Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Holy Gift!

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭18-25‬ KJV)

Friday, December 19, 2014

What Business Are You In?

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance,and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
Ebeneezer Scrooge and The Ghost of Jacob Marley
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens

Thursday, December 18, 2014

President Elizabeth Warren? Think its Possible?

  One of my very first mentions of Elizabeth Warren came during her eventually successful bid to become United States Senator from Massachusetts. I had the opportunity to moderate a meeting when she came to Dallas, promoting the work of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau which she created to reign in the most excessive practice of big banks and payday lenders. Suffice it to say I've been smitten with her for quite awhile.

Warren's intelligence, her capacity to explain issues related to finance and fiscal policy understandable, and to come up with creative policy proposals to deal with those issues, is a simply amazing.

Elizabeth Warren appearing before Congressional Oversight Panel 2008

So it's not surprising that as we approach the Presidential election of 2016, that she has been mentioned more and more often as a contender for the Oval Office. Now, of course it is widely believed that Hillary Clinton is the front runner for the Democratic nomination. But for any number of reasons, support for Senator Warren is growing. Even New York Times columnist David Brooks is touting the Senator as a possible 2016 presidential contender.

"The political class has been wondering if Warren, a United States senator from Massachusetts, will take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. This speculation is usually based on the premise that Warren couldn’t actually win, but that she could move the party in her direction. But, today, even for those of us who disagree with Warren fundamentally, it seems clear that she does have a significant and growing chance of being nominated."

"Her chances are rising because of that word “fight.” The emotional register of the Democratic Party is growing more combative. There’s an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat."

"Events like the Brown case in Ferguson and the Garner case in New York have raised indignation levels across the progressive spectrum. Judging by recent polls, the midterm defeat has not scared Democrats into supporting the safe option; it’s made them angrier about the whole system. As the party slips more into opposition status, with the next Congress, this aggressive outsider spirit will only grow."

I don't know how much of a chance Senator Warren would have in a political 'fight' with Hillary Clinton (or anyone else for that matter). But I wish she would run, if only to make the case for a more rational fiscal policy that would restore the middle class and protect the poor. Frankly, even as a huge Clinton 'fan', I don't know who else could.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Blue on Black Violence and the Protest of Star Athletes

Andrew Hawkins

I have few words to express the way I feel about these photos. Let me give you one: pride!

I never played football at the highest level (certainly not basketball!), but these pro players provide me with an immense sense of pride by not allowing they're celebrity status to distance them from their community. They show that no matter their wealth, status and their prominence, they understand the pain inflicted on the black community and they understand that they are a part of that same community.

Of course the pain of these losses, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, are felt far beyond the black community. Whites, Asian Americans, Jews, Catholics are joining in these protests. They understand the historic nature of such injustices. They have been touched in profound ways by these killings. Some have black friends and family members who have suffered humiliating injustices and who live with the pain of that humiliation. Still others know these men and their families personally. Others know full well, that if justice was denied these men, it is only a matter of time before justice is will be denied them!

Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy shot to death after a seconds long 'encounter' with a policeman in Cleveland; John Crawford, the young man shot to death by police almost immediately after police encounter him with a shotgun in an Ohio Walmart; Eric Garner, choked to death by a policeman for allegedly selling single cigarettes; Michael Brown, the unarmed teen, shot to death by a Ferguson policeman, after a physical altercation. Brown, Garner and Rice's shooters all were no-billed by grand juries, sparking the question that has turned into a cry, "Black Lives Matter" in protests all across the country.

Kobe Bryant
These pro athletes and college athletes (like the Georgetown University Women' Basketball team) have joined those protests, peacefully using the prominence of their personality in refusing to let the memories of these men die...and I am proud of them.These protests are not a condemnation of every police officer.

Police union's effort to denigrate and get pro teams' officials to infringe upon these athletes right to protest, show a misunderstanding of the pain being inflicted on the black community. Particularly in Missouri and Ohio (where the President of the Patrolman's Union actually called it 'pathetic' when athletes 'think they know the law.'). The calls for these athletes' censure deserve protest and condemnation.

Everyone of us knows law enforcement officials who have been kind and helpful. I personally know police officers who have not only been blessings to the black community, but who have gone out of their way to help me understand their work. I have served as a pastor to several families of officers.  I'm grateful for them and don't hesitate to call on them when needed. All of that being said, this gratuitous taking of black lives must stop! The tired, questions of black on black violence must stop. We don't need to add to black on black crime by blue on black killing. We need accountable law enforcement that allows us to breathe and which understands just how much black lives matter!

Athletes, college and pro understand that!

Georgetown University Varsity Women's Basketball Team

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Here Come 'the Dones'! - Well, There They Go...

It's been ten years since I left the pastorate. People ask me if I miss it and I generally answer that there are certain aspects of being a pastor that I miss. Preaching, teaching, organizing and inspiring people to use their gifts for the Kingdom. I do not particularly miss committee meetings, or 'business meetings', or some aspects of dealing with financial aspects of church work. I can do it and as a pastor I think I got pretty good at it, but it was not my favorite part of pastoral work. As much of a drain as it may have been emotionally, I enjoyed comforting members during times of illness and grief. I absolutely loved interaction with our children and our seniors!

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But let no one fool you, pastoring a church is hard work! And its gotten harder in the past ten years. What pastors must deal with in terms of culture is incredibly difficult. Barna and Pew researchers have come up with categories of those who represent, frankly, new challenges to pastors and churches in general. For instance there are the 'Nones' people who describe themselves as 'spiritual but not religions' Not a part of any particular church or denomination. They have rejected the 'schisms' or divisions into which the church has fallen and the competitive nature of churches, or the 'branding' of church. I get some of that. I say that with the clear caveat that I am 'old school' enough to understand historical rational for the divisions, but also rejecting the idea of what I see as 'generic' forms of worship that deny the influence of culture, ethnicity, mixed with the challenges of recognition of diversity. To me, churches that fit in this category are like unlabled cans - you don't know what you're getting until you open them up. It can be great, but it can also be disappointing.

Now we hear about a new category, 'The Dones' as in those who are 'done' with church! They are Christians who have apparently been active, indeed they tend to me some of the most active members of the church, who have come to the conclusion that they are 'done' with formal religion. The amazing thing about these Christians is that they do not leave to look for other churches. They leave never to come back!

You can read more about the Dones, here and here.

At first blush that is remarkable on so many levels. I find it interesting as a former pastor. My relationships to other church members has taken on a different caste. I feel as if I am able to 'hear' the hurts of many church members (and former church members) in a different way. To be sure some people are really over dramatizing their issues. Some people are selfish. But there are people that have been honestly, sincerely hurt, if not injured, by their church experience. There are people, long standing servants, whose questions about God border on the unanswerable (and are honestly unanswerable), and they are experiencing profound disappointment. And there are those who have mistakenly found in a preacher/pastor 'the voice of God' and when that preacher/pastor fails, it is for them as if God has failed. Still others are simply overworked and overwhelmed, they work for God more than  they pray to Him and there comes a time when they can't take it anymore. They would never tell you that, but that is there problem.

Still 'the dones' seem to be a little different. Perhaps they are turned off by the perceived (or actual) hypocrisy they find in the church. Perhaps they crave an opportunity for service that they feel doesn't fit their 'gift', or maybe they are looking for a genuine fellowship. Or any number of life crisis that produce life searches of a critical nature. And, we must admit, most reasons may be profoundly more superficial than any I have outlined.

Here's what I would suggest to any church dealing with 'the dones'...

  • Remember that the natural response to Christianity and it's claims is loss...if you are authentic, you will most likely be unpopular. Remember Jesus' greatest loss of followers happened after a miracle, the feeding of the 5000 (John 6) The next  morning there were a great number of them who followed Him by boat across the lake and Jesus began laying down hard doctrine about eating his flesh and drinking his blood - total identification with Him - and most of His disciples left Him at that time. Jesus' remarkable response to His original 12 was, 'Do you want to go to?' Popularity is not the Divinely promised state of the Christian faith, it is rejection. 
  • Many people have their own issues for leaving a church, or the Church. In as much as you can identify the reasons. Show that you care. Do all that you can to show them that doubts about faith, or the desire to do more for ones faith are both natural, counsel them how to deal with both. I had a member who started preaching, who was filled with enthusiasm but didn't have much talent for preaching. Even though I gave him opportunities he wanted more. I tried to counsel him against making a bad move and, 'getting ahead of God', but he wouldn't listen. Eventually he left to join a church where he could fulfill his ambitions. It didn't work out and eventually he left church altogether. I would reach out to him when I saw him, but he never returned.
  • Finally remember that those who say that they're done with church forever don't know how long 'forever' is. We all need community, with all of they're flaws we need other Christians (Hebrews 10:25) and they need us! 'Dones', I'm willing to bet, will eventually return, Maybe not to your church, maybe not to any traditional church, but the nature of the Kingdom and the world will drive them back to the safety and forgiveness of the church, no matter what you might have done to them or for them.

I don't think anyone's 'done' yet!