Friday, October 31, 2008

Sharing the Wealth = Freedom from Want

President Franklin Roosevelt famously talked about four freedoms in his address to congress in January of 1941. Freedom of expression - Freedom of religion - Freedom from want - Freedom from fear. In Roosevelt's speech, he spoke of these freedoms as the central values for which we were fighting the second world war.

I heard these freedoms mentioned again on NPR this week, and I've been pondering over it since then. It was stated in the interview that you might not be overly concerned with the first two freedoms if the second two are being violated. In other words, when you are hungry, freedom of speech is not at the top of your priority list. When you are scared about losing your job, you don't really care as much about everyone's right to worship as they want.

I think that these four freedoms have to be in balance across a society in order for the society to flourish. When one of them is out of whack, the whole system is affected. And I see (granted, from my own personal perspective on things) that we are not a society that is free from want. Poverty is a global issue, and I think it is the priority of our time.

Secondarily, we are not a sociaty that is free from fear. But I think that our fearfulness is at least in part a result of our poverty. When resources are limited, people start to be afraid, and start to act out of that fear.

Look, I understand that each of us has a particular perspective, and that each of us views the world "through our own lens." I do it all the time, I know that. I am grateful for the many regular readers of Enter the Rainbow who respectfully share their own, contrasting perspectives, too. (Diana, Joseph, Larry B, John, Kansas Bob, I'm looking at you!)

With that said, my perspective includes a preference toward compassion for others, and a priority toward eliminating poverty. I did not pull that perspective out of mid-air, but lived into it - in prayer, through study of scripture, in my experience with the foster care system, working with the immigrant community in Kansas City, and growing up in a family that taught me to live a certain way.

Starting from this perspective, I nevertheless want to learn as much as I can about others'. Which prompted my question in my previous post. All of your answers were very helpful - thanks.

Here's my next observation/question, then:

I understand a perspective that says, "I want to share with others, but would rather do it on my own than entrust the government to do it for me." But is that really what the emotional reaction I witnessed at the Palin rally saying? I kind of think it was more like, "It's my money and I'm keeping it for myself." In short, I do not think the reaction was against the idea of the government spreading the wealth, but against the very idea of spreading the wealth at all. I don't know, maybe y'all can help me out with that one, too.

Ensuring our nation's freedom from want will inevitably make our nation stronger. That's my perspective as a citizen of the United States.

Ensuring our world's freedom from want will hopefully help God's creation to flourish. That's my perspective as a child of God.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yes, I Saw Sarah

Yes, I went to see Sarah Palin here in Springfield last Friday. It was fun, to tell the truth. I rode my bike to Bass Pro Shop from my house – about a 45 minute ride – chained my bike to a street sign and walked around the block, through the parking lot of a next door shopping center, and almost ¾ of the way around the next block to get to the end of the line.

Standing in line for a couple of hours with Palin supporters was an interesting experience. I overheard most of the standard Republican talking points, plus a lot of the misinformation spread by those viral emails, but there were a few notable comments. Like the guy who would “really like to see his birth certificate” just to make sure Obama is really a U.S. citizen, or the guy whose solution to the gambling thing is to just get “the poor people” to make better decisions with their money, or the lady who said of Obama that you could put lipstick on a donkey but he would still be an ass. But mostly it was just people standing in line, chatting about small talk and trying to stay warm.

After a couple hours, the line began to move steadily and we filed into the area through a gauntlet of security people from several different agencies. No metal detectors or individual searches, though. I made my way into a spot where a 6’2” person might stand on tiptoe and periodically catch a glimpse of the stage. There was as gospel quartet singing at the time. They were followed by a glimpse of a guy who might have been Kenny Hulsof, then representative Roy Blunt delivered a standard stump speech, then there was a long pause … and we kind of started shuffling around. Finally a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, here she is – Naomi Judd.”

The whole crowd kind of chuckled because the build up had prepared us for Palin, but we got Naomi Judd instead. I was actually kind of surprised by what she said, because she talked about her own personal sorrow that Sarah Palin was being criticized so much by so many people. About how unfair it is that “because she is a woman” she is being held to a different standard of scrutiny. Which was odd because I kind of thought the McCain campaign was trying to stay away from the whole “victim” topic. But there it was, and it got a big crowd response.

Well, then Naomi introduced Palin and she came out with her two daughters, who sat on the stage with Naomi Judd as their mom talked. She was really upbeat and had a lot of energy, apologizing for keeping us waiting because she didn’t want to leave Bass Pro Shop which reminded her of home. In her speech, she really didn’t say anything new, though she focused a lot on her passion for families with children with special needs. Mostly though it was just the routine stuff.

I noticed that by far the strongest reactions came when she talked about spreading the wealth. The crowd was very energetic, with “boos” and “no way” and a lot of other negative stuff all around me. It was very strong, the energy was very high – probably the most intense moment of her speech.

We are doing a series at church about discipleship that uses this scripture as a part of the foundation:
2 Corinthians 8:13-15 - I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’
…and so I’ve been thinking a lot about sharing the wealth. Now, far be it from me to proof-text something like that, but I do think it is kind of a foundational idea in scripture – it is the basis of a lot more than just this one passage. So I am a bit confused about how some people are reconciling these ideas – on the one hand the scriptural admonition to share resources with one’s neighbor, and on the other hand the apparent aversion to doing so.

(I’m sure that someone reading this can leave a comment to help me to figure it out. And I’m not trying to stir up anything, I honestly just want to know the reasoning here.)

So anyway, she spoke for a half an hour or so, and it was pretty exciting. I saw John McCain in 2000 when he stopped at a small rally in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Galesburg, Illinois. And it was exciting then, too. It is exciting to participate in the process of government. We live in one of the few countries in the world where the people are free to do so, and it is a shame that many U.S. citizens take that fact for granted.

That’s one of the coolest things about the whole Obama-meets-“Joe the Plumber” incident, an idea that gets overlooked in the campaign rhetoric. A U.S. Senator, running for president, took the time to stop and talk to an ordinary citizen. It was not a passing comment, but a real conversation about real concerns. It was not a supporter, either, but a man with whom the candidate disagreed, and they said so. An ordinary person expressed disagreement with a sitting Senator and presidential candidate, out in the open, on the street in front of TV cameras and other witnesses, for a significant amount of time.

That is truly amazing, when you really think about it. And that’s why I went to see Sarah Palin – not that I support her or not but that I support the process in which she is participating. The people we vote for and the issues we vote on really do impact our lives, and it is very important that all of us participate, learning as much as we can about each candidate and each issue, and voting thoughtfully and intelligently.

So when she got done speaking, the rally was over. Palin walked off the stage and shook hands with the people who had the advance tickets up front, but most of us in the crowd kind of just wandered off. I hiked back to where my bike was and pedaled back home again. Nothing that happened Friday is going to change the way I vote next week, but it was still pretty cool to be there.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Proposition A Thoughts

This is a tricky one, I have to admit. I am "thinking out loud" here, so bear with me...

On the ballot here in Missouri, Proposition A does a few things:

- raises taxes on casinos in Missouri, from 20% to 21%,
- caps the number of casinos in Missouri at the present number (I think there are 12),
- eliminates the loss limit, which currently is $500 per two hours,
- designates the revenue generated will go toward education.

Ameristar Casinos and Pinnacle Entertainment are the two big sponsors of the proposition, and have put in over 6 million dollars combined in their effort to get it passed.

Hmm ...

Given that gambling is a bad thing, and given that education is a good thing, what should we do about Proposition A? Increasing taxes on casinos would be good. Eliminating the loss limit would be bad. And capping the number of casinos in the state would be good on the one hand because there wouldn't be any more casinos, but bad on the other hand because the existing casinos would benefit from the lack of competition.

More money for education is good, but funding schools using money that comes from gambling losses seems a wee bit unethical to me. And I'm not so sure that this plan actually increases overall funding for education (more on that below). Plus it kind of seems like the casino industry is trying to use the feel-good issue of education to get legislation passed that will really help them a lot. It just feels like we might be getting played on this one.

Take the loss limit itself. Right now you can only lose $500 every two hours, maximum. But Proposition A says, "The commission shall regulate the wagering structure for gambling excursions [including providing a maximum loss of five hundred dollars per individual player per gambling excursion], provided that the commission shall not establish any regulations or policies that limit the amount of wagers, losses, or buy in amounts." To me, that sounds like a contradiction. A maximum loss of $500 per player per trip, but no regulations to limit on the amount of losses? What? Having cake and eating it?

There's something fishy in there, and I think it ends up favoring the casino at the expense of the individual, and the family. Without a loss limit, a compulsive gambler could lose the family's house in a few hours. And the casino feels really bad about that all the way to the bank.

Now, a few years back, when Missouri voted to allow gambling at all, we were told that the money would go to education. But it ended up replacing money that had come from the general revenue rather than supplementing it. The language of the current proposition seems to say that won't happen this time, but color me skeptical.

The proposition says, "The schools first elementary and secondary education improvement fund shall be state revenues collected from gaming activities for purposes of Article III, Section 39(d) of the Constitution. Moneys in the schools first elementary and secondary education improvement fund shall be kept separate from the general revenue fund as well as any other funds or accounts in the state treasury."

Okay, that seems legit. But there is no way to guarantee that future state budgets will not lower the amount budgeted to schools from the general revenue fund, rationalizing that since there is all this new money in this new "Schools First" fund, there doesn't need to be as much from the general fund. It doesn't matter if the money is "kept separate" if the amount from the general fund is lowered - the end result is the same. Casinos make even more money than they are, and schools get the same level of support they always have.

At the moment, I just can't see how Proposition A is a good thing.

For more info:
Here is a website in favor. Here is a website against. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Go Rays!

I'm at a loss. First the Missouri Tigers lost on Saturday. Then the Kansas City Chiefs got crushed on Sunday. My fantasy football team, the Pulpit Pounders, lost big. Football really let me down this weekend.

So, let's see what else is on ...

hmm ...

What the?!?!? They're still playing baseball? Well, I guess I'll check it out.

Now wait a minute - who's in the World Series now? Tampa Bay? Are you kidding me? The flippin' Tampa Bay Rays are in the World Series?

Truthfully, I'm pretty pumped for the World Series. You know why I've gotta root for the Rays, don't you? The fifth smallest market in Major League Baseball (Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are smaller); the fifth youngest team in Major League Baseball (Oakland, Washington, Texas, and Florida are younger); ended last season with the worst record in baseball - and they are in the World Series. Who doesn't love a story like this?

For those of us who work in churches, trying to do miraculous things with limited resources is a situation to which we can really relate! And you gotta love it when a group who puts a priority on talent over experience succeeds at this level. Then you add in the whole "worst t0 first" dynamic, and I just can't help rooting for these guys - worst record in baseball in 2007 and then, undaunted, focused on their common goal, they keep on playing and come back the very next year to make it to the Series!

Come on, people. Let's hear it - Go Rays!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A New Mission - Part 2

I could not agree more with Richard Hamm when he writes, "True enough, new members are necessary if a congregation is going to be there for future generations. But such a maintenance-oriented church will not attract younger people: they will be attracted by a congregation's sincere desire to live and share the gospel and to meet the needs of people." (Recreating the Church, p. 64).

I actually think that the reason a lot of people stay away from the church is because of the perceived disconnect from what the church says it is and what people actually see the church doing. Here are 5 Fruitful Examples drawn in part from Bishop Schnase's book:

- The church says it is practicing hospitality, but they love each other so much that the church is actually "impenetrable" to any guests who may want to be a part of it.

- The church says that it offers transformative worship, but the most noticable sign in the sanctuary is the one that says "NO FOOD OR DRINK," the services are mostly routine, and everyone just sits passively and never expects anything wonderful to happen.

- The church says that faith development is important, but does not offer small group meetings at times and places when and where it would be most convenient for people to gather.

- The church says that mission and service are important, but only offers sanitized opportunities that are pretty much guaranteed to be safe, the outcome is fairly certain, and no personal investment other than a little money and a little time are required.

- The church says that discipleship is what it's all about, but then spends the whole stewardship campaign talking about money and the church budget.

Those are just 5, off the top of my head examples. I know that there are more. Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, her home town, "There is no there there." And this has become the root issue for the church, especially in the mainline. We invite people to churches that look like the town they built at the end of Blazing Saddles - all facade with nothing behind them.

The point is not to focus on invitation alone, but rather to focus on the substance of what it is we are inviting people to.

Hamm uses a good analogy - a grease factory with no shipping department. It didn't need a shipping department because all the grease they made there was used to lubricate the grease-making machinery. (p. 67)

Whatever it may have meant at one time, the mission statement "To make disciples of Jesus Christ" is insufficient now. It is perceived as having to do only with increasing numbers, and that is a self-serving and therefore self-defeating mission. Susan Cox-Johnson has a post up about mission and in it she writes that churches do not have a mission, churches are the mission. In other words, in the way a church lives, in its liturgy, in its polity, in its community service, in its very being, a church is its own mission.

This means that when the pithy mission statement on the website doesn't reflect what actually happens when the church gathers together, you've got trouble. Big trouble. Not the kind of trouble that drives people away, but the kind of trouble that does absolutely nothing to attract anyone. As Bishop Schnase says, it is not a back door problem, but a front door problem.

I don't feel bad about any of this, either. This is an absolutely amazing time to be serving in a mainline church! It is an opportune time to "live and share the gospel." The emerging spiritual ethos, the spirit of renewal and recreation, the waves of change that are crashing all around us, all create a milieu in which some beautiful things are happening.

It is a bit chaotic, and a bit uncertain, a bit mysterious. And that's okay! Actually, that's kind of the point.

As Susan says, "I don't know, friends, but I guess I miss the mystery somehow." I guess I do too.

A New Mission for the Local Church - Part 1

I'm reading "Recreating the Church" by Richard L. Hamm.

He writes about organizational patterns, following common wisdom that organizations start out as dynamic movements, become institutionalized, then bureaucratized, then typically begin to decline. The reason for the decline, he says, is that the "bureaus" of the bureaucracy "become less concerned about the work of the organization than they are about 'life inside the box'." (p. 28)

In other words, the bureaucracy becomes focused on "self-service and survival" instead of the mission of the organization.

Herein lies the church's inherent tension. When the church defines its mission as "making disciples" and making disciples is defined in terms of increasing attendance and membership numbers, we get caught in that self-service loop. The bureacracy wants to turn from internal to external in order to revitalize the organization, but that turn is itself defined in terms that are focused internally.

Using Hamm's language, when the church tries to transform the way our bureaucracy functions, we correctly say that we need to be driven more by mission than survival. However, when the mission is subsequently defined in terms that sound like survival, nothing really has changed and we are right back where we started again. It actually perpetuates the problem to define the mission of the church in self-service terms.

So I think we need a new mission.

There, I said it. Whew! I feel so much better with that out there! But really, I think that a church whose mission is exclusively drawn from Matthew 28:19 is missing something. Surely there is more that disciples of Jesus are supposed to be doing that making more of us. When the institutional crisis is defined as shrinking numbers and the institutional mission is defined as growing numbers, you've got a big mission problem.

I don't think the church's problem is an organizational problem or a relevance problem or a generational problem. (Sorry, all those experts who are way smarter than me.) It is not a problem of a lack of clarity in mission, either. I think the problem is that the mission we are trying to be so clear about is actually counterproductive to the attempt to stem the decline of the institution.

(I'll write more next time about the reasons I think the church is in decline, which are in fact much more ingrained and may be more difficult to address.)

A new mission is needed. Different than, " make disciples." I have a few ideas. How about, "The mission of the local church is...
- be disciples of Christ in all nations."
- love God and love neighbor."
- bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
- announce and embody God's reign on earth."
- make the world a better place."

Mission foci like these would give people something to be disciples of. Imagine this conversation.

Church person: Please come to church with me!
NonChurch person: Hmm. Why?
Church: Because our mission is to make disciples, and so that's what I'm doing.
NonChurch: So what would I do when I get there?
Church: You would make disciples, too.
NonChurch: So you are inviting me to church so that I'll invite people to church?
Church: Yes.
NonChurch: Sorry, I think I'll go to Starbucks.

See, the point of Starbucks is coffee, not getting people to come to Starbucks. People come to Starbucks for an actual reason - to drink coffee. I guess I'm saying that I think people need a better "actual reason" to come to church.

I've got more; I'm saving it for my next post. But I'm still working on it so I'll have it up in a few days. And I hope that all of you reading this understand this is all me thinking here, just working ideas out onscreen. I am hopeful that any comments you might have will help me processing my thoughts, and I look forward to reading them!

Monday, October 13, 2008

On the Nature of Pastors

On the MMPI test, pastors usually get about a 90% NAR score. NAR measures the "Need for Affirmation and Reinforcement."

We usually score from 90 - 95% on the PAS scale. PAS stands for "Paranoid Subtle" - it is a measure of perceived specialness.

And then there is the OH number, which runs on average from 85-90%. OH is "Over-controlled Hostility."

So basically that means we get really upset about the one person out of one hundred who didn't like the sermon that God obviously inspired us to preach, but we pretend it doesn't bother us at all. We're just a bunch of insecure divas with anger management issues, when you get down to it.

But honestly, why do these psychological test numbers tend to line up in this direction for pastors? Do these inherent personality traits make someone pastoral? Or does being a pastor tend to make someone this way?

A lot of pastors joke about our psychological assessment as a test to see if we are crazy enough to be a pastor! (ha, ha - very funny.)

Personally, it never fails but that for the 99 people who got something out of the sermon, I will fret over the 1 who complains. I like to make a decision that makes people happy. I line up pretty well with the NAR score, I've gotta confess.

And I have been known to talk about how God called me into this ministry. How much more special might I think I am, for goodness sake? So yep, I've got your PAS, right here!

I would talk about my OH level, but that would just make me mad so I'm not going to.

All of this stuff is instructive for a couple of reasons. First of all, pastors are people who need a trusted friendship with someone who neither has power over the pastor nor over whom the pastor has power. Not another pastor of the same denomination who is or may one day be a supervisor. Not a parishioner. Someone to talk to with complete trust and openness, in order to process and deal with life, to express emotion and vent the tension.

Secondly, a lot of pastors just need to get over ourselves! Unpuff your ego for a minute and just be okay with the fact that you are a fallible human being who can't make everyone happy all the time. By the way, I think one way to do this would be to fail on purpose! You know, like preach a real stinker of a sermon or make a really inane suggestion at a board meeting or something - "I was thinking of designating this coming Sunday as 'bring a rutabega to church Sunday' - what do you think?"

I'm not trying to make light of anything, but maybe some of the pressure on pastors comes from pastors' own expectations of ourselves, moreso than our perceptions of what our congregations expect of us. I'd venture to guess that the most important thing for a congregation is just to know and get along with their pastor. In other words, just be friendly. Be nice. Smile.

People in the congregation know that the pastor is a real person, and do not expect perfection. Relax - be yourself - have fun! I don't know if our NAR, PAS, and OH scores would go down any, but we'd probably be a lot happier.

(I learned all of those numbers from Rev. Jerry DeSobe of the Krist Samaritan Center in Houston.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Big Church

Here's some of what I brought home from the conference for first-time pastors of large churches in Houston last weekend. I went in with some preconceived notions, and I came home much more realistic ...

Preconceived notion = in big churches it's all about the money.
Reality = big churches are engaged in some of the most transformative ministry I've seen.

Preconceived notion = all big churches are comprised of conservative evangelicals.
Reality = big churches are wonderfully diverse.

Preconceived notion = there is one right way to organize a big church.
Reality = big churches are just as contextual as small churches.

Preconceived notion = big churches are all contemporary in worship style.
Reality = from high church to rock and roll and everything in between and all around.

Preconceived notion = the bigger the church, the less personal contact between people.
Reality = no matter what size of congregation, human psychology indicates that you will have close associations with about the same number of people. Small groups are the key for any size congregation, once you get past the idea that you have to know everybody.

Preconceived notion = pastors of big churches flash large, impressive numbers to convey "success" in a boastful tone.
Reality = some do, but most are more interested in boasting about the ministries happening, and the people participating in them, using numbers simply to describe them.

Preconceived notion = big churches are more businesslike.
Reality = churches can/should be more churchlike, no matter what size they are.

Preconceived notion = serving a bigger church would be hard for me.
Reality = it is!

Nonetheless, this past weekend liberated me to understand the task in a new way, assuring me that I can do this with my own personality and approach, that I do not have to fit into someone else's mold of "big church pastor" in order to flourish in this role, and encouraging me to claim my identity and my place in the church. I do not have to compromise who I am in order to do this. In fact, I'll undoubtably have more success in this appointment if I don't.

I'm a pastor in a big church, and that's okay with me!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

What I Am Learning ...

I am in Houston Texas this weekend, at a conference for pastors who are serving large membership churches for the first time. We are meeting at Memorial Drive UMC, where two of the pastors are leading us through conversations about vision, staff, money, administration, and that kind of stuff.

On my mind a lot is this statement: You are not a pastor any more; you are a leader.

The point being made was that the person-to-person interaction with the congregation is going to be greatly lessened in a large membership church. Rather, more time would be spent in discernment and articulation of the congregation's vision, and nurturing the spiritual health of the staff and other leaders so that they in turn can engage that person-to-person ineraction.

Okay. But I don't know if that means I'm not a pastor anymore. I don't want to be not a pastor anymore. I want to be a pastor in a different congregation, and subsequently change my approach to pastoring. But I'm still going to be a pastor. I think the statement was intended as a rhetorical device to make a larger point, but it kind of ruffled my feathers a bit.

On my mind a lot is this statement, too: When trust is up, speed is up and costs are down. When trust is down, speed is down and costs are up.

Bingo! Almost worth the price of admission in and of itself, this statement is what needs to come from me back to Campbell over the next few months. Trust is very low right now, as is evident in a variety of ways. And guess what? It also takes us a lot of time to get anything done, and it also is very financially tenuous right about now.

And so to become more flexible and to cut our expenses, we have to raise the trust level all around. Which means that I have to model that trust (going to Houston for the weekend and inviting Melissa to take the pulpit) in everything I say and do. It gives me a focus that I think we can latch on to - TRUST. It will come slowly, as all change does in large congregations, but we have to get there.

I have a lot of other thoughts on my mind as a result of this conference, and we still have a day and a half to go! But I have to split now and get over there for worship. More later...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Maverick for President

Apparently now one of the criteria for president is being a maverick. But that is just begging the question, which maverick?

So please cast your vote to the right - and in the comment section below include the rationale behind it. Which maverick would make a better president?

a) Brett Maverick
b) Lt. Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell
c) A Ford Maverick
d) Dirk Nowitzki