Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nativity Scenes

Nativity scenes are those sets of figurines that depict the birth of Jesus. They come in all shapes and sizes, for indoors and out, to play with and to look at, from simple to ornate and everything in between.

My family has a small collection of nativity scenes that we unpack every year at this time. As we unpack them and set them out, we recall where and when we got each one. It seems as though each scene comes with its own story.

This year at Campbell UMC, our Advent theme is going to be “Nativity Scenes.” But we’re not just talking about the decorative figures. The “scenes” that we’ll focus on are the shared experiences, memories, and images of the season.

Nativity scenes are sometimes joyful memories. Sometimes our nativity scenes are filled with grief. Many of our nativity scenes include visits with family and friends. At times our nativity scenes are lonely and isolated.

Each of us has a collection of these “scenes” that we tend to unpack each year about this time. As we prepare our lives for the birth of Jesus, we recall holidays past, and all of the sorrow, joy, loneliness, and love that each memory brings. There is no doubt, each scene comes with its own story.

At the same time, we will create new nativity scenes this year. The experiences we share this year will become a part of the story over time. What new scenes will you add? What will this year’s memories be?

There is power in shared experience. Together our nativity scenes make up a marvelous story. It is a love story; God’s love story told to the whole world. And each “Nativity Scene” creates an important part of the storyline. My hope for this season is that the power of our shared experience will draw us closer to God, closer to one another, and into a deeper relationship with Christ in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Conversation Matters (Even in Church Trials)

Rev. Christopher Fisher had one simple job, and it was probably one of his easiest assignments. All he had to do was say, “Look, here’s the church’s law.” And, “Look, here’s what happened.” Then, “Obviously you can see that what happened here broke the church’s law.”

And then Rev. Frank Schaefer would have been convicted. In fact Rev. Schaefer doesn’t even deny breaking the law. He freely admits it, even celebrates it, as many do. It would have been Rev. Fisher’s easiest case ever.

It could have been calm, reasonable, respectful, and grace-filled. It could have been what it was designed to be: a rational, relational process of church discipline.

But, according to the Associated Press article, his closing argument completely derailed any possibility of that happening. I don’t know why he said what he said, if it came from inside his own mind, if he was instructed to say what he said, or what. I do not know Rev. Christopher Fisher at all, and so I do not know where he is coming from. I do not know his perspective. All I have is the article:

“Fisher used his closing argument to condemn homosexuality as immoral and said Schaefer had no right to break a Methodist law that bans pastors from performing same-sex marriages just because he disagreed with church teaching. He told jurors they were duty-bound to convict.
 ‘You'll give an account for that at the last day, as we all will,’ he told the jury, to audible gasps from spectators.

Well, that escalated quickly.

I wonder what Rev. Fisher was hoping to accomplish in his closing? Why the judgement day reference? Why the broad swipe at the morality of a particular sexual orientation? He had one simple job. One very easy job, in fact. But then he had to make it truly bizarre.

It isn’t church trials that give the UMC a bad name. It is remarks like were reported from Rev. Fisher’s closing statement. Such comments are an enormous obstacle to the mission of the church.

The denomination has processes in place for a reason. You can like those processes or not, but it’s no secret that they are there. There is one way to change those processes - the General Conference. And Rev. Schaefer has every right to break a Methodist law that he believes is unjust. He knew what the consequences of that decision were, and he did it anyway. And so it goes.

But the officially designated lawyer for the denomination seemed to make it a whole lot bigger than it actually was with his apocalyptic language and sweeping condemnation of an entire orientation. This was a case about a pastor doing the wedding of his son. That’s all it was. That was the “agenda” here. But apparently Rev. Fisher couldn’t resist the opportunity to lay down a little more oh, so unhelpful rhetoric that will do nothing but inflame emotions.

And distract the church from what we are truly supposed to be doing, namely, the mission to serve as ambassadors of grace on behalf of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

(Caveat: Again I will repeat that I do not know the entirety of the closing statement that was referenced in the article. All that I have is what I included above. If I am overstating things, I apologize.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Politically Bizarre

I lament that reasonable, legitimate concerns about policies of our government cannot be raised these days. The bizarre has triumphed; rationality is dead.

I have several concerns with policies and practices of our government, but I am reticent to raise them in any public venue, for fear of how they will be received. It is such a strange climate in our nation, and it is just getting stranger and stranger.

An idea has floated around here and there that the issue is “the extremes” on both ends of the spectrum. If the vast “center” would just claim our voice and speak against the extremes, the problems would be solved. “Both sides are in the wrong,” is the slogan of this view point.

I disagree. As I see it, the issue isn’t “the extremes.” The issue is “the bizarres.” (Side note: both of these would make great band names.)

“The extremes” would be the natural extension of a spectrum that runs from one “side” of the political viewpoint to the other. In this paradigm, one might be either an extreme conservative or an extreme liberal. However, to label the current governmental dysfunction as a problem with extremism does a great disservice to rational conservatives and liberals, some of whom are quite extreme in their perspective, and yet who are legitimately trying to lead a nation, or a state, or a county, or a town.

Good governance is possible, even by a group that represents a range of viewpoints. People with varying political perspectives can manage to govern, if (and only if) they do so reasonably, rationally, sensibly. And good governance can be achieved in that mix, even if some of those perspectives are on the extreme ends of the conservative-to-progressive spectrum.

No, the issue isn’t extremism. The issue is bizarreness. (Is that a word?) Public officials say truly bizarre things, and we actually listen to them. Celebrities carry more political weight than elected officials. A politician will state as fact something that is totally untrue and nobody challenges it. Or they will articulate a position that just weeks earlier they were completely opposed to, and we do nothing but nod at them.

Our short attention spans are mixed into the 24/7/365 news cycle and multiplied by technology that allows instantaneous, global connectedness. It’s just weird.

A sign of the times – there is a tumblr called “OfficialsSay the Darndest Things” that is just pages and pages of bizarre quotes uttered by politicians. To be sure, many of them are hilarious, but that’s beside the point.

You know, my mom used to tell me all the time, “If you can’t say something nice, just don’t say anything at all.” Maybe we could adapt that for today’s political discourse. “If you can’t say something that isn’t bizarre, just don’t say anything at all.” Never mind that the cameras are on, that the tweeters are drooling for a quote, that everyone’s a journalist now. Just Stop. Talking. Nonsense.

Of course, you and I need to stop listening to it, too. It’s like a pimple; if you keep picking at it, it will just get worse and worse. Probably get infected. We need to stop paying attention to politicians who say bizarre things and maybe they will wither up and go away from lack of spotlight.

Or maybe we can stop responding to them as if they are rational people with a legitimate perspective. Maybe we just need to look at them funny and say, “That’s just bizarre. You cannot possibly expect me to take you seriously,” and move on.

Honestly, I have so much that I’d like to discuss about the state of affairs in our nation. I enjoy that kind of stuff. Or I used to, anyway. Back before the bizarre.