Thursday, December 21, 2006

1 Corinthians 13 for the Holidays

This is cool. I like it better than the original. (But will have to deny that in court, or give up my Lutheran Seminary Credential. The Lutherans, they just luuuv Paul.)

Anyway, surf over to Gallycat's blog and read this:


That's "What Wall Would Jesus Build?" of course.

Today's Star carries an article headlined "Muslim group asks congressman to apologize." You can read the whole thing by clicking above. (The headline's different online. I have to say that, because I am an English major, and don't want anyone thinking I wrote it incorrectly, or something horrible like that.)

It seems that Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode Jr. is one of the many folks unhappy that Congressman-elect Keith Ellison--a Muslim--wants to be sworn into office with his hand upon the Qu'ran. The stated objection is some nonsense about how every American leader has been sworn in with his (and they probably are saying "his") hand on the Bible. This is patently untrue, but truth is increasingly unlikely to serve as a litmus test for public statements in Our Nation's Capitol.

So Rep. Goode sent out a letter in which he touted his zero tolerance policy on immigration, saying: "The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

Of course, this dustup really isn't about the Bible and the Qu'ran, which are, after [Side story: I went to San Francisco State University, which is a wonderfully diverse community, accepting of a huge variety of lifestyles, "Christian" not necessarily one of them. I got over it--hey, I usually understood their point of view. But I was annoyed, or at least bemused when a young woman in one of my classes said, at least three times, "most of the bad things that have happened in the world throughout history have been done by the Bible." I wish I could draw, because I've had this cartoon in my head ever since that day, of a Bible, decked out like Rambo, rushing around in an evil stupor, leading crusades and burning witches and bad stuff like that.]

Anyway, as I said, this isn't about the Qu'ran and the Bible. It's about Muslims and Christians. It's about how Christians have been in the majority in this country, especially when one looks at the annals of leadership. For a lot of years now, this country has been run by white, Christian men. (Presumably straight, but that one is up for review.) And those white, Christian men like it that way. Most people like being in charge, or at least like to have their opinions count more than other people's.

So now there are Muslims in this country, and one of them has been elected to the US Congress, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Clearly the new terrorist plot is to have Muslims elected, one at a time, to the congress, so that they can take over this country.

In 434 years, which is when they would have a majority under that plan.

Those of us who live in and around Kansas City should probably be grateful to Rep. Goode, along with Senator-unelect George Allen. (If that isn't ringing a bell, here's a memory-jogger: "macaca"). For a brief moment in time, Virginia is replacing Kansas as "most backward US state." And since most of the folks I know who don't live here do think I live in Kansas (we really do need to improve our secondary schools' geography classes), it is good to get Kansas out of the spotlight. For the people of Kansas and the people of Kansas City. Missouri. And Kansas. It is confusing, isn't it?

But all kidding aside (hard for me but I can do it), this is truly sad. That walling ourselves off from the huddled masses yearning to breathe free can be considered a legitimate "policy" is beyond me. Truly disturbing is the desire to wall ourselves off from other American citizens, just because they practice a different (and very much related) religion.

We keep hearing about the "global economy." We are increasingly caught up in the World Wide Web. The walls between peoples are coming down. That's a wonderful development here in the global village.

It's certainly a development which should be applauded by Christians. Perhaps Rep. Goode and his comrades ought to spend less time worrying about folks putting their hands on the Bible, and take some time to put the Bible in their own hands. And open it up. Try Galatians, chapter three, last verses:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, seed heirs according to the promise.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pink Christmas

I love Christmas. It is truly the most wonderful time of the year, as the song says.

But I also reside within two bodies which can be challenged by the holidays.

The first of those bodies is my physical body, which is gayer than a three dollar bill.

The second is that branch of the Body of Christ which we call Abiding Peace Lutheran Church. Within that body are the most wonderful people one could hope to meet. Many of them are also "three-dollar-bill-like."

This is a prayer for my sisters and brothers in the Pink Triangle Nation. May God surround you with joy and hope this Christmas. May you be loved and accepted for who you are. May your families, and extended families, and in-laws, and neighbors treat you with all of the affection, kindness, and respect you deserve.

The holidays can actually be a little rough on us homos. Family is at the center of the holidays, and it sucks when your family doesn't seem to have the same value as a "normal family." Or when the older generation asks every member of the younger generation about their love lives--except for you, because they don't actually want to know. Or when the person you've shared your life with for twenty-five years is introduced once again as your "friend."

Or when your mother-in-law sends you a copy of her E-Christmas-Card, and it waxes rhapsodic about what each of her children, grandchildren, and sons-in-law are up to, and how proud she is of them. You, her daughter's partner, have apparently been on a desert island all year, because you are strangely absent, and apparently didn't even accompany your partner on her fabulous vacation to Hawaii.

That last one isn't about me. It's about someone else who went to Hawaii this year. And I'm not bitter, either.

Just a little sad, and a little tired of those emotional left hooks out of nowhere. I'll have a little eggnog and get over it. Because I am blessed with a terrific wife and terrific friends and a really amazing church family. So little slights are a small cross to bear.

If you are carrying a big cross this holiday season, reach out. Find a church, call a friend, do something wonderful for yourself. You are a unique part of God's creation. You are beautiful. You're created in the image of God--you have to be beautiful. There's no other option.

If you are reading this, and you are one of the beautiful straight people who treat gay people just like you treat everyone else: thank you. You probably don't know what a gift you are. You are the face on our hope for the future--the time when we can look forward to Christmas without bracing ourselves.

May this Christmas be a time of hope and joy for all. And may you get everything you want, and especially what you need.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grace Is Making a Comeback

The name, Grace, that is. According to the online Baby Name Wizard, Grace was the fourteenth most popular name for girls in 2004. This surpasses the popularity the name enjoyed back in the 1890's, when it ranked number eighteen.

Grace has rebounded nicely. Back in the seventies, Grace had fallen to a dissappointing three hundred seventy one on the list. Three hundred seventy one with a bullet, apparently.

Were I a sociologist, I might have a lot of fun figuring out why Grace dropped so low in the "Me Decade." Aw, heck, it's just nice to see it back.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

All I Want for Christmas Is a New President

That is all. My whole Christmas list. Okay, if Santa brought me a papasan chair I wouldn't complain. But I'd trade every dream gift I could imagine for someone leading this country who would work for the good of the nation. The whole nation. And while we're at it, how about the world? The whole world.

It has been absolutely depressing to watch George W. Bush receive the Iraq Task Force report. It's so painfully clear, since prevarication isn't his strong suit (apparently practice doesn't make perfect), that he has every intention of fighting the recommendations he doesn't like. From what I've read, that's going to be most of them. He says things like "there are some...interesting recommendations in the report." "Interesting?!" That's what you say about a casserole you don't really like, to spare the chef's feelings.

So things will continue to spiral out of control, the civil war will continue to get worse, and we'll continue to waste time arguing about whether it is in fact a "civil war." Because when people are dying by the hundreds and thousands, what you really need to worry about is semantics.

All I want for Christmas is to be a shepherd on a hillside and hear the promise: "Peace on earth, goodwill to all." And to know that my country is invested in that promise, even more than it is invested in Exxon-Mobile.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Okay Tavis...

See, Tavis is giving me a hard time because I've been back from vacation for a couple of weeks and haven't written anything. The thing is, my mom was here and I was behind at work and oh never mind. I just haven't written anything.

So here it is, though anyone who isn't into college football won't be all that interested.

I rooted for the wrong team a week ago. I thought I was rooting for the right team--USC--because they were number two in the BCS standings and the good guys--Michigan--were number three. So I wanted UCLA to beat USC, so that Michigan could play Ohio State for the National Championship. See, we only lost to Ohio State by 3 points when we played them in Columbus. A rematch in a neutral place (which is what bowl games and the championship are supposed to be) would be a great game.

Against the odds, UCLA beat USC. I'm not surprised USC lost--I just thought Notre Dame had a better shot at knocking them off than UCLA. The Trojans were #2 by virtue of playing in the Pac Ten and because they were nearly unbeatable in the Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush era.

So here's the thing. USC was #2 and they lost. Michigan was #3 and didn't play. But for some unbelievable, unknown, ridiculous, stupid, assine reason, Florida, which lost to Auburn earlier this year, jumped over Michigan into the number two spot. As Chris Berman would say "What?!" Michigan lost by three points to Ohio State, the number one team in the country. Florida lost by ten points to Auburn, a team not even in the top ten. Florida had to work very hard to beat a sorely lacking Florida State team (arguably Bobby Bowden's worst team ever, which isn't that bad, but still...).

Being knocked out of the #2 slot was always a possibility. A rematch for the title game is a stretch. The only way it would happen, according to all of the analysts, was if the Michigan/Ohio State game was really close and USC lost.

Three points. Close enough for ya? Oh, and USC lost.

Okay, so it's all done, and we'll play in the Rose Bowl. Which used to be the prize winning the Big Ten, but turns out this year to be the runner-up prize. The Rose Bowl is great. It is. It's the Granddaddy of bowl games, rich in tradition, and played on New Year's Day, when bowl games are supposed to be played.

But here's the thing, the thing that has always been wrong, historically, with the Big Ten/Pac Ten Rose Bowl matchup (which is no longer a shoe-in with the BCS): now we have to play a bowl game against USC at home. So much for the old bowl neutrality.

When you can't get a break...

Actually, this could be a good break. Michigan will win the Rose Bowl. Not to sound like Joe Namath or anything, but the Maize and Blue will break the Trojans (he he he). At home. And Ohio State will steamroll Urban (The Pope) Meyer and his choppy Gators. So in the end, we will know who the best two teams in college football are. And we'll have to be satisfied with being number two, since we don't get another shot at number one.

Last night Stephen Colbert said the best thing I've heard about this whole BCS mess. He thought it only fitting, since the BCS is decided by electronic voting, that the two teams vying for the national championship are from Florida and Ohio, the states which gave us the two terms of George W. Bush.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Out of the Ether!

Okay, so the Phill Kline post reappeared when I posted just now (see below). Cool.

Blogging Loser Award

Forgive me Father, for I have procrastinated. It has been two weeks since my last blog post.

It's only been a week since I wrote my last entry, though. So I think I get a minor indulgence for that, yes? A week out of blogging purgatory?

I wrote a long entry on Phill Kline's unbelievably unethical behavior at churches in Kansas, complete with a great Lee Judge cartoon from the KC Star. But Blogger ate my homework. Really. I went to post it and it disappeared into the cyberspace ether. I'll try it again.

I'll also be more regular for the next couple of days, and then we'll see what happens on vacation...

Friday, October 20, 2006

This is today's cartoon from Kansas City Star political cartoonist Lee Judge. Touche, Monsieur Judge.

I wrote a while back about the email memo Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline sent out to his staff, headed "church efforts." In the memo, Kline described the importance of securing preaching gigs at supportive churches, followed by off-site money-raising rallies. The memo specifically instructed staff to have the pastor invite five "money people whom he knows can help."

The choice of pronoun is a good indicator of what sorts of churches Kline has been visiting during this election season. The whole memo is an indication of what is seriously wrong with churches becoming too involved in election politics.

Yesterday the Kansas City Star reported that the former Attorney General of Kansas, Bob Stephan, had resigned from his advisory post within the Kline campaign, citing the memo and Kline's visit to The Light of the World Christian Church. Kline preached there in July. After he preached, the church made a donation of $1339 to SWT Communications, a company which "produces radio programs and church events and retreats." SWT Communications is operated by Deborah Kline, who happens to be married to Phill Kline. A month before Kline preached at The Light of the World, SWT made a donation of $1,181 to the Phill Kline campaign.

You can't really call it money laundering, though the money seems rather unclean to me. You can't call it illegal, since you'd have to prove that the church intended for the money to go to the Kline campaign, and SWT's donation was made beforehand.

Phill Kline defends these actions by admitting he's "been speaking to churches for years." He considers the money an offering for the service he provides to the churches.

My church pays an $80 honorarium to guest preachers. Admittedly, we're probably on the low end of the spectrum. I know some churches pay more. I don't know of any who offer amounts in excess of a thousand dollars. That seems a little high. And a little dumb, if you know the money is going to replenish the stocks of a company contributing to a political campaign. Just because you can't prove that it's illegal doesn't mean it isn't grossly unethical.

I know we're supposed to expect this of our elected politicians. I know we're supposed to just shake our heads, and wonder what they'll do next. But I'm sad. I'm sad that a politician can expect people to just shake their heads and move on when he uses houses of God in this manner.

And I am deeply sad that houses of God allow themselves to be used in this manner. It's one thing for our politicians to have a credibility problem. I'm not saying it's okay, because it's not. We ought to expect more. We ought to demand more.

But when our churches have a credibility problem, we're in deep trouble. Churches have to be above reproach. They just do. The mission of the church is to preach the gospel to the whole world. That work is difficult enough in times when our churches are thought of well. The work is severely compromised when churches become ATM machines for politicians, and thoughtful people are tempted to shake their heads at us, and wonder what will happen next.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fantasy Football Awards--The Winner Is...!

The award? Worst Fantasy Football Coach of the Week

I'm so proud.

I actually was feeling pretty prideful, after I had the only team in my Fantasy Football league to go 4-0. I thought I was a fantasy genius.

So this week, I, the genius coach of the team called Luther's Lions (the great Reformation-era fantasy team) made the following move: traded Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard. I also traded Jets kicker Mike Nugent for Chiefs kicker Lawrence Tynes. This wasn't a horrible trade--Nugent hasn't done squat for me, and I'd be fine at kicker if whatever is wrong with Adam Vinatieri would get right. I figured Tynes would have some field goal opportunities at Pittsburgh--since they would be tough in the red zone. But your kicker can only get points if his team can get across the fifty yard line once in a while.

I started both Huard and Tynes, along with Larry Johnson, on Sunday. I got a total of 5 points from Huard and Tynes. You have to know a little something about fantasy leagues (and the way points are scored in our particular league) to know how bad that is. Suffice it to say, it is bad. Really bad. Even in Pittsburgh, I was hoping for somewhere north of 20 points from them.

Larry Johnson got 8 points. And will start for me every week, because he is still the best running back in football, and all of the bandwagon-jumping negative commentary will just ratchet up the desire in his belly which makes him the best running back in football. He nearly had his head torn off last week, and was back in practice a few days later.

But here's how I won the Worst Coach of the Week Award: barring something crazy, I will lose by several points to a guy who didn't even start a quarterback. Both of his were on their bye week, so he just went without. He will beat me soundly, unless the Chicago Bears defense doesn't score five points against the Arizona Cardinals. Again, you have to know how the scoring works, but that is about as likely as George W. Bush appearing in a tie-dyed t-shirt and Berkenstocks at an anti-war rally.

Which reminds me...there are actually more important things in the world than Fantasy Football. And even regular football.

It's still a tough morning to be a Chiefs fan. Hopefully they just decided to get all of their really sucky play out in a single game. If so--good strategy.
I'm off to look at the waiver wire now.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Root of All Evil

Sometimes the lectionary is a real bear. For the second week in a row, I'm having a hell of a time with my sermon. I meant to say hell. Because I'm feeling a devilish desire to duck out from underneath the gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31--the story of the man called to "sell everything...give the money to the poor, and come and follow" Jesus). It is really tempting to just preach about something else.

I mean, come on! We just did divorce, and "traditional marriage" (arguable, absolutely, but it's a tricky lesson anyway). And now it's the call to give all we have.

The average Bible tries to help us, by telling us that this is a story about a "rich man," which could mean that this lesson is really about the call for rich people to give all that they have. Talk about the temptation in the wilderness. This really does feel like the preaching wilderness.

Yeah, I'm being dramatic. But it is truly a challenge to preach sermons which touch people, which call people into discipleship, and to be pastoral about it.

And like most preachers, I'm a little shell-shocked. I actually did have someone leave the church after I preached a stewardship sermon a few years back which invited people to eschew the call to "give until it hurts" and simply "give until it feels good." As many times as I looked at that sermon, I couldn't figure out what was offensive about it. But money is just so tricky. Our stuff is just such a potent intoxicant. That's why this lesson is in the lectionary, isn't it? Because we need to be reminded that discipleship is a call to give up and give in and give away. And take on the joy of walking with Jesus.

That might work. If I can get through the middle part.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Rev Gals Friday Five

Every Friday there are questions to answer over on the Rev Gals blog. Here's my first completed homework assignment. The subject is groups.

1. Tell us about any group(s) you currently belong to. (e.g. book club, knitting circle, walking buddies, etc.)
I belong to a really terrific covenant group. There are five of us, and we meet every other week for an hour (or a bit more) to touch base with one another on life, ministry, family, and whatever else is impacting our worlds. We're committed to accountability--we hold one another accountable for balance (always fun in the ministry), health, and truth, among other things. It's a really good group of folks, and invaluable to me.

2. Do you feel energized or drained by being in a group situation? If the answer is "it depends," on what does it depend?

It depends. :) I'm an introvert, so group situations can be draining, especially if I'm in a group of strangers. It always takes me a little while to warm up in the big groups, like Synod Assemblies and Convocations. That's partly the big group thing, and partly the "gee, I wonder which of these folks wish the lesbian pastor would fall off of the edge of the world?" thing. Yeah, paranoia--that's what I meant.
I can be energized by groups of people whom I know well, like my covenant group, and groups from my church.

3. Is there a role you naturally find yourself playing in group situations? That is, do you naturally fall into the leader role, or the one who always makes sure the new person feels welcome, or the quiet one who sits back and lets others shine, or the host?

I'm the leader at church, the quiet one in other groups, the host at home (at least I used to be). I'm the joker a lot of the time. So I guess the short answer to this question is "no."

4. Handshakes vs. hugs: discuss.

One of the few times I wish I was a man. (The other big one is when needing to pee outside.) I like the handshake, but don't always know if it is appropriate. I like the hug, but...see previous answer. We are huggers at Abiding Peace. I know that's a little scary for new people, but hey, it's cleaner than shaking hands. And we love each other at church. And don't feel bad about it either.

5. Ice breakers: a playful way to build community in a lighthearted manner, or a complete and utter hell of forced fun and awkwardness?Bonus: If you answered "playful and lighthearted," share your favorite ice breaker.

How about "necessary evil?" I like them as long as they aren't too forced (and especially don't make you do anything ridiculous) and don't go on too long. They can be a nice way to get to know a few people in a group, if you know no one.

I have always relied on the M & M game. You give everyone a few M & M's, and then start a question around the circle. Each time someone answers a question, they eat an M & M. When little colored circles appear on peoples' palms, the game has gone on long enough. This icebreaker is easy, doesn't require you to do anything ridiculous, and, hey, there's chocolate.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

And another thing...

Okay, while I'm asking questions I sort of know the answers's one that's been rolling around in my head for a bit.

On the three big network nightly news shows, there are two new anchors who came to prominence in this country on morning shows. One is Katie Couric. Perhaps you haven't heard, but she is now anchoring the CBS Evening News. Just kidding. Of course you've heard, because it was a fascinating topic for newspapers, entertainment news shows, and even political cartoonists, for months. The general consensus seemed to be that Katie lacked the credentials to be a serious nightly news anchor, because she was on The Today Show, which does more fluffy stories than a nightly news show.

The other new anchor is Charlie Gibson, who comes to the ABC's World New Tonight from Good Morning America. Perhaps I missed it, but I haven't seen one story, or cartoon for that matter, suggesting that this transition is troubling in the least.

Granted, Charlie Gibson has probably never been described as "perky," the favorite adjective attached to Katie Couric. But it seems like there has to be more at play here. Good Morning America is just as fluffy as The Today Show, so what's the deal? Could it be simply that we don't want a woman--especially a perky one--sitting in the chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather?

That doesn't seem quite fair. Maybe I'm just being sensitive. I can be sensitive. I'm a woman after all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Hillary Pillory

I'm a little confused, and wonder if others are too. Once again, the source of my confusion is The Rev. Jerry Falwell.

This week's Falwell Folly is a statement made at the Values Voter Summit, a gathering of conservative pastors and church leaders. He was talking about the 2008 presidential election. Here's the LA Times account:

"I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate," Falwell said, according to the recording. "She has $300 million so far. But I hope she's the candidate. Because nothing will energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton."

Cheers and laughter filled the room as Falwell continued: "If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."

According to Falwell and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council, the Lucifer comment was meant to be humorous. I would submit that whether he intends it that way or not, a lot of what Jerry Falwell says is humorous. But it's an uncomfortable humor, the sort one hears privately from folks discussing Hugo Chavez' speech at the UN last week. A sort of chuckle-groan.

I'd ignore this comment, as part of my spiritual discipline of not wasting brain cells considering inflammatory, quasi-religious nonsense. But he's not the only one expressing this sentiment. (Though so far he's the only one to privilege the Clinton candidacy above the as-yet-unnanounced Party of Satan on the evangelical motivator scale.)

So here's where I'm confused. There are a lot of people contemplating runs for the White House in 2008. Some of them are staunchly in favor of abortion rights, gay marriage, and universal health care. Some of them are staunchly opposed to the Iraq war, and favor at the least a timetable for withdrawal of our troops.

It would seem as if "'Values' Voters" (whatever that means) would be more motivated by one of these candidates. And Hillary Clinton isn't one of these candidates. She's been pretty moderate in the Senate, ostensibly for the purpose of representing her New York constituents, which is what she was elected to do. It's hard to imagine her moving to the left in a presidential run, since the country as a whole isn't exactly left of New York State.

So what is it about Hillary Clinton that will so motivate evangelical voters? It can't be her voting record. Her Traditional Marriage street cred is pretty good: she's against gay marriage, and has demonstrated remarkable commitment to a philandering husband. I still love Bill Clinton, but it's fair to say a lot of women would have divorced his charming derriere. She continues to support the war (if not Donald Rumsfeld), and to speak out against the withdrawal of troops. She would still like health care coverage for all Americans, but has backed way off of a comprehensive plan like the one which never got out of the starting gate in 1993.

The truth is, Hillary Clinton has disappointed those who thought that she would be a true progressive in the Senate.

So what is it about her that would, according to Jerry Falwell and some more highly respected pundits, send conservatives to the polls in droves? I guess the devil is in the details.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ten Things Which Are Wonderful

  • Having a day off
  • My wife's cooking
  • Being greeted by the dogs which love you unconditionally
  • Preaching to people who are actively listening
  • NPR
  • Football season
  • Freshly cut grass
  • Laser printers
  • A sunny Fall day
  • Office supply stores

Yes, I'm feeling very blessed today. What ten things are you thankful for in this moment?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Why I Don't Title My Sermons

Ever since I was a seminary student, preaching quarterly at my "teaching parishes," I've avoided titling my sermons. I had to do it for a church I preached at twice while on internship--they were insistent. I think it's fine if people want to do it, but I'm part of the generation of preachers trained in more inductive methods, and sermon titles seem to work at cross purposes to inductive preaching. You don't tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em until you've told 'em.

This morning's Kansas City Star offers some reinforcement for this decision. As many of you likely have, I've been watching with interest the unfolding story of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, which is under IRS scrutiny for what has been described as an "anti-war, anti-poverty" sermon preached two days before the 2004 election. The IRS is considering revoking All Saints' tax exempt status, for "implicit endorsement."

There are numerous troubling details in this case. First, the sermon was preached by a guest preacher, not someone on staff at All Saints. That may or may not be relevant. Allowing someone the pulpit does imply a certain level of endorsement of the message, inasmuch as you can know what the message will be. Second, by all previous accounts, the preacher spoke about issues which should be important to voters, but specifically refrained from endorsing a candidate or a party. Those are the lines one cannot cross--you can't endorse a candidate or a party. The tax code is unspecific on talking about war or poverty. Indeed, I'd hope it would be difficult to preach if these subjects were off the table.

*Okay, I have to tell this only-semi-related story: I was at an event last night called "Walking the Talk of Welcome," sponsored by a group with which I'm involved here in KC. The former moderator of a local UCC church was speaking about the process their church went through to become Open and Affirming. She talked about the effects of their decision, noting that a few people had left during the process, but only one had left after the vote to become ONA (yes, really, that's how it's abbreviated). The former moderator didn't think, however, that the person left because of the vote, because he or she, upon leaving, declared "We just keep talking all the time about the poor." Egads.

Back to the matter at hand. I've been firmly on the side of All Saints, and certain that they were getting railroaded. I'm still on their side, but I did gasp just a little upon reading in today's Kansas City Star that the title of the precipitating sermon was "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush." Specifically stated in the sermon was the (surely true) opinion of the preacher that Jesus would be firmly against the Iraq war and President Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.

I would love to hear how others receive this information. Did the preacher go too far? Where is the "endorsement line?" What is kosher, if you will, and what is not?

This is a very complicated situation, and there are no easy answers. The preacher was apparently critical of both candidates, but I'm just not sure I would have named them in a sermon title. This is a moot point, of course, since I don't do sermon titles. If I did do sermon titles, though, I hope I would consider the human tendency toward binary thinking and the proximity of the election, and not use the words "Kerry," "Bush," and "debate" in my sermon title. It just seems like you're setting them up to hear you endorse someone, and even if you want that someone to be Jesus, some will take away a different message.

I do preach political sermons. I preached about the war, and continue to do so. I know I cross lines that many of my colleagues would never cross. But I think preaching is essentially the practice of placing scripture in the context of our lives, and I don't know how to do that without crossing over into subjects that can be considered political. It seems to me that Jesus talked a lot about subjects which cross over into the political. Questions of wealth and poverty, discrimination and inclusion, power and powerlessness are at their essence political questions. I'm not sure how to preach to the context of my congregation without addressing these things.

The situation with All Saints is also, quite clearly, a political one. There is a line which cannot be crossed, and it is possible that All Saints crossed it. I don't happen to think so, but that's obviously debatable. But the politics in this go beyond the situation at hand.

I'd like to hear a little debate on the role conservative churches play in electing candidates, and why All Saints is under scrutiny while they apparently are not. It would appear that the mistake All Saints made was not blowing with the right wind.

Recently someone leaked a memo from Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, who is running for re-election. The subject line of the four page email was "church efforts," and it contained instructions from Kline to his staff on how to "get him into pulpits" and raise money at as many churches as possible between now and election day.

I'm not putting too fine a point on it. Here are a couple of quotes from the memo:

"Get the pastor to invite 5 'money people,' whom he knows can help."

"Goal is to walk away with contact information, money and volunteers and a committee in each church."

The plan is to have Kline preach, then get the "money people" to host receptions, off of church property, to raise money.

Perhaps the off-site fundraisers get these churches and pastors off the hook. I know that we would draw the line at inviting a candidate to preach who was running for election. As I've already said, allowing someone the pulpit does constitute an implicit endorsement. I can't even imagine the prospect of helping the candidate "walk away with contact information, money and volunteers, and a committee" in our church. . Apparently the IRS has a different opinion, because I haven't heard that they were going to be investigating any of the churches implicated in this memo. And there were specific churches implicated. More churches will be implicated as this strategy comes to fruition.

It's messy business, the mixing of religion and politics. There are a lot of things I would like to say in the pulpit which I feel I cannot say. There are things I feel I should say, things I think Jesus would say, which I do not say in the pulpit. And there are a lot of things I have the freedom to say because I'm in a really great congregation which allows me more of that freedom than many would.

Ultimately, we have to do our best to be true to the gospel and keep out of trouble with the government. And that may be easier said than done.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Today's chuckler from The Onion

The links in the story text don't work. Sorry about that. You really don't need them, but you can always get to The Onion by going to

New Bill Would Defend Marriage From Sharks
WASHINGTON, DC—Congressional Republicans cited the saw-edged teeth of the shark community as a direct threat to married couples everywhere.


My friend Polly sent out an email recently inviting us to check out RevGalBlogPals. There's a box in the left margin of this blog so you can check it out, too. Or you can just click here. I'd recommend it. There you'll find a wonderful community of women in ministry. One could spend quite a bit of time reading the blog, and navigating around in the links to all of the other blogs. One shouldn't, of course, because one has work to do. But one could...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Size Matters?

Okay, so maybe I just don't get it, the whole size thing.

[Pause for snickering.]

I'm the pastor of a small congregation. That is the plain truth. I keep thinking (and being told) that I need to find a different adjective. Like...? "Diminutive?" "Cozy?"

We're small. We worship 16-22 people on an average week. We want to have more folks. We know we need to grow. We're committed to mission in the name of Jesus Christ. And we are growing--slowly, but it's happening.

For the time being, though, we're small. What is stunning, and wonderful, is that we're still here. This congregation has gone through a lot. I view the "family" metaphor for church with a hermeneutic of suspicion, but this congregation has endured more than some families which crack apart. They have weathered some pretty troublesome members. They decided to sell the only church building they've ever had in order to continue the mission of the congregation in a more conducive setting. They called a lesbian pastor and waited to see if they would be kicked out of the only denomination they've ever known.

And they are still here. Better than that, they are thriving! The Word of God is proclaimed in our midst, in word and deed. The community which gathers--twice a week, at least--is strong and loving. This is a congregation of folks who really understand ministry, and who are truly focused on the heart of the gospel: love of God and love of neighbor.

But it seems as if every conversation I have with someone who wants to know how we're doing goes like this:

Concerned Person: "So, how is Abiding Peace doing?"
Me: "We're great. The community is really healthy; we're moving forward in the new location; things are going really well."
Concerned Person: "How many people in worship?"

The conversation ends shortly after I offer our latest attendance figures. It seems as if nothing I say matters, if we're not worshipping at least fifty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty or whatever the current "must have" number is for Sunday worship.

I understand this; I really do. Inertia is a dangerous thing in ministry, and low numbers can be indicative of mission drain.

They can also be the beginning of a great success story. The story of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church isn't finished yet. It's going to be great, too. So it would be nice if people could just take a breath and wait for the next chapter, which, I promise, is coming. We're just deep in the creative process. Get the Pulitzers ready.

Monday, September 11, 2006


A lot of things have happened in the last five years. Some were good--this nation was unified in an unprecedented way after September 11th, 2001, and the world was with us. Bad things have happened as well, and it is particularly troubling to see the degree to which deeply painful images (like the one to the left) have been used in service of political ideology, especially over the past couple of weeks.

Today is not a day for ideology. It is a day for remembrance. Nearly three thousand people lost their lives five years ago today. Over three thousand children lost a parent. This is a day to pray for them all, and to hope that nothing like that day ever happens again.

There must be a time for reflection upon the events of the past five years, especially those which relate directly to the events of September 11, 2001. We need to think about the course we're on, and where it will get us.

But today is not that time. Today we grieve and pray and hope, trusting that God is holding us all, especially those whose lives were touched more directly by that horrible day. May God bless them and comfort them today.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Message about the Cross is Foolishness!

A couple of recent events have gotten me thinking about the cross.

The first is the reported removal of the two large crosses on our old building, which is in the process of being sold. A Buddhist community is buying it, so, of course, they have taken down the crosses. There were just two left--we took all the ones that weren't nailed down (no very bad pun intended). There was one on the outside of the building, which couldn't be seen most of the summer, because of the trees planted ever-so-close to the building. The other was a really nice one, built to match the altar rail, on the front wall of the sanctuary. Some of my members wanted to take that one down and bring it with us when we moved. I advocated leaving it there, since it was built for the space (and probably wouldn't fit in our storage unit).

Now I feel bad. Very bad--pit of the stomach bad. I wish we'd have figured out how to take it out, and while we're at it, the altar rail too. Why not?

It's probably a moot point, but I really liked that cross, and its architechtural link to the rail at which we knelt to receive the body and blood of Christ. I actually didn't notice the tie-in at first, and thought it was the coolest thing ever when someone pointed it out. (Yes, I am observant, aren't I?) It makes me sad that no one will have the experience of kneeling at that rail before that cross now.

The other thing that has me thinking about crosses is that I went to a play at a church of a denomination I won't name, in a place I also won't name (so as to avoid the impression of picking on either Presbyterians or people who live in Johnson County, since this isn't about either of those things). There was a video screen in the sanctuary in which the play was held, which was obviously operated remotely, because it went down--closed--as the show began. But here's the thing: when it's up, it covers about half of the cross on the wall.

I don't have a "screen thing." I know some people believe screens have no place in worship, and they are welcome to think that. But I think it can be helpful to have the words to hymns projected during worship. It's surely better than singing with your chin on your chest reading from a book in your hand. And when it's done well, it can also be helpful to have well-chosen, thoughtful images projected during the sermon or meditation time.

But I would have to draw the line at a screen which covers the cross, even partially. Were I a member of that church, I would have been part of the contingent of folks (for surely there was such a contingent) who thought that was a bad idea.

There are a lot of worship spaces these days which don't even have crosses. There are a lot of people these days who think that the cross is a grotesque symbol. We've all heard the old saw about how "you wouldn't wear an electric chair on a chain around your neck."

But the salvation of the world was accomplished on the cross. And while that may seem like foolishness, as St. Paul asserted it would almost two thousand years ago--it is actually the height and depth of God's wisdom, as St. Paul also asserted. Yes, I'm liking Paul again today--been doing a lot of that lately.

The cross should be at the center of our worship, and at the center of our lives. Wear it around your neck if you want. More importantly, kneel before it and give thanks to God, who is faithful and just, and who chose to become human in order that we might be saved. That may be foolishness, but I'm pretty grateful for it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My Fantasy--Larry Johnson

No, I haven't switched teams. I just added one--a Fantasy Football team through Our automated draft was yesterday. And I got Larry John-son. I got Larry John-son.

This is so awesome, because LJ is the #1 fantasy player, and he's a Chief! Not that I needed another reason to root for the Chiefs, who have done everything in the off season that they needed to do, with the possible exception of securing a more solid backup QB behind Trent Green. But that seems less critical (jinx warning) in the Herm Edwards era, when Trent will be handing off (to...oh...Larry John-son!) more than ever. I also have some confidence that Brody Croyle isn't as bad as he looked Saturday night, when he completed one of nine and was mercifully pulled for poor Casey Printers, who keeps having to stand behind the second team line (or run behind, as it were). And, yes, I wish we had Willie Roaf, but there's nothing the Chiefs can do about that. They've made it clear that his locker is still available.

I do hope its a good year for the Chiefs, mainly because I LOVE this team. Almost as much as I love my Wolverines. I also hope they do well because my 14 member fantasy team also includes Lawrence Tynes as backup kicker (behind Adam Vinatieri!) and the Chiefs defense--don't laugh, non-Chiefs fans. They're going to be better. Ty Law, baby, (!) who learned how to pick passes at a little school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It just all comes around, doesn't it?

Okay, lunch break over. And I will try to write about something besides football now. But I got Larry John-son!

By the way, the fantasy league I'm in is called Go Blue Wolverines. Isn't life great?!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Go Blue--Nine Days and Counting!

Michigan football kicks off in nine days...actually, just under nine days, since the game is at 11 a.m. Central Time, and it's just after noon here.

Michigan football!

Hail! to the victors valiant,
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes,
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the leaders and best.

There's another verse, but I'll spare you. Actually, there are a bunch of verses, and this is just the first half of the fight song chorus. But the chorus is the part sung by those of us who sing and pump our arms like crazy people. I can tell you that it's pretty powerful to be in Michigan stadium with well over a hundred thousand dear friends, all singing these words and pumping their arms.

I don't know what it is about Michigan football that captivated me so long ago. We moved from Ann Arbor the day before I turned seven. I didn't go to Michigan; I went to San Francisco State (which had a football team, though most of the students never went to a game). I always thought I'd go to Michigan, but reality set in hard my senior year, when I realized that I had neither the grades nor the money. I could probably have managed the grades, had I stopped feeling sorry for myself for being stuck in California. (pause for laughter) But the money would have been a bit more challenging. So SF State it was, and the decision was honestly a good one.

And through it all, I have been a fan of the Maize and Blue. That fan-dom goes way beyond the outrageously good show the boys put on practically every year. Michigan football is home to me. We moved around when I was a kid. Not as much as some kids, but more than I would have liked. Before starting high school, I had lived in four states. Started four different elementary schools.

Michigan football was a constant, a taste of something familiar brought into my living room every Fall. It was a reminder that some things stay the same, that there is an order in the universe. That good blocking and an effective pass rush can get you a long way.

This may sound crazy, or blasphemous, or both, but I sometimes think that Michigan football was a gift to me from God. There are those who will tell you that my rapt attention and verbal energy during a game approach the level of worship.

No, I don't worship Michigan football. And if I yelled like that in worship, I'd have to turn in my Lutheran Card. But just as the church year kicks into high gear each Fall, the boys in Maize and Blue drop into the living room, in the striped helmets which haven't changed their look since 1938.

Constants are good. Familiar is good. I'm keeping my Lutheran Card, and GO BLUE!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ten Minute Sabbath

Okay, so I'm really not the idle blogger. I haven't posted anything here in a while. A long while actually. But I have written a bunch of devotions which are published on my other blog,

They're short devotions, each consisting of an opening prayer, a reading, a meditation, and a closing prayer. The readings are from the Bible, and from other places--prayers, readings and meditations from folks like the greatest Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn; Mohammed; Mother Teresa. I've tried to include a lot of different stuff, and to ask some questions in the meditations to help folks think about their faith and their lives in light of the readings.

Right now the devotions are set up as two "weeks of sabbath." The first week has two devotions for each day, morning and evening. The second week has one devotion for each day. Feel free to do a week of sabbath, or to just do one or two. Or just to look around and see if there's anything you like.

I think they're not bad, and hope that they bring a moment of sabbath into our busy lives.

And I'll try to keep up with this blog, too...

Friday, June 30, 2006

I Just Love The Onion

They just have the best stuff! I can't resist them! Here's another one, for the crunchy environmentalist in us all: click me

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Not for the Pious

Okay, if you're secure in your personal piety, and want to read something pretty funny, click above.

If you don't like jokes about salvation (and why not?), DO NOT click above.

So many cords, so little time

Remember the olden days? In your bedroom you'd have a lamp, and maybe a stereo (though some of us had a battery-operated transistor). Maybe you even had a stereo and a clock radio. Still, those would pretty much be all the "corded things" you had. There would be empty plugs, just waiting for a blow dryer, or a fan.

Today I'm sitting in my spare bedroom/office, and realizing that if these cords rise up against me, I'm a goner. There are two different power strips in here, and every plug except the one we just uncovered (used to be behind the bed) is chock full. I've got a couple of printers, a stereo, a monitor, a processor, a Road Runner box, and a desk lamp plugged in under my feet. There's a fan, a phone, the charger for the PDA, and something-else-I'd-have-to-follow-the-cord plugged in behind me. Into the computer box run cords for most of the aforementioned items, plus the connector cables for the camera, the PDA, the MP3 and whatever else can be reduced to letters and numbers and plugged into the computer.

There's no point to this rant, really. Just a bit of nostalgia for a simpler time, coupled (ironically) with a real love for all of these gadgets.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pyrrhic Victories

I love the Human Rights Campaign. I really do. I love the little blue squares with the little yellow equal signs that keep conservatives from knowing what you're all about. HRC has enabled a whole generation of people to be personally supportive without putting themselves in any danger. (Warning: the previous is three parts true, one part sarcasm.)

Apologies to those who don't know what I'm talking about. The Human Rights Campaign is a premier national gay rights organization, which has taken as its symbol the equal sign, yellow on a blue square. People put these symbols on their cars, mainly, but you'll find them on hats and shirts as well. You may have seen them, and wondered what they're all about. (Yeah, that's my problem in a nutshell.) HRC is on the forefront of the campaign for human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks. They really do a lot of great work. No parts sarcasm.

HRC is claiming victory today over the defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

I understand this. Really. When you're not getting a lot of major victories, you've got to take what you can get.

But the defeat of the FMA isn't a victory, any more than it's a victory for me if my dogs to go out when I open the back door. The dogs go out because they like (and need) the backyard. If they stopped going out, I'd stop opening the back door.

Everyone--from Howard Dean to James Dobson--knew that the FMA wouldn't pass. Nearly every news story about it included some caveat about the unlikelihood of a two-thirds vote, or even the sixty votes needed to keep the legislation going this time around. Nearly every news story explained, in patronizing detail, that this was just a political move to shore up the conservative base in an election year.

One part of me wishes it had just passed. Three parts of me are still glad it didn't, of course, but I'm really kind of sick of the two-year cyclical roller coaster.

Since the FMA failed again, despite the president's oh-so-lukewarm support, the back door is still open. And in two years, when we need to choose a new president, the topic of the day will once again not be war, peace, feeding the hungry, abuse of prisoners worldwide, why Johnny can't read, or any of the other really important, pressing matters facing this nation and the world. It will be the dire threat that lesbian and gay people pose to the oh-so-thriving institution of marriage.

Every two years, we get to be a major issue, because our elected officials like (and need) diversions from the mess we're in as a country.

Missouri struck down its gay sodomy law yesterday. This means that my friend and council president Lisa cannot be considered "lacking in moral character" simply because she is a lesbian. That is the argument that the Department of Social Services used to deny Lisa a foster parent license, despite the fact that her education and her entire career have been devoted to caring for kids in need.

Lisa took a stand, very publicly, which surely wasn't easy for someone who doesn't seek the limelight. But she has helped remove the sanctioned bigotry of Missouri state law. Because of her courage, others may not have to defend their "lifestyles" before the courts of this state.

Now that's a victory.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Self Care 101

We got away this weekend--packed up the van and the dogs and a lot of junky food (never shop for vacation food when hungry), and drove up to spend the night with our friends Serena and Anna at their place up at Lake Viking.

It was great.

We were able to get away because we were both off on Monday. It's kind of tricky when one of you is off Saturday and Sunday, and one works Sunday morning. But it's more possible to get away than we usually think. You just have to do it.

We've already decided we're going again in two weeks, even though we've got other stuff going that weekend. We're just going to do it.

Might be learning something in my old age.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I need to quit my job. The one that's my "job," and not my "career." I work three shifts a week, 15-20 hours or so, waiting tables at a fine seafood restaurant in Leawood, Kansas. I have that job because I'm only 3/4 time at my career job.

I need to quit the second job, because it eats up energy and time I would like to put toward my "real job," being the pastor of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church.

I need to quit that job because I am the entire staff of Abiding Peace, which means if we're going to grow, it's up to me. Yes, that's bad ecclesiology--the growth of the church is up to the whole community, right? But ecclesiology and reality are often downright hostile to one another. (Just google "Reformation" for evidence of this.) The truth is, the congregation is looking to me to grow this church, and whether I like it or not is really beside the point.

So I need to quit that second job. It's hard, though, because there's also all this stuff I want.

I want a laptop. I want a new desk chair. I want to go on vacation, somewhere cool. I want to continue to download the internet at lightening speed by paying forty dollars a month to Time Warner Cable.

Because I'm three-quarters time at church and still pay $450 a month for the privilege of having borrowed a seminary education, something will have to go in order for me to quit my second job. One of those things I consider essential...those things that are really choices, but which America teaches us we deserve. I deserve a cell phone and a laptop and Road Runner high speed internet. I deserve them. Plus, I need them to do my job (the real one) better. That's my favorite rationalization of all.

I don't know yet what I'll do. It's a hard choice. If you are reading this, your wisdom is sought. Prayers are good too. Just as a general rule.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Every Movement Needs an Enemy

I was listening to Fresh Air (with Terry Gross) yesterday while driving around charging my car battery (another story) . Terry's guest was Michelle Goldberg, who has written a book called Kingdom Coming--The Rise of Christian Nationalism. It was a fascinating interview; you can listen by clicking the title above. Once you get to that page, just click on the "Listen" icon.

Goldberg's book explores the concerted effort on the part of the Christian Right to become a force in American political life. Actually, "become a force" isn't quite right--where the movement is most organized, the goal is domination. Some have said that quite openly. It's pretty scary.

Eventually, of course, the conversation rolled around to the very large anti-gay plank in the Right's platform, and Terry asked why gay and lesbian people have become such a visible target of this movement. Michelle Goldberg explained that the right has formed alliances with many of its former adversaries (African-American evangelicals, Jews). Then she said "Every movement needs an enemy."

So we are the convenient enemy of the Religious Right. And that's working out rather well for them. It certainly helped reelect our esteemed president, especially in states like Ohio and Missouri which had gay marriage initiatives on their ballots.

I got to thinking about this idea that gay and lesbian people are a good enemy for the religious right. If we're going to serve in this capacity, explained Goldberg, it is important that gay and lesbian people be seen as the enemy of all that is beloved of the Christian Right. So gay people are painted as not just wanting "special rights" like health insurance, the right to visit a loved one in the hospital, and legal recognition of our relationships. According to people like D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell, we're trying to destroy the institution of marriage. (You know, the one we keep begging crumbs from--logic is much less important than fierce rhetoric here.) And we are absolutely anti-Christian. We're behind the War on Christmas and the War on Christians. (We're only nominally responsible for the War on Terror, thankfully.)

Anyway, here's the part I think is really interesting. My premise, if you will. No wonder conservatives in the church get so unbelievably bent about gay people in the church. It wrecks the fundaments of the gays-are-out-to-destroy-Christianity argument (which is deliciously compelling) if we are trying to worship and (egads!) get ordained.

No wonder they are so mad. These crazy queers who insist on staying in the church are just ruining their social studies project.

That makes my day. Perhaps I am actually twisted.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

They will know we are Christians...

So yesterday I said to a friend, rather flippantly, that gay people are seldom persecuted these days, at least not openly. For the most part, we're allowed to live our lives, and only have to endure hatefulness from the people who write letters to the editor and resolutions for the Synod Assembly.

And then today I heard from another friend that an incredibly talented music director in town was serving his last Sunday this week at a local Catholic parish. (Sorry to be circumspect; I don't know how public he wants this story to be, so I'm erring on the side of circumspect.) The gentleman in question has been forced out by a cabal of hateful folks in the parish, who have subjected him to letters, notes, and even written messages on his belongings. One of the notes simply said "Leave, Fag!"

Ah, the love of a Christian community.

I almost wish he could stay another week, so that the congregation could hear the words of the lectionary gospel of the day, St. John, chapter 15--“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you"--as they bid farewell to the best director in town.

Is it just me, or is hatefulness becoming a default mode in our public discourse? People don't even seem to hide their hatefulness any more--they just come right out with it. There's another post here, but I wanted this story to stand on its own. It is a story of needless loss, and a reminder that the church cannot simply "allow everyone their opinions." Some "opinions" are wrong. If we don't have the courage to say that, then the hatefulness will escalate, and the Body of Christ will lose more blood.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Methodist die is (not) cast

The UMC Judicial Council has decided not to revisit its decisions regarding a gay man barred from membership by the man who decided not to be his pastor. At issue was whether it was right for the pastor to be disciplined for the act of barring membership to a gay man. The council ruled that it was not, and has decided now to let that decision stand.

What a shame.

You can read the whole article on the decision by clicking on the title of this post. (Hat tip to Andy for his post on this matter.)

The question the council had to decide is rather complicated, because the presenting issue is actually whether disciplining this pastor is an "administrative" or a "judicial" matter.

Uh huh.

When I was in seminary, a student one year ahead of me, Robyn, came out to her candidacy committee at the point of Approval. The Approval meeting is the candidate's last step; Robyn had already received favorable reports from her internship congregation and from the professors at our seminary.

The candidacy committee, being a just body and wishing to dismiss her quietly, resolved to figure out how not to make a decision. So they went to the seminary professors, and asked how they could possibly testify to Robyn's preparedness for ministry, when clearly she was a (gasp!) LESBIAN. It was their hope that the seminary would withdraw its approval, and the committee could punt.

Our seminary professors, saints all (and I mean that), told the candidacy committee that they had no intention of withdrawing their approval. They weren't asked to testify to Robyn's compliance with the ELCA's sexuality standards for candidates. They were asked whether she was prepared academically for the parish. And she was.

So the committee, forced to make a decision, made the right one, albeit for a kind of specious reason (Robyn is a lesbian, but she wasn't having a "homosexual sexual relationship" when they met with her.) Sometimes church committees surprise you.

I tell that story because it is my opinion that the UMC Judicial Council punted. It doesn't matter how they arrived at their decision. It doesn't matter what the presenting issue was. The decision will send a clear message to LGBT folks, that they need not apply. Shame, because there are so many great Methodist churches out there.

Here's why it doesn't matter that the council says its decision has to do with legal minutiae and not with the matter at hand--can a pastor deny membership to a queer person? The following is an excerpt from the article on the decision on the UMC site:

Council members James W. Holsinger Jr., Mary A. Daffin and Keith D. Boyette signed a concurring opinion, saying they “join with our colleagues who have voted to deny the petition for reconsideration in this matter because the petitioners for reconsideration have not shown Decision 1032 clearly to be in error, nor have they shown that reconsideration of the decision is necessary to prevent a manifest injustice resulting from the interpretation of the decision."

According to the UMC website, there are 45,176 clergy members in the United Methodist Church. There are 34,892 local UMC churches. Given the fact that this decision seems to allow gay folks to be excluded from membership in those churches, and given the fact that there are a lot of individual clergy folks who get to make those decisions, it seems likely that there will be injustice "resulting from the interpretation of the decision." Whether that injustice is "manifest" depends, I guess, on what you think of the worth of the gay people who will be turned away.

No Child Left...

Saw this in large soap letters on a car yesterday in Lee's Summit, that wonderful little 'burb in which I reside:


Hope they go over spelling one more time before she graduates.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Prayers for Methodists

Gee, it's been too long. Sorry. Holy Week really kicks my l'il ecclesial behind.

The United Methodist Church's Judicial Council meets today in Overland Park. They may have multiple things on their docket (and surely they do), but it is that old ubiquitous Sexuality Debate that has captured the imagination of newspaper reporters and activists. That is not meant to be a disparaging comment, at least not about reporters and activists. I was once an aspiring newspaper reporter and am currently an activist, though my schedule seems to render me more an "in-activist" these days.

I was also a baby Methodist--baptized at First Methodist in Ann Arbor, Michigan and charter toddler at Glacier Way Methodist in closer-to-our-house suburban Ann Arbor. My father graduated from SMU, and had he not died when I was still in preschool at Glacier Way, I'm sure I'd still be a Methodist.

Which I guess means I'd be fighting the UMC, instead of the ELCA, for the right to fulfill my call to ordained ministry. I'm thinking that would be okay. It might be fun to be a Methodist outlaw in town instead of a Lutheran one. I seem to find more kindred spirits in the ranks of the local Methodist clergy anyway.

But this post isn't actually supposed to be about me... It is meant to offer a word of prayer for the Judicial Council, for those who will be affected by whatever decisions the council makes, and for the United Methodist Church, which is a grand body struggling with the same institutional plurality sending most of our denominations into fits.

You can read the whole article describing the council's meeting and the Issues (cue background music by Danny Elfman) at stake, from Sunday's KC Star Faith section, which is now a half section on the back of another section and that's surely a blog post for another day. There is an article in today's paper, but it's not yet on the Star website. For those who prefer soundbites, here's the really pertinent paragraph, describing those decisions which may be revisited, depending on the results of the Judicial Council meeting:

In October, the council sided with a Virginia pastor who had denied immediate church membership to a sexually active gay man. The pastor’s bishop punished him when the pastor refused to accept the man into membership. At the same meeting, the council defrocked Beth Stroud, an openly lesbian minister.

And here's the prayer:

Loving God, in whom we live and breathe, bless our sisters and brothers on the United Methodist Church Judicial Council. Surround them with your love, and lay upon them your wisdom. Grant patience to those who await the results of this meeting, and clear voices of to those who will speak a word of justice to us all. May the wounds which these debates have caused be healed by the love we share as fellow members of the Body of Christ. Amen

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Funny Headline of the Day

In today's Kansas City Star, Page A-3, I read the following headline and tried not to choke on my cinnamon toast:

DeLay implores religious right to make stand.

You can read the whole article if you want:
click here

But you can probably guess what it says. In America, "of course there is a war on Christianity today," says Tom Delay, and it is time for the Religious Right to start trying in earnest to influence public policy (if you are at work, try not to laugh too hard, because those desk chairs are notoriously unstable).

Oh, and just for you, friends, a bonus quote of the day. Rev. Rick Scarborough, who is identified in the article as "a fellow Texan and key organizer of 'values voters' in the 2004 presidential election," offered a description of Tom Delay (that guy under endictment for conspiracy and money-laundering, and "under scrutiny" for his many ties to tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff). According to Rev. Scarborough, Delay is "a man God has represent righteousness in government."

Repent, for the end may very well be near.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Read this column!

Great column in today's Star by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. Give it a click and a read.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Abiding Peace

Tom Fox is dead. They found his body yesterday in Baghdad. Tom was one of the four members of a Christian Peacemaking Team abducted in Iraq late last year. A recent video broadcast on Al Jazeera showed the other three members, but there was no sign of Tom. Yesterday the worst fears of those praying for his safe release were realized.

It is hard not to be angry when a man who dedicated his life to peace is abducted and murdered by the people he is trying to help. It is hard not to want someone to pay for this.

But this is what Tom himself wrote about his mission:

"We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”

What a beautiful statement that is. True peacemakers are rare, and one is now lost. I pray for his family, his friends, and his colleagues at Christian Peacemaker Teams. Theirs is the work of abiding peace--the peace which rejects all forms of oppression, violence and tyranny, even in the face of terrible tragedy. The powers and principalities of our world have a lot to learn from Tom Fox.

You can read the last statement Tom made before being abducted here. It is worth reading, and worth prayerful meditation. His words live on, even as his body is no more.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

SWF Not Really S

I was called for jury duty for Monday. I wasn't overjoyed, to be honest, but it's the duty of the citizens of a democracy to serve, so off I went, ready to serve if called.

Jury duty cost me somewhere between a hundred and a hundred fifty bucks, since I usually work lunch and dinner at the restaurant on Mondays. But that wasn't the bad part.

We had to be downtown at 8:30 a.m. Since traffic can actually be heavy at that time (caveat: for Kansas City--we never have much traffic, thankfully), I left my house just after 7:30. Icky early, in my privileged world. Not the worst part of the experience, though.

When I arrived, ten minutes early, there were no more seats in the Jury Room. By 8:45, there were people standing all around the room, and out in the hallway. We stood for a couple of hours, until they started dismissing the people with excuses like "but I'm in seminary..." Not the worst part, either--in fact, I made a couple of nice friends, one of whom turns out, like me, to have attended San Francisco State for her undergrad. Small world.

I waited for six hours, and was never called (not even for the on-call panel). It was kind of tedious, but I talked to old and new friends, and the day passed uneventfully. Definitely not the worst part.

Actually, the only unpleasant part of the whole experience was filling out the questionaire they give you when you arrive. On the questionaire, top of the second column, is a line marked "Marital Status." I contemplated that line for a while, sighed, and wrote in "single."

The thing is, I'm not single. We were married November 8, 2003, at First Lutheran Church in Mission Hills.

But there I was, sitting in the Jackson County Courthouse Jury Room, and the correct answer to the question, in the eyes of Jackson County, Missouri, US of A, is "single." I married another woman, and The State wants nothing to do with that.

This isn't a big red state/blue state, liberal/conservative thing. It's a small thing. Not "small" as in "unimportant," but "small" as in "individual, particular, personal." Every day, individuals across this great land of freedom and opportunity are denied the opportunity to tell the truth about their lives to a world which teaches them that their truth isn't real.

There was no way to fill in the "marital status" line and not feel like I was lying. If I wrote "married," I would have been imposing my truth on a legal system which doesn't recognize it. But when I wrote single, I felt as if I was denying the relationship at the center of my life, a relationship which is every bit as important and life-sustaining to me as any recorded in the files in the Jackson County Courthouse.

The day is surely coming when it will be okay to write "married" on that line. That will be nice. Not just because gay and lesbian people are longing to have our relationships recognized in the ways that other relationships are recognized. But because it will be nice not to have to worry about being thrown into a quandary by something as small as a jury questionaire.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What Ever Happened to Ferocity About Veracity?

There's a little article on page A-ll of today's Kansas City Star. I'd link it for you, but it isn't on the Star website. The article isn't "breaking news," apparently. It's short, though, so I'll just retype it:

"WASHINGTON--Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Pentagon was reviewing its practice of paying to plant stories in Iraq, withdrawing his earlier statement that it had been stopped. Rumsfeld told reporters he was mistaken in the earlier assertion. 'I don't have knowledge as to whether it's been stopped,' Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing. 'I do have knowledge it was put under review. I was correctly informed. And I just misstated the facts.'"

Now, call me sensitive, but I think if you are "correctly informed" about something, and you say something else, then you are not "mistaken." You are choosing not to tell the truth.

I suppose I should be pleased that Rumsfeld is willing to say right up front that he "misstated the facts." But it seems to me to be the height of hubris to just throw that out there, as if it is okay.

But it's not Rumsfeld who dissappoints me. To be honest (hey--why not?), I now expect this sort of bold assertion of the untruth. It's a news media which buries the story on page A-11, and a public which will be unmoved by the story, if they happen to read it, who worry me. Shouldn't the fourth estate challenge this sort of, well, lying? And shouldn't the citizens of a democracy expect more of their officials?

I'm still idealistic enough to want my leaders to tell me the truth--and to expect some outrage when they "misstate the facts." I'm still idealistic enough to believe that someone will stand up and declare that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes--even when he's wearing a borrowed flight suit.

Yeah, I wrote a letter. Hopefully a few other people did too. And hopefully a new day will dawn--a day full of grace, as the hymn goes--and maybe even the truth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hi Mom

My mother says she read my blog. So just in case she's reading it again--Hi Mom. I love you.

Christian Left...Behind?

On NPR today, a guy was talking about William Jennings Bryan. He was explaining that when Bryan was in congress, Christians were experiencing a political revival, much like the one being experienced today.

The difference was, though, that at that time, political power was being wielded by those on the Christian Left. It was the time of the social gospel, of a religious voice which spoke of care for the poor and fair treatment of all of our neighbors. (Wonder where they got that stuff...)

The guy on NPR drew the obvious distinction between those days and ours, and then said about today, "The Christian Left is practically nonexistent."

I imagine it seems that way. And it is hard in these days of color reduction ("I'm blue; you're red") to want to carve out our side of the political spectrum.

A spectrum--what a novel idea! Or a very bad mixed metaphor--you make the call.

But I am a proud member of the Christian Left. I hope we're not irrelevant, and I know we're not "practically nonexistent," though I can imagine why one might think so. It's the only place I can think of to be, as a person trying to follow Jesus, though messing that up pretty badly some days.

Here I stand, I guess. I can do no other.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fun with Deuterocanonical Works

I know what you're thinking--"Donna, how can deuterocanonical--or apocryphal--texts be great fun for us all?"

We've been studying them in our adult ed class (held at Andy's church--see how it all just comes around). We've been reading and remarking on a book called Lost Scriptures--Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. The last text we're looking at is called The Didache. It's a text from (probably) the very early first century, filled with teachings (that's what didache means, for the non-Greeky folks among us). If you want to read it, go here:

The teachings run the gamut, pulled mainly from canonical--or Bible--sources. Most of the teachings are divided into the two sections which discuss "the path of life" and "the path of death."

I rather like The Didache, because it pulls together a lot of the best teachings of Christ and of his early church. The part that really hit me, though, on this morning after the State of the Union address, is the first description of "the path of death." I actually made a sound (heard only by my dogs, fortunately), when I read this: "It is filled with persecutors of the good...who turn their backs on the needy, oppress the afflicted, and support the wealthy."

This is, of course, just good old Jesus didache. But it sure seems to indict a lot of our public officials, especially those with most of the power in the state and nation in which I live. Last night I heard the president talk about how well we're doing as a nation. Then he outlined some new "initiatives." But both the "progress" we're making and the directions in which we're heading seem to me to be in direct violation of the great Jesus didache I'm reading this morning.

One quick example: health savings accounts, which Mr. Bush touted last night. These are a really great idea for healthy people with money. Last time I checked, those weren't the folks who most desperately needed health care. With a health savings account, you'll spend less on insurance, as long as you don't need it. If you do need it, you'll pay a whopper of a deduction, and woe to you if what you've got is chronic or requires hospitalization. I'm not sure how this is helping out the folks who really need help. The experts agree that it won't help stem health care costs.

So, okay, these realizations aren't exactly the dictionary definition of "fun." In fact, the oppression of the needy and afflicted, for the express purpose of supporting the wealthy, is anything but fun (at least for the former group--the latter are doing quite nicely, thank you very much).

But loving Jesus is fun. And taking his "moral values" into our hearts and our lives is fun, even when it causes us to do without so that others might do with. I'm thrilled to be part of a very fun congregation that gets all of this, and doesn't mind me nattering on about it. In fact, some of them natter right along.

The Jesus didache will win in the end. I hope we'll all have fun getting there. There's a lot of work to do, but that can be fun too.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I Have a Dream: Justification by Grace!

You really have to love this. Unless you're severely disturbed by it. I've seen both reactions, and can understand each.

Clearly someone went crazy with the clip art, and forgot the "King, Jr." As you can see, they even forgot the "Jr." on the sign.

This sign adorned a window at the public library in Schertz, Texas, for at least a week before MLK, Jr. Day. Apparently no one noticed.

Thanks to my friend Andy, who linked this pic (well, the Real Live Preacher blog, which had this pic) on his blog, which is awesome, by the way:

I mentioned this little sign at Pastor's Text Study this week, and one of my colleagues pointed out the irony in the middle of the room: this misunderstanding usually goes the other way. Just ask my wife.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Anyone" Can Comment--A Parable of Grace

An interesting thing happened today--two of them, in fact. This morning I checked my blog, and still no comments. At first I decided to feel sorry for myself. I'm pretty wedded to the idea that this ought to be a conversation, not my personal e-news column. But then I got to thinking--hey maybe my blog isn't very interesting. Or maybe people are planning to comment and just haven't done so yet. We are a people of grace, after all. I ought to be busier modeling that grace than crying over comments. So I decided to quit feeling sorry for myself, which is a good default mode, but requires some discipline.

Then I went to Covenant Group this morning (see explanation of Covenant Group in previous entry). The first person I saw was Kevin, who told me he had tried to comment on my blog, but it was making him sign in and answer a bunch of questions.

So when I got home, I checked my settings, and sure enough, in the Comments section, "only registered users" was checked. Which I suppose means that you have to register on this blog, or with Blogger, or some such, in order to make a comment.

So I've changed that, and anyone who wants to can leave a comment now. I'll still try to be more interesting--this blog perhaps notwithstanding. :)

Feel free to comment. Or not. I love you either way.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Cookie Mafia--Seeking Your Input

So at the end of our Covenant Group* meeting yesterday, we were talking about how we handle visitors at worship on Sunday morning. There are a lot of schools of thought on that. Some say that visitors should be allowed their space--greet them warmly, but don't get too close. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that it's important to recognize visitors in a big way--have them stand up, talk to them as much as possible, and visit them at their homes the same day they visit church. The middle way is usually to chat them up some at church and then send a card or note, thanking them for coming to worship.

Abiding Peace started a group of Visitor Care folks, who would take cookies to the homes of visitors after Sunday worship. We did it for a while, but moving out of our building kind of put an end to our Sunday afternoon evangelism, due partly to logistics (the cookies were in the freezer at church and could be baked in the oven at church--we no longer have a freezer or an oven) and partly to the fact that these sorts of programs require a high level of accountability and energy, especially for introverts, which most of us are.

So here's my question: Is the Cookie Mafia (provocative title not meant to convey any disdain) a good idea? What brought you back to church, if you are indeed at a church? Or what would bring you back if you visited a church and might be inclined to return? Would you like a visit from members of the church? The pastor? Or an email? A card? Nothing?

Please drop me a comment if you can. This is really important information for our congregation as we move forward.


*Our Covenant Group is a sextumvirate (Okay, I made up that word--not as racy as it sounds--there are six of us.) of ministers who meet every Tuesday morning at St. Paul School of Theology. The five others in our group are some of the best people I know. We hold one another accountable for being the best we can be at the various aspects of our lives--ministry, family, self care, and humor.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Dear Pat Robertson...

...please be quiet.

It seems each day that you (Pat Robertson, I mean, though I'm pretty sure he doesn't read my blog) have a terrible habit of speaking before you think. We all suffer from that disease sometimes, and I get a really bad case of it once in a while. But usually it doesn't make the papers. In fact, when I know that there is a chance that something I say will appear in print, I try to be careful.

I try to be careful because a lot of people are wondering about Christianity out there. A lot of people are wondering what is going on with those Christians, who seem to spend more time fighting with one another and condemning people we don't even know than practicing the gospel we preach.

Pat, when you say that it might be good if someone assassinated the president of Venezuela, people notice. And they get to wondering. When you talk about Ariel Sharon's stroke, and then offer a line from scripture condemning those (Sharon) who would give away God's land, people notice. And they wonder again. What is with Those Christians.

What's supposed to be with us is a word of love--love for all people, especially those in need. Ariel Sharon was in need of our prayers, and all you needed to say was "Hey, I may not agree with everything Sharon does, but I'm sure praying for him."

It really wouldn't have been so hard. Those people wondering about us would probably have thought it kind, and generous, and decent. It might have lessened the damage done by the dozens of other dumb things you've said in the past few years.

I'm sorry to be harsh, but a Christian minister whose language is the idiom of hate is a dangerous thing. I know you believe that the things you say are right, but, sorry, wrong again. Wrong, and a hazard to those of us trying our best to invite more and more of those wondering folks into our fellowship.

So please, do us all a favor and just be quiet. The contemplative life is good. Thousands of monks can't be wrong.