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.


Saturday, October 7, 12 noon


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.


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.”