Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lectionary for Sunday - Befuddling

Year A: 20th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 21:33-46

Verse 43: [Jesus said], "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom."

Another round of Jesus versus the Pharisees. This is the middle of three parables in a row hurled without subtlety directly into the faces of the chief priests and elders. But what he lacks here in finesse, Jesus makes up for with sheer blunt force. He is relentless in his barrage against the leaders - the question about authority, the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked tenants (this week's text), the parable of the wedding banquet, and his deft rhetorical spar regarding paying taxes to the emperor. Like sledge hammer blows to a concrete wall, Jesus goes to work on the dismantling of the status quo, and he continues right on through the scathing diatribe recorded in chapter 23.

The leaders react. They are afraid of the crowd (21:26, 46) and they are angry enough at Jesus to want to arrest him, to plot against him, to trick him. But ultimately we read that "they were amazed; and they left him and went away" (22:22), and that they were "silenced" (22:34), "nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions" (22:46).

There is a simple word for what Jesus did to those good church people of his time. They were befuddled. I love that word - befuddled. I'm going to try to work it into everyday conversation this week. Just when they think they have it all together, just when they think that the way things have always been is the way things are always going to be, just when they are getting nice and snuggly in the footie pajamas of their privileged position, here comes a rabbi from Galilee with such befuddling words! "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom." How befuddling is that?!?!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was, is, and most certainly should always be the ultimate befuddler of our lives. As soon as we grow complacent, lethargic, content, we can count on a befuddling confrontation with Jesus to reinvigorate our spirits. Like the most beautiful music happens in the space between dissonance and harmony, so too our lives happen in the space between vitality and lethargy, between pain and comfort, between brokenness and health. And most of the time, we are befuddled...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bash These Banners

After reading the comments on the last post and getting a few emails from curious friends, I have succombed to the pressure and posted a picture of my banner creations. So now, with drumroll, here is a picture of the garage sale curtains that currently hang in the front of our sanctuary.

They are non-traditional. They are abstract. And they have generated quite a fuss. But I hope you don't misunderstand me. I did not put these up to intentionally be ugly. I actually like them! Can you see the golden yarn draped over them, symbolizing the cords of Christ's love which "bind us together" in love? (Click on the picture for a larger view). There are six such strands on each banner, for a total of twelve - the twelve apostles centered on Christ in their midst, perhaps? I mean, these things are deep, man. DEEP!

Anyway, here they are, in all their glory. I hope they don't make you mad. But if they do, cope. Who knows, "garage sale curtain" may be the next big thing in liturgical paraments. We are cutting edge here, dude!

Grace and Peace,
Andy the Banner Man

Monday, September 26, 2005

A New Stragegy for Ministry: Making People Mad

OK, here's the thing:

I have said and done more than a few things that people don't like too much. The most recent event: I changed the banners in the sanctuary last week on my own because I was tired of asking people to do it and then it not getting done. I guess that made some people mad. In fact, just before worship last Sunday morning, someone asked me, "Who put those horrible banners up in the sanctuary? They look like garage sale curtains." The look on her face when I smiled and informed her that the banners were my own artistic endeavor was, shall we say, priceless.

So, I am accustomed to the feeling of having people upset with me. Not that I go out of my way to make people angry, but I tend to speak from my heart and act impulsively, without allowing a lot of that silly "thinking" to get in the way. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, and all that jazz.

Here is the interesting thing, though. More than one person has told me recently, "If you aren't making a few people mad, you are doing something wrong" or some variation thereof. I've been thinking about that sentiment and what it means for ministy. I'm pretty sure some people mean it as a "Comfort the afflicted / Afflict the comfortable" kind of thing. Part of the pastor's job is to shake up the complacency of the elite and re-invigorate congregations trapped in their own lethargic inertia.

But there is another sense of it. If I am making a few people mad, that means I am actually doing SOMETHING. There is activity, energy is flowing, people are engaged. It is my desire as a pastor to equip people to engage in the life of the congregation, even if that means making them angry about something going on. Hey, at least they are paying attention!

So, perhaps the new banners that I spent thirty-one dollars and most of my Thursday afternoon creating will spark those angry people to start up a banner team for our worship services. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants! I kind of like them, myself. I was going for the "garage sale curtain" look, and apparently I succeeded!

Andy B.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Royals and the Chiefs: Contrasting Attitudes

Now, the Kansas City Royals have been clinging to 99 losses for three games in a row. Each game has given them the opportunity to lose their one-hundredth of the season, but each of the last three games they have managed to avoid triple digits in the loss column. They have another opportunity tonight against Cleveland, so we'll see what happens. I am not overly optimistic.

Now, the
Kansas City Chiefs have begun the season with two straight wins. The first game was against a playoff team and the second was on the road agaist a divisional rival, and they looked good in both games - not great, but pretty darn good. Monday night they go to Denver to play the Broncos, another divional road game that they can win. I am stoked!

What is the difference? Well aside from being two different sports and noting that the Royals players are awful whereas the Chiefs have actual talent, there is a different mindset, a different attitude. The Royals are waiting to lose, the Chiefs know they can win. These contrasting attitudes affect how they play their respective games.

I was just at a district committee meeting to consider the health of a recently started church in the area, and that new congregation's proposal to buy a building and some property. In the discussion around the table, I heard some contrasting attitudes about the church. Some were cautious, uncertain if this little start-up congregation should take on such a big risk as this property, which features a large building and 19 acres of land. But some were advocating that the congregation go for it and sell its current assets in order to buy this new property and follow where God's vision was leading them.

In short, some people were playing the game just waiting to lose, while some were playing believing we can win. It is a metaphor, so there is a limit to its effectiveness, but I think it is instructive for how we approach life together as the church. Without delving into the whole"winners and losers" identification, I think we can learn a lot about expectations, attitudes, and self-fulfilling prophecies.

A healthy church is going into each "game" expecting to "win." Drawing on the talent within the congregation, there is excitement and energy flowing, there are new and creative ideas being generated, there is warmth and openness, and people feel good about the team. An unhealthy church is going into each "game" trying to avoid a "loss." Struggling to maintain the status quo, there is rigidity and stubborness, there is that old lethargic "we have always done it this way" mentality, and people wonder why they bother to keep coming week after week except by some sense of duty or obligation.

I am humbled and happy to be a part of a church that expects to win every game we play. This congregation is remarkable, and I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be here. We are definitely a "Kansas City Chiefs" kind of church; we expect to win every game!

Go Chiefs!
Andy B.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Maybe Harps and Tamborines?

Dear Rainbow Readers,

I was privileged to overhear a fascinating theological conversation last Friday morning. I was a chaperone for our son Wesley's preschool field trip, and was driving three preschool boys up to the apple orchard. This profound exchange occurred between Wesley and his buddy Skyler.

It started with Skyler pretending to shoot imaginary "bad guys" out the back window of our car. Wesley said, "Skyler, Miss Spring (their teacher) says no guns."

Skyler repied, "I'm just shooting bad guys." The term "bad guys" as used by preschoolers, it should be noted, is not intended to be a gender-exclusive term. Cruella DeVille, for example, is one of the baddest bad guys there ever has been and ever will be as far as I am concerned. But I digress:

"Miss Spring says 'we don't do that here,'" responded Wesley sanctimoniously.

Skyler was frustrated, but not deterred. "Well, when I get to heaven, I'm going to shoot all the bad guys there!" he announced.

I was puzzled at this assertion, but Wesley did not miss the opportunity to challenge Skyler's eschatology. "There are no bad guys in heaven, Skyler."

This point deserved a little reflection. No bad guys in heaven, Wesley? Do you mean to say that all the bad guys go to a place other than heaven or are you implying that God's grace somehow turns everyone into a "good guy" when they get to heaven? If it is the former, will you explain to me your doctrine of grace, specifically contrasted with the notion of works righteousness? If it is the latter, how exactly is it that the "good guys" and the "bad guys" get along with each other in the midst of God's heavenly realm?

But Skyler took another tack. He does not give up easily, and will make a gifted lawyer or perhaps public official some day. He is creative and clever, and an amazingly articulate three year old. His reply, "If there are no bad guys in heaven, what are we supposed to do with all the guns and weapons and stuff?"

Aha! A good question. To which Wesley had the perfect answer. "There's no weapons there. I think we just get special musical instruments."

And that apparently settled the matter, because Skyler then abruptly changed the subject. I think he started talking about airplanes or something.

Hoping for a French Horn,
Andy B.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Katrina - It's About Empathy

I'm not qualified to assess blame for the failures in the material response to Hurricane Katrina. Was it mayor, governor, senators, representatives, president, FEMA director, homeland security guy, etc. etc.? I just don't know. People who are smarter than me about these things are already well on their way to assessing what went wrong and who is to blame. I am content to let them do that and chuckle at their buffoonery from the comfort of my living room chair.

I have never criticized anyone for their material response, even in my previous post, in which I said, "It’s not just about what they are doing; it’s about how they are acting." I am a local pastor in a mid-sized mid-western United Methodist Church; I have no authority to question material response. That is not where my expertise lies.

My expertise is in theology, scripture, discipleship. You know, churchy stuff. (Also in choral music, but that is neither here nor there for the moment.) I do empathy. I do compassion. I do love, grace, mercy, justice, peace - all those cool God things. And when I see a lack of empathy, I point to it.

Overall, the response of the government up til now has been marked by a lack of empathy for the poor.

Was it the mayor (moved his family to Dallas, Texas), or the governor (deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi), or the Louisana legislators (finger muscles strained from pointing at everyone other than themselves), or the homeland security guy (Grand Moff Tarkin), or the FEMA director (dewy eyed horse lover), or the president (looking forward to sitting on Trent Lott's fabulous porch), who was "responsible" for the mistakes of the past two weeks? I don't know, and anyone who tries to make this a political issue is a moron. (I mean that, of course, in the most Christian, loving way possible. ;)

Now, this morning in the paper, President Bush says, "I take responsibility." The buck has stopped, and President Bush is taking it on himself. This is good leadership. Say what you will about timing, this is good leadership. And acknowledging responsibility hints at the beginnings of true empathy for the victims. "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," the president said. And the nation nods in empathetic agreement.

When we are able to say, "I am responsible for you," it is natural that we feel empathy. Jesus was God with us and God for us, incarnate on our behalf. Likewise we, as children of God, have a certain responsibility for others that leads us to compassionate empathy when others are hurting, injured, and broken. Who is responsible in this story? President Bush may be taking that weight upon his own shoulders, but in fact we all are responsible for one another as children of God together in God's world.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Please Read This Blog Post

This Monday, I have too much in my head and too much on my heart. It is giving me a headache and a fever, so I am going to take a tylenol and go to sleep.

But before I do, I want to direct you to this blog post - click HERE.

Perspective. Insight. Depth.

The Untied Methodist is my hero.

Andy B.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Katrina - Two Very Different Responses

When Barbara Bush saw the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the football stadium, she said, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

When my seven year old daughter Cori saw the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the football stadium, she said, “They had to live on a football field for three days with no food or water?!? That’s mean! That’s not fair! Why didn’t they bring them any food or water?” and she promptly burst into anguished tears.

My daughter had seen the current issue of U.S. News & World Report on our coffee table, and Erin, my wife, went through it with her, telling her what the pictures were. Cori wanted to know. She has the sweetest, most compassionate heart of any human being I have ever met, and she wanted to know about the woman crying on the cover, the people sleeping at the football field, the children her own age now homeless and fighting just to sruvive.

Erin did not embellish anything; she told Cori what the pictures were. And the injustice of the situation was so apparent, even my seven year old daughter could see it. Or maybe ESPECIALLY my seven year old daughter could see it. Maybe my seven year old daughter is capable of seeing things that jaded adults cannot see.

President George Bush chuckles about the time he used to spend in New Orleans having “maybe a little too much fun at times” and laments the destruction of Trent Lott’s enormous home; FEMA Director Michael Brown seems to place blame for the huge death toll squarely on the impoverished people who could not afford to get themselves out of the way of the storm; Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff icily deflects responsibility by asserting that no one had predicted such a storm when in fact just about everyone with any knowledge of the situation was predicting disaster.

What gets me is that these are the people in charge, the people with the power, the people who control the resources. And they just don’t get it. It’s not just about what they are doing; it’s about how they are acting: arrogant, defensive, selfish, detached. It makes my heart ache to listen to them.

At a time like this, I have got to put my hope somewhere. And even though it is not fair to her, I am putting my hope squarely in the sweet heart of my daughter Cori. More than anyone else, her response to the hurricane aftermath is the most authentic expression of human empathy I have heard. “That’s mean! That’s not fair!” She knows that living on a football field with hundreds of other people is definitely not “working very well” for anyone. She knows injustice when she sees it. And she knows that it is all right to cry out in anguish when you need to.

Andy B.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina - Dishonoring the Poor

"...and they were working people, poor people, whose money was their strength, the very substance of them, body and soul, the thing by which they lived and for lack of which they died."
- Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

I do not want it to be true, so I am desperate for someone to convince me that it is not. I sincerely desire with all of my heart to be persuaded of its fallacy, but I fear that no one will be able to. Someone please persuade me of the error of this observation:
Many of the victims of hurricane Katrina seem to be in their present unimaginable state simply because they are poor.

It seems to be why a) they could not afford to flee from the storm before it hit, b) the government is being so frustratingly slow in responding to the need, and c) so many are resorting to such desperate, illegal, even violent measures to ensure their own survival and that of their families. I wish that it didn't seem so, but God's honest truth, that's how it looks.

a) If you have a car with gas in it and a bit of money or a credit card, you can flee, and probably have already. The stories of families welcomed into free hotel rooms, church basements, and private homes are really inspiring. But if you have nothing, what then? Even if you decided to get out of the way of Katrina, where would you have gone and how would you have gotten there if you are living paycheck to paycheck, just barely able to feed and clothe your kids?

b) The torrent of the hurricane has been met with a trickle of governmental response, even to the point of putting blame onto the victims themselves for living in a city built below sea level. The bitter, defensive attitude of our government, so familiar to the nation by now, has led them to offer this rather weak excuse: "We couldn't have done any more because the storm just came on too fast." But there is plenty of evidence that the prediction of this disaster was given in plenty of time. I really hate to even ask this question, but it needs to be asked: How would the governement responded differently had a well-to-do area been flattened instead of an impoverished one?

c) The government told the people to go to the Superdome or to the Civic Center, where help would be waiting. They went there, and there was no help. For days and days, there was no help. Armed thugs began to push people around - rape, murder, assault. Honest people began to break into stores simply to get diapers for their babies and water for their families. Police officers and fire fighters have committed suicide in the face of the overwhelming crisis. The situation was described as anarchy by more than one eye witness. The eyes of people interviewed on TV tell stories more horrorific than the actual words uttered. They are exhausted, beaten, ancient eyes. Desperate to survive.

"My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?" (James 2:1-7, NRSV)

Money. "The thing by which they lived and for lack of which they died."

I hope I'm wrong. I fear I'm not.

- Andy B.

There is a lot of information at the UMCOR website. Please do whatever you can.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Change-or-Die Part 2

After reading a couple of comments and having a few conversations with some good people, I would like to clarify something about this Change-or-Die thing from a previous post.

I am not against, afraid of, or otherwise opposed to change per se. Rather, I disagree with the motivation for change that I have heard church leaders lament, namely, that change is necessary in order to prevent the church from dying.

In fact, I think the church most definitely needs to change (we might even say reform), but not just to stay alive. That is a selfish, narrow-minded, and short-sighted motivation. Rather, the church needs to reform in order to stay faithful to the mission to which God is calling it. In order to continue conveying the Gospel, the church must interpret its message into a language that will be understood, and that will require continual and continuing reformation.

When my seminary class on our Brazil trip needed to communicate, Larry served as our "interpreter," not as our "translator." The disctinction is critical. A translator just takes the message word for word and relays it. But an interpreter takes the meaning of the message and conveys it, making sure that the hearer understands. The church can be, and ought to be, the primary interpreter of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So that makes it impossible for me to simply say to someone, "Jesus died for you" without interpreting it so that she or he will understand what that means.

I think the church needs to change the way it interprets the Gospel, so that the meaning (which remains unchanged) in conveyed in a lanugage that will be understood. Some of those changes will include "smaller, more intimate communities of faith that are open, relaxed, and center around experience, encounter, and relationship" rather than the "large, high-intensity organizations that were demanding, strictly organized, and centered around belief, morality, and membership." (Quotes are from my previous post). This is not change for the sake of change; this is not "Change-or-Die"; this is not even about changing in reaction to those nasty mega-churches ;) This is about changing in order to remain faithful to the mission to which God is calling us.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Katrina Response Options:

One of my good friends, a nurse here in Kansas City, sent me this email:

Would you please also pass on the desperate need for blood donors at this time. The increased demand for blood due to injured Katrina victims is minor when compared to the loss in normal collections. Possibly thousands of units of blood and blood products are normally collected in the gulf region. That has stopped and it will be a very long time before they will be approaching normal collection volumes. Also, the rest of the country is understandably distracted by the disaster. Donations nation wide will drop as people make assisting hurricane victims their focus. All of this at a time of the year that is always difficult for maintaining an adequate blood supply. Everyone is getting their kids back to school and going away for Labor day weekend.
People can go to for donation sites and information.

I got this info today from the Missouri Conference:

Jim Wagner in the Gateway Districts office compiled this list of sites where information is being exchanged about displaced people.
Here’s Jim’s message:
Either you or members of your congregations may be searching for family and/or friends who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The following are websites where information is being exchanged. This information will also be posted on the district website later this morning for anyone who needs it (

Craigslist - New Orleans

Missing Persons Forum

Red Cross and Salvation Army

CNN Katrina Safe List

Full Circle

Katrina: Family - Friends Forum

Volunteer database created
Max Marble has created a database of people willing to volunteer time, equipment, space in their homes, etc., to help hurricane refugees. Those wanting to volunteer in any way can go online and fill out the form Max has placed there. Go to

And this story came through the Missouri Conference email today, also:

Refugees find shelter in Sikeston
The Sikeston community in southeast Missouri is pulling together to assist the dozens of refugees who traveled into Missouri and finally found shelter from Hurricane Katrina in Sikeston. Geoff Posegate, pastor at First UMC in Sikeston, says that they’ve had between 60-100 people seeking refuge each night. On Monday, when they discovered that there were needs, the church organized efforts to feed refugees and provide whatever additional help was needed. Last night, First UMC hosted a meeting with other churches and community members to further organize the efforts. He said they filled their chapel with people who wanted to help, and they plan another coordination meeting tonight. Debbie Austin, a member of the congregation, started the ball rolling, along with Jill Hopson, the church’s small group ministry director, and Kendall Elledge, their children and family ministries director. For more information, or to offer help, call the First UMC in Sikeston at 573-471-3283.

What can you do? Give blood; write a check; make a "flood bucket" to send to UMCOR; open up your home to refugees; pray. God's children are called to response - I urge you to act.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.