Friday, May 27, 2005

For the Sake of Love

This blog is dedicated to the diversity of God's church. I'll start there, by reminding myself that diversity is generally a good thing. But I think there is a limit. Diversity doesn't mean all behavior is acceptable. Tolerance does not mean "anything goes."

Take meanness, for example.

In recent weeks, I have heard from three or four in my remarkable congregation reports of people just simply being mean to others. Things like excluding them from activities, gossiping maliciously about them, and just generally treating them with coldness and disrespect. That is something I cannot tolerate.

In fact, I just sent out an email to the staff to encourage them to "set the tone" for the congregation. When you go to church, you want to experience warmth, openness, and love, right? And the staff can really go a long way in creating that atmosphere. I even asked the staff to "fake it" if they weren't feeling particularly loving on a given day! In other words, act "as if." It is that important. People come to church for love, both to receive it and to give it.

After all, Jesus did not suggest to his disciples that they love one another, he commanded it! My wife likes to remind me, "Jesus did not say to show love for your neighbor 'if you feel like it today.'" Jesus said, "Love your neighbor." (By the way, He also said, "Love your enemy.")

Now, I know that we as mere humans-under-construction are not perfect (yet), and we have days in which a little grey cloud seems to hang over us wherever we go. I know that God has given us a range of emotions, good bad and otherwise, by which to experience the world. In fact, I have preached sermons about that very topic. But when it comes down to it, you can decide how you will treat others: to be cold and mean, or to be warm and loving, that is the question. What makes people choose option A over option B?

I don't want to sound like my remarkable congregation is filled with a bunch of meanies. Not at all! In fact, every single visitor who has spoken with me in the past year has practically gushed about the friendliness they have felt here. That makes me smile! But two or three meanies in an otherwise warm and loving congregation can make a really big impression. I guess probably the pictures of meanness people have shared recently stand out so sharply because they are painted on such a friendly backdrop.

Sunday my family went to the baseball game, and the Cardinals' pitcher was replaced pretty early, because he was doing so terribly. Since we were rooting for the Royals and were in Kansas City, this was a fun thing for us. The stadium speakers began blasting out "Hit the Road, Jack" as the pitcher walked off of the field. When my daughter Cori heard the song and realized why they were playing it, she got her I-am-just-about-to-be-sad expression on her face. Gazing up at me with furrowed brow, puckered lips, and teary eyes, she said, "Daddy, that's not very nice. That song will make the pitcher sad."

Leave it to sweet-hearted Cori to extend the Christian imperative to love your neighbor even to the pitcher of the opposing team! If she can do it at the baseball stadium, surely we can do it at church, where people come for the sake of love.

Be Nice,
Andy B.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Third Party Dream

Here's something I hope, but will never ever happen. I hope those 14 Senators who were level headed enough to compromise on the filibuster thing get together and form their own new political party. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?

A third party comprised of people who value discernment, dialogue, and compromise would really help pry loose the bipartisan ideological fists from the throats of the American people. There are more than two points of view in our country, there should be more than two political parties. Let's embrace the diversity rather than deny it, I say!

Level headed John Danforth could be the party chair. Their animal symbol could be a prairie dog, since they are good at living in community. Party headquarters would be right here in Kansas City, since it is close to the middle of the country. The party color would naturally be purple, the blending of red and blue.

For the record, the 14 core members of the new party would be former Republicans John Warner (VA), John McCain (AZ), Olympia Snow (ME), Mike DeWine (OH), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Lincoln Chafee (RI). The former Democrats in the new party will be Joseph Lieberman (CT), Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AR), Robert Byrd (WV), Mary Landrieu (LA), Ken Salazar (CO), and Daniel Inouye (HI). These are the 14 who decided to work things out like reasonable people instead of bashing each other over the head until someone submits - that's a fantastic story for the birth of a political party!

Now we just need a name ... could be the "Centrist Party." Or how about the "Compromise Party." Or something funky or trendy like "The Purple Haze Party" or "[adult swim]" or something. Maybe we could name it after some combination of the leaders' names - the "Liebercain Party" or maybe the "Chafazar Party." Hmm. Well, we don't need to come up with a name right away; we've got time.

We've got all the time in the world, since it will NEVER HAPPEN.

Hey, a blogger dedicated to diversity can dare to dream a little bit, can't he? But you gotta admit, it would be a real kick in the pants!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Baseball Causes Tooth Loss

Willa and Cori, the snaggletooth sisters, cheering for their respective teams at the game Sunday afternoon. Posted by Hello

Royals Crush Cards, Bryans and Phillips Remain Friends

Posted by Hello
We all were showing our true colors at the K this afternoon. This picture is photographic evidence of unity amidst diversity, the Bryan family in blue, the Phillips family in red, everyone happy together in spite of divergent loyalties. But take note that Roger's smile is rather forced, as his Cardinals had just gotten trounced by the Royals and the minor league pitcher they put on the mound. And even better, the Royals got 12 hits, which means Krispy Kreme doughnuts for everyone! Wahoo!
It was a really great afternoon. It felt good to kick back and get a little recreation time!
Yea Royals!
Andy B.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I Need a Break

My friend Ashley says that if I don't get a day's worth of Sabbath every week, I will be pretty much worthless. "You've got to take care of yourself," she says, "so that you will be able to provide care for others." In fact, she has said this to me so frequently that I sometimes hear her voice in my mind, like the incessant drone of a moralistic lawnmower buzzing in the weedy recesses of my subconscious.

If Ashley is right (and I know that she is), I've got some catching up to do. I haven't had a true sabbath day of rest for at least three weeks now, and I am starting to feel it. Take today, for example. Today pretty much kicked my butt. Three people to visit with medical situations, two hours with a family in crisis, problems with our building project, two different calls from two people who just needed someone to talk with, bills to sign off, sermon to write - just one thing after another after another. By 6:30 I was so drained, I had nothing left for my family. I had to just lie down on the couch and sleep.

I don't want to have nothing left in my tank for my wife and kids when I get home from work. I want to be a good husband, a good dad. I managed to get a few cuddly minutes with my daugther when I tucked her in a couple of hours ago, and I treasure moments like that. But I need a serious "chunk of sabbath," as my friend Laura calls it. Time to recharge. Time to renew. Time to just live without having to act.

I'm not just whining, either. This sabbath rest is serious stuff. God actually COMMANDS us to do it. "There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD." (Leviticus 23:3) There it is ... in black and white ... "you are not to do any work." The LORD says it! And it is not a suggestion!

My work as an ordained minister requires there to be days like today. It is called ministry, and I am called to be a minister. I do not begrudge any of the people I was with today of their need for my presence. Please do not misunderstand. The fault is my own. I am the one not taking enough sabbath time for myself, says the moralistic lawnmower droning in my mind. The time is there, if I will just leave it alone. Instead, I find myself filling it up.

I want some time to live without acting. Yes, to live ...

Yearning for Sabbath,
Andy B.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Blue Jeans Story

Okay, here's what happened...

I played in a charity golf tournament on Saturday at a place called the Liberty Hills Snob Club ... oh, sorry, I mean Liberty Hills Golf Club. It was a fund raiser for the Northland Assistance Center, an agency in North Kansas City co-sponsored by our congregation. I was taking a few swings on the driving range, loosening up to participate in this charity golf tournament. It was a beautiful day, I was going to play golf with some good friends, and the money was going to a good cause - I felt pretty wonderful!

Well, I'm standing there swinging my driver when this course employee scoots up in a golf cart and walks up to me. "Sir," he says, "I'm sorry, but you can't be on the driving range in blue jeans."

(Long pause.)

For several seconds, I really did think he was joking. "Oh, really!" I said.

With the gravity of Dr. Bones saying, "He's dead, Jim" on an old Star Trek episode, the course employee said, "Yes, sir."

"This is a charity event, you know?" I queried.

"Yes, sir. But you can't wear blue jeans on the course."

"I'm not a member of the club or anything," I said. I was still very stuck-in-the-headlights about this whole thing, but at least I had figured out that this guy was serious.

"Sir, I know that you are not a member, but it is a course rule. We can't break the course rules, even for a charity event," he replied.

My temperature rose a few degrees when I heard him say that. It is the same thing country clubs say to blacks, Jews, and any other group they want to exclude, "It's a rule; we can't break the club rules, can we?"

Realizing that this young man was just doing his job, I said, "I would like to speak to your supervisor, please."

Graciously, he offered to drive me up to the clubhouse in his golf cart to speak with his boss. Now remember, all of this fuss is over blue jeans. Denim pants. No holes, no frayed ends. Just a pair of decent looking blue jeans.

In the clubhouse, I spoke to the course manager, saying, "I promise you, sir, that I will never join your club. I promise I will never darken your doors ever again. But this is a charity event, and I am the pastor of one of the churches who sponsors the charity, and I am going to play golf today in this charity event, jeans or no."

"No, sir, you are not," was the manager's reply.

Again, I was struck with the absolutely blind obedience to an absolutely ridiculous rule. "If you require it, I will play this course in my underwear," I said. (In retrospect, this was not a helpful comment! But my temperature had risen several more degrees in that past few minutes, and I was struggling to keep a lid on it!)

The manager sighed, knowing he did not want a pastor of a church playing golf in his underwear on his course, which I most definitely would have done and which most definitely would have resulted in some interesting publicity for both the country club and my church! He said, "Sir, you are not going to play in jeans, but maybe one of the golfers has a pair of rain pants you can put on."

He was trying to compromise, and I figured I could meet him there. "Okay. That is better than being told, 'You may not play.' I'll try to find someone with some rain pants." (Now, I really don't know what rain pants are, why golfers need them, or what people with only a very few pairs of pants think about golfers who have a special pair just for playing golf in the rain. I was thinking of making a joke that ends with the punchline, "In case he gets a hole in one," but I stopped myself before it was too late.)

Walking through the pro shop to seek out a rain-pants owning golfer, a gentleman stopped me and asked, "What charity are you playing for today?"

"The Northland Assistance Center in North Kansas City," I told him. "It is an agency that provides food, rent assistance, utility bill assistance, and other services."

"I'll tell you what," the gentleman said, "You pick yourself out a pair of those shorts hanging there on the rack and tell them to put it on my tab."

(Long pause again.)

"Seriously!?" I asked.

"Yes, go ahead."

I proceeded to thank the stranger profusely for his graciousness and generosity. I went to the rack and selected a pair of shorts in my size, walked up to the counter, and told the course manager to "put it on that gentleman's tab, please."

And so it was that I came to own a FIFTY DOLLAR PAIR OF SHORTS! They are by far and away the nicest shorts I own - now or ever. Furthermore, another church guy wore jeans to the tournament, and this same stranger bought HIM a pair of shorts, too!

And so, to Dr. Richard Curnow of Liberty, Missouri I say a heart felt "Thank you." Your willingness to spend a hundred dollars on a couple of denim-wearing schmucks smoothed over what was becoming a rather ridiculous situation. If anyone needs a knee replaced, I hope you go visit Dr. Curnow!

And to the Liberty Hills Golf Club, I say a well-meaning "Lighten up!" Your rigidity and mindless adherence to a ridiculous rule is laughable, to say the least. Some of the clients served by the charity whose fund raiser you hosted would love to have a pair of blue jeans like the pair you did not allow me to wear on your manicured cow pasture.

And to the Northland Assistance Center, I say a very sincere "Let's have our fund raiser at different golf course next year." We don't need to be supporting a place whose principles are so out of whack with what is truly important in the world. We can accomplish our desired end somewhere else, and I can wear whatever the heck I want to wear.

Yours in denim,
Andy B.

Friday, May 13, 2005

New Holes in Corneille's Head!

If she loses any more teeth, we'll have to start feeding her jello for every meal! Posted by Hello

My daughter Cori has lost another tooth. She reports that another is loose. That one will make four teeth in just the past couple of weeks! Plus the two that she lost when she was five. You'd think the kid was growing or something!
- Andy B.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Discovery at the Zoo

First Beginnings Preschool at the Zoo! Posted by Hello

Dear Friends,
If you want to learn something new about the wonder and joy that comes from the amazing diversity of God's creation, take a trip to the zoo with a class of 15 preschoolers! That's what I did yesterday, as a chaperone for First Beginnings, our church's preschool. (My son Wes attends First Beginnings. He's the one on the far right in the picture.)

Yesterday, it was hot and sunny. Not a fantastic "zoo day," in that the animals were doing a lot of sitting still in the shade in order to stay cool. But for the kids, every new habitat we saw was a discovery.
- We discovered a little critter called a hyrax, with whom the kids were enamored. "Hi, Rax! Hi, Rax!" they called.
- We discovered that warthogs are actually beautiful creatures, if you look at them just right.
- We discovered that walking through a shady forest and catching sight of a jaguar peering at you from under a bush is a pretty scary thing!
- We discovered that hippos are "the most hugest" animals we ever saw.
- We discovered that a hungry sea lion can bark loud enough to make you cover your ears. Same with a nervous peacock!

And as I watched the kids discover things about God's amazing creation, I found that I was discovering, too. I was no longer chaperoning a bunch of kids, I was entering into their experience. I was peering into the animal habitats with eager eyes, primed and ready to discover something.

- We also discovered that, no matter how hot and tired and thirsty you get at the end of a morning, sitting in the shade and eating a sack lunch can really perk you up! (That discovery was made especially by the kids. For the teachers and chaperones, twenty minutes sitting and resting was not nearly long enough to be as effective.)

When you allow children to be teachers, you will be amazed at what you will discover!
Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Repent, Democrat!

"Anyone who wants to give your life to Jesus, please come forward as the congregation sings. If you want to be in prayer about how God is calling you to serve, come to the prayer rail and let's pray.

Oh, yes - and those of you who did not vote for George Bush in the last election, come to the altar and repent of your sin. Come down now! ... I know who you are! If you don't come down front, then just go ahead and leave"

In one church in Waynesville, North Carolina, voting for anyone but George Bush will get you called to the altar by your preacher for repentance, and if you choose not to come up to the front, you will be excused from the church altogether.

This is apparently not a joke. This apparently actually happened. A WLOS news clip reported it. It probably will never make big headlines nationally, but the blog world is all over it. One of the reports I saw lists an Associated Press byline, and I have read that Keith Olberman is going to have it on his show tonight.

An isolated incident? Just one nutty preacher? Something to laugh at?

A symptom of something bigger? The first of many nutty preachers? Something to be scared of?

Here's what I think: when it happens in one congregation, it hurts the entire church. Not because it might happen again, but because it happened once. We are one body with many members. What happens with one member affects the entire body.

You know what I think we should do? (tee-hee!) This Sunday, when the preacher extends the invitation to Christian discipleship, I think all of us who voted for John Kerry or Ralph Nader last fall should come on down and repent! We should come to the altar and say, "We are sorry, God. We are sorry for wasting everyone's time by voting last fall. We are sorry for the time we wasted considering the issues, studying candidates' positions, and trying to figure out the best decisions to make. We are sorry for actually thinking that we live in a free Democratic society. It would have been so much easier just to listen to the religious right and do whatever they told us to do. Please do not smite us, O Lord. We promise never to think on our own ever again!"

And since I'm the preacher in my local manifestation of the body, I'll be up front already. Less distance for me to walk!

Faithfully yours,
Andy B.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Missouri State Budget - Pending Disaster!


In Missouri, the poor may not be able to get health care, but at least we will have cool sports stadiums!

According to figures in the Kansas City Star, TWELVE MILLION dollars from the state of Missouri is going to upgrade professional sports facilities in our state.
And in the meantime, NINETY THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED FOUR people will lose their health insurance thanks to cuts in the state budget.

Now I’m not so na├»ve as to claim that that $12,000,000 would be sufficient to cover the health insurance cost of those 90,604 people. But Governor Matt Blunt has some ‘splaining to do, Lucy. He told us he had to make some hard decisions about the budget, and decided to reduce social programs for the poor in order to move closer to fiscal responsibility. I was not okay with that, nor were some other folks, but it happened, and here we are.

Now, however, if Missouri gives $12,000,000 to upgrade the state’s sporting facilities, the question our resident compassionate conservative has to answer is, “Where did you get that money, Matt?” I thought we were cutting our budget because we were broke! The way I see it, two things are possible:

1) Missouri is not as broke as Matt Blunt told us. If that is the case, he lied.

2) Missouri would rather upgrade sporting facilities than care for people in need. If that is the case, the values upon which our state government operates are seriously skewed.

My state representative, Trent Skaggs, believes that the budget is a moral document that should reflect the values of the people of the state. He is very concerned with the path the current administration and legislature are taking. What does your state rep think? More important, does your state rep know what you think? Call them! Email them! Let them know! 90,604 people will thank you for it.

To take no action is, in fact, to act.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Beth Stroud

Beth Stroud
Posted by Hello

Dear Friends,
You have probably heard by now that United Methodist pastor Beth Stroud had her orders removed for being a lesbian, then recently reinstated. If you have read Enter the Rainbow before, you probably can guess my position on this whole issue. But just in case, here it is in a nutshell:

1) I do not consider homosexuality to be a sin and,
2) Even if it was a sin as many believe, one's sexual orientation has very little to do with one's call to ordained ministry. I, for example, am not "that heterosexual preacher," I'm just a preacher. A sinful yet forgiven preacher just like Beth Stroud, and
3) There are a lot more important things for the Church of Jesus Christ to say and do than obsess about sex all the time, and finally
4) Homosexuality is not a sin. (Or did I mention that already?)

With that in mind, I want to invite you to check out a couple of the Methodist blogs that I have listed over on the right hand margin. Start out by going to Shane Raynor's blog - There you will read Shane's conservative United Methodist opinion and a string of comments that represent a spectrum of perspectives on this issue. Most are anti-gay, but every now and then a voice of dissent can be heard, even a few from some guy called Andy B. who, last I heard, dwells in a rainbow somewhere.

But most importantly, read the interview that Shane did with Beth Stroud. I disagree with him staunchly on this issue, but I respect him highly for his reasonable questions and respectful tone. He is clearly a person of integrity and decency. I admire and respect his willingness to keep the conversation going here in virtual space.

And most of the comments on the Wesley Blog are reasonable and respectful, too. Oh, a couple of people express their bitterness and hatred, but they are a minority. (I think those kind of folks need to quit taking themselves so flipping seriously!) Surf around some of the other blogs on that list to read some of the myriad of opinions out there.

Not only what we have to say matters, but the way in which we say it matters, too. If you choose to comment on my blog (or another one) about this issue or any other, I know that you will do so in a respectful and reasonable way. Try not to attack, just state your own belief. State it with passion and depth, but do so in love and grace.

Finally, I just wanted to mention that, in spite of having her clergy orders reinstated, Beth has chosen to refrain from resuming her clergy duties until the case is fully resolved. For what it is worth, she is a servant of the church with an extra portion of level-headedness and authenticity. She knows that she has a divine call to be a minister, and she is patient enough to wait until the church figures out something she already knows! Please pray for the church, for the United Methodist denomination, and for Beth as this conversation continues.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

D@#% Democrats!

Hey, what's up? I read the paper yesterday morning, and I gotta ask ... Aren't you sick of those blasted obstructionist Democrats? Who do they think they are, refusing to affirm President Bush's nominees? Threatening to filibuster? What kind of a country do they think this is, free or something?
I mean, how dare they approve J. Michael Seabright to be a federal judge for the district of Hawaii by a margin of 98 - 0. 98? ... 98!?!? Where were those other two Senators? Probably out trying to obstruct somthing.
And what is up with appoving 95% of the people Bush has nominated? Only 95%?!? Come on, people. 95% is not even close to where we need to be. Let's aim high! Blast the fallacious filibuster! Ram onward to 100%!!!

Sigh ...

Seriously, though. My four-year-old son likes to race. "Let's race!" he will say. When it looks as though he is going to lose, though, he calls out, "It's not a race, okay?" even though it was his idea to race in the first place. He changes the rules of the game when it looks like he might lose. And let me repeat - he is four years old. Bush nominees lose 5% of the time; he is batting .950 for the season. And when one of those 5 times out of 100 that they lose happens, his team calls out, "Let's change the rules!" so that they will win, anyway.

D@#% Democrats.

If I don't laugh, I might cry,
Andy B.