Friday, March 31, 2006

Story Time, Everyone!

There is power in personal story. I have linked to three, and invite you to read them at your leasure.

Click here to read a story about a death in the family. (Hat tip.)

Click here to read a story about the experience of being gay in our country.

Click here to read a story about a soldier returning to Iraq after being discharged. (Hat tip.)

Enjoy your reading!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rambling Thoughts: Preachers

(The following is a post written by Bishop Monk Bryan, my grandfather, whose "rambling thoughts" about God, church, and life in general may become a periodic feature of Enter the Rainbow, depending on how freely he will offer them!)

Of the couple of dozen+ preachers I have heard, most are difficult at times to understand. Though my hearing is not what it was 40 years ago, it is still pretty good. Maybe some of the problem is in the acoustics or speaker system. But most of it is with the preachers.

Going back to [my father, Rev.] Gid J. Bryan about 1938 - every congregation has people with varying degrees of hearing. It is a strain to have to try to hear. Such a person will try for a while, then tire, and close off the sermon. For those people, the preacher may as well shut up and go home.

It is not so much a matter of volume as of pronunciation and projection of voice. [As a preacher in Columbia, Missouri], I used to go into the sanctuary when people were least likely to be there (the doors were always unlocked), take with me the copy of some sermon by some good preacher, and read it aloud from the pulpit. Sometimes I would concentrate on enunciation; sometimes on projection to various areas of the sanctuary, or timing and pauses, or gestures. And I would still get something of the sermon and the preaching style.

Lots of preachers look down a lot. (PREACHING BY READING FROM A MANUSCRIPT IS NOT GOOD.) Others weave their heads from side to side across a mike that functions well in a narrow range of positions.

I have been in a number of services of Holy Communion - thanks be. How, O how, can we ministers read and speak that magnificent ritual in a way that conveys its richness, depth, and meaning? Some go through it in a monotone. [I know one who] reads it as if he wants to get it over with as fast as possible. Do we need to use every sentence of the ritual?

By chance, I watched a Presbyterian minister on TV; maybe an old guy in his late 60s. Obviously, the ritual meant a great deal to him. Inflection, timing, pauses, variation in emphasis and volume. It was so meaningful, I did not care how long it lasted.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Immigration Reform: Item 3

God’s realm is bigger than our nation.

Here’s an idea from Inder Comer writing at Demand More dot org. Click here to read it all.

(Hat tip to Adam C.)

“The land itself contains no dividers -- it is humans, and humans alone, who have cut up the land into different entities. What difference does it make what language my neighbor speaks, or what god he worships? If he is my neighbor, then I have a duty to treat him as such, and he to me. When a man asks another for food to eat or water to drink, what person with a shred of decency would stop to ask for his documents?”

The line drawn between the United States and Mexico is meaningless in God’s eyes. So the question is, “Is it meaningless in ours?” I guess the question also impels us to ask whose concerns we place at the top of our list, our God’s or our country’s. Clearly the United States of America can set any kind of immigration policy it wants to, and right now the nation is headed toward tighter borders. The goal of this move seems to be protecting U.S. lives from terrorists and U.S. jobs from foreigners.

Okay, so I understand that. But should we place that national interest ahead of God’s interest in justice for the poor and hospitality for strangers? I’m not going to do that.

So can we do both? Can we meet our God’s desire for justice AND our nation’s desire for security? I suppose we need to say that if this is an either/or situation, we’re pretty much going to have to go with what God wants. But maybe this is a both/and kind of thing. Maybe there is someplace in between “let them all in” and “kick them all out” where we can all be happy.

From what I have read so far, Senator John McCain’s bill in the Senate comes pretty close to that compromise, at least from the perspective of the nation, but it is headed to a major smack-down conflict with Representative James Sensenbrenner’s bill in the House. These two bills are pretty far apart, and it is not likely that they will be easily reconciled. McCain’s (S.1033) allows immigrants to work, but sets up a pretty rigorous process to make that possible. Sensenbrenner’s (H.R. 4437) just kicks the criminals out, period. The House bill is grounded firmly in the current national ethos that demands stronger borders. The Senate bill is grounded in cautious hospitality that does not go as far as the radical inclusivity of God, but at least faces that direction.

God’s realm is so much bigger than our nation, and neighbors are neighbors regardless of the coincidental circumstances of their various countries of birth. And even if we can’t acknowledge that truth as Americans, can we not at least acknowledge it as children of God?

I am going to encourage my legislative representatives to support the Senate bill, because it is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. But in the meantime I am going to continue to be a pastor and a Christian and a neighbor practicing the radical hospitality that God desires. And that means that, if you want to be my friend, I will not ask you for your papers first.

Update: John the Methodist has written a post about immigration that contrasts with mine. Check it out by clicking here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Immigration Reform: Item 2

My previous post laid some of the theological framework for the issue of immigration reform. This post will lift up some of what the United Methodist Church has to say on the issue.

The Social Principles of our denomination say, “The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons.
“We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.”

Interpretation of this principle hinges in part on what is meant by “those who comprise [a society].” If “those who comprise” the United States are only legal citizens, then this principle does not apply to undocumented immigrants. But if the phrase, “those who comprise it” is an inclusive phrase that takes into consideration all people who are living in the society regardless of official status, then we must conclude that no consideration of legal status ought to be made when affirming a person’s inherent value in God’s eyes, and therefore in ours. We cannot accept policies that deny rights to a particular group of people and devalue them based solely on whether or not they have jumped through all the necessary hoops, themselves flawed, of becoming legal citizens.

Every four years, the United Methodist General Conference passes resolutions, which “state the policy of The United Methodist Church on many current social issues and concerns,” including immigration. These resolutions get more specific and kind of give flesh and blood to the Social Principles. Here is some interesting stuff about immigration legislation from that book:

Paraphrasing from Resolution #266 of the 2004 Book of Resolutions (p. 686), the UMC is opposed to any legislation that 1) requires school districts to verify legal status of first-time enrollees, or 2) bars undocumented immigrants from public colleges and universities, or 3) makes immigrants ineligible for public health services, or 4) eliminates child-welfare and foster care benefits for immigrants, or 5) requires law enforcement agencies to verify residency status of people who are arrested.

Unfortunately, our Book of Resolutions doesn’t give us any guidance on the specific issue of building a gigantic wall around our country to keep people out. But if I had to guess, I would think they would be opposed.

I am proud to be a part of a denomination that takes a stand like this. It is clearly grounded in the particular scriptural concern for the sojourner. It is built upon the Wesleyan tradition of social justice. And it is in tune with Jesus’ own special preference for the stranger and the outcast. The UMC has offered a plumb line by which to measure immigration policy in our nation.

Further, the resolution calls for action. Among other things, United Methodists are to back legislation that defends the poor and oppressed in the “quest for survival and peace,” to “advocate human rights (political, economic, and civil) for all people, including the strangers who sojourn in our land,” provide for community forums for dialogue and education on immigration issues, and to offer “church-based immigration clinics” that would support the legal needs of immigrants.

This is good stuff, the grass roots kind of efforts that rarely get noticed, but can be a powerful testimony to the gospel of Christ Jesus. A congregation engaged in this kind of ministry is a healthy one, indeed. But how many are? How many immigration forums have United Methodist churches hosted? How many congregations run immigration clinics? Maybe more in Texas, New Mexico, Florida?

I really would like to hear of some. If any of you know of such ministries, could you provide a link we could follow? Yes, all over the place there are “Hispanic Ministries” doing some of this. And while that is great, I don’t think that is what this resolution has in mind. Principles and resolutions are wonderful up to a point; what really matters is how they are lived out in the real world.

I hope to write part 3 in this little series about Senate Bill 1033, sponsored by John McCain and cosponsored by Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham, Edward Kennedy, Joseph Lieberman, Mel Martinez, Barack Obama, and Ken Salazar. More to come…

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Immigration Reform: Item 1

I want to spend some time this week with the issue of immigration. There is little question that it is one of the most important social justice issues of our day. I live in Kansas City, Missouri, right smack dab in the middle of the heartland, and I know that the issue of immigration is not limited to the borders and the coasts, and it hasn’t been for a long time. For example, my daughter’s second grade class of twenty kids represents no less that five different countries.

The immigration system in the United States is a big mess. Anecdotal evidence: there are three families who are members of my church who have immigrated to the U.S., and all three have had problems with the system at some point. And though the three cases feature very different circumstances – a family from Sudan, a single woman from Mexico, and a man from Belgium married to a U.S. citizen – each has had some kind of snafu at some point. These aren’t criminals; these are not people trying to scam the system; these aren’t deadbeats trying to sponge off of U.S. welfare. These are just good, honest people trying to put food on the table, trying to keep their families safe, trying to live the best life they can.

Why should we care? What does this issue have to do with the church? Shouldn’t we just stay out of politics and keep to religion?

We should care because God cares. (Warning: proof-texting ahead):

From Deuteronomy 10: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” That word translated “stranger” by the NRSV is the Hebrew word GER, which my lexicon tells me means “A sojourner, stranger, foreigner, a person living out of his own country.”

From Ephesians 2: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” This letter was written to Christians trying to figure out if you had to become Jewish before you could be Christian, the answer to which was “no.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “I was a xenos and you took me in.” A xenos is a “stranger, foreigner, or alien.” In Hebrews 13, Christians are encouraged to practice philoxenia, or “love of the xenos.”

I could go on and on with the scriptural references, but I’ll stop there.

This is one reason we should care about immigration in our country today. It should be important to us because it is important to God. This is why we cannot allow U.S. House Bill 4437 or U.S. Senate Bill 2454 to slam shut our border and harshly penalize our brothers and sisters sojourning in our land. Rather than chase foreigners home, we should welcome them with the radical hospitality that our faith calls for. In Christ, there is no Mexican, Sudanese, Belgian, or American, for all are one in Christ Jesus.

The United Methodist Church is very clear about where we stand on this issue, and I’ll write about some of that next time. Until then, check out the legislation currently under discussion in Washington. See if you think it is consistent with Christian values. See if you think it is consistent with American values, for that matter. Armed vigilantes are wandering our borders looking for immigrants to shoot. A U.S. Representative wants to rebuild the Berlin Wall, only this time on the Mexican border. Third and fourth generation immigrants are cheating new immigrants out of thousands of dollars every month. This issue is huge, and it isn’t going away in the near future.

Part II is coming soon…

UPDATE: This post has been re-posted at Wesley Daily. (Thanks, Shane.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dancing Tomato at a Busy Intersection

A recent post of a friend of mine has generated some reflection about what the church really is. Click here to read her thoughts, then come back and read mine.

Recently I saw a dancing tomato at a busy intersection. The dancing tomato was holding a sign advertising large pizzas for a low price at a nearby restaurant. Thousands of cars were driving through this particular intersection during rush hour, and each of them was likely seeing the dancing tomato selling large pizzas. I presume that the guy in the dancing tomato suit believed sincerely that his efforts would result in an increase in the sale of pizzas on this particular evening. He apparently believed that, upon seeing a dancing tomato at a busy intersection, scads of drivers would immediately change their evening plans, rush into his particular pizza restaurant, and order as many large pizzas as their arms could carry. “Hey, look at that dancing tomato. Holy pepperoni! Am I ever in the mood for a pizza! And to think I never would have realized that unless I had seen that crazy yet effective dancing tomato.”

How much of what the church does is nothing more than putting a dancing tomato at a busy intersection? How many campaigns to boost attendance and membership are truly evangelism, as opposed meaningless exercises that pander to our insatiable desire for self-promotion? How many mission trips are truly acts of deep sacrificial love, as opposed to surface level attempts to make ourselves feel better by “fixing” someone else’s problem for them? Bulk mailings, anonymous placement of door hangers, flashy lobbies with coffee shops and bookstores, “worship centers” (never sanctuaries) with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in technological gadgetry, fully equipped gymnasiums, marketing departments – What on earth are we doing, for heaven’s sake? (Pun intended.)

And here is my BIG question of the day: When was the last time you heard an intense dialogue about what the church IS, rather than what the church DOES? How many people could finish the sentence, “The church is ….” with a well reasoned, theologically sound answer? Sure, we could say that the church is the people, like the old Sunday School song says. “We are the church together.” But what are we?

The question is about “being,” rather than “doing.” And it seems to me that we need to be able to answer that question again, before we waste too much more time just doing stuff for the sake of doing it. Because it seems to me that a lot of what we are doing is the ecclesial equivalent of a dancing tomato at a busy intersection.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Today's Tidbits

These tidbits are submitted for what they are worth:

Tidbit #1:
In worship yesterday I was loaned three different things to read by members of the congregation.
1) The novel “The Constant Gardener”
2) Barak Obama’s book “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.”
3) the latest edition of “AARP: The Magazine”
I’m not sure what that means about me or about my congregation, but there it is.

Tidbit #2:
The heavyweight champion of the Methodist blog world, Shane Raynor, has re-posted one of my articles on the site Wesley Daily, which collects blog posts from Methodists all over the country. Thanks, Shane!

Tidbit #3:
Today, March 20, Bishop Robert Schnase of Missouri will be in prayer for me, my family, and our remarkable congregation. Every day, the staff of our conference focuses their prayers on behalf of one of the churches in the state. The thing that strikes me about this practice is that the little church with a dozen people receives as much of their prayer energy as the mega church with a couple thousand. Now THAT’S the power of prayer.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cleansing the Temple: Down with Doves!

“He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take those things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:16)

Sheesh, what’s Jesus got against doves, anyway?

No, of course it isn’t about doves. It is about exploitation. The system (comprised of money changers, dove sellers, and priests) was exploiting the sacred ritual of sacrifice for the sake of earthly gain - money and power - which those in the system craved even if it meant the degradation of the temple itself.

Here’s the system: In order to be faithful you must make a sacrifice at the temple; in order to sacrifice you must have an animal; in order to have an animal you either drag one all the way from home or buy one when you get there; in order to buy one you cannot use secular coins since they have human images engraved on them; in order to get proper coins you must exchange money; in order to exchange money you have to pay a fee to the money changers, who then give you the right currency so you can by an appropriate animal so you can make your sacrifice so that you can be faithful to God.

It all makes sense; the system fits together quite nicely. However, it is important to point out that Jesus wasn’t only confronting the people (who were probably less than honest) changing money and selling doves, but also confronting the system itself. It is the system that exploits; the people were caught up in the system such that the system had become the focus of attention, rather than God.

It’s a good thing our systems today never exploit sacred things for earthly gain any more, isn’t it? (The preceding was written with drippingly sarcastic tone of voice.) Think of judges demanding granite decalogues on courthouse lawns; think of preachers insisting that there is only one way to think about God; think of legislators legislating that public school students be encouraged to pray; think of school boards treating the Bible like just another history book; just for a few examples. They get a lot of attention, a lot of press coverage, a lot of reaction – all of which generates power and wealth – and yanks the focus away from God. “‘Round and ‘round goes the carousel.”

This week’s gospel lesson is more than a story about Jesus; it is a story about us. Every exploitive system needs overturning, and disciples of Jesus Christ are called to follow his example and turn them over. As the Divine Liberator, Christ sets people free from exploitive and oppressive systems. My relationship with God is far too sacred, far too important, far too precious for me to allow it to be trapped in and exploited by the systems of this world.

Nothing against doves or anything, but if they are keeping me from meeting God, they have to go!

Kansas City's Own Eric Huffman - Big in the Blogoshpere!

My friend Eric Huffman, who serves Revolution UMC in Westport, has a post on Wesley Daily, a cooperative effort of Methodists all around the country. Click over and check it out!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sex Ed. & Religious Ed. - Contradicting Rationales

In an article in the Kansas City Star last Sunday, I read about an aggressive legislative agenda being pushed by conservative Republicans in Missouri. (Please forgive the use of labels, but I am using them for the sake of brevity. I could use a more descriptive term like "regressive" or something, but that probably would not facilitate dialogue ;) So "conservative" it is.) One of the things that jumped out was a seemingly contradicting rationale motivating two of the bills. If the rationale was to be consistent across the board, one of the two bills would need to go bye bye.

First, there is a bill to limit sex education in public schools.

The second is a bill to increase religious education in public schools.

So basically, we are going to end up with a bunch of pregnant teenagers who have the Bible memorized. (Hat tip to AC.)

The rationale for the first bill is, in a nutshell, "Leave it to the experts." The sponsor feels that human sexuality is a topic best taught by medical professionals. Young people are encouraged to go to their doctors to learn about sexually transmitted diseases, the pros and cons of birth control, and other basic biology.

Now, if this "leave it to the experts" rationale for the conservative agenda was consistent, there would be no bill to increase religious education in public schools, for the experts when it comes to religious education are in the church, the synagogue, the mosque. In fact, there would be a bill to restrict religious education and encourage young people to go to their clergy persons in order to learn about God, heaven, and other faith stuff.

I don't buy the "leave it to the experts" rationale at all. News flash #1: public school students are already having sex. News flash #2: public school students are already practicing religions. Young people are quickly becoming self-proclaimed experts in both subjects. So, you either teach about both topics OR you teach about neither.

You see, sex and religion fall into a category of topics that may or may not be considered "academic." And so, first question: "Should public schools focus exclusively on 'academic' subjects or expand to include other types of subjects?" Then the second question is: "What subjects are 'academic'?" Can you say sexual health is academic and religion is not? Or vice versa? If you want to teach religion as merely history, why not teach about sex as merely biology? If you don't want to teach sex because of moral reasons, why would you want to teach religion with all of its moral implications?

As for me, I am afraid that I am rather biased. I happen to think that the church (or synagogue or mosque, etc.) is the best place for young people to learn about God, and I happen to think that the family is the best place for young people to learn about sexuality. Not the public school. Problems arise, however, when the church and the family fail young people in this responsibility. I fear this happens all too often.

And this systemic failure is a disaster, because then the schools feel like they must pick up the slack, and they start burdening teachers with these undue expectations, and then teachers go on strike, and so no one learns how to read anymore, so no one ever writes any more blog entries about crap like this, and then how would I bore everyone with my opinions about stuff?

But seriously, though, the church needs to step it up a notch and take Christian education back from the public schools. It's our job, let us do it!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Missouri HCR 13 - You Have Got to be Kidding!

House Concurrent Resolution No.

Whereas, our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation; and

Whereas, as citizens of this great nation, we the majority also wish to exercise our constitutional right to acknowledge our Creator and give thanks for the many gifts provided by Him; and

Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object; and

Whereas, we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers; and

Whereas, we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind:

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-third General Assembly, Second Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, that we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America.

I copied the above from the Missouri House website. There is no way I could have made this up. If you are skeptical, check it out for yourself by clicking on the link. This is an actual resolution, sponsored unapologetically by Rep. David Sater of Cassville, which has been sent to the full House for consideration.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

I copied the above from the United States Constitution, specifically from Amendment I. There is also no way I could have made this up. You can also read this one on the web, but I am sure you know it well enough that you won’t have to. This reflects one of the foundational principles of our country, and Jefferson, Madison, and all those dead white guys thought it was pretty important.

There are so many reasons HCR13 is wrong, I hardly know where to start. This resolution…
- Totally ignores our “forefathers’” systemic displacement of Native Americans and the subsequent destruction of their religious beliefs and practices,
- Completely overlooks the contribution of our foremothers,

- Does not acknowledge the African religious beliefs and practices interwoven into the religious life of America, built on the backs of African slaves,
- Begins with the assumption that there is “a Christian God” as opposed (I guess) to a Jewish God, or a Muslim God, etc. (this assumption is contrary to monotheistic faith),
- Furthermore assumes that this “Christian God” is male, which is a theologically inaccurate perspective,
- Professes to protect the rights of the majority when in reality it is the rights of the minority that need protecting; by definition, the rights of the majority already are protected (that's why they are the majority),
- Purports to uphold the constitution when in fact it is “prohibiting the free exercise” of Christianity by assuming homogeneity and is therefore flatly unconstitutional,
- Assumes that all elected officials are religious,
- Minimizes the importance of prayer by stating that prayer is merely something that has played a “positive role… in this great nation of ours,” rather than intimate communion with God,
- Gives the impression that “voluntary prayer in public schools” is something forbidden, when in fact it is not – it is school-sanctioned prayer that is forbidden,
- Suggests that using public space, maintained by public money, to exhibit specific sacred “religious displays” is not equivalent to endorsing the specific religion being displayed,
- Desecrates the content of these “religious displays” (I assume they mean 10 Commandments, nativity scenes, crosses) by using them in a way they are not meant to be used.

I think that just about covers it. And yes, I already sent an email to my state representative expressing my opinion. (But I was a lot more succinct!)


I may continue my previous posts' thoughts about entitlement later, but just now my stomach is too upset to even think about it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Entitlement or Connectionalism?

In my last post I began thinking about what we mean by the term “entitlement,” and why it seems to be such a negative idea for so many. A colleague whose congregation had applied for a grant from the conference shared with me that one of our conference goals this year is “reducing the sense of entitlement” of our churches.

When I heard that, I spoke with a respected friend who is a part of the Congregational Development Team to ask him about entitlement. I asked, “What is the difference between entitlement and connectionalism?” After some thought, he replied that connectionalism implies an outward focus that seeks to build the broader ministry of the denomination, whereas entitlement implies an inward focus in which one is simply trying to get one’s share of the resources.

I think this distinction is helpful, but it doesn’t fully explain to me why a sense of entitlement is a bad thing. A connectional church is centered around the notion that we are all a part of the body of Christ together as a community. In that light, entitlement seems to be a foundational principle of God’s justice. And if you will indulge me in a bit of proof texting, read the following:

+ Luke 18:22: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
+ Acts 2:44-45: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
+ Deuteronomy 10:17-18: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.”
+ Psalm 10:17-18: “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.”

When I was a kid, Mom taught me how to share my toys. When I had a Matchbox car that one of my friends wanted to play with for a while, the right thing to do was to let him play with it. No question about it. The one who has is expected to share with the one who has not.

Extrapolate that principle into grown-up terms like “connectionalism,” and we have to ask some big questions about why those who have and control the resources are trying to reduce the sense of entitlement in our world. Perhaps the intention is to ensure that only the very neediest are given the necessary resources. But I have the feeling that things have been generalized to the point that, rather than “show mercy to your neighbor” (i.e. Luke 10:37) as a foundational principle, we are being told to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

The way I see things, that may be an American ideal, but it is not very Christian.

(Next question: Why is it only the rich and powerful who decry the culture of entitlement? I welcome your comments, and I will write some more on this topic in days to come.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Is Entitlement a Bad Word?

Psalm 82 begins:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

I’ve been thinking lately about the attitude of entitlement. Entitlement is a buzzword that raises all kind of red flags whenever it is mentioned. Post Katrina, many people blamed the troubling situation in the Gulf Coast region not on inept responders but on a culture of entitlement. The argument goes: Many in our society have become so dependent upon assistance from other sources that when all that support gets yanked away, they collapse. If they were just more independent and lived more self-sustaining lives, they would not have been in such trouble.

Entitlement is also on the minds of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, specifically, the Conference Congregational Development Team. One of that team’s stated goals is “reducing the sense of entitlement, which has begun to suppose that if a church is building an addition or adding a new worship service, the funding should in part be from the annual conference in the form of a subsidy.” (That is quoted from a letter from Congregational Development that a colleague shared with me recently.)

Here are some of the questions I have been pondering:
- As Christians, how do we distinguish “entitlement” from “rescuing the weak and the needy”? Why do only the rich and powerful use entitlement as if it is a bad word?
- As United Methodists, how do we distinguish “entitlement” from “connectionalism”? Why is a local church wanting money from the conference “entitlement” but the conference wanting money from the local church “apportionments”?

I welcome any insights you readers of the Rainbow might offer. I’ll write more on this topic in days to come.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

This Lent, Go Take a Dump

Lent is a gift from God. God knows we need wilderness space in order to empty ourselves of unwanted skubalon, to the end of knowing God more fully. So, whatever we do during this time ought to be designed to help us know God more fully.

Now hear this: Lent is not “self-improvement season.” When we give up chocolate, (or caffeine, nicotine, television, or some other indulgence) chances are that all it will make us think about will be chocolate (or caffeine, nicotine, television, or some other indulgence). We spend these 40 days (plus a few Sundays) obsessing over how much we are missing our little habit, then on Easter morning, we dive back into it with a vengeance.

The things we do during Lent should help us know God, or we should not do them. So it is okay to give up chocolate, if that helps you to focus on God, in other words, if chocolate is your skubalon. (Read Philippians 3. The polite translations of the word in verse 8 are “rubbish” or “garbage” – what Paul actually meant was “crap.”) In order to get rid of it, it helps to go out into the wilderness and dump it. Lent is that trip to the wilderness. (Yes, you might even say that Lent is the season to take a dump in the wilderness!)

But the point is not just to dump the skubalon, the point is to see God, to know God, to love God, to follow God. I got a lot of help thinking about his from an essay/devotion written by Debra K. Farrington and excerpted on Her suggestions for Lent: Have a heart-to-heart with God. Cut back on work. Sleep enough. Give up annoyance (“…try to avoid being annoyed…” – nice!). Seek a spirit of detachment. Pursue God through study. Take care of yourself.

I love these ideas. It is so easy to be distracted by our efforts to get rid of our distractions. So much that the Lenten discipline itself becomes the focus, rather than God. This Lent, I’m going to try to dump my skubalon (tee-hee!) and focus my heart, mind, and body on God.

(Image above is from Hermanoleon Clip Art - a great site!)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dubai Ports Takeover - My Take

"One of Two Possible Evils" - this is how people are reacting to the U.S. port takeover story.

1) The "anything George Bush does must be wrong" response. Or
2) The "anything remotely connected to Islam must be terrorist" response.

The first reaction is not really fair to the president. (In fact, only MOST of the things he does are wrong - not all.) I mean, the guy is a businessman, surrounded by other businessmen. Of course he would see this only as a business transaction with no greater implications than the bottom line of Dubai Ports, the company in question. It is what we should expect of him, considering where he has come from.

The second reaction is an ugly blend of racism, anti-Islamism, and ignorance. The prejudicial reasoning is, since the leaders of the country in which Dubai Ports is based are Islamic, the chance of terrorism in our ports is elevated. In reality, our global economy and postmodern pluralism has rendered this kind of prejudice nonsensical. It is a world in which Japanese companies build cars in the United States, service calls for U.S. companies are answered in India, and Walt Disney basically runs everything.

I don't know enough about the deal to make an informed assessment of it's merits or problems. But I can at least have a good chuckle at the tizzy everyone is in!