Today is bright and sunny in Kansas City. The sky is blue and the breeze is a gentle whisper. It is my job to get our kids assembled each morning and loaded into the car to be deposited at their schools. This morning, our four-year-old Wesley was standing in the garage with his coat and his Spiderman backpack on, ready to get in the car. I opened the garage door. As it slowly rolled up its tracks, Wes looked out, saw the sunshine and the blue sky and felt the breeze.
Let me tell you about yesterday. Nothing fancy. Just another Monday in the church, really. There were four chapters.
Chapter 1 - I spent a lot the morning with the daughter and grand-daughter of a woman who recently died. We talked about her 94 years of life, we laughed at some warm memories, and we cried with the pain of her death. We talked together about a memorial service, and how to create a time of remembrance that she would have enjoyed herself. One thing, for example: I am most definitely not going to be wearing a robe and stole for this one; the lady did not particularly like ministers! A fact about which the three of us had a particularly good chuckle.
Chapter 2 - I talked for most of the afternoon with a friend who is struggling to find meaning in her relationships and purpose in her life. She wanted to talk about feeling valued. She wanted to talk about life's priorities. In short, she wanted to talk about the things that most of us want to talk about. Mostly, she just needed to talk. So we talked. Mostly, I guess, we just need people to talk with.
Chapter 3 - After dinner with my family, I went back to church for a little jam session with a couple of guys who are really awesome musicians and genuinely nice guys. Our little piano/guitar/bass combo is clicking along very well, if I do say so myself, and we are ready to debut in church this Sunday morning for the first time. But it is not really about making good music. It is about the three of us, for an hour and a half on Monday nights, joining together to create, to share together in the process of making music. When the music is out there in the space around us, everything else fades from view.
Chapter 4 - I spent the late evening talking with a young couple who is to be married in our church in April. We talked about love, and family, and compatibility. We talked about being a neat freak and remembering to put the toilet seat down and the pros and cons of eating two (2) family Thanksgiving dinners. We laughed at silly stories from their two-and-a-half years together, and we spent some time thinking about what everything might look like in ten years from now.
That was yesterday in the church. It was a long day. Nothing fancy, just some people trying to live their lives as best they know how. There was death, life, laughter, tears, music, hope, love, joy. No moral codes. No dogmatic diatribes. No relentless proselytizing. Just the church, alive and well, thank you very much. That's what the church is, I guess. Just a loose collection of regular people trying to live their lives as best they know how. And it is beautiful to behold. Grace and Peace, Andy B.
What makes someone decide to kill a 74 year old nun? What thought processes lead a person to consider that option, think it is a good idea, and then go through with it?
"The town of Anapu, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, is most notable for the dust that clogs its streets and for the number of shops selling chain-saws. It is also the place that Sister Dorothy called home for more than 30 years and where she organised her efforts to try to protect the rainforest and its people from disastrous and often illegal exploitation by logging firms and ranchers. Now Anapu will be known as the place where Sister Dorothy is buried." (quoted from the story at the link above.)
Dorothy was from Ohio. She was a part of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati. She decided to take a stand with the people of the Brazilian rain forest in their struggle to keep their land out of the hands of illegal loggers and ranchers. She knew that what she was doing was dangerous, but she did it because she was dedicated to God's rainbow. She kept at it because she believed in a Christ of liberation and love who brings God incarnate into the worst situations. Her persistence led to her murder.
"Sister Dorothy Stang lived among those who wanted her dead. When they finally came for her she read passages from the Bible to her killers. They listened for a moment, then fired. Her body was found face down in the mud, blood staining the back of her white blouse."
Sister Dorothy was a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ than I will ever be. I have heard people say, "You don't have to change the world. Just change your own little part of it." In fact, I myself have said that exact thing from the pulpit. I'm not sure what that means after reading about Dorothy. I don't believe it as much as I used to.
Maybe God wants us to change the world. Maybe God wants us to bring the rainbow, even force it if we have to, into the world's darkest places. But bringing the rainbow into dark places can make people mad. The dark hides things. "...all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed." The dark is comfortable. The rainbow is anti-dark, and I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable or hurt anyone's feelings, after all ... I don't do so well with conflict.
Have you ever done something in the service of Christ that someone would kill you for doing? "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Grace and Peace, Andy B.
Yesterday, I wrote about something Nana taught me. Today, it is my grandfather's turn. I call my grandfather Daddy Monk. He is a preacher.
Whenever Daddy Monk was going to come over to our house, we prepared for his arrival by writing a to-do list. We called it a "Monk-y Do" list, just to amuse ourselves. The list consisted of little jobs: hanging mini-blinds, fixing a leaky faucet, repairing a screen door, and the like. I would often tag along as Daddy Monk ticked off the jobs on the list, helping him whenever I could. We did one job at a time, from making sure we had the right tool for the job to replacing the tool in the box, before moving on to the next. I remember how satisfied he was at the completion of each job, and the sense of accomplishment that came with the completion of the list itself. We had a list for him each time he came; it seems that there is always work to do. He might have completed six or eight jobs in one visit, but there always seemed to be six or eight more the next time. Daddy Monk always accepted that. And he always did the jobs that needed doing. Standing in the garage watching him wipe clean the blade of a saw we had just been using, he said to me, "Andy, the job's not done until the tools are cleaned and put away." In his own workshop at his home, his tools are hung carefully from pegboards that feature an outline of the tool drawn to indicate the proper placement for his hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, and other tools. Each tool is clean and in its place, ready to tackle the next Monky-do list.
Daddy Monk taught me that there is order amidst the chaos. There is an intricate choreography to life's dance. Electrons will always attract protons and repel other electrons. The 27 bones in each of our hands always tend to line up in a particular order. Each of Daddy Monk's tools has a place to hang and a job to do. The order is what makes the whole work. He also taught me that there is a lot of work to do, so make a list. Don't get overwhelmed, just do one job at a time, make sure that you have the right tool for the job, and don't forget to take care of the tool for the next time you will need it. That sounds like pretty good advice for the church, too! Grace and Peace, Andy B.
We were walking around the lake one evening when I was a boy, and we stopped to look at the sun going down behind the Smoky Mountains. Nana said, "What a beautiful sunset. Andy, tell me what colors you see." "Orange," I said, "and red and yellow." "Is that all?" Nana asked. "Don't you see the blue?" I squinted west. I really, really wanted to see the blue. Nana said there was blue, and I believed her. "You are working too hard," she smiled. "I'm looking for the blue. I can't see it." "Just relax. Don't look for the blue; just look at the sunset." Oh, that makes a lot of sense, I thought to myself. My Nana asks me if I can see the blue, then tells me not to look for it. Don't look for the blue - just look at the sunset. So, since Nana told me to, I stopped squinting, stopped straining my eyes to pick that blue out of the sunset. I realized I had been hunched over at the shoulders looking so hard for that blue. I stood up straight again, and took a deep breath. I looked at the sunset. My look turned into a gaze. My gaze kind of turned into a prayer. You know, in the middle of the deepest red of a sunset sky, there is a dusting of purple. And at the edge of that dusting of purple is a whisper of blue. If you look for it, you will never see it. But when you gaze into the whole sunset, you notice.
Sometimes we are just looking to hard, squinting ourselves up to find the differences and distinctions between and among us. Maybe if we would just relax and look at the whole picture more often, we would be a little bit better off. I think that is what Nana was trying to teach me. The colors of a sunset in my granmother's eye can teach us a lot about living in the midst of God's wonderful world. Grace and Peace, Andy B.
The reason I haven't written in a while is that I was in Washington D.C. for three days last week, and then had to spend the rest of the week catching up on the stuff that I missed while I was gone. I probably should have done more prep before I went. Oh well. The reason I was in Washington D.C. was to meet with a group of 60 young United Methodist clergy people from around the nation. We met at the General Board of Church and Society in the Methodist Building, on capitol hill. You can stand at the front door of the Methodist building and look across one street at the Supreme Court, across another street at the Capitol, and across another street at the Senate office buildings. Wow! The Church and Society board speaks for the denomination in matters legislative. They are charged with the care and maintainance of the denomination's Social Principles. And they had called all of us young clergy from around the nation to meet together and talk about social justice. All of that is background in order to say this:
I am incredibly hopeful about the future of the church!
Here's why: Clergy younger than 40 know how to disagree with each other without despising each other. We do not have a "win / lose" frame of mind. Too many older folks think about dialogue in terms of figuring out who is "right" or "wrong." That is not dialogue, that is a fight. The 60 young adults present in Washington last week know how to say, "I understand where you are coming from, and I completely disagree with your perspective. Now, let's go get a cup of coffee and talk about it."
Let me tell you about one of the young pastors in Washington: his name is Shalom. (What a great name for a pastor!) Shalom and I are on opposite sides of the table a lot. A LOT! I disagree with him about almost every hot-button issue there is. But Shalom and I were able to share a subway to the airport at the end of our time in Washington, sit down at a restaurant and have a snack while we waited for our respective planes, and you know what - we didn't kill each other! We even managed to share some laughs together! We sat at the same table and actually talked about stuff and managed to live together EVEN THOUGH WE DISAGREE. Speaking in a broad generality, people younger than 40 are okay with that. People in their 50s and older are not. And that is why I am so incredibly hopeful about the future of the church. Because the reality is, faithful, honest, and truly good people are going to disagree about things, and it doesn't make anyone less faithful, honest, or good. We are all just trying to live our lives as best we know how. Splitting the church apart just because we disagree about things is the least faithful thing we could possibly do. Life is a rainbow, enjoy the colors! Grace and Peace, Andy B.
I suppose I should write something about Spongebob. Everyone else is. Sigh.
I guess it started with the Smurfs. You remember those little blue creatures who lived in mushrooms (probably hallucinative), and of whom there was exactly one female in the entire village? You wanna talk immorality! One woman and all those men - tsk, tsk, tsk. And how about the Scooby Doo show? You remember how Fred and Daphne always ended up going off "looking for the monster" together - just the two of them? Looking for the monster - I'll bet! Shameless. I always was a little suspicious of Bert and Ernie, two grown muppets - both male! living together in a loft apartment the city, playing with their rubber duckies. Sounds a little funny to me. Not to mention the nefarious Tinky-Winky of Telletubbies fame. Who does he think he is fooling with that purse of his? Little upside down triangle on top of his oh-so-cutsie-tootsie face! Gay, gay, gay! And the Noo-Noo always coming out of his closet. I smell an agenda! (If you don't know what a Noo-Noo is, just never mind - it doesn't concern you.) Now we learn about Mr. Spongebob Squarepants, the latest in a long line of cartoon characters whose hidden plan is to destroy your heterosexual marriage and turn all of your kids gay by flaunting immorality across the after school airwaves. This is big, people. We are through the looking glass on this one. What is up, doc!?
Sigh. Look, here's the thing. Spongebob Squarepants is not a threat to your marriage. Nor to the "institution of marriage," whatever that is. The neo-fundamentalists who want you to think so are such a small minority of the real world, they are hardly worth mentioning. Being gay is not immoral, any more than being straight is. Being gay is being gay. Get used to it. 50 states could ratify constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage and it would not make gay people less gay. No matter what you think Spongebob wants you to think.