Monday, February 26, 2007

A Dream for General Conference

Here’s my General Conference dream:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this opening session of the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I hereby call this session to order.

Turning to our first agenda item, all of those who wish to beat each other up over the issue of homosexuality please excuse yourselves from the floor and reconvene just down the hall in room 560, which has been reserved especially for you for the duration of the conference. Do not forget to bring your Bibles with you, as there are many good tidbits in there which you can use as ammunition against one another. You will be notified at the beginning of our closing session, at which time we will reconvene to hear absolutely no report whatsoever of what you have been doing for the past several days.

Those of you who wish to remain on the floor and discuss our other agenda items, like the presence of the living God in our midst, the mission of the church as God’s agent in the world, sharing the grace of Jesus Christ with those who so desperately need to experience it, the spreading of scriptural holiness throughout the land, the power of God’s Holy Spirit to bring peace and justice to a hurting and broken world, creative ways to participate in the ongoing incarnation of Christ to realize God’s reign on earth, and so forth, please be in recess for a few moments as we allow our more single-minded brothers and sisters to adjourn for their special session down the hall.

We will reconvene in five minutes.”

To be clear, I am not advocating ignoring the issue of homosexuality. I simply think that there are too many people who are ready to throw down and do battle over the issue to have any hope of a healthy conversation. And I think that there are people on “both sides” of the issue that fall into that category. But if we reframe the conversation, and make it be about the church’s participation in God’s mission on earth in Christ Jesus, maybe we’ll be able to talk together in a grace-filled, loving, healthy way.

What are the chances of my dream coming true, do you think?

Is it dewy-eyed optimism, or hope for things unseen?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Whew! Made It Through! - Ordination Journey Nearing the Destination

As it turns out, the road to ordination had an unexpected twist in it for me. But I must have good traction in my tires, because I managed to negotiate the curve and stay on the road. After not one but two afternoons of interviews, the Missouri Board of Ordained Ministry has recommended me for ordination this June at the Annual Conference session! Hooray!

The twist in the road involved my receiving a call on Monday night, after I had spent the afternoon in Sedalia interviewing with the four committees. One of the committees, I was told, had a few more questions they wanted to ask me. The other three had enthusiastically recommended me, but one group had some reservations.

*gulp* (Heart stopped for a minute, stomach churned a bit, blood pressure dropped alarmingly)

They wanted to know if I could drive back to Sedalia (97.3 miles one way) at either 1:30 or 4:30 the next afternoon, Tuesday. To be back at 1:30, I would have to cancel my lunch with my YouthFriend (YouthFriends is a mentoring program in the NKC School district). To be back at 4:30, I would have to cancel my appointment with a woman who had let me know that her long struggle with her relationship with Jesus had led her to a place where she was ready to profess her faith and join the church. Either way, I hoped to be back to church by 7:00, when I had an appointment with a family (3 generations, no less) who wanted to join the church and have the kids baptized. This was the decision I had to make.

I decided on 4:30, told the caller I would take that time, and he offered me some encouraging words as we ended the call and said goodbye.

I was reading a bedtime story to my daughter when the call came in. Somehow I managed to get back to the story, the chapter from "Little House on the Prairie" when Pa puts the roof on. After we prayed and kissed goodnight, I left my daughter's room and went downstairs to wait for Erin to come home from her dance class. When she arrived, I told her and she embraced me and we cried and grumbled and hugged more and and shook our heads and cried more. I called some friends and my Dad, letting them know what was happening.

I didn't sleep well.

I am not going to share the details of Tuesday afternoon with the BOOM. Having had only a day for reflecting on everything, I just have too much unprocessed. And I probably won't post any particulars at all, because it would be tinged with so much of my emotion as to be quite unhelpful. What happened was that I went to the one committee who had further questions, I answered the questions they asked, they must have been pleased with my answers, and the full Board voted to approve my ordination. I was called last night by the same pastor who had called me the night before, but this time he had happier news to share!

The past two days, I have truly come to understand what it is to be loved unconditionally and supported fully, to be held in prayer and compassion by wonderful people. Erin, the light of my life, my true love, my rock, my life-partner forever. My kids, who just knew that Daddy finally had "passed the test" and were so excited they could hardly contain it. My dad, my mom, my siblings, who have put up with me longer than anyone and for some reason still find room in their hearts to love me. My covenant partners, who prayed with me, shouted curses at the wind with me, loved me for me. Colleagues on the BOOM, who gave me thumbs up signals, put their arms around me, prayed for me, affirmed and supported and encouraged me. Church staff and members who spoke uplifting, encouraging words of support, and who gave me assurance. Wow, I'm just about overwhelmed.

And here it is, Lent - penance, fasting, preparation, mortality, confession, repentance. My Lenten journey is going to be a little bit different this year, I suspect. I wonder what new thing God is going to do this year, as we yearn for resurrection. What new thing is God going to do, as creation groans with labor pains? I wonder what new thing God is going to do.

Check your tires for traction, there may be a twist in the road ahead.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blogging Etiquette: A Developing Field

Recently, John convinced me not to respond to anonymous comments. That's a good rule, seems to me.

However, it is possible for a commenter to display a name, but stay pretty much anonymous by not allowing your profile to be viewed publicly. That happened in yesterday's string of comments.

So, what do you think? Should bloggers respond to anonymous or name-only comments? Or should bloggers limit the back-and-forth commenting to either people we know or who have a blog of their own?

Update: Cross posted at Locusts & Honey

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Panhandling Ban in Kansas City?

There’s a Kansas City council member named John Fairfield (also a Kansas City mayoral candidate, but who isn’t?) who wants to ban “panhandling” in four specific areas of our city. Here’s the article (login required).

Panhandling is broadly defined in the proposal, and would include “any request for money by voice, music, singing or other street performance,” according to the article. This has some musicians and other performance artists riled up, and apparently there was quite a show at the most recent city council meeting as some protested the proposal by performing for council members.

But street performers aside, a deeper question we ought to be asking has to do with the people who aren’t juggling or doing balloon animals or playing their saxophone. Those who are there just sitting, hand held out, their life’s circumstances having driven them to desperation. It is a desperate life that is lived begging for help on the street, no matter what it was that got you there in the first place. Do we really want to consider street folks criminals and run them off, just to make our shopping experience more comfortable?

Some people are quick to pass judgment on people of the street, certain that it must be their own fault somehow, that they must be lazy, that they made bad choices and are now just suffering the consequences of those choices so let them suffer, that they actually prefer to live this lifestyle, or some other such rationalizations. What sucks is that some of those people passing judgment are Christians who claim to be followers of Jesus, the one who says, “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” (Luke 6:30, NRSV)

Maybe I’m missing something, but that seems pretty clear to me. I don’t know if John Fairfield, running for mayor and wanting to make a name for himself, is a Christian or not. In fact, I don’t know anything about him. But I think his proposal reflects the worst part of our society, the part that wants to go shopping and be entertained and eat at fancy restaurants without any pesky reminders that some people can’t do those things. What purpose does banning panhandlers serve other than a desire for antiseptic, insulated, isolationist denial of reality? “If they’re not there, we can pretend they don’t exist!”


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hitting Your Spiritual Snooze Button? - Transfiguration Thoughts

What do you do with the Transfiguration story? That’s this week’s lectionary reading, Luke’s version. I get the feeling the Transfiguration story must be important, but I’m not really sure why. Kind of like District Superintendents. :) (Joke.)

Luke has a line in the story that has caught my eye this time. Luke 9:32 says, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” (NRSV) It reminds me of another time the disciples got sleepy, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was arrested. Only that time, they went right ahead and fell asleep.

“Since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.” Maybe the whole thing was a result of sleep deprivation? You know how when you stay awake really late at night and you start getting all loopy? Maybe Peter, James, and John were just really, really sleepy and their minds were playing tricks on them.

Or maybe it’s more about “staying awake” spiritually, so that you don’t miss an opportunity to see Christ. Maybe sin is essentially evidence that we are spiritually asleep, not aware of Christ’s presence, unable to recognize the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. And the thing about being asleep is that sometimes your dreams are so vivid, you don’t realize you are sleeping. That is, until you wake up.

This metaphor is helpful for me in thinking about many sins. Sin is a vivid dream in which your perceptions seem real and good and right and just, but they are only a dream. Upon waking up and seeing Christ’s glory, you realize that your sinful life is just a dream, and salvation is an ongoing attempt to stay awake spiritually so that you will live a life that God intends. The devil LOVES this situation, you know? With this sleeping/dreaming arrangement Satan has worked it out so that we are sinning, but we don’t realize we are. Not only do we not realize it, but we actually think we are being righteous, so we just keep on sinning/dreaming, all the time unaware of our sin.

Consider affluence. How many of us try to live in the dream that says it is okay for some people to have a big house, two cars, closets full of clothes, pantries full of food, while other people lie on heating ducts downtown with all of their worldly possessions stuffed into a dirty backpack beside them? I know I do. Any excuse I try to offer is the equivalent of pressing my spiritual snooze button. “Just ten more minutes, okay Jesus?”

There’s something here also that reminds me of one of the themes from “The Matrix.” Neo was awakened to the ugly, painful reality of the world, having been in an altered state of perception in which his life seemed to be quite ordinary and relatively easy. The most insidious sin is not a horrific, blatant act, but rather the attitude of indifference displayed by all of us who are asleep to the reality of the world.

Peter, James, and John stayed awake, despite their sleepiness. That is vital to our salvation, to be awake and alert for opportunities to glimpse the glory of God. How easy it is to drift off into quiet, comfortable, blissful slumber and dream the “everything’s okay” dream. But the call of Christ is to remain alert, stay awake, get your hand away from that snooze button! Wake up and see the glory of Christ.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Gambling vs. Investing

My wife Erin told me about an interesting discussion in her Sunday School class last week. Part of the conversation centered around this question:

What is the difference between gambling, which the UMC is against, and investing, which the UMC is definitely in favor of?

What do you think? All comments appreciated:

Ex Nihilo Discussion, Ages 6 and 9, A True Story

6 year old: What was there before there was anything? There couldn't have been just blackness, because black is something. But it couldn't have just been all white, either, because white is something, too. So what was there before there was anything else?

9 year old: Well, there never was a time before there was anything else, because no matter what, God has always been there.

6 year old: Hmm.

Yes, our 6 year old is a philosopher, and our 9 year old is a mystic.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl 41: "The Lord's Way"

Did anyone else find the Super Bowl yesterday to be a bit … weird? The teams played mediocre at best. The camera lenses kept getting fogged up. The commercials were horrible. Prince didn’t dance. It was like a Super Bowl Twilight Zone episode.

And then there was the trophy presentation. Here’s what Tony Dungy said:

“I’m proud to be representing African-American coaches, to be the first African-American to win this. That means an awful lot to our country. But again, more than anything, I’ve said it before, Lovie Smith and I, not only the first two African-Americans, but Christian coaches, showing that you can win doing it the Lord’s way, we’re more proud of that.”

At first, that’s a nice thing: a kind of color-blindness that seems to befit the Gospel, and a simple example of a Christian man witnessing to his faith. But if you listen to his remark a few times, it just raises more and more questions than anything else. Here are some of mine:

1 - So, winning the Lord's way involves spotting the other team a touchdown on the opening kickoff, having the opposing quarterback to fumble all over the field, missing an extra point and a chip-shot field goal, having the opponents best running back get injured, and then running the most boring, conservative, dink-and-dunk offensive gameplan ever written? Give me a good Red Sea parting any day. Come on, even God was bored.
2 - He’s talking about football, right? So, is he claiming that the Lord actually cares one way or the other about who wins a particular football game? As if Jesus needs to be validated by the outcome of a sporting event. I am as big a fan of the game as anyone, but I’m not quite ready to say that God is quite that interested, and may have even had a few other things on the heavenly agenda for that day.

3 - This latest Super Bowl was the 41st one. If Dungy is right, why has it taken 40 years to “win doing it the Lord’s way?” Was it a modern day journey through the wilderness of other ways to win the Super Bowl, awaiting Moses Dungy to lead the NFL into the promised land of the Lord’s Way to Win?

4 - On the flipside of question 2, I wonder what all the other 40 winners of the previous Super Bowls think about Dungy’s claim that now, at last, he and Lovie have shown you can win it “the Lord’s way?” Let’s check in with Bill Walsh on that one. Somebody go ask Tom Landry what way he was winning, since it must not have been “the Lord’s way.” Vince Lombardi, care to comment?

5 – And on the flip-flipside of that, wasn’t Lovie Smith doing things “the Lord’s way” last Sunday? If Dungy and Smith are examples of coaches coaching “the Lord’s way,” why did God pick Dungy to win this one and not Smith? Did Dungy just pray a little bit harder that morning or what? Lots of grey area there. Gets to the whole theodicy question (our favorite seminary word!).

OK, OK - I know that Tony Dungy wasn’t trying to be all deep and theological when he was accepting the Lombardi Trophy last Sunday. He really seems like a nice guy, and I’m not trying to beat him up or anything. But his expression “showing that you can win doing it the Lord’s way” kind of makes my stomach gurgle a little bit. Not because of what it says on the surface level, but for the questions it raises underneath. I just think we need to be extra careful whenever we are claiming that God has favored us in a particular way. Often such a claim carries with it implications that we likely do not intend.
God loves us and all, but I'm pretty sure that by halftime, God had switched channels, and was watching Puppy Bowl III on Animal Planet.