Monday, September 29, 2008

Look Me in the Eyes

I find that when I'm in a deep parenting "conversation" with any of my kids, I will have to, invariably, tell them to "look me in the eyes" when they're talking to me, or when I'm talking to them.

I want them to know I'm serious, and I want to see what cues they're leaving me about whether or not they're "feelin'" me, or if I can pick up anything they're trying to hide.

They hate when I do that. And I know it.

So when media pundits were commenting that at the recent presidential debate one of the candidates didn't look at the other one the whole night, it wasn't lost on them.

It's a life lesson worth learning.

Eyes that look away, eyes that avert the presence of the "other," whoever that is, are tough for me to take.

When we look at each other, eye to eye, we can see who we are. Eye to eye is powerful when people are of one accord - words need not be spoken. There is a line of communication that operates at level so deep that words are not needed, in fact, in moments such as this, they usually get in the way. Eye to eye communication is often what one has when put in a situation when words cannot be spoken.

Eye to eye we are in relationship.

There are people in my life who know, despite what I may say about how I'm doing at any given point (you know, the old gratuitous "fine" that is the reflexive response to "how are you doing?"), know if I'm telling the truth or not by looking me in the eye.

Mama always said I was a bad liar. Darn it.

To look each other in the eye when people are in discord may be the best reason why it is necessary. Failure to look each other in the eye in such moments bespeaks lack of respect, and such lack of acknowledgment communicates, either tacitly or explicitly, that the one who is different than you or disagrees with you is of lesser value than you.

The polarization of our politics, theology and churches has bred a perpetual state of acrimony, distrust and a "ends justifies the means" mentality facilitated in no small part by the aversion to look each other in the eye and see each other for who we are.

"The eyes are the windows to the soul," it is said.

To look deeply into the eyes of someone with whom you are in intense disagreement means you can't dehumanize them. And to look at someone that you cannot dehumanize means you have to see them for who they are - people made in the image of God.

And maybe that's why we don't do it - we have to make a conscious decision between our positions and the presence of God I'm not sure I want to see.

When we choose the former over the latter, as we are, sadly, want to do, then we make of our position an idol.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

KMMS Weekend - NYC

So, Kristy and I went to New York last week for a long weekend.

It was great to be away with my girl for a few days.

We flew into town last Thursday, September 11.

A little eerie.

We stayed in a hotel in midtown Manhattan on 51st between 8th and 9th. Kristy's younger sister, who's doing a rotation at a hospital in the city, and her fiance' hosted us and showed us around.

I was last in NYC when I was 17, as a part of the old Washington-UN Seminar, that more than a few United Methodist youth participated in many years ago.

The city scared me to death back then.

Just shy of 30 years later - I loved it, embraced it.

I experienced the charm of Puttanesca's for dinner where the food and vino seemed somehow just a bit richer than it could ever be back home.

I had half of a half of a hot pastrami on rye at the Carnegie Deli.

Walked up 8th to Columbus Circle, over 59th down 5th -

Walked over to 30 Rock.

Had sushi right next door to the Ed Sullivan Theater. Poked my head into the "Hello Deli."

We saw "Boeing, Boeing" and laughed ourselves silly followed by cheesecake at Junior's. (Two bites only for me)

Walked down Broadway to Macy's. Why? Because it's there.

Had an awesome brunch at the Nook.

Took the Subway to the Bronx and to the "House that Ruth Built" and took in a game. It was everything I thought it would be. Amazing. One of baseball's temples. A patch of green in a concrete jungle that dripped with history. Since the boys in pinstripes are not going to the post-season, we watched one of the last 10 games to be played in that house.

And to make the experience complete, the Yankees lost - got shelled by the Rays.

I'm a NL guy, what are you going to do? I think pitchers ought to bat. It's just that simple.

Right next to Yankee Stadium is this monstrosity built by Mr. Steinbrenner that no common New Yorker is going to be able to afford to go to. We sat just behind a family from the Bronx who did all they could to get their tickets to bring their young kids to one more game before the new stadium opens up. They lamented the thought that they would no longer be able to take their kids to the game. Seriously, we're talking about the doubling of ticket prices. Pretty sad.

Had a lovely dinner at El Quixote in Chelsea - walked down to the West Village to the Magnolia Bakery for muffins (nope, didn't have any).

Ate a lot of New York - but never too much.

I spent Sunday morning strolling Central Park with my wife. Not much better than that.

KMMS? What's that? Some freaking Scientology code (which, by the way, have I got a story about that - for another post!).

Nope. Nothing so covert.

Simply this - Keep My Marriage Sane.

And with this time apart we did.

Thank God.

Now, back to it. Our kids were happy to see us, and we to see them.

God is good.

Can't be the last such getaway, and it won't be.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Little Bit About Not Much

Various streams of consciousness of the past weeks or so - --

So Sunday morning I had more than a few folks ask me if I was at the Tigers-Rice game Saturday night.

I was.

"Didn't that ending (blowing a 15 point lead with 8 minutes left by allowing 22 unanswered points including a last second interception for a winning TD) just break your heart?"

"Heck no," I said.

"The Tigers broke my heart last April."

"Nothing these guys can do can touch that."

And speaking of that heartbreak, I'm in Grand Rapids last month in a small group workshop, sporting my new Tiger polo and khaki shorts (on sale now at Tiger Bookstore, proudly serving the University of Memphis campus since 1964, your off campus store for all of your on campus needs, they've got what you need and what you want, off campus - on the money), when a guy from the state of Kansas sits beside me wearing his KU shirt.

So help me.

Two UM clergy representing their teams sitting side by side.

Was d├ętente about to break out? A moment when "we could just all get along?"

He noticed me quickly, how could he not - the clothes are just that sharp.

The other 8 or 9 folks in the room noticed, too..they were looking on just a tad bit curious about what was about to go down.

My stomach started turning because I knew he was going to say something, and I didn't want to embarrass my Annual Conference (any more than I obviously already do) by punching out a Methodist Jayhawk.

"It was a great ga...." he started.

"Dude, I just can't, I'm sorry," I interrupted.

"It's just too fresh, too close for me...let's just focus on what we here for, o.k.?"

"I understand," he said. "My team has broken my heart more than once, too."

I was thankful..and relieved.

A moment of grace? Solidarity? Fear that if he said anymore I might have to spring up on him?
And speaking of Keith Olbermann (how's that for a segue), two things:

Seeing Dan Patrick and KO do their little version of "The Big Show" on NBC was a joy. No question, DP makes KO better.

That's the thing about collaborative partners - when you're working with those who get you and you get them, when you're doing the gig -it's a's a thing of beauty. It doesn't mean you always get along, either. But when the lights come on - Bam, it's magic.

And then there's KO with Chris Matthews on MSNBC...see my previous post on KO transitioning from Will Rogers of our time to stark raving blowhard.

It's clear that his zeal has gotten the best of him, and the network has done the right thing by pulling him back.

Or maybe zeal hasn't gotten the best of him...maybe it's something else.

Funny thing, zeal. It brings focus to things that others can't or don't want to see. But when the issue starts becoming the messenger and not the message, the message is lost, because your message is obscured. You get in your own way. You focus on ancillary things rather than the main thing. You become desperate to prove you're right, that you're relevant.

Don't believe me? Just ask The United Methodist Church.

Oh yes I did.

"Nothing about politics?" you asked.

Nope. Too much clutter for me to jump in.

Truth is, while I have a preference (oh boy, do I), which I will make manifest in November...more than wanting to persuade anyone to vote like I do, I just want folks to vote.

How is it possible for a country who claims to love liberty, not to engage as fully as possible in the one act that defines the republic?

Want to see real change? Understand the issues beyond the rhetoric, and vote.

Otherwise what we're left with is the product of the best financed, most effective media and spin machine.

Of the GOP's VP choice I'll only say this - her selection is either the most shrewed political move made in a very long time (if so, then "Well played, sir"), or the most disingenuous (if that's the case, "Shame! Shame!Shame!"). To bring someone in the process that nobody knows with two months to go - when these folks have been campaigning everyday for two years - and then complain that the media is trying to figure out who she is - and that we should just take the word of a campaign who has an agenda (no judgment here, every campaign has one) the pursuit of figuring someone out diverts energy from real issues. Any chance that's on purpose?


"The people have spoken," election winners often say.

No they haven't.

Maybe half of them have...

Some tried...and were suppressed (don't act like that doesn't happen, it always has in some form or another).
Some didn't try because they don't care. I guess you have the right not to vote, but such a choice does not a good citizen make.

I would argue that the there is a direct correlation between the insane polarization, slash and burn politics, and low voter turnout of our day to the disappearance of the teaching of Civics in our classrooms.

You get the whole of the population to vote...we can live with the results.

And in the words of Forest Gump..."that's all I have to say about that."

....for now.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pastoral Reflections Upon the Week that Was

To my sisters and brothers at Saint John's,

Every entrance and exit into the community of faith makes an impact. We feel it. We know it. Presence is felt as well as absence.

People are born into our family of faith. There is something singularly exciting about babies born into the church.

People come to us searching for "sanctuary" and a place to practice their faith and they find it here. Nothing is more liberating than to see someone once wounded by religion finding a safe place to be and know they are a beloved child of God.

And people leave us.

For some, life's travels move them on to other places and they go to new cities hoping they will find another Saint John's.

There are some who find that what we offer, who we are, no longer feeds them and they make the decision to find another community in hopes that there is a place to provide the bread for which they hunger to nourish their souls. My deepest and abiding wish for these is two fold: one, that they find what they're looking for; and two, that as they take their leave, they do so in the peace of Christ and that those who remain pray Godspeed upon them.

And then there are those who leave us because their days here are accomplished. They move into that "cloud of witnesses" who cheer on those of us who remain.

Entrances and departures matter. No one matters more than any one else. We are each bound to the other.

You know, that whole "Blest be the tie that binds" thing? It is real.

That being said, though, our congregation cannot ignore, nor should it, the impact of last week on who we are. In what can only be described as a shot to our spiritual solar plexus, we lost four people.

We grieve the loss of Jean, Ed, Lucy and Dot.

Saint John's members of the recent past will not know Jean or Dot. Due to their health neither has been a part of the active life of the congregation for some years. The devotion of their Sunday School class to keep them in prayer and reach out to them is a witness for the rest of us for how to care for our people.

Any who have been a part of the past couple of years will know Ed. His presence was known in any setting. It mattered not what subject we were studying, he was ready, he took notes, he asked questions, and all of his questions had at heart the same root question - "how can I know God more deeply?"

And then there’s Lucy. Lucy was in worship three Sundays ago. The embodiment of a warrior, she fought to the end. She was a member of Saint John's for over 80 years. She loved her Church. She loved Luther, to whom she was wed for almost 70 years. This woman, short of stature, did nothing halfway. In far more ways that can be counted, she was a giant.

True to the faith we claim, we celebrate their place in The Church Triumphant.

They were part of what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation."

This generation knows what it means to rise up and meet life's challenges. They know what it means to work in "team" to reach their goals. They also have a particular approach to their discipleship.

When I came to Saint John's over seven years ago, I used the example of this generation as a template for our renewal. Believing that each of us teaches the rest of us, even to the end, I have thought and still think that this generation's last and best lesson for those who come after them is to instill a sense of purpose and devotion to our common ministry on this corner.

  • It is this generation who decided to stay at Peabody and Bellevue.
  • It is this generation who heard that the Queen was dead and heeded the clarion call of the pastor to embrace the role of a servant church through whom a resurrected life would spring forth.
  • It is this generation who gave their assent to the notions of pastor/doctor from Atlanta who looking to start the Church Health Center.
And it is this generation who has cheered the loudest as, in the words of the Acts of the Apostles, "day by day the Lord added to their number."

Last week was a rough week. It got to where I was afraid to answer the phone for the news I'd hear. But I left last week thankful for our congregation, for the ways we reached out and remembered our folks.

What we are is a reflection of what they were.

What the next generations will be will reflect who we are now and the bold journeys in faith we make together.

Wherever ministry takes me I don't think I'll ever forget last week. I won't forget those last hours and minutes with Ed and Lucy, and neither will I forget the congregation who honored them so well.