Friday, November 30, 2012

Give Jake a break!

Come on, Washington Post TV column. Give Agnus T. Jones a break. Your snarchasm is sort of mean.

This is a young man, 19 years old, trying to find his path. He is trying to figure God out. He hopes someday to raise healthy food for hungry people to eat.

This is what he said in his interview with Christianity Today:
Q. What do you see yourself doing in five years?
Jones: I want to do something with proper health and diet and learn how to grow fruits, plants, and vegetables naturally, completely organically—how to prepare the soil right, how to do basic agriculture. I have farmland out in Texas so if I figure it out, there is a possibility of creating a farm that can supply homeless people with healthy food. They are getting the slob of the slob: high-fructose corn syrup, white bleached flour, everything that is processed. I would love to get healthy food to them.
Besides, he is not wrong about Two-and-a-Half Men. It can get pretty gross. The New York Post entitled a review of a particular episode of the show: "This episode will make you sick."

The New York Post!

So, Agnus, our prayers are with you. May you find your path. You could do worse than Seventh- day Adventism with its emphasis on healthy living and medical missions.

And please, please, Lisa de Moras and all the others who spend your time watching and writing about TV, give the kid a break.

I don't mind you being snarky about Charlie Sheen or Ashton Kutcher. But don't slam a kid for trying to find God and his life path. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Methodism and Tobacco

The United Methodist Church is one of 30 denominations
who comprise Faith United. Jim Winkler, General Secretay
of the UMC Board of Church and Society, has served
as Faith United's chair.
John B. Buescher has written an account entitled "In the Habit: A History of Catholicism and Tobacco" about Catholic attutudes toward the use of tobacco.

Years ago I knew a monk (he was a wonderful person) who used snuff. He said he used it because smoking was not allowed during mass but snuff was. He sometimes attended masses that lasted for hours. Using snuff during long services is what got him in the habit of using it all of the time.

It is interesting to note that, since the discovery of tobacco, a significant number of  popes used snuff, perhapes for the same reason as my old monk friend did.

It is also fascinating --and curious-- that at some points in history (parts of the 1700s) smoking was actually allowed during services at St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome!

Reading Buescher's essay, it occured to me that someone should write an objective history of Methodism and tobacco. If it has been done, I am not aware of it.

My knowledge of Methodism's relationship to tobacco is scattered and random.

One of John Wesley's rules for his class meetings was: "To use no needless self-indulgence, such as taking snuff or tobacco, unless prescribed by a Physician."

I don't know how widely the rule was enforced within British Methodism but it was not always the norm for American expressions of Methodism.


William Otterbein smoked a pipe. Otterbein was one of the founders of the United Brethren in Christ Church (which merged with the Evangelical Church to become the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which merged with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church).

It was apparently common for people, including clergy, within the United Brethren Church to smoke. I don't know whether this was limited to certain eras or regions but I do know it was common at some point in time in parts of Pennsylvania.

During the years I worked on the staff of the United Methodist Church in central Pennsylvania, where the United Brethren Church had been particularly strong, I came across a written history of a United Brethren campmeeting.

One of the issues in the history of the campmeeting had to do with the sale of cigars. The issue was not whether cigars should be sold or smoked on campmeeting grounds. The issue was whether cigars should be sold on Sundays. The concern was not the use of tobacco but doing business on the Sabbath.

Some pastors argued for Sunday sales because, they claimed, they did not make enough money to buy a two-day supply of cigars on Saturday. I have no idea where they got the extra money to buy cigars between Saturday and Sunday.


I have mentioned before the debate reported in Homer Caulkin's history of Foundry Church about chewing tobacco. In 1831 the Baltimore Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, meeting at Foundry, passed a resolution outlawing the spitting of chewing tobacco "on the floors and in the Pulpit of our Church." Pastors in the pulpit were apparently among those using chewing tobacco and spitting it, otherwise why would spitting have been specifically prohibited in the pulpit?


The New York Times published a stinging editorial on June 3, 1880, objecting to a decision by the annual conference requiring candidates for Methodist ministry to pledge not to use tobacco. Since the vote was 125 to 83, I assune this was just the New York Annual Conference, but don't really know. Those already ordained were not required to give up the use of tobacco, just candidates for future ordination. The New York Times found this double standard offensive: "If the Methodist ministers really believe the use of tobacco is wrong, they should set the standard of abandoning it."

One of the claims made in the editorial is: "From time immemorial the Methodist minister has been permitted to use tobacco to his heart's content." Wesley's prohibition against the use of tobacco in class meetings suggests the New York Times may have been wrong about this.


One of the ways the Duke family, who were avid Methodists, made their fortune was the sale of tobacco.  Washington Duke (1820 - 1906) owned a tobacco farm near Durham, N.C., and began a tobacco business. His son James Buchanan Duke (1856 - 1925) got a license to operate the first automated cigarette making machine. He became head of the American Tobacco Company (later determined to be a monoploy by the U.S. Supreme Court) which he build into a very major multinational corporation.

The Duke family established the Duke Endowment which funded (and still funds) United Methodist-related Duke University and many Methodist institution in the Carolinas. Perhaps because of this, smoking seemed to be more acceptable among Methodists in North and South Carolina, at least until recently.

I remember meeting a United Methodist pastor 25 years ago who had transferred from New Jersey to North Carolina because he smoked and he felt North Carolina Methodists were more accepting of this than New Jersey Methodists.

It should be noted that Duke University now includes a department called the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation. Jed Rose, the director of the center, says: "I think it is highly appropriate that Duke, which is connected so strongly to a tobacco family, is a center for helping to eliminate the enormous damage caused by cigarette smoking,"


In 2008, General Conference, passed the statement: “In light of the overwhelming evidence that tobacco smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are hazardous to the health of persons of all ages, we recommend total abstinence from the use of tobacco” (¶162M).


These are just a few scattered references to Methodism and tobacco I've come across over the years. Perhaps Erik Alsgaard who wrote a study entitled "Tobacco: Do No Harm" for Faithlinks knows more.

I'd be curious to know when and where during Methodism's history in America, the use of tobacco was more acceptable and when it was more likely to be prohibited. The scattered data I am aware of seems a bit unclear but I suspect our policies and practices have not always been as anti-tobacco as we tend now to represent them as having been.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Rethink Church billboard for DC?

During this Advent/Christmas season a very cool billboard is going up in Birmingham, Dayton, Detroit, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and, in Spanish, in Pasco, Wash.

Here is a stricking photo of the Nashville billboard taken by my favorite photographer Mike DuBose.

After admiring the billboard's message and the way Mike framed his photo, my next thoughts was: We ought to have one in Washington, DC.  

This is the nation's capital. Wouldn't it be a great thing for our citizens as well as those who work in the White House and Congress to see a big bold United Methodist Church billboard encouraging generosity in the nation's capital?

Suddenly, it occured to me that I couldn't think of anywhere in Washington where there are billboards.

I discovered this history of billboards in the district. It turns out new billboards were outlawed by Congress in 1931 with existing ones grandfathered in. Most of those grandfathered billboards have been taken down as a result of development. So there are very few billboards left in Washington.

The Capitol Outdoor Advertising Company located in Washington, DC, that owns billboards i n major cities throughout the United States ironically lists only two billboards in DC -- one at New York Ave & Montana St. NE, the other at1601 South Capitol St, SW. Neither location would seem particularly effective.

What Washington, DC, has instead of billboards is "Special Signs."

In 2000 then Mayor Tony Williams got approval to allow "Special Signs." These are
huge billboards imprinted on tough flexible screens, a new technology that can produce signs of enormous size of 10,000 square feet or more.

The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs reports that 32 permits for "Special Signs" (which are officially not billboards) have been issued. A vote by City Council has determined that there will be no more and the future existence of these is questionable. Here is a DCRA list of where  "Special Signs" are located.

The ones I pass by during my daily walk seem pretty tasteful and restrained. I know there are those who oppose any advertising like this at all, but these signs don't bother me. There is a way they make the cityscape more interesting.  

Here's the "Special Sign" at 730 11th St., NW

Here's the "Special Sign" at 819 7th St., NW

I think it would be cool for one of these signs or one of the other downtown "Special Signs" to be a United Methodist Rethink Church billboard like the one being put up in Detroit, Nashville, and Dayton.

However, I imagine because they are very limited that the DC "Special Signs" are very expensive to rent and, because they are "Special Signs" and not billboards, I suspect they are very expensive to print.

But it would be cool. Maybe next year. How about it, Rethink Church friends?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Freedom of the pulpit

Watch Colbert discuss Pulpit Freedom Sunday here

I tend to favor almost absolute freedom of the pulpit as a political right.

In fact, I am hard pressed to think of when I would limit freedom of the pulpit politically even though I do recognize that harmful and bigoted things are preached all the time.

Freedom of the pulpit is a combination of two other pivotal constitutional freedoms: free speech and the free exercise of religion. This makes it, in my opinion, especially critical.

Religion News Service reports that a new effort to limit the freedom of the pulpit is afoot.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the IRS because they have failed to take tax-exempt status away from 1,500 pastors who participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday by endorsing candidates from the pulpit. They want tax-exempt status taken away from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association because of ads it ran in newspapers asking people to vote along "biblical principles." They are also trying to get tax-exempt status taken away from several Roman Catholic bishops who spoke out against same-gender marriage.

IRS does have provisions that prohibit tax-exempt nonprofits, including churches, from participating in partisan politics or doing too much lobbying. An IRS Tax guide for churches and religious organizations gives examples of what kinds of activities put a church's tax-exempt status at risk. Pastors can endorse a candidate so long as they do so as private individuals and not in settings where they are acting in their official role. Pastors can not endorse candidates from the pulpit without putting their church's tax-exempt status at risk.

Every election season United Methodist pastors get a reminder from the United Methodist General Board of Finance and Administration that endorsing candidates could result in loss of tax-exempt status. (I assume it is not just emailed to me personally.)

I have no desire to endorse candidates from the pulpit. I consider it tacky (which is even worse than being wrong or illegal).

Yet, to punish the free exercise of religious speech by taking away tax-exempt status is dangerous.

Part of what makes this discussion difficult is the fact that there does not seem to be a clearly stated rationale for churches being granted tax-exempt status in the first place.

The most commonly stated justification for tax-exempt status for nonprofit organizations is that they serve the public welfare and therefore should not be subjected to the financial restraint of having to pay taxes. (However, no really clear, consistent, legal policy seems to exist. Read pp. 27ff of this paper by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Very complex.)

IRS rules are written as though there were no difference between other nonprofits and churches, but churches are different because the free exercise of religion is protected by the constitution whereas doing good works isn't.

I think the idea of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association losing its tax-exempt status for asking people to vote their biblical pronciples is especially serious. What clergyperson doesn't ask his or her parishoners to vote according to biblical principles either implictly or explictly? We just disagree about the core principles the Bible teaches.

I know. I know. Freedom of the pulpit leads to some herendous abuses, like Westboro Baptist Church. I probablty disagree with the people who participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on many things. But I will defend their right to preach what they preach.

This is different, by the way, from religious denominations or organizations setting limits on the teaching and preaching of its clergy. While I'd hope bishops and such step lightly, denominations should have the power to set limits on the teaching of their clergy.

The government, however, should not have the power to punish religious organizations for their teaching. Taking away tax-exempt status is a punishment. As the Supreme Court once said, the power to tax is the power to destroy.

Besides, voters showed in the last election that they can think for themselves no matter what they are hearing from the pulpit. If preachers keep preaching intolerance toward women and LGBTQ folk from their pulpits, they will just create more nones --people who refuse to affiliate with any religion-- rather than convince people to vote on the basis of intolerant thinking.

I tend to trust the free marketplace of ideas. Limiting the freedom of speech, especially religious speech, is more dangerous than letting people say things we disagree with. The free marketplace of ideas will figure it out.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Separate but equal communion?

The Church of the Holy Apostles in Virginia Beach, Va., is the only blended Roman Catholic and Episcopalian church in the United States. But what a great thing it is to have at least one. Maybe Holy Apostles could be a precedent and role model for other experiments in Catholics and Protestants worshiping and sharing congregational life together.

Now, however, the Virginian-Pilot reports that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond has ruled that the Catholics and Episcopalians of Holy Apostles can no longer receive communion together in the same room. For the past 30 years the entire congregation has shared a combined communion liturgy and then Catholics were served by the Catholic priest and Episcopalians were served by the Episcopalian priest at separate altars in the same sanctuary.

From now on Catholics and Episcopalians will be able to hear the same sermon but they will have to celebrate separate communion liturgies and be served communion in separate rooms.

What a shame.

The Episcopalian pastor Michael Fergusin said: "It could have been much worse."

So the Diocese of Richmond should be congratulated for allowing this experiment to continue. Some were worried the diocese would pull out of the church.

But why not allow Catholics to be in the same room with Episcopalians when they receive communion? I am not even quite sure how to interpret the ruling. What does it mean? What is the logic? The Virginian-Pilot article doesn't give the rationale for the ruling. I fear the diocese may not have given an explanation for the thinking behind its ruling.

If you want to think more about the question of guarded verses open communion tables there is a useful article in Christian Century magazine entitled "Who is Communion for?" Especially interesting are the comments at the end of the article, including the Facebook comments.

I myself believe the holy meal is for all God's children and all of us are God's children whether we want to be or not.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The pope and the virgin birth

Pope Benedict XVI's new book "The Infancy Narratives - Jesus of Nazareth" is out. It is even available in a Kindle edition as of today. I am not sure whether I will read it or not. The stack of books I am trying to read right now is pretty tall. (Except some are electronic; I am not sure what terminology will replace the "stack of books" now that we are reading eBooks.)

The news reports about the new book are interesting. According to Reuters, the pope insists on the truth of the virgin birth.

The pope is quoted as writing: "The accounts of Matthew and Luke are not myths taken a stage further. They are firmly rooted, in terms of their basic conception, in the biblical tradition of God the Creator and Redeemer."

He asks: "Is what we profess in the Creed (a Christian prayer that includes belief in the virgin birth) true?"

He answers: "The answer is an unequivocal yes."

On the other hand, the story of the magi is not necessarily factual. 

The Reuters article says: "Benedict says that while he believes in the story of the adoration of the Magi, no foundation of faith would be shaken if it turned out to be an invention based on a theological idea."

So my question is how the pope decides which parts of the birth narratives are unequivocally true and which are possibly theological  constructs.

I have said in sermons that I personally believe that almost all of the birth narratives, including the virgin birth, are theological stories intended to express post-resurrection faith convictions. I even preached a sermon once based on the argument that the magi being a later addition to the birth narratives is part of what makes it such a powerful story. I said pretty much the same thing in this essay.

I actually suspect that the early church may have disagreed about these stories. The reference to "cleverly devised myths" in Second Peter 1:16 may be about some of the birth narratives. Peter suggests that the heavenly announcement made at the transfiguration: "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased," was the actual origin of Jesus' authority rather than the birth narratives.

The birth narratives are no less precious to me. They are the early church's expression of its faith in Christ, their savior, liberator and hope. They are wonderful, poetic expressions by early Christians of their experience of the unique power of Christ in their lives.

My question is how the pope decides which parts of the story are unequivocally true and which are possibly inventions based on theological ideas.

What is the principle that allows us to make this distinction? Based on the news articles, the distinction seems to be how much the pope considers a particular part of the story to be a central tenant of the faith. The virgin birth is in the creed so it must be unequivocally true while the magi story is more peripheral so it might be an invention. 

This seems to me to be a mistake. Basing our evaluation of the truth of the story on our theology rather than on scholarship will, I think, eventually catch up with us. It is like saying this part of the story must be unequivocally true because I really, really want it to be. This other part of the story could be an invention based on a theological idea because I don't care as much if it is true.

I don't think this is a good way to understand the Bible.

But perhaps I shouldn't judge the pope's book based solely on newspaper reports. 

Darn, I've painted myself into a corner. Now I guess I will need to add the pope's new book to my electronic stack and read it after all!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

50 Ways to Leave the Service

Here is a sampling of tweets addressing the topic "50 Ways to Leave the Service."

"Walk out the back, Jack."

"Slip off the pew, Lou."

"Hop down the aisle, Lyle."

"Go out and pray, May."

"Skip the last hymn, Jim."

"Get a head start to Cracker Barrel, Darryl."

"Pretend it’s your kid's number on the screen, Gene."
(Some churches have screens and assign every child in the nursery a number in case a parent needs to be notified.) 

"Act like it's Spirit-led, Ted."

"Exit with the choir, Friar."

"Just skip the sermon, Herman."

There is one I will not repeat suggesting that someone named Lee leave to visit the rest room.

You can check out others for yourself at .

My conclusion? We now officially have way too much time on our hands.

If this has put you in the mood for music, you can listen to Paul Simon sing here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pauline Christians vs Judaizers

I've been studying the pastoral epistles for some writing I am trying to do. The particular focus has been the attitude of Paul (or more likely the Pauline Christians who wrote the pastoral epistles) toward scripture in First and Second Timothy and Titus.

Let me try to describe the conundrum succinctly.

Second Timothy says:  "...from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:15-17) 

Presumably the sacred writings or scripture that Timothy would have known from childhood is what we call the Old Testament. Or could the Pauline Christians have been referring to some other writing? It is hard to suppose so since there would be no New Testament as of yet, certainly not when Timothy was a child. 

Titus 1:10 warns about "those of the circumcision," presumably the so-called Judaizers who taught that Gentiles had to follow Jewish law to be saved.  The Pauline Christians say: "For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth." (Tit 1:13-4)

Was there a difference between Jewish myths and commandments and the Old Testament? How did the Pauline Christians deal with the parts of the Old Testament that taught circumcision, dietary practices, etc., which they taught were no longer in effect?  

How could they say that all scripture is inspired and authoritative and then say whole portions of it no longer apply? Do you suppose the Pauline Christians thought the Old Testament was on their side in this argument when the Old Testament was very clear about circumcision, what could and couldn't be eaten, and a whole series of practices and rules the Pauline Christians considered no longer valid? 

On the surface of it, the teachings of the Old Testament would have seemed more consistent with the argument of the Judaizers. Yet the Pauline Christians claimed the authority of the scripture for themselves over against the Judaizers.

Do you suppose the Pauline Christians read the Old Testament in the light of Christ in such a way that what the words of the Old Testament actually took on a whole new meaning that transformed the literal meaning of the words? Could they still claim the authority of scripture for their teaching in this manner even though they did not follow Old Testament teachings concerning circumcision, dietary law, sacrifice, etc.?

It appears that Pauline Christians claimed the authority of the Old Testament even though they would not follow many part of it. 

It is hard not to imagine that if you assumed the authority of the Old Testament as scripture, you would have had to be on the side of the Judaizers in this debate.
 Just trying to figure it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

ipad preaching

Technology is a gift from God. Mostly.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
When I was young I read everything I  could get my hands on written by the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard was a paleontologist who studied evolution as well as a priest. He believed evolution was God's work.

Teilhard also believed that we are still evolving and the age to come would include technology that would form us into a new global humanity. Wired magazine claims that he foresaw and prophesied the internet.

For many years I tried to lead worship and preach from a dozen pieces of paper I carried around with me. In those days I could keep a lot of things organized in my mind but I was still looking for this piece of paper or another that I had stuffed into one of my pockets.  I can't keep things organized clearly in my mind anymore. If I try to I will surely forget the most important thing I need to say.

So God sent us ipads just in time. I can keep everything I need to lead worship and preach in good order on my ipad now.

I know some people don't like me using an ipad to lead worship and preach from. Some don't like the glow of it on my face so I try to turn the light down low. Some, I suspect, feel it intrudes on holy space where there should be no modern technology. 

However, there is one eight-year-old boy who is so impressed that I am using an ipad that he stays in the service sometimes and listens to my sermons. If it would get an eight-year-old to stay and listen to a sermon, I'd use 100 ipads.

The real reason I use an ipad is because it keeps everything I need to remember on a Sunday in one place. It does not work anymore for me to try have the place where I keep everything I need to remember be my head.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rover's spiritual gifts

Take the Spiritual Gifts Assessment here. Read about spiritual gifts here.
Thanks to the BuildingChurchLeaders website for the cartoon. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How I became a fan of a Turkist soccer team

This is how I became a Beşiktaş fan.

I've always admired European soccer shirts. They are so much more interesting than U.S. sports team shirts, except maybe for Nascar and professional bass fishing. And, in Europe, they let you buy copies of the soccer shirts exactly like those worn by the players with the sponsors' names plastered on them and everything. 

(I don't think you can buy clothes exactly like those worn by Nascar drivers or professional bass pros. Anyone know?)

When I've been in Europe in the past I've wanted to buy a impressive-looking soccer team shirt several times but Jane has managed to dissuade me. I'd point one out to Jane I liked the look of. "Rah-eeeel-ly?" she would say, and roll her eyes.

Rolling her eyes had always worked until our trip this past September to visit our daughter in Istanbul. Maybe because the Washington Nationals were leading the league and we all had a natitude, I insisted on buying a soccer shirt this time.

My daughter Nancy said that I should at least make sure it was a shirt from her local team, a team called Beşiktaş.  Nancy's partner Brennan took us to the nearby official Beşiktaş fan store. I bought a shirt and a cap. They were cheaper than Nats shirts and caps, by the way.

I decided to wear my new shirt and cap to the airport when we were leaving Turkey. It was an  experience. People pumped their fists in the air in expressions of victory as I walked through the airport. They gave me thumb-ups. They shouted what seemed to be positive things at me ... at least they were smiling as they shouted them.

One man came running with his camera and motioned for Jane to take a picture of him with his arm around my shoulders. He managed two words of English. Pointing to my shirt, he said proudly, "My team!" I think there were tears in his eyes.

As soon as I got back to Washington, I googled Beşiktaş and found a fascinating article by Elif Batuman, an essayist whose writings I have always enjoyed. I had no idea she had moved to Turkey.

She wrote an article in the March 7, 2011 issue of The New Yorker entitled The View from the Stands: Life among Turkey's soccer fanatics. She was also interviewed on the New Yorker podcast. Both the magazine piece and the interview are fascinating. (ALERT -- The article and podcast include language not suitable for young children and maybe not even suitable for me.)

Soccer in Turkey, especially Istanbul, has been politicized. After the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, political gatherings were banned. Beşiktaş had always been considered the populist, working class Istanbul soccer team while other teams were considered  to have more aristocratic or middle class followers.

With all populist or progressive political groups outlawed, the newspapers started turning to the Beşiktaş fan club called Çarşı for quotes representing opinions of the working class.

In fact, some fans today report that they were drawn to join Çarşı not because they were originally Beşiktaş fans or even much interested in soccer but because it was the only group they felt politically aligned with.

Beşiktaş fans are known for being totally and fanatically loyal to their team win or lose. The fan club Çarşı has a cheer that says, in effect: Other fans love their teams because they win. We love you, Beşiktaş, just because of who you are.

Çarşı has another cheer in which they jump up and down shouting: Beşiktaş, my one and only darling. 

After we returned from Turkey, during the final weeks of the baseball season and play-offs, I wore my Beşiktaş shirt and cap to Nats games in honor of Beşiktaş' loyal fans.

Now I've been trying to follow Beşiktaş on the internet. They seem to be winning. They seem to have made it to the fourth or fifth round of some competition.

 If, as it seems, they are winning, good for Beşiktaş! But apparently whether they win or lose is not as important as who they are.

Fans of other teams started to get on a Beşiktaş player who was from Senegal because he is black. Beşiktaş fans started bringing banners to the game that said: We are all black.

When another team's manager make disparaging remarks about Beşiktaş' manager's father being a janitor, they brought signs to the stadium saying: We are all janitors.

When the international committee of astronomers removed Pluto from the list of planets, Beşiktaş fans brought a banner to the stadium that said: We are all Pluto. 

I can't help it. I just like the Beşiktaş fans' natitude.  


Friday, November 9, 2012

The death penalty gives me the creeps

I try not to base my ethical beliefs on my visceral reactions alone.

I've known too many people who have based their racism, sexism, and homophobia on visceral reactions. Some people told me, years ago, they opposed interracial dating or, more recently, same-gender affection because, they said, it made them sick to their stomach.

Something making you sick to your stomach is not an ethical category.

Yet I must admit I have strong negative visceral reactions to two issues -- one is capital punishment and the other is euthanasia.

When I read about capital punishment or think about it too long, I get the creeps. 

It just feels very wrong for the state, who has absolute power over prisoners, to kill them in their powerlessness. The idea of being strapped to a table or a chair and being put to death, when you are totally helpless, upsets my soul. 

Yet I have known persons who lost loved ones to murder who felt that justice would remain unsatisfied until their loved one's murderer was executed.

I actually have a similar reaction to euthanasia. I once attended a memorial service of a clergy acquaintance. His wife made some remarks during the service. In the middle of her talk, I suddenly realized that, without coming out and saying it explicitly, what she was describing was an intentional decision he'd made to end his life. 

She said he bathed himself, put on his best suit, came downstairs, sat at the dining room table, said good-bye to his loved ones one-by-one. Then, she said,  he died. 

When I realized she was implying euthanasia, I had a very strong negative visceral reaction. When I remember that service, I still sometimes feel that way.  

I understand that some people may choose to end their life for reasons that seem justifiable to them. I still don't like it.

I am disappointed that California's Proposition 34 lost 52.7 percent to 47.3. It would have changed the sentences of everyone on death row in California to life in prison without parole instead.

If someone is in great pain and they want their life to end, this is tragic but perhaps understandable. I try to wrap my mind around it.

I suppose I can even at some level understand war, at least in theory.

But I can not wrap my mind around capital punishment. I am disappointed Californians didn't ban it when they had the chance.    

Our thanks to groups like this one and this one who work to abolish the death penalty. 


Thursday, November 8, 2012

My DS is breaking up with me

The United Methodist system has been more helpful to me as a local church pastor here in the Baltimore-Washington Conference these past several years than at any other time during my forty-some years in ministry.

We had coaches. In my case my district superintendent was my coach. I had a half-hour of my superintendent's time and attention once a month. It was great.

I could talk about issues and problems I was facing in ministry and decisions I had to make. My superintendent would think it through with me. Next month he or she would start the conversation by asking me how the decision I'd made during our last conversation actually worked out.

I felt as if someone at the conference level was thinking about my work and trying to help me figure things out. Someone had an investment in me and my pastoral leadership. Someone was helping me do the hard things that pastors are sometimes required to do.

It is over.

At a meeting earlier this week, the dean of the cabinet announced that there would be no more coaching.

If I heard and understood correctly, the reason is because the leaders of the conference and their consultants believe that superintendents who evaluate and appoint pastors can not be our coaches because we will not be honest with the person who evaluates and appoints us.

Oh my. Frankly, I want the person responsible to evaluate and appoint me to be listening to me and talking with me. How can anybody who doesn't talk to me about my work evaluate me? How will they know how I think and how I go about making decisions?

I think we are confusing coaching with therapy or pastoral care. I don't want my superintendent to be my therapist or counsellor. I don't want to tell my superintendent my dreams and secrets. I really don't care if my superintendent visits me in the hospital. I don't need a pastor. I need someone to help me do my work well.

I want my superintendent to help me think and decide about my work, not my psyche or marriage. I want my superintendent to challenge me when I am not thinking clearly or wisely about my work. I want my superintendent to encourage me when I am. I want my superintendent to hold me accountable to do the hard stuff I don't want to do but know I must do to be an effective leader.

What I'd actually like is to have a supervisor who gives me feedback on what I am doing effectively and what isn't working. Supervision is not a bad thing. Coaching was the closest thing to supervision I have ever experienced with a superintendent.

It is over.

Now our superintendents will hold district meetings for pastors a couple times a year and chair our charge conferences. I suppose this is easier and less time consuming than actually talking with us.  I can't imagine it being more fulfilling. Probably less risky. If anything goes wrong, they won't know anything about it if they haven't been talking with us.

But will this really help them evaluate and appoint us better than, like,  having conversations with us?

What kind of logic is this? Superintendents can not be our coaches because we don't trust them so they are going to stop talking to us regularly? Not talking with us is an interesting way to handle a trust issue.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

To UMC pastors in Maryland and Maine

Dear Colleagues:

Almost three years ago I sat where you are sitting this morning. I realized that same-gender marriage would be legal where I minister in a few months and I was on the horns of a dilemma.

I wanted to be a good faithful United Methodist pastor. At the same time, this seemed to me to mean that I provide pastoral care to all of my people.

Here's what I can tell you: When same-gender marriage became legal it changed everything.

Before marriage became legal, we held services to honor gay and lesbian committed relationships which were not weddings. It was easy to sidestep the issue.

When marriage became legal, evasion was no longer possible.

Fortunately, I have a prayerful and thoughtful congregation. The entire congregation entered into a period of prayer and discernment and then held a Church Conference. You can read about our process of discernment here

I just want you to know that I've sat where you are sitting this morning. I know you are good pastors who want to minister well and faithfully to the people of your congregation and community. I know it is hard to figure out what to do.

You are in my prayers.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

For those who worship at our 9:45, 11:15 and 5:45 services

Thank you, Wesley Way UMC, for the reminder!!!

PS Foundry worship service times are actually 9:30, 11 and 5:30. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seminary grads do not make good lawyers

Church law is like civil law would be if lawyers went to seminary instead of law school.

I have tried to study the rulings of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church and I find some of them pretty arbitrary.It is hard to predict what the Judicial Council is going to decide about any specific case.

The result is that the whole United Methodist system increasingly seems to live in fear that we will do something that the Judicial Council will rule against or overturn.It is making us overly conservative and hesitant to do anything bold or brave.

I notice that we are not the only denomination with this problem. The top court of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has just ruled that a Presbyterian pastor who got married to a person of the same gender is not guilty of violating Presbyterian church law.

I celebrate with my Presbyterian friends this victory. However, the rationale for the decision makes me shutter. According to an article on the Louisville Courier-Journal website, here is the basis for the court's decision:
The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruled Oct. 28 that the Rev. Laurie McNeill didn’t violate any church law because she didn’t preside over a same-sex wedding but rather was one of those exchanging the vows, and because no Presbyterian clergy or churches were involved.
It is an imperfect world, but I believe it is now time that church leadership stop dealing with injustice through loopholes and gimmicks. People who hold executive, legislative, and judicial offices within our denominations need to say, We will no longer enforce unjust rules, instead of looking for loopholes and technically correct ways of doing the right thing.

(Frankly I've participated in trying to find loopholes myself in the past  so I am less judging others than challenging us all, myself included, to move on to a bolder, less anxious posture.)

This is what Bishop Melvin Talbert has done in calling for United Methodist clergy to practice marriage equality as an act of biblical obedience. May his tribe increase. 

If we stop enforcing unjust rules, anarchy will not erupt. We will still obey rules that make sense and are reasonable and just. And if somebody doesn't follow them, reasonable rules will be enforced. Because we refuse to enforce unjust rules does not mean that good rules can't be enforced.

It is time we all speak the truth like Bishop Talbot and stop squirming.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Always on Sunday

 UMNS emailed out this news from New York City in their Daily Digest --

New York churches to open for worship Sunday

NEW YORK (UMNS) — New York Area Bishop Martin McLee reported Oct. 31 that all of the conference’s United Methodist churches would be open for regular worship on Sunday. “We were really blessed in the New York Annual (regional) Conference to not have any devastation at churches or any loss of life or injuries of any of our members, as far as we know,” he said.

Congratulations to the United Methodists congregations of New York for getting their buildings open for worship this coming Sunday. 

Foundry has a policy of always being open for worship on Sundays. We will close our building during the week in weather emergencies but never on a Sunday. 

We have walked to church in three feet of snow to have worship. Enough of us live within walking distance of the church that we can always have worship. When there are weather or other emergencies, these are the times we especially need to be together as a community in prayer and worship.  

Good job, New York City United Methodists!!