Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Celebrities Passing

Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon...the past few weeks have seen a host of "celebrities" passing from this life. These deaths--in several cases untimely--remind us that when it comes to mortality and the "sands of time," we are all equal, regardless of our acclaim. At my age, I find that I now read each day's obituaries in the daily newspaper rather religiously. I find in interesting to read the stories of "common" folk who didn't know the spotlight of popular fame; many of them were heroes in his or her own right, but all were children of God and beloved of family and friends.

Speaking of fame, I read a national column recently wherein the author suggested that our most recent generations have been producing more "celebrities" than "famous" persons. His distinction was that a celebrity is anyone who finds his or her "fifteen minutes of fame," as Andy Warhol put it. One can be a celebrity simply by landing in the limelight, even by accident. "Famous" persons, however, are those whose recognition comes by way of true and sustained accomplishments, whether in the arts, academics, literature, sports, or national/international affairs. Again, the columnist suggests that we aren't producing many "famous" persons, just celebrities. Others have observed that neither are we producing "statesmen" in the political realm. Why is this, one wonders?

Maybe it is because we have lost a sense of personal "mission" or destiny. There was a time when young men or women would ruminate endlessly over the question, "What is my purpose?" or "What mark can I make in this world?" as they chose their paths. Today, the questions seem to have de-evolved to: "How can I become a celebrity?" or "What do I have to do to make the most money in the shortest amount of time?" The goal of many today is to make their first million by age 30 so they can settle down to a life of leisure at an early age. This doesn't bode well for a society and a culture BEGGING for leaders and visionaries.

Another possible reason for this leadership deficit is the proliferation of "instant" and intense means of communication. One must deliberate over a letter, writing in complete thoughts and reflecting on personal philosophy. Email began the erosion of thought by allowing instant transmission upon completion of a thought or two, which gave birth to the tacky electronic shorthand such as LOL and :-). Now we have "Twitter," which limits expression to 140 characters. I am reminded of an episode of "Cheers" in which Diane, the erudite protagonist, inquired in the bar: "Who would like to go to the back room and have an intelligent discussion about this issue?" Seeing no takers, she queried a second time: "Alright then, everyone then with a two-bit opinion...", to which the throngs responded. Modern technology is possibly giving undue bandwidth to the two-bit opinion instead of the forty-minute address of a statesman?
Well, this posting wouldn't fit on "Twitter," and I'm not even sure it will fit on Blogger.com when I hit the "post" button! Remember what one writer of Scripture stated: "Without a vision the people perish." Shalom, friends.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Break

Well, friends, Annual Conference is over, and we are "back home" in Warren, PA. It is still not natural to call Warren "home," but it is getting easier the more we use the term. I guess what makes it a bit tough is that, all through High School, my "home town" Oil City High was a rival school, athletically speaking, with the Dragons of Warren. Now I'm rooting for the Dragons! This year's high school girls' softball team was excellent, and was worth rooting for. Several of our church's young women played on the team, and one of "our own" was their star pitcher. Yes, the Sterlings are, for this time in our lives, officially "Warren Dragons."

That "dragon" thing reminds me of Harry Potter, and that reminds me of some of the strange legislation with which we dealt at Annual Conference. Some folk who proclaim themselves Christians spend in inordinate amount of time fearing things. Paul said, "God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and of a sound mind." One piece of legislation merely asked churches to consider having a study of the tricky question (at least in the religious world) of homosexuality, using our denomination's study resources. The motion was defeated in the legislative section, and again on the floor of the Annual Conference! Weren't we just being asked to CONSIDER studying the matter to gain insight? Why do so many folk FEAR knowledge? Are they afraid their opinions might be altered slightly by new information? It boggles the mind.

If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be earning what I am now (thanks to the generosity of the churches I have served) and still living payday to payday, hand-to-mouth, I wouldn't have believed it. Between paying my kids' educations off, the price of gasoline, and the other "trivialities" of life, that's what is happening. However, we are still maintaining our "tithing-plus" stand toward giving. I don't understand people of faith who, when the going gets a bit tough financially, refuse to make a few personal sacrifices in order to keep up their church and charitable giving. It CAN be done, friends. We just have to decide these things are important, and therefore a priority. Again, check out my website on "personal philanthropy" called www.tenfortheworld.org

A large group from our church, and representatives of a few others here in Warren, are doing mission projects this week with The Pittsburgh Project. Pray they have a great week of service and experience, especially life-changing ones for the youth involved.

Did I mention that it is "Summer Break" time? I hope you will find some time to wind down a bit and enjoy the few nice days that will come our way. Be good to yourself. Shalom!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Off to "Conference"

For United Methodists, "Annual Conference" is a study in contrasts. The annual meeting of clergy and lay delegates (in Western PA, we hold it at historic Grove City College) has its beginnings in the days of Mr. Wesley himself. In his day, pastors (there were no lay representatives then) walked or rode in on horseback to the gathering, where much time was spent in prayer, worship, and fellowship with one another, and, of course, ordinations of new pastors occurred. Today, we motor in, park far enough away from the meeting hall that we SHOULD have brought a horse, and the meeting--while still embodying all of the above elements during its four days--now includes debates over budgets and myriad legislation. Large video screens and "rock and roll" sound systems now substitute for preachers shouting from crude platforms.

I like some of the worship, but much of it is too long. Now, I know that Christians should be willing to praise God and not be governed by the clock, but the "seat of endurance" can only handle so much, and the eclectic nature of Conference worship often juxtaposes differing expressions, images, and activities that, to me, seem forced. I guess when you only meet once a year, every group has to find a way to parade something around. Anyway, the music is stirring and the preachers--especially the guest ones such as Will Willimon--are quite good.

It is always good to see one's colleagues and friends, and our Bishop, Thomas Bickerton, always finds a way to liven things up, even during the most tedious of moments, such as during legislative debates.

What do we legislate? A few important things, such as the annual ministry budget of the organization, for example. But we sometimes we beat to death resolutions or petitions embellished with sweeping language about halting all abortions or bringing peace to the Middle East, which, honestly is mostly rhetoric forgotten beyond the doors of the meeting hall. Some folks just like to have their "day in court," so to speak, and I guess one never knows when the Spirit will show up and empower one of these paper tigers to really change the world.

Annual Conference ends with an impressive Ordination Service which has become a "command performance" for all clergy. I really like what this Bishop has done with it, but honestly, wouldn't it be really cool if we could make it three hours rather than four? I'm one of those people with a three-hour bladder, and getting up in the middle of a crowd jammed elbow to elbow, trying to slither out through tightly-packed rows, and saunter unnoticed while wearing a preaching robe and bright red stole is a challenge, to say the least. Where is Harry Potter's "invisibility cloak" when needed?

Still, we come from all over Western PA to this tiny town just off Interstate 79, to do our duty as United Methodists. We will get sunburned in long lines waiting to eat college food. We will listen as some passionate petitioner argues for yet another "special Sunday" to be added to the calendar of our churches. We will laugh together, and maybe shed a tear or two for friends remembered during the Memorial Service. And we will go home to report the happenings to our congregations, who really don't have a clue about it all. As they say, "You had to be there." Shalom, friends.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Finally, an ENDING to the Winter of Our Discontent!

Greetings, friends. Now that the Sterlings have gotten fully moved into Warren, PA and have begun to get our spiritual feet wet at Warren First United Methodist Church, I have a few minutes to get back to this blog thing. Sorry--again--for the long hiatus. I guess that at almost 55 years of age, I'm just beyond the "I blog regularly" habit. As my half-a-new-year's resolution (those made in June, of course), I vow to blog more, but the keep my entries shorter!

Winter is finally over in Warren, PA. I say this as a matter of faith, as the natives say we are really not "out of the woods" until July or August. Actually, we have seen some beautiful weather here in the past couple of weeks, and when the wind is not icy and gusting to 80, this area is a true natural wonder. God is indeed good.

Hey, don't forget to go to church this Summer, friends. Your pastors, priests (and Rabbis, if you are Jewish) really appreciate it when you don't forget them just because the weather looks more like picnic or boat weather than prayer, praise, and preaching weather. I bet God is please, too, when we don't take the Summer off. After all, God does not; God is 24/7, as they say.

Have a great Summer, friends. Enjoy the fabulous out-of-doors, your family, your faith, and your friends. Life is good; enjoy the journey. Shalom!

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