Christchurch

Note: my wife and I have been traveling in New Zealand and Australia for almost a month. That and a keyboard malfunction have kept me from making many posts here. But because we are in this part of the world I wanted to share these brief thoughts about the recent massacre in New Zealand.

All acts of terrorism are painful, but the killings in Christchurch New Zealand are especially so for me. My wife and I were just in New Zealand last week and commented on how happy and carefree people there seemed. We speculated that their small island nation was somehow isolated from the fears and problems of much of the rest of the world. We were wrong. Today reminds us again that evil is part of human condition and that we must all do our part to stop it. After New Zealand we visited Port Arthur Tasmania, the site of a mass shooting in 1996 that inspired Australia’s sweeping national reforms of gun ownership. As I weep with the people of Christchurch tonight both of these examples from the other side of the world remind me of our common humanity. Christ have mercy.

Know When to Walk Away and When to Run

“If that house will not welcome you shake the dust from your feet and walk away.” Those words from the Gospel of Matthew kept running through my mind as I followed the struggles of the United Methodist General conference last week. Leaving a significant relationship is never easy, but sometimes it is the best choice to make. I have been an ordained United Methodist pastor for almost 50 years. For all but 3 years of my entire ministry my denomination has been arguing over LGBTQ acceptance.

Like Charlie Brown I dared to hope that just maybe this time the General Conference wouldn’t pull the ball away before Jesus could kick a field goal. It pains me greatly that once again my denomination has failed to be the church. Isn’t 47 years long enough to wait for the UMC to produce good fruit? Far too many good people have been damaged by the judgmental policies of our church. Far too much time and precious resources have been wasted fiddling with this unwinable debate while the world burns from hunger, poverty, climate change, racism and rising nationalism.

The world is in desperate need of authentic ministry to the marginalized, the immigrants and oppressed, and a church that cannot even accept its own LGBTQ children so we can all join hands to care for God’s children is not a a church worthy of Christ’s name.

I will of course pray long and hard for everyone wounded again by this rejection and for the rejectors. But I will also be praying about my future relationship to the UMC. My decision may be easier because I am retired. It will be a much harder choice for others.” in active ministry. I will wait to see what last week’s vote for an even harder line rejection of my beloved sisters and brothers actually means. Like Congress church politics are messy and convoluted. Even those who were in Indianapolis at General Conference are not sure what the so-called “Traditional” plan means. Parts of it were apparently declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council before the vote which probably means the battle will continue, and even more LGBTQ people and their progressive supporters will be alienated from Christ and his redeeming, inclusive love.

Even though we don’t know what the future holds, these things I do know for sure. God isn’t finished with us yet. For people of faith resurrection always follows death. It may feel like Friday, but Sunday’s coming! The Christ I have come to know and love says, “Come to me ALL (not just those we deem worthy) who labor and are heavy laden.” And in that verse from Matthew where it says to shake the dust from your feet, listen to Jesus’ final warning to those who refuse to welcome God’s blessed ones: “Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.” (Matthew 10:15)

Whatever emerges from the coming schism I for one am ready to shake the dust of judgement and rejection from my feet and align myself with those who are welcoming and inclusive. I don’t know yet what that looks like organizationally, but Jesus knows it’s not the name on the church door that matters. It’s the hospitality inside the fellowship of believers that makes us a church.

Belated Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is a great idea, but it’s the wrong Tuesday. Why do we wait until after the madness of black Friday (which has turned into an entire black week) and cyber Monday are over to think about charity? In the spirit of Christmas shouldn’t giving to those in need come off the top of our resources instead of the leftovers?

But as they say, “better late than never.” So give today-not because we have to, not because we feel guilty for what we spent on ourselves, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Grass Not Always Greener

Whenever we travel by air my wife and I do anything possible to minimize the time we spend in airports. We rarely arrive at the airport much before boarding time, and we always try to take direct flights or ones with short layovers. So it is the height of irony then that we have lived the last four days in the Orlando airport—and yes we even did it on purpose. The two pictures above are the view from our hotel room in the Hyatt Regency at MCO. That’s the airport code which I’m guessing means Mickey Central Orlando? The first picture is of a beautiful fountain in the main atrium of the terminal, and the second is a closer shot of the security lines in the upper right of picture one. TSA has multiple security lines on both sides of the entrance to the hotel so it is impossible to forget where we are. I feel like the Tom Hank character living in the Charles De Gaulle airport in the movie “The Terminal.”

The app for the airport says that 45,000,000 pass through here every year, and I believe it judging the number of people in the food court each time we go there to eat. That number computes to an average of approximately 123,000 people per day; or the size of a small city, mostly frazzled folks dragging luggage and grump kids as they rush from one terminal to another. Sounds like a great vacation getaway, right?

So why you ask in the name of Donald Duck are we living in an airport? No, this is not one of those internet scams where we are asking family and friends to send money so we can afford to come home. And no it is not because some airline stranded us here among all the little fans of Disney princesses. We are here because Diana is attending a conference which offered a great rate on 4 star hotel, and I came along to hang out, relax, read, write and it turns out do a lot of people watching, the primary indoor sport at MCO.

I have enjoyed the relaxation and time to work out, swim, read, etc. but I’ve also learned a very important life lesson. I have often said, yes I admit like a broken record, and that I am ready to be done with yard work and move into a condo or high rise apartment. For the record I’m still not crazy about yard work, but I have learned this week that I really do miss green grass, birds singing, and the great outdoors. My only ventures into the outside world this week have been an uber ride to the grocery and even a couple walks “outside” where the arrival or departure vehicles drop passengers off or pick them up.

The other part of that life lesson is that I’ve often pondered the reasons I’ve been attracted to and married two women who love the outdoors. I’ve sometimes thought it was just God’s sense of humor at work, but now I know that in spite of all the complaining I’ve done over the years about the chores that go along with country living I too need my space and some natural beauty. Now I know I will probably forget when I get home and find my grass is deep enough to bail hay, so I’ll email this to myself as a reminder.

In the meantime I can check “living in an airport” off my bucket list.

Prayer for Wisdom and Courage

[As we sang “God of Grace and God of Glory” at an alum gathering at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio last week I was impressed with how prayerful those lyrics by Harry Emerson Fosdick are; and those lyrics inspired my pastoral prayer for today.]

God of Grace and Glory, please listen to your people praying.  Pour your power upon us as we pray for the healing of brokenness and suffering everywhere – in our own hearts and minds and in relationships interpersonal and international in scale.  You have planted the seeds of love in every human heart, but those seeds are threatened by draught, wild fire, earthquake and the ravages of unbelievable storms.

Please let our time of worship nourish the one true seed of your loving presence in us and in those we hold up in prayer.  We feel surrounded by the forces of evil and long to be free from fears that shake the foundations of our faith.  Send your Holy Spirit here to the church on the hill to free our hearts to praise you and serve you.  Giving you the glory, let us not hide the Good News of your Salvation under a bushel, but let this congregation on the banks of the Scioto be a beacon of hope to a broken and discouraged world.

Lord listen to your people praying.  Empower us to set an example as peacemakers to a world too long enslaved to war and violence as our only response to conflict and threat.  Let us be leaders in finding ways to beat our guns into plowshares and our nuclear weapons into technologies to feed the starving masses and to power our planet with clean renewable energy.  Instead of rattling our sabers let us put on the whole armor of God – righteousness, truth, peace, faith, and salvation to win the struggles within us and around us with selfishness, greed, injustice, and all that divides the very oneness of creation.

Strengthen us please, O God within each of us, to not lose hope when illness or despair sap our human energy.  Remind us again that we can flip a switch with a simple word of prayer to connect to the one true source of hope that never fails us.

Lord, listen to your people praying and grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these days.  We humbly ask these things in the name of the one who is the way and truth and life as we unite in one voice to pray the prayer he gave us……

 

 

Introvert Musings II

Introverts
Like a good introvert I thought of some things I should have said in yesterday’s blog a few minutes after I posted it. Researchers say it takes a typical introvert about 12 seconds to think of a response to a comment. Extroverts can only stand about 3 seconds of silence before they speak again; so you can easily see why introverts don’t say much. We introverts need time to process things before we speak while extroverts do their best thinking out loud. Neither is right or wrong; it just helps communication and relationships to understand the differences.

So, I was on my lawn tractor mowing after I wrote the piece on curiosity. I do some of my best thinking in the solitude of mowing. What I realized was that, at least for me, it’s not lack of curiosity that keeps me from asking questions, it’s just that I don‘t think fast enough on my feet or seat to figure out what to ask in a timely manner. For example, I mentioned asking doctors enough good questions about treatment options, side effects, prevention of health issues, etc. I have excellent docs who take time to answer my questions when I ask them; so this isn’t about them, although I know there are some docs who are less willing or able to take much time with each patient. And even the best of them are overworked and usually behind schedule; so there isn’t much time for introvert introspection while in the exam room.

Especially in serious situations, when questions are even more important, the stress can make it even harder to think. I’ve had a couple of situations where I got unexpected bad news from doctors, and there just isn’t much time to recover, process and respond. For what it’s worth, I have found it very helpful to do several things: 1) I take a written list of questions and topics with me into doctor’s appointments; 2) if it’s a serious issue I try to take my extrovert wife with me to help ask good questions; and 3) if she can’t go with me I have her brainstorm questions with me before I go.

I don’t know what the current stats are, but a few years ago I learned that introverts were only 25% of the American population. So it can sometimes feel lonely in our culture that favors assertive go getters in most areas of life. Mutual understanding of personality traits in a non-judgmental way goes a long way to improving relationships and communication. Introverts need to understand that extroverts aren’t insensitive and aggressive; and by the same token extroverts need to not take offense when introverts need to tune out and take time to recharge our batteries with some solitude. It’s not a lack of curiosity or caring, it’s just a different way of being. And when understood, those differences can benefit any group or relationship by both kinds of personalities contributing insights and perspectives that others won’t.

Give me a few minutes and I’ll probably think of something else….