Friday, August 31, 2012

Businesses Don't Create Jobs

Yes I know that the headline is a little controversial and it's supposed to be.  Since I watch a lot of Yankees games, I get to see lots of New York advertisements, and one of those is from the state of New York who are trying to attract business, or at least make the ones already there feel good about themselves, by a series of ads claiming that "New York works for businesses."  (I wonder if they are working for average citizens but that's another issue.)

In one of the ads, the CEO of a yogurt company (at least I think he is the CEO, I search online for the ad but couldn't find it) says that because there is less regulation and paperwork to fill out in New York that he was able to hire more workers.  Well let's face it, that's blatantly false on it's face.

First of all, if he had to do lots of paperwork then he would have to hire people to do that paperwork.  Now that's not really a good use of employees so I'm okay with less paperwork, if only the church could figure the same thing out.  But there is absolutely no way that he used the money and put it into hiring more employees.

The only reason why companies hire new employees, and the second reason why the ad is false, is because the market demands that they hire new employees.  That is, if they are not selling more yogurt then they are not going to hire more people.  They hire people when their current employees cannot meet the demand of the market for their yogurt.  No new yogurt sales, no new employees, and that is true regardless of bureaucratic paperwork.

I have never worked for an employer who has said, we made lots of money this year, lets hire more people. Nor have I ever had an company I worked for say I, or anyone else, could hire any new people without first justifying the demand and need for that employee.  And that would mean showing that we had more sales or more customer demand than we could currently meet.  There are certainly some regulations that might keep business from being as big as they might otherwise be, but removing them comes with lots of costs, oftentimes environmental in the case of yogurt makers, and does not also correspondingly lead to more jobs.

We have been fooled into calling the top 1% job creators, when the simple fact is that you and I create jobs through consumption, and if we stop consuming, which is what has currently happened, then there is nothing that can be done for the "job creators" to create more jobs.  If there is no demand for the products they might sell, although since most of the people at the top do not run actual companies that produce or sell things this is even harder, then they are not going to hire more people even if they have a zero tax rate.  They won't hire more people until we are buying more products, which means that we need to have more disposable income which comes with working, and since many companies are not hiring, and if they do it is at greatly reduced salaries, that disposable income is not to be found.

We find ourselves in a sort of catch-22 situation, which you think would encourage people to actually look at simple economics.  But the simple fact is those on the far right, who claim to understand capitalism and the markets, demonstrate with almost every statement that they make that they don't understand how they work.  Because here is the truth: businesses might employee people, but we create their jobs by our expenditures with those businesses, and if we are not buying then no new jobs will be created.  The market dictates jobs and job creation, not the business owner or their respective tax rates.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

You Can't Do Things Before You Do Them

I think people have forgotten what the prefix "pre" means.  It means to do something before something else happens.  For example, precaution means to have caution before something happens.  But that is not the way it is being used anymore.  Just a couple of my personal pet peeves:

Pre-board: You hear this at the airport every time you fly.  But you cannot get on before you get on.  Now they could use it like this "we are going to begin our pre-boarding procedures" which means telling us stuff, but as soon as people begin getting on the plane they are no longer  pre-boarding, they are simply boarding.  It's incorrect usage.

Pre-assembled:  "This item comes pre-assembled."  Either it's assembled or it's not.  The only way it can work is if it's already assembled and then you have to take it apart and assemble it again, or do something else with it, then it would be pre-assembled.  But why would you ever need to do that?

Pre-drill: This is used all the time in directions and DYI shows.  How do you predrill a hole?  It's either drilled or not, because it's not like you are going to drill it again.  What they want to say is "drill the hole before trying to put in a screw", or something similar.  Now it might be argued that this might come close to the understanding of "pre" but it is totally unnecessary.  Instead they should simply say, "drill a hole then put in the screw"

Pre-heat: Like with predrilling it could be used to mean, preheat in preparation for cooking, but I still think it's an incorrect usage as well as unncessary. Instead the instructions should simply say "heat oven to 350° then insert item." Again, it's either heated or not, you can't do it in advance of doing it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

College Freshmen Realities

Each year, Beloit College publishes a list of the realities of most entering freshmen.  Number 3 should be the most concerning for the church, although number 34 should give us hope.  Number 17 makes me feel the oldest.  Here is this year's list:

This year’s entering college class of 2016 was born into cyberspace and they have therefore measured their output in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds. They have come to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future, and are entering college bombarded by questions about jobs and the value of a college degree. They have never needed an actual airline “ticket,” a set of bound encyclopedias, or Romper Room. Members of this year’s freshman class, most of them born in 1994, are probably the most tribal generation in history and they despise being separated from contact with friends. They prefer to watch television everywhere except on a television, have seen a woman lead the U.S. State Department for most of their lives, and can carry school books--those that are not on their e-Readers--in backpacks that roll.

The class of 2016 was born the year of the professional baseball strike and the last year for NFL football in Los Angeles. They have spent much of their lives helping their parents understand that you don’t take pictures on “film” and that CDs and DVDs are not “tapes.” Those parents have been able to review the crime statistics for the colleges their children have applied to and then pop an Aleve as needed. In these students’ lifetimes, with MP3 players and iPods, they seldom listen to the car radio. A quarter of the entering students already have suffered some hearing loss. Since they've been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16-cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. The creation of Beloit’s former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride, authors of The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal (John Wiley and Sons), it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references. It quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation. Mindset List websites at  and, as well as the Mediasite webcast and their Facebook page receive more than a million visits annually.

For those who cannot comprehend that it has been 18 years since this year’s entering college students were born, they should recognize that the next four years will go even faster, confirming the authors’ belief that “generation gaps have always needed glue.”

The Mindset List for the Class of 2016
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.
1. They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
2. They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
3. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
4. Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty.”
5. If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
6. Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.
Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker's long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
7. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
8. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”
9. On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.
10. The paradox "too big to fail" has been, for their generation, what "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" was for their grandparents'.
11. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.
12. They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
13. There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
14. Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.
15. Since they've been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.
16. Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.
17. Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
18. The Green Bay Packers have always celebrated with the Lambeau Leap.
19. Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
20. A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.
21. The Real World has always stopped being polite and started getting real on MTV.
22. Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
23. White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.
24. They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
25. Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.
26. Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.
27. Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.
28. They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”
29. There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.’
30. Along with online viewbooks, parents have always been able to check the crime stats for the colleges their kids have selected.
31. Newt Gingrich has always been a key figure in politics, trying to change the way America thinks about everything.
32. They have come to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future.
33. Billy Graham is as familiar to them as Otto Graham was to their parents.
34. Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.
35. Stephen Breyer has always been an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
36. Martin Lawrence has always been banned from hosting Saturday Night Live.
37. Slavery has always been unconstitutional in Mississippi, and Southern Baptists have always been apologizing for supporting it in the first place.
38. The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has always translated operas on seatback screens.
39. A bit of the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, has always existed in space.
40. Good music programmers are rock stars to the women of this generation, just as guitar players were for their mothers.
41. Gene therapy has always been an available treatment.
42. They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either.
43. The folks have always been able to grab an Aleve when the kids started giving them a migraine.
44. While the iconic TV series for their older siblings was the sci-fi show Lost, for them it’sBreaking Bad, a gritty crime story motivated by desperate economic circumstances.
45. Simba has always had trouble waiting to be King.
46. Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.
47. They grew up, somehow, without the benefits of Romper Room.
48. There has always been a World Trade Organization.
49. L.L. Bean hunting shoes have always been known as just plain Bean Boots.
50. They have always been able to see Starz on Direct TV.
51. Ice skating competitions have always been jumping matches.
52. There has always been a Santa Clause.
53. NBC has never shown A Wonderful Life more than twice during the holidays.
54. Mr. Burns has replaced J.R.Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.
55. They have always enjoyed school and summer camp memories with a digital yearbook.
56. Herr Schindler has always had a List; Mr. Spielberg has always had an Oscar.
57. Selena's fans have always been in mourning.
58. They know many established film stars by their voices on computer-animated blockbusters.
59. History has always had its own channel.
60. Thousands have always been gathering for “million-man” demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
61. Television and film dramas have always risked being pulled because the story line was too close to the 62. headlines from which they were ”ripped.”
63. TheTwilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling.
64. Robert Osborne has always been introducing Hollywood history on TCM.
65. Little Caesar has always been proclaiming “Pizza Pizza.”
66. They have no recollection of when Arianna Huffington was a conservative.
67. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.
68. They watch television everywhere but on a television.
69. Pulp Fiction’s meal of a "Royale with Cheese" and an “Amos and Andy milkshake” has little or no resonance with them.
70. Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.
71. Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.
72. Astronauts have always spent well over a year in a single space flight.
73. Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.
74. Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.
75. The Sistine Chapel ceiling has always been brighter and cleaner.

Copyright© 2012 Beloit College
Mindset List is a registered trademark

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kids Say The Darndest Things -- IPad Version

My wife has an iPad and she lets my daughters play different games on which they really like because I won't let them do the same thing on my Droid.  So yesterday, my wife was driving our youngest daughter home from preschool and she let her play with the iPad while they were driving.  Well, as will sometimes happen, in focusing all her attention on the game, she got carsick and ended up throwing up all over everything including the iPad.

So this morning our youngest came up to me and asked me where Mommy was, and I said she had gone to work.  Then she asked if Mommy took her iPad with her, and I told her she did, and she went off to talk with her sister about this news, and the next thing I hear is her sister saying to her:

"I was the first one to ever play with Mommy's iPad, and you were the first one to ever vomit on it."

Down on the Farm: Stuck in the Mud

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 13:1-9.  This series was based on a series created by Rev. Adam Hamilton.

Once upon I time I worked for a non-profit group that built low income housing using environmentally sustainable building materials.  As one of our projects, we built a demonstration house out of straw bales on the Navajo reservation for an 86 year-old woman.  In order to help prepare for that, I borrowed my dad’s pick-up and picked up a 15 foot trailer in Gallup, along with a full load of straw bales and headed out to the building site.  I pulled the truck up to where we thought would be the easiest place to unload the bales and once I stopped, the truck and trailer promptly sank into the sand with the weight of the straw.  After we got the bales unloaded we then tried to get the truck out, and try as we might it didn’t want to go.  The tires just spun and we got more stuck. Eventually we were able to get the truck and the trailer out of the sand with the help of two other trucks with four-wheel-drive who were able to pull me out.   I’m sure it’s an experience that many of you have had, whether it’s sand, or more likely mud, or something else, where no matter what you do you can’t get out and you spin and spin your wheels and wait for something or someone else to help pull you out.  Being stuck in the mud could be a metaphor for the human condition.

Today we begin a new sermon series looking at lessons that we can learn from life on the farm and I am indebted to Adam Hamilton for the idea.  This should be an interesting experience as I, a city slicker, try and talk with you about what we can learn from an agricultural life.  Although the house I grew up in was surrounded by agriculture, there was a cotton field a half block from the house, and orange groves less than a mile away, our agriculture was limited to a small garden in the side yard, and all that I can really remember about that, besides having to pull weeds, is the big green caterpillars that loved to attack the tomato plants, and the only thing I grow now is hair, and I obviously can’t even do a very good job at that anymore.  So I’ve spent a lot of time recently trolling the extension programs of different universities around the country trying to learn a thing or two, and have talked with some of you about what it is that you do, and I may have learned just enough to make me dangerous.

Today we start by looking at soil, and mud.  Now I thought that the way we were going this year that I might have to explain to everyone what mud was, what it looked like and how it was made, but I thank God that we go enough rain this week that mud can actually be a reality in our lives.  What I hope to do as we work our way through this series is to discuss some of the keys to living a Christian life that can be found not only through life on the farm, but through the agricultural stories we find in scripture, and we find them throughout scripture.  In the second chapter of Genesis, which is the second telling of the creation story, which is very different than the first story found in genesis 1, but we are told that “the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east.”  God planted a garden.  God is a gardener.  Later in the book of Isaiah we are told that God had a fertile hill and he dug it and cleared it of stones and then planted the best vines in it and built a watchtower.  Metaphorically we are supposed to know that the vines in this story are Israel and the watchtower is the Temple, but once again God is portrayed as a gardener.  This story from Isaiah is reworked into what is known as the parable of the wicked tenants which we find Jesus telling in Matthew, Mark and Luke, in, just like in Isaiah, God plants a vineyard and does everything necessary to get the vineyard.

But it’s not just these stories, the New Testament and in particular, Jesus’ parables use lots of agricultural metaphors, because they would have readily been understood by the audience he was talking to.  Even if they happened to live in one of the metropolitan areas you can be assured that they still had connections to the country and the growing of food.  Even within this country, it wasn’t very long that most people still had a connection to a farm, but that’s certainly not the case anymore.  Few people are connected to soil, or even know people who are connected to the soil, I know that’s not the case here, but it’s true in most places, even if we went into Clovis.

We buy our fruits and vegetables from stores, we don’t grow them ourselves, and if you’ve tasted something that’s come right out of the garden you know there is a difference.  Tomatoes, green beans, or corn all taste different when they are picked at the height of freshness.  Most of what we buy in the store was picked before it was fully ripe in order to travel hundreds, or more than likely thousands of miles, to get to the grocery store shelves.  It looks good, but it’s not as good as it could be.  Now I am not telling you that you need to go out and grow your own food, although you’ll be better off if you do, nor is this an invitation to flood me with all the vegetables you’ve grown in your own gardens.  There are lots of reasons why people don’t have their own gardens, and the biggest reason is that it takes a lot of work.  Just the amount of time you put into makes it more cost effective to buy it from the store.  But boy does fresh grown corn taste so much better.

Often our faith is like those store bought vegetables, they’ve been picked before they were fully ripe, they’ve been waxed up to make them look better than they really are, to put on a good face to the world, and the work has been done predominantly by someone else.  It’s just not as authentic, it’s just not as good as those vegetables that are grown and picked and eaten fresh from the vine, it’s just not as good when it’s not our work that’s gone into making it and tending it and caring for it and reaping the harvest.

A sower went out to sow, or most translations say, a farmer went out to sow, and first he scattered seed on the path, but because it was so well trodden, the earth was so hard, the seed couldn’t penetrate the soil, and the birds ate the seeds.  Next the seeds fell on rocky ground, where the ground was shallow, or maybe it was full a caliche and so the roots couldn’t break through, and they couldn’t get enough nutrients because the calcium carbonate causes the soil to become basic, see I told you I had just enough knowledge to be dangerous, and so when the sun rises they become scorched and wither away because the roots have no depth.  Third the seeds are spread amongst the thorns, but the thorns grow up and choke them, and they die, and finally seeds fall on good soil, where they prosper and flourish bringing about a large harvest.

The soil that is being spoken of here is, of course, our hearts or maybe or souls, and the seed is the word of God.  Sometimes we have a hard exterior which we have put up, often, as protection because we have been hurt in the past and so we create an exterior of steel so that nothing can get in to touch our hearts, including the word of God.  Let anyone with ears listen.  Others have built up that hard shell, but rather than being on the outside for everyone to see, this time it’s on the inside.  Our outward experience might show that nothing is wrong, that we go about our business, but inside we are hard, and so even if the word of God gets into us, it doesn’t penetrate our heart, and then when we are challenged, when something happens, are faith withers up and dies because we have not been penetrated by God’s love, we don’t know into our deepest being that God loves us and that we are sons and daughters of God.  Let anyone with ears listen.  Others are associating with people and doing things they know they shouldn’t be doing, and they drift away, as they so if you lie down with dogs you’re liable to get flees.  There are lots of things which drag us away from God, which allow the weeds to choke out our faith, even Paul said “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom 7:19)  But then Paul asks, who will rescue me?  It is God through Jesus Christ.  Let anyone with ears listen.  Then finally there is the soil which is properly tilled, properly prepared which has the right PH balance, all the right nutrients and is completely ready to receive the word.  Let anyone with ears listen.

The simple fact is, we are all of these soil types at different times in our lives, and maybe at different times during the week.  Each one of these types represent being stuck in the mud, and there is only one thing that can pull us out, and that is surrendering, accepting and following Jesus Christ.  If you are familiar with the 12-steps program, the first step is to “admit that we are powerless and that our lives have become unmanageable,” we are stuck in the mud.  The second step is to believe in a power greater than ourselves, who can pull us out of the mud, and the third step is to make the decision to turn our lives over to the care of God.  Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, who created the 12-steps, did not just create them out of thin air, these have been the steps of becoming a disciple of Christ since Jesus called the first disciples on the shore of the sea of Galilee.  The beginning step of being a disciple of Christ, the first thing that we must do is to surrender, accept and learn to follow Christ, to understand that we can’t do it ourselves.  To recognize that we live in mud, that we all fall short of the glory of God, and that to be pulled out, that only something which is greater and more powerful than us can pull us out, and that is Jesus Christ, and the way to have that happen is to surrender, accept and to follow Jesus Christ, to turn our lives over to him.

A husband and wife were driving down a country lane on their way to visit some friends, when they came to a muddy patch in the road and got bogged down.  After a few minutes of trying to get their car out by themselves, they saw a young farmer coming down the lane driving some oxen.  The farmer stopped when he saw the couple and offered to pull the car out of the mud for $50.  The couple accepted and the car was freed in a few minutes.  The man said to the farmer, “I’m so glad you can along to help us, I don’t know what we would have done with you.”  And the farmer said, “well I kind of keep an eye out, you’re the tenth car I’ve helped get out of the mud today.”  The man looked at the farmer and said, “If you’re helping so many people, when do you have time to plough your fields?  Do you do it at night?” and the farmer said, “No. Night is when I put more water in the hole.”

Have you ever had a time in which you could clearly feel God’s presence, maybe even heard God speak to you, or sometime when you could say “that was a God moment?”  That’s a mountain top moment, and they are remarkable, but here is the problem with mountaintop experiences, they never go on forever even if we want them to.  When some of the disciples go up on the mountain with Jesus, and he is transfigured with the glory of God, and they see him talking with Moses and Elijah, Peter wants to stay and build three structures, to sort of immortalize the event, because he doesn’t get it.  We can’t stay on the mountain top forever.  Even Moses had to come down off the mountain, and what happened when he did?  Every single time he found the Israelites doing what they weren’t supposed to be doing, or he ran into conflict and turmoil.  I’m sure that Moses would have preferred to remain on the mountaintop, just as we probably would as well, but the simple reality is we don’t live on the mountaintops we live in the valleys, we live in the in betweens, we live in the mud and the muck of everyday ordinary life, and we really have two choices.

We can remain in the mud, wallowing in it, trying to get others as stuck as we are, and there are always people who want to pull you into the mud, or throw mud at you, to get you just as dirty as they are, we all know people like that, so we can choose to remain in the mud, or we can seek to be pulled out.  But if you are stuck in the mud, what is the only thing that can get you out?  It’s someone bigger and more powerful than you, someone who is not already stuck in the mud themselves, just like with my experience on the Navajo reservation when I was stuck, it required two other trucks to pull me out, I couldn’t do it myself.  To get out of the mud of life it requires someone bigger and stronger than we are, it requires someone who has experienced the mud, but who did not get stuck, did not get mired down, but who passed through to the other side in order to be able to pull others out, it requires following Jesus Christ, but in order to do that we must also take on the first step of discipleship and that is to surrender, accept and follow.  If we don’t do those things we’ll never really get out, because if we struggle and fight, which we are all prone to do, then the trip won’t be easy or sometimes might not even be possible.

What we also have to know, and this trips people up all the time, is that just turning our lives over to God, choosing to surrender, accept and follow Christ will not immediately solve all of our problems.  We are not instantaneously lifted out of the mud.  If we have walked 10 miles through the mud in the wrong direction, to be pulled out there is still going to be some mud going in the opposite way back onto the path that God has set for us.  But, when we surrender, accept and follow, then we know that we are in safe hands and that everything will work out right in the end.

Some of you have already heard this story, but I received my call to the  ministry in 1995, but I dismissed it for a long time.  It wasn’t until 1998 that I went to a United Methodist church and began to have a conversation about what it would take and what it would mean to enter the ministry and I began my process.  But even though I had taken that step, I wasn’t still fully committed, I was still trying to do things on my own terms and in my own time.  As I was doing this I had a job I loved, but a boss I couldn’t stand, and one Monday morning as I was driving into work I began praying, which was not my usual practice, because I knew that my boss and I were going to argue when I got in, because that’s all we ever did, and so I prayed to God and said that if I was supposed to be doing something differently, if I was supposed to be going in a different direction, then God was going to have to show me what to do because I had no idea what I was doing anymore.  In other words I surrendered, accepted and choose to follow Christ.

Just as I expected, my boss and I got into an argument and I ended up walking out the door.  It is the only job I’ve walked out on.  But as it turned out, I ended up with a job interview that afternoon with the company that had just been awarded the contract for the revitalization of downtown Albuquerque, which required me to move to Albuquerque, which would allow me to complete my college degree at UNM, my brother moved back to Albuquerque all the way from North Carolina, so we could move into together, and shortly thereafter I met Linda.  So within six months of that prayer, I had a new job, was living in a new city and was dating the person who would become my wife.  Where all of my problems solved?  Of course not, and some of them got worse after that point, but by them getting worse I was forced me to seek help, which them helped me eliminate them, that is I was stuck in the mud, but in order to get out of the mud I had to keep wading through the mud for a while before I was freed.  I’ve been stuck in the mud other times since then, but I know that when I choose to surrender, accept and to follow Jesus Christ that things will get better and I will move into God’s will for my life.  Let anyone with ears listen.

Long before I understood this reality, John Wesley understood this reality, and he composed a covenantal prayer that members of the Methodist movement would say at least once each year.  Typically it was done at the new year, and we did it on New Year’s day this year, but I also think it’s appropriate to say together today as we take our lessons from what we can learn down on the farm about the Christian life, and the first is that the only thing which can get us out of the mud is something bigger and more powerful than we are, and that is Jesus Christ, and that begins when we surrender, accept and learn to follow, so let us pledge this together in Wesley’s covenantal prayer

I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.  And now O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Silencing Ministerial Candidates

Recently I went to lunch with a seminary student who is also in process with the United Methodist church.  One of the things we talked about was how you have to watch what you say everywhere you go in the conference for fear that it will come up at some later point in the ordination process.  We sort of have our own set of Miranda rights, "anything you say can and will be used against you by the Board of Ordination."

But it's not just what  you say, it's what you do, who you know, who you associate with, all of these things can hurt you later.  One of my colleagues appropriately described the process as going through a process to join a fraternity or sorority at their heights when hazing was all a part of the process. Except universities and Greek organizations have really worked to eliminate hazing. The church, however, has not. I saw, heard about, and experienced things that should never have been tolerated, and I always felt like it was being done for one of two reasons.

The first was that it had been done to them and so they were returning the favor.  After all when it is replicated then what they went through can be justified.  Rather than saying, what happened to me never should have happened, they keep perpetuating the process, and one could argue, make it a step worse each time. This is what happened in Greek organizations and the military and other organizations with significant hazing practices that have since been cracked down on.

The second reason was that it was a power system with absolutely no checks on it, and as Lord Acton said, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." There is little recourse that ministerial candidates have in the UMC, and even to raise an issue is to again take your career into your own hands because you honestly don't know who you can trust and who you can't. If you say something will it hurt you later? You simply don't know and so many keep their mouths shut.

I did have something happen to me which I raised with my mentor, and she took to someone in a position of power, whom I liked and trusted. I then told him what happened, and he said he would address it. But nothing ever happened, at least as far as I could tell. The person in question continued to serve on both the BOOM and the DCOM and I am sure is still torturing other candidates and using information he gathers inappropriately simply because he can.

And, unlike fraternities, members of the BOOM and the DCOM control your future and your career. If they say you aren't moving forward, then you aren't moving forward.  If they remove you, for whatever reason, then you are done. I had candidacy mentor training last week and it was amazing how many of them talked about candidates they had worked with being shot down by different groups because someone "didn't like them." This was never raised as an issue, simply stated as a reality.

Which leads me back to my lunch with a candidate for ministry. As we talked about this and he told me his experience I was able to confirm it, even though much of which happened to me was in a different conference, and told him to keep his head down. I did say that I did see myself having more freedom to say things I never would have said, including on this blog, before I was ordained in June. But what I also realized after it was over was that the process still has me on edge and trying to protect myself because as I was driving home I realized that I had been able to be completely open and honest with him, and that I had not been able to do that for a long time.

I actually felt refreshed in being able to just have a conversation with another clergy colleague, which I considered him, and not worrying about anything else, that I didn't have to guard what I was saying or be concerned that others might hear what I had said and question/grill me about it later. As Elders we are supposed to be in relation with each other, as part of a covenant, but until you actually get into the "cult of the Elder" as I called it, you are always separate and the covenant does not extend to you.

Rather than bringing the best out in candidates, in my experience, and testimony of other, it instead silences us and leaves us constantly on guard and on watch. It leaves us holding our tongues careful to watch literally everything we say and everything we do. It discourages the sort of "radical" thinking the church says it wants to see, and it stifles those in process from ever trying to stick their heads out because, just like it Whack-A-Mole, it will be hit or taken off altogether.

And what's worse is that because the process takes so long, it was 9 years from the time I entered seminary to my ordination, it becomes ingrained into who we are.  I didn't realize it was so until that lunch meeting and the feeling that I was free to be who I am and there was nothing they could do about it.  Even though I am now ordained and therefore protected to a large degree, never having to justify myself to another group, that hesitancy was still part of me.  I hope that with time it will go away, but really wonder if to a degree it will always be there.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Right Stuff

"There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred and fifty miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier." -- opening from The Right Stuff

Yesterday we lost Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the first American to orbit the planet when John Glenn did it on February 20, 1962 as part of Project Mercury, from which the quote above applies, all though it was really about Chuck Yeager.  

I was born in 1972 so all I've ever known is us sending astronauts into space and our ability to reach the moon.  NASA is nowhere near the program it used to be and does not inspire the national attention or imagination as it once did, even with the recent landing on Mars, and perhaps that is a tragedy.

There is something special about having a frontier to explore, where there are still unknowns and discoveries to be made, and as Gene Rodenberry memorably wrote, "Space, the final frontier...."

Friday, August 24, 2012

It's A Gathering of Young Clergy, So Where Are The Young Clergy?

This week the General Board of Higher Education gathered together for a summit on issues facing young clergy.  But here was one of the first problems I saw.  Only 25% of the participants were under the age of thirty and less than 50% were under the age of 40.  So a summit to talk about issues of "young" clergy had less than 50% of the participants in that age range.  Does that make any sense? (by definition "young" clergy are those under age 35)

I understand that there have to be "older" clergy there because they are the ones in leadership positions who can actually do something, or do nothing, which is another problem that I'm not sure was addressed.  But shouldn't the representation of the group being discussed be larger?  If there was a summit to discuss the issues of minority clergy members but more than 50% of the participants at such a gathering were white, wouldn't we cry foul? So why not here?

The other problem is that it was not clear how the participants were invited to attend.  Someone asked this on Twitter and were told someone would find out, but no answer was forthcoming.  I never heard anything about it, nor did other young clergy that I know.  In addition, there were lots of annual conferences asking on Twitter if anyone from their conferences were attending, so apparently even the annual conferences knew little to nothing about it.  If we are going to address systemic issues dealing with young clergy, how is that the system knew so little about it?

Finally, at the end of the first day it was announced that they hoped to come back the next day with some policy statements.  Alright, exactly what we need more policy statements.  More policy statements are sure to solve all of our problems.  Sounds to me more like them saying "we gave young clergy the opportunity to have some say, so we've done all we need to do," and now their policy statements can be published and then ignored just like all other such statements.

When I was serving the New England Annual Conference the bishop there said they were very concerned about recruiting and retaining young clergy. At the same time he was making these statements I was seeking to leave that conference to come to New Mexico, and not a single person from the conference ever asked me why I was leaving or what they might do to get me to stay.  I think I'm a fairly competent clergy member and do a good job, and New Mexico certainly thought so, but New England simply didn't care.  But they talked a good game and had good policy statements about young clergy, but it never matched their reality or actions.  They said they wanted to keep good clergy but did nothing to actually keep them, or even talk with those they were trying to keep or recruit.

We are way past the time of needing more policy statements, we need actions.  One person on Twitter commented on the constant discussion of leadership, and she thought that we were becoming too enamored with the idea of leadership.  I told her I thought the problem was we didn't talk about leadership enough, and instead focused  on managers.  Managers make policy, shuffle paper, organize, etc.  Managers are important for organizations because they help keep the institution going, but if everyone is a manager the institution is doomed to failure because leadership will move it forward.

Leaders cast vision, they give direction, they create new ideas and new initiatives, they push in new ways and try radical and dangerous things.  No manager has ever excited a group of people, except other management types.  No one will jump off a cliff or push beyond their comfort zones for a manager, but people will do those things and many others to follow a leader.  I do think you can be a good manager and a good leader, although that is not typical, but John Wesley was both.

We need many more leaders in the church, and a lot less managers, and we need leaders who not only are actually willing to listen to young clergy, but to engage with them as equals, to put them into positions of leadership and to work together to forge a new future for the church.  What we don't need are more gatherings for young people that have few young people, or any more policy statements.

(My disclaimer: While I consider myself a young clergy, I am 39, so do not meet the definition established by the church, but am definitely at the young end of the spectrum in the two annual conferences I have served.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Yes It Grew, But Where Did You Start?

One of the bishops recently elected in our jurisdiction has been being touted for his skills in growing a church, which currently has more than 1100 people in worship.  The problem is that when he started at the church they were already at more than 700 in worship.  Now I am not trying to dismiss his growth, because it is impressive, but he already had a huge start.  So how much do we attribute to him and how much to what was already taking place?

Adam Hamilton likes to say, or at least his church does, that the church started with just the four members of his family and now they are at more than 18,000 members.  But that too is not the full truth, because while his family might be the "charter" members it's not like at their first worship service it was just he and his family.  Instead, at their first service they had more than 100 members and they have built from there.

Maybe a better growth story is that of Ginghamsburg UMC where Mike Slaughter grew the church from attendance of around 90 people to more than 4000. But Mike has been there since 1979. How many UMC pastors serve the same church for more than 33 years, or are even given the possibility of staying that long?

We do the same thing in other areas.  Donald Trump did not start his real estate company, he took it over from his father, who had a personal net worth of $400 million, at least $35 million of which was left to Donald. Frederick Smith, founder of FedEx, for whom I used to work, started the company from scratch but began with his own personal $4 million and the $28 million he borrowed from other family members. In other words they already had tremendous starts before they ever began, even though they want to make it seem like a rags to riches story that is all about them and their work.

Again, I am not diminishing in any way the hard work done by any of these people, except maybe Donald Trump who is a pompous fool, but I would love to have a congregation of even 90 in attendance at the moment, let alone 700. Most of these churches also have lots of other factors that contributed significantly to their growth. The Church of the Resurrection is located in an area that has boomed in population, and continues to boom, which greatly helps them, although without Adam Hamilton's leadership, they probably don't become who they are.

I, on the other hand, am serving congregations that are in towns declining in demographics and with very little hope for future growth, let alone booming in population. I am working hard, struggling to grow my churches by teaching them to be faithful disciples of Christ, and I'm a little tired of hearing people who want to tell me all the answers because they "grew their church."

I have the same feeling about some of these people that Governor Ann Richards had about George W Bush when she said "he was born on third base and he thinks he hit a triple."  Can you help me?  Maybe you can, but please do not try and pass off on me how great you are and how much you did without also recognizing what you had when you began.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cokesbury Doesn't Get It

As a United Methodist Pastor I would love to be able to support Cokesbury, and I do when I can, but every time I get one of their catalogs I also get really frustrated.  I just received their catalog for Advent and Christmas items and there are lots of things I would like to use for my congregation but I can't because they are too expensive.  I would love to be able to give my members Advent devotionals to use, or things to do as a family to prepare for Christmas, but most of the items are $7 and up.

At the same time I am getting catalogs and samples from other companies with similar programs.  Except this time the devotionals are less than a dollar, and the more I buy they less expensive they get.  Now I am never going to reach their lower prices because my congregation is not big enough, but it is also that fact that makes price even more of a concern.

The vast majority (70%) of United Methodist churches are under 100 in worship each Sunday, and I assume their finances are as tight as ours are.  We would like to use Cokesbury, but the simple fact is I go elsewhere for most things these days because others can offer similar products for less money.  They simply don't match the reality of what is going on in the local church.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three Simple Questions: Who Are We Together?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31:

For the past two weeks we have been seeking to answer three simple questions posed by Bishop Reuben Job in his book by the same name.  Those questions are, who is God, who am I, and who are we together.  Of course those are anything but simple questions and we started with what I thought was the hardest, and really is the building point, who is God.  What I said was that God is love, which is an idea of God found throughout scripture and everything else that we might think about God can build from that point.  Because God is love, that also means that God wants to be in relationship with the creation and most importantly, at least for us, God also wants to be in relationship with each and everyone of us because we are all children of God, which led us into our second question, Who am I, and that is that we are children of God and we are made in the image of God.

We remember that we are children of God each time that we perform a baptism or remember our own baptism.  The Protestant reformer Martin Luther said that whenever he was feeling unsure, or feeling attacked, or having doubts, all he needed to do to reassure himself of who he was was to say, “remember you are baptized,” and when he did so he remembered that God had called him by name, just as God calls us by name, and that he was a child of God.  But when we recognize and remember that we are children of God, we must also recognize and remember that everyone else is a child of God as well.

Bishop Job says “When we claim our full inheritance as children of God, then we are able to see clearly and to know in the depth of our being that when we look at another human being, we are looking at a sister or brother who is God’s beloved child, just as we are…. Our identity is not something we create but something that is given by the God who made us, leads us, sustains us, and loves us.  We can, however, give up our own identity and inheritance.  When we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God.”  Whenever we stop seeing others as children of God in their own right, as being loved by God, then Bishop Job says we give up our own inheritance and identity as children of God, because when we do that then we stop following Jesus’ example and injunction to love others as God has loved us, which leads us directly into answering today’s questions which is who are we together.

When we accept Christ and are baptized we enter into the body of Christ, and not only are we reconciled with God but we are given the ministry of reconciliation, to be reconciled with each other.  Last week when Landry was baptized not only did she take her own vows of baptism, but we also took vows on her behalf.  We vowed to “proclaim the good news and to live according to the example of Christ, and to surround” the baptized, not just the ones receiving baptism but all of us, “with a community of love and forgiveness,” and then we pledge to “pray for them that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”  And when we make that pledge, we make it together, the same as others undertook exactly the same pledge for us when we were baptized.

Baptism is not an individual event, it is not just between that person and God, it is a community event, just as being a Christian is not an individual enterprise it is a community enterprise.  We walk this journey together as the body of Christ.  I have said before that I don’t believe that you can be a deeply committed Christian and not be involved in a faith community of some sort or in some way.  You simply can’t.  Jesus says, “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am amongst them.”  Every Sunday when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, “My father, who art in heaven,” what do we say, “Our father.. give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The Lord’s prayer is a communal prayer, not an individual petition.  The earliest creedal statement of the church, known as the Nicene Creed, does not say “I believe in one God,” it says “we believe.”  We believe, we are, we do, give us, forgive us, this is a community and communal exercise we are in as Christians together.

As Tilden Edwards said, community is “what everybody wants, but almost no one is able to sustain well for long.”  Any time a group of people get together there are bound to be conflicts and issues, regardless of the people.  We want to live in harmony and get along, but that’s simply not possible, and that is exactly what Paul is talking about in today’s scripture reading from 1st Corinthians.  Apparently, many in the Corinthian community had come to the conclusion that speaking in tongues was the greatest of the spiritual gifts and that everything else was less important, and so Paul wants to combat this type of thinking.  God has given each and every one of us certain gifts and graces, and we are, in Paul’s belief, all gifted.  We are like the children of Lake Wobegone, we are all above average.  Paul is telling not only the church in Corinth, but us, that not only do we need to be unified, but we also need to be diverse.  That, I think is what we often miss in our calls for unity in understanding who we are together.  In order to be seen as one, we often try to crush out our differences and in doing so, we overlook the nature of creation and the necessary differences that not only make us who we are, but make the body of Christ operate effectively.  Sometimes we put aside who we are because we don’t feel that what we have to offer is important or significant, and other times we put aside who we are because we are told that what we have to offer is not important or significant.

In order to function properly, in order to be the body of Christ, all of us are important.  All of us are vital.  All of us are needed. And all of us are gifted.  I want you to look at one of your fingers.  Now unless you are one of the incredibly rare people who are born without fingerprints, that pattern in unique to you.  If I have your fingerprint I can identify you specifically, and if I have a sample of your DNA I can match you instead of the other approximately 6.7 billion people on the planet.  If our fingerprints and our DNA are utterly unique, why would we possibly ever believe that we are not marked individually in our spirits as well?  Imagine, God has created a system in which each of us is uniquely different in our DNA and fingerprints and in our spirit print.  None of us pray alike, think alike, talk about God the same, or have the same relationship with God than anyone else.  And if you accept that as true than you will understand how important you are for the body of Christ.

But, this is not individualism the way we typically understand it, in fact our uniqueness flies in the face of our normal understanding of individualism.  Our spirit print, our gifts, are not given to us in order to build ourselves up or for our own private edification.  Instead they are given to us in order to help build up the church.  Our gifts are not for ourselves, they are given for the unity of the church, and each of us has to give of them in order for the church to be effective and whole.  Unity is not found in the diminishment of gifts, unity is found in the flourishing of gifts, in the recognition that all gifts come to us from God, and therefore are all important and all equal.  If all our gifts are not being seen and utilized than there can be no unity.  Look at the gifts that Paul outlines today, and this is just one of several lists of spiritual gifts that Paul talks about, but they are all outwardly focused.  While faith might be personal, it is never private.  The ministry of the church is for all of us, and all of us are necessary.

We cannot all be ears or eyes or hands, nor can we say that those parts are unimportant because we are not those things, or try to say that other things are unimportant or even unnecessary because we would rather not have them around.  Even the armpit is important.  Sure it’s stinky and we try and mask it and cover it over, or not talk about it at all, but the armpit is extremely important.  Imagine trying to raise your arm without your armpit?  You simply cannot do it.  All of us play a role in the body of Christ and every part is just as important as every other part for the successful operation of the body, and as we all know when even just one part goes wrong the entire body is impacted, but that when one part is helped, or healed, or allowed to function properly that the entire body is helped and healed and allowed to function properly.

Charlie was a standout football player in the state of Missouri when he was growing up.  But not only did he stand out on the athletic field, but he also excelled in the classroom and was accepted to the United States Naval Academy, where he also excelled, graduating near the top of his class.  After graduation he became an officer in the Marine Corp and served on the front lines of the first gulf war, we need to stop having wars that have sequels.  While he was in Iraq, Charlie was awarded several decorations he came home to his small town as a hero.  Everyone was proud of their boy and couldn’t say enough things about him.

But as happens with many soldiers, Charlie came home with some issues that were not properly dealt with and he began spiraling downward into mental illness and he began committing violent crimes, which ended him up in jail, where his mental issues only proceeded to get worse.  He lost an extraordinary amount of weight, he chewed off the tips of some of his fingers, and then gouged out one of his eyes with his own hands, and ended up in the psychiatric unit at the prison.  Every week Charlie’s parents, Bill and Barb, would visit him, and would sometimes bring the pastor of their Methodist church, Scott Chrostek.  But Charlie was no longer known as the great athlete or war hero, he was now known for the crimes he had committed and what he had become in prison.  He was Charlie, the one who used to be that, but who is now this.  He was not talked about as much and certainly was not heralded as the person that others should emulate or people they wanted their sons to be like.

After serving several years in prison, Charlie was released into a half-way house near his parent’s home and he began coming to church with them, and then he asked the pastor if he could begin serving as an usher.  Rev. Chrostek said he was got scarred, and wondered how people would respond.  How would they feel about seeing Charlie serving in this position. And what would they see, after all he didn’t look great, he was missing some of his fingertips, and one eye was gone, what would people do?  But Scott said yes, and the next week Charlie was handing out bulletins.  Scott still said he was so afraid of what might happen.  The first few people through the door, kind of smiled and took their bulletins, and then as more people saw him they sort began to brighten up and say “hey Charlie, good to see you, how you doing,” and Charlie thrived in the role.  He began to put on weight, he began wearing nicer clothes, he got his hair cut and eventually began taking some courses at a local college.  Remembering that we are an Easter people, Rev. Chrostek said “this is what the resurrection looks like.”

Today, Charlie, with the help of his parents, owns 34 acres outside of town where he raises sheep, and he invites people to come out and help sheer the sheep, and he teaches children about how to turn the wool into yarn and then turn that yarn into everyday objects.  Charlie is a shepherd who tries to pass on to some of the kindness and compassion he has received from his brothers and sisters in Christ.  But, Rev. Chrostek also wonders what would have happened if the congregation had responded differently?  What if the congregation had lived into all the worst fears that he had for them and for himself?  What if they could not push themselves beyond their boundaries to see Charlie as a child of God, a hurting child of God, and instead only saw him for what they saw on the outside, or for the terrible stories they had heard of who he had become.  He doesn’t believe that Charlie could be the person he is today, his resurrection story would not be a reality, without the support and love he received from his church community.

As United Methodists we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, but in order to transform the world we must also transform ourselves.  We must first recognize that we are children of God, to be willing to take up that mantel and call, to take up our crosses as Jesus says, and then we must be willing to see everyone else as a child of God as well.  “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation,” Paul says in second Corinthians, “everything old has passed away… all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:17-18)  As baptized people we are brought into reconciliation with God and we are also give the ministry of being reconciled with each other.

Who are we together?  We are the body of Christ, being transformed together, becoming new together, sometimes being resurrected together, and working to transform the world together.  The power of the church resides in each and everyone of us.  The only thing that keeps us from being the people who God called us to be is ourselves, because God has given us the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit we receive what? Power, the power to accomplish the things that God has called us to do.

In Ephesians, Paul writes “I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.  Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience.  Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.  You are one body and one Spirit just as God also called you in one hope.” (Eph 4:1b-4)  or as Bishop Job says, “Prophet and saint remind us that saying ‘Yes’ to the invitation of Jesus to ‘Come, follow me’ brings costs and rewards far beyond our wildest expectations.  One of these rewards is the assurance, satisfaction, and pure delight of the awareness of living in Christ’s presence as we follow where he leads.  As we become companions of Christ, we naturally find ourselves at prayer, worship and service, just as he practiced so consistently.”  In deepening our relationship with Christ we will automatically find in prayer, worship and service with others, just as Jesus did.

Who is God?  God is love and because of that God wants to be in relationship with us, God loves us and beckons us to come home.  We are made in God’s image and we are children of God.  Who am I? I am a child of God and you are a child of God, and who are we together?  We are brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, while being transformed ourselves, while living into the call that God has given to us as part of the body of Christ.  May it be so my sisters and brothers.  Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Support Your Schools

School begins back for our small town today, and I though this was an appropriate message as we begin the school year:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who Should I Boycott?

I stayed out of the whole Chick-Fil-A brouhaha because I thought first that it was overdone by people on both sides, and others were making much better comments than I ever could.  Rachel Held Evans might have summed up the Christian perspective best when she said that showing up to eat a fast food chicken sandwich in order to prove what a good Christian you are = Christianity Fail.

Of course those in support of Dan Cathy's quote against gay marriage said they were supporting his right to free speech, and those in opposition said they were fighting against his infringement on the rights of gays and lesbians.  That's an argument that neither side is going to win, and both sides said the opposite party were wrong.  Of course here is the irony.  Now the same thing is happening with Amazon, although the news has not been as big, except that the roles are totally reversed.

Jeff Bazos, CEO of Amazon, has come out (no pun intended) in support of gay marriage, and is putting his money where his mouth is.  This has led some conservatives to call for a boycott of Amazon, because, I guess, Dan Cathy has the right to free speech but Jeff Bazos does not.  And now progressives want to buy from Amazon, not that they weren't already, in order to show support, even though they were quick to say how ridiculous it was for Chick-Fil-A supporters.

Now this is obviously not the first time these things have happened, nor will they be the last, and the ironies never stop.  When Rush Limbaugh made his typically ridiculous and slanderous comments about Sandra Fluke, people called on sponsors to cancel their support or they would be boycotted.  Many of them did, to which Rush said it was "economic terrorism" and an attack on his free speech rights.  Which, of course it wasn't.

Somehow we have lost the connection that with rights come responsibilities, as well as the understanding that there might be consequences for our actions.  Simply because a sponsor stops their support, or customers stop coming, or start coming, because we said something does not mean that our rights are being infringed upon.  It simply means that there are consequences for what we said.  We still have the right to say it, and others have the right to be offended and act accordingly.  As Gregg Easterbrook said, and this could apply to all such situations, "that's the free market in action!... Isn't refusal to purchase a free-market choice? Like many, Rush extols the free market when it favors him, then wants special exemptions when the market's verdict is negative."

But here's is the biggest problem.  When have boycotts actually worked?  Sure there are some examples, but most have not made the changes they sought.  The UMC once called for a boycott of Taco Bell because of the treatment of people working for their tomato supplier.  Ever hear of it?  Didn't think so.  Many "family" groups have called for a boycott of all Disney products, which you probably have heard of, but it has not been successful.  The other problem is that if you followed all the boycotts that people you support call for you wouldn't really be able to go anywhere or do anything.

There are some companies I don't like and I try and stay away when I can, but sometimes it's hard.  When we were in Boston we never shopped at Wal-Mart because we don't like them as a company and there were alternatives that allowed us to go somewhere else.  But these companies were not always better.  Now that we live in the middle of nowhere we shop at Wal-Mart not because we are suddenly happy with the company but because there are little alternatives for some of the things we need to get.  Sure we could get some of them from Amazon, but what about their treatment of people working in their warehouses?

The simple fact is all companies fall short in one way or another, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, somewhat because companies are not people and they are also not Christian.  They are corporations whose purpose is to make a profit for their owners and/or share holders.  Some do better ethically than others and some do worse, but they all fall short.

I want to spend my money in responsible ways and I try, but it's really hard to try and keep track of everyone that you don't like, and as soon as you think you know, something else will change, and when your options are limited it becomes even harder.  I can say I am boycotting Chick-Fil-A but the simple truth is there is not a location closer than 2 hours (and really 3 with the time change) so any statement I would make about not going would be disingenuous at best and so I really choose to just ignore it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Sports Thoughts

Congratulations go out to King Felix who threw a perfect game yesterday for the Seattle Mariners, their first.  I was at home sick so got to watch the final three innings.  There is no doubt that Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in the game and every time the Yankees face him I just go ahead and count it as a loss.  This is the 23rd perfect game in the history of the MLB, but the third one this year, which is a first.  I wondered before if we are seeing a statistical anomaly or something more, and that question is still in my mind.  Not to take anything away from Cain or Humber, who threw the other two perfect games this year, but facing the Rays line-up is much harder than either Seattle or the Astros, the other two teams who had perfect games thrown against them.

In addition to yesterday's perfect game we also found out that Melky Cabrera had been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.  I've always liked Melky and he was having an incredible year, and now we know at least part of the reason.  This was also a contract year so it would appear to me that Cabrera was trying to have a great year to make big money, and it caught him.

But here is the fact with which that MLB is going to have to deal: They keep saying we are in the "post-steroid" era but it's clear that we are not.  Ryan Braun, last year's NL MVP, and Melky Cabrera, who most people thought would be this year's NL MVP, have now both tested positive for PEDs.  And don't let the fact that an arbitration committee overturned Braun's suspension confuse you.  His attorney's did not argue that Braun had not in fact used PEDs.  Instead they argued that the chain of evidence was not clean and thus could be questioned.  It's the same as someone who is accused of a crime being released because the police obtained evidence illegally.  It does not make them innocent, and in my opinion Braun is not.  If the two possible NL MVPs are using it should be pretty clear that lots and lots of others are also using, it's just that they are using something for which there is not yet a test.

The Red Sox are in complete disarray.  It would be tempting to say they are in disarray again, but it's truer to say they are still in disarray.  This really should not come as a surprise to people who have been watching the team for a while.  This ownership group has always worked on coddling players, just remember when Manny was "being Manny," and you can see the root of the problem.  But when they turn on you it can and will be very nasty, which, according to many reports, has led many of the current players not to trust the team, and truth be told they shouldn't.

Most people thought that Valentine would be a disaster, because he has been a disaster most places he has been in MLB.  The fact that he was the ownership's hire, versus who their new GM wanted, and then they didn't let him hire his own coaching staff, has not made anything better.  He was really set-up to fail.  Of course the fact that Ownership has released a statement of support for Valentine should be seen as all such statements should be seen: "We will fire you soon, but not immediately."  Show me one time that a statement of support for a coach has been followed by a long-term career in that position.  The only thing statements of support show is that the end is near.

As happy as I am to see them under .500 and 13.5 games back of my Yankees, this is a team that needs to be blown up and everything started again.  Of course, Larry Lucchino, who is a weasel and the president and CEO of the Red Sox, and the one who chose Valentine, has already shown were the blame will be placed because he told Ben Cherington, the GM, he had the authority to be "bold" at the trading deadline and nothing happened.  So the GM had the authority to make the team better and he didn't so clearly it's his fault, and definitely not Lucchino's or any of the other owners who pushed for some of the ridiculous contracts for bad personalities with which they are stuck.

Last night the US soccer team beat Mexico for the first time in Mexico.  Up to this game they were 0-23-1 in Mexico, and 33-16-12 all-time, but ESPN kept referring to the "rivalry" between the two teams.  I'm sorry that's not a rivalry.  The hammer and the nail don't have a rivalry.  Sure sometimes the hammer will miss and nail your thumb, but that doesn't mean that the nail is somehow suddenly a true competitor.  The US is doing better as of late, but I still have a hard time seeing this as a serious rivalry because one team has simply dominated the other.

In addition, last night the Little League Softball World Series was won by the team from Albuquerque, congratulations girls you did a great job!  At the same time, the Little League Baseball World Series begins today.  ESPN and Little League baseball will make millions of dollars off of this, and yet the players, the ones doing it all, will make nothing.  I understand the desire to keep them "amateur" but that's really a joke because so much money is being made off of them.  And some point something will be done, it's just a matter of time.

A few months ago Nick Saban, head football coach at Alabama, said that he is going to be there for the rest of his career.  If I were an Alabama fan I would begin thinking about who the next coach will be because Saban has never kept his word when he has made such a statement.  First there was the fact that he would never leave Michigan State, until he went to LSU. Then he said he would never leave LSU, until he went to Miami Dolphins. While there he said "I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."  So like a statement from ownership supporting a manager, the only thing a statement of support from Saban means is that he will soon be going somewhere else.

Saban also said that what happened at Penn State could never happen at Alabama because the football coach had no power to affect anything there, and the entire world broke out in laughter.

Ohio State has decided to turn around it's troubled program by hiring Urban Meyer, which is also a joke.  Meyer had 31 arrests of players under his leadership is Florida.  To show you how bad it was I began typing "how many players arrested" into Google and the first response was "under Urban Meyer."  That's not really the sign of integrity you want for a troubled program.

And as long as we're talking about Ohio State, can someone explain to me how the NCAA can talk about lack of institutional control at Penn State and not then do anything about Ohio State?  When everything was coming out there about Jim Tressel's time there, as well as at his prior schools, the president of Ohio State, E. Gordon Gee, was asked if he would fire Tressel and his response was "I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."  Of course Gee said he was joking, and I'm sure everyone was laughing.  How does that not smack of loss of institutional control?

It should be noted that while at Vandebilt Gee eliminated the athletic department and put it under student life.  He could never do such a thing at Ohio State, or at most division one schools, because he wouldn't have the power or authority to do such a thing.  But if Tressel or Meyer or Saban or Paterno wanted something done you can be sure it would be done.

And finally, the Olympics are over and we have to wait another 18 months for the winter games, which I prefer, and another 4 years for the summer games.  I'm sure that NBC could have done a worse job in their coverage, but it would be hard to do.  I understand their desire for tape delay to draw a big audience, but the simple fact is we don't live in that world anymore.  I also don't understand the weird editing they did, and I hate most of their background stories.  I simply don't care, just let me watch.

They don't do this for other sports.  We don't lose several minutes of game time, or have it delayed, so we can learn all about how hard it was for the third and long pulling guard for the Colts to grow up.  Instead they let the games speak for themselves.  But where they could use some time to provide us information is in actually explaining the game to us since most are not familiar with most of these sports.  If you are going to blather on about something make it useful to us, not fluff to fill air time.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Three Simple Questions: Who Am I?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 12:46-50 :

Last week we began a new series looking at Bishop Reuben Job’s book Three Simple Questions, but as it turns out those questions are really anything but simple.  The questions are: who is God? Who am I? and, finally, Who are we together?  Last week we tackled the first one, which is, at least in my mind, the hardest question which is who is God.  We looked at several different conceptions of God, and twenty-five minutes greatly condensed we stated that God is love.  But what we also discussed is the fact that since God is love that God wants to be in relationship with the creation, and most importantly to be in relationship with each and every one of us.  For God so loved the world, John says, and God loves us not only because God created us but most importantly because we are created in the image of God, we are God’s sons and daughters, which is how we answer today’s question.  Who am I?  Who are you?  We are the sons and daughters of God, we are brothers and sisters in the faith, and since we’ve answered that so easily and so well, let’s all go home, right?

Of course it’s not that simple.  At the end of today’s service we will be conducting, participating, witnessing the baptism of Landry Widner as she takes the vows of the faith and enters into the waters of baptism.  There are many things that we claim happen through the sacrament of baptism.  The first is that we are cleansed of sin, not just the sins we have already committed, but we are also offered forgiveness for the sins we have yet to commit.  It is a covenant of the past the present and the future.  Some want to leave it at that, but baptism is much more.  John the Baptist did a baptism of repentance, but the early church said that was not enough, because we must also be baptized into the Holy Spirit, which we receive when we baptize, we will actually pray after Landry comes back out of the water for the Holy Spirit to work in her life.  In addition we also recognize that through the waters of baptism we die to our old self and are reborn as followers of Christ.  But into what are we reborn, what is this new life?  We are reborn into Christ.  The church at its most basic form is a collection of the baptized, so by being baptized we become members of the body of Christ, the church, and finally, and most importantly for today’s message, through the waters of baptism we become brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also recognize ourselves as children of God.

A few weeks ago we looked at Paul’s understanding of how we are adopted by God.  Under Roman law, the only reason that adoption was practiced was to protect or pass on an inheritance, and when you were adopted you took on a new name, a new identity, a new family, and any debts you had from your previous family, or previous life as it were, were wiped out.  You became an entirely new person.  Let me say that again to emphasize its importance.  When you were adopted, you became someone new, you died to your old self and any debts you had were totally forgiven, they were wiped away and you entered into your new life completely free and clear.  You took on a new identity and a new family.  But the only way you could be adopted in the ancient world is if the family who was to adopt you did not already have a legitimate heir.  If they had a son, or many sons, they could not adopt anyone else into the family. 

But Paul says that in our case it is because of Jesus, the son of God, the legitimate heir, that because of Jesus was can be adopted and become children of God, and we recognize that adoption through the process of baptism.  When Jesus is baptized after he comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on him and a voice from the sky says, “this is my son, with whom I am well pleased,” and the same thing happens with us, in recognizing our relationship with God, when we are baptized God says to each and every one of us, “I am well pleased,” and we recognize that we are children of God.  As Bishop Job says, “we are made in God’s image, and God chooses to dwell within us.”

Now the answer to the question of who am I is directly connected to the question of who God is, and there are two pieces of scripture that I think illustrate that.  The first comes from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, the first three verses which say “I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.”  Now we are going to hear that again, but this time I want you to insert your name into the passage after God says I have called you by name.  “I have called you by name, (name) you are mine.”  I have called you by name, and you are mine.  I have called you by name, and you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.”  I have called you by name, and you are mine, because we are children of God.  Bishop Job says that “we are not given a special place because of our birth, place of origin, wealth, gender or occupation.  As children of God, all receive an identity and place as God’ beloved child.”  We all have inherent worth because we are made in the image of God and we are all sons and daughters of God, and God loves us.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us the parable of the prodigal son.  A man has two sons, and the youngest son goes to his father and asks for his half of the inheritance, and for some reason the father agrees to do this, we guess because he wants his son to be happy, but the son takes the money, goes off to a foreign land and spends all the money.  Prodigal means wasteful or extravagant.  After all the money is gone, the son has to get a job, and he is reduced to working for someone feeding his pigs.  This is about the worst thing that a Jew can do as dealing with pigs is forbidden by Jewish law, so not only has he sunk to the lowest position, he is also sinning in what he has to do, and to make matters worse the pigs are getting better and more food than he is getting.  Realizing where he is and what he has been reduced to, he resolves to go back to his father, to confess what he has done to his father and beg his father to treat him as another hired hand since he is not worthy to be called his son, and so he sets off for home, not really knowing what to expect.  But here is what we are told: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and kissed him.  Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ and they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24)

The father has been sitting out watching the road waiting for his younger son to return, and rather than being upset or waiting to give him a good tongue lashing, what does the father do, he runs to him, he doesn’t walk, he doesn’t sit and wait for him to come in the gate, instead he runs to his son filled with compassion with his arms open wide and his envelopes him in a hug and kisses him, and then tells the servants to go get a robe, not just any robe, but the best one, and put a ring on his finger, which symbolizes his position within the household, and sandals on his feet and then they slaughter a fatted calf and they celebrate and party.  That we are told is what God’s love is like for us and how much God wants us to return, and we know this because of the stories which come immediately before it in which we are told that of a shepherd who when he loses one sheep, leaves the other 99 behind to go and find it, and when he does he rejoices in it with his neighbors and we are told “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:7) and then the next story is the woman who loses one coin and she searches the entire house until she finds it and then she rejoices with the neighbors and again we are told, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” God wants to be in relationship with us because God loves us.

Sister Helen Prejean, some of whose story was told in the movie Dead Man Walking where she is one of the main characters said, “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.”  If that weren’t true we wouldn’t be here, because we have all done some terrible things in our lives, now maybe there are others who have done worse, but that’s when we get into trouble is when we begin thinking things like that.  We all fall short of the glory of God, we have all fallen short of living into the image of God, and we have all fallen short of being good disciples of Christ. None of us love a life of Christian perfection.  None of us live in total alignment with God’s will for our lives, as Methodists we claim that we are moving on to perfection, on to being in total alignment with God.  But you know what?  In spite of all of that God still love us, God is still waiting for us with open arms, waiting for us to come home so that God can through a party for us and celebrate.  This is the God of love who wants to be in relationship with us, and it is the key to our identity, it is who we are, we are children of God, warts and all, sins and all, wants, desires, failures, successes, all of it is utterly stripped away in the presence of God, because God doesn’t care, God loves each and every one of us just as we are because we are God’s children.

In Romans, Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Some of us carry deep wounds, deep scars, deep secrets things we have only told a few people or maybe never told anyone, things that we keep hidden away from others, including God because we are afraid of them, and we are afraid that because of them that God does not like us or want us, let alone love us.  Sometimes we feel this because it’s what we think about ourselves, and sometimes it is because others have told us that we are broken or unlovable or that we have done something that God could never forgive, but that is not what we are told in scripture, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God Paul says, Jesus says that the father waits watching the road for the son to return and that when he returns he runs to him and celebrates that what was lost has returned, and in Isaiah we hear God say, “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”  We have inherent worth because we are children of God.  When we look for outside validation of ourselves, when we look to others to claim that we are worthy, then we will never be happy, we will always need more and more validation, it will never be enough.  But when we remember that we are made in God’s image, that we are children of God, and that God will always love us no matter what, then our souls can be filled and we can stop looking to fill it with other things.

The story of the prodigal son ends with the older brother getting upset that the father is slaughtering the fatted calf for his wastrel of a son who has squandered everything.  The brother wants things for himself, but not for his brother, he thinks he brother is no longer deserving, that the father should rebuke him and send him away, certainly he shouldn’t love him or do any of the things he is doing.  But the father rebukes him and tells him that he could have always had what the younger brother is getting, but the father’s love does not change for either of them because of what has happened in the past.  The father loves them both because they are his children.  Bishop Job says “When we claim our full inheritance as children of God, then we are able to see clearly and to know in the depth of our being that when we look at another human being, we are looking at a sister or brother who is God’s beloved child, just as we are…. Our identity is not something we create but something that is given by the God who made us, leads us, sustains us, and loves us.  [But] when we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God.  We are no longer following Jesus when we refuse to walk as he walked and refuse to obey his command to love,” which leads us into next week’s question of answering who are we together.

Who am I? Who are you? We are children of God, who has called us by name, who waits for us, who celebrates our return, who loves us unconditionally and there is nothing which can separate us from that love.  When Martin Luther was feeling unsure of himself, when he was having doubts, when he was feeling threatened or challenged, he said that all he had to do to assure and reassure himself was to simply say, “remember you are baptized,” and when he did that then he remembered that he was a child of God and that was all that mattered.  “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Jesus asked.  And then he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters! For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Who are we?  We are brothers and sisters in Christ and we are children of God, and we remember every time we baptize and every time we remember our baptism that we baptized into, as Paul says, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6)  May it be so my sisters and brothers.  Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Increasing Awareness Of Concussions

I have written on this blog quite a bit about concussions and the potential damage they might cause long term, especially to athletes who face greater risks of not only concussions but sustained trauma to the brain, which some have speculated might be even worse long-term than just concussions.  But I saw two very positive signs this week that maybe things are in fact changing.

The first was a friend I grew up with who posted this week that her son had gotten a new helmet that is better at protecting against concussions.  She is in the deep south where football and "manliness" are a religion so this was a huge sign that people are paying attention.

The second was a little more subtle.  I have been reading through the Hunger Games trilogy, and in the third book, Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, who is the main character, has suffered a concussion.  Because of this she is kept from doing some things that she wants to do.  She would probably prefer to be out doing them even though she still has headaches and dizziness, but her doctors keep her from doing so.  After she does go out again, she sustains some more trauma, which aggravates the concussion, and she is again shut down.

How awesome is that?  Concussion awareness and protection are making their way into literature.  Now they cynical part of me wonders if the same thing would have happened if the main character had been male, but I am just as happy that it happened at all.  Now if we could just get similar things to be modeled in television shows, movies, etc., so that they will become even more acceptable and be modeled in real life.