Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't Use State Farm Insurance!

I have never used this blog for this purpose, and hopefully never will again, but I am so disgusted with State Farm that I have to get the word out.

On June 12, both of our cars were damaged in a severe hail storm. Since the first day of the claim, we have been the ones to do everything, and then hope that State Farm would catch up to us, and have really only gotten service from the corporate office when we have begun yelling. (I do have to say our agent has been good but unfortunately he has no control over the claim process)

Today, fourteen days after the event, I have finally gotten word that they are totaling out our cars and we have received their offer. But I have also found out that they did not assign a claim agent to our case until June 21, 9 days after the cars were damaged!

But now they are saying that because our policy is an 80/20 split on the car rental, which it is, they will not pay any of the cost for the rental of the car even though I had to get and have the rental for much longer because they did not handle the claim properly in the first place. If they had assigned someone to the claim immediately, or at the very least told us what was going to happen, when and what to do we would be happy.

Instead, every time we talked to someone at the corporate office we were told they didn't know what was going on and then kept pushing us off to other people. At least half of the money I am out is not because I wanted to keep the rental, but simply because they delayed and delayed and I couldn't get the car back. Totally frustrating.

We will be cancelling our policies with State Farm and will be going somewhere else, and if you have State Farm please consider this a warning not to trust that they will do with you either professionally or appropriately.

Sitting at the Feet of the Teacher

Here is my sermon.  The passage was Acts 21:37-22:3:

Today we continue our series on Paul by looking at the importance of Christian education in the development of our faith, although I should say up front that I don’t like the term Christian education.  I think a better, and much more appropriate term, is Christian formation.  The poet Maya Angelou once had someone come up to her and tell her that they were a Christian, to which she responded, “Really?  Already? I thought it took a lifetime to become a Christian,” and so it does. 

For some, education implies a process that ends at some point, that we graduate from and never have to do anything more.  But, we are being formed as Christians throughout our lives; it is a process that never ends.  For others, education often implies a simple transfer of knowledge, as well as the idea that you might master that knowledge at some point, but our faith is about much more than that.  This is not to say that knowledge about Christiniaty or about the faith is not important, because it is.  But the question is not about how much we know, or even to a degree what we don’t know, but instead about whether Christ has made a difference, and continues to make a difference in our lives.  When we are in love with Christ, when we try and live into that relationship, when we are driven by that relationship, then I believe that what will also be true is that we will try and learn all we can in order to deepen our faith.

We know next to nothing about Paul’s early life.  Outside of today’s passage from Acts in which we are told that Paul was a Jew from Tarsus and that he came to Jerusalem to study at the feet of Gamaliel, the only other passage in which we hear about his background and upbringing comes from a brief section in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, ch. 3 v. 5-6, in which he says he was “circumcised on the eight day, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”  The Book of Acts was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke, they are really a two-part work, but what happens in Acts does not always match with what Paul says about himself, and we may have something like that going on here.

Tarsus was a major commercial city located in what is now Turkey and was known as a city of learning.  It was a university town and has been called the Athens of the East, although what Athens might have thought of that attribution is unknown.  It was a thoroughly Greek and cultured city of the time, and in that sense Paul, and his family, would have stood out as different , not just in being Jews, which would not have been hugely unusual as maybe 10% of the Roman empire was Jewish at the time, but in being Pharisaic Jews they would have been devoted and strict in their observances of their faith.  There would have been lots of things that they would have refused to do as members of this town in order to follow their faith. The family could have been Hellenized, that is followed Greek culture and practices as many Jews were, especially in the Diaspora, or those who lives outside of Palestine, but that is not what appears to have been the case.

Paul says he is a Hebrew of Hebrews.  Normally this would indicate that they would speak Hebrew, instead of the common Greek, whether this is true for Paul’s family we simply don’t know.  Paul did speak Greek and very good Greek, which hints at his education, and we know this because all of his letters are in Greek.  So we know that Paul was educated somewhere, which also gives us an indication of his social class, but he was not so wealthy that he couldn’t work, as Acts also tells us that he had a trade which helped him make his way, and was also probably one of his major ways of doing evangelism.  The Greek word used is typically translated as tent maker, but it really applies to anyone who is skilled in leatherworking.

So Tarsus was known as a sort of university town, and would have been one of the few places in the empire to go to receive the best training in philosophy and rhetoric, which Paul seems to have had training in.  Paul never says where he was from, and presuming that those to whom he was writing would already know his story this is probably not unexpected, but there would be ample reason for Luke to claim that Paul had received the best training and education that the Greek and Roman world had to offer.  But there was even greater reason for his to claim that Paul was trained “at the feet of Gamaliel.”  To have been trained with Gamaliel would be to have studied with the absolute best.  Gamaliel was a giant of his age.  He was not called rabbi, but instead rabban, which means something like master rabbi.  Gamaliel is mentioned twice in Acts, and both times there is a certain respect accorded to him.  The Mishnah, which is a collection of teachings and sayings of the great rabbis, says “Since rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time.”

The typical analogy given about this education is that it would have been like Paul was educated at Harvard, or Yale, or Oxford, or Linda would like to say at the University of Texas, but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it, because you can study at those schools and never come close to the most impressive professors there.  Instead, a better analogy would be to say that Paul studied physics literally at the feet of Einstein, or maybe that he studied Calculus with Newton.  Gamaliel was that important.  So Luke wants to tell us that Paul comes from one of the best cities in the empire for education and then studied at the feet of the best rabbi in Palestine.  Now if any of this is true, we simply don’t know.  Paul says in his letters that no one in Jerusalem knew him or even what he looked like, which seems very unlikely if he had studied at the feet of Gamaliel.  But here is something we can take from this, and the importance of this message, and that is the importance of training in the faith.

No matter where Paul received his education, it was clear that he did.  If he was raised in Tarsus, then he lived in a culture that was alien from Judaism, and he was the minority group.  His parents could have let him do what the culture told him to do, they could have made accommodations, they could have let things slide, but they didn’t.  They considered their faith, their relationship with God to be too important, they considered the education of children to be job number one in their role as parents.  It is also job number one for us.  It has been said that the education of our young in the faith is our research and development for the future.  If corporations don’t invest in R&D, then their futures will not be long, and the same is true for the church. 

It is our job to pass on the faith to our children, to pray for them, mentor them, and study with them, to do everything to teach them what it means to be a Christian and what it means to accept Jesus into our lives.  What happens after that we have no control over, but our job is to do those things.  Just like with Paul, we live out our faith in an alien culture.  Sociologists are now saying that we live in a post-enlightenment world, and we also live in a post-Christian world.  Christendom has ended, we cannot rely on our society, our schools, or our institutions to instill Christian values, not that we ever should have, because it is up to us.  It is our responsibility to do these things, not anyone elses.

The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  There are some bemoaning the state of the church and who say that we are doing a terrible job in living out this mission.  While I would agree that we are doing a terrible job of it now, this is really nothing new.  In 1968, when the Methodist Church merged to become the United Methodist Church, we hit our highest numbers in terms of membership, but if we were doing a good job of making disciples in 1968 we would not be sitting where we are today in terms of decline because we would be filled with disciples, and if we had done better in 1978 we would be doing better, and if we were doing better in 1948 we would be doing better. 

The simple fact is that in the mid-19th century we as Methodists turned our backs on who and what we were and we have been paying the price ever since.  Methodism was not built on people attending worship services, Methodism was built, and driven by people coming to accept Christ and then joining small groups in which they not only learned more about the faith, deepened their relationship with God and with each other, but in which there was also mutual accountability.  In which every week, or more often, the groups would gather together to answer the question, how is it with your soul, or a 21st century equivalent, “How did you experience God this week, or where did you struggle in your faith?”

George Whitfield is known as the grand itinerant, and was certainly the greatest preacher of the 18th century, and probably one of the greatest of all time.  When John Wesley saw Whitfield preach to a crowd of more than 5000 people Wesley vowed to be more “vulgar” by preaching outside.  Whitfield became the rock star of his day, and his light shone brightly in both England and in America.  In 1740 Whitfield arrived in America for the first time, and he traveled up and down the East coast preaching to enormous crowds everywhere he went.  We have diary entries of people riding for days when they heard that Whitfield would be in the area in order to hear him preach.  The first time he preached on the Boston Common the crowd was estimated at 25,000 people, the largest gathering on the common until Vietnam war protests in the 1960s.  At the end of his first 15 months in America it is believed that at least ¼ of the population had gone to hear Whitfield preach.  It is said that he could say the word Mesopotamia and have the entire crowd weep.

But, who here has ever met anyone who is a follower of George Whitfield, or who belongs to a church founded by or on the influence of Whitfield?  The answer would be none, and I strongly suspect that most of you have never heard of Whitfield before today, but the name of Wesley is known even among non-Methodists.  Why?  Because while Whitfield was drawing enormous crowds he was doing nothing to follow-up with people.  They head him preach, they went home, and that was that.  But what Wesley did was to bring people into relationship with Christ and into relationship with each other through the use of small groups.

Wesley understood that people are not transformed through worship, they are only transformed through small groups.  Worship might inspire, it might bring the initial spark of relationship, but worship cannot transform.  Worship is very important.  It is the time in which we gather together as the body of Christ in order to give praise and glory to God, or to lament and to ask questions, but its purpose is not to transform our lives.  The way we are transformed is by being in relation with other Christians making the same trip we are on.  Transformation takes place over time in relation with others, and that happens through classes and situations that are set up in order to transform us.  And Christian formation is about more than just head knowledge.  If we are not asking, how is it with your soul, then we are not doing Christian formation.

In 1987 Paul O’Neill was hired as CEO of the Aluminum Company of America, more commonly known as ALCOA.  While the company was still profitable, many people thought they were headed in the wrong direction, and so they were excited to hear what O’Neill was going to do to turn the company around.  But at the first share holders meeting, O’Neill did not talk about profits, or increasing dividends, or how he was going to lower costs, nor did he use any the business buzzwords that people expected.  Instead he said, “I want to talk to you about worker safety,” and then gave a litany of facts about the safety figures for the company, and concluded by saying, “I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America.  I intend to go for zero injuries.”  To say that this was not received well would be an understatement.  Investors literally ran from the room to sell their stock, and to advise everyone else to sell their stock as well.  It would be one of the biggest investment mistakes they would make, but they didn’t see what Paul O’Neill saw nor did they understand what he understood.

“I knew I had to transform Alcoa,” O’Neill said, “but you can’t order people to change… so I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing.  If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”  What he knew was that by focusing on safety everything else in the company would be impacted, from production to machines to quality, which would then improve profits.  In addition, he knew that there was no one working for the company who would argue against focusing on safety, who would say they were opposed to making the work place safer, and so suddenly everyone would be working together towards a common goal.  Safety would become what is known as a keystone habit which would trigger widespread change throughout the company.  Under O’Neill’s leadership, quality improved, profits improved, sales improved, dividends improved, and all because safety improved.  He found the keystone habit which changed everything.

In studies done on exercise, researchers have found that when people start exercising, even just once a week, that they change other patterns in their lives unknowingly.  Changing that one thing in their lives has ripple effects.  Those who make their beds every morning report better productivity, a better sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.  Children who habitually eat dinner with their parents have more confidence, better grades, and better homework skills.  These things all seem to have ripple effects.  It’s also been shown that for people who accept Christ and begin attending church regularly as adults within three years they will have an entirely new group of friends.  Accepting Christ has a ripple effect throughout the rest of their life, they are transformed and by being transformed they change everything.

As O’Neill said, you cannot force people to change, and the same is true in the church.  I can’t make you begin attending Christian formation groups if you don’t want to, but here’s what I can promise you.  If you do and if you begin praying and reading scripture, even just once a week, you will find other things changing in your life, and then, and this is my warning to you, you will begin wanting to do more things.  No one learns everything they can about a band and then goes to listen to their music, instead what happens?  We hear a band, and want to hear more, and so we go looking for more, and then we learn more, and as we learn more, we want to hear more, and it sort of spirals on itself, and the same thing can happen with our faith.  And here’s what’s also true, is that if we get a small committed core to begin working, and we are consistent, that the energy will build and others will be drawn into it.

The church is trying to do lots of things to try and turn the direction of the church around, but here is what I believe.  As I said the mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  Another way to say that is to know Christ and to make Christ known.  We have done a terrible job at the second part, but we have done an even worse job at the first part.  When we work on knowing Christ then we don’t need to worry about anything else because everything else will take care of itself.  When we know Christ, when we are formed and transformed by joining with a small group of Christians to walk this journey together, then everything else in our lives and in the life of the church will be changed as well.  To have faithful children, we need to have faithful adults, to have faithful youth we need to have faithful adults, and to have faithful adults we need to have faithful adults who are being transformed in the church.  Worship is important.  It can inspire, it can call, it can teach, it can aspire.  We need to gather together in worship, but if that is all we are doing then we are missing a significant piece because it cannot transform.  To be transformed we, like Paul, need to encounter the risen Christ and walk that journey together as disciples of Christ.

I don’t think that I have yet laid a challenge down to this congregation, but here is my challenge, if we want to make disciples of Christ, then we need to be disciples of Christ, and if we want to transform the world, then we too must be transformed, if we want to make Christ known, then we too must know Christ.  So I am challenging all of us to rethink our process and purpose of Christian education and instead change it into Christian formation and when we begin to do that I have faith that God will take care of everything else.]  May it be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

80% Of Preachers Are Above Average

In a survey done of pastors and their preaching skills, 80% said that they were above average.  Of course that's an impossibility, and it also makes me really wonder about the 20% who were honest about their skills.  One of the things I remember the Rev. Peter Gomes, who was one of the best preachers in America, say about his preaching class was that he didn't want good preachers in the class who could be made better, because there were other avenues for that.  Instead he wanted to work with bad preachers so he could make them sort of good before we subjected churches to their really bad preaching for twenty to thirty years.

I will say that I am a good preacher, and in the top 50%.  I say that not because I like to too my own horn, but because I am routinely told by other preachers, or their spouses, that I am a good preacher.  I trust those who have done it to give me honest feedback.  In my last church I would also have people who were not regular attenders who would come when I was preaching in order to hear what I had to say.  But I am no where close to being great.  I believe I have the gifts and graces to be great, but I don't feel like I have the resources or opportunities to cultivate that skill.

I do some work on this on my own in that I, unlike most preachers, listen to every sermon I deliver the week after I preach and pick out things where I messed up or how I might have said it differently.  I have planned to put together a sermon review group to give me feedback each week, but have never actually done it.  Some of this is simply time, but some of it to be honest is fear of what they will actually say.  The only way to improve is to hear constructive feedback, and it's something I want to know, but of course actually hearing it is tough.

But my overall bigger question is why are there not more courses on preaching being offered, especially for those already in the pulpit?  I have taken two different preaching courses, one for my M.Div., and then one while I was appointed to a church and preaching regularly.  I would say they were adequate, but I don't think they fundamentally made me a different or better preacher.  I would love to receive more instruction, more feedback, more help in improving my craft.

Preaching is one of the most important things we do, but it seems to be largely ignored especially once you are in the church.  I can find additional classes on pastoral care, leadership, stewardship, lots of other things we do in the church, but I can't find preaching classes and that seems like a major problem.  How do we improve without being given opportunities to improve?

I ask all this because I am feeling uninspired by my preaching recently.  I think the sermons are good, but that's all I can say.  They are simply adequate, and sometimes I feel more like I'm going through the motions then anything else.  There have even been times in which I have thought, in the middle of the sermon, "man I wish this preacher would just shut-up and sit down."  I think some of this is because I am getting a little burned out with the number of pastoral concerns that have taken place here at the church over the past few months, and I'm hoping my vacation in two weeks will help with that.  But I also think my sermons are just getting stale, that I need something to invigorate them, to change things up.

I often know what I am lacking or wish I could do, but I am simply not sure how to do it differently and would love some assistance, as well as a group of other people doing exactly the same thing. If preaching is so important, why don't we teach it and support it better as a church?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being Adopted

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Galatians 4:1-7:

Father’s day is a difficult day for some people because of their relationship with their father.  Not that some people don’t have issues with their mothers, but I have known more people to have issues with their fathers than with their mothers.  Some of this has to do with the expectations that we have for men and fathers in our society and which sometimes expresses itself in negative ways in some men’s lives.  Others have absolutely wonderful relationships with their father’s and love father’s day to either honor or remember their father’s presence in their lives.  Just like with mother’s day, father’s day owes its existence to a Methodist and a Methodist church.  The day really has two different origination points.

The first is with Sonora Smart Dodd, who in 1909 proposed to her minister, after she heard him deliver a sermon about Mother’s Day, that they should establish a similar holiday in honor of fathers.  Dodd’s mother had died when she was a child, and she and her five siblings were raised alone by her father, so she wanted to honor him and fathers everywhere.  But as Central Methodist Episcopal Church in Spokane, Washington observed its first recognition, Central Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Fairmont West Virginia, and yes both churches had the same name, were observing their third.  They had begun their observance in honor and memory of 360 men who had died in a mine explosion in 1907, which left 1000 children without fathers.

But unlike the observance in Spokane, the worship in West Virginia did not draw much press attention.  In addition, Sonora Smart Dodd, was truly smart, as she enlisted the help of certain trade organizations, such as the manufacturers of ties as well as tobacco products, and later the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, who greatly helped promote and push for the observance of the holiday.  While Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, might have bemoaned the commercialization of the day she founded, father’s day has always been linked to children buying unattractive ties for their fathers, so maybe we should also say that Methodists are to blame for that.

I found out that I was going to be a father two days after Linda’s father died very suddenly.  I told her at the time, and I still stand by it, that not only was it a tragedy because our daughter’s never got the chance to meet and know their grandfather, but even more because when we tell them stories about what he was like, they are never going to believe them.  Shortly after Linda and I began dating and it was clear that we were serious about each other, Linda’s father called me, and I don’t think even Linda knows this story, but he wanted to know what my career plans were.  I told him that my intention was to enter the ministry.  And he said, "Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she's accustomed to?"  I told him that I would work hard, but trusted that God would provide for us.”  So then he wondered how I would be able to buy her a nice engagement ring, or help pay for a wedding, and I told him that I would work hard and would trust that God would provide for us.  “What about children?” he asked, how can you possibly support children on a minister’s salary, and again I told him that I would work hard and trust that God would provide.  After we were done talking, my now mother-in-law asked about the conversation and he said, "Well, he has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I'm God."

On this day when we recognize and celebrate our fathers and the men who have been fathers  to us, I thought it might be appropriate, since we are looking at Paul, to understand how we become children of God.  If you were here in January when we looked at the meaning of baptism, you might remember that one of the things that happens when we are baptized is that we are adopted by God and become children of God, and that is what Paul is referencing in today’s passage and he is explaining to us how it works, although since we have a very different understanding of adoption today it might not make a lot of sense to us, but it is very important for Paul.

The Greek word used for adoption appears only five times in the Bible, and all of them are in letters attributed to Paul.  Last week I had planned on talking about letters that Paul actually wrote and those which are attributed to him, and how we differentiate between the two, but I changed that up, but hopefully we will get to cover that soon because it is very important in interpreting who Paul is for us.  But four of those mentions come in undisputed letters, that is ones everyone is in agreement that Paul wrote, and they include three mentions in Romans and once in today’s reading from Galatians. The fifth mention is in Ephesians, a letter which has been attributed to Paul, but which most scholars now agree was written by someone else.  Nowhere else in the bible is adoption mentioned, and yet for Paul it is crucial to his understanding of what Christ means for us and he we relate to God.

“When the fullness of time had come,”  Paul says, “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” This is an eschatological claim being made by Paul here.  Eschatology it one of those big church words that means it is dealing with the end of times, and it is one we clergy like to use because it helps us justify the thousands of dollars we spent on our seminary education in order to learn these big words, and eschatology, or the end of times, is also very important for Paul.  This is an eschatological passage because for Paul, the birth of Christ represents the end of one age and the beginning of another.  A time which is already here, but also not quite yet here.  It represents, what is called the inbreaking of Christ into our world.  The fullness of time also represents another issue we have dealt with, the difference between God’s time, kairos, and our time, chronos.

Christ is born of a woman and he is born under the law.  These are important statements for Paul because they emphasize the humanity of Christ and the Jewishness of Christ.  Much as we say only Nixon could go to China, Paul is telling us that only someone born like us could free us from the slavery of sin and death, and only a person born under the law can radically change and altar the law and free us from that law.  But then Paul makes an interesting jump of how this works for us, because of Christ, the son of God, he says, we are given adoption by God as children, and because we are adopted we enter a special relationship with God and become heirs.  Even though this passage is only a couple of verses long, it is incredibly dense, and one which we could spend a long time discussing, but because we do deal in chronos, unfortunately we don’t have time [plus I have to make up for running so long last week].

Tommy Tenney recounts a time in which he was in a department store, and he had a little girl walk up to him with a toy in her hand and boldly declared, “Mister, buy this for me.”  A little taken aback he replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t even know you and I don’t know about….”  But she interrupted him midsentence and said “Mister.  I want it.  Buy this for me.”  Deciding that things were getting out of hand, he started backing up and asking “where is your mommy?”  I don’t know she replied, well” he said, still backing up, “where’s your daddy?” Over there she said, well go ask him, Tenney said, “But mister, I want you to buy this for me.”  The girl would not give up.  Tenney was able to finally extract himself from the situation, and in thinking back on the situation he said while the girl had the persistence to try and get what she wanted, what she was missing, he said, was “one all-important ingredient: she lacked the power of position.”  If it had been one of his daughter’s he would have approached the situation much differently, and while he still might not have bought her the toy, she would have at least gotten a fair hearing.  “It is one thing to make your petition with passion and persistence,” he says.  “It is another thing to make your petition from the right position.”  And that is what Paul is trying to tell us in this passage.  Through Christ we are given the right position with God because we become children of God

Now the fact that the term adoption does not appear in the scriptures outside of Paul does not mean that they did take care of orphaned or other children in need of care, they did, but they did not adopt the child the way we think of it.  Adoption did take place in Greek and Roman culture, but it had nothing to do with making sure that children were taken care of.  Instead it had everything to do with inheritance.  If a family did not have a male heir to inherit then the father of the family, the paterfamilias, could adopt a male from outside in order to become the heir.  This son would then leave their own family behind, take on the name of the family which adopted them and become the rightful heir to the family fortune.  In almost all cases the person being adopted was not a young child, but instead an older teenager or an even adults.

There were many reasons why these adoptions took place.  One we see often was for power purposes.  Often the Roman emperor would adopt an adult male as his son, who would then become the emperor upon his death.  So for example, Julius Caesar adopted Augustus.  But more common adoption was used to protect a family fortune by making sure it would continue through just one person if there was not a male heir.  For the man being adopted it could also serve to help protect a family fortune.  If there were too many sons in a family, then one or more sons might be given up to adoption in order to make sure the inheritance was divided among fewer people.  The other reason for a son to be given up for adoption would be to protect them from debt.  When the adoption took place any debt that the son carried over from his prior family was released.  Let me say that again, when a son was adopted any debt they had in their prior existence was eliminated because they became a new person through the adoption process.  They literally took on a new identity, and were, as we might say, reborn.

Now there were some legal restrictions regarding adoptions.  In the Greek world, women could not inherit; they were part of the property of the estate.  Under Roman laws, male and females could inherit equally, and women could own property, but only a male could be adopted.  That means that women could only be the heirs to their own families inheritance, and they could not change their fate if they family had fallen on hard times, as their brothers could.  If a family ran into debt there was no way for a daughter to escape that debt, but her brothers might be able to if they found the right situation and were adopted by another family.  This reality is significant because of the language that Paul uses in this passage.  Normally I prefer the New Revised Standard translation because of its more inclusive language in that it typically changes masculine pronouns into gender neutral or both male and female pronouns when appropriate, which they did in today’s passage.  But by changing the language here it diminishes the radicalness of what Paul is saying, which is better reflected in some other translations like the New International Version.

Paul says that through Christ, we are adopted and we become sons of the father and therefore heirs.  I know it doesn’t sound like it, but this is a radically inclusive statement.  Paul is not just talking about the male Christians here.  Paul is claiming that through Christ everyone becomes a son to god.  I know that to our modern ears this still doesn’t sound very good, but imagine what this sounded like to the women of the church at Paul’s time.  Paul is claiming that through Christ, we all, each and every one of us become sons of God, and therefore heirs, and because we are heirs not only do we inherit but our debts are also forgiven.  And to highlight the radicalness of this statement, just before today’s passage chapter 3 verse 28, Paul also wrote “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  This not Paul saying that in order to be welcomed into the kingdom of God, or in order to be truly valued by God that women must become male, that is not what Paul is saying.  Instead he is taking a societal standard that everyone at the time would have understood and is instead applying it not just to males, who were the only ones entitled to be adopted, but is applying it everyone.

One other legal restriction worth mentioning is that if there was a legitimate legal heir then an adoption could not take place because that would impact the inheritance due to the son.  But that is not what Paul says. Paul tells us that because of Jesus, who is the son of God, we are able to be adopted.  It is because of the legitimate heir that we have the ability to become heirs ourselves, to become children of God.  Not only is Paul turning the understanding of gender on its head, but he is turning the entire understanding of how adoption was practiced by the Romans on its head as well.  It is because of the son of the father that we are given adoption because of the debts we hold that need to be freed through adoption.  It is through the actions of Christ on our behalf, that we can become children of God and have the spirit enter our hearts and cry out “Abba! Father!”  Through the spirit of adoption, through the actions of Christ we become children of God and the debts which had been hanging over our heads have been erased.

Fred Craddock tells the story of a young boy growing up in Tennessee in the 20’s who was born illegitimate.  As he was growing up he would be taunted by the other children, and the adults around him where constantly trying to guess who his father might be.  This only got worse as the boy got older, and his appearance came closer to what his father might have looked like.  One day as a young teenager, as the boy was leaving church, the minister stopped him at the door, and said “let me take a look at you,” then looked him up and down and continued “you know I’d never really seen it before, but now I do, the resemblance is striking, you must be the son of…” and then the minister paused.  The boy braced expecting the pain of his birth to appear again, and then the minister continued.  “Yep, no doubt about it, I see the family resemblance now.  You are a child of God.”  With that he patted the young man on the back, and said “you’ve got a great inheritance.  Go and claim it.”  And with that, the young boy claimed a new identity and family.

Erma Bombeck said “there’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake on Christmas morning and not be a child.”  And on this day, like on mother’s day, it is also a time in which some of us lament the fact that our fathers, and our mothers, are no longer with us or were never present for us.  But let us also remember, and celebrate the fact, that we are all children, all sons and daughters, of God, that we have been adopted and made one in the family of God, and because of that adoption our debts are wiped clean and this happens because of the son who makes it all possible.

Many of us come here today with many burdens on our shoulders, thinking that we are not worthy, not only of God’s love, but of others love as well.  We know that we have not lived into the life that God has called us to be, that we have not been the parents we could be, just as our parents often did not live into their roles, we have all failed, but we are all loved, and we are all forgiven.  Paul reminds us that because of Christ that we have been offered forgiveness, but in turn we must also forgive, not only those who have wronged us, which sometimes includes our fathers, but we must also learn to forgive ourselves.

So today, on the day in which we remember our fathers, let us also honor God the father who has adopted us and by doing so has redeemed from the debt hanging over our head, and made us heirs to the kingdom.  So my brothers and sisters and Christ, let us remember our fathers, both the good and the bad, give thanks to God, Abba, Father, for the redemption from sin and the adoption as children.  Amen.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Congratulations and What's Going On?

Last night Matt Cain threw a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants.  This is the 22nd perfect game in major league history but the second one this year.  This is on top of three other no-hitters, and if MLB changes a hit from the Met's game on Wednesday into an error than RA Dickey will also be credited with a no-hitter.  If that hit is changed to an error it will also mark only the second time that two no-hitters were thrown on the same day.

These are some of the rarest events in major league baseball, but they are occurring with regularity, at least this season.  The record for a single season is 7, and we are nearly there and we're not even to the All-Star break yet.  Of course that doesn't mean we will see any more this year, which is one of the things that makes baseball great.  But I do have to wonder if we are seeing something of a trend here, or if this is just a statistical anomaly that we should simply appreciate while it's going on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Loving v Virginia at 45

On this date 45 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision called Loving v. Virginia which struck down anti-miscegenation laws.  This decision overturned prior Supreme Court decisions and made race-based laws about marriage illegal.

The case involved Richard Loving and his wife Mildred.  Richard was white and his wife was of African-American and Native-American ancestry, and the state of Virginia made it illegal for whites to marry other races.  The Lovings had been married in Washington, DC, which did not forbid interracial marriages, but then returned to Virginia where they lived.  The police raided their house at night hoping to find them engaged in marital relations, another crime in Virginia, but instead simply found them in bed together.  When the couple showed them their marriage certificate, the police confiscated it as evidence of their crime, which was not only to be married, but to have evaded Virginia law by going somewhere else to be married.

They pled guilty to violating the law and were sentenced to one year in prison, which would be suspended if they left Virginia.  The trial court judge, citing Biblical witness said, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

The Loving's left Virginia and moved to DC where the ACLU took up their case so that their criminal record would be clear.  A decision by the Virginia Supreme Court upheld their convictions and the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws.  The Supreme Court overturned that conviction and those laws.

The Court wrote: "Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."  They also said that these laws were enacted simply to enforce white supremacy.

Loving v. Virginia was one a of series of laws which were crucial not only for the civil rights movement, but for also expanding the idea of personal autonomy and the right to privacy, decisions that are at the heart of many of the debates that we are still dealing with today.

On the 40th anniversary of the decision, Mildred Loving had this to say:
"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

Let us remember the Lovings, and others, who took up the challenge for freedom and to expand civil rights for all those who are the "wrong kind of person."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Remembering Murphy Brown

Way back in 1992 the television character Murphy Brown made national headlines when then Vice President Dan Quayle called her out, seeming to forget that she was a fictional character, for "ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone."  This was all part of the hoopla of the time dealing with "family values."

Twenty years later it has been announced that Bristol Palin, daughter of a former VP candidate, will be in a reality show about her life as a single mother.  I wonder if we will hear anything from the right about this show and the dangers to "family values" or "traditional values" that this show clearly represents?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Graduation Speech: Cheerleaders Versus Coaches

I was asked to deliver the speech at the town's high school graduation this year, and here is what I had to say:

Members of the school Board, distinguished guests, administrators, teachers and students, my fellow members of the clergy, parents, guests, and members of Melrose High School class of 2012, it is my pleasure to be one of the speakers for this momentous moment in your life.  Typically the graduation speaker is supposed to come up with some of the great wisdom that we have accumulated in our lives and then convey it to you.  Usually these speeches are full of great clich├ęs such as never give up, you can do anything you put your mind to, follow your passion, don’t be afraid to fail, or that you’ve got to take it one day at a time.

Occasionally you’ll get some good advice like Stephen Colbert’s recommendation that if someone offers you a job, “say yes. You can always quit later. Then at least you'll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.”  Or there was pultizer-prize winning author Russel Baker who said his best advice for going out into the world, was “don’t do it.  I’ve been out there, it’s a mess.” And finally, and probably my personal favorite for it’s sheer practicality, was Mary Schmich whose advice was to wear sunscreen.  Now maybe as a preacher I should include something like quoting from Philipians and to you to “let your gentleness be known to everyone… [and] do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Or maybe that you can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens you.

The problem with all of these statements, as true as they might be, is that I have yet to meet a single person who has said “Dude, I would never have been successful except that at my graduation the speaker told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, if only I worked hard, spread my wings, followed my passion and never gave up.”  It’s never happened, and I suspect it never will happen.  I have been to a lot of graduations in my life, many more than my wife is really happy about, and not only can’t I remember what was said at any of them, I can only remember who the speaker was for one of them.

But here’s the biggest problem, although because you still have to listen to me, it’s more your problem than it is mine, the simple truth is that we, as graduations speakers, can’t help ourselves.  As soon as we get asked to speak at graduation we get excited with the opportunity to talk about all the wisdom we might impart, thinking that your brains are not already full enough and thinking that you actually care what we have to say, and I will admit that I am no different, so here is the wisdom that I would like to impart to you tonight, and my analogy, another requirement for graduation speeches, is based on this town’s love of its sports teams.

Whatever you do make sure that you always have a cheerleader and coach in your life.  Both are very important, but for very different reasons, so let’s start with cheerleaders.  You need to have people in your life who will always cheer for you no matter what.  No matter what is going on they are going to be supporting you, cheering you on, and trying to lift you up.  When things are going great their impact and presence might not seem as important, although they are, but it is when things are going bad that they are most important because it’s when things are looking down that others are going to be pessimistic and bleak or tell you that everything is your fault.  But your cheerleader will always be there cheering you on and telling you can do it.  This is a very important person and you need to make sure you always have someone like this in your life.

But you can’t base your performance based on what your cheerleaders are telling you.  Cheerleaders usually are not even facing the field of play when cheering, they don’t know all that’s going on, and that’s not their job, their job is to cheer and support the team.  Now before I get into trouble with our cheerleaders and their parents, I am not demeaning cheerleaders, as I said they are very important and I was even a yell leader when I was in high school, so I know how important they are, as well as how much work they put in.  and before you ask why I was on the cheer line, the answer is very simple, I was on the cheer team because that’s where all the girls were.  Cheerleaders are important but you cannot rely on them to give you an honest and impartial opinion of your performance and how you are doing, and that is why you need a coach.

Coaches are always focused on your performance, they are paying attention to you and their job is not only to make you better but to have you give your best performance every time you go out.  They are the ones who know what you are truly capable of and will push you to excel far beyond what you normally think is possible.  Even if you think you are as good as you can get, a good coach can always get more out from you, even if you are the best to ever do whatever it is that you are doing.  Peyton Manning, Walter Payton, Annika Sorenstam, Wayne Gretzky, Lindsey Vonn, Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, and Ty Murray, have all had coaches, people who pushed them to be better than they could be by themselves.  Having someone else to provide you an outside opinion on what’s going, to have someone else push you, to be honest with how you are doing is extremely important if you ever want to reach your full potential.

But, it’s also important to find someone who can actually be a good coach.  It’s easy to find people to tell you you are doing something wrong, and even easier to find someone to yell at you, but that’s not what a coach is about.  Watch Bill Belichick, Pat Summitt, Mike Krzyewski, Joe Torre or anyone else who is considered at the top of the coaching profession and pay attention to what they do when their teams are losing and when they are winning.  Lots of coaches will tear their teams and their players down when they are losing.  They attack when their teams are at their lowest.  Now if you are not giving your best, or are not trying, then you should be called out, but often that’s not the case.  Instead, the best coaches will often praise when things are going bad, again if the players are giving their best, and challenge when things are going right.

Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots has routinely said that the worst weeks of practice are not the weeks after the Patriots lose, but instead in the weeks after they win. Why?  Because Bill Belechick understands you are in a much better space to receive criticism when things are going well, and you need to be lifted up when things are going bad.  There are plenty of people who will be happy to yell at you and break you down, but they are not good coaches.  Find someone, instead, who is truly concerned about making you better, who is going to push you, but who also recognizes when the best times to push are and also when they need to praise.

So my great, wise advice to you is that no matter what you are doing or where you are, make sure that you have both cheerleaders and coaches in your life, and if you do that and you never give up, and you’re not afraid to fail, and if you take it one day at a time, and you follow your passion, then you can do anything you put your mind to, and make sure to wear sunscreen. Congratulations to you and may God bless you all.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Conversion

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 9:1-20:

There’s an old saying that says there are two types of people in the world, there are those who believe there are two types of people and there are those who don’t.  Well I’m the type who believes that there are at least two types of people.  There are those who like and admire Paul, who use Paul’s writings to support theology and doctrine, who see Paul as foundational to everything that we do as Christians, and there are those who think that Paul is a four-letter word, who think that Paul created and established a status quo that supported slavery and the subordination of women, and established political leaders with divine power that could not be questioned.  Howard Thurman, the great twentieth-century African-american preacher and theologian, said his mother refused to read any of Paul’s writings because of his statements, or reported statements, about slavery, which had been used to abuse her and her parents, her friends and relatives.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, I used to be one of those who didn’t like Paul for all the reasons that Paul normally cite about why not to like him, but I’ve come to change my opinion.  Not that I still don’t have some problems with some of the things he says, because I do, but much of this has more to do with how Paul has been interpreted and how he has been used by the church, and others throughout the centuries, than necessarily because of what he actually said.  What I have also found is that the more I preach, the more I find myself quoting and referencing Paul, and so for the next two months we are going to be working through Paul, who he was, why he was important and how he influences our faith life.  Hopefully by the end we will all have a much better understanding of Paul, and at the very least if you still dislike him you will have more reasons for doing so.

As I began doing research for this series nearly every book I read on Paul began by saying that besides for Jesus, Paul is the most important person for Christians and for Christianity, and those that didn’t start that way certainly said something like that later in the text.  Within the church, Peter has sort of been elevated, after all Jesus tells him that he is the rock upon which he will build the church, and he holds the keys, and it is St. Peter’s basilica in Rome in which the Pope preachers, but it really is Paul who influences us much more.  Out of the 27 books in the New Testament, Paul is reported to be responsible for 13 of them.  When you add in the Book of Acts, which is primarily about Paul, and then when we recognize that some of the other letters might also be seen to either be in dialogue with or in reaction to Paul then his importance for Christian scripture becomes even more important.  Paul infuses just about everything we think about our faith, for right and for wrong, and for most people that influence begins with the passage we heard from today of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus.

The story really begins a chapters before this as we are told of the persecution of Christians and the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the church, and we are told that Paul was responsible for this.  If you were doing the daily scripture readings in the insert than you read this story.  It’s not really clear why Paul is persecuting this group, but let me emphasize that Paul is not persecuting and killing Christians.  That is a term that we apply looking backward that did not exist at the time.  They are not a separate religion; they would have understood themselves as followers of Jesus but still would have considered themselves Jews.

Some have argued that it was because they claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, but that simply does not hold up because there were lots of people who claimed to be the Messiah whose followers were not persecuted, and in fact sometimes were supported.  Others have claimed that it was because the disciples were reaching out to gentiles and telling them that they could be followers of Jesus without becoming Jewish.  That will most definitely be an argument later, and one that Paul is in the middle of, but there is no indication that those arguments are yet taking place.  Some claim that some of the Jewish leadership wanted to let the Romans know they were loyal and to prove that wanted to persecute a group who were claiming allegiance to someone who had been executed by the Romans as a threat to the empire.

I’m of the belief that they were persecuted because of the scandal of the cross, as Paul later says.  This was a group of people who were following someone who was crucified.  Now crucifixion would not have been all that unusual in the ancient world.  There were at least two other people crucified with Jesus, and more than likely there were several more crucified the next day, and the day after that and the day after that.  If you remember the end of the classic film Spartacus; Spartacus and his followers, who are part of a slave revolt, are all crucified and left hanging on their crosses for miles on the road leading into Rome.  That is actually a true event.  Crucifixion was the empire’s way of setting an example saying “this is what happens when you challenge us.”

But, under Jewish law, as stipulated in Deuteronomy 21:23 it says that “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.”  So here are a group of people who are saying that not only is Jesus not cursed because of his crucifixion but that he has been raised from the dead which shows that instead is blessed by God, that he is the messiah.  As I have said many times in the past, there is not a single Jew before Jesus came who would have understood the idea of the suffering messiah.  All of the passages that we read that way were reinterpreted in light of their experience of Jesus.  It is the scandal of the cross that had to be offensive to Paul and to others.  In addition to all of that, the disciples were also calling Jesus Lord.  If you were here when we talked about Jesus as part of the trinity you might remember that the word Lord is Kyrios, a word that was applied in scripture and in usage only to God.  This had to be all too much for many people, including Paul, and so they set out to stop them.  And that is what Paul is doing when he is on the road to Damascus.

Paul only references this event in an off-handed way in two of his letters, Galatians and 1 Corinthians.  Why does Paul not emphasize it?  I think there are two reasons.  The first is that maybe he did not see it as being as important as Luke did, who tells this story three different times in Acts, although each is slightly different.  But, I sort of doubt that.  The second reason, and the more likely in my opinion, is that the communities that Paul was writing to already knew the conversion story and so didn’t need to be told about it again.  But in either case, something did happen on that road to Damascus that forever changed Paul, Saul at the time, and forever changed the direction of Christianity.

Paul, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples” is traveling to Damascus when suddenly a great light from heaven flashes, and Paul falls to the ground, and a voice asks him “why are you persecuting me?”  And Paul’s response? “Who are you, Lord?”  Remembering that the term Lord only applies to God makes it clear that Paul understands that he is having a mystical experience of God.  As a result of this encounter, Paul is blinded and spends the next three days without food or water, an amount of time which mirrors Jesus’ three days in the tomb.  While Paul is awaiting further instruction, Ananias, a follower, receives a vision and is called by God.  His response?  “Here I am Lord.”  This should sound familiar, from the passage we heard earlier this morning of the prophet Isaiah’s call.  While Ananias is the one being spoken to, it is really Ananias hearing Paul’s call message which he is to deliver on God’s behalf.  Ananias is told to go to see Paul, where he lays hands on him, removing Paul’s blindness, he was blind but now he sees, and then Paul is baptized and begins preaching and proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God.

We talk about this story as Paul’s conversion experience, but I think that is an improper attribution.  Paul was a Jew before this, and he remains a Jew after this.  He does not become a Christian because there is no such thing, that won’t happen for several decades at the earliest.  He was born a Jew, and, as we will find out, he will die as a Jew.  He also does not have his name changed from Paul to Saul at this moment, as is often thought, as Paul continues to be called Saul for a while longer after this, and then when the change happens the text simple says “Saul, who was also called Paul,” and then begins referring to him as Paul.  So, instead of seeing this as a conversion experience, a better way, and I think more appropriate way, is to see this as Paul’s call story.

In addition to it being similar to the call of Isaiah it is also similar to the call of the prophet Jeremiah’s.  God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  In Galatians, Paul says, about his acceptance of Christ, “God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the gentiles.”  God is calling Paul into a new mission and calling him to a radically new way of understanding God.  While we could spend weeks discussing this story there are two points that I want to highlight that apply to us today.

Paul was persecuting the disciples and Apostles because he thought it was the right thing to do.  He was convinced he had God on his side.  He had studied scripture, he was righteous and was absolutely convinced, absolutely convinced that what he was doing was right and just in God’s eyes.  There was no way he could be wrong, after all it was there in scripture, plus Paul, and all those with whom he associated, all believed the same thing, so how could they be wrong?   It was black and white; there could be no other way to think about it.  They were doing God’s will, except they weren’t.  How often have we done the same thing?  How often have we been convinced that we were absolutely right and have attacked, punished, persecuted, ignored, or pilaried, another group or person because we have been convinced that God was on our side and against them?  “If God is for us, who can be against us”, goes Paul’s famous phrase from Romans, but how often has this been more us wanting God to be with us then us wanting to be with God?  We are to approach God with fear and trembling, which does not mean what people normally think that means.  I believe we must always have a question in the back of our minds if what we are saying or doing is what God really wants, or if instead it is what we want, regardless of God, and when we are constantly asking that question then I think we would be a little less quick to judge, a little less quick to act, and a little less quick to be so assured that our position is right and that everyone else is wrong.

The second thing that I believe we should be taking from this passage is that this story of Paul’s calling has been used as the example of what a proper conversion experience looks like.  That we can be specify to the day, and even the minute, when we came to accept Jesus into our lives.  But this emphasis on this is actually a relatively new phenomenon.  Known as the experience of saving faith, it developed in the early 17th century with the rise of the enlightenment and the scientific process.  There are obviously denominations which still stress having a conversion experience and being able to name it as such.  On May 24th we remembered John Wesley’s own conversion experience in which he felt his heart strangely warmed.  He was to write in his diary after the fact that before that event he was not a Christian, which if you know anything about Wesley you know is patently untrue, but he was told that this is what had to happen, it was the way, the only way, that God worked in the world and so he sought to have such an event in his life.  Later Wesley was to change his opinion on the issue and believed that you did not need to have such an event in order to be a true Christian, that instead you could grow and deepen in faith and in your relationship with Jesus over the entirety of your life and that was just as meaningful and just as equal and as valid as having a conversion experience.  I suspect that this morning we have both types of people here this morning. 

But, regardless of our path, like with Paul, what we need to be able to see and articulate is the fact that Jesus has made a difference in our lives.  That we can say this is who I was before Jesus, or who I might be, and this is who I am with Jesus.  How has Christ changed our lives?  That is the question that we must answer for ourselves.  It is the question, and it is the answer, which make the difference for us in understanding our relationship with Jesus Christ, of showing us where we are doing well and of showing us where we have room to grow and to improve.  In thinking about this question for myself this week, I found lots of areas in which I found myself lacking, in which I could say that if other people saw me do that or heard me say that, would they think I was a Christian?  As the old hymn says, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  People know us to be followers of Christ not because we can say the right words, or because we accepted Christ in the right way, but because we do the right things because we model Christ to the world, we model God’s love to the world, we embody our faith in everything that we do.  Has Christ made a difference in your life?  Are you a different person because of Christ?

The story of Paul’s call is the beginning of his journey as an Apostle, as a follower of the way, and it is the beginning of our journey in looking at Paul, and I hope it leaves us all asking, when have we assumed that we were right, that God was on our side?  When have we refused to even consider the possibility that we might be wrong, that God in fact would want us to do something different?  And then we should ask how Jesus Christ has changed us?  How has our experience of the risen Lord made us different, made us better, and through us made the world better?  When we begin to answer those questions, when we begin to look deeply into our own thoughts, actions, beliefs and relationship with God then we have begun the journey so that we can truly say, “Here I am, Lord.”  May it be so my sisters and brothers.  Amen

Monday, June 4, 2012

Removal Of Guaranteed Appointments

At the most recent General Conference of the UMC, one of their actions was to remove "guaranteed appointments" for elders in full connection.

First of all let me say that there was never a "guaranteed appointment." Clergy could always be removed for cause. The problem was that very few bishops or cabinets have had the temerity to actually remove ineffective clergy, even though they know who they are as do the clergy who work with them.

Second, this clause was only in place for ordained elders. Licensed local pastors could be removed at any time without guarantee of being reappointed, and they have been. I know several local pastors who lost appointments not do to ineffectiveness but because the cabinet needed their churches to place elders. I also know a local pastor who was literally fired during his appointment and told he had two weeks to get out of the parsonage because he had the temerity to tell the DS that he would be taking a church in another Methodist denomination at the end of the appointment year.

As a local pastor, and as a provisional member I have never been protected by this clause. I have had to prove my effectiveness year in and year out. I will be ordained on Friday, and it was only at that point that I would have been "guaranteed" anything.

The clause was put in during the 1950's in order to protect women and minorities so that cabinets would not refuse to appoint them because some churches would refuse to receive them. So, it has some history that makes it important. It was also claimed that it would protect pastors who were being "truly prophetic" from being drummed out of the church. The problem is I know few clergy who are truly prophetic, including me. I have my moments but they are few and far between. I also wonder if it is needed to protect women and minority clergy. It certainly hasn't protected women from getting truly terrible appointments.

But, the one thing I have noticed in the aftermath of this decision is that those who seem to be most upset about this are not those of who are young and just getting in, but instead it is older clergy. I suspect there are several things going on here. The first is that this is the system they have always had, and therefore any change is difficult to deal with. They have always been able to rely on the fact that they were "guaranteed" a job.

I also suspect that some feel threatened that as they near the end of their careers that the cabinet might start ignoring the seniority system in place (which is not in the Discipline) and start appointing younger clergy to "their" churches and place them in less desirable locations. of course if the itinerancy system worked the way it's supposed to this would always have been a concern.

The simple fact is as a younger clergy member I'm not concerned as much about my next appointment as I am about where the church is going to be in twenty years, something most older clergy are not looking at because they will long since be retired. In addition, we come from generations which have never been guaranteed jobs. Our parents did not work for the same company for the entirety of their lives, and older generations did. We have never had job security, and in fact have always known some level of insecurity, and thus the church is just beginning to match what the wider society has already known.

I'm not really concerned with the loss of the guaranteed appointment because I trust that if I do my job and show fruits of the spirit, that God will continue working through me, regardless of what the church does, and if I don't then I deserve to lose my job.

At Annual Conference this week there is supposed to be a resolution brought up which will require a 2/3 majority of the clergy session vote to remove someone for "cause."  If that passes it would effectively mean that we would never actually remove anyone, because the likelihood of getting 2/3 of the clergy voting to remove a colleague is just about impossible to imagine, even though most of us could tell you which clergy should not be given new appointments.  The other major problem is that most clergy can also say which churches are clergy killers or are otherwise unfruitful but who continue to receive the benefits from the system without giving anything back and are never held accountable for their behavior.  Until everyone, including bishops, cabinets, churches and clergy are all held accountable then nothing will change.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kids Say The Darndest Things - Star Wars Version

My oldest daughter, who is 6, has become very interested in Star Wars (I'm going to have to dig out all my old toys soon).  The other day for some reason the Detroit Tigers had Darth Vader throwing out the first pitch, which got her really excited.  So then she asked me if Darth Vader was real, and I told her he was real in the movies to which she replied, "Well I believe in Darth Vader and in Santa Clause."