCLA Bruins for the winning the Women’s College World Series. The PAC-10 has reestablished its dominance in Softball as either way it turned out the PAC-10 was going to win. And speaking of the PAC-10 can anyone explain to me why the Big 10 (which is actually 11) and the PAC want to expand other than for greed? Who is going to benefit from this other than the pocket book of these conferences?

I am a huge PAC-10 fan but this disgusts me. What we are seeing is the destruction of the NCAA because there will be absolutely no reason for them to remain in the NCAA television contract which shares the money between all the schools. There will also no reason for them to obey their rules, which only keeps them from making more money. It is only a matter of time before a similar major conference in the ACC and SEC also takes place.

Remember that Supreme Court case in which the NFL was said not to be excluded from anti-trust laws? At the time I said we didn’t know what all the ramifications would be, and it might end up being applied to these movements. I think that Boise State already has a collusion claim against the big conferences for shutting them out of competitive competition by refusing to play them and then keeping them out of the BCS because they don’t play good enough competition.

The NCAA is supposedly going to be handing down their penalty following a four year investigation of Reggie Bush at USC sometime this week. The story is that USC will be banned from playing in any bowl games for two years, will lose scholarships and may have to vacate wins in the 2004 season. Reggie Bush has not played college football in five years. That means even people who redshirted and stayed an additional four years in the USC program just graduated. Everyone else on the team never played with Reggie Bush, and yet they are being punished for these infractions. How is this helping anybody? And let's be totally honest here, is anyone really surprised by what happened?

How many millions of dollars did the NCAA and USC make off of Reggie Bush? And yet when he tried to cash in everyone gets upset. The idea that the athletes in the major sports at major programs are not already getting more than the normal student, which is what the NCAA rules say can't happen, is just ridiculous. They get special tutors, special meals, special rooms, special training facilities. Just look at the "gift bags" they receive for playing in bowl games. We as a culture need to wise up and realize that for many of these athletes there is little to no "student" in the student-athlete category. It's only a matter of time before a group of these athletes ban together and refuse to play, like say at the final four, until they get their piece of the pie.

Let’s calm down about Stephen Strasburg’s debut for the Nationals. While he put up great numbers, there is a reason why the Nationals chose to have him debut against the Pirates. Because they are terrible! Striking out 14 Pirates does not a career make. Let’s remember the last two rookie phenoms, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Wood struck out 20 without a single walk in his rookie year and Prior was considered to be the greatest college pitcher ever. Neither ever lived up to their expectations and the only way they are going to the Hall is if they pay admission. I say that as a person who saw both of them pitch, including Prior in his rookie year, and am proud that I saw them play. While Strasburg may go on to be great, it’s also just as likely that he might blow out his arm. Remember Mark Fidrych? The major league fields are littered with can’t misses who missed. So let’s enjoy it, but let’s not make him out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Fans here in Boston are apparently upset that Tom Brady was seen joking, and heaven forbid, smiling with Kobe Bryant after the Celtics loss last night. This, of course, follows up from a couple of years ago when Brady was seen wearing a Yankees hat. Could you please give me a break. Tom Brady is an employee not a fan of the Patriots. He is paid by them to live here and play here. He is not required to be a fan of the teams here and anyone who thinks he should be is being ridiculous.

I really don’t care whether Derek Jeter roots for the Jets, Giants, Patriots or the Lions (he is from Michigan after all). All I care about is that he shows up, gives everything he has and helps us win games. If he wants to root for the Lions in the offseason who cares? The only exception to this is for the same sport. If Brady was to be seen wearing a Jets hat, or Jeter was in a Sox hat, then we could be upset.

Let’s remember that Brady is from California. For all I know he is a diehard Lakers fan, and why should he change? The Celtics are not paying him. Let’s get over the idea that our players have to be fans of the same teams we like, or even of the teams they play for. It’s a business. Always has been and always will be.

In order to demean Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Chicago Tribune put up a picture of him wearing a skirt. In other words, he's not a real man, he plays like a woman. Excuse me? What century are we in? The fact that there has not been a major uproard about this forcing the Trib to apologize is just extraordinary. We are almost 40 years away from the signing of title ix in college sports, and yet the way to demean someone's play still to say they play like a girl. Does no one on the editorial board at the Trib have any common sense? As the father of two girls who finds it ridiculously hard to find sports themed clothing for them, unless its pink of course, I find this disgusting. I thought we had moved further along as a culture, but apparently we haven't.

The Arizona State Sun Devils continue to play in the men's College World Series, so Go Devils! Never thought you'd see a minister write that did you.

Only Some Lives Are Important?

A nun who served on the ethics board at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix is in serious trouble because she supported a woman having an abortion. Now I should note that my mother graduated from nursing school at St. Joseph's Hospital, and worked in a medical office next door for almost as long as I can remember until the building was torn down. So it holds a special place in my memory.

Sister Margaret McBride, after talking with doctors and others who served on the ethics board, agreed that a mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant but had pulmonary hypertension should be allowed to receive an abortion. The doctors all believed that the hypertension would have killed both the mother and the fetus if the pregnancy was allowed to continue. With this information, and after agonizing over the situation, Sister Margaret agreed that an abortion should be performed to save the life of the mother. The diocese disagreed and not only removed her from her position at the hospital but has also excommunicated her.

The hospital has stood behind the decision made as medically necessary to save one life rather than losing two. The bishop has other ideas however saying, "An unborn child is not a disease ... the end does not justify the means." I understand the Catholic church's teaching on this, but wonder how is it that one life trumps the life of another? If life is sacred shouldn't they be working to save life? Doctors are not always correct, but even other ethical panels are saying they made the right decision in that if an abortion had not been performed both lives would have been lost. Is that a better outcome? Does that end justify something?

What many critics are also pointing out is the speed of the action. This happened last November and Sister Margaret was excommunicated in May. That is just a mere six months. Compare that to the defrocking of Michael Teta, an Arizona priest found guilty by a church trial of molesting children over several decades. His case was turned over to the Vatican in 1992 by Bishop Moreno who implored them for his removal. Teta was not removed until 2004, 12 years later.

The church loses points for hypocrisy when saying that the life of this fetus is more important than that of the mother and more important than treating pedophile priests the same way they have treated Sister Margaret. I also don't understand their push that abortion is the key issue when they just as strongly oppose the death penalty. And yet, they are not denying communion to politicians who support the death penalty, although they do for those who support abortion rights.

Although some will see this an an attack on the Catholic church, it is not. The church needs to have positions and stand behind those, but when absolutes are set than injustices will be carried out and I think that is what is happening here. Things need to be understood in context. Even canon lawyers are saying that this decision for supporting the abortion can be supported by church law. Let's pray for peace and understanding for all involved.

Here is the position of the United Methodist Church on abortion from the Social Principles (¶ 161.J):

The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.

But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy.

We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We support parental, guardian and other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.

We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.

We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause they to consider abortion.

The Church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth.

We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. (See ¶ 161.K.) We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.

Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Game Called Imagine

This is too good to pass up. The following was written by Tim Wise, author of numerous books on racism:

Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure - the ones who are driving the action - we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

So let’s begin.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.

Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister — who also works for the organization — defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and “going through a tough time in his life” would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that’s what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as Executive Director of his group, America’s Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.

Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn’t want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough—“living fossils” as he called them—“so we will never forget what these people stood for.” After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said, about Barack Obama’s administration, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals, generally.

Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the U.S. military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies, that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

Imagine a black radio talk show host gleefully predicting a revolution by people of color if the government continues to be dominated by the rich white men who have been “destroying” the country, or if said radio personality were to call Christians or Jews non-humans, or say that when it came to conservatives, the best solution would be to “hang ‘em high.” And what would happen to any congressional representative who praised that commentator for “speaking common sense” and likened his hate talk to “American values?” After all, those are among the things said by radio host and best-selling author Michael Savage, predicting white revolution in the face of multiculturalism, or said by Savage about Muslims and liberals, respectively. And it was Congressman Culbertson, from Texas, who praised Savage in that way, despite his hateful rhetoric.

Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up the New York Times.

Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her “typical redneck trash,” or a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds.” After all that’s comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on last year, when they referred to her as “ghetto trash.”

Imagine that black protesters at a large political rally were walking around with signs calling for the lynching of their congressional enemies. Because that’s what white conservatives did last year, in reference to Democratic party leaders in Congress.

In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

Game Over.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Measuring Success

Saturday afternoon, after spending a meeting with our God Squad mentors discussing what constitutes success, I came across this post from Jeremy Smith. Jeremy and I attended BU together, and he obviously has some of the same concerns about how success is measured in the church that the mentors and I do.

I am held accountable by the district superintendent and the bishop for numbers. They want to see us baptizing people, receiving new members by profession of faith (not just transfers) and having our average attendance increase. Unfortunately these numbers have not been followed as closely in the past as they probably should have been, and maybe now they are being emphasized too much, but that is one of the key criteria for success for the conference.

They are not the first to push numbers. Although in Jeremy's blog they mention Wesley, from the American perspective that push was done by Asbury, and disregard the comment from someone saying that was the reason why we have annual conference. He doesn't know what he's talking about. While that was a time in which numbers were reported it was not the reason for gathering. But, Asbury did hold his ministers accountable. If numbers did not increase on a circuit you better have a good reason why, and if it continued you would quickly find yourself without an appointment. While the goal was to "spread scriptural holiness across the land" it was measured by numbers.

Not much has changed except that now numbers are declining. But, Dr. David Hempton believes that even the numbers at the time of the Civil War (when the Methodists were the largest church in the country) gave a false sense of growth. Instead of being growth strictly from evangelism, he instead believes they reflected growth simply from new generations being born into the denomination from when the real expansion was going on. The motion of growth kept going long after the initial surge was over until it crested and began a downward trend. (think of Newton's first law)

Since that time, the Methodist and Wesleyan churches have continued to merge together which created another false sense of growth and size. In other words, we are reaping a trend which has been taking place for a long time. We are also now being guided and instructed on what to do by people who never really had to focus on church growth, but who feel the ability and necessity to tell us young clergy how it's done.

But back to the original question, how do we measure success? What I told the mentors was that there were two ways.

One is in bringing people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. If we are doing that then we are being successful. The problem is that that is nearly impossible to measure in any true way. I can think of ways, such as daily scripture reading, prayer life, participating in worship and education classes, spiritual disciplines, etc., but I don't think that is the only way to measure these things, nor do I think these things necessarily mean a deeper relationship.

The other way to measure success is by numbers. If you have 15 kids showing up that is better than only 5. However, those numbers can be deceiving as well because if all you are doing is playing laser tag or Monopoly with the 15 kids than that is not a success. I have had the same debate with church growth. If we wanted to totally water down our theology and beliefs we could pack this sanctuary, but I don't think that is what we are here for. I think we could still pack this sanctuary at multiple services if we made some other changes that didn't fundamentally change our mission and message, but that is another post. What this means is that while numbers are clearly important they are not the only thing, and they need to be read in context, just like scripture.

I do think that when people are in love with Christ, or, in good Wesleyan language, are on fire, that they cannot contain that and will bring others to Christ and to church which means natural growth. Does that mean that all churches will always grow and grow? No, and I'm not sure that's necessarily healthy either. Cancer grows at amazing rates, but it's not a model I want to follow. Instead we should be looking for sustainable growth, and, that I think is the balance between looking at discipleship making and pure numbers. Just like with most aspects of our theology it is a natural tension and when it gets out of kilter, one way or the other, the system is bound to fail.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Learning to Say "I Made a Mistake"

I have preached several sermons on the lessons of life that can be learned from baseball. I've thought that maybe I'll submit it for publication some day, but we learned another valuable lesson last night.

In 1880, the first two professional perfect games were thrown just five days apart. No one really realized the significance at the time, but the next one was not thrown for 24 years. Since that time it has been one of the rarest events in baseball, and two have not been thrown in the same season until this year.

In the top of the ninth inning with two outs last night, Detroit's Armando Galarraga stood just one out away from perfection. It would have been the third perfect game this year. Instead, Galarrago lost not only a perfect game but a no hitter as well when first base umpire Jim Joyce ruled that Jason Donald was safe, even though the ball beat him by a step. Galarraga is not the first person to lose a perfect game with only one out to go, but maybe his is the most painful because he actually should have had it.

But here is where the story teaches us a lesson. Joyce says he was convinced at the time that Donald was safe, but immediately after seeing the replay admitted he was wrong and apologized. He then asked to see Galarraga and tearfully apologized to him for the mistake. It takes a very strong person to make such a claim, especially with what was on the line. It is not often that anyone stands up to apologize and ask for forgiveness this way, let along a professional umpire. Even more upstanding was Galarraga's response.

He did not yell at Joyce either after the play or after the third out was recorded. Instead he went about his job, and then expressed remorse for Joyce and what he was going through. Galarraga took the high road and this speaks just as highly of him. Had Galarraga expressed anger and frustration few people would have blamed him, but he didn't.

Compare that to Jason Bartlett, who, after throwing his perfecto earlier this season, continued to harp about A-Rod for an event that happened several weeks before. Instead of enjoying what should be the greatest moment of his career, he went somewhere he didn't need to go.

I'm currently reading A Mistake Was Made, But Not by Me, in which the author talks about cognitive dissonance and the mind's desire to rectify this situation by justifying decisions even if they are wrong. This prevents many people from ever being able to admit they made a mistake. Now magnify that and have to admit that you not only made a mistake, but then apologize for it and ask for forgiveness on national television, without being forced into it.

Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga, you have both held yourselves up to the highest standards and I applaud you. We can learn from your example of always taking the high ground, of recognizing when we are wrong and asking for forgiveness, and then showing respect and dignity to those whom we have harmed and those who harmed us.

Update: MLB gave Joyce the option of not participating in the final game of the series today, but, again to his great credit, he said he was going to do his job. He could have taken the day off and gotten out of town, but he was willing to stand there and take what he knew would come to him. Jim Leyland then sent Galarraga out with the line-up card and they shook hands at home plate. Leyland had also encouraged the fans to applaud Joyce for his actions rather than booing him. Class acts all around.

Bud Selig, on the other hand, had the opportunity to overturn last night's call under his "best interest of the game" clause and decided not to. Some have said he couldn't because it would set a precedent. What precedent is he setting? How many perfect games have been blown with two outs in the ninth inning by a bad call? Only one that anyone is aware of. If by chance at some point in the future exactly the same situation came up then there would be a precedent set, but to me that's a good precedent to have. It would not change anything else, other than that Donald would lose his hit. This situation cannot be compared to other situations because it did not lead to a run or a rally. Galarraga easily retired the next batter. Selig could have made a change and he decided not to. Instead, I think the leadership of the MLB and the UMC are remarkably the same (see my post from yesterday).

Finally, good to see that David Huff made his regularly scheduled start today for Cleveland. Huff was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of A-Rod on Saturday, and it could have been so much worse than it was. The ball hit his head so hard that it ended up in the right field corner for a double. Although he got roughed up today, pitching only three innings, he miraculously escaped what could have been a very tragic event.

Freedom Flotilla

Here is some information from the General Board of Church on Society on this weekends events off the coast of Israel:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) condemns the deadly interception Monday in international waters by Israeli troops that led to the deaths of nine persons on a humanitarian aid mission to Gaza. The nine persons were part of an international “Freedom Flotilla” of six vessels carrying nearly 10,000 tons of food and medicine to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for three years.

“We grieve the loss of life and injuries sustained in what became a tragic confrontation between the forces of peace and those of armed aggression,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist social justice agency.

Winkler called the Israeli troops’ boarding of the “Freedom Flotilla” in international waters more than just an act of high-seas piracy. “It is symptomatic of a broader, hopelessly flawed policy by Israel to subjugate the Palestinian people, allegedly to protect its own security,” he said, adding that the United States has been “complicit in this flawed policy.”

Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, which has created a humanitarian crisis affecting 1.4 million Palestinians, according to Winkler. He pointed out that The United Methodist Church has long advocated for a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. “The violence must stop on both sides,” he said. “The time for decisive action to impose a just, peaceful resolution has never been more evident that in this tragic assault on persons whose sole purpose was to achieve peace and bring aid to an oppressed populace.”

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education and Leadership Formation, United Nations and International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations.

The statement from the General Board of Church & Society follows:

Statement on “Freedom Flotilla” Incident
United Methodist General Board of Church & Society

The General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church condemns the deadly interception Monday by Israeli troops of the “Freedom Flotilla” trying to bring aid to the beleaguered people of Gaza.

The killing of nine humanitarian-aid workers and injuries to many more occurred in international waters as the six-boat convoy, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish humanitarian relief organization, headed toward breaking Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza. About 700 passengers from 35 countries were on the vessels attempting to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine to Gaza.

We grieve the loss of life and injuries sustained in what became a tragic confrontation between the forces of peace and those of armed aggression. We pray for the families of those who lost their lives. We are thankful, though, that Israeli authorities have begun to release the peace activists and humanitarian aid workers they detained.

The United Methodist Church has long advocated for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: a settlement that provides justice and security for both parties (“Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land,” 2008 UMC Book of Resolutions). The United Methodist Church believes negotiation and diplomacy will achieve this rather than through methods of violence and coercion (“Saying No to Violence in Middle East Conflict,” 2008 UMC Book of Resolutions). The need for this has been made patently clear by this morally reprehensible assault in international waters on peace activists and humanitarian aid workers.

Boarding the Freedom Flotilla in international waters is more than just an act of high-seas piracy. It is symptomatic of a broader, hopelessly flawed policy by Israel to subjugate the Palestinian people, allegedly to protect its own security. The United States has been complicit in this flawed policy.

We urge the Obama administration to take immediate steps to facilitate an international, independent investigation of this deadly interception of the Freedom Flotilla. Israel’s violent assault on the peace activists and humanitarian workers further destabilizes an already incendiary situation. This high-seas confrontation demonstrates the urgency of achieving a just peace before more innocents are slaughtered.

The United Methodist Church works with ecumenical and interfaith bodies to advocate for Palestinian self-determination and an end to Israeli occupation. Our General Conference has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to exist within secure borders. But this assault against civilians engaged in peaceful activities is an affront to any standard of decency. It will set back any attempts to achieve a peaceful two-state solution.

This tragedy could have been averted had Israel permitted the boats to arrive at Gaza and then searched them to ensure they contained humanitarian aid only. Such restraint would be a sign of mature, thoughtful statesmanship, which has been consistently lacking on both sides in this 40-year-old drama of and oppression, destruction and death.

It is necessary for Israel to end the blockade of Gaza. The government of Israel should permit immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. It is time to implement the two-state solution originally envisioned for the region.

We urge the United States government to take steps to bring Israel to the negotiating table to seek a fruitful, honest peace. We urge Israel to stop blockading Gaza, ending its oppression of 1.4 million Palestinian civilians, who deserve the right of liberty in pursuing a livelihood.

The violence must stop on both sides. The time for decisive action to impose a just, peaceful resolution has never been more evident than in this tragic assault on persons whose sole purpose was to achieve peace and bring aid to an oppressed populace.

—Jim Winkler, General Secretary
General Board of Church & Society
The United Methodist Church

A Slippery Slope

I recently read this question on the blog of another young pastor: "Should a church be allowed to increase the minister's salary if they cannot pay 100% of their apportionments?" That is, what is church's responsibility to itself versus the connection. I remember the first district meeting I ever attended, which was in Albuquerque, several of the pastors had "scarlet A's" on their chests indicating that they had hired new staff but not paid their apportionments. I don't really know the correct answer to this and think there are strong arguments for both sides. But this question came to mind last night in the trustees meeting about what is the right thing to do.

The roof on the sanctuary has lots of cracks in it. Those who have been up there have serious concerns and give thanks to God that the roof has not yet started to leak. But they don't think they can put the repair off any longer and so have gotten bids to get a new roof to the tune of $32,000. At the same time, there are several other repairs that also need to be done. One of them is to fix our elevator which is currently out of service. It was asked whether that could be put off and the money used for other things.

I said that from a theological perspective, we welcome everyone into this congregation and therefore if someone comes in who needs access, either a child or a parent, we need to make sure that it is available to them. I was very proud that they all immediately understood this argument and supported it. But that did not change the very difficult question on where the money would come from.

The discussion then moved to whether the roof repair would be put off so that the elevator repair could be done. And here is where it gets difficult for me. I said I considered them both priorities, but in ranking them I would put repairing the roof first because the potential ramifications if the roof starts leaking are much greater. We can make accommodations to have Sunday school classes upstairs if necessary, and therefore can put off fixing the elevator for the moment.

Is that the right decision? I don't know. Does putting money into the building in the form of the roof impinge on our message of inclusiveness and welcome if someone needs the elevator? I think it does, and I'm concerned about the slippery slope that it creates. But I'm also concerned that while we can still accommodate someone in a wheel chair or someone who has difficulty with stairs, if the roof starts leaking and the plaster on the ceiling starts coming off we are in serious trouble. This is one of those dilemmas where I just don't think there is a right answer. In a perfect world, of course, we fix both, but until the Kingdom is here, we don't live in that perfect world. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wherever Two or More are Gathered, Part 2

I have been a manager for several large international corporations, and some of them had financial difficulties while I was there. In order to survive the companies made changes, sometimes significant, other times not major, and all came out okay. In one of those companies I believe the board should have fired the CEO. Instead he oversaw the company being bought by someone else and walked away with a huge compensation package, which quite frankly he didn't deserve. But that's another story. Either way, changes were made, and rather quickly, to take the company in a new direction to ensure its survival.

What they did not say to us as the managers was that we needed to do a better job of hiring employees; that we needed to be more stringent in who we brought in. They certainly hoped that we were hiring the best people we could find and were equipping them to do the job, and, for the most part, I think we were. But what the leadership of the company understood was that the local workers and managers were not the reason the company was in trouble. Instead it was the structure and leadership of the company at the top that needed to be changed. That is all a long lead-up to a conversation that I participated in recently.

Myself, another provisional member and a member of the Board of Ordination were discussing how the Board is operating right now and what they are looking for in those seeking to become Elders, like me. He said the Board had been way too lax in the past and had put people into positions that they probably should not have had, and they were sent out and killed churches. After they were done killing one church, they would be moved on to kill another church, and on and on. Now, the church is paying the price for this laxness. In order to rectify this situation, the Board has now tightened down their process in order to make sure they are taking only the best candidates, because in the Board member's words "the future of the church is in your (the younger clergys') hands."

While that is a good policy to have in place, and we should only be taking those whom we think can do the job, (although I'm not convinced the process does that), does that fundamentally solve the problem? To me that sounds more like management saying, stop hiring who you're hiring, because they are the problem. Instead hire only the best, and maybe in ten to fifteen years they will make a difference and we'll be okay. In the meantime we are going to keep doing what we are doing, and doing it with exactly the same people and hope for the best.

Now there are of course lots of reasons for the church's decline. A lot of it has to do with complacency. Most of the leaders of the church grew up and entered the ministry in a time when people were, in the words of Marcus Borg, "conventional Christians." That is, they went to church because that is what you did. All churches needed to do was to build a building and people would show up. Most did not need to think about evangelism, outreach, keeping up with new ideas, they could just be and be fine. That, as we are all aware, is no longer the case.

While we still have many "conventional Christians" in our pews, the next generations are now "intentional Christians." That is they are being intentional about joining the church, what church they are joining (no denominational affiliation) and why they are joining. That is if they join at all. (The church needs to fundamentally rethink what membership means as well).

Today's younger generations are coming to church not because it is expected, but instead because they want to be fed spiritually. If they are not being fed then they will either go somewhere else, or stop going all together. That means that we as a church need to do three things.

First we need to be able to convince people that they are hungry, and that we have something for them. Second, we need to make sure we have the capacity to feed them. And third we need to be able to walk them into discipleship so that they can in turn go out and feed the world.

Unfortunately, most churches just simply are not set-up to do that, nor is the church structure set-up to do that. The great commission says "go out and make disciples and baptize...." Instead, we are baptizing and then hoping to make disciples. What we end up with is membership roles full of people who don't attend church and are not becoming disciples of Christ.

In order to turn this ship around, we need to make some fundamental changes, and the change can't simply be saying we're now getting in good clergy who in 10-15 years will be able to make a difference. In my experience the leadership of the church has not looked at themselves and said "we are part of the problem, we are the ones who ran the ship aground, maybe we don't have the answers. Instead, we need new models, new ideas, new ways of being and doing church and new leadership." Without fundamental changes at the bottom and the top, the church is going to continue down a path that does not lead to offering people the love of Christ.