Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Miracle...

Here we go again: "Put the CHRIST back in CHRISTmas," the postings on Facebook proclaim. Every year we get a raft of folk upset about merchants "using" Christmas as a way to make money (imagine!) and ignoring the "reason for the season." Why, a few years ago a new controversy cropped up: checkout persons no longer being allowed to say "Merry Christmas," because not everyone happens to be a Christian. That one still stews, to a degree, although a Walmart clerk DID say "Merry Christmas" to me recently; I hope she didn't get fired. Personally, I'm fine with "Happy Holidays," as we ARE NOT all Christians in this diverse society, and NO we are not a "Christian nation," as anyone who delves into U.S. history for more than five minutes will tell you. "Happy Holidays" is polite--it could mean "Happy Chanukah," "Merry Christmas," or "Happy Festivus," but it is still nice.

The Christmas miracle I would like to see includes the realization that for those of us who do profess to be Christian, you CAN'T take Christ out of Christmas. Oh, we can "secularize" the season with the best of them: shopping until we drop; partying like it's 1999; eating like we weigh 1999; or getting overly irritated at the temporary holiday hires in our local department stores. Jesus IS Christmas, though, and is (as a friend recently posted on Facebook) much, much more than the "reason for the season." As the Christ Event continues to unfold in human history, the Christmas miracle is being rolled out, too. People are beginning to notice that we are diverse society and that everyone is a child of God, deserving of human kindness and dignity, and certainly legal and human rights. In response to recent heinous acts of terrorism, the historically blurred lines between "good" and "evil" are being more clearly defined. Maybe this is what Jesus was alluding to when he spoke of "separating the sheep from the goats." (I'm guessing sheep are the winning team in this metaphor?) Christ inhabits Christmas--and the miracle continues to be revealed--in the growing generosity of Christians around the holidays. More Christians are seeing the joy in giving less "trinkets" and using the savings to support UMCOR, Church World Service (blanket project), "Imagine No Malaria," World Vision, or the local food pantry or Salvation Army citadel. At St. Paul's, the church I serve, our various "giving trees" for children, prisoners, what-have-you, are quickly "attacked" by ravaging disciples with redeemed wallets looking to "do a little Jesus-ing" of their own. They are preaching a powerful Gospel, my friends, and some of them are getting hung up on this "cheerful giver" thing far beyond the Christmas season! This is an addiction I can support.

I wonder: shouldn't Christian people wear a perpetual smile and exude an almost guttural joy during the days of Christmas? After all, the holiday DOES celebrate the birth of our Savior. Persons who have legitimate reason to experience a "Blue Christmas" because of the recent passing of a loved one, or because of seasonal depression get a bye on this "exuding joy" thing, but the rest of us don't. If WE can't show genuine joy over Christmas, where do we get off harping at Walmart clerks or decrying the "secularization" of the season? No, I'm beginning to believe that the only people who have the ability to take "Christ" out of "Christmas" are Christians! If we aren't the banner-carriers for this most festive season, with its stars, glorious Christmas Trees, decorated neighborhoods, colors, and aromas, then we're not "preparing the way of the Lord" like we could be. We have a chance to witness to our faith handed to us on a Silver Bells platter, Beloved! Give big tips in the restaurants, flash a redemptive smile, dance up a storm like old Fezziwig in "A Christmas Carol"--don't let "the world" out gas us in making happy!

"...the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid: for behold--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'"

There it is--this is where it all began. Let the merchants make their wages. Hear the choirs sing and the youth groups squeak out "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on the porches of shut-ins. Empty your wallet like a transformed Scrooge to feed and cloth the poor and to buy presents for needy children. Go to church, if for no other reason to sit with your family and give thanks for them and celebrate the love you have for each other. Smile..smile some more...and then smile again, especially toward those giving you bad service because they are over-worked. Slip them a five-spot, just because. Tell your boss how much you like your job, and thank her for the job she does. Say a prayer and ask God to help you open up and do more Jesus-ing in the New Year. Kiss your partner, just because. Hug your kids. Don't be afraid--there is Good News, and it doesn't originate on Wall Street or from Washington, or even on TV, but in a manger in Bethlehem. It's a Christmas miracle!

Merry Christmas, Beloved!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Meek...

Recently, I was attending a meeting of a denominational leadership group held at the Boston University School of Theology. One of their faculty members, Dr. Steve Sandage, talked with us about some of the issues he sees that keep us from engaging in meaningful and transformational relationships with each other, especially in a body like the church, which is certainly meant to be a meaningful and transformational organization. Dr. Sandage stated that so many persons have not learned to self-differentiate, or understand and be comfortable with who they are--in short, be "comfortable in their own skin." Self-differentiated persons have a sober view of their gifts and abilities, know their overall strengths and weaknesses, and are comfortable with their current role and station in life. As a spiritual person, he or she may also be very at peace with God and/or general existential issues. These are persons who, because they are "at peace" with themselves, are able to engage others with honesty, integrity, and without feeling threatened by "the other" in the relationship.

The undifferentiated self seeks to gain acceptance in relationships by pleasing others, acquiescing, and otherwise cowering to the "will of the group" to feel included or receive affirmation. The undifferentiated self is often a happy person, and can tend to feel the world is against them, on one hand, or by subverting their own desires, interests, or needs to gain strokes, may feel totally powerless. Dr. Sandage did say that another behavior an undifferentiated person may manifest is to totally rebel against all of the "conventions" of society, or against shared family or community values. Again, the rebellion gains attention, but not because of any action of the individual's "true self," which is subverted by the lashing out.

In the church, the undifferentiated self can require so much attention of clergy or other leadership that they quickly wear others out. They can use a narrow interpretation of Scripture to draw artificial boundaries or to exclude others (such as LGBTQ persons) that tend to threaten their fragile (and most often disingenuous) view of themselves. Or they may just "rebel" by making so much noise and launching protests against views that disagree with theirs that they just alienate themselves from the wider community of faith.

When Jesus said, "blessed are the meek," it's possible he was talking about self-differentiated persons. I was always taught that "meek" individuals were comfortable "within their own skin." Meek persons know who they are, whose they are, from a spiritual standpoint, and what they are about. From this position of confidence and integrity, they are more able to relate to others in a caring and compassionate way. With no prevailing need to "be accepted" by the other, they can be very honest in relating. And they can feel very "at home" in their relationship with God, because again, they don't have to "receive strokes" from the divine in order to believe, pray, love and serve. Meek persons can receive a compliment without either becoming "puffed up" or disregarding it as manipulative.

Is there help for the undifferentiated souls in our midst? Absolutely. It's called salvation! We believe in transformation, and it can come through spiritual enlightenment, honest confession, psychological counseling, and personal discoveries "on the journey." When Jesus invited those first disciples to "follow me," he was saying, "Leave behind your outdated, dysfunctional view of life and self." Jesus has been such a transformational person for many of us. However, when it comes to some of the other "treatments" listed above for becoming a self-differentiated individual, "all of the above" may apply!

Oh, and the truth is that all of us are somewhere on the "differentiated" continuum. If there ever was a fully differentiated person, it was probably Jesus. For most of us, our life journey is about becoming more self-differentiated, bit-by-bit, and leaving behind our aberrations, pathologies, and dysfunctions, however minor or major. You know--becoming more meek.

I would not be honest if I closed this post out without acknowledging that some persons are so undifferentiated that they may need professional therapy to help sort this out. "Coming to Jesus" may just be a step. Sometimes we need to see a psychologist, too! Or maybe we start with the psychologist before we try being "born again."

I am convinced, however, that if the church and the Christian Gospel can help persons become "real" in this context, and find the foundational joy of life, existence, and genuine relationships, all of the missional stuff with take care of itself. More self-differentiated persons become great witnesses, generous givers of time, talents, and treasures, and the kind of people you want to hang out with.

Shalom, Friends!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Good Grief...

Consoling or comforting a friend or loved one who is in the throes of grief is never a pleasant task. However, there is nothing more important or moving as doing so, even if it means working through our own discomfort.

Many of us have learned Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Understanding that grief has stages can be helpful in experiencing it, and certainly in helping a friend on this tough journey toward healing. It doesn't make for shortcuts or a "painless" reconciling of the divergent feelings of loss and hope. Still, walking with another along this path is a truly compassionate act, and the discomfort of empathizing with their suffering is very much in line with what Jesus meant when he urged his followers to "take up your cross and follow me." Jesus experienced the ultimate pain of total empathy with the failings of the human condition.

Grief is especially hard when the death is viewed by us as "unfair" or senseless, such as in the death of a child or young parent, or in the case of a suicide. Our congregation recently experienced the passing of a young mother due to cancer. There is a universal desire here to reach out to her children, who are peers of our other youth in the youth program. The hardest thing is that hugs, while comforting, are inadequate to sooth the slowing unfolding grief of a young person who has lost his or her Mom. What can we do to provide comfort?

First of all, don't distance yourself from the person; stay connected, and try to "normalize" the relationship--just be there for them, and continue to be their friend. Don't over-sentimentalize the situation or send even subliminal signals that you will relate to them differently because of the death. Secondly, realize full well that this will be a process, and it may happen in fits and starts, especially with a younger person. Watch for signs that the grief is being subverted by a negative behavior, and gently encourage the person to move back onto a healthier path. Young persons, whose emotional maturity is still developing, may "act out," which is not always bad, but it should be observed carefully, noting that less maturity may result in poor judgment, especially on the part of a teen.

Above all, if you are in a caring situation with a grieving friend (young or old) and observe behaviors or here comments which concern you, make contact with a professional caregiver/counselor for guidance and assistance. It is never a bad thing to realize that you are "in over your head," and should facilitate a connection between the counselor and the bereaved.

If you are a young friend of another young person who has lost a loved one, again, just be present with your friend. Let them talk, and be a good listener. Do your best to be patient with them and don't rush to make them "feel better." They will get through their grief, but as we said earlier, it may take time, and while the temptation of youth may be to "just get over it," this is something that does not go fast. If you have a grieving friend who seems to get over it soon, realize that that is not a good thing! Encourage them to walk in "baby steps" so their mind and heart can heal.

Good grief is a gift of God designed to help us cope with huge losses in life. As you help another along in this process, don't short-change its healing power! Shalom, friends.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Why Am I Here?

This question, "Why am I here?" was recently flagged in a survey as the "most asked question" by those responding to the poll. I guess we all want to get a grip on our purpose for existence. People in the Christian realm have varying "shoot from the hip" answers to this efficacy question: "To glorify God"; "To be a witness"; "To find God's will and do it." While each answer may carry some truth, most would find these answers somewhat unsatisfying.

Why ARE you here? First of all, I don't believe any of us are here by accident. Your creation was an "act of God," even if you were not "planned" by your biological parents. Although, I must say I find it very cruel when parents SAY in front of a child, "They were an 'oops'," or some other statement that even a small child can understand to mean they were in some way "not wanted." Even if those same parents follow through by a remedial "But we love them, anyway." But aren't we all on a kind of quest to figure out what "our part will be," to quote the Robin Williams line from "Dead Poet's Society"?

At St. Paul's UMC, we're going to take a look at this question, along with a couple of others, in our Fall worship themes. "Why are we here?" is the first, followed by "What can I bring?" and, during the Advent season, "Are we THERE yet?" As a pastor, my primary task is faith development--helping each person I serve grow in her or his faith. I have found that one of the best ways I can do this is by encouraging each one to ask good questions. If we can learn to form our curiosities into helpful interrogatives, understanding will follow. Notice that I did not say "answers." When it comes to faith--and, honestly, to life--there are often not finite answers, only more questions. But if WE become good architects of our questions, and when we also invite the Spirit of God to bring illumination and wisdom to our inquiries, specific ("black and white?") answers take a back seat to the helpful framework and faith/intellect insight that results.

So, why ARE you here? The Bible spends a lot of time on THAT question, but in the good rabbinical tradition, it raises more questions than it answers. Still, it is a key text for our investigation. How about prayer? Have you ever asked God why you are here? Maybe that should be on the list of daily prayer requests, too? Who knows, maybe God's idea about why we are here changes daily. In a recent conversation with a person in a restaurant who saw my staff nameplate, which lists me as "Lead Pastor," that individual asked, "What do you DO as a pastor?" My flip response was, "Which hour of the day?" But the question did give me a chance to tell about what a Christian pastor "does," and about whom we dare profess to represent. The brief encounter has caused me to ask MYSELF that question each day this week: What DOES a pastor do?

Here's another one for you: Do you feel "called" to do what you do in your career? In the parenting of your children? In the tasks you undertake in your church? Or, even broader, in your life? Call is an important thing to consider. If you believe you were put here for a purpose (I happen to believe we all are, by the way), then doesn't this mean that everything we do fits under our "purpose"? Something to ponder as well.

OK, I guess I can put another "hourly" answer to the "What does a pastor do?" question: we blog! Peace, all!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unenthusiastic...

One of our young women from St. Paul's UMC--senior college student--posted this the other day on Facebook: "I am very unenthused about the world right now." Of course I offered her some words of personal encouragement, but I have to admit, sometimes it IS very hard to be "enthused" about the world.

I'll bet the "old world" isn't too happy about us sometimes, either. If we're not bombing her surface with projectiles of some sort or another, we're polluting her waters, her cushion of air, or stripping off her skin one layer at a time to build personal castles, another Walmart, or just to pave the daylights out of her. Sometimes we do it to rip up the coal or gas or oil. It has always mystified me that even the most libertarian (it's MINE, and I can do with it what I want, and YOU had better not touch it) types sit idly by while long-wall mining companies tunnel directly under their properties, often resulting in huge subsidence issues, and with the full protection of the law. Anyway, the world will eventually get even, and if we keep up this exploitive behavior, sooner than later.

But back to our malaise about "the world..." It is easy to get derailed by the bad news trumpeted through myriad channels to our gentle ears. There is a lot of bad news in the world: ISIS, Ukraine, Palestine/Israel, etc.  However, there is a lot of good stuff happening as well. Crime is down in many cities, partly due to neighborhood watch programs, a steadily growing economy, and programs aimed at combating poverty. People are recycling. I recently turned 60 years of age, and I can remember when separate recycling receptacles were first provided by refuse companies. People scorned the effort, saying that folk would NEVER take time to separate out recyclables. Here we are, 35 years later and most of us do it. While less people affiliate with "institutional religion," surveys show a heightened interest in spirituality, especially on the part of those under 40. Maybe those of us who work with the "institutional" church should pay attention to this interest and do a better job of feeding it? Too often our message is: "This is who WE are--come and be like us." And our audience is more interested in carving out a decent living, doing their part in bringing about social justice, and looking for meaning in a world that often leaves us "unenthused." A bishop of my church denomination--one that is fighting over full inclusion of LGBTQ persons, maybe even to the point of schism--quoted one thirty-something as saying, "Don't you people realize that none of us even CARE about what you [United Methodists] are fighting about?" We forget that Jesus was one of history's most notable "Thirty-somethings," and that he, too, was less enthused with the religious and cultural status quo of his time.

So, how do we get enthused? Why don't we look to our young adults for guidance? Maybe carving out a decent living, working for social justice, and looking for meaning together is not such a bad agenda for us all. Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers..." How about we work and pray for peace? I wonder what would happen if each of us would go out into the world each day with the goal of doing something kind for someone else? I have a funny feeling that we have to personally get the ball rolling on enthusiasm. If we wait for it to come to us, we may have a very, very long wait. Shalom, friends.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wars and Rumors of Wars...

Are you on Israel's side? Or do you stand for justice for the Palestinian peoples? Which is it? Isn't this the "formula" for opinion in today's polarized climate? "Who's side are you on?" is a common, demanding question substituting for debate in our time.

Oh, I could address a long list of polarized topics from the contemporary slate of affairs, but I'll not waste your time, for you know what would be on that list. And in many circles, you had better land in one of the two poles, or people won't listen to you. The truth is, if you DO land in one of the two artificial "poles," only people on "your side" will listen to you. If you don't believe that, then how else do you explain Fox News/MSNBC, NPR/Rush Limbaugh, and the NRA/sane people?

As we walk down memory lane, we recall a time when persons could stand at a party, drink in hand, or in church, hymnal in hand, and discuss controversial social, political, and economic topics with an eye to persuade, compromise, and eventually collaborate in a world filled with complex problems and ideas. That your perspective was very different than mine was not a threat. Why? Because we had the same aims--a better world with equal opportunity for all persons. We weren't trying to make society look just like me or you. While it may not have been a time of racial or cultural diversity, it could be seen as at least a time of "diversity of thought." Worldviews were discussed, debated, and woven into a tapestry of healthy thought and often action. Scorched earth only occurred during wildfires.

Can we clip off a piece of that past and paste it into our time? Could we agree that Israel and Hamas will never see eye-to-eye and work instead for a safe and sane peace? And can we refrain from the viral oversimplification of HIGHLY complex issues that makes everybody with a mouth and/or a microphone an expert? Might it be possible that abortion is much more complicated than just being labeled either "murder" or "choice"? Can we stop saying that, because it is 62 in July in Western Pennsylvania that "Global Warming" is a myth? Or that Climate Change will kill off all life as we know it before our grandchildren reach puberty? Unfortunately, the "X-Files" was right: The truth is still OUT THERE. WAY out there. And we can't reach it with a moon rocket unless we are willing to dial back our rhetoric and begin to talk--with a civil tongue--again.

[I really want to add "gender identity" to this rant, but THAT has become such a hot topic that people who claim to be compassionate, caring individuals have screamed, threatened, and intellectually "carpet bombed" the topic, and will let the fire fly without reading further, so I'll leave it alone for now.]

These things are all "rumors of wars," to quote Jesus. We know what a real war is. "Rumors of wars" may be a cleaver way of suggesting that going nuclear instead of carrying on a meaningful conversation meant to gain information, understanding and perspective, and to promote respect between free-thinking persons, is debasing debate to the level of a zero-sum game like war (zero-sum meaning that for me to "win," you have to "lose" completely--I get all the marbles).

Our humanity creates a problem, at this point. If I think it is wrong to discriminate against a person because of who she or he "is," and you feel it is necessary to devalue them or draw them outside the circle precisely for that reason, then we have created an insurmountable zero-sum game, for there is no compromise that says it will be OK to discriminate against them "just a little bit." Some say Hamas wants Israel wiped off the map. If there is any truth in this, then for peace, Hamas must be willing to admit that this is an untenable position, and Israel must be allowed to exist. Others say that Israel occupies land "God promised them in the Bible," and has a right to posses it. Peace cannot occur until Israel admits that this position can have no grounding in contemporary "fact," and must be willing to compromise on border issues. Maybe they just hate each other? Believe it or not, this can be fixed! Give up the "rumors of wars," folks! No more "Onward Christian (or Jewish or Moslem) Soldiers, Marching as to War(!).

As the years tick by, I grow in my appreciation of the reality that nothing worth believing in is simple, and nothing worth loving can be reduced to a political slogan or a war cry. We're going to blow each other up and planet earth will have to heal itself for the next tenants, if we don't come to our senses soon. Think about it. Grace and peace...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spirit Stuff

Trinitarian Christians let the phrase "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" roll off our lips like salt from a Margarita. We affirm this classical formula--that God manifests godself in three "persons." One is the "grand old man" of the Creation, as is pictured by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. One is the Jewish long-hair who drives religious leaders crazy, heals the broken, hangs out with the "least of these," and, of course, experiences death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit? Holy Ghost? What are we to make of her/him?  This is starting to sound like science fiction, isn't it?

Why is it important that we understand God as three "persons"? Especially when our Jewish friends pronounce, "The Lord our God is ONE"? What if we view this concept as God "modeling" family and community for humanity?  If we come to understand the very nature of God as a "we," WE can be a part of this realm, as beloved children of God. God calls us into relationship--community--with godself, and God IS a "family" within God's own existence. A divine "relationship" models a functional community for human beings to emulate and be a part of. (There is a lot more to my thinking here than I can put into a simple blog, but suffice it to say, my answer to the question "Why the Trinity?" is not just "Because the Bible says so.")

Now, let's briefly examine the "persons" of the Holy Trinity...

God the Creator--often labeled "Father"--seems to be the ringleader of the operation, at least functionally. There are things that Jesus says only God knows, such as when things are going to wrap up down here on Earth. Now, it is a heresy to suggest that one "person" of the Trinity is somehow "greater" than any of the other two, but there appears to be a separation of powers or assignments, at least. Unfortunately, Michelangelo did us a great disservice when he portrayed God as the white-haired old gentleman reaching out to touch Adam and give him life. The Bible says that God is spirit. And while Jesus calls God "Father," we must note that because of his human sojourn as a male, Jesus adopts this paternal label for God to keep first-century disciples from getting confused. In actuality, God must embody all gender identities, as the Bible says we are "made in the image of God," and we are manifest as different gender identities, aren't we? In our time, it is unnecessary to always view the Creator as "Father." "Parent God," "Father/Mother God," or just "God" as terms for Creator help us not exclude those for whom "Father" is a negative or unnecessarily patriarchal term. (I once had a young, single Mom in one of my congregations who was overjoyed that she didn't have to think of God as "Father," as she had suffered much abuse at the hands of men, including her own father.)

Jesus the Son. If I really want to gain an understanding of a loving, forgiving, humble-yet-powerful God who gather's God's people like a "hen gathers her chicks," I read about and imagine Jesus. The closeness of God, made possible by The Christ coming into our human existence, is profound. Christianity would do well to rediscover the "Christ Center" of our faith and get away from a watered-down "it's all God" approach. There is magic and wonder in the concept that God took a divine field trip, and even in some mystical way, offered a supreme, loving "sacrifice" on our behalf. We have to bring the "blood shedding" imagery into a modern idiom, as it doesn't speak as well to our age. In Jesus' time, this made perfect "religious" sense. The Jews sacrificed an animal for the forgiveness of sin. But this is not our practice, is it? This is quite foreign to us. The closest "bloodshed" image we might have in our time is the story of a young soldier throwing her or himself on a grenade to save others. But there are other models: a parent giving a child an organ to save its life; a single parent doing without for herself in order to feed, clothe, and nurture her children; a partisan politician "stepping across the aisle" to vote a compromise bill into law, even if it means their defeat at the next election. Perfect love, parenthood, and even leadership, often involves serious sacrifice. Jesus models this in the context of his time. In 2014, his unction to "take up your cross and follow me" means far more than just a beating or persecution. It means changing ones priorities to benefit our neighbor and others. That is sacrifice, and out of this comes genuine love.

The Holy Spirit. Boy, do we have a fit with this "person" of the Godhead! In fact, many Christian people refer to the Spirit as an "it," even when they don't realize it. I know I have. You see, we have trouble seeing the Spirit as a "person," because she/he is SPIRIT! Now, I tried to make the case that using exclusive male imagery for God is archaic. Jesus clearly comes in male form (again, probably because of the context of the time he entered the world), but what of the Spirit of God? I think of the Spirit as the "female" manifestation of the Godhead. The various words for Spirit in the Bible are feminine. The ministries of the Holy Spirit seem to be in the realm of what are often female roles in our culture. And, forgive me if I'm stereotyping here, but the way the Spirit is totally subsumed in the work of nurturing, educating, guiding, and comforting tend to me more invested in female persons in our time. To call the Spirit "she" makes sense to me. I'm telling you this so you don't freak out if I do so in worship!

One final note about the "Spirit stuff"--the work of the Spirit seems to be the most mysterious to me of the agencies of the Godhead. Sure Paul talks about gifts of the Spirit, and a few "practical" resources borne by the Spirit, but mostly the work of the Spirit is a mystery, and it's a good thing. If we had as much "didactic" information about the Holy Spirit as the Bible (especially Paul) gives us about God the Creator and Jesus the Son, we would dogmatically create a hierarchy of control, superimposing it upon the work of the Spirit, and probably "quenching" her, to use Paul's language. I really like the Celtic "wild goose" metaphor for the Holy Spirit--much more exciting than the "dove" imagery given us by the Gospel writers.

So, that's "Spirit Stuff." Hopefully these thoughts open an on-going dialogue about the rich faith we share, Beloved. Shalom!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Places...

The United Methodist appointment engine roared to life this year and the Sterlings got caught up on its momentum. In what may be the closest thing to reincarnation for Methodists, yours truly was appointed back to a church I had previously served as an Associate Pastor (from 1992 to 1997). St. Paul's UMC is a vital, growing, suburban congregation that was blessed by the 22 year ministry of its Lead Pastor, Dr. Ronald Hoellein. When the good doctor decided to retire, it was discerned that I could return, presumably in an attempt to have me get it right the second time around. So, guess who is STP's new Lead Pastor? Just to be reminded of the legacy I am following, I have a 2 x 3 foot photo of Ron on the wall behind my desk. And in this photo, he seems to be saying, "WHAT in the world are you doing?"

And, there is no pastor's house provided in this new, exciting setting for ministry (we call that a "parsonage" in Methodist parlance). Instead, STP pays a housing allowance, which means that my lovely and talented wife and I had to find our own place. We decided to land in a place where we could presumably retire--a town house/condominium--with the theory that the groundskeeping, mowing, and snow plowing was best left to someone else, especially if we decide to go away for awhile. Most of the homes we looked at before settling on the town house were small, but plunked down in the middle of large expanses of hilly grass screaming "Mow me, MOW me NOW!"

If you ever get the chance to move 37 years of marriage into a town house, don't go gently into that good night, my friends. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for the garage sale mini-horders in our midst. We thought we had "weeded out," and the moving company confirmed that our move to Mars, PA was a full THREE TONS less than our last move, but we are still trying to find a place to put stuff in a fairly spacious town house as town houses go.

Yes, we are now Martians. I always got a kick out of this little town just North of Pittsburgh, for as you enter Mars, you are greeted by a small, shiny metal flying saucer. Remembering my Ray Bradbury, every time I look at my reflection in a pool of water now, I say: "WE are the Martians."

The people of STP have been AMAZING in their welcome, and the highly competent staff has given their newbie Lead Pastor the benefit of the doubt to this point. I'm going to do my best to "offer them Christ," as Mr. Wesley said, and work with this great staff to provide vision, ministry, and programs that address the needs of the communities we serve. After that, we'll see what happens.

Seriously, I am most grateful to the Bishop and the Cabinet for offering me this leadership opportunity. I will do my best to not screw up. And I'm thankful that when the Staff-Parish Relations Committee met us, they didn't run out the door thinking, "WHAT in the world are you doing?"

Now let's take this baby out and see what she'll do! Shalom, Yinz!

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...