Monday, October 26, 2015

Sowing and Reaping

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Corinthians 9:6-15:

The last church we served in Massachusett several acre plots interspersed with still operating farms.  For my fellow sports fans, it was were Babe Ruth lived when he was with the Red Sox, and it is also where Shaquille O’Neill lived when he played for the Celtics.  But ever since Martha Stewart began touting the idea of owning your own chickens, lots of former city dwellers have tried to take on the role of gentlemen, or gentlewomen, chicken farmers.
One of those former Bostonians decided he needed to own some chickens for his property and so went to see one of the local farmers.  The farmer told the man he should start small with only a few chickens, but the man was insistent that he needed 100 chicks.  Knowing the mistakes that would be made but wanting to be neighborly in order to avoid future arguments, the farmer said, “You know, chicken farming isn’t easy, but to help you get started, I’ll give you 100 chicks."

The man was thrilled. Two weeks later the farmer dropped by to see how things were going, and the man said, "Not too well. All 100 chicks died." The farmer said, "Oh, I can’t believe that. I’ve never had any trouble with my chickens. I’ll give you 100 more." Another two weeks went by and the farmer stopped by again. The man said, "You’re not going to believe this, but the second 100 chickens died too." Astounded, the farmer asked, "What went wrong?"

The new farmer said, "Well, I’m not sure whether I’m planting them too deep or too close together."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Laborers in the Field

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 10:1-9:

I have two friends who once ran a 57,000 acre ranch in southern Colorado.  Every year they allowed a company to come in and cut the alfalfa in some of their fields, and in return the company baled hay for their horses.  One of the times I was up visiting, one of the fields had recently been cut and the bales were all still sitting out in the field, when a storm moved in. So we stopped what we were doing, hopped in a truck and rushed out to the field and started bucking the hay.  Bucking hay is the act of stacking it in a truck or barn.  During a normal day it would have only been Lesli and her partner Anna there to get the bales in, but not only was I visiting, but Anna’s mother was there as well, and so there were two extra sets of hands to help get the hay out of the field.  I don’t know how many bales there actually where, but with one person driving and three of us throwing the bales into the truck, and two loads worth, with me spread eagle on top of the load to keep them from falling off on the way to the barn, we were able to get them all back to the barn before the heavy rain started.  And not only did we get the bales out of the fields, but we also got to tangle with a badger who happened to be hiding between two of the bales.  It was the only time I’ve met a badger, and I hope it is my last time, because badgers really are as mean and nasty as everyone says.
Now could Lesli and Anna have gotten the bales in by themselves?  Yes, eventually, but it would have taken them awhile, and they never would have been able to get them out of the field before it started pouring.  So having two extra people certainly helped them out immensely.  Not long ago it would have been inconceivable for two people to even consider bringing in a harvest of hay, or really most any type of harvest, by themselves.  Before Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper, and I use the term invent very loosely here, and then later marketed the first mechanical bailer, everything had to be done by hand, and therefore had to be done with a large group.  After all the hay was cut, it would be raked into hedgerows and then people using pitchforks would throw the hay up into a wagon, where another person, also with a pitchfork would position the hay in the wagon.  Harvest was the time in which the community would come together and help each other out, not just because it was the neighborly thing to do, but because they had to.  Everyone understood that you couldn’t do these things by yourself.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Manure Happens

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 13:6-9:

There was a little boy, and all he wanted in the world was to have a horse.  Every day he would ask his parents if he could get a horse and every day his parents told him no. When he would ask why, he was told that horses took a lot of work and he was just not old enough to handle the responsibility.  But he kept asking every single day.  Finally his father got tired of it and decided he could end it if he could show his son just how much work a horse required, and so while the boy was at school, he had a large pile of horse manure dropped off in the back yard.  When the boy came home from school, as he approached the house, he smelled the distinct odor, and began to whoop and holler and ran through the house into the backyard.  When he saw what awaited him, he started screaming and shaking with joy, and then ran into the garage and came running back with a shovel.  While still singing and dancing and whooping and hollering, he started shoveling the manure.  Finally, his father came out and said, “What are you doing? Why are you so happy to be shoveling all this manure?  Don’t you realize how much work it’s going to take to get this all cleaned up?”  and the boy said “yes, but with all this manure there’s gotta be a horse in here somewhere.”
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at lessons we can learn from life on the farm that can teach us about how to grow in our faith.  The first week we talked about being stuck in the mud, and the fact that when you get stuck, that our natural inclination is to step harder on the gas, and spin our wheels, which of course just gets us deeper and deeper into the much.  Instead, to get out of the mud of our lives, we first need to accept that we are stuck in the mud, accept that reality, surrender and begin following following Christ.  Then we looked at how if we are neglectful of our spiritual lives, that we can allow weeds to grow up that will choke out our faith.  There are lots of things we can do to keep the weeds from growing, but we talked about some recommended by John Wesley the founder of Methodism, which included daily scripture reading and prayer.  Last week we were going to hear about the need for community in building up our faith, but since I didn’t get to deliver that message, we’ll come back to that next week.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Realities of College Freshmen

Every year Beloit College publishes their mindset list of what the typical freshmen entering college has always known, or never known, and each year I feel a little bit older.

Here is this year's list:

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:
1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.”
3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
5. Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.
6. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
8. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
9. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
10. Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Go Read a Banned Book

Just found out that this past week was Banned Book Week (it ends today).  As you can see from the lists of books I have read this year on the right side of the blog, I love to read.

Looking for a book that might challenge you, and that have certainly challenged others? Here are the most commonly challenged/banned books from the years 2000-2009 from the American Library Association.  (Books in bold are ones I have read)

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Friday, October 2, 2015

4th Downs, Pitching and the Blame Game

Gregg Easterbrook, who used to write for ESPN until their purge of people critical of the NFL, now writes about football for the New York Times.  One of his constant complaints is about coaches punting on 4th down, especially when it's 4th and short, and definitely when they are on the opposition's side of the field.  It is Easterbrook's contention, and he has the stats to back it up, that possession of the ball is a much more significant to winning the game then is trying to win "field position."  In addition, he says that by going for it, by being more aggressive, that coaches signal to their players that they want to win and trust and believe in the players to get the job done.

But, he argues, if coaches go for it and the attempt fails, the coaches are much more likely to be questioned and take the blame.  Whereas, since punting on 4th down is conventional wisdom, if they punt and the defense can't stop the other team, then it's the players fault.  It's a type of blame shifting that is bought into by the media, and because of them, by the fans as well.

Which leads me to pitching, and in particular the pitching of the New York Yankees.  There is a much lamented refrain in the media this year that the Yankees' bullpen is tired because their starting pitching is not giving them enough length, and so the bullpen pitchers are having to throw too many pitches.  This places all the blame on the pitchers, even ultimately on the bullpen pitchers because "they have to make their pitches" and if they don't it's certainly not the manager's fault.

The problem with this analysis is that it totally dismisses the manager's role in leaving pitchers in or taking them out.  Girardi seems to have the belief that if a pitcher even comes close to throwing 100 pitches that he has to be pulled out of the game.  There are lots of times when he has yanked a starting pitcher who is cruising for seemingly no other reason other than he is approaching 100 pitches.  Then when the bullpen blows the game, it's not Girardi's fault, it's the bullpen because they are tired from having starting pitching not going deep into games.

Similarly, a bullpen pitcher will be doing great when they are yanked and someone else brought in because "conventional wisdom" is to make the move.  I have never figured out why starting pitchers can face both lefties and righties, but bullpen pitchers can only seem to be able to pitch to one of the other.  Unless, of course, they have a specific role such as "set-up man" or "closer" and then can see both batters, but can never be used in any situation other than what their role is.  You absolutely cannot bring in the closer, you're 9th inning guy, in the 8th to face the heart of the order of the other team, because that's not their "role."

That of course is also blame shifting.  It's not the manager's fault if the pitcher messes up, that's all on the pitcher, even if they never should have been there in the first place.  It also signals to his pitchers whether he believes in them or not, and you cannot learn how to pitch out of a jam unless your manager allows you to try it.

The one exception to this rule this year is Matt Williams, the soon to be ex-manager of the Washington Nationals, who is blamed for not bringing in pitchers out of their designated roles.  But Williams is definitely the exception to the rule in this case, otherwise the mantra in sports, and the actions of managers and coaches, is to make the decisions so that the blame goes to the players rather than to the person making the decision, because they did what "everyone else does."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Introverts in the Church

I was at a conference last week, and the presenter who was not only clearly extroverted, but said that he was extroverted, said that every clergy person needed to spend a minimum of 10 hours a week out in the community meeting new people.  This was about more than just not being locked in your office, this was about going out and meeting new people, and getting their names and addresses for follow-up.

As part of this injunction he said that it didn't matter if you were extroverted, introverted, shy, outgoing, whatever it might be, pastors had to do this.  My thought, as in introvert, is how easy it is for him, as an extrovert, to say that.  Now I don't disagree with his premise.  As an introvert it's way to easy, and too much of a default, to keep to myself.  But, to totally disregard who I am (who God made me to be) was a little over the top.

The reverse would be for me to say to extroverts: You need to be spending at least 10 hours a week by yourself, with no outside interaction, in prayer, scripture study or reading.  For most extroverts that would be an excruciating idea, one which would probably leave them physically and spiritually exhausted.  They would have to get out in order to try and recharge their batteries, if they could even survive doing that week in and week out.

There has been plenty written about introverts lately, and strangely much of it written by extroverts, so I'm not going to delve into that now.  I also know that I am an introvert, as many clergy are, who inhabits what is typically seen as an extroverted role.  But, I bring gifts and graces because of that make-up that extroverts don't bring, just as they also bring gifts and graces that I don't bring.  But to totally dismiss me and say I have to be like you, to do something that's easy for you, just seemed a little extreme.