Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Your Sphere of Consideration...

How considerate are you? Have you ever thought about that? This week at St. Paul's, as we continue our "Relate" series during Lent, we are looking at the phrase, "Love is Considerate."

What does it mean to be considerate? The dictionary says, "Careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others." But just how big is your sphere of consideration? Are you considerate only to someone within your family circle? Your partner or your spouse? A lot of bad parenting happens when a parent seeks to correct or discipline a child without being considerate toward them, doling out  a buck and a half of punishment for a two-bit crime, as they say. Or punishing another for some small inconsideration they manifest toward you by taking away or damaging something they hold most dear. Another bad move is believing that something you do to harm someone else is just a small offense--a minor act of being inconsiderate--when to them, it is a major infraction. If love IS considerate, does being inconsiderate send a message of non-love, waning love, or hatred? In considering "considerate," these are some of the questions we must ask.

Of course, rarely does the Bible address just our most intimate or family relationships. Given that a big part of the message of Jesus and the Gospel is about learning how to "get along" with God and others, and building genuine, compassionate community, we can deduce that the statement "love is considerate" most likely goes well beyond just our most immediate sphere of influence.

Many people err by believing that their closest friends will overlook their inconsiderations: "They know I love them!" Maybe not. Or maybe not forever. The terminally inconsiderate among us will too soon be looking up how the dictionary defines "loneliness." Even best friends expect some respect and consideration. Have you known people who seem always to be in the "hazing" mode? If they really think this is a "hoot," they may soon find themselves the only ones "hooting," while the rest of the "flock" is flying away.

Does your sphere of consideration stretch to the people around you when you are walking in public staring down at your smart phone, bumping into strangers, or just causing them to eye-roll as you boisterously blab over it to some faceless other? (I have never seen as many eye-rolls as I saw in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam a few years ago as an American paraded around the waiting area of our gate almost screaming into his phone, carrying on the most banal, one-sided conversation in the presence of the most uninterested audience I have ever witnessed. His sphere of consideration didn't extend beyond his nostrils.)

Does your sphere of consideration extend to the other drivers in front of or behind you? I live in Adams Ridge, a development of over 800 homes, with one road in and one road out, and a single traffic light emptying us onto Route 228, a road that will live in infamy. In the morning, when all 800 cars are trying to get out, it amazes me how many of the "front runners" don't begin to move until the light has been green long enough to cause retinal burns, and when the pace car finally DOES begin to move, several others make sure there is a safe 100-yard buffer before following suit. These people may be on their phones or psychotropic medications, but the end result is a total lack of consideration for the 795 who don't make it through the light. And at that time in the morning, the next green light happens only if it is a blood moon rising.

Being considerate is not rocket science, as they say. We're not talking a David Brainerd prayer marathon, or even an act of martyrdom here. Being considerate is just that being considerate of those around you, or those you suddenly find yourself in the midst of--"careful not to cause inconvenience or harm" to them. It's such an easy way to earn their respect, win friends, and influence people. In our time of "screw you" people skills, a considerate person may look like Mother Teresa, by comparison. Why, if the next President looks at a TV camera, smiles and says, "How are you doing tonight, America?", we'll probably begin erecting the a shiny new marble monument to her on the mall in D.C.

Jesus (you probably figured I'd get around to Jesus, didn't you?) was a considerate character. He stopped for the ill, the handicapped, the hungry, and the demon-possessed, like the guy on the phone at Schiphol. He noticed everyone around him, including the hemorrhaging woman who just flicked the fold on his tunic, and the only ones he ever said "screw you" to were the rule-keepers and the religious leaders who were about as inconsiderate as they came, in that day. He even liked tax collectors, and that is way more consideration than I could probably muster.

All sarcasm aside, the world would be a much nicer place if we took some time to examine our sphere of consideration, and then by a shear act of will, be considerate to the people in it. Being considerate does not demand a "Kumbaya" moment of any of us, just a moment of not raining on someone's parade or causing them even the simplest of harm. And if you ask yourself the religious question, "What would Jesus do?", I can pretty much guarantee that he would never flip anyone off.

Do no harm, Yinz. Peace.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Losing Faith...

St. Paul's UMC--and the rest of the world, for that matter--has lost a true saint in Faith Geer. After a year-long battle--and it was a battle--Faith succumbed to melanoma. Her children have written a beautiful obituary, which you can find on line at Neely's Funeral Home, or in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Better yet, they have written a wonderful testimony to Faith with their lives. She could have been no more proud of Kelly, Nathan, and Natalie and their lives, loves, and careers than she was of them. Ron Hoellein, St. Paul's Pastor Emeritus, gave a great eulogy at her Service of Death and Resurrection on Sunday, March 3. Pastor Karen Slusser and I were honored to share in that service, and our music ministry played and sang their hearts out in tribute to her. If you wish to view it, go to our website at stpaulsumc.com.

Faith had a whole team of loving caregivers who loved her and tended to her every need over the past year, and they were seated together at the service. The sight of them together, alone, was enough to start the tears. There are so, so many good people in God's world, and Faith Geer had a way, even in illness, to assemble them together and give them a common vision. She has done this for a large number of churches and organizations as well. She had several very close friends, and they were vital to her joy, her journey, and her struggle, and I know she reciprocated in many ways.

Faith Geer leaves a great legacy--her "DNA"--at St. Paul's and in the other groups she charged with her presence, faith, creativity, and flip-charts. One of her passions was working for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons in the life of The United Methodist Church. Here at St. Paul's, we proudly proclaim a Welcome Statement that says that we will do just that. Faith Geer died on the very day that the 2019 special session of the United Methodist General Conference voted to accept a plan that continues excluding LGBTQIA+ persons from full inclusion in our church. St. Paul's has pledged to do what we do best--be St. Paul's--and do our best to live fully into the motto so many U.M. churches post: "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." If you open our doors, you will be welcomed, to the best of our ability, and with all of our hearts. This is what Faith taught us: love, hospitality, welcome, inclusion, vision, and planning!

Faith had a funny idea of Jesus. She saw him not as a lawgiver or a rule-keeper, but a Savior in the fullest of the Wesleyan tradition. Her Jesus wasn't just out to "save souls," but PEOPLE. Her version of Jesus was just as concerned about a person’s stomach, or how she was respected and affirmed, or whether he would be paid a fair wage for a day's work as he was about "eternal salvation." In fact, Jesus seemed to make quick work of eternal salvation, proclaiming it as a given for anyone who said  "yes" to God's YES to all.  Faith's Jesus would go out of his way to find those who were marginalized and disenfranchised by the establishment or the institution, and then hang out with them, eating with them, and even calling them as disciples. Faith's Jesus cared every bit as equally for women and children as he did men, for the poor, possibly even more than for the rich, and seemed to chafe only at those who put law over life, rules over reconciliation. Her version of Jesus lives on at St. Paul's. If you want to get saved here, you had better be prepared for a whole lot else beyond eternal fire insurance. We have a job for you!

If you really knew Faith Geer, you knew that beyond that smiling, inviting face, perfectly coiffed hair, and nattily-dressed exterior, burned the heart of an activist and a serious "do-gooder." Her world was not right unless it was right for all. She could be so idealistic about this that she refused to accept anyone's idea of "reason" unless it included a plan to begin fixing the world--and the church. If you wanted to see the fire, just call refer to God as "He" a half-dozen times, or state that you believed "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings" and then get your marshmallows and sticks ready. This high sense of justice didn't abide fools, either. Her intellect was as sharp as anyone's I have ever known. If you wanted to argue with her, you better bring your "A" game, and have more ready than just your opinion, or you were sticking your tongue into a live light socket. But when the sparks were done flying, you would have made a new friend, and would part with a hug.

So, you see why we at St. Paul's are struggling in the aftermath of her passing? What she did as our Administrative Director is irreplaceable. Who she was as a child of God was unique. The vacuum she has left here is palpable. And I know our experience is shared by others in our Annual Conference, in the Reconciling Ministries Network, in Nyadire, and who knows where else, as she was never one to brag about stuff like that. To paraphrase the apostle, "We have lost Faith, but we will not lose heart." And we will never. Never. Never. Settle for a wimpy Jesus, as we remember Faith.

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...