Friday, September 27, 2013

One Mo Time

Last night the greatest closer of all time made his final appearance at the big ballpark in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium.  If there is one thing that the Yankees do well it is celebrations and grand spectacles.  They can't assembly a very good line-up lately, but celebrations we do very very well, and last night was absolutely perfect.

Mariano Rivera came out, surprisingly and appropriately, to the voice of Yankee Stadium, Bob Sheppard, who passed away several years ago, and then he ran in with the now very familiar strains of  Enter Sandman playing.  Credit to the Tampa Bay Rays for not only coming out to cheer Mariano, but later also waiting to take the field so that Andy Pettitte could come out and receive the fans ovation, very classy act on their part.

Rivera was then his usual efficient self in retiring his first four batters.  Mo has not been vintage Mo this year, but this was, and then Joe Girardi sent Andy Petite and Derek Jeter out with only two outs in the ninth so that the crowd could truly give Mo their appreciation, and the waterworks began.  Not just on the field, but in my house as well.

I have trouble saying that the only reason that the Yankees won 5 championships over the past 19 years in because of Mo, I think lots of other players, like Jeter and Andy, played significant roles and cannot be underestimated, but Mo is certainly one of the primary reasons.  He will be impossible to replace.  Closers have come and again during his time.  MLB is litered with them, some of them blazing across the sky and then disappearing in a couple of seasons.  And yet Mo has always been there, and now he is not, or at least he won't be after Sunday.

Some day I am going to write a book about baseball (just what the world really needs), and my final chapter will be about Mariano and in particular the way he responded to reporters and the world after blowing a save in the bottom of the ninth of game seven of the 2001 World Series.  Truly a class act all around and I will miss him.

I tried to embed the videos, but for some reason they are not working. You can see them by going here and here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who's Your Doggy?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Timothy 2:1-7:

There are basically three different ways that preachers can approach a piece of scripture when delivering the sermon.  The first is to stay very close to the text, sometimes even going line by line, or even word by word, looking at what the text is saying, and then, hopefully, making some connection to what we can learn from it.  The big word for this is exegesis, which is a Greek word meaning to explain or interpret.  The second way is to exegete the text, but then jump away from it to make a point, sometimes coming back to it, and sometimes not.  And the third way is to read the preaching text, and then proceed as if that text never existed.  I do all three of them, but today is going to be the third type, where the text really doesn’t really apply to the message, and that is because today is just one of those messages that I need to give regardless of what the lectionary calls for because of what just happened before the scripture passage was read, and that was my “official” installation as pastor of this congregation.

Traditionally the minister has been seen and talked about as being the shepherd to the flock.  I’m the shepherd and you’re the flock.  The term pastor even comes from the Latin word for shepherd.  Ministers are supposed to be the shepherd guiding and keeping the flock safe.   This has been the symbolism both metaphorically and literally for a long time.  However, this is an image that has always bugged me, and it stands in contrast to what scripture has to say, even today’s passage in which we are told “there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.”  See now there I didn’t totally ignore the passage.

There are lots of references to being a shepherd in scripture, but in almost every case, it is not a minister, or even another person, but instead it is God who is the shepherd, the most famous being the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  There is a passage in Acts in which Paul tells people that they are to shepherd the church of God, but this usage is largely the exception to the rule.  A better illustration comes in the 21st chapter of the gospel of John, in which Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection and he asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter says that of course he does, and then after each answer Jesus tells him to first “feed my lambs,” then Jesus tells him “tend my sheep,” and finally again to “feed my sheep.”  Notice that Jesus does not say, tend your sheep, keep your flock, but instead tend my sheep.  Peter is not the shepherd, Jesus is the shepherd, in fact in John Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”  I am not the shepherd, nor is the district superintendent, the bishop or even the Pope the shepherd.  God is the shepherd.  So first of all we need to remove the idea of the minister as shepherd from our thinking.  But, if the minister is not the shepherd then what are we?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Realities of New Freshmen

Each year, Beloit College publishes a list of what incoming freshmen have always known, and each year I feel older. Prior year lists can be found here. Here is this year's list.

The Mindset List for the Class of 2017

For this generation of entering college students, born in 1995, Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle, and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.

1. Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.
2. They are the sharing generation, having shown tendencies to share everything, including possessions, no          matter how personal.
3. GM means food that is Genetically Modified.
4. As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.
5. “Dude” has never had a negative tone.
6. As their parents held them as infants, they may have wondered whether it was the baby or Windows 95         that had them more excited.
7. As kids they may well have seen Chicken Run but probably never got chicken pox.
8. Having a chat has seldom involved talking.
9. Gaga has never been baby talk.
10. They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
11. They have known only two presidents.
12. Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents’ screens grow ever larger.
13. PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line.
14. Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cell phone and Skype accounts than with getting       a driver’s license and car.
15. The U.S. has always been trying to figure out which side to back in Middle East conflicts.
16. A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.
17. Threatening to shut down the government during Federal budget negotiations has always been an                    anticipated tactic.
18. Growing up with the family dog, one of them has worn an electronic collar, while the other has toted an
       electronic lifeline.
19. Plasma has never been just a bodily fluid.
20. The Pentagon and Congress have always been shocked, absolutely shocked, by reports of sexual
       harassment and assault in the military.
21. Spray paint has never been legally sold in Chicago.
22. Captain Janeway has always taken the USS Voyager where no woman or man has ever gone before.
23. While they've grown up with a World Trade Organization, they have never known an Interstate
      Commerce Commission.
24. Courts have always been ordering computer network wiretaps.
25. Planes have never landed at Stapleton Airport in Denver.
26. Jurassic Park has always had rides and snack bars, not free-range triceratops and velociraptors.
27. Thanks to Megan's Law and Amber Alerts, parents have always had community support in keeping
      children safe.
28. With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address.
29. Java has never been just a cup of coffee.
30. Americans and Russians have always cooperated better in orbit than on earth.
31. Olympic fever has always erupted every two years.
32. Their parents have always bemoaned the passing of precocious little Calvin and sarcastic stuffy Hobbes.
33. In their first 18 years, they have watched the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez.
34. Yahoo has always been looking over its shoulder for the rise of "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious
35. Congress has always been burdened by the requirement that they comply with the anti-discrimination and       safety laws they passed for everybody else to follow.
36. The U.S. has always imposed economic sanctions against Iran.
37. The Celestine Prophecy has always been bringing forth a new age of spiritual insights.
38. Smokers in California have always been searching for their special areas, which have been harder to find       each year.
39. They aren’t surprised to learn that the position of Top Spook at the CIA is an equal opportunity post.
40. They have never attended a concert in a smoke-filled arena.
41. As they slept safely in their cribs, the Oklahoma City bomber and the Unabomber were doing their
      deadly work.
42. There has never been a national maximum speed on U.S. highways.
43. Don Shula has always been a fine steak house.
44. Their favorite feature films have always been largely, if not totally, computer generated.
45. They have never really needed to go to their friend’s house so they could study together.
46. They have never seen the Bruins at Boston Garden, the Trailblazers at Memorial Coliseum, the
      Supersonics in Key Arena, or the Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum.
47. Dayton, Ohio, has always been critical to international peace accords.
48. Kevin Bacon has always maintained six degrees of separation in the cinematic universe.
49. They may have been introduced to video games with a new Sony PlayStation left in their cribs by their
50. A Wiki has always been a cooperative web application rather than a shuttle bus in Hawaii.
51. The Canadian Football League Stallions have always sung Alouette in Montreal after bidding adieu to
52. They have always been able to plug into USB ports
53. Olestra has always had consumers worried about side effects.
54. Washington, D.C., tour buses have never been able to drive in front of the White House.
55. Being selected by Oprah’s Book Club has always read “success.”
56. There has never been a Barings Bank in England.
57. Their parents’ car CD player is soooooo ancient and embarrassing.
58. New York’s Times Square has always had a splash of the Magic Kingdom in it.
59. Bill Maher has always been politically incorrect.
60. They have always known that there are “five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes" in a

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rule Three: Stay In Love With God

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 14:25-33:

Two weeks ago we began a sermon series based on three rules created by John Wesley, the founder of  Methodism.  These rules came about because people wanted to know what it meant to be a Methodist, what were they supposed to believe and what were they supposed to do to being Methodists, and they are still foundation for us today.

The first rule is to do no harm, which we covered two weeks ago.  This rule causes us to have to pause and evaluate everything we are doing, everything we are thinking, and everything we are saying, and even what we are not saying or doing.  We have to pay attention to how we live, including how we spend our money and our time, what we are watching or listening to, even what we are wearing.  Doing no harm requires us to take a step backwards, to pause and evaluate what is going on in our lives.

The second rule, which was discussed last week, is to do good.  In some ways this is the opposite of doing no harm, because where we step back to do no harm, doing good requires us to step forward, to be engaged with the world, encountering people and meeting them were they are, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting and caring for the sick and those in prison.  This is an engaged faith, it is a faith active in following Jesus’ injunction to love our neighbor as ourselves.  First do no harm, take a step back, and second, do good, take a step forward.  Now the pessimists amongst us might say that having to take a step back after taking a step forward, but the optimists will point out that we are just doing the cha-cha.

Doing no harm and doing good are both important rules.  They guide us and lead us in our faith.   But the problem that can arise with these first two rules is that you can do them without being in relationship with God, which, as it turns out, this was also one of John Wesley’s major concerns. Wesley wrote “a [person may] both abstain from outward evil and do good and still have no religion.  Yea, two persons may do the same outward works… and…, one of these may be truly religious, and the other have no religion at all: for the one may act from the love of God, and the other from the love of praise.”  Wesley called doing good and doing no harm, works of mercy, or prudential means of grace, that is things that are prudent to do.  These represent our horizontal relationships, our relationship with others.  But, Wesley said that if this all that we are doing then we are “almost Christian.”  We are certainly fulfilling one of the great commandments, to love our neighbor as ourselves, but “the great question of all, then, still remains,” Wesley says.  “Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?  Can you cry out, ‘My God and my All?’  Do you desire nothing but God?  Are you happy in God?  Is God your glory, your delight and your rejoicing?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Respecting Our Volunteers Time

Yesterday I went to a training that was a complete waste of my time.  Although there was supposed to be one person leading it, there were really three who would talk over each other, and the "lead" could not control them.  Nor was he good at listening to people's questions, controlling comments from the floor, or even controlling random talking.  The room was set for at least 50, but they only had materials for 25.  The leader did have a sort of agenda on the board, and tried to follow it, but did not do a good job.  And they included information that they did not need to include that only added more confusion.  In addition, we were told it would be from 1:30-2:30, but I finally walked out at 2:50 and so have no idea how long beyond that it went.  It was clear that they were just totally unprepared and were just sort of winging it.

It was the type of meeting that would not take place in a business environment because businesses don't want to pay for people to sit in a meeting like that.  That is not to say that businesses don't hold worthless meetings, because I've sat in them, but usually they are at least somewhat well run.  So if businesses wouldn't do that because they don't want to pay their employees for it, why do we subject our volunteers to it?  Do we think their time is worth less than businesses do?

I think exactly the opposite should be the case.  We should respect our volunteers time more than do businesses, because they are volunteering.  We shouldn't think that because they are doing it for "free" that it is without cost, and therefore it doesn't need to be done well.  These should be the best run meetings that people attend, and if you give people an ending time you better keep it or recognize that you are going long and give me a reason to stay.

Now I would guess that the person leading yesterday's session has probably never been trained in how to lead a meeting, or perhaps he's never seen a good meeting run, and that blame lies with the church and its leadership.  Either we train our people to run meetings, and if they prove unable to effectively do it, which will often be the case, then we don't allow them to run those meetings, we put someone else in charge.

As churches we are dependent on our volunteers.  We couldn't do the work that we do without them.  So at the very least what we owe them in return is first to say thank you, which was never done yesterday, and second to respect their time and make meetings as short as they can be, run as well as they can be, and conveying the information that needs to be conveyed in as concise and clear a way as possible.  And if we can't do that then we either need to be trained or we need to be doing something else and let someone else who can do it.

There have been many meetings I have attended at the church, which really seems to excel at this, where I have said "well there's two hours I'm never getting back," and on a couple of occasions have even said "we'll there's a couple days I'm never getting back."  Wesley had a lot to say about being diligent with our time, and it's time that we began paying attention to that in the church again and respecting the time and the work of our volunteers.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Is This The End Of Football As We Know It

I have written a lot about football and concussions in the past (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and finally here).  The subject is beginning to be taken more seriously by many, although not by all.  There is still a lot of chatter on ESPN and other sports shows about how you "can't take these hits out of football", and how "getting hurt is just part of the game."  But we're not talking about a torn ACL or a broken finger, this is the brain.  These injuries are a lot different because of the significant long-term impact they have on people's lives, and the vast majority of people playing football and sustaining these injuries are not million-dollar athletes, but children and youth.

Last week the NFL settled a class-action suit regarding concussions.  This was a win for the NFL.  First because it allowed them to be done with it, and not face a much, much bigger penalty had they lost the case. Second they didn't have to divulge what they knew and when they knew it about concussions.  Third they can say they are doing something about concussions because part of the money goes into a research fund. And finally, and most importantly for the NFL, they won because they didn't have to divulge in court, under oath, what their financial statements really look like, and that is truly the holy grail, just ask the MLB and everything it does to protect the true financials of the teams.

Some of the players also won because rather than having to wait a long time for money they need know for medical bills, that money will be forthcoming.  But it won't really help most of the players, and I don't necessarily think it will have a long-term impact on the NFL or their behavior because they didn't have to admit wrong doing and the judge even said that this is unique case and does not  establish a precedent for other cases. Other judges can disagree with that, but the NFL lawyers have to be partying.

But the case doesn't really end there, because few people ever make it to the NFL, even those who play college football are a fraction of those who play high school football and Pop Warner (or its ilk) football. When Junior Seau's family joined the lawsuit against the NFL following his suicide, and later detection that he had CTE, even though he had never been diagnosed with a concussion, I wrote that while the NFL suit had legs, what was really going to change the game was when suits came against other groups.

Then this past week Gregg Easterbrook wrote a great piece on this very issue (and if you like football and aren't reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback, you are missing out).  He points out the number of individual lawsuits that have already been settled for megabucks, with the expectation that many more will be coming.  This week, three former players began a class-action suit against the NCAA asking what they knew and when they knew it about concussions.  This follows up on a similar suit filed last year.  This only has bad consequences for the NCAA, and it is just a matter of time before others join this suit, and similar suits are brought against other groups.

The NFL has deep pockets, as do some of the large football factory universities, and perhaps the NCAA. They can afford to fight these lawsuits for a while, but smaller schools, high schools and pee wee football leagues do not, and soon it is simply going to be too expensive to get insurance coverage to allow football to be played.  And when groups can't get insurance, football will stop being played because no one can risk the lawsuits any more, and written disclaimers and waivers are not deterents of lawsuits, no matter how much groups say they are.

It's not going to happen overnight, as these things take time, but as more cases are filed and more are settled, things will change.  Insurance companies are not in the business of losing money and so they are going to charge premiums in line with the risk they are taking, and local pop warner groups and school districts simply don't have the resources to pay the obscene premiums that will be charged.  And when they don't either parents will have to pay it, unlikely, it will have to be raised another way, and you can't hold enough car washes and bake sales to do that, business will have to foot the bill, and how many business will want to be associated with causing brain damage to 13 year olds, football will have to dramatically change, or it will simply go away.  It's happened before.  How many high school boxing teams are there?

Football has faced challenges like this is the past, and it made radical, for the time, rule changes.  Can they do it again?  The verdict is still out.

And if you haven't already, you must read this article on concussions and football by Malcom Gladwell, most especially if you have a child who plays football, know someone who plays, or even heard of someone you think you might know who plays.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rule Two, Do Good

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16:

On the night before clergy are ordained in the United Methodist Church, we are asked a series of questions by the bishop, and one of those questions is whether we know the general rules of the church, and what those rules are?  The General Rules were created by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as the Methodist movement began to spread across England and people began to ask what it meant to be a Methodist?  What was it that we were supposed to believe, what were we supposed to be doing, that made us different from other Protestant groups, and the rules were to first, do no harm, second to do good, and third to stay in love with God.

These rules are found right at the beginning of the Book of Discipline and are still foundational for us as Methodists.  But if you look at these rules you might notice a peculiar thing.  They are not about beliefs, they are about actions.  They don’t say these are the things you need to know and accept to be a Methodist, they say these are the things you need to do to be a Methodist, and that’s because John Wesley was always much more concerned about orthopraxy, that is right practice, than orthodoxy, right belief.  Wesley was concerned not only with what the Gospel says to people, but what the Gospel does to people.  It was not enough to accept the gospel message, or even to proclaim it to others.  We have to be working to bring the kingdom of God here and now, and that’s what these rules help us to do.  Last week we looked at rule one, to do no harm, today we look at what it means to do good, and next week we will look at the third rule to stay in love with God.

To help illustrate each rule, Wesley gave a brief list of things to he understood them to mean.  For doing good, Wesley began with what we would probably think of immediately of what it means to do good, namely giving food to the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting and helping those who are sick or in prison, which is given to us directly by Jesus in Matthew 25.  The second rule, and one that was very important in the early movement, was to prefer to do business with those who were members of the Methodist movement or were “groaning to be so” in Wesley’s words.  And finally, we do good, Wesley says, by running the race that is before us, a quote we heard a few weeks ago from Hebrews, and then by taking up our cross daily, with everything that that entails.