Ten Things I Think I Think
1) One more week until the winners of the "The Secret Meaning of Jesus" contest are announced. We've received scores of inquiries and more than a few entrants, so get your entry in ASAP. For more info on the book and it's author, Brian McClaren, check out my last post. Special Note: For the person who wins my copy of "TSMoJ", you'll get to read all the notes I made in the margins and see real coffee stains left by yours' truly. A collectors item like no other! Once again, you can enter to win a free copy of the book by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, a reason why I should give you a copy of the book, a suggestion for a future blog post, and an address where I can send you a copy of "TSMoJ" if you win.
2) Thanks for all the positive comments on yesterday's service entitled, "Grace In Three Movements". As I said in the 9am service, the secret to good preaching is scheduling good music, and yesterday the music department, in my opinion, hit a home run. Just lovely music from Shane and the team.
Lots of people have made it point, either in person or via email, to let me know that they had never heard Wesley's definition of "grace" before. The idea that God would reach out to all us all of the time (prevenient grace) was a new one for many folks, who never thought of the act of grace as being something offered even when its not being asked for. Lots of people were aware of "justifying grace" (the moment you realize that grace is being offered to you by God, and you decide to accept it), but, like me, question whether or not act of choosing to receive grace has to happen in one moment, or could be something that one could grow into over time. And finally, the idea that in "sanctifying grace" that it is as, or more, important to understand God as love as it is to become more loving (i.e. more like Jesus) seemed to throw a few people for a loop (but if you've heard me preach before, you'd know that this wouldn't be the first time I've said this). Anyhow, when people ask if the entire service can be done again, that can't be a bad thing.... we're not going to do it, but it was nice that they asked.
3) The idea of a "Day Without Immigrants", I'm guessing, grew out of an idea that was captured on film a few years ago. The movie, "The Day Without A Mexican" (here's the website: http://www.adaywithoutamexican.com/index1.htm) was a political comedy about a day where all of the people of Mexican descent, legal and illegal, vanished for a day in California. The movie did gross large amounts of money in Mexico, and made a blip on the pop culture screen here upon it's release in 2004. I saw it, and it was OK. Am guessing that the real thing today wasn't as disruptive as it was in the movie, but it is an interesting foray into life imitating art.
4) The Mayor of Lima is coming to speak to the Lima Ministerial Association about the proposed casino he is endorsing. The measure is currently on the backburner as we look to primary elections tomorrow, but I'm sure it will heat up again soon given the news that the Eastern Shawnee's request for an extention on their suit against the State of Ohio was granted, placing the new deadline at May 31st. You've got to admire the mayor for accepting the LMA's invitation, especially since he knows that there isn't one person there who will agree with him.
The Lima News ran a news story this Sunday about the Eastern Shawnee's casino and it's effects on tiny Seneca, Missouri (here are the links for the two articles: http://www.limaohio.com/story.php?IDnum=25218 and http://www.limaohio.com/story.php?IDnum=25219 ). Basically, what I got out of the article was that the casino is expanding rapidly, but the economic effects on the town have been neglegible. Pretty much the only people with anything good to say about the casino were local politicians, (who like the extra tax revenue) the school superintendent (who likes the extra tax revenue), and people who like to gamble. To those who argue that a casino will stimulate the local economy, I found it interesting that in the nineteen years since the casino's inception, not one new hotel or restaurant have been built in Seneca. Not one. And the effect on the local unemployement rate is still virtually unchanged.
Local clergy claim pretty much what we fear, that instances of addiction, abuse, divorce, bankrupcy, and foreclosure have risen in their churches and community. Not exactly the overwhelming economic windfall we've all been promised.... which why I will help keep up the fight against this casino, and for a Lima area "Barnes and Noble".
5) I am still looking for a motorcycle, and am quickly realizing that given our economic resources, the prospect for such a machine is growing dim. If you're going to take a pay cut to do doctoral work, money for diapers outweighs money for a Honda. In the Bucher house, that's the bottom line.
6) News out of Fiji: 62 year old rocker Keith Richards was hurt falling out of a palm tree. You couldn't make something like that up, even if you were under the influence of drugs.
7) Matt Parish, the young guitarist and singer for the band Ho-Ag, has returned to Boston after undergoing surgery at a hospital in San Francisco for a broken jaw. For those who read last week's blog entries, you'll know that Matt, while on tour, was jumped by seven men outside of a friend's residence in Oakland at 4pm in the afternoon, where he was beaten and robbed. Matt now has a titanium plate in his jaw and faces a long recovery. Thanks for the prayers... please continue to lift him up as he heals from this senseless act of violence.
8) Am thoroughly enjoying a book for my first class entitled, "You Only Have To Die", by James Harnish, Senior Pastor at Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Harnish details what he learned after almost dying of a heart ailment which occured while he was struggling to work with lay leadership in his church to turn around a long, steady decline. After my experience in Goshen, which was the best of times, and the worst of times, I can relate to much of what he has to say. Here's a great excerpt from the book, where he details the areas where he thinks now, he blew it as a pastoral leader in this experience.
I Tended To Take Things Too Personally
Too often, I allowed myself, my faith, and my leadership to be the target of criticism and complaint. GK Chesterson supposedly said that angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. I can see times when things would have gone more smoothly if I had taken myself more lightly. Som of the attacks were very personal, but I wish I had been more consistant in saying, "This really isn't about me. It's about who God is calling this church to be."
Cyrus Vance was a longtime Washington insider who served as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State. He had a reputation of being a problem solver with a gift for making progress in international stalemates. When he died, Time magazine quoted Strobe Talbott, who said, "He is allergic to the first person singular.... Because he has so little interest in getting credit, the contending parties are more likely to trust him". One of the great dangers for leaders in the transformation process is that we forget that this is really not about us. It's not about credit or blame. It's about God's kingdom coming on earth as it is already fulfilled in heaven, through the life of this local congregation.
Taking yourself more lightly... a lesson I wish I had learned many years ago. Probably not a bad lesson for all of us.
9) On April 21st, 75 United Methodist Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered Clergy outed themselves by signing a letter sent to the Judicial Council of the UMC, which is revisiting two decisions it made last time it convened.
The first decision was the de-frocking of Irene Beth Stroud, an ordained minister whose "coming out" as a lesbian during her tenure at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (PA) was captured in the fine documentary, "Congregation", which has been shown repeatedly on PBS. Beth Stroud is still seeking the return of her Elder's Orders, although, at this time, the UM Book of Discipline is very clear in stating that the church will not ordain gay or lesbian ministers.
The other decision was related to a UM-minister in Virginia who refused membership to a gay man who wanted to join his congregation. This issue is really as much about the Book of Discipline as it is about the man being gay, as the Judicial Council ruled that the Elder appointed to a local church/charge gets the final say on whether or not a person can be a member of that church. So, if the person had been denied membership because he advocated the legalization of marijuana, my guess is that this issue would have never have come up.... but that wasn't the case. So these two decisions are at the forefront of JC's work this coming week.
The fact that 75 GLBT UM Ministers signed the document is pretty unnerving. While they are being called "couragious" in certain quarters, at this time, none of the names have been made public. I'll call it "couragious" when that happens, because, essentially, those person will have just put themselves out of a job for their cause. Whether or not that happens this week as the Judicial Council meets remains to be seen, but as things stand now, what was designed to put pressure on a group of people to change past decisions, has, I fear, but into action a headlong collision between the far-right and far-left of our denomination at General Conference in 2008. My guess is that if these clergy aren't de-frocked by the time this meeting convenes, the far-right will call for a denominational split, which they will probably pursue whether or not their call is heeded.
Believe me when I say this: For certain people, there is no middle ground on this issue, and for them, the propect of some sort of compromise is nil. People will fight this thing to the bitter end, which was the conclusion of a body called to discuss this issue, that I helped lead in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, reached in 1998. Those findings were subsequently buried by Bishop Christopher who didn't want to believe that this would be the case.
Mark my words, folks will not back down on this issue. It is a deal-breaker.
I don't fear a split for theological reasons. Institutions grow, shrink, split, and merge, and, quite frankly, they always will. And as far as I'm concerned, I don't think that at this time, sufficient evidence has been shown to change the UM's position that homosexuality is a sin. I don't happen to believe its a sin that's any worse than adultary, which we seem to treat with a sense of grace, but its a sin, nonetheless. I just don't think it's worth all of this fuss, as adults in local congregations ought to have the leeway to decide what grace this sin, like others, ought to be treated with in their context, and continue to dialogue about the matter at denominational meetings geared for that process, until such time that ongoing discussion is considered fruitless.
And, hey, nothing is forever, except God, so if the UMC looks differently than it does now I can accept that. It's just that when that day comes, all of us who are clergy will have a choice to make: Do we go, or do we stay? And our decision will put local churches in the horrible position of whether or not to follow, or go a different way, than their pastor. None of that decision-making will be pleasant or easy... and we will all have to answer for the pain, agony, and division it caused to God someday. That will be a sad day, where much grace will be needed, and I trust, received.
10) Finally, I don't think there is more amazing story in sports right now than the transformation of Kobe Bryant, guard of the LA Lakers, from "King of the Ballhogs" to "Extrordinary Talent Who Is Making His Team Better by Passing the Ball". If the Lakers win this series against Pheonix, and Kobe keeps his shot attempt numbers low, his transformation will be studied by coaches and players across this country who assess, once again, that basketball is a team-oriented game.
The only other story that even comes close to this one in this year's NBA Playoffs (thus far) is the method by which Reggie Evans tried to get a rebound away from Chris Kaman (which was so vulgur and dirty I dare not mention the particulars in mixed company - and I want to say to those who have played with me, that while I do play dirty, I have NEVER played that dirty. And if you any of you ever do that to me, I'll be sure to take myself very seriously, and lay you OUT. Consider yourself warned.). Just a great series of playoff games.... which of course, if any of my profs are reading this, I'm only reading about in the papers because I'm so hard at work doing my reading.
(Do you think they bought it?)
Have a great week.