Monday, October 31, 2016

Election day 2016 - Post #1

In this final week before the Fall 2016 election, many are weary. It has been a long, bitter campaign season, and the anxiety and animosity have just worn us out.

Nevertheless, the right to vote in the United States must not be taken for granted. There are many in our world who do not enjoy this right, and many others for whom voting is not free and fair, but rather undertaken at some personal risk.

And so, as a pastor, I am pondering how to apply the tenets of faith to our U.S. political process. How does our faith intersect with the decisions we make as voters? Should we apply the Gospel? Should we look to Scripture for guidance? Should we ask, “How would Jesus vote?” Or is it better to leave our faith at home on voting day and just think as citizens of a democracy instead of as subjects in God’s Kingdom?

The way I see it, followers of Jesus ought to allow our faith to impact every part of our life, and that would include how we vote on election day. Christianity is a profoundly communal religion, meant to be lived together. The Bible is filled with guidance as to how people are supposed to live together in a way that is pleasing to God, a way of life that is characterized by love and grace, peace and justice, wisdom and truth. On an election day in the United States, we are as a community making important decisions about how we are going to live together, and what role our government will play in how that happens.

But another thought may even be more important for us to remember, especially in 2016.

Followers of Jesus ought to allow our faith to impact the way we treat people who may be voting differently than we do. In other words, “take care [your] spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side” (John Wesley). I have heard hateful things spoken about a number of candidates, many of the statements not only hateful but also false. To say such things is utterly incompatible with the teaching of Jesus. Our words ought to build others up, “give grace to those who hear,” because it is truly “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

In an especially brutal election cycle, the Church has a definite counter-cultural role to play. It may not be easy to serve as ambassadors of Christ in the current climate, but it is crucial that we do so.

(Note: This week I’ll be sharing more election-related thoughts here as we head toward election day.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's Noteworthy: Women in Leadership

I experienced two events over the weekend that I took for granted, but are actually very noteworthy. It is also noteworthy, I think, that I took them for granted. The two events were simple, routine ministry events. I did a wedding and sang at a funeral. That’s it, and the everyday-ness of them is an important part of their significance.

The wedding was held at another United Methodist church, and the pastor of that church graciously extended an invitation to me to preside. The funeral was also held at another United Methodist Church, and the pastor of that church similarly invited me to sing during the service.

(Side note: Neither was a previous church of mine, so we did not violate the UM policy about not returning to previous appointments.)

Here’s what I have realized is noteworthy about those two events – both of the lead pastors in these other congregation happen to be women. Now to me, and to United Methodists in general, this is no big deal. This is take-it-for-granted level stuff. Of course women are in leadership roles, and at every level of the church.

But in the mix of what passes these days for “public discourse” in America, the role of women in leadership happens to be a very big deal indeed. The current presidential campaign is shining a light on the topic, in fact. The sexist double standard that is being applied by many people is overt, easy to spot, and frankly appalling.

I am embarrassed and disgusted when I hear people dismiss derogatory, sexist language as just “locker room talk.” “Boys will be boys” is not a cute expression; it is stereotyping, demeaning, and contributes to a culture that excuses the abhorrent behavior of far too many men, far too often. Words matter, and cannot be minimized as being “only words.” There’s no such thing as “only words.”

Sometimes though, ugly words can yield a positive result. Of all that has happened this summer and autumn of 2016, one of the most profound has been the wave of women who have been empowered to publicly share their story (or stories) of being sexually assaulted. This was the silver lining to the otherwise dark cloud that was a recording of one man bragging to another about sexually assaulting any woman he wanted to at any time. Sexual assault statistics are staggering, and the women’s stories are dragging the issue to the surface, where it can be seen and confronted with honesty and righteous indignation.

What really gets me, though, is how many people are acting as if this phenomenon is a new thing, which is simply not true. Sexism was not invented in 2016. The objectification of women is not an innovation of this campaign season. A double standard has been applied to women in leadership roles for generations; why have so many people only just now discovered it?

I believe that our essential human unity is deeper than gender. I believe Scripture is quite clear about this point, in multiple stories. In fact I believe it is one of the foundational themes of Scripture, that ALL people, regardless of gender, are created in the divine image, loved without condition, and promised an abundant and everlasting life.

Which is why those two every day, ordinary ministry events last weekend were so noteworthy.  I experienced the excellent leadership of two pastors, both of whom happen to be women. There are denominations in which the gifted leadership of Lori and Laura would not be welcomed, simply because they are women. Likewise, there are people in America who think being a woman disqualifies a person from being president. There are people in our fair city who criticize a woman’s appearance when they disagree with her ideas (which rarely (if ever) happens to a man, for some reason).

So I’d like to take a minute to intentionally celebrate the leadership of two strong, gifted, smart, visionary, gracious, and Spirit-filled pastors, colleagues, and friends who just happen to be women. Please know that I would never dare take you for granted. You are awesome!

Maybe one day, after every glass ceiling has been shattered, after women receive equal pay for equal work, after women leaders are the norm rather than the exception ... maybe then it won't be noteworthy any more. But that day has not yet arrived. So everyone take note! 

Let it be known that Reverend Lori Lampert and Reverend Laura Murphy are amazing leaders in the church, and it is humbling to serve with them as a colleague in ministry.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

An Opportunity to Change the System

This morning, I submitted the following to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding a proposed rule change for the payday/title loan industry:
It is a question of justice, and lives are at stake. People who get caught in the cycle of debt that is perpetrated by the payday/title loan industry are victims of an unjust, unethical, and obviously predatory system. Reform of this system is imperative.
 A “full-payment test” before approving a loan is a common sense rule that would prevent countless numbers of people from entering into the cycle in the first place. I encourage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to please implement this rule.
 Furthermore, the rules for refinancing existing loans need to be reformed to make that practice much more difficult. Creating the conditions in which a customer has no choice but to refinance or even take out another loan to cover the first is the stated business model for many lending companies. This is, frankly, reprehensible.
 Families caught in the debt trap are driven deeper and deeper into desperate poverty by unethical business practices that are currently legal in our nation. I hope that the CFPB will hear their voices, and act to rectify the situation. It is a question of justice, and lives are at stake.
The public comment period ends October 7th, and I encourage you to add your call for justice to mine.

You may do so by clicking this link - CLICK THIS

You can read a summary of the proposed rule changes here - CLICK THIS

It is a question of justice, and quite literally, lives are at stake.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Who Ya Rootin' For?

I have for the past two years had a team to root for in the MLB playoffs. And this year, I’m happy that my Royals were at least in the mix for a while. But alas, their season is over.

So now, with the Royals and the Cardinals both sitting out the post-season, I’m back to my traditional method of choosing a team to root for - team salaries. When I’m not rooting for a particular team, I have looked at the roster salaries of the playoff teams, and rooted for the one spending the least. (Source:

Realizing, of course, that “least” is a relative term. The lowest playoff team salary is (only) $98 million, enough money to feed, clothe, house, and educate … well I don’t know how many but a whole lot of people, and for quite a while.

So with that said, here’s the list:

American League:
Cleveland - $98 million
Toronto - $140.6 million
Baltimore - $147.9 million
Texas - $161.2 million
Boston - $199.9 million

National League:
New York - $130.6 million
Washington - $146.7 million
Chicago - $167.4 million
San Francisco - $171.5 million
Los Angeles - $253.6 million

So basically, I’ll be rooting for Cleveland to beat New York in the World Series this year.

The American League total is $747.6 million. The National League total is $869.8 million. The total payrolls of all ten playoff teams is a staggering 1 billion 617 million 400 thousand dollars. That’s just the PLAYOFF teams, remember.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are spending more on their payroll than Cleveland and New York combined. The Dodgers spent more this year on just position players (meaning: excluding pitchers) than 26 other teams spent on their entire payrolls.

The New York Yankees spent $227.9 million dollars this year (second highest in all baseball), for the privilege of missing the playoffs. The Detroit Tigers spent $199.5 million to do the same.

So it goes.

As usual, whenever I do this little exercise, I end up feeling very conflicted. I love baseball. It is America’s pastime. It is the balance of team and individual, of mental and physical, grace and strength. I love it.

But holy moly, do we ever spend a lot of money on it!

Anyway, go Indians!