Thursday, December 26, 2019


Halloween used to be a day. Now, it's a season. Christmas beat it to the punch. While Halloween is rapidly becoming the "most decorated" time, Christmas has held that title for a couple thousand years. Don't ask a liturgical scholar when Christmas begins and ends, as their answer doesn't match what has been going on in the popular culture for centuries, actually. Is it appropriate to sing "Christmas hymns" before Christmas Day? The popular culture is on to things like "Last Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Tell modern church-goers (the ones who still come) we don't sing the few hymns they may actually know like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" or "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," until after Christmas Day, and they will soon join the ranks of those who DON'T come anymore. Are there still folk who like to observe liturgical correctness? Of course. Most of them have at least an M.Div. degree or attend a traditional liturgical church, say Lutheran or Episcopal. There is a place for such liturgical traditions, and I'm not meaning to disrespect them. However, as a pastor whose personal mission statement includes "connecting people with God and people to people," maintaining a liturgical rigidness adds a degree of difficulty I can't accept.

I'll not get into the whole "contemporary" or "modern" worship debate in this brief piece. I believe these are wonderful and viable "flavors" to add to Christian worship, as they speak to the hearts of many folk, and serve to help make the relational connection to God I believe to be Priority One. Personally, I still prefer what we label "Classic" or "Traditional" worship, but only because it falls more squarely within my comfort zone. I read enough music to like to occasionally drop down to the bass line and sing harmony, and can, with enough instrumental backup, sight-read a new piece of worship music. Words on a screen, accompanied by gifted vocalists who like to "bend" the melody line artistically, while fine from a "spectator" perspective, don't adequately encourage me to embarrass myself by trying to sing along. Of course, for us "traditional" folk, this technique would keep us coming back, as after we have heard a worship tune for six or seven times, we might pick up enough of it to get brave.

This same argument, with a few edits, will be used by those of you who love contemporary Christian music and worship songs. You don't see the point in hymns, especially when sung at a slogging pace. You're not at all inspired by an invitation to "raise mine Ebenezer," or signing on to "we, too, will thither..." Interestingly, many of the younger set are gaining a fresh appreciation for the pipe organ. This promises a revival of the type to which I can exclaim, "Hallelujah!" The world is populated by so many significant examples of this magnificent instrument that this new development is essential to its survival. Pipe organs are decidedly "high maintenance." Now, if we can just get a raft of these newbies to sign on to learn to play the things!

Sorry for the tangent. (This is why I never became a stand-out preacher, in spite of being an excellent student of homiletics.) Back to the extended session we call Christmastime.

I'm OK with it. The four-month Christmas Season, that is. Nothing gets folk talking more about religion, God, the Bible, and "church" more than the onset of Christmas, even if it does start before Halloween. (Politics will do that, too, for some, but that's when the fight breaks out...) I love the idea of generosity and giving gifts that goes along with Christmas, although I do wish we could get beyond that "gift for everybody" mindset that has begotten smelly, fast-burning candles and brightly-decorated tchotchkes with a wall-hanger, both of which the giver expects to see displayed proudly when they visit next Christmas. My wife puts "Holiday Traditions" on our satellite radios as soon as it debuts. I'm OK with that, too, because she is just the cutest thing, and I'd love her even if she liked Country music (however, I say a prayer of thanks, daily, that she doesn't, other than an occasional Johnny Cash number). We used to collect Nativity sets until we down-sized and moved into a townhouse. We did keep some of the most significant ones, which are still proudly displayed. I was able to find a young lad in our current church who was happy to receive my Veggie Tales Nativity, still one of my favorites. (I didn't say that my "educated" Christianity was without schmaltz!)

I say "Happy Holidays" so as not to disparage my friends and colleagues from other faith traditions. This year, though, I got a beautiful Christmas card from my dear friends at the Muslim Association of Pittsburgh, North, and the first "Merry Christmas" text I received was from my Rabbi friend. I do, therefore, try to stay on top of when their holidays and festivals are so I may return the kindness. I know that, because of the popular culture, they can't avoid Christmas. Still, it is a sin to "rub it in" by insisting on saying "Merry Christmas." That's crusading.

I decorate. Not to the Clark Griswold level, but I decorate. While my beloved wants to downsize our Christmas Tree, I'm resisting. It is already a pretty humble-sized, artificial one, but It is still taller than I am, which is the acid test. We have a twinkling, colorful tree on our back deck, because no one else decorates their back deck in our plan. Just the rebel in me. Oh, and I have one of those green and red laser things panning the front of our townhouse. I like lasers, and eschew ladders. I like the lights of Christmas--they are a wonderful and universal metaphor for the incarnation, and make a statement that the light of Christ is alive and well in the world and on Village Green Boulevard. East.

I read a story recently about a pastor who was visiting a parishioner several months after Christmas. As they were chatting, his eyes wandered to a shelf where a lone Christmas Tree ornament was displayed. His host saw the puzzled look on her preacher's face, and explained, "No, it's not a mistake. I pick one ornament from the tree each year to keep out, just to remind me that the Joy of Christmas is not just a seasonal thing--it's for every day of the year. Indeed. Now, which ornament to choose...

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, Yinz...oh, and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Hopers, not Mopers...

Last Sunday, I told our congregation that the world needs HOPERS, not MOPERS. In a season of hope, Christians and other people of faith are called to mobilize a message of encouragement, welcome, and hospitality. There is no longer any room for "no room in the inn." Christians believe in a Jesus who opened the door to hope and refuses to close it--to the least, the last, the lost, the outcast, the shunned, the dismissed, and the hopeless causes. Jesus also welcomes the privileged, the wealthy, the "entitled," the majority, those in power, and those for whom "struggle" is a dirty word--just please leave your pretenses at the door, and be prepared to sit at the far seats at the table.

Hope, for the world, is a kind of wish. "I HOPE this will happen"..."I HOPE my friend is OK"..."I HOPE I will keep my job." Outside of the teachings of faith, hope doesn't offer much, well, hope. One of my parishioners thought it would be a good idea to buy Christmas tree ornaments with the four words of the Advent journey on them: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love. She could only find ornaments with Peace, Joy, and Love." Hope was nowhere to be found. Apart from faith, hope has little traction.

People of faith, including we Jesus-followers, are blessed with a very "meaty" hope! In the scriptures we read, "Faith is the substance of things HOPED for..." Our relationship with God, our experience with answered prayers, the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of God's continued agency in our daily lives breeds a "hope" that is far more than a wish. This hope is a promise. Our faith has the power to reverse the effects of entropy--as we trust in God, we may actually gain passion, energy, insight, and optimism, instead of eroding them, along with the natural course of things. We are empowered to be HOPERS. Entropy--the natural "winding down" of things--may create an orbit of MOPERS--people who, at the least, string complaints and gripes like pearls on a necklace. At the worst, they suck the energy from everything around them. Mopers could write their own scripture verse: "Don't spend much time worrying about today, as you can count on tomorrow being worse."

The world needs HOPERS. The church needs HOPERS. For the life of me, I can't see how "more clearly defining our rules" and adding punitive measures against those who violate them can possibly generate hope in the church. I can remember a time when we evangelicals* cared most about "the lost," and in helping people find a relationship with God. It seems now that in an age of increasing "moping," Evangelicals are more focused on judging, trying, and dispatching dissenters. Is it any wonder why the church is bleeding young people?

It IS a season of hope! Advent is about the coming of the Christ--define that how you choose, but Christians believe any "coming" of Christ, whether celebrating the current presence of Christ in us, anticipating the "second coming" of Christ, or even remembering that night when Christ was born into the world--yields HOPE. However you experience the approaching Christ, let his presence plant a seed of hope in your soul. Purpose to be a HOPER, not a MOPER. Start small, as moping has a lot of entropy working for it, and will try to drag you down at every turn. And don't walk in your own strength, alone. Let the Spirit of God juice you up with passion for compassion, strength for service, and words for witness! HOPERS love, hopers serve, and hopers offer good words to others in a time of critical rhetoric.

Shalom, Dear Ones!

*I use “evangelical” with a small “e” to indicate that, as a true Wesleyan Christian, I am compelled to “offer them Christ,” out of love for all God’s people. “Evangelical” with the capital “E” has come to mean a right-wing, political manifestation with a small agenda that excludes and judges.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Best Beat in the Bible...

God shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.
I remember hearing this text many, many years ago as a teenager, sitting in the balcony of Grace United Methodist Church in Oil City, PA. I'm sure it had been read in previous Advent seasons, but I was at an age when the war in Vietnam was still raging, and one of my neighbors had been killed there. The highlighted section hit me like a brick between the eyes. I remember thinking, "Wow, how COOL, and it's in the BIBLE!" (As a teenager, I was more skeptical of the ancient wisdom of the scriptures than enraptured.) 

We read this passage, still, during Advent. It is a wonderful promise that many believe is an eschatological one. But does it have to be only a promise of some far-off future? What if God already gave us the ability to fulfill most of the promise--beat our swords into plowshares? 

Rocketry was invented to lob bombs into an enemy camp by the ancient Chinese; Germany perfected it in the V-1 and V-2 to devastate London during World War II. After that war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union divided up the German rocket scientists and used them to begin what we now know as the space program, including the race to the moon, ultimately "won" by the Americans. Years later, the two super powers would collaborate on the Apollo-Soyuz project and eventually the International Space Station. Rocket technology has launched humans and space probes to other worlds and beyond for the purpose of exploration instead of destruction. Swords into plowshares?

The brilliant minds of Einstein, Teller, and Oppenheimer collaborated in the Manhattan Project to build the world's largest bomb--a nuclear one. Only two of them have ever been exploded in war, but the outcomes for the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cataclysmic. By harnessing nuclear energy for peace, massive amounts of electrical power have been generated to drive the technological revolution of many nations, medical uses of that same energy have saved millions of lives, and space probes (Voyager 1 and 2) and a Mars rover (Curiosity) will explore our near universe for decades more. Spears into pruning hooks?

ARPNET was a system of communication using computers, designed by the U.S. military to move information between battlefields and bases. ARPNET was turned over to the universities, where it morphed into what we know as the Internet, today. While the Internet has brought its share of issues to the human community, there is no doubt that it has revolutionized our communications, world-wide. We carry it in our pockets, shop with it, send photos of our grandchildren, take courses and engage serious academic research. Need information? Just "Google" it! Swords into plowshares?

Again, give credit to the U.S. military who launched and used the first Global Positioning Satellites (G.P.S.) to steer bombs and artillery accurately. Turned over to us, it guides our cars, planes, boats, and steps to specific addresses and coordinates. For those of us who get lost at the drop of a hat, GPS, whether through our car navigation systems, a Garmin, or a cell phone app, is a true godsend. Another spear into a pruning hook?

Why, even the military "Jeep" from World War II resulted in today's all-wheel drive Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) that most Americans drive today, making us safer in wintry weather and on wet, slippery roads.

Mikhail Gorbachev launched reform in the Soviet Union he called "Glasnost." Through his peace overtures to the U.S. and President Reagan, the Soviet Union eventually dissolved into its separate states, and the "Doomsday Clock" was dialed back several hours. My late brother-in-law, who was a corporate attorney, worked for a company that got contracts to go into the Soviet Union to help them hold up their end of a peace accord with the U.S.--the dismantling of a large number of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) with nuclear warheads. After the warheads were removed and their nuclear material re-purposed, the metal of these missiles was melted down and used to make tractors for the farming industry--LITERALLY swords into plowshares! When I suggested to my brother-in-law that he was helping fulfill a biblical prophecy, he was amazed.

After Glasnost and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States responded to this relaxed threat by using some of the dollars no longer needed for national defense for more benevolent purposes. Some went to education, some to research (medical and technological), and some to social programs to aid minorities and low income Americans. This was called the "Peace Dividend," and while it lasted only a few years before the attacks of 911 and the rise China and Putin's Russia as new threats, tremendous advances were recorded, especially in technology and medicine. This peace dividend gave us a small sample of what our world can look like when at peace. Unfortunately, we now have more enemies in the world than before Glasnost, and we are again pumping billions and billions of dollars into new ways to destroy. But we EXPERIENCED a sample of peace, and it was astounding!

While I would not suggest that the Divine did not have some part in these "swords into plowshares" endeavors, they were largely human efforts. God HAS given us the ability to create peace and to disarm our world. I told our congregation that if we don't work for peace, we will be overcome by war, as that is what will fill the vacuum. 

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus IS the Prince of Peace. If we believe in the presence of Jesus in the world today, we have the secret to both world peace AND inner peace. While not wanting to delay our efforts toward peace and justice in the larger sphere of our existence, I do believe that the popular hymn "Let There be Peace on Earth" is right--"...and let it begin with me." The message of the gospel focuses first on the human heart. What within you is at war with you? Are you facing challenges too great for you to conquer alone? Are you at war with your body? Your mind? Do you suffer from the kind of self-esteem that needs a ladder to kiss a snake's belly? Jesus touched INDIVIDUALS as he walked this earth, bringing healing and peace to their souls, even as he taught us how to bring peace to the wider community. Yielding to the "peace initiative" of God may yield a balm for the human heart and soul. Once we have built a bridge to peace WITHIN ourselves, we may have the heart--and method--to expand it outward.

As Advent begins, may this be for you a season of Peace, dear ones! And may we use the gifts God gave the human community to build a peaceful, just, and inclusive realm for ALL of God's people! Shalom!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Impeaching Oneself...

Nope. Not going to be about what you thought, once again. If "impeachment" is a remedy for a public official who cannot be charged with a crime while in office, how does that compare with how we are called, as Christian believers, to be accountable for sin? See--not what you thought.

If we believe the New Testament biblical narrative and the teachings of Jesus and Paul, forgiveness of our sins is an act of God's grace and not contingent, at all, upon our actions. We receive this gift by saying "yes" to it--no magic incantations, no throwing clams at the sun, no self-flagellation--not even any specific "sinner's prayer" we have to say out loud with a qualified salvation "counselor." So, this lifting of the charges against us by God puts us in a similar position to the President of the United States, whom the Justice Department says cannot be charged with a crime while in office.

Now that we're forgiven, where does "accountability" come in? This is where we must impeach ourselves. What I mean by that is that we set out to live into our redemption by incorporating the teachings of Jesus into our attitudes, actions, and judgments. This process of integrating our faith into "real" life is what some might call discipleship. The problem is that the church has made such a big deal out of being "saved" or "born again," we have so downplayed the actual aim of living as a redeemed, beloved child of God. There is so much focus on "sin" in our lives that it often turns us into spiritual narcissists--it's all about us. Or, if we aim the "sin" beam on others, it's about THEM, and why they should be judged. In this distorted effort, it's time to impeach ourselves for violating the terms of our "office"--"Go and make disciples of all nations...", not "Call out the sin you see in other people and tell them exactly what they must do to be saved like you." (I think Jesus addressed this impeachable offense with the story of the speck in the other's eye and the log in our eye...)

The Bard said, "To thine own self, be true." This is the first step in following the teachings of Jesus to "love your neighbor as you love yourself." It means we are compelled to get to know ourselves at a sober, honest level--Like God wants to know us--which leads, necessarily, to a healthy level of self-respect. And from this good grounding, we are able to help and serve our neighbor, offering dignity and respect to them as well. Notice that the end result of getting our own act together is serving and respecting the other. Why is it so easy to move to judgment, rather than love, when we finally find our spiritual footing? What part of "Judge not, lest you be judged" don't we get? Judging rather than loving is an impeachable offense, which is way beyond our pay grade. The promise of grace says God won't do it, so we must impeach ourselves from this temptation.

It has become almost a joke today that when public officials are charged with an offense, they rarely take responsibility, either denying the charge, or invoking the useless assessment, "Mistakes were made." Accountability is becoming a profane concept, culturally. Copping to a faux pas, apologizing to those offended, and asking forgiveness is a sure way to get dumped in the next election or get fired from a job, in the current environment. This shift is truly an impeachable offense, especially for the Christian, but again, it is we who must impeach ourselves in order to short circuit this "blame game."

I have a confession to make: I'm a really good excuse maker-upper. I can be pretty creative in crafting excuses to let myself off the hook, from time to time. The worst of this is not what I tell others, but what I swallow myself in order to sincerely believe my own excuse! For, you see, if I am truly convinced the excuse is genuine, it is easy to broadcast it publicly. Yes, there are times I can convincingly lie to myself, and believe my own lie. If I believe it, I can act on it with integrity. If this sounds nuts, it IS! And yet, I'll bet I'm not alone in this pesky, personal, prevarication process. What say you? Yeah, it's probably human nature to save one's own posterior first, but according to the teachings of Jesus, this is also an impeachable offense. "The one who wants to be the greatest among you must first become the servant of all." Jesus' teachings can be viewed as "A Guide to Avoid Becoming a Narcissist."

I spoke with a friend the other day who told me of his journey, and how he has, through a series of life events that would have caused 99.9% of the rest of us to throw in the towel, come to truly love and respect other people. He feels a deep emotional and spiritual connection with others, harbors a profound sense of gratitude for how his life has turned out, in spite of past suffering and peril, and believes he is truly connected with mother earth. I think he came to see me, last least partly, because he wondered what he is doing "wrong." A truly humble man, he wished to share some of his story with others, but didn't want to seem like he had found some unique "secret." Truly, what he has found is faith, the divine--and himself. And he is quite comfortable with that. I suggested that he share his story in small doses, lest he either not be believed, or someone decides to nail him to a cross. His story may have been the most UNimpeachable one I have heard in a long time. I was blessed to hear it, and quick to affirm it.

Hold your own hearings, my friends. Draw up your own Articles of Impeachment to "fire" those parts of your journey that disconnect you from God, others, or yourself. But remember, your vote is the only one that counts, as in Jesus Christ, God has already voted. Live into your redemption, Yinz. One by one, it will transform the world.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A Blog about nothing...

If Seinfeld could be a show about nothing, might a blog be so? Well, if you take stock of everything happening in the country, there are thousands of pieces of news to address, so, basically I'm on news overload. Hence, I've decided to write about nothing. Here goes...

Bloom County is a cartoon drawn by Berkeley Breathed, a talented, but possibly deranged artist. In Bloom County, Breathed has created a host of beloved characters, including perverted attorney Steve Dallas, a young Jerry Seinfeld-like human named Milo Bloom (after which the strip is named, and around whom the "action" takes place), Bill the Cat, who is pretty much the feline version of Jeffrey Lebowski, and the "Kramer" character, played by a flightless waterfowl named Opus. Breathed uses the light-hearted antics of his penciled protagonists to perform all manner of satire and spoof, much of it social commentary, and, of course, some political. The actual syndicated comic strip ran in hundreds of newspapers across the USA, until Breathed took a break in 1989. He recently began drawing it again, distributing it for free on a Facebook page. His foils over the years have included presidents (including Donald Trump before he was elected), Hollywood elites, and fictitious politicians standing in for real life politicos. Around presidential election time, the American Meadow Party has its convention, at which point it typically nominates Bill the Cat and Opus as their candidates, to run against the party favorites of the other two major parties.

My favorite "race" strip was during the 1984 election cycle when Ronald Reagan was running against Walter Mondale. The American Meadow Party yet again nominated Bill the Cat (who was temporarily deceased, at that point until strip genius Oliver Wendell Jones resurrected him from one of his nine lives) and Opus, the penguin, who had left the convention to go out for Ding Dongs. As they had just completed their nominations, a man with a "Mondale for President" hat stuck his head in the door of the hotel room where the Meadow Party was meeting, asking,
    "Is this the Democratic National Convention?"
Milo Bloom replied,
   "No, this is the American Meadow Party."
The Mondale supporter inquired,
   "Oh? Who are you guys putting up against Reagan?"
Bloom answered,
   "A dead cat."
To which the Mondale man shrugged his shoulders and answered,
   "Oh, what the hell..." and joined the Meadow Party.

As one who gets WAY too torqued over political happenings and social justice advocacy, Bloom County is a needed piece of comic relief. Even though Breathed's strip is a soft version of Doonesbury, without shying away from all social commentary, it soothes the inflamed spirit and uses its mix of lovable, anthropomorphic animal characters and loony humans to build a joyous, two-dimensional community.

See, nothing.

Halloween just ended and Thanksgiving is coming, so that means Pumpkin everything is on the shelves. As one who likes only Pumpkin Pie, I am malignantly disaffected. Is there anything left that is not available in Pumpkin flavoring? Here are a few things I can think of: Pez candy; ketchup; Tootsie Roll Pops; meatloaf; axle grease; bourbon; Communion wafers; multi-vitamins; and olives.

I also eschew flavored coffees, if you exclude Irish Coffee, which I do like as a dessert. Other than that, I like my coffee coffee flavored, without Hazelnut, Vanilla, Maple Bacon, or Pumpkin.

Speaking of Halloween, why is it so hard to find apple cider all year round? Apples are grown somewhere all of the time. This is disappointing.

On a political note: don't forget to vote on Tuesday, November 5. You should always vote when you have the opportunity--it's an American right, and a civic responsibility. I urge you to vote "NO" on Marcy's Law. Using only 75 well-chosen words to describe a 500-word amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution, it is being marketed as a "no-brainer" victim's rights bill. However, it hides what may be serious limits to the rights of the accused, and since it requires several changes to the PA constitution, it violates the constitution, which states that changes to different parts of the constitution should be enacted individually, not in an omnibus referendum like this with a simple "YES" or "NO" vote. Both the ACLU and the League of Women Voters is urging a "No" vote on Marcy's Law, and I concur.

Speaking of pumpkins, I've seen a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media decrying why someone would steal a child's carved pumpkin from their front porch. Unless the pumpkin is observed smashed in the middle of the street, I've come to realize that it has probably been taken/eaten by a white-tailed deer. The deer like pumpkins, and deer are everywhere around our developments, because we have built whole communities over their former home woods.

Well, that's all the nothing I can think of for now. This doesn't bode well for this weekend's sermon...

Friday, October 18, 2019

Fright Night...

At the risk of sounding like Jerry Seinfeld, what is it with Halloween? Why do folk go so ga-ga over it, and why has it become the second most "decorated" holiday next to Christmas in our culture? And why has the church had such a love/hate relationship with it?

First of all, here is my personal experience: As a kid, the only thing I got into about Halloween was the Trick or Treating. I was and always have been a "candy" person, and just couldn't resist getting all of that free candy. I was so depressed when I had to give up Trick or Treating (about two years ago--just kidding). When Dara and I got married, we were attending a church that had a problem with "blending" Christian thinking with what was seen as "the devil's holiday," so we decided we would not raise our children up to celebrate Halloween. We were very intentional about taking them out of school on the day of the Halloween parties and doing something special with them, like going to the Carnegie Science Center. We also made sure they didn't miss out on the "treats." We taught them to not rain on the "Halloween parade" of their friends, nor to "preach" any wild reason for why we did what we did as a family, but just to respect what others choose to do. Neither of our kids seemed to resent missing Halloween. (I should also mention that one factor that weighed in our decision to NOT celebrate Halloween was that at that time, the news was filled with stories of poisoned or drugged candy, and suggestions to take the "treats" to a local hospital to be x-rayed.) Now that they are adults, they have made up their own minds about the holiday. Our two grandchildren go Trick or Treating. We loved hearing our granddaughter try to say "pumpkin," which came out "POOOMP-man."

The first church I served was just getting ready to "battle" over what they would do during the month of October. The previous year, this church, being in decline and down on their luck, financially, actually rented out the while education wing to a local school group that turned it into a month-long haunted house, as a fundraiser. Many in the church church were very upset by this, and considering that Pittsburgh's "Christian" TV station (channel 40 in those days) was just up over the hill in Wall, PA, and was "calling out" this church for "selling out to the devil" by doing this, I can see why they were. It wasn't the best PR campaign for the church. As the new pastor, I did a little research into it, and persuaded the Administrative Board to abandon the plan to rent the church out for a Haunted House again, but did so on the basis that they had actually lost money on the endeavor, due to extra utility costs during October.

Another church I served held a "Harvest Party," and limited the costuming to "biblical characters" or "Disney" visages. The kids had fun, just the same.

At St. Paul's, we have had Haunted Houses for youth fundraisers, typically have "Trunk or Treat" as part of our Fall Fest, and have lots of Harry Potter fans, including yours truly. I think most churches have grown out of the "boogeyman" phase of Halloween, although there are still necessary cautions when it comes to Trick or Treating and getting candy from strangers, as some are stranger than others. I think the Harry Potter series did a lot to use  the "spooky" images of wizards, dragons, and potions to teach lessons about good and evil, right from wrong, and the triumph of love over hate and inordinate power-seeking. Did I say that I like Harry Potter?

But what has it become such a major holiday? I'll bet that 90 percent of the homes in our plan decorate--some excessively--for Halloween. Is it a way we make fun of our fears? Maybe. Possibly we are reliving the ancient days when, in preparation for All Saints Day, people of faith "celebrated" All Hallows Eve, mocking death, because of the promise of new life, resurrection, and eternal life that comes via the grace of God. I'd like to think that, even though many Halloween merrymakers may not be aware of this history.

I still don't see all of the commercial hype, though, but this is coming from a guy whose era rented a $30  tux for the prom, took a date who wore a dress her mom made, and arrived in a Volkswagen, so what do I know?

As to Halloween, it will now always be the time I heard that precious little voice dramatically and slowly drawling out, "POOOMP-man." Shalom, Dear Ones...

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Like Sands Through the Hourglass...

When I was a kid, faking illness to get a day off of school, I was often subjected to my Mom's TV viewing habits (she worked as an RN at night, and therefore watched daytime TV) which included a couple of "soap operas," including one that began with the dramatic pronouncement: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives..." Even in 1963, I didn't really know what an hourglass was, since I had a Mickey Mouse watch, but oh well. I think the point of the narrative was that life moves on, and we really can't stop its progress.

The past 10 days have sort of been like that for us. One of my best friends of young adulthood passed away very suddenly. Tim Tygert was a child of missionary parents, probably the most faithful Christian I have ever known, and even though we didn't see each other much over the past 15 years, I know that he became an amazing husband, father, and grandfather. [Story: Once, when I was serving First UMC in Warren, PA, a bright, talented young man came to practice on the huge pipe organ we had there. As I chatted with him, he said that I might know his fiancé's father, and then told me his name: Rev. Tim Tygert. I remember saying to him, "Ryan, you may have no idea how wonderful the family you are marrying into is! And then I told him a few good "Tim" stories, which were ALWAYS stories of faith.] I remember being so excited when Tim told me he was going to ask out this fantastic girl we both knew--I thought they would be a good match. While I was sad when they decided to stop dating, two others were blessed: Cindi, the wonderful young lady who would become his wife, and me, because the other girl was Dara!

As we were setting up our schedule to attend Tim's memorial service, we got word that Dara's dad, Edwin Apel, was taking a serious turn in his health. He recently entered into hospice care, and the sands of his hourglass may be dwindling. He has had a blessed life, and at almost 93, I know he will gladly look forward to being welcomed into the arms of Jesus. Still, this news was not something we were looking forward to hearing.

And then I got word that my Mom had been hospitalized by her doctor, who discovered a heart ailment that would require a pacemaker and related drug therapies. More sands ticking away. Her procedure was scheduled for Friday.

So, as that old "Days of Our Lives" sand crawls through the bottleneck of the hourglass, we'll be spending the next couple of days back "home" in Oil City. It isn't a joy ride, though--visiting Dara's dad, possibly witnessing his final days; visiting my mom in the hospital, and praying all goes well for her ticker to get back in a healthy rhythm; and saying an earthly "Goodbye" to a man who has inspired my life and Christian faith as much as anyone I ever knew. Life marches on--or trickles through the hourglass, as it were. How thankful we are for the grace of God and the love of Jesus, that embraces all in these times of need. May those eternal and endless arms surround all those who grieve, suffer, and strive for healing. Maybe that's YOU today, Dear Ones. Shalom...

Friday, September 20, 2019

That Darned Jesus...

The church I serve has as its Vision Statement: We will be an inclusive, diverse church, loving others according to the teachings of Jesus and working for justice and peace in our world. It's that "teachings of Jesus" part that gets hard.

I'm not talking about accepting--and even sharing--the redeeming, reconciling, and transforming grace of God offered to us in the Christ Event. We don't stumble much over that, unless our "diversity" is limited, and we "screen" those with whom we share this "good news." But, in general, we're good, at this point.

And most of us would probably affirm the "great commandments" Jesus challenges us with: Loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. Oh, we can get bogged down in the questions of "What is sabbath?" or "Who is my neighbor?", but again, we mostly good here, too.

It's when we start to look at the example of Jesus that we get a little kerfuffled. Jesus truly welcomed the stranger, ate with "sinners," and hung out with the ne'er-do-wells of the first century BCE. Even the lepers found a friend in Jesus. He wasn't afraid to "correct" the judgmental religious leaders, and suggested to them that they should "grow up" from just enforcing religious laws to realize that the role of the law was to turn people toward a relationship with God, not "appease" God. And, if that wasn't enough, when push came to shove, he let them push him through beatings and thorny crowns, and shove him onto a cross. He wasn't afraid to make the "ultimate sacrifice" for what he believed in, and what he believed in was US! And thanks to the resurrection, he still does.

In a sermon series on "Changing our Expectations," we have been looking at the parables of Jesus. Some of them are a bit hard to decipher for our time, as they are almost hopelessly buried in a first century context--you know, one of those "You had to be there" deals. We do our best, but parables like the "Crooked Manager" or the "Unrighteous Judge" are really hard to "fix" for our time. The rich man who is about to fire his crooked manager for cooking the books actually ends up praising him for being "shrewd" when he connives yet again to endear himself to the ones he screwed in the first place. What do we do with that?

Then there are the "Beatitudes" of Matthew 5, and part of the "Sermon on the Mount." Some of them make good ethical or moral sense:

-"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
-"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."
-Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
-"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

Then there are these:

-"Blessed are the poor in spirit, or theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What? What does it mean to be "poor in spirit"? Could it mean they live in full realization that apart from God's grace we are bankrupt right to our core? Maybe. Or could it mean we will only find true riches in life through faith in God? Maybe. Whatever, the outcome is that those who either have--or attain--this characteristic will hold the keys to the kingdom. That's pretty important stuff. Maybe we should be a bit more diligent figuring out what this "beatitude" means?

-"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." OK, if this is just a statement of "blessing," telling us that when we find ourselves in grief, God will comfort us, I'm sure we can endorse this. However, since these statements of Jesus seem to be things we would be good to emulate, does this mean we should "seek" to mourn? Is this about the biblical understanding of "suffering," which is something to embrace, according to most of scripture, rather than to avoid? Are we to mourn for the lost, or the hurting, or the poor? Maybe. In doing so, do we develop the heart of compassion addressed in the "beatitude" about mercy and purity of heart? Is Jesus saying that our empathy for others will cause us to mourn, which should cause us to act on their behalf--including praying for them--and God will comfort us as we minister to and comfort them? Maybe.

-"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." What? It seems we had better figure out what "meek" means, because "inheriting the earth" is a big deal. At a time when we seem freshly bent on "consuming" the earth rather than preserving it and being good stewards of it, might we suggest that this "me first" response is the opposite of "meek"? The "meek" may be those who realize that we are only one part of a creation God pronounced as "good," and that while we have been "given dominion" over the rest of it, that was not meant to be a license to kill, destroy, or otherwise "use up" the "good stuff" God made. "Meek" may mean respectful of God's handiwork, and being of the mind to nurture the earth and its bounty, preserving it and even "improving" it for those who come after us. That works for me. How about you?

-"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Ouch. "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more..." Being like Jesus here means taking the crap that he took, from religious leaders, rich people, Roman authorities, and even ungrateful recipients of his miraculous healing ministry. Two important things here, and both of them are hard medicine: the "blessing" or "reward in heaven" is only granted when we are doing this for Jesus sake, i.e. for living out our faith with integrity and purpose; and we must not be jerks. Sam Calian, former president of my seminary, used to tell us budding preachers, "There's a fine line between being prophetic and being a jerk." The prophets got persecuted because they spoke a word of what God wanted to say to the people of their age, not because they mouthed off about what THEY thought about "what the Bible says" or tried to superimpose their religious prejudices upon the rest of the people. That's being a jerk. The business of interpreting scripture and what God wants to "say" to our time is hard work, and should be surrounded by prayer, grace, and with God's people in mind, not trite doctrines, enforcing "rules," and calling a judgmental spirit "keeping the covenant." Take a look around at who is really being persecuted. Those who promote "rule keeping" or maintaining the religious status quo are doing it to applause and a chorus of "amens." Edgy interpretations of God's Word that include, affirm, and transform society into a loving community are currently being slammed, and these "preachers" are being brought up on charges. While it's hard to "rejoice and be glad" when one is being branded "unfaithful" or "heretical," we will have to remember we are in good company, at least according to Jesus.

Long ago, I stopped coining that popular phrase, "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD), as most of the time, what Jesus did is really hard to replicate, and doing so may get you in serious trouble with the religious crowd, even in 2019. That darned Jesus. He continues to push the hanging out with those whom others disdain, to wreck walls people want to build against others, and to envision a kingdom and an earth "inherited" by people who love radically. This isn't going to be easy. I'll bet that's what he heard in Gethsemane, too.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Blogger's Block...

What do you write in a blog when you have nothing to write? Well, you begin to take inventory of what is happening around you to see if you choose to comment on it. Probably boring, but here goes (just so I don't forget how to "keyboard"):

--The church I serve just kicked off our Fall worship schedule this past Sunday, and we combined four Sunday morning services into one. I guess some would call that "blended" worship. Musically, we sang a variety of hymns and songs, had our "Lifeboat" praise band as well as our Wesleyan Choir, singing. We featured our bell choir, which shared a beautiful piece of bell music. Combining services meant Pastor Karen Slusser and I could share leadership of the service. We had lots of kids, who were treated to a fun "children's message." Oh, and we hosted a picnic lunch afterwards, with maybe the biggest turnout we have seen at one of these. Our worship theme for the Fall is "Changing Expectations," we began with a Bible story chock-full of expectations on the part of each character in it--the miracle story of the water into wine at Cana, the beginning of the "signs" of Jesus from John's "book of signs." The story from the gospel is "sketchy," to say the least. The narrative says that Mary approaches Jesus (who has brought his raucous band of disciples with him to the wedding) to tell him "The wine gave out." I suggested Mary told Jesus because his disciples were probably responsible for the consumption of mass quantities of wine. Turning this group of fishermen and tax collectors loose at a wedding with an open bar would be akin to inviting a college fraternity. This story has expectations galore: the steward expects the best wine first, followed by the Boone's Farm when the guests were drunk, but had his expectations shattered when the "miracle" wine was the "best for last." Mary expects Jesus can do something about the dearth of wine. Jesus seems upset at his Mom's prompting, and his expectation is "My time has not yet come." As far as Mary goes, yes it has. The servants certainly had no expectation that the 180 gallons of water they collected in the jars of purification would instantly be turned to a really great Pinot Noir. And, if I'm right, the disciples didn't expect that their swilling of the first wine offering would be rewarded with a more bounteous and better libation. Out of the story, we challenged our congregation to take inventory, over the coming weeks of Bible stories, of their expectations, of themselves, of God, of their church, and of their friends, family, and significant others. We suggested that most of us are probably operating out of misplaced, exaggerated, or deflated expectations we have, or that have been "programed" into us by others and life. God can redeem and heal lots of things, but too often we shield our expectations from God's transforming love and grace. Let's not.

--Vacation's over. The challenges of Fall activities, meetings, and crises have begun to present themselves. Bonhoeffer wrote that "life together" is hard for religious people. Our faith, and the church, puts us in close proximity and fellowship with "others." These others don't necessarily share our family values, habits, and prejudices, nor do they share our interests, our aims, or even how to deal with "normal chaos" of life. How do we build community in the church without killing each other? How do we engage in shared ministry when we don't agree what our priorities are? How do we overcome our own demand for services and attention, in order to see that others may have greater needs that should be met first? And how do we responsibly lead the church through theological reflection and studying the scriptures when our diversity often leads to broadly differing interpretation of these? Oh, and then there's the whole issue of stewardship--funding ministry, staffing ministry with increasingly reluctant volunteers, and asking for more time from families whose choices and opportunities have already co-opted their time to the point of near psychoses. The Bible says that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it. Well, the degree to which we lack "wisdom" in this rapidly changing context in which we find ourselves, should lead us to a constant revival meeting of prayer for God's insights! In my 35th year of ministry, in some ways, I feel more clueless than what I started. Biblically, that means God finally has me right where God wants me. Boy, I hate that...

--On a lighter subject, the Pittsburgh Steelers began their season Sunday evening with an embarrassment during Prime Time television. We Steelers fans can harp all we want about how Tom Brady is actually an android, capable of perfectly reproducing Hall of Fame passes play after play; how Bill Belichick is the "Evil Emperor" who reads the minds of opposition quarterbacks and coaches like I read the newspaper; and how the Patriots manage to collect every banner player in the game to add to their unequaled legacy of titles. Maybe the fact that they just keep winning Super Bowls is a factor in this latter success? Who wouldn't want to play for a team that pretty much guarantees the limelight and a regular series of playoff checks? But, if we are honest, we have to admit that the Steelers looked like a rusty Volkswagen Beetle up against a Ferrari, and they ain't "Herbie." Rookies buoyed by success in the preseason got a sudden and serious dose of NFL reality. Veterans who believe they "still have it," found out that "it" is slower and gets fatigued much earlier. Evening Prime Time games--once a "shining star" for Pittsburgh--may be past their bedtime. Of course, it could just be the "slow start" that has become typical under Coach Tomlin, and the Black and Gold could yet gather a head of steam in the weeks ahead. Cleveland and Cincinnati, division rivals, both looked like they matched competitive wits with Pittsburgh in week one, so maybe we shouldn't panic. Then I looked at Baltimore's score. OH's going to be a  l-o-n-g season...

--Today (Monday), I am enjoying a day off, after kickoffs 2019. I'm hoping the weather holds up so I can take a spin in the Batmobile later (my "new" 2008 jet-black Mazda Miata). I just finished an hour on a Medieval torture rack they have renamed "Bowflex." At my age, I'm lifting weights in an attempt to beef up my upper self, to deflect attention away from my lower self, that may be carrying the extra mass of long days, bad diet, and a too-often sedentary career (I'm guessing the typing I'm doing now is burning about three calories?). The week ahead looks brutal. How about yours? Are we all allowing ourselves to be squished under the weight of expectations--ours, our perception of God's for us, or those of others? As one of my good clergy friends is fond of saying, "Be good to yourself." Maybe this is exactly what Jesus meant when he told us to "love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Beat, beat-up, and beating people will always have a hard time offering or accepting love. But that's a different message for a different time. For now, let me just leave you with this: Shalom, Dear Ones!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Back from the Moon...

In Tom Hank's HBO special series, "From the Earth to the Moon," chronicling the U.S. Apollo Program, Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad asks fellow crewman Alan Bean, "Are you back from the Moon, Al?" To which Bean replies, "I just keep thinking, 'Is that all there is?'" Well, Yours Truly is "back from the Moon"--or a great month of vacation, to be more precise. And yes, the strains of "Is that all there is?" are running through my brain, too.

For the past three years, my partner, Dara, and I have taken most of the month of August as vacation. My wonderful colleagues at St. Paul's are most gracious to cover my responsibilities, and we have enjoyed a variety of restful venues, including a Royal Caribbean cruise to New England this year. I'm always trying to come up with trips and activities that Dara will enjoy, as my best joy is in seeing her having a good time. I'm working on a lighthouse trip for next year, as she really likes lighthouses. I'm hoping we can actually stay in one--or in the keeper's residence. (I found a couple where you actually get to perform the keeper's duties, too, but the accommodations were pretty rustic, and one came with a warning that fairly common fog banks meant that a fog horn would be blasting day and night at least twice per minute. Not restful.)

We really have a good time on vacation together, so "returning from the moon" has the potential for evoking at least a small dose of depression or regret ("Is that all there is?") However, my experience these past three years is that I really DO get rested, and use some of that "down time" to contemplate: my relationship with God, my significant other, and my family; my call to ministry (has IT begun to evoke the "Is that all there is?" question?); and the efficacy of the church I serve. Now in my 35th year of pastoral ministry, I find that it is still fresh for me because the world is changing so much, and the challenge for the church is three-fold, in this light: 1. Keep proclaiming the timeless love and grace of God as revealed in Jesus Christ; 2. Be a constant observer of what is happening in the culture and in the lives of people who are--or who may become--the objects of our ministry; and 3. Develop innovative ways our church can respond quickly, lovingly, and efficiently to the change we see, tailoring our message so it can be "heard" by our rapidly changing audience and its needs.

I wish I could tell you that we have come up with a magic formula as to how to do this. We are learning mostly through trial and error, and have programed some changes, based on our observations and analysis, that have IMMEDIATELY elicited passionate--and sometimes negative--response. The trick here is to hear the "new" concerns, adapt our efforts to address any legitimacy we hear, and yet stick to our core plan, which we work to hard to assure is based on our church's purpose, mission, and vision statements. Being a responsive church is a messy game--sort of like launching three raucous "flyboys" in a spacecraft built by the cheapest bidder, and hoping they hit the moon. And that "cheapest bidder" part is key, as St. Paul's is a great example of a church that has the proverbial "champagne tastes and beer wages." Ministering in a consumerist culture, a large, vital church is so tempted to offer an abundant cornucopia of ministries and programs to address the whims and needs of every member family. Unfortunately, the funds necessary to carry all of these out with quality and consistency are rarely available, so we rely heavily on volunteers. Always have. And yet, in this current "paradigm shift" (sorry for dragging out that old chestnut), our younger families are too busy to staff for their own needs by volunteering, at least with any measure of consistency. Nowadays, when we make an appeal for persons to help us in a Sunday School class or with a hospitality ministry, we hear things like: "Oh, I can help on the second Sunday of the month, and occasionally on the fourth Sunday, unless my spouse is out of town, or my work schedule changes, which I won't know until the week before." Sound familiar?

Sometimes, what is at play in these machinations is a lack of priority for one's faith and/or faith community. That we can "preach about," challenging persons to give God more "time, talents, and treasures." However, I am not convinced that this is the central issue in this new environment the church finds itself in. The issue is change, itself. Things are changing so rapidly in the culture and in the lived-out realities for our families, that they struggle to know how to keep up, and how to both protect and nurture their children in this "time soup." This is NOT a time for the church to play the "blame game." I am increasingly convinced that we must use our vision to dial back on the "smorgasbord" approach to ministry and program, and to engender ownership and "permission-giving" ministry on the part of our people. And, at the risk of pulling out another of those tired, old chestnuts, we must be willing to try new things while letting some old things die a benevolent death.

The most perilous part of sending people to the moon was getting them safely back--that's why President Kennedy made clear his goal was of "...sending man to the moon and returning him safely to the earth." It's time for the church to come back from the moon, and to "return safely to the earth" by taking stock of what it feels God is calling it to be and do now! One of the great joys in serving a lively church like St. Paul's is that I RARELY hear in any meeting a suggestion that we "go back to the way we were," or regurgitate some program that worked in 1989, because someone has a great memory of how wonderful it was. At least here, people realize we are in 2019, and the world now is just about as different from what it was in 1989 (or 1952, in some churches) as the moon is from the earth.

At the risk of totally wearing out this "moon mission" metaphor, maybe what the church of today needs is a new spirit of exploration--exploring what kinds of things other communities of faith are doing that is reaching people successfully; being willing to try new things, especially when it involves a risk of redeploying scarce resources; and taking prayer and spiritual formation seriously as a root function of Christian discipleship, rather than just "feel good" exercises to temporarily re-inflate souls flattened by fatigue, burnout, or being stretched too thin.

All sounds good, but how do we make it work? I wish I knew. Again, maybe we can take a lesson from Project Apollo. In the opening segment of Hank's "From the Earth to the Moon," after hearing Kennedy's "man in the moon" speech, a staffer asked the NASA Administrator, "Can we do this?" He responded, "Most of the technology we will need hasn't been invented yet, we have no idea how to build the rockets needed to do it, and we have little information about the moon and how to keep a man alive there...Yeah, we can do it." His confidence was based on two things: the vision that launched the effort, and the people who would step forth to make it happen. So it is with the Christian church, Dear ones. So it is with the church. Grace and peace...

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Endless Debates...

There must be a difference between political debates and a cock fight, but I'll be darned if I can find it. Feathers and talons flying everywhere, the Democrats, with a cast of characters bigger than "Hair," have taken to the airwaves. Like everything else from peanut butter to proctologists, these things are over-analyzed by the media and "Moe" down at the bar. I'm absolutely shocked that Vegas hasn't figured out a way to bet on the candidates and how they perform in each debate, or that the giant banks haven't figured out how to make a "derivative" out of them to sell. They are ripe for it.

The latest debate had a new guy, Bullock, pulling in like a line-jumper on the Interstate. He certainly made some good points, but there was an obnoxiousness about him that I can't explain. Elizabeth Warren still sounds "whiney," Bernie gets so passionate, I fear he's going to give himself a stroke, and that author, Williamson? She sounds too much like she is reading from one of her books. I still like Buttigieg, but his demeanor and politeness will probably get him killed, at least politically. Haven't I seen that Delaney guy in a movie? He looks like a "red shirt" from Star Trek or a second-rate bad guy in a "B" movie. He, Bullock, and Amy Klobuchar tried to carve out a moderate position compared to Bernie and his Magic Kingdom, but Ms. Amy has some nasty skeletons in her staff closet, so I'm a little leery of her.

Unfortunately, the debate format, with so many candidates, is way too restrictive. A minute to answer a question about how you will fix healthcare? Or what you will do about the environment? Why, the Miss Universe pageant contestants get more time than that to tell us how they will use their cat to bring about world peace. And the commentators--good, responsible journalists and broadcasters in their own right--must serve as referees and schoolmarms, trying to silence a candidate whose rhetoric has just gone nuclear and "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" on them. You get Bernie Sanders cranking, and it takes an aircraft carrier snag line to slow him down. And what's with the little audio cutouts that keep happening? And this is even on a different network? How hard is it, in a spoken debate, to keep the sound on? It surely seems like they have enough microphones around--that honor guard sounded like Third Army heading for Palermo as they marched out.

The second night of round two is yet upcoming (I'm writing this on 7/31). Tonight is the night to see if "Sleepy Joe" is awake enough--and not too old--to be the one to spar with The Donald. Kamala Harris will be back on stage tonight, and while I must say that I think she has been the over all most impressive candidate for the Dems, thus far, it will be interesting to see if she goes after "Smokin' Joe" again. Last time out, she sucker-punched him and made him her b*tch. I didn't like that. And I don't believe for a moment that Joe Biden is intentionally a racist. (Note: I say "intentionally," as we white people, as much as we continue to benefit from and deny white privilege, we ALL participate in institutional racism and white bias.) The last time out, I was impressed with Julian Castro and a bit with Tulsi Gabbard, but possibly because she had that kind of "mysterious woman" thing going. She's National Guard, though, and has deployed, so I have much respect for her. Let's see if she breaks out a bit tonight. Last time, one of my media "heroes," Chris Matthews really thought New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was super. I thought he was a loudmouth. Lost a little respect for Chris there, but maybe it's that "Tip O'Neill" thing.

I'd look forward to commenting on the Republican debates, but there won't be any, since they have the incumbent president. Yeah, I know there are those who are supposedly challenging him, but I doubt it will ever get to the debate level. Has there been anything that Trump hasn't bullied his way through? Who in the GOP has told him "No"? He will clearly be their candidate, and whomever the Dems choose will have to go one-on-one with him. He debates like a neighborhood thug, and uses arguments that sound a lot like "I know you are but what am I?" Or  "Yeah, your mother!" I do think, though, if it's Kamala Harris or Tulsi Gabbard on stage with him and he does that "lurking" thing like he did behind Hillary, either of them will cold-cock him one and will win the presidency.

I just keep thinking about how great it would be to have a leader in the White House again. The last leaders we had were Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson--Eisenhower built the infrastructure of the U.S. after the wars; Kennedy gave us a national vision and was a true "profile in courage," and Lyndon Johnson led us through the emerging fight for civil rights for African Americans, a fight which continues to this day. I could add Ronald Reagan, for what he did to bring down the Iron Curtain, but then he exploded the federal deficit, and we've not dug out since. Nixon opened relations with China, but there was that other thing. Clinton crossed the aisle better than almost any other president, but there was that other thing. And, while I really liked Barack Obama, I did not see him as a leader. He was a bit more of a technocrat like Jimmy Carter.

Well, if you can't tell already, politics is sort of my hobby (other than reading news and fussing with Miatas). I'm a democrat, and stand with them on many of their social justice platforms, but if truth be told, I'm really pretty much of a moderate when it comes to things like wanting a space program and understanding the need for an efficient, well-trained military (not the over-funded largess mess we have now). For example, I think submarines are a better investment than giant aircraft carriers, and f-16 Falcons were an effective bargain over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I am a Democrat mostly, though, because my faith and my ministerial calling have led me to push against the small-town racism I learned as a boy, and to work for equality and justice for ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community. I do not see these as priorities for the GOP, the party of my upbringing and most of my family. (I will not go into my views on abortion, as that would tick too many of you off. I do affirm the position of my current denomination, the United Methodist Church, and I say current, because unless it fixes itself and puts on its "big boy" pants to include all persons, I'll be church shopping.)

If you are repulsed by politics and the circus just beginning we call the presidential elections, then never mind. Watch for my next blog. Until then, may the Force be with you. Shalom, Yinz.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Late, Great Planet Earth...

Less than a year after two Americans first landed on the moon, an obscure Southern Baptist named Hal Lindsey wrote a book entitled, "The Late, Great Planet Earth," in which he gave his own interpretation of biblical prophecies. Lindsey believed the Earth, as we know it, would end sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when Jesus returned. While there was no Internet back then, and therefore no social media or You Tube, his book went "viral," selling over 28 million copies by 1990. Lindsey's view was from the pre-millennial, dispensationalist view espoused by many Southern Baptists. If you don't know what those terms mean, you are the better for it. Basically, they assert true Christians get to have all of the fat and flavor without any calories, snatched out of the earthly turmoil they helped create in something called the "rapture," kind of a biblical version of "Beam me up, Scotty." The book frightened a lot of people into "believing." Even if you considered yourself a Christian, but didn't believe the Bible the way Lindsey and his ilk did, the book still scared the hell out of you. As a young adult exploring his rekindled Christian faith, I was enraptured by it, as were Sunday School classes and youth groups across all brands of church, including most "mainline" denominational ones. Given that the Post-Vatican II charismatic movement had turned many Roman Catholics into sacramental Southern Baptists at about the same time, even they latched on to Lindsey's doomed planet theories with great passion. The whole thing got a second life when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins later wrote the "Left Behind" series, and a fresh wave of paranoia spread across the bow of Christianity, from the "evangelicals" to the generally neurotic worriers, including the Methodists.

Fast forward to 2019. The earth is in danger again, and no "rapture" is in sight to save anybody. Turns out some of those prophecies may have been right about the events, but wrong about the cause. We're boiling our oceans with cataclysmic temperature rises, melting our glaciers and polar icecaps, raising our water levels, and swallowing our coastal cities. It's not "God's judgment," or even anything apocalyptic. It's just human stupidity, greed, and destructive public policy formulated to boost profits and assuage the corporations and the wealthy. Maybe that IS God's judgment, after all--"What you sow, you reap." We're poisoning our air, fooling around with genetic plant manipulation (breeding insecticide into our food crops?), and poking so many holes into the earth that one fears it could deflate like a punctured balloon. And if that isn't enough, we're drilling deep, deep wells just to pump the radioactive and caustic wastes from fracking back INTO the ground. Mother Earth can't like that! One might have thought we had learned just how precious and fragile our home planet--our ONLY planet--when the Apollo missions beamed back pictures of it floating in space like a "grand oasis," as astronaut James Lovell described it. "Earth Day" was born, in fact, from people seeing that famous "Earthrise" photo taken by the crew of Apollo 8. Surely we would never again backslide on efforts to clean up our environment and preserve our celestial home? Wrong.

We're also polluting our relationships. Racism, sexism, nationalism, and white supremacy have all resurged within the past few years. In our own country, the historic election of our first person of color as president brought out the "birthers" and bigots in record numbers, and his successor has dumped gasoline on a smoldering pile of hate. American citizens of recent foreign ancestry are being told to "go back to where you came from," and not by Neo-Nazis, but by the President of the United States, himself a descendant of an immigrant family (aren't we ALL, unless you come from a Native American tribe?). America is fighting a civil war, this time without bullets, but using words and votes to exchange harmful volleys, harm that will take decades to repair and undo. Schisms are happening everywhere, from religious denominations to nation states like Great Britain.

Politically, we are falling into a new "Cold War" era, only this time we have added China and North Korea to the mix. Putin's Russia has fussed with our elections and is building new weapons of mass (and mass media) destruction. On its part, the United States has increased its military spending to record levels, trashing the Federal deficit, and is creating a "Space Force." While this country has always seen its military posture as defensive, our "Space Force" is an offensive enterprise, as no one else is fighting in space, currently. Let's hope it is a cure for which there is no known disease. Genocide is happening in many nations around the world, the Saudi government assassinated an American journalist with no regret and with no sanctions or punitive measures taken against it, and the fight over "Brexit" has deposed yet another Prime Minister in England.

I could go on, but isn't this getting depressing enough? Why, what is happening around Planet Earth now is making Hal Lindsey's stuff out to be small potatoes. Even if "raptured" off terra firma, we'd leave enough baggage behind to continue to inflict pain for those "left behind," as well as to weigh down our departed souls that we might not make orbit. So how do we fix this?

First of all, the entire burden is not on us. God made this island Earth, and we have to believe that if we start taking better care of it and stop intentionally poisoning it and working against its ecosystems, its "autocorrect" will kick in and save the day. BUT WE HAVE TO STOP! WE. HAVE. TO. STOP. DOING. HARM.

--To the Earth, for it is our mother and our home; it's time to "flip" it, like real estate people do houses.  Clean it up, repair it, and install some new carpet, ready for its next inhabitants--our children and our grandchildren

--To each other, because we are all neighbors, whether we like it or not! Walls and fences do NOT make good neighbors, in this case, and we have to realize that our DNA is all the same, regardless of what nation we come from, the color of our skin, or the languages we speak. There are only enemies if we MAKE them enemies. Haven't we watched enough Star Trek to know that we have the choice to make our society either Eden or Hell. You choose. And if we believe everybody is against us, they will be. That is called paranoia, and it can destroy lives, families, nations, and probably the planet.

--To God. Yes, we are harming God, or at least what many think about God. What is passing for a Christian witness today (on the part of "evangelicals," the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Franklin Graham, etc.) would chase you away from a dealer if you were looking to buy a new car. Because of infighting in the church and its frequent "circling of the wagons" in paranoia, many people have come to not trust God, or at least anything we people of faith SAY about God. We need God, but the loving, forgiving, reconciling Parent the Bible reveals, not the vindictive, rule-keeping, judgmental "evil step parent" getting preached in way too many pulpits. Jesus changed the narrative. Jesus didn't change God, but Jesus corrected the paranoid human filtering of the message regarding what God is up to.

Our Jewish siblings have a saying in Hebrew that defines solid "marching orders" for us all: tikkun olam, usually rendered "repairing the earth." The earth is like any other house--we're either improving it, or we're using it up. Relationships are the same way--we're either growing them and making them closer and healthier, or we're using them to get what we want and dissipating them. Both "worlds" are in serious need of repairing right now. Again, we're not alone. The one with the original plans for people and planet is poised to assist, but we have to do our part, and be open to God's guidance and wisdom in the effort. There are heavily moneyed and powerful forces with a different agenda, the "principalities and powers," as the Bible puts it, that will resist our remediation endeavors. They will lie incessantly and pit "brother against brother and mother against daughter" to maintain dominance. Some need to be "voted off the island," while others just need to sit down and shut up. Our planet and our civilization are at stake here, or the "late, great planet earth" will be our epitaph.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Giant Leap...

Fifty years ago, the Sterling family was returning from vacation, and the oldest child (yours truly), who was so caught up in the American space program that he could easily be labeled a "space geek," was sitting in the back seat of the car looking at a road map. 

"Turn HERE!" I shouted to the driver (my father). 


"Just TURN HERE!" I shouted again, with apparently enough passion and bossiness that he did. 

"Where is this taking us?" he asked. 

"To Wapakoneta," I informed. 

"WHERE?" he asked, with a strong sample of incredulousness in his question.

So, then I took the time to explain that Wapakoneta, Ohio was the home of the man who had just returned from walking on the moon. Neil Armstrong was in isolation with the other two Apollo 11 astronauts, just in case they brought back some alien germs in the dust and rocks they delivered to planet earth. And I figured that Neil's hometown must certainly be celebrating their favorite son's accomplishment, and Wapakoneta was only about eleven miles South of our route home. Thankfully, my father was almost as much a space geek as I was, so we motored into the tiny, sleepy town about 50 miles north of Dayton.

Sure enough, Wapakoneta was festooned with banners, bunting, and congratulations aimed at Mr. Armstrong who, it turned out, would be returning for a parade and a public tribute just a couple of weeks after being sprung from isolation in Houston. A storefront had been transformed into a Neil Armstrong homecoming celebration headquarters named, creatively, "Tranquility Base." And several utility poles around "Tranquility Base" had these posters (shown above) stapled to them, encouraging local residents to stop in to "sign scroll to be presented to NEIL ARMSTRONG" upon his return. There was one less poster after we left, and this one, yellowed from years on my bedroom--and later dorm room--wall, has been laminated and displayed in my church offices over the past 34 years. Once a space geek, always a space geek...

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, the challenge of President John F. Kennedy was fulfilled. (Actually, it was four days later, as his challenge included "returning him safely to the earth.") Kennedy's challenge was apparently more about advancing technology and inspiring humankind than it was the "space race," which has been the most highly touted reason for it. If you've been watching the PBS historical tribute series "Chasing the Moon" recently, this fact was one of the most startling, as the series reports that JFK had been negotiating with Nikita Khrushchev to enter into a collaborative effort to put a man on the moon, something that this new series stated might have happened, had our president not been assassinated, and Khrushchev pushed from power in the Soviet Union. For those of us who lived through the actual event, it was an incredible experience, and one of the few times "the people of the earth were truly one," in the words of Richard Nixon, during his phone call to the moon-walking astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin. Of course, this planet-wide unity only lasted about a day.

Landing people on the moon was a major technical accomplishment, indeed, and when you figure we did it with 1950s and 60s technology, it's even more amazing. In the earliest days of the space program, "computers" were human beings, aided by huge, mechanical "calculating engines." Digital computer technology would be greatly advanced by the space race, culminating in the Apollo guidance computer (AGC) that had a whopping 2k memory and weighed 70 pounds. Many modern authors serving as apologists for the Apollo missions trumpet the technology and "spin offs" of the moon program that benefited everything from kitchens (microwave ovens) to operating rooms, although recent documentaries have pooh-poohed the notion that Tang and Velcro came from NASA, as opposed to being merely employed by them in spacecraft.

So, what was--or is--the value of manned spaceflight, including the six trips to the lunar surface? Technology? Honoring the visionary wishes of an assassinated president? Scientific exploration? One could make a case for any and all of these, but a line from an obscure little Australian film centered around the Apollo 11 mission maybe advances the best theory of its value: "It makes our spirits soar." That line, spoken by Sam Neill's character Cliff Buxton in the film, "The Dish," sums it up. A tremendous vision is cast by a charismatic national leader, a team of engineers, astrophysicists, and daring aviators bring it to pass, and all of humanity gets caught up and inspired by it coming to fruition. Apollo 11 truly "made our spirits soar." Other than for us space geeks, the space program--going forward from Apollo 11 up to the present time--has only caught the broader public fancy in times of crisis or tragedy (Apollo 13, and the destruction of Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia). Only the private space program of a character like Elon Musk or the idea of going to Mars even gets much press today. And it's not like we don't have a need to BE inspired today, given that there is much to be bored with or disappointed in what is happening around us.

This brings me to draw a parallel between conquering space and religious faith, and while this is probably a bad idea, here goes: Even as people are "ho hum" about space efforts today, so have they become widely disaffected by religion. Each has lost its ability to inspire, or to "make our spirits soar." Good religion follows the script of the Apollo program: a vision cast by a charismatic leader, a team of dedicated "followers" to bring it to fruition, and an audience inspired by both its tenets and its heroes. Today, maybe we're guilty of so much bad religion--little vision being cast by anybody, followers who use their religion to bash those who don't agree with them, and their target audience being scared off by either boredom or disappointment. Not only are we not making "spirits soar," but to paraphrase a country song, we've "ripped that sucker out and stomped it flat!" Religious fundamentalists are actually doing harm to people; religious liberals have lost their creativity and their voice; and centrists are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If our message had been watered down, we could spice it up; if it had been given too sharp an edge, we could hone and temper it with love. But we just don't even know what the message is today, let alone being able to use it to inspire anyone to want to believe it.

Not wanting to end on a cynical note, I guess I'm suggesting we need an "Apollo program" for religious faith. The pages of scripture have lots of things that could inspire us--the chastening words of the prophets or the empathetic and stirring words of characters like Moses and Jesus (or Mohammad, if your holy book is the Quran). If our religious bodies could begin to see themselves as a team coming together to bring to fruition the hopes and dreams of these scriptural visionaries, and if our efforts begin to create a meaningful intersection between God, people, and life, maybe religion could again experience "ignition and liftoff." Until we rediscover our inspiring words and work together to bring them to a "spirit-soaring" reality with the potential to engage and transform lives, our audience will be underwhelmed, and will "vote with their feet" to cancel the program. As long as religion continues its currently dominant course of being the gatekeepers of "who gets in" and "who is left out," instead of shouting God's reconciling, and affirming love from the housetops, it will find fewer and fewer adherents in an age of apathy and doubt. As Woody Allen said, "My God, my God, what hast Thou done lately?"

P.S. After touring Wapakoneta, we stopped at a gas station to fill up, and my father was talking with the service station attendant (yes, it was called a "service station" back then, and an "attendant" would pump your gas, wash your windshield, and check your oil) about how his "crazy son" ordered us to Wapakoneta. The attendant said, "If he's a big fan of Neil Armstrong, you should stop down at their house. It's right down the road, and I'll bet his parents are home." So, we did, and my dad and I knocked on the door, and Mr and Mrs. Armstrong stepped out on the porch and chatted with us for about 15 minutes! That was certainly an America that used to be...

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Grace 2.0

In Galatians 3:23-25, Paul writes:

23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our [nanny] until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a [nanny].

Note that I am using the word "nanny" instead of the Common English Bible's word, "custodian," because it is a better translation for the Greek word, παιδαγωγὸς.  This is the word from which we get "pedagogy" in English, and in this form, would have meant the "nanny" in that day who raised a child in the home of wealthier families, baby-sitting the child, caring for the child's every needs, protecting the child, and even teaching the child to walk and develop language skills. The nanny would have "coached" the child's development, augmenting its more formal schooling later in life, until such time as the child grew mature and no longer in need of the nanny. It would have been a difficult and emotional experience for the child, the family, and for the nanny, when their services were no longer needed, and therefore terminated.

So it is in the church today with the "law." Paul is telling the young church that in and through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are all now "mature" in our faith, saved and schooled in righteousness by the one who was the perfect righteousness of God. Christ imparts this righteousness to us, and then continues through his teaching and example to become the kind of believers and disciples who will make wise decisions, clearly hear God's call in the everyday, and build bridges of love, forgiveness, and acceptance to all people, in the manner of Jesus, himself. We no longer need the law to protect and "nanny" us. The Holy Spirit now guides us, and the Spirit's direction is toward building the inclusive realm of God. The "law" now is love--conducting ourselves in such a way as mature, righteous Christians that we don't harm others, don't "think of ourselves more highly than we ought," and respect others for who they are, not judging them ourselves, but letting the Spirit of Jesus do the perfecting. Grace 2.0 is here to stay, and her work is widening and growing deeper, as many more of God's children discover and experience the prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying nature of her work.

Grace 2.0 appears in Galatians 3:28:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.   

Ancient barriers between persons have been demolished. And Paul may not have realized how prophetic he was being when he said "nor is there male and female." Gender doesn't make a bit of difference in the Realm of God, and it is not a stretch to suggest that this means a person's sexual orientation doesn't matter, either, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Grace 2.0 makes Neil Armstrong's "giant leap" look like a baby step, by comparison! Even in our day, God continues to do a new thing. The Christian faith we profess is dynamic, able to meet the challenge and the change of our day. Even the Bible experiences this dynamism:

God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. (Hebrews 4:12, CEB)

"God's word is living, to judge the heart's thoughts and intentions." It is not a list of laws and rules, other than the ones necessary for us to live together in harmony, to learn how to love one another (and this means "respect and accept" in the Grace 2.0 context), and to figure out how to "learn war no more," in the words of the prophet.

Friends, it was not easy in Paul's day to give up the "nanny" when her or his services were no longer needed. But they were no longer needed because the "child" had matured into an adult who could now think for him or herself, was confident enough in their own abilities and "skin" that they no longer felt compelled to intrude on the space of another individual, but could accept and respect that person for who they were as well.

We no longer need the "nanny" of the law, as we are under Grace 2.0, lavished upon us all by God in Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the NEW orthodoxy, and it is one of maturity, affirmation--from God to us and from us toward others--and one that moves us toward a true "beloved community" in Christ. It is also an "orthodoxy" that does not "exclusivize" this action to Christians alone, as Paul would also say:

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to God-self through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. (II Corinthians 5:16-19, CEB)
Grace 2.0 is God's action, not ours, and God is ultimately in charge of it. We cannot even dictate just how "God is reconciling the world through Christ," and upon whom this reconciliation may be falling--possibly even in the context of other God-seeking faiths!

Why can't we just rejoice in this wonderful "ministry of reconciliation," instead of running back to the "nanny" of the law and using it to exclude and do harm to the very people Christ came to include and heal? The Gospel is good news! If we're not careful, we will turn it into "good news for some, only."

I don't have much time left in my "active" ministry years (I'll always be in ministry!), but I'm going to use this time to fully preach, teach, and spread Grace 2.0. This is the discipleship that will "transform the world." Join me!

Friday, June 14, 2019

What good thing can come out of Grove City?

Annual Conference is over for another year. From some of us, who were quite, QUITE disappointed in its outcome, we're just thinking it's over...period. Like so many of the things some are touting as "doctrines," "covenants," and "rules," Annual Conference may be the last dinosaur standing, and it's wobbling severely. I am reminded of the Henny Youngman joke: "Hey doctor, it hurts when I do this!" to which the doctor replies, "Then don't DO that!" In short, regarding Annual Conference, it hurts when we DO this...

Was there anything good to come out of Annual Conference at Grove City College this year? Let me try to name a few things:

  1. The platform was decorated and lighted nicely (although I still like the corner/wedge-shaped arrangement better than the long "troop carrier" formation).
  2. The Oakland UMC praise band led us in some "golden moldy" praise songs that this "traditional worship" pastor likes and could actually sing (yes, I'm one of those old dudes who eschews much modern praise songs as either reeking with "Jesus is my boyfriend" theology, or that are just plain unsingable). Other varieties of music were good, too, and having served Coraopolis UMC for six years, I am partial to their choirs' music offerings during the Ministry Night.
  3. James Cogman, an African American seminary student (and whose twin brother just became an associate pastor at the church my daughter is on the staff of in Louisville, KY) gave a powerful sermon the evening after the Wesleyan Covenant Association "swept the Emmies" and hijacked our 2020 General Conference delegation. (Yes, they were voted in, but the fear-tactics used--especially on the laity--were, shall we say, "effective.")
  4. The Broader Table Coalition made its debut. The goal of the Broader Table Coalition was to advance a slate of delegates to General Conference that would be representative of the progressive, centrist, and traditionalist views of the pastors, churches, and congregations present in the Western Pennsylvania Conference. While the goal was not realized, at least the fairness of it has been surfaced, and a seed planted.
  5. The "Open Table" Holy Communion sessions held this year in the quad between HAL and the Breen Student Union buildings grew immensely, with over 100 participants on Friday. These Communion services, sponsored by the Western PA Reconciling Ministries Network, are open to all, and this year many new participants joined us, lay and clergy. (Oh, and Campus Security required us to move to the quad because of threats that had been made against Reconciling Ministries. Annual Conference is a Christian gathering, right?)
  6. The body voted to send a dissolution resolution to the 2020 General Conference with an eye toward dismantling the denomination and building new "branches" of a church from the ground up. This legislation, if adopted by the General Conference, would ask the Connectional Table to return to the 2024 General Conference with detailed plans for said dissolution and how a newly structured, multi-branched church might look. (I list this as something "good," as it is becoming more clear that progressives and centrists are not welcomed by the WCA in "their church," so we must close what is currently the UMC, divide the spoils, and move on.
  7. The Drum Circle from the Healthy Village Learning Institute was awesome. I hope we can get them to St. Paul's sometime soon.
  8. No one died in section meetings, despite the fact that two of the sections had to meet long, extra hours, testing section members' will to live.
  9. Only one of the "reports" given regarding the "Five Areas of Focus" lasted long enough that I almost lost the will to live. Most were short, sweet, and to the point, and at least one, on Developing Principled Leadership, was highly creative and entertaining, so much so that it almost fell prey to the"good TV commercial" foible of forgetting what product it was advertising.
  10. While it is always a highlight seeing the teen pages and Youth Ministry Team, I was thrilled to see so many gifted young leaders among our clergy emerging, and that many of them are picking up the centrist-to-progressive banner that some of us "old" folk are getting ready to pass along. We need your energy and profound gifts here!
  11. Conference Sessions always does their best to work with scarce resources to provide as pleasant an experience for clergy and lay delegates as possible. This year was no exception.
  12. Even with all of its warts--and there were some real tumors this year--Annual Conference is still a great time to renew contact with others, especially among clergy, many of whom have been serving together for decades.
I'll not digress into the myriad serious problems I had with this meeting of the Annual Conference, beyond those already alluded to above. However, I do have a few questions:

  • What happened to the commuter parking area? It was jammed when we arrived on Thursday, and seemed to be filled all during the week, forcing us to park near Punxsutawney, I think. Does this area need enlarged? Or should commuters to AC get a dash sign to display in order to enforce the commuter lot as a commuter lot?
  • Our Bishop announced toward the end of the conference that she, too, had been ministering under "credible threats" to her safety, as reported by the FBI. I thought this was supposed to be a Christian gathering? What the hell is going on?
  • If I were a member of one of the sections that had to meet all those extra hours, I would ask for a partial refund of the $100 registration fee as hazard pay. What do we have to do to move section business along so this kind of thing doesn't happen? (By the way, we are always looking for new laity and clergy section leaders to train and deploy. See Rev. Greg Spencer or our Conference Secretary, John Wilson to put your name on the "invite" list for next year.)
  • Why are our worship services so long? I understand when our Bishop is offering her "State of the Church" address, or  when we have a guest speaker, but then we should buffer the rest of the service accordingly. We wound up canceling important things on Saturday and rushing through the remaining business of AC, and still didn't adjourn until around 7:00PM, without dinner.
  • Here's a bigger issue for me, though: Now that voting is done electronically (providing a readout of how many persons are voting), when we did the balloting for General Conference delegates, there were about 360 clergy voting, and about 640 laity. Aren't we supposed to be a balanced assembly? In our "lay equalization" rules, no adjustment is made for the number of clergy--many of whom are retired or serving in extension ministry across the country--who don't attend Annual Conference. However, every one of these clergy "positions" gets a lay equalization delegate to "balance" it. This system is not working, when the split between clergy and laity is 360 to 640. (And yes, I realize that some persons serving in a clergy role are ineligible to vote for General Conference delegates, but I don't think this factor is responsible for the lopsidedness.) 
I have to say that, given the outcome of the Special Called Session of the General Conference in February, this was the first Annual Conference in my 34 years in ministry that I was not looking forward to attending. I was not disappointed. I also found myself avoiding conversation with certain people for fear of what I might say. Yeah, I know--aren't I supposed to be a Christian? Well, just slap one of those "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet" bumper stickers on my noggin and say a prayer for me. I'll say one for you, too. 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...