Monday, December 25, 2006

The Promise of Christmas

"Peace on earth, and good

will upon those whom God's

favor rests."


Please, God, let it be, and soon.

Happy Christmas - and

"God bless us, everyone."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Swaddling and Sore




The biblical scholar in me knows better.

The King James Version of our sacred canon is rife with problems, too many to count really.

In fact, I wasn't even raised on it too much. The Revised Standard Version was the text my father used with great zeal, not unlike how I have sought to champion the newer translations of our time.

But there are some texts that, while my head knows and can exegete them one way, my heart knows them another.

One is Psalm 23. It is a remarkably pastoral psalm, and I can teach it from the NRSV perspective with great confidence (thanks to Walter Harrelson, my Hebrew Bible professor, otherwise lovingly and fearfully known as "Yahweh"), but when my heart is broken, or in need of care, or, when I'm with those who are unsure if they will even have a tomorrow, there is only one version emerging from the heart -



Psalm 23
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.



The same can be said of the Christmas Story found in Luke 2. Yes, I know the textual problems. But what my heart learned as a boy, and what the text says in the more contemporary settings are too divergent.

For this particular Advent, and, as it transitions into Christmas, my heart leans toward ancient words. And, even if problematic, I get it. I understand the problems, but that does not negate the overall truth.

The NRSV reading of Luke 2.7-9 says:

Luke 2.7-9
7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

The King James -

7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

Whatever it is you think or feel about these texts, I wonder what being "sore afraid" in the presence of God looks like anymore. See, the Good News of Jesus birth was good news only for those who longed to be set free - from oppression, from their sin, from the principalities and powers that marginalized.

But the Gospel is bad news for everyone else.

The time from reckoning has come. The Realm of God is begun, and it has in all things, a helpless child born to a young, unmarried woman, in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem? Are you kidding me? Can anything good come from there?

One of the great problems we have with Christmas is that we've lost our capacity to be "sore afraid," as were the shepherds, until - the first Christmas greeting was offered by the angelic hosts, "Do not be afraid."

The collision of the Divine with the world should make us quake in our boots still.

Does it for you?

Does the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes still make you sore afraid?

The day it doesn't anymore, I'm in trouble.

Friday, December 15, 2006

War Games

The following is an email exchange between Sarah and me.

I'm a big fan of hers.

She's a PK, like me, and when she was in Memphis she occupied a seat in the very back of the sanctuary. I could always count on a word from her, via email, to encourage and challenge me. I've always had a sense that she and I are resonant spirits.

Now that she's moved, our contact is only through email, and she still challenges me. We have a continuing e-dialogue on matters of physical health and spiritual health.

It is with her permission that I share our most recent exchange.

Hi Johnny!

This is totally off-topic, but I’m in a county in South Carolina that prepares the few, the proud, the Marines and my neighbor is a Marine fighter pilot and I’m a life-long Doonesbury fan and I’ve gotten sucked into the blogs in the Sandbox, which are somehow attached to Doonesbury.

Some things stand out from these blogs – we have absolutely no idea what they are doing every day.

This war is unlike any other. It is more like inner city gang warfare than an occupying country rebuilding another country. And the news does not paint the story. The president (of course) does not paint the story.

These blogs – written by some very eloquent and talented writers – make the war close and real in a way CNN and even the split second news of the internet does not. I am shaken to my core by the things they say.

Another thing that seems to recur in their blogs is complaints about the inadequacy of their uniforms – never would have thought about it. But they must wear uniforms at all times – but that leaves them freezing sometimes. One guy purchases his own Under Armour underwear because it protects him from the fires he has to work in – but they constantly get stolen in the laundry. Things I never would have thought of –

The biggest thing that has changed for me is that these writers could be me – they seem liberal, they are educated, they are thoughtful, they are whimsical. They aren’t the redneck or thug, uneducated, super right-wing, NRA we love George W crew I thought they were.

And the President is going to enjoy Christmas before he makes any new plans for Iraq? How is that possible? These are real people he’s leaving over there – without access to a good beer for Christmas, a tacky holiday sweatshirt, or even a Silent Night for reflection – and he’s going to get through the holidays before he does anything? How is that possible?
Peace.
Sarah

_________

Hey Sarah,

Per usual, you prick the stuff of my soul.


This one is easy.
It's either one of three things.

One, W. believes he is the equivalent to the Old Testmament kings - that is, to be hand picked by God (which might actually be so since I'm fairly sure the voters didn't elect him, especially in 2000, and from what I've seen on the HBO documentary, "Hacking Democracy," he lost in '04, too), and that he need not have the mandate of the populus. Rather, he lives under the delusion that he has a Divine Mandate.

Two, this is the equivalent of a little boy playing with his army men (something I quite enjoyed as a boy, myself). But he's not playing with plastic army men, it's real, and he doesn't know how t
o end the game - except that he's too darned stubborn to quit.

Or Three, he's playing Stratego in re
al life, and stinks at it.

In an interview with ABC news, he's been quoted as stating that he "sleeps better than most people assume."
Nothing could communicate the disconnect of a Commander in Chief out of touch with the real life issues on the ground more than that.

God help us all.
JJ

_____

On his ranch-throne, where he sleeps well, and will prepare to celebrate Christmas, I wonder if his well-protected motorcade will pass any day laborers and think of the day laborers lured to the car bomb or how close that bomb was to one of our stations where American men and women were getting ready to start their day? This war is so real and he is so disconnected from the reality of the majority of the world. He has never known anything but privilege. He never fought war, he never worked hard to get advancement, get into school, make the grade, etc. He never had to work himself out of his own messes. And I think that is why he is able to continue to play with plastic army men – we are all disposable for him, just like everything else in his life has been. So he can restrict what the soldiers wear, what they eat and drink, and let chance and zealots determine how many more of them will die, and tuck himself into bed at night able to believe that they’re all proud to be serving their president. We’ve let our military fall into a position that will be virtually impossible to come out of cleanly. I think it’s a combination of all three – he’s pre-ordained to be the president, proudly leading the country through this troubling time and this fight against terror, but he doesn’t know a thing about strategy, the American soldier, or the American people. His disconnect is so severe he doesn’t even recognize the hand melting the little plastic army men is his own.

Do you also get the feeling that some of the problems we’re having in Iraq stem from W. trying to prove to Senior that he can do what his daddy couldn’t? And now that Senior’s understanding of the fine line he walked in 1991 has been proven true, do you think W is being a stubborn teenager who refuses to admit that he was wrong? I read something recently about the Bush clan’s need for loyalty – but how W. broke from daddy in bringing Rumsfeld along for the ride and in going back to Iraq. Could his inability to change course be a grossly over-blown example of my dad and brother stubbornly arguing over the proper way to (fill in the blank)?


He makes my stomach hurt.

Sarah

____________

Mine too, girl - Mine too.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Course Correction" Advent 2


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See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Malachi 3.1-4


My 5-year old, Jack, has a fascination, if not infatuation with GPS systems. His GG and Papa have these navigation systems in their vehicles and whenever he rides with them the first thing he asks is if "he can hear the lady give them directions."

Cute. Sure.

And when he rides in my car, which does not have a GPS, no problem, he becomes one himself.

"Daddy, I'm going to tell you about the miles," which means he's my GPS. And in the same voice inflection as "the lady," he tells me, if not orders me, to "proceed on the current road for .9 of a miles and then veer right."

Just what I need - one more voice telling me where to go!

This is what the prophetic messengers of Advent do - like spiritual GPS systems, they offer navigational guidance from where we are, to where we seek to go, and what we need to do to get there.

Like Malachi and the other prophetic voices of the Hebrew Scriptures, and, John the Baptist himself whose "voice cries out from the wilderness" - for us to "prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a highway for our God," Advent announces the perpetual truth of Christ's coming, but lest we be already made perfect, we, each of us, must enact a course correction to meet the Promised One of God.

And I'm talking about more than a simple veering to the right - The prophets tell us to do more than that - repentance, quite literally, means "turn around."

In the Christian Bible, Malachi is the last of the 12 great prophets, even the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures. The messenger's call for a course correction is one that, while necessary, is not easy.

Using terms like refiners fire and fullers' soap - we can't make the course corrections we need until we've come clean with those things that have perpetuated the life we've been living, and the road we've been traveling.

Do you remember crucibles in high school chemistry?

Under intense heat the moisture is evaporated away and you're left with the essential "stuff" of the substance.

In the crucible, and under the refiners fire - there is no fluff, there is no spin, there is no equivocation, there is no place to hide - all that is left is what it is. No more and no less.

The crucible holds truth, uncorrupted and pure.

It is from this place that course corrections can begin.

So, for this Advent, where are course corrections needed?

  • In our world and at our time, course corrections are not always embraced, because to change course means that we have to admit the one we were on wasn't the right one. Just ask the Iraq Study Group. Would the prophets of old have anything to say about this conflict that has now lasted longer than the whole of our engagement in World War II - something of note as we passed another "date which shall live in infamy" only last Thursday.
  • What could some time over the refiners fire do for this mess as our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and neighbors, volunteer to serve with honor and distinction while the "decider" who orders them into battle bows to the gods of pride, ego and Halliburton.
  • On this day when we think of "Peace," what course corrections need to be made in this conflict to reach it? What needs to happen in Darfur? What needs to happen in the land into which Jesus was born and violence reigns still between Palestinians and Israelis.
  • The Evangelical Right Wing is throwing a full blown conniption fit because Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota, and a Muslim, wants to place his hand on the Koran when he takes the oath of office. What's the problem? He's Muslim. This sacred text is the expression of his faith and the tool through which he lives with integrity. When is freedom of religion not freedom of religion. Look carefully folks, it's all over the place.
  • In the paper this past week, there appeared an article reporting that 2% of adults in the world possess 51% of the world's assets. Let's put the gods of the marketplace and capitalism in the crucible for the refiners fire and see what's left. I'm guessing you'll find some greed, insecurity, and lust for power still in the crucible when all's said and done.
  • In Virginia this past week, it was reported that the Vice-President's daughter and her partner are expecting a child. And because the Commonwealth will not acknowledge, much less, honor their covenantal relationship, her partner will not have any legal claim to the child she will help raise. And what of those of our sisters and brothers called of God to do extraordinary things but find that the Church will not credential and endorse their work because of their sexual identity. Let's put those over the refiners fire and see if there's anything left but fear and bigotry.

This Advent, let's put our own lives in the crucible and see what's left.

Over the refiners fire, we find not only what we're made of, but what impurities need to be burned away.

  • Fear
  • Selfishness
  • Addiction
  • Insecurity
  • Abuse (physical, mental, sexual)
  • Ego
  • Pride
  • Lust for Power

Advent calls us to come clean - and once clean - now we begin - the course correction is now possible, and not one moment before.

So, as I'm pulling onto my street with my human GPS in back seat, I hear "you have reached your destination."

I wonder if the little prophet in the family recognizes how right he is.

When we come clean, we can change our course, and when we change our course, this Advent, we can embrace the One who is come to set us free.

Even so, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Cornucopia of Thoughts This Thanksgiving Week

TOMKAT
Let me get this straight -this past weekend, as all hell is breaking loose in Iraq, the lead story in the press is that Scientology Boy and his new Stepford Wife sealed their nuptials with a "never-ending kiss" in an Italian castle.

Granted, I could care less that Tom and Katie are married - live and let live, I say.

But this disparity in press coverage highlights the continuing issue we live with - as long as we can approach the issues around war at our convenience, and not have it front and center all the time, our appetite for it will linger far longer than it should. It already has.

_____
O.J.
Late word today that Fox has canceled the O.J. "special" "If I Did It," and the follow up book of the same title. From a network that enjoys the sensational, I'm really surprised they canned it. One can only imagine the pressure brought to bear on NewsCorp and its affiliates. That's a good thing. Besides, I don't need the Juice to tell me how he might have done we already know how he did it.

______
It's called "Thanksgiving," Stupid
Get ready, every weatherperson will do it. As they give us the Thanksgiving Day forecast, they won't call it "Thanksgiving." No, they'll call it "Turkey Day." Turkey day is not a holiday. Thanksgiving is. How can we be in a posture to give thanks when we fail to use the right name because we'd rather be perceived as cool? Of course, one usually does not put the words "cool" and "weatherperson" in the same sentence unless talking about the forecast.
______

That's it for me until next week. Time to be with family. To give thanks for our life together and the stories to be remembered. May your Thanksgiving offer you the same.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Definition of an Idiot - Or, "Prove to Me, Sir, that You're Not a Bigot"

This piece of work is Glenn Beck.

He recently "interviewed" Rep-elect Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota.

The gentleman from Minnesota is also Muslim, a first for the House of Representatives.

So Mr. Beck, in his interview makes the following statement:

"What I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."

How is this guy even on the air? CNN should be ashamed.

Between him, and the propaganda machine over at Fox - make no mistake who the terrorists are.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Vlog - "Beliefs or People?"

SightSpeed does not yet have embed capacity. So until then, hit this link to another videopost.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Vicarious Life

I cringe when I witness parents living vicariously through their children.

You know, parents at their kids' sporting events literally losing their minds.

Coaches who talk to kids like they're pros. And coaches who belittle their own children (who happen to play the high profile positions -hmm, wonder how that happens) to the point of everyone's discomfort, because they dropped the ball or missed the tackle.

Parents whose praise to criticism ratio is slanted way too far on the latter end of the scale.

Parents who can't let kids be kids because they themselves haven't quite yet grown up, or there's something that has passed them by in their youth that cannot be relived or reclaimed no matter how hard they try.

I don't know, maybe the parent longs still to be validated -

or young, again -

or somehow have their spawn reach glorious heights not because they did in their own, but precisely because they didn't.

I never really understood it.

But when I look into the eyes of my 14 year old - I find it difficult to not think of my life at his age. An age that was very, very good. A time of adventure, quite a bit of fun, discoveries of varying kinds to pursue (now would be a good time to remind you that I am a P.K.).

When I look at Andrew I have to be careful that I'm looking at a young man I've loved and reared, and not myself when I was 14.

I find that I want him to know the kind of things I did (well, some of the things I did), the music I listened to (and still do), my performance in school , and when the time comes, what it means to be serious about a girl - and, when the time comes - what answering God's call for your life looks like -

And I have to ask myself , "why?" Why do I want him to know this?

So that he'll like me? No.

So that he'll think his old man is cool? There's nothing I could say to help make that happen.

Within each of us is the longing to share our stories - it's our motivation in the sharing that is the variable.

And maybe that's the thing - what I need to do is not convince him I was 14 once, but be ready, when the time comes, to share my life with him (in all it's faults and failures) at his initiation, and let him be the man he's becoming.

Monday, November 06, 2006

VideoBlog Initiation

The link below will take you to my first video blog post using Sightspeed.

I can't tell if it's that I think the whole thing is cool, you know, that maybe life is actually becoming like Star Trek and we'll all communicate by seeing and talking to one another even though we're far apart - or, maybe it's just one more technofad that will come and go.

Either way, now that I'm in this thing called the "blogosphere," I might as well use what's out there to do or say something.

So, give it a look - pretty boy I'm not. But I think there will be times to use it.

And, if ever you want to video chat, hit the SightSpeed Icon and if I'm online we can talk, face to face.

VideoBlog Post 1

Thursday, November 02, 2006

KO's Special Comment - "Who Owes the Apology?"

In the wake of diversionary tactics that often cloud what is, in the end, essential in matters of determining the future of the republic,

the monopoly of power and it's perpetuation at any cost,

and finally, the debasement of all that is noble in democracy,

I offer this embed video of Keith Olbermann's Special Comment last night. It comes via YouTube.com and is offered in two parts.




Monday, October 30, 2006

Multi-Media Check In

O.k., folks, here's what will be the first of a perodic check on what I'm watching/listening to/reading.

Currently in my car cd changer -
  • The Who - Ultimate Collection
  • Greatest Hits of 1970
  • AC/DC - Back in Black
  • Kiss - Gold

On my Sirius Radio Channel
  • Standard Time
  • Jazz Cafe'
  • The Vault
  • Blue Collar Comedy
  • and yes, Howard Stern

In my bookbag
  • American Gospel - Jon Meachem
  • The Truth (with Jokes) Al Franken
  • Resurrecting Excellence - Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry - Gregory Jones & Kevin Armstrong
  • God's Politcs - Jim Wallis
  • A Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren

On my DVR Record List
  • Law and Order
  • - SVU
  • - CI
  • The Unit
  • The Daily Show
  • Countdown with Keith Olbermann
  • ER
  • My Name is Earl
  • The Office
  • and, until it gets cancelled, which will be any day now, Studio 60
  • Star Trek (original series re-released in HD)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Thoughts on a Saturday

Since I'm not preaching tomorrow, my weekly rhythm is off a bit. Usually at this time of day I'm "running" the script in my head. Seeing the moves (David Buttrick would be proud of me - no, probably not), and trying to bring the message alive in me.

Rest assured, if it ain't alive in me, it sure as the world won't be for you.

But today, my mind wanders on to other areas -

World Series -
Cardinals won, blah, blah, blah - there's a commercial running during the Series in which Tommy Lasorda is counselling a distraught fan who is quite literally up a tree and unwilling to come down. As he inquires to the woman below what the fella's problem is, she tells him that he's been up the tree since his team was eliminated from playoff contention. The point was to have him come down and "let's all go watch the World Series on TV." Of course, the guy up a tree is wearing a Cubs jersey - which means that he's been up that tree since, I don't know, maybe the first of June?

Cubs, Memphis Tigers, Democrats - I'm wondering if I'm being honest with myself about whether or not I exhibit masochistic tendencies.

-----

Tennessee's Marriage Amendment -
On the signs for those who are proponents of this Constitutional Amendment, is the phrase, "Protect Marriage." The implication, of course, is that if gay and lesbian people are in committed, covenantal, legal relationships, that straight people who are married might decide to switch teams? Is that it? The sum total of intelligence in this fear-mongered, homophobic effort to employ noble, to say nothing of sacred, language as a tool to discriminate is disgraceful. It's also a clever diversion from other issues. I'll address the issue of committed relationships in a future post.

Politics -
I've exercised my right to vote early. It's done. Don't pat me on the back, mind you, I'm always motivated to steer clear from my actual polling place where I threw my fit a few years ago. I look at it this way - my candidates' winning or losing is not the imperative here, retaining my right to complain is, because I've exercised my duty as a citizen.

Will you?

Go vote, please.

Go vote for the candidate and party of your choice - but go vote.
-

I received a flyer in the mail today from the Republican Party that said that there is some one from the Middle East trying to call someone in Memphis to set up a terrorist attack, and, thank God for the Republicans, they're going to stop it. But, if you vote for the Democrats (too late, already did), you can all but guarantee that attacks will happen.

To that I'll say this - whatever remains of this republic when my grandchildren are grown may well be measured by those who refuse to allow terror, fear, and the politicization both to divide a nation. How dare anyone suggest that one group of Americans will protect you and the other group doesn't give a damn. This is, I fear, the Civil War of the 21st Century.

Prophetic Imperative -
Some sisters and brothers who come to my congregation and then leave it, and others I have served in the past question me sometimes about my overt declaration of issues related to Church and Society, and government in particular.

"Isn't the role of the preacher to be neutral?" Nope.

And any clergy who tries to play it down the middle is disavowing that to which they have made promises.

The issue that drives any clergy person, as one who leads a congregation, is to hold the line on what is pastoral and what is prophetic. Too few of us want to go the way of the prophet. Life is a whole lot easier if we can create an atmosphere were we all get along.

The prophet isn't Democrat or Republican.

The prophet looks at absolute power's absolute corruption, and is obliged by the God who called them to say, in the words of the prophet Nathan to King David - "You are the Man."

There is no joy or satisfaction in that. It is as requisite to my call as is the making of disciples for Jesus Christ.

It must be done.

The sad part, of course is that history's track record of dealing with those who confront power isn't favorable for the prophet.

Either you stand firm in the knowledge that you are faithful, or you can always join the Cubs fan up in that tree and sulk.

There are days when that is the tempting choice.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Confluence of Mentors

men·tor (mĕn'tôr', -tər) n. A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

Sunday before last was surreal. I don't know if the planets were in a particular alignment, or what, but it's a day I'll not soon forget.

In the congregation sat mentors from across the span of my life. It's not like they planned it. None of them live in Memphis, they found themselves in the city for different reasons, but at 11 a.m. on that Sunday, they found themselves in the Saint John's sanctuary.

I knew my folks were going to be there. They had been keeping our boys for the previous week during the kids' fall break. They were in town to celebrate my middle son's birthday.

For my mother, she's mentored me in ways she probably can't appreciate. But when it comes to church, I think of standing next to her and singing alto to great hymns of the faith. To this day, when we sing such hymns, I'm a child again standing next to her.

And then there's my dad. As much as mentor as parent, I've always found the time to be in conversation with my Dad, especially growing up, as a true gift. When you have theological questions aplenty, and you have a theologian in the house, there's much to talk about.

In high school, those conversations usually came at about 11 p.m., right after we had watched "All in the Family" reruns on Channel 3. Archie raised serious theological questions. I needed somebody to process those questions with me, and dad was a constant.

Seated next to him, an unexpected surprise, was Rev'd Dr. Jerry Carr.

My father and Jerry served together in Mayfield when I was a boy. I count Jerry as a mentor for many reasons. First, he was the first preacher, other than my father, who totally captivated me. His mastery of the English language is something, that, to this day, I could only hope to aspire. Together with dad, Jerry confirmed me in May of 1975. Jerry's service to the church, these many years, harkens back to the day when the United Methodist connection was really more vital than it is now. Jerry and his wife, Dot, were visiting as they tended to some family business in the city.

As I looked out from the pulpit and saw the two "Jerry's" seated together, two of the most influential theological presences of my childhood and youth, two who have handed the mantle of their ministerial work to my generation, it was an humbling moment.

I was especially moved when, as he left, Jerry offered me words that sunk deep.

Not, "Enjoyed it preacher." Or, "You did a good job today (I thought I really blew that morning)."

No, he looked me in the eye and said, "I'm proud of you."

I'm here to tell you - words matter.

But there was more - -

There, toward the back, on the lectern side, a familiar face, sitting with his mother.

- it was my seminary mentor, Harmon Wray.

I met Harmon in my 3rd year at Vandy. I had a Field Education requirement to meet, and as I browsed through the catalogue of opportunities, my eyes stopped on this one - "The Death Penalty Resistance Project of Tennessee."

Harmon was my mentor, my guide, my supervisor - my friend. He helped me hone a theological message around an issue I had always felt strongly about, but not a strong counter to the fear-mongering that those who believe that "fryin' the bastards" (actually heard that once, from a churchmember) is o.k. with God for the state to do.

Harmon comes to Memphis a couple of times a year. I always benefit from his presence. He was in town to participate in the book show. He is co-author of Beyond Prisons - A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System.

Just seeing him in the sanctuary is a reminder of my obligation to tell you that from a faith perspective, we cannot support the death penalty. Ever.

Through his mother, Celeste, a mentor in her own right, I was gifted a copy of his book. His inscription is as follows - "For my friend, Johnny, with appreciation for your intelligent, creative and faithful ministry." To have those words come from someone who's example in life judges my own, is a gift.

So, on this particular day - something happened. I was reminded of who I was, who I am, and what I'm called to be. All from this odd confluence of mentors in our sanctuary on October Sunday.

Of course, there are other mentors in our lives, too. Aren't there?

Isn't true that everytime we gather there are those whose lives and example give guidance to our own? I look out among you and I'm humbled by your witness, too.

This what is constant about the people of faith called the church. At any one time, as we look upon one another, we are reminded of the obligations and sheer joy of our discipleship. And we are called to do it, together.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Beg Your Pardon? You Stepped in What?

Just when you think it can't be any worse than it is, watch this.



Well - they did. And W. signed it. Done deal.

We have now officially codified as the norm the very thing this country fought to gain independence from in the late 1700's. Back when I originally wrote "King W.," in November of 2004, I guess I never really thought we'd let things go this far.

What's that old saying, "we become what we most depise?" Well for all of you faithful subjects of
W. the President,
be reminded, as John Dominic Crossan explains, "you can't have an Empire and a Democracy at the same time, at least not for long." So, you folks have a new song to sing - no longer "God Bless America," but - - -
God save the king.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

KO's Special Comment - "The Death of Habeas Corpus"

There was a time not too long ago, when I was amazed that this guy could keep his job at NBC. Given the recent law signed, I'm no longer worried about his job - I'm worried about him.

And as one who loves America's promise, I'm left to wonder - How much more is it going to take, people? How much more?

It Takes a Real Man to Say "I'm Lost."




October, 2006

More U.S. troops have died in Iraq this month than in any one month period over the previous two years.

Over 600,000 Iraqis have died in the war.

American Civil Liberties are now no longer at risk, they have been "legally" absconded through the "Military Commissions Act."

In a recent interview, the President said that Iraq could become like Vietnam - which means for him, I guess, that 55,000 more troops need to die, and God knows how many Iraqis, before we decide our mission is truly accomplished.

Of course, Vietnam comparisons really ought to be tough for George and Dick - They wouldn't know very much about that, would they?

Deferral in the face of personal involvement - they got that one cold.



As I lay awake in the wee hours this morning, it occurred to me that "stay the course" is just a geo-political way of never being able to say "I'm lost."

Having been in situations, more than once, when I was lost, and too damned proud to ask directions, whom did I get mad at?

My wife, of course -

who told me that I should just pull over and ask directions.

The problem with her "logic" is that it means I have to admit not only that I'm lost, but that I need the counsel of someone else to help get me out of the mess I've made for myself. A mess complicated even more by the fact that had I been honest about being lost many miles earlier, it wouldn't be so hard to get back where I need to be.

That makes sense, doesn't it?

But what do I do? Blame the person who points out the obvious with hope that we could get back on track.

Of course, I guess I'm taking my life into my own hands by confronting the guy who can declare me an "enemy combatant" and throw me into jail without charging me or giving me a chance to defend myself.

This is what we've come to?

For shame, America. For shame.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16.18


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"What Do You Want From Me?" - In Advance of Pentecost 19

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. - Mark 10.17-22

So, a guy comes up to Jesus and needs help.

What's new about that? Nothing, really.

How many of those Jesus healed approached him first, sought answers to their problems, and found them in him?

This guy, incorrectly labled as "the rich, young ruler" has an existential question of the most serious sort.

Now, it's too easy for us to excuse ourselves of his issues because truly, we really don't think of ourselves as "rich." And I guess in comparison to big business CEO's, we're not. But on wordly standards, we know such an argument will never wash.

Because we know something of God's preferential option for the poor - it is chronicled in the whole of sacred texts. It cannot be denied, and to attempt to, I believe, is heresy.

We also know that money, in itself, isn't a bad thing. See "Of Hearts and Treasures" for more on that.

So, what's the big deal here - how is it that someone who seeks Jesus' counsel - seeks freedom goes away "grieving," and what has that to do with us?

Everything, really.

Don't we all, in some way or another ask Jesus "what do you want from me?"

And his answer is one that leaves us grieving more than we'd ever allow ourselves to admit in front of fellow church folks.

As I read it, Jesus simply asks of me to divest myself of what ever it is that I employ to define me. And let's make no mistake about it - we all seek to be defined by something or someone that communicates who we are without our ever saying so.

Power, position, prestige are all one end of the spectrum.

On the other end you'll find the capacity to perpetually wollow in misery, the adoption of victimization as a way of life, and the impotency of nondoing that accompanies each.

This "rich" man didn't go away grieving because he was rich. He went away grieiving because he was unwilling to divest himself of what he thought made him who he was.

The hard truth is, there is no room in our lives for the radical nature of Jesus' Kingdom program without some serious divestment in every realm of life.

And that means, each of us knows the answer to the question, "what do you want from me?" before it ever comes out of mouths.

Jesus is just honest enough to give us the answer we don't want to hear.

Turns out, I know what it takes to be free, to be whole - I've been shown the way - but I've got to want to go there.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Count Me In

“Nothing says ‘I am ashamed of my government’ more than ‘Stewart/Colbert ‘08’" - Jon Stewart

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just Watch the Connection Work - In Support of First Church


The city of Memphis, and the Methodist family suffered a tremendous loss in the early morning hours of October 6. The national press has picked up the story of the fires and the scar left on downtown's historic legacy.

But as beautiful as that church building was, and it was a beauty - you just watch the character of the people, who actually are the church, and, the connection of "the people called Methodists," show what we're really made of.

I'm offering updates on Saint John's response to our sisters and brothers via email, and they are posted here.

Friday, October 6, 11:00 a.m.
Saint John's Family,


We join with our sisters and brothers at First United Methodist Church to grieve the loss of their historic building, but we stand firm with them, as a connectional entity, that the "people called Methodists" who worship on that corner in Memphis, will, by faith, persevere.

Let me give you an update on where things stand at the moment - We have communicated with Martha Wagley an offer for use of our facilities in any way we can be of help.

Their strong preference, however, is that they remain in downtown, and, if I were their pastor, I'd be much of the same mind. I have spoken with Rev'd John Holt, Asbury D.S., who is on the scene and informs me that the Cannon Center has offered their space for worship, and that is the most likely scenario for their gathering this Sunday. Bishop Wills is in route, and will be worshipping with the congregation this Sunday.

The official word from the connection is this - it is too early to know exactly what needs to be done, and in what sequence. However, in a few Sundays from now, the call to Conference is to hold a special offering for First Church, and we will abide.


The realities of their ministries, and now, those ministries' displacement, especially their food pantry and soup kitchen, will impact what we do on our corner, and that may be a challenge for us to meet. I believe, however, we will respond well.

In the meantime, let us be constant in prayer for our sisters and brothers, for those who are served by that community, and for the city of Memphis - all have suffered significant loss today. And as we have learned in our recent past, our response must be measured for the long term.

I'll update more when I receive more info.


Peace.
Johnny


Saturday, October 7, 12 noon

Folks,

I've received a contact from First UMC, and, as you may have heard by now, they will be worshipping at Cannon Center tomorrow.

They have called Saint John's, and requested some items to offer them help for tomorrow's service, and I have consented.
1. Offering Plates
2. Our Processional Cross
3. Paper Products for a reception following their worship

They have asked me to contact my membership to see if any would be willing to provide 1. Cookies, 2. Punch, 3. Muffins, 4. Fruit

This message is also going via phone to some of you. If you are willing to offer any of these things, they need to be at church tomorrow no later than 8:30 a.m., because they are coming by in the morning at 8:45 to pick them up.

In addition, they are inviting any and all Saint John's members to join them in the reception following the worship at Cannon Center.
I plan to go by there, and hope you will, too.

Let me also encourage you to be in our worship tomorrow at Saint John's as we celebrate the baptism of Herb and Marjorie's son, Vincent.

They are not thinking beyond Sunday - and I feel sure there will be continuing needs that we can help with - but, for now, let's help them with tomorrow's service.

Peace.
Johnny


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Revolutionary Forgiveness - Persisting in Integrity

During these days of confusion and peril -
  • the fog of war obscured even more by various "State(s) of Denial," (Woodward ought give me a little something for that one)
  • dumbed silence bordering on callousness on the issues facing the continent of Africa - Darfur, AIDS, etc.
  • the rush to rehab for any who screw up in public - or, for those whose secret violations are exposed (a little lesson for all who IM or email - if you type it and hit "send", it exists beyond you), and then you play the blame game (I don't know former Congressman Foley, but, O my, once busted, the litany of excuses comes straight out of the CYA playbook - "I'm an alcoholic, I was molested by my preacher as a child, I'm gay," - you have so got to be kidding me).
  • the continual lesson never learned that "it's not the crime that'll get you, it's the cover up," something Speaker Hastert seems to be having trouble with
  • Oh, and the ole standby that the Speaker is now employing, "The Democrats and the Clintons are out to get me," (see the following article here, and, of course, my recent post "Blame Bill, Everybody Else Does," newly revised with KO's special commentary ) - which, if true, means that Bill Clinton and his cronies made Mark Foley write sexually suggestive IM's to Congressional pages - wow, that's power!
  • So, yes, I'm being a bit cynical (Who? Me?), but seriously, how can we ignore the dailyness of what has become the truest of all nightmares - violence in our schools. How many times have we seen this? And isn't it true that when we have, there are two thoughts going through our heads all at once? - first, "What in God's name is this world coming to?" and two, "Thank God it wasn't my kids' school."
And with all the violence and politics and fear that pervades our culture, it is easy to miss the utter profundity of what is happening these days in a small Amish conclave in Pennsylvania. We dismiss their culture as being too simple, not in touch, unrealistic, unenlightened -

But have you been listening to these people since their world was violated by a mad man with a gun? Have you been sensitive to the revolutionary witness these simple people are offering to the world?

The media is caught between curiosity, confusion and consternation at the consistent message of this community that they forgive the man who brutally murdered their daughters (I should get a few points for the alliteration).

The curiosity arises from seeing how these "religious" folks are going to act when the "real" world collides with theirs.

The confusion stems from the consistency that what they say they believe they are enacting.

And the consternation flows from the judgment that their faithfulness reflects back on those of us who can't believe they are actually forgiving this man because we know we wouldn't if he had killed our children.

So, how are they doing it?

How are these people not only able to forgive, but actually doing it from the moment they discovered that their world was never again to be the same?

Easy folks, it really is. They are able to forgive in this moment because they know no other way to be. Forgiveness and reconciliation is practiced at the foundations of their communal life. It is a part of their every day.

It doesn't rise up when something awful happens, it just is.

And from these simple people, we find a sophistication of their theology that is woven into ours, but too often rings hollow as church rhetoric and not integrated into our very being -

they are able to forgive this tormented soul who robbed them of their most precious gift because they practice forgiveness.

It's just that simple.

It is revolutionary.

It is radical.

As radical as a man on a cross who offered forgiveness to the very ones nailing him to it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mindfulness - [From the Archives - 2/12/02]

It must how I’m wired.

But waking up in the morning is a struggle - always has been.

And it doesn’t matter what time I awake, how much sleep I get (assuming I’m not in one of my periodic insomniatic spells), I literally have to fight for consciousness.

When I was a teenager, my parents realized quickly, “Johnny is not a morning person.”

As an adult, a husband and father, my family has learned that I’m not really able to respond to anything until I’ve had an infusion of caffeine. Now I’m sure there’s something about my lifestyle that exacerbates my “condition.” But there’s something about this fight to awaken that really frustrates me, especially when I see and live with people who bounce of out of bed whistling a jolly tune and glad to greet the day.

Man, they make me sick!

It is that struggle for consciousness that many of us share. Some of that struggle is not physical. For far to many of us, it is a spiritual struggle to be awake in the moment.

Several years ago I was gifted with the book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

The gist of the book, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is around the concept of mindfulness. That is, as we go through life, as we go through each day, as we go through the present moment, there exists the capacity to be fully aware of ourselves and those around us, including God - especially God.

To be fully aware, to be fully alive in each moment enables us to embrace it. Calling upon Buddhist teachings, Kabat-Zinn says,

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. It we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.
In any moment there is the potential to know fully what is eternally true.

That is, in each moment there is God revealing God’s self to us.

But are we awake to see it, to know it? Part of the problem we have is that sometimes we prefer to stay asleep than to be sensitive to God’s presence. Sure, we desire, even demand God’s presence in our moments of pain and grief. But being in God’s presence brings God's call to make a specific response.

Yes, God’s presence is a gift.

But in the economy of God, no gift ours to own.

All gifts are meant to be shared.

Too many of us live dull lives.

No, I don’t mean boring (although that might apply). We are dulled to the promise of each moment. We are asleep to the capacity of living out our purpose each day. We miss so much each day because we are not living into “mindfulness.”

In the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus, time and again there comes this word, “watch, stay awake, be ready, for you do not know the day or hour the Son of Man is coming.”

That’s right, we don’t.

And if we’re not awake to the moment, we never will.

But the answer to this riddle is not hard to understand, it is just is difficult to live. The Son of Man is coming in every moment. That is the cosmic nature of the Divine.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we understand that constancy of God as hesed, “loving, steadfast presence.”

Being the Star Trek fan that I am, I’m reminded of Spock’s mantra “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”

Every moment, and I do mean every moment - is ripe with infinite ways of knowing God. There are infinite ways to be aware of the One we call Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.

So wake up!

Be mindful!

The God who has made you and claims you seeks your attention.

Be open to what God is revealing and leading you toward.

Oh, and in the words of Spock, “Live long and prosper.”

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Spanked!

Vols - 41
Tigers -7


"Thank you, sir, may I have another."*

*"Animal House" reference - but not the ones I really feel like using right now.

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Oh Billy, Billy Billy......."*

*Caddyshack reference

Oh yes, I was there.

And "magic" doesn't capture it. Maybe "transcendent" does.

We beat the NFL's MVP.

"So we have that going for us, which is nice..."*

And for a moment, albeit a brief one - there was numbed silence from the legion in Orange, where once there was obnoxious stupidity.

Once upon a time, as a young teen, before I ever moved to Memphis, I was a fan of UT.

Well, I don't know, maybe more an acquaintance than a fan, but I did own some orange attire.

Back when we lived at Malesus, a church member would take a couple of the guys in the youth group to Knoxville to watch a game. I was among them a couple of times.

But as the Apostle Paul so eloquently states, "when I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child...when I became a man, I gave up childish ways."

The story of my conversion to Tiger Blue is found here.


C'mon - Tigers - nobody thinks you can do it again.

But I do - just "Be the ball."*

Hope springs eternal. Bring it, boys!

"Just a Cinderella boy, Augusta Georgia, I think he has a nine iron..."*

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Moral Issue of Our Time

Per usual, the comfortable, wealthy church is late to the party when it comes to profound moral issues.

This one is not about politics - it's about humanity, and the basic nature of any and all world religions to tend to the least of these.

What will it take? How many more will be killed?



Blame Bill, Everybody Else Does (REVISED 10/3 with KO Commentary)

I have found the answer, my friends. Thanks to Fox "News," I have that for which I sought all my life - the ultimate excuse.

That ubiquitous entity responsible for all things that are wrong -
  • in my life,
  • my relationships
  • my church
  • local, state and federal governments
  • the world
  • for the rover crashing on Mars a few years ago (apparently, there was a math problem)
  • for "Mission:Impossible III" underperforming at the box office (cause heaven knows it wasn't that freak show of a lead actor that had anything to do with it)
  • for Memphis losing to UCLA in the Great Eight last spring
  • for 9/11
  • for Jay Leno getting David Letterman's job
  • for gas prices being so high (but strangely falling like a rock just weeks before election day...hmmm)
  • For "Law and Order" moving to Friday night instead of staying on Wednesday where it belongs
  • for Katie Couric going to CBS (which is really just fine by me)
  • for the war in Iraq
  • for Kathie Lee Gifford, nuf said.
  • for World War II
  • for why people watch such idiotic shows as "American Idol" and "Survior"
  • for the Civil War
  • for why I'm overweight and hypertensive
  • for why people don't take their clothes to dry cleaners anymore (o.k., this one may be true)
  • for Watergate
For every problem I have had or the world will ever have has one commonality at root, and I'm so glad I can have someone else to blame for everything under the sun than to take any responsibility for myself, thereby perpetuating the illusion that I'm above it all.

That's right, folks - It's Bill Clinton's fault.

That SOB, I knew it.

Here's KO's take -

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Hard Thing

Psalm 42.1-6
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

There are days in ministry when too much time is spent doing "church work."

There's probably too many of those days.

Sequestered in an office, albeit a cool one (since I've moved down the hall, at last) where it's quiet, more of a study than an office, really - there I am, doing work, to be sure, but not always work that in the end matters worth a darn.

Then there are other days when I'm hardly in my office, because the role of ministry has me intersecting the real life issues of those I'm called to shepherd.

Today has been one of those days.

There is a couple in my congregation who is doing what I can only call "the hard thing" today. The reality that the addition to their family - that addition for which prayers have been offered, and thanksgivings shared, is not going to reach its potential lies before them.

Sadness.

Heartbreak.

Anger.

All those emotions are at play.

And I'm just talking about mine.

They are showing remarkable courage today, and in the moments of extremity in the lives of others, suddenly the pettiness of those pestering things in my own life are rightly judged.

I have personal experience with life's potential not realized. That, together with previous pastoral encounters over the years, informs me of what cannot be avoided. And so, when it was clear what was going to happen and how, I shared the only words I knew to offer,
I wished there was some way to tell you that today was going to be easier than it's going to be, but I can't. It is by its very nature intolerable and unbelievable and yet unavoidable. Today will be one of the hardest days you'll ever experience, and although I can't tell you the whys of how things are as they are, there is one thing I cling to and offer you through this, God is crying with you today. Of that, I have no doubt.
The role of the church and of those of us authorized to lead it is too often occupied, if not held captive by the "busy-ness" of the work. And as often as I complain about that, I am aware that it may be that there are days we need to immerse ourselves in such affairs. Maybe such days serve as buffers between the "hard things" that are unavoidable.

June of 2007 will conclude the 20th year since a bishop appointed me to a church to serve as pastor(for pension purposes, I have to wait until 2009 to count 20, but that's another post), and during that time, sprinkled across the years, there are hard things to be remembered. To that number I've added one today, and through them all, each horrific in their own way, I've discovered one enduring truth about the faith.

The measure of faith in God's presence is not the illusion that we are somehow immune or exempt from "the hard thing." The measure is the realization, once we've endured, of how, without God's presence operative in our lives and in that situation, that we wouldn't have endured at all.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"God Is Biased" Pentecost 14

The following is my sermon from Sunday last. It is based upon the lectionary readings from Proverbs, James and Mark.

There was some signficant response from this sermon, so I bring to this forum for any who may find value in it.

It is tied to my post from Monday "Of Hearts and Treasures."


There are some audio problems that are related to my wireless mic, and are not issues in the recording or playback.



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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

KO's Special Comment on 9/11 - "This Hole in the Ground"

KO again.

Not to be missed.

You don't have to like him - I find his courage remarkable, and his skill to communicate something to admire and worthy of emulation.

My previous posts on KO reveal my appreciation for his skill. But on this day, it is his keen, clear insight that is so poignant.

As a linguist, I think he's masterful. I'm left wondering whether to shout "Amen, brother," or "O my God, I can't believe he said that," or, to hearken back to my Western Kentucky roots, "Holy Shit!"

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 - Five Years On

[Jesus said,] "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you." Matthew 5.38-47 from THE MESSAGE

My American Flag waves outside my front door today. It reminds me of what is best about us. It's far too easy to remind us about the worst.

There are moments when my "lover's quarrel" with my government must stand down. Today is one such day.

And while I know there will be efforts to make political hay today by those whose agendas are less than noble, I will not abide.

Today is about something more.

On this day of solemn remembrance, as we recall extraordinary heroism and courage, let us not become what any ememy seeks to make us. Rather, let us be more than the instinctive response that revenge seeks to continually prod.

I don't need video replay of the day. My inner clock knows what today is, and that sick feeling in my stomach has returned. It is the reminder of injury to the soul of the place I call home. But what am I to do with that?

Could it be that the "path to victory," whatever that means, truly only lies in prayers to be offered for those who would do us harm? Is that not what Jesus is saying?

I'm not sure I like it, but those of us who claim Jesus as Lord can't ignore it either.

Or, maybe that's the problem, we continue to ignore it for the sake of holding on to our rage.

One last thought. I can't think of today without thinking now of those whose honor and duty have them serving and dying on a land far away and I keep looking at that picture of the World Trade Center burning and wondering to myself if our sons and daughters' sacrifice today has anything to do with that picture.

And I know the answer.

I think we all do, now, and probably always did.

And somehow, we can't get out of the mess without making it worse.

Is that the definition of tragedy?


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Of Hearts and Treasures

But, in the present state of mankind, it [money] is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death! John Wesley "The Use of Money"

Today I preached about a biased God, and this is a passage from Wesley's sermon on the role of money in the lives of Christians.

A God whose preference for the poor is undisputed. 3000 verses deal with the poor. Even for the literalists among us, that's a number that can't be ignored.

Stack those up against the verses demanding obligations of following restrictive doctrines, or what Jesus says about being gay (not a damn thing). Stack what ever it is you use to put "moral" issues on the forefront of the agenda (especially in an election year), and bring them to the table.

Please, stack all those up and bring them to me and then lay them alongside God's concern for the widowed and orphaned.

Please. I dare you.

And what you'll find is a real moral issue -

A God, who, through the prophets, reminds us again and again that the measure of how faithful the people of God are can be tested against how it treats the least among us.

A God, who through Jesus, made it clear that the least and the last hold the place of honor in the Realm of God.

The temptation for any of us is to think that if God is biased toward the poor, and I'm not poor (and most of us in this country are remarkably rich by world standards), does that mean that somehow God does not love me in the same way?

Today I commented that I believe it to be true that God accepts us just as we are. But once accepted, God expects us to take upon ourselves the things that matters most to the Divine.

The reading from James for this day talks about faith being dead without works. It also talks about the distinctions we make on our sisters and brothers relative to their perceived wealth.

Too often we water all this down to "poor in spirit." I think that's a cop out. Is there poverty of spirit? Sure.

But what Scriptures indicate the issue is focuses upon the abuses of power we exert over the other with the common resources of creation. That power base is directly related to our accumulation of those resources. We make commodities to be traded and hoarded of those resources we all need in order to live well, and our financial capacity to by in and "own" trumps our Divine obligation to share what is, by all accounts, not really ours in the first place.

Maybe that's why we spend far too much time on a false morality because if left to follow the one that God has laid out for us, it may exact more of what we think is "ours" than we'd like to admit.

So, if God is biased, should not that bias become our own?

Friday, September 08, 2006

KO - One More Time

I'm not going to make a habit of this, but Keith Olbermann is simply on a roll right now. And he brings into high relief the very issue that faces us. On one hand, you have fear, both that which is legitimate and engineered, at an "enemy" that would do us harm.

There is no question about the existence of the enemy.

On the other, you have the response to the fear - both the legitimate and engineered. And herein lies the rub. When such fear is manipulated for political advantage and not for the good of the whole, I dare say it lies darn close to treason.

So, by all means, let's forsake what defines us and become what we most despise, shall we? That's the tack of the current administration. Who needs the enemy to take our quality of life and freedom away when we can do that to ourselves?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

You Say "To-may-to," I Say "To-mah-to," You Say "Alternative Questioning Methods", I Say "Torture," Let's Call the Whole Thing Off!

When I was a kid, my friend, Mark, would drive me crazy.

See, he never lost at any game we'd play. Ever.

You might say, "he didn't like to lose." Who does?

You might say, "he's just that good at whatever we played."

In which case, I'm a sore loser, and should just get over it.

I say, "he changed the rules as he played so that he was always right."

Oh yes he did.

So, after a while, I just didn't want to play anymore.

Why bother?

The game no longer mattered if Mark's victory was insured based not upon our common understanding of the game being played, but the contrived rules created "on the fly" to serve his advantage.

Yesterday, the President gave a "declassification" speech, in which he admitted to that which has been reported for months but never acknowledged. That being, the CIA has been holding terror suspects in secret prisons. He never uttered the word "torture," but he did give that "wanted: dead or alive" attitude when he used the words "alternative questioning methods."

And then, he had the audacity to push Congress into the passing laws making what this Administration has been doing legal, which makes the point, doesn't it? It hasn't been!

Shock.

The inevitable counter is that people like me are stuck in "pre-9/11" thinking.

And they're right. Yeah, I'm stuck in that 1791 Bill of Rights thinking.

And this is whole point.

The courageous thing is to live up to the ideas that define us, rather than let those who would do us harm redefine our realities.

Why, in God's name, do we become what we most despise?

From the standpoint of the Christian faith, the same holds. How is it that we can so easily relegate our faith to what happens on Sunday and not understand it's mettle is tested by what we live with throughout the rest of the week?

As an American, as a Christian, when is torture o.k.? How does that make sense. Ever.

What, in my Christian faith, makes that o.k.?

Is it expedient? Sure.

Is it beneath us? Absolutely.

He is credited as being a "man of principle," I'm wondering which principle he's keeping.

“It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.” Adlia Stevenson


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Kill Me Now

Rebels 28
Tigers 25

So, Ole Miss has to rely on "fumbleruskey" to pull one out. Nice.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Weblog Re-Fit

The few of you who read me regularly will notice changes in my blog format. The new version of Blogger affords some customizing options that I'm taking advantage of to pursue color schemes and the layout that is more to my liking.

And yes, that's a Tiger thing.

You will also notice, more and more, a continual use of embedded video and audio in postings.

I will only do so when what's being implemented is making a point.

I take as given that most of us have either DSL or Broadband. For those with dialup, sorry. Be patient.

I welcome comments, critiques, and things you'd like to see on the blog either of my work or more of who I am (although it is hard to imagine I've not done plenty to let you know that).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Murrow Among Us, Thank God!

Below is a stream of Keith Olbermann's comment on the recent speech given by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, that those who would dare offer dissenting voices in the face of government decisions, particularly those of a military variety - are either "intellectually or morally confused." And, that they are not unlike those who saw no real threat from Hitler in the 1930's, with history having labelled them "appeasers."

This is one of those rare moments when a commentator does what a commentator, living in a country where freedom of the press and freedom of speech rate number one on The Bill of Rights, should do.

This is not about political party - it really isn't.

It's about what power, unchecked, unchallenged, becomes -always.

Among the absolutes of the human condition, this is one.

There is also a theology to dissent. It is not meant to injure. That's way too easy. Rather, it is meant to confront power, where power is abused to separate God's children one from another.

Dissent was the role of the prophet - the role of Jesus - the role of the first Christians - a role played well by Christians until Constantine made Christianity the religion of the state, and we haven't been the same since.

It is the role of any who lovingly hold the other accountable.

It's Methodist, for God's sake. Or, at least it was.

It's at least Wesleyan.

I don't know KO's religious leanings, and I don't care.

But this translates well into the citizenships I hold.

Too often it becomes cliche', but I believe it to be especially true now.

We live in perilous times.

In ways that have never before been a part of my vocabulary apart from Biblical criticism, I understand anew the role and warnings of apocalyptic literature.

These are the days when our voices must be heard despite the efforts to silence or diminish them.

It matters not whether you are for or against the war or this administration.

I cannot fathom any American,

or any Christian for that matter,

especially Methodist Christians, who share that name with the Commander in Chief,

who can sit idly by and think that what's happening right now, or what has happened since 2001 is right, honest, moral or faithful.








The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence -- indeed, the loyalty -- of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants -- our employees -- with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as “his” troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld’s speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril—with a growing evil—powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld’s, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the “secret information.” It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld’s -- questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England’s, in the 1930’s.It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions — its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

Most relevant of all — it “knew” that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic’s name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History — and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England — have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty — and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.

Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute -- and exclusive -- in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today’s Omniscient ones. That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience — about Osama Bin Laden’s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina’s impact one year ago — we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their “omniscience” as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

>But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism.”

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.” Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

And so good night, and good luck.