Thursday, April 26, 2007
The story, written by Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, is that the Bush administration is reporting a decrease in sectarian violence in Iraq as a result of the recent troop increase. Great news, right? They are citing a decline in the number of unidentified bodies dumped in the streets as evidence of this assertion – but they have apparently not been counting victims of car bombings and suicide bombings, which has skewed their numbers to the positive.
There were 323 bombing victims in March, and 365 in April as of the 24th, according to the story. And April, obviously, isn’t over yet.
The current administration has taken hits from smarter people than I with regard to a culture of deception and dishonesty. I don’t want to laundry list that any more than it already has been done. But this time, it sure seems to me that they are just redefining what success means in order to claim that we are achieving it. It is a bizarre, elementary school, “I meant to do that” approach to leadership that leaves me scratching my head in utter confusion. It is positively Orwellian, to insist that there is a decrease in violence when there is an increase. Failure is success! If we just don’t count the bombings, they never happened! Perfect!
President Bush told Charlie Rose, “If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory.” Which means (I think) that if we count the bombings in our figures, that means we are acknowledging the bombers, and to acknowledge the bombers is to give them power, which we do not want to do. However, I am pretty sure that each of the 688 victims of bombings between May 1 and April 24 and all of their families and friends have acknowledged the bombers, big time. What are we communicating to them when the U.S. conveniently leaves out any mention of their deaths?
I don’t like “stay the course” without knowing that the course is actually getting us somewhere. We could “stay the course” for years and years and end up pretty much right where we are now. Should we “stay the course” even if the course is horrible? Sometimes the response is – “To set a date for pullout is to lose the war.” But there are two gigantic questions that response begs to be asked – 1) What are we doing currently, if not losing the war? and 2) What exactly would winning the war look like? First we thought victory would be deposing Saddam Hussein. Then we thought victory would be finding and destroying WMD. Then we thought victory would be setting up a new government, complete with elections and a constitution. Well, check, N/A, and check, respectively – and yet, no victory.
And no sign of an end to violence any time soon, no matter how we try to make it seem. I know that there is anecdotal evidence of progress in Iraq, which is wonderful. But to paint Iraq with such a rosy glow when the reality is so starkly not rosy is dishonest and deceptive. It is not okay to change the definition of success to match our failure.
Monday, April 23, 2007
In an email to my family, he asks, "In pastoral years, I counselled some troubled people; what if I had failed to realize the possibility of a killer?" What if... It gives you pause, doesn't it? Surely we are not to obsess over every single "what if" in the past, but nonetheless, we ask.
In the most intensely poignant response I have heard yet, a VT admissions counselor named Elena Bryant spoke on "All Things Considered" on April 20th. Through her tears, she said
For me it was an apology, to say to the parents, I'm so sorry. We failed you, we didn't mean to but the way circumstances unfolded we know we did. There's no apology ever good enough to say, no words could convey the sincere sense of failure. For me being here it was just a way to say, so sorry, so sorry.Surely, no one is blaming Elena Bryant for the shooting, but nonetheless, she apologizes.
A vast, sacred, empty space has been opened up by this horrific event, a space in which each of us is given a chance to think, to pray, and to reflect. For some, this reflection space has led to personal introspections. Others have found a renewed commitment to speaking out for peace and justice in this sacred space. For many, profound compassion and empathy have been stirred deep within this hallowed ground.
I hope that we don't waste too much time and energy criticizing other people's responses at this sacred moment. For example, I have heard some pretty strong words used against people who have spoken in favor of gun control in the past week, including some Methoblog responses to the GBCS response. But gun control advocates are just giving voice to their personal reflections in response to a tragedy that has affected different people in different ways. We misplace our focus when we attack each other.
We are all shaken to the core by what happened in Blacksburg. We are all sifting through our responses, trying to figure it out. We are going to come out in different places, with different responses. But for now, we dwell together in the sacred space left in the aftermath, each one of us processing, re-ordering, reflecting. And God is very near, in the midst of it all.
Friday, April 20, 2007
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Thursday, April 19, 2007
Hold dear the connection, Methodist friends! Because there is a Wesley Foundation on campus, the United Methodist Church is there. Because I belong to a truly connectional denomination, I am in Blacksburg, praying, crying, offering comfort. Moments such as these bring the beauty and power of the Methodist connection into its fullness.
I am so happy to know that the first response of the United Methodist Church at "ground zero" of this horrific event is one of prayer, community, and support. Thinking about the Methodist students at Virginia Tech grieving, hugging one another, mourning close friends and fellow students, and bringing it all to God through a campus ministry reminds us all of how truly important the connection is. What a powerful witness for us all to see a truly healthy, vital ministry at work for the sake of Christ Jesus.
As we pray, I hope we all remember to offer thanks for the connectional presence that is on the VT campus through the Wesley Foundation and their pastor Rev. Glenn Tyndall, and especially for the living presence of Christ in that place, bringing the hope of resurrection into the midst of the pain and grief of this moment.
(Here's another article about UM responses.)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Thank you, Mike Hendricks, for articulating the most humble and level-headed response I have read recently. In his April 18th Kansas City Star column, he says what so desperately needs to be said – it’s our fault. All of us. Together. And thank you, Jenee Osterheldt, whose column on the same date exposes the cultural tendency to blame others as a way to shield one’s self.
Consider: Why is it that a college student in Virginia can so easily obtain handguns to spray his classmates with deadly bullets?Osterheldt wrote,
Because we help make it possible. You and me.
No, we don’t pull the trigger. But we might as well be helping the killers reload by not demanding an end to the easy availability of firearms in this country. We let the NRA have the ears of our politicians, when our voices could be so much louder.
Everyone wants to point fingers.To say that assigning blame is simply an attempt to explain a given situation is a smoke screen. There is a big distinction between blaming and explaining. We are in this together, and that is what gives us hope. Only when we deepen our understanding of our individual role in the problems of the community can we work together as a community to eliminate them.
Some say hip-hop is the culprit. Others want to blame George Bush. And then there are the truly hateful who blame homosexuality for all the world’s ills.
But they can say what they want, right? We let people use their right to free speech as a shield, their words as weapons.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Monday, April 16, 2007
I'm not moving - yea!
Just curious, how common is this practice? If you would, let me know by leaving me a comment if you are a UM, how does your conference do pre-AC appointment announcing?
Missouri's way saves a lot of unproductive gossip time, that's for sure!
Friday, April 13, 2007
Today, Bill Tammaeus led me to an article (login required) about Tim O'Reilly that proposes a blogging code of conduct. (Aside: His blog is called O'Reilly Radar - love it!) Here is the checklist version:
1) Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
2) Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
3) Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
4) Ignore the trolls.
5) Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
6) If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
7) Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.
Here's the full post.
BlogHer.org has a code of conduct that is worth checking out, too.
And Jimmy Wales at wikia.com is soliciting bloggers' comments to see about coming to some kind of consensus.
Interesting ideas, huh? This could be a really good moment for blogging, or it could be the "jump the shark" episode. I hope the blogosphere doesn't get institutionalized; I am drawn to the wide-open, emerging, rough-and-tumble feeling of it. But on the other hand, it does tick me off when comments get nasty, and I try to be civil as much as possible.
I'm interested to hear your perspectives. Is blog etiquette something that is unspoken and assumed, or should we make a list? Should the Methoblog community endorse these guidelines? Should we come up with our own "official" list?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
As I shook his hand and handed him the book, I asked, “So, can we do this in the mainline or do we have to start something totally new?” (By “do this,” I meant emerging church, offering a healthy relationship with God through Christ in the church to a generation of people who would not necessarily think of the church first when seeking meaning and purpose in their lives.)
He looked at me and said, “Are you a mainline pastor?”
“Yes, I am United Methodist,” says I.
Then he said basically that he thinks the mainline is a very good place in which to “do this” emerging new thing. He recommended an author to me, whose name I promptly forgot, and mentioned the UMerging conversation. He said, “Um-merging” with a short “u” vowel sound, and since I had never heard anyone actually pronounce it out loud, I asked him if that was how it was supposed to sound. He kind of grinned and said, “Well, I know some people say ‘you-merging’ or whatever, but I say ‘uhm-merging.’” Wasn’t that so very post-modern of him?
The content of the lecture was basically a re-cap of his book, “More Ready Than You Realize,” and he even used the same e-mails from April that he used for the thematic thread of that book. So if you already read that one, you didn’t get many new insights today. There was some stuff that struck me, though.
He said that the 1990’s “church growth” movement was fueled by reaching out to people who love God and like the idea of church, but had a bad experience or three from the past that had driven them away from church. The key to the movement was to remove those barriers in perception, and welcome the people back to church. However, the emerging evangelism that McLaren does is reaching out to a group of people who have no specific negative experience keeping them away from church. There is just a general shoulder shrug about church that precludes their even thinking of church as a place they would find what they are looking for.
For example, in the 90s you said to de-churched people, “We are removing the barriers to church! Come back,” and so they came back. But now, removing the barriers to church is, in McLaren’s analogy, like removing the barriers to playing bridge. “You no longer have to smoke cigarettes to enjoy playing bridge! Come and play.” That doesn’t work for people who don’t like to play bridge. They are not pro-smoking, they just don’t play bridge. The emerging church movement is not about removing barriers to coming to church, it is about giving people a reason to want to come to church in the first place.
That’s pretty good stuff. Former barriers like liturgy and formality and hymns and solemnity and “traditional” are no longer inherently barriers. The trick is to present them with creativity and excellence and energy and life, all undergirded with a desire for an authentic relationship with God and one another. (That’s my own spin on it.)
I also liked his answer to a question about the “essentials” of the faith. The emerging church movement often gets criticized for being all form and no content. He was pressed for time and it was the last question of the morning, so he said pretty quickly that God, who is pure good, created the world and all that is in it. God has a “dream” of how the world ought to look, and humanity, through sin, greed, prejudice, etc. has turned the “dream” into a “nightmare,” messing up the goodness of the world that God intended. And so God sent Jesus Christ as the expression of that dream, to announce it and embody it, and to save creation from the nightmare. He also used the term “Kingdom of God” when talking about God’s dream, or desired state for creation. Following Jesus, therefore, is a decision to realize God’s dream, continue the mission of Christ to announce and embody the Reign of God on earth.
You know, sprinkle in some churchy jargon here and there and that sounds pretty orthodox to me.
There was a bunch more – emphasis on asking good questions, minimizing the language of conquest from religious conversations, pointing out that “modern” evangelism still works if the focus is “modern” people but new ways of doing things are required for “post-moderns,” and so forth. It was a morning well spent. Having read his books, reflected on his ideas, and now inhabited common space, I’m more convinced than ever that McLaren is pretty much right on target with what he has to say about the future of the church.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
He is the guy who convinces the council not to kill the apostles in Acts, chapter five. The apostles had defied the Pharisees et al., who ordered them not to teach anyone about Jesus. And so the apostles rebutted by claiming to be speaking in obedience to God’s authority, which clearly trumped the authority of the council. This REALLY ticks them off, and they are ready to execute the whole lot of Jesus’ followers. It was an inter-faith dialogue, ancient near east style!
Enter Gamaliel. Only a lawyer could have come up with his reasoning. He said, in a nutshell, “If their plan is of human origin, it will ultimately fail and so we don’t need to worry about it. But if it really is from God, we won’t win, and what’s more we will be guilty of fighting against God!”
(By the way, for what it’s worth, Gamaliel is also the middle name of the 29th and worst President of the United States, Warren G. Harding. But we digress.)
The rest of the council was convinced by Gamaliel’s wisdom, and so instead of killing the apostles, they just had them flogged and let them go with another order to stop teaching. Needless to say, the apostles continued right on doing what they were doing and the story continued.
Where would we be without the role Gamaliel played in the story? He certainly advanced the plot a scene or two. Actually, as we learn in Acts 22:3, he was Paul’s teacher early on in his life. And tradition says that he was baptized a Christian by Peter and John, but kept his faith a secret so that he could, as a member of the Jerusalem council, provide aid to other followers of the Way.
But what about his logic? Would it convince you? “If they’re just doing their own thing, let ‘em! No skin off our nose! But let’s say for the sake of discussion they really ARE acting by God’s authority: well, we don’t want to mess with that, do we?” Tangentially, there’s a whole lot of fertile ground here to think about the pitfalls of claiming God’s authority (i.e. “God has called me to say …” or “God has put it on my heart …”) in the middle of a dialogue with another person of faith with whom one happens to disagree. (Click here to read more on this topic.)
And that gets me thinking is the application of Gamaliel’s logic to some of our faith conversations today. Peter boldly claimed God’s authority for himself and his colleagues, right in the face of the Jerusalem powerhouses, who also made the claim of God’s authority on their side. The situation could have escalated, but Gamaliel stepped in between and said, “Wait! Let’s see how this thing all shakes out. Give it some time, and clarity will emerge.”
(My friend Teresa has taught me that, given enough time, clarity will emerge.)
What if, instead of arguing with one another over our disagreements, we all just shut up for a while and let clarity emerge? God’s desire for this world will be realized, either in spite of us or because of us. Sometimes we get in God’s way and the best thing we could do would be to move aside for a while and see what happens.
Monday, April 09, 2007
I put together a small smattering of remembrances:
- This whole thing started on January 17, 2005 with a post called “Enter the Rainbow.”
- I shared my personal frustrations with the anti-denim agenda on May 16, 2005.
- I have written a bunch about changing the tone of public conversation, including this three part post on October 25, 26, and 29, 2005, and I followed that up with a post about foxes and hedgehogs on January 6, 2006.
- Occasionally I have had a chance to wax political, like on March 9, 2006 and a few days later on March 14, too. (I must have been in a political mood that month!)
- One of my personal favorite images is the “Dancing Tomato at a Busy Intersection,” from a post on March 21, 2006.
- There was a series called “Truth in the Bible” that I posted on July 12, 15, and 18 of 2006 that led to some good conversation.
- We had a good little discussion about the church in the world on August 26, 2006.
- On September 7, 2006 I wrote my own version of the Barmen Declaration.
- I reflected out loud about my calling to ministry on December 19 and 29, 2007.
- There was an intense conversation on my post about panhandling in Kansas City that led into another good conversation about blogging etiquette on February 15 and 16, 2007.
I have written about immigration, posted some of my ordination papers, commented on the goings on in the United Methodist Church, reflected on the lectionary texts, shared stories about my kids, and prattled on about a slew of other topics, too. I hope that, all in all, the things I have written have been true to my calling of “realizing the diversity of God’s vision for creation,” a phrase I included in the initial description of Enter the Rainbow.
In celebration of this 300th post, I have decided to change Enter the Rainbow’s template! Hooray! Throw a party, everyone! … Okay, so maybe it’s more exciting for me than anyone else, but still.
And finally, thank you to y’all for taking a bit of time to read my stuff. And a special thanks to you who leave comments, email me about a post, or give me a call to talk more about a particular subject. I love the conversation, and I’m looking forward to more!
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Friday, April 06, 2007
You’re St. Melito of Sardis!
You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Come to vote for the Easter animal! Meet at the pond tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The next day, all the animals that could come, came. First, Bunny gave his speech. He said “Easter is about Jesus and how he came alive again! It’s also about having a great time with friends and family!”
Then, it was time for Fox. He said “Easter is about getting candy, peeps and things from the Easter fox!”
All the animals voted. Mayor Bear said “I will put the winner in tomorrow’s paper!”
Who do you think won?
There will now be an Easter Bunny! Bunny won by….well… all the animals voted for Bunny!
About the author: Cori is a third grade student and the author of several short stories and poems. Her completely unbiased dad raves, "One of the most promising up-and-comers in the literary world!"
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
CLICK HERE to give it a read.
And more - THIS ARTICLE by Rev. Steve Cox has been very helpful for me in thinking about the Conference's support of the "vital ministries" which I wrote about before.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Monday, April 02, 2007
The entire resolution from Pathways passed overwhelmingly, though not by any means unanimously. It passed with a show of hands, and from my seat it looked like a 70 / 30 split or so. When the question was called, there were still approximately fifty hands in the air, wanting to speak on the resolution. But a call of the question is not open to debate, and so we voted to vote, which we did, and we were done.
The Pathways recommendations were in response to our denominational trend of declining attendance and membership, and are intended to help reverse those trends. The intention is to provide a “new direction” to the purpose and function of our Annual Conference, toward the mission of creating healthy and vital congregations that are effectively making disciples of Jesus Christ. It is all couched in very positive, upbeat, and hopeful terms. Here’s the nutshell version:
+ The Missouri Conference office will now house a “Center for Congregational Excellence” and a “Center for Pastoral Excellence,” although the particular logistics of these two centers is unclear. Bishop Schnase expressed a hope that these centers would facilitate training events all around the conference year-round, focusing on specific ecclesial issues.
+ Missouri Conference apportionments will now be based only on the local congregation’s expenditures, rather than a complicated formula involving budget, attendance, and membership. The total conference budget will be capped relative to the aggregate of congregational expenditures around the state.
+ The Missouri Conference budget will no longer include financial support of the “Vital Ministries” in our state. The Vital Ministries are mostly the agencies and facilities that are doing mainly social justice work throughout our state and beyond. In Kansas City, that includes Della Lamb Community Services, NewHouse, re-Start, and Spofford.
+ Campus ministries in our conference will no longer be housed in specialized “Wesley Foundations,” but will be carried out by local congregations.
I voted against the resolution, but I went back and forth about it a million times.
On the one hand, I like the idea of centers for excellence, both congregational and pastoral. On the other hand, I do not want to be a part of a congregational system, but a connectional one. In many ways this feels like one more step away from a true connection and toward a loose association of individual congregations.
On the one hand, I understand Pathways’ desire to trim the conference budget. But on the other hand, the conference is the vehicle by which congregations can do connectional ministry: the whole “we can do more together than we can alone” thing. It is important for my congregation that we are able to provide support for an agency to which we would not otherwise have any connection. It feels very Methodist to me, and I like it! The resolution seems to remove that particular aspect of connectionalism.
On the one hand, I love the idea of developing healthy and vital congregations. But on the other hand, I take very seriously the call to ministries of social justice. Our conference’s decision to pull funding from so many social justice agencies all at once leaves me feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut. It all felt very much focused on the bottom line – money, money, money! By outward appearances, it seems that the Missouri Conference has said what matters is filling the pews with people and the collection plates with money, not so much realizing the reign of God on earth, lifting valleys and making mountains and hills low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain, and all that stuff.
On the one hand, I see that the number of students served by campus ministries as we know them now is way low compared to the total number of students. But on the other hand, I suspect that the ratio of students in Wesley Foundations to total college students is comparable to the ratio of Methodists in Missouri to total Missourians, so I don’t really know how fair it is to judge them by these numbers. And furthermore, I see a disconnect between the ministry our admittedly aging congregations are doing and the kind of ministry that college students would find meaningful.
Another thing that feels a bit awkward is Pathways itself. It is a group hand-selected by the Bishop, and supposedly an ad hoc task force whose role was to assess the situation in the conference and recommend a new direction (i.e. a “pathway” forward). That’s great, but now it seems that Pathways is going to be actively involved with the implementation phase, too. That sounds a bit more than “ad hoc” to me. It sounds like we have created another layer of bureaucracy, appointed by the Bishop rather than nominated and elected by the conference. On the one hand, they’re good people and want what’s best for the conference. But on the other hand, what are the conference council, the cabinet, the conference staff, and all of the forty-seven thousand other boards, committees, and teams for?
Now that it’s all done, I’m going to support it. It would not be particularly helpful of me to raise a big stink now, and apparently 70% or so of the conference likes it, so I’m probably over-thinking things. I tend to do that.
On the one hand, I love the idea of a new direction for the church; I use that kind of language all the time. But on the other hand, I’m not so sure this is the direction we want to take.