Sunday, July 31, 2005

My Two Friends

Let me tell you my two friends, Jeff and David (but he's "Dave" now, though I still call him David most of the time).

I have known these two guys since I was in the third grade, Jeff was in fourth grade, and David was the older and wiser sixth grader. Twenty-six years of my life I have been able to count them as my dearest friends. I'm thirty-four. That's like ... umm ... twenty-six thirty-fourths of my life!

A couple of weeks ago, we went on our annual float trip. These float trips started in our church youth group, "Cornerstone," the youth group of Harper Chapel United Methodist Church. Those first trips consisted of a bunch of wild teenagers and a couple of grown-ups renting a bunch of canoes and floating down a river somewhere in south-central Missouri, camping on a gravel bar, cooking over fires, singing, praying, goofing around, chanting "we are the ultimate battle cruiser," and generally loving life and each other as hard and as fiercely as teenagers are able to.

This most recent trip consisted of six adults and seven children under the age of ten hanging out at Dave's house for the weekend, going to the neighborhood pool, checking out the zoo, playing volleyball in the backyard, and playing cards in the evening around the kitchen table. Okay, not quite the same as those original float trips, I will admit. But wouldn't you know it, the thirteen of us still spent the weekend generally loving life and each other as hard and a fiercely as three young families are able to do.

Relationships that last over time survive a lot of change. For Dave, Jeff, and me, life has meant college degrees, marriage to the three most wonderful women in the world (and the infinite patience of Jo Beth, Kathleen, and Erin to put up with the three of us all these years is something to behold!), jobs, and miraculous, beautiful, energetic children. And as we have gotten older and our lives have changed, our love has just gotten deeper.

We disagree about a lot of stuff, too. For example, Dave gets his kicks killing perfectly innocent woodland creatures (Bambi is currently being mounted on his living room wall). Jeff has a tendency to drop cigarette ash into our scrambled eggs (that was back when he used to smoke, of course). When we talk politics, we go around and around, with definite differences of opinion that other people would allow to get ugly. The thing is, in the midst of all our changes and disagreement is this deep and abiding love for each other that holds us all together in spite of ourselves. When we disagree about something, I let Dave and Jeff know how wrong they are and then get on with the card game. (And pass me another Sam Adams, Jeff, if you will allow me to have a taste of your "good beer.")

It is very good for pastors and their families to have friends like Jeff, Kathleen, David, and JoBeth. To them, we aren't "the pastor and his family." We're just Uncle Andy, Aunt Erin, Cori, and Wes! To be able to relax completely, turn it off, and metaphorically remove the stole for a few days is vital to my spiritual health and psychological functionality. Plus, it is just a heck of a lot of fun!

And I can't wait for our next float trip! (Hey guys - Maybe next year we will be able to "starp" again.)

Andy B.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Watch Out for that Tree ... !

I apologize for slamming on my brakes and screeching to a halt the other day. If you were driving behind me, you probably had to swerve drastically to avoid my car, stopped right there in the middle of Swift Street. I couldn’t help it; I just couldn’t believe my eyes. They cut down our trees.

I usually try to avoid using “us” and “them” and their related pronouns, but I am making an exception in this case. “Us” is the people of North Kansas City and “Them” is Hunt Midwest Real Estate Development. Someone there must know more about developing real estate than I do, and I will say that from their perspective the clear-cutting done recently in this beautiful town must make sense. But it doesn’t make a bit of sense to me.

This street pictured here used to be a tree lined parkway. The shot on the right is looking south down Swift Street. You can see the trees that are left just south of the development area and a few on the west side of the street. But on the east (the left side of the picture) Hunt Midwest has cleared the ground to make way for their houses. Big, beautiful, old trees that had been living here for decades, nothing more than nuisances in the way of human progress, cut down, ground up, and disposed of.

I am not a “tree hugger,” but I mourn the loss of those big beautiful trees. Having more and more people moving into town is good, but the cost of that population growth is the death of a row of shade, habitat, oxygen, and aesthetic beauty that will take decades upon decades to experience again. Does this creation in which we reside have value only insofar as it is available for human consumption? Is there a place for righteous anger in response to the loss of our big, beautiful, old trees?

Billy and the Dinosaur

In today's paper, Billy Graham says that God "created the dinosaurs. They aren't mentioned in the Bible, however, because they were extinct by the time it was written." The more you think about this seemingly innocent comment, the more profound it becomes. Following are my honest questions arising from Graham's observation:

- Question: Why didn't God reveal to the authors of the Bible any information about dinosaurs? Did God pick and choose what to reveal for recording and what not to?

- Question: In order for the dinosaurs to come into existence, flourish, and die out by the time the Bible was written, it seems the earth must be more than a few thousand years old, as the Bible indicates. Does this mean the Bible is not literally true, then?

- Question: Can the Bible properly be called "inerrant" if it fails to mention any hint about the creatures that ruled the planet earth for millenia? Isn't that ommission a "mistake"?

- Question: The omission of dinosaurs was due to the historical context of the Biblical authors, who simply did not have the knowledge of dinosaurs to include. To what other issues might this principle apply? Women leadership in church? Homosexuality? Slavery? The establishment of Christendom? Prosperity / Poverty?

In his simple remark about dinosaurs, Rev. Graham has placed a big emphasis on historical context in the writing and the interpretation of the Bible. He is saying that the Bible was written by particular people who had a particular knowledge base at a particular time in a particular place. Learning about the Bible, therefore, seems to require learning a lot about those particulars, then interpreting the message for our own contexts.

The more we know about the context in which the Bible was written, the more the Bible comes alive for our own context. I was taught by "School House Rock" that "Knowledge is power!" Slogan for the day: "KNOW MORE."

Learning every day,
Andy B.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Grace Experience at Cursillo

I just worked at my third Cursillo weekend as a spiritual director last Thursday through Sunday. (Cursillo is one of those "3-day weekend" experiences in the category of Walk to Emmaus, Camino, and others.) I have come home, if possible, both exhausted and rejuvenated.

Exhaustion as a result of early mornings and late nights, sitting and listening to a series of talks on church life, leading several worship experiences, and being continually available to offer spiritual care and counselling as needed. Plus all the fun and activity of a weekend together with a great group of Christian brothers and sisters has a tendency to take a lot of energy.

But I am also rejuvenated. Rejuvenated as a result of a weekend worth of prayer with some of my dear spiritual sisters and brothers, multiple opportunities to share in the Eucharist, experiencing the grace of God through the gentle touch of friends new and old, and seeing the energy of God's spirit in the smiles of the incarnate body of Christ gathered together to serve as messengers of Christ's grace.

After this weekend, I am once again convinced that the future of the church is vibrant and vital. There are a lot of people who lament declining membership and attendance, and say that we are near death as a denomination, if not as the "mainline" itself (whatever that is). I have even read opinions of people who warn about the danger of developing "too liberal" of a theology, which is allegedly a turn off to people and drives people out of the church. Nonsense! Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus never counted heads; he just said, "Make disciples." Jesus never said "Don't be too liberal" or "Don't be too conservative;" he just said, "Love one another." Last weekend, in the midst of the Cursillo community, no one was counting, no one was conducting theological litmus tests to determine acceptance, no one was lamenting the decline of mainline Christianity. We just lived in the midst of Christ's grace-filled presence for a weekend, and offered that grace to the Cursillo community.

And we found out that grace is exhausting and rejuvenating all at the same time!

"Grace finds beauty in everything." - Bono

Andy B.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

All Morning in a Hospital Room

I spent all morning in a hospital room. The woman I was visiting was scared and lonely, and wanted me to stay all day. I talked gently with her, trying to assure her, trying to offer comfort. I stayed as long as I could. She is facing a drastic change in lifestyle, adding a walker to help her get around. She is very worried about navigating the stairs at church. When I told her, "Just think about how nice it will be when our elevator arrives," she replied, "I wish it would hurry up and get here." She was feeling anxious and worried, and I spent all morning with her.

I could have been ...
... negotiating with architects and contractors to finish this construction project
... responding to concerns about our congregation's proposed name change
... thinking about ways to promote and publicize the church's new vision and mission statements
... figuring out how we are going to pay for the elevator project's cost
... writing my presentations for the upcoming Cursillo weekend
... planning worship services for the weekend after next
... proofreading this month's newsletter
... dealing with a potentially caustic church staff issue
... editing sermon texts from the transcriptions that have been emailed to me
... visiting any of the dozen or so people on my list to check up on
... doing follow up calls with my list of visitors
... walking through Northtown handing out brochures to new residents
... or any of a bunch of other stuff that probably needs to be done and someone has to do it so why not me.

But I stayed with her all morning in her hospital room. And I do not regret it for a moment.

She was scared and lonely, so I stayed.

Ministry - Gotta love it!

Friday, July 15, 2005

"Making the Blog"

I am currently spending a weekend with some great friends. Once a year for the last 12 summers, we have met together for a weekend of fun - sometimes camping, sometimes canoeing, sometimes at a resort, sometimes in homes. We started out with just three couples, and have added children over the years until now the children outnumber the grown-ups seven to six.

The three men in these three families have known each other for twenty-six years! We went to the same elementary school, we were in the same church youth group, same high school choir and band. They are my best and truest friends, and some of those rare few people with whom I can be completely, honestly MYSELF.

I am experiencing an interesting phenomenon this weekend. My friends are joking around by competing with one another to see who can say something I will deem "blog-worthy." They are trying by various means to "make the blog." So far, the most blatant campaigner, whom I cannot yet mention by name since to do so would unfairly accomplish his purpose of "making the blog," has pulled me aside several times and attempted to speak profound words to me, hoping that I will use them as the theme of a blog entry. We'll have to wait and see ...

Blog-worthily yours,
Andy B.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Locusts & Honey Blogger Profile

John the Methodist is a blogger who keeps track of other Methodist bloggers on his blog, which is called "Locusts & Honey." He does two things: 1) He compiles a weekly roundup of Methodist blogs, with a brief summary of what they are writing about and a link to each blog, and 2) he posts periodic profiles of Methodist bloggers, each of whom answer a set of questions that John provides. It is a cool service he is providing, and one of the reasons I have him on my list of blogs I read.

Well, the fun news for me is that John has profiled me in his most recent post. Jog on over to locustsandhoney-dot-blogspot-dot-com and check it out. Or just click here.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,
Andy B.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Creating a Sweet Rainbow

Posted by Picasa
The daycare kids from the First Beginnings ministry of my remarkable congregation recently cooperated to create a Rainbow Cake. (With the help of special guest teachers Alberta Campbell and Erin Bryan, of course.) Here's how it worked: Each kid mixed a bit of batter into a color of their own choosing. Then each bit of batter was swirled together to make one cake. After baking, the cake was frosted and rainbow colored sprinkles were liberally distributed over the top.

I fully intended to take a picture of the finished product for display, but unfortunately the cake proved too wonderfully delicious, and it was completely consumed by the First Beginnings kids before I could get a picture. But the piece that I saw and subsequently devoured was lovely, indeed. It had bright colors swirled together in the cake and sweet, crunchy bits of rainbow scattered within the icing.

Do I even need to mention how much like the church this is? Each of us bringing our own color to the batter, swirling together to make one cake, covered by the icing of God's grace, and, yes indeed, how sweet is that beautiful rainbow cake!

Living in the rainbow,
Andy B.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Good Writing Out There About London

There have been some poignant, thoughtful responses to the London bombing posted on various blogs here and there. Check out what Progressive Christian has. Beth Quick is always very thoughtful. Robert Fisk wrote something a little more spicy, but a thought provoking read nonetheless.
Check these out by clicking on the links I have put in this text. These writings are toward the "liberal" side of things, since that is my own unapolegetic perspective. If there are other essays you want to point out, be sure to include them in comments here.

Andy B.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Thinking About Martin

See that wreath? It is hanging on the balcony of an old motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Only it is not a motel any more, it is a museum.

See that line of bricks aiming toward the wreath? It is marking the line that a bullet travelled toward that balcony almost 40 years ago. Only the balcony wasn't empty then. Martin Luther King, Jr. was standing on it.

If you turn around 180 degress, the line of bricks points toward a bathroom window in an old apartment building across the street. It is also a museum now. In that window, someone with hatred in their soul sat and waited for Martin to be standing alone on that balcony. Then they shot him.

Ever since we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last Monday, I have been thinking about violence. We visited on the Fourth of July, when the United States celebrates independence from Great Britian, and the birth of a new nation. A violent birth. A bloody birth. Displacement of native people. Enslavement of African people. A violent revolution.

An entire history scarred with violence. The terror of slavery. A horrific war between the states. The hatred and violence of racism. Jim Crow. Lynchings. Segregated schools, restaurants, swimming pools, water fountains. Then there's the not one but two world wars. The nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the entire planet several times over. The toxic pollution freely flowing from our factories, violently choking the planet to death. And on and on and on.

Now another attack. This one in London. Blood, death, violence. It makes us think about 2001, that other attack, the one we refer to by date alone - 9/11. Extremists? Terrorists? People with evil in their hearts? Hunt them down! Root them out! Kill them all!


But will it help? In the end, there is either violence or not-violence. (Nonviolence.) In the end, you can either shoot a bullet at someone or take one from someone. Martin took one on a motel balcony in Memphis.

Jesus took one on a cross in Jerusalem.

Would I?

Would you?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
(James Weldon Johnson, 1921)

God, where is the star? The people who walk in darkness have walked in darkness long enough. Could you possibly spare us a little light? Maybe just a flicker ...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

United Church of Christ Endorses Same-Sex Marriage

Some of you will celebrate, some will get mad - but nonetheless here it is. The United Church of Christ has passed a resolution endorsing same sex marriage. As much as conservative Christians are going to hate it, it is happening.

- Will the UCC split because of this decision or might they find a way to live together?
- Will the United Methodist Church follow in the UCC's lead or head the other direction?
- Will the UCC be on the forefront of a trend among mainline denominations or be out on a limb all by themselves?

I don't know, but here's what I hope:

I hope I will live to see the day when anyone who falls in love with another person will be free to express that love in the sacred covenant of marriage, honored in a ceremony before God and within the warm embrace of a loving congregation.

As a United Methodist pastor, I am not permitted to officiate at wedding ceremonies of same-sex couples. I lament that. Let's be clear, it is not the Bible that forbids me from doing so, it is the Book of Discipline. The Bible itself is very adamant and quite specific: same-sex sexual activity is strictly forbidden when the intention is idolatry (i.e. cultic worship) or pederasty (i.e. child abuse). But the Bible says nothing about two adults who fall in love, want to get married to each other, and who are the same gender. Nonetheless, I will respect the Book of Discipline's restrictions even as I work to reform them.

In the meantime, I will pray for the United Church of Christ. A prayer of gratitude for their courage and a prayer for unity of spirit in the midst of their transformation.

Expecting Reaction,
Andy B.

Sorry, JP

Hey, I was messing around with pictures and I accidentally deleted JP's comment from this last post. It was unintentional, JP. I am sorry. Please comment again!
- Andy B.

Hey, It's Good to Be Back Home Again

Wes, Cori, and Andy hanging out in the Magic Kingdom. Posted by Picasa

We made it! The Bryan family is back safely from our vacation to Florida, and we had an absolutely fabulous time. We are refreshed, relaxed, and ready to roll!

I have stories to tell, also. Stories ...
- about being "Disneyfied,"
- about the ambivalence of the first seat on "Space Mountain,"
- about the spiritual discipline of standing in line and waiting,
- about the unabated joy of jumping on motel beds,
- about a cold shoulder from a church nursery,
- about standing at the location of the assasination of MLK in Memphis,
- and much, much more!

Yes, it was a good trip, filled with fantastic memories. We saw a part of the world that we hadn't before, and now we get to check off four new states from our "Been There" lists. We are home now with renewed perspective and the deeply ingrained wisdom that it really is a small world after all!

It's nice to be home,
Andy B.