Dec 29, 2009

New Year Greetings

“Happy New Year—and Let’s Make the Best of IT!!!”

A New Year affords us something that we all crave and probably need, the ability to start over. We receive a great blessing when we start over. Starting again means that all those mistakes from which we were supposed to learn something now allow us to put our learning to the test. So here we are at the beginning of 2010. We stare down a new year and hope for the best.

We are ready this Sunday to bring in a new year and a new sermon/worship Epiphany series that is entitled “What if . . . ?” Our text from the New Testament will be Ephesians 3:1-12.

A New Year image I like best is a picture of two calendars side by side: the old and the new. One is tattered and torn. Covered by coffee spills, smudgy finger-prints, and ink smeared writing. An old calendar can only be deciphered by perhaps a graphologist-type pharmacist. The old calendar represents commitments made and kept. It is a symbol of the things that we have deemed important and notes the priorities of our past year. It is like a doll whose head is worn threadbare by its loving owner.

On the other side—and set beside the old calendar—is the new calendar. Clean and crisp, with no embarrassing markings to tattle out our organizational skills or lack thereof. The new calendar represents the opportunities that await us and the chance to use our time more wisely in the pursuit of life as we want to live it—and perhaps more importantly—as God calls us to live it.

Although many of us now use electronic datebooks for daily or weekly schedules, the old images of paper calendars remains compelling. May we begin 2010 with a new slate and forget our last year’s melancholy. 2010 must be an improvement and is a year of hope for us all—thanks to God and God’s providence.

Our lessons for Epiphany of the Lord are:

Hebrew Scripture text: Isaiah 60:1-6
Reading from the Psalter: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Epistle (or Letter) lesson: Ephesians 3:1-12
The Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12


Dec 28, 2009

About Pettiness

I believe in the democratic process and know that at times it can be rough and tumble. Like philosophic arguments the process gets testy at times. Yet there needs to be a more objective and prophetic voice that defends those who cannot defend themselves; those locked out of the places of power. I am always warmed by the thought that one year two major presidential candidates who could not have been further apart politically were both Methodists in excellent standing with their local churches—George Wallace and George McGovern. What a pair!!! Yet they remind us that our Semi-United Methodist Church is large enough to embrace all people and all points of view—whether or not we agree with them.

I am writing about pettiness because from time to time individuals suggest to me things like, “You need to preach against the policies of the Republican/Democratic party with regard to ______________.” My pastoral inclination tries to take into account the teachings of Jesus who reminds those who aspire to be disciples that: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus also says that “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). When Jesus talks about blessed people he does not talk about party affiliation, but rather functional goodness as when he blesses those who are “the peacemakers” and “the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8-9).

The church is not a gathering of political viewpoints that happen to meet on the Sabbath. Rather, we profess that we are trying to be disciples of Jesus Christ, despite our political, social, or economic perspectives and differences. About twenty-five years ago I read something in The Wittenburg Door(December 1984/January 1985) that spoke to me. I share part of the article with you without further comment:

Mike Yaconelli, one of the founders of Youth Specialties and the humor magazine The Wittenburg Door, was recently killed in an auto accident. Mike was one of those people I never met and wish I had. In one of his occasional serious moments, Mike urged the church to deal with people who would divert us into petty issues:

“Petty people are ugly people. They are people who have lost their vision. They are people who have turned their eyes away from what matters and focused, instead, on what doesn’t matter. The result is that the rest of us are immobilized by their obsession with the insignificant.

“It is time to rid the church of pettiness. It is time the church refused to be victimized by petty people. It is time the church stopped ignoring pettiness. It is time the church quit pretending that pettiness doesn’t matter. Pettiness has become a serious disease in the Church of Jesus Christ—a disease which continues to result in terminal cases of discord, disruption, and destruction. Petty people are dangerous people because they appear to be only a nuisance instead of what they really are—a health hazard”

(The Wittenburg Door, December 1984/January 1985)

Dec 19, 2009

Being and Time

My brother, now a philosophy professor at the University of Dayton, recounted one of the problems philosophy students have when going on a date. He was once on a date with a young coed and she asked him why he had been in the university library all afternoon on a beautiful spring Saturday, instead of out enjoying the day. He told her he was trying to read Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time for a test he had in class on the following Monday morning. Then she said, “Well, I don’t see what the big deal is. Everyone knows that people should be on time. It is simply the polite thing to do.” My brother said that was their first and last date.

It seems as if everyone has a concept of time. A friend of mine who is a Navaho pastor tried explaining to me her people’s concept of time as it differed from mainstream America. When I lived in Africa, my friends there shared with me notions about how they measured time. Their concept of time was much different from the chronological understanding of time that I entertained. Even those who are sporting fans have opinions about time. I know a man who says he can’t stand baseball because, contrary to football and basketball, “baseball does not employ a clock” and therefore, is not exciting enough. Strange logic indeed. In fact, if one is a football or basketball enthusiast, then you know that time is more important in the fourth quarter than in the first. Talk about strange logic.

Whatever all this means about time at least I know this much: the quotation about time by Edward Verrall Lucas is very funny. He wrote, "People who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them."

Dec 3, 2009

Is the Bible too Liberal?

I was amused today, as I walked on my treadmill, when I saw a news story on television. The question raised by the news blurb was: Is the Bible too liberal? That was pretty hilarious to me as my friends have hammered me with their “factoid world” that reminds people like me that the Bible is not only too conservative, but out of touch with the world of Western Enlightened thought and highly sophisticated people like us.

The Baltimore Sun (3 December 2009) carried the story about amateur translators working on Conservative Bible Project to collaborate Wiki-style on the Internet to produce their version of sacred texts. The project’s creators argue that modern scholars have inserted liberal views and a-historical passages into the Bible (much like similar complaints about the Jesus Seminar people), turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes—like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”—now there is a well worn platitude.

Andy Schlafly, founder of, the project’s online home is the brains behind the project and if his name is familiar it is because his mother, Phyllis, is a longtime conservative activist known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

As you might guess many biblical scholars who have devoted their careers to unraveling the ancient texts of the Scriptures, many in long-extinct languages, are predictably skeptical about a project by amateur translators. Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville calls himself a theological conservative. He told the Baltimore Sun newspaper: “This is not making scripture understandable to people today, its reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda.” Jones also said this—a telling line—“You’ve got people who are doing this [project] who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript.”

I have read Frank Matera for three decades and he is a first-rate scholar. What Matera writes always carries a lot of weight with me:

“The Bible’s roots in a dizzying variety of ancient manuscripts require a lifetime of dedication to master,” said the Rev. Frank Matera, a professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a former president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. There’s a little Italian proverb, “Every translator is a traitor,” Matera said. “Most Bible translations are usually done by a group of scholars, precisely so they can balance out each other. It’s not something that everybody can do.”

Timothy Paul Jones, who as a Southern Baptist can hardly be labeled a liberal, reminds us that “the project is a misguided effort to read contemporary politics back into the text.”

Stay tuned.

Nov 22, 2009

The Revenge of the Poets

About a month ago I made a comment with regard to Job that I just did not like poetry that much. I feel like a “big time reader” and take that part of my responsibility seriously. However I was simply trying to help the congregation understand that for those who are like me—not all that proficient at poetic form—that reading Job is work.

I asked the congregation not to say anything to one of my favorite English teachers—I think I called her the “president of the English teachers union”—but unfortunately, numerous people called her and this is what I received from her that next week:

There once was a preacher named Dave,
Who wanted the whole world to save,
But he insulted the poets
And wouldn’t you know it,
When the plate passed, nobody gave. –BR

Okay, Bev, I surrender.

Nov 13, 2009

Go the Second Mile

Someone asked me recently why the name for this blog: “One Mile Mosser?”

One reason I suppose is that last year Ken Diehm and I came up with an idea for a ministry focus that had to do with ministry near our churches. We called it a “One Mile Mission.”

Our church, FUMC Arlington Texas, is a large urban congregation whose membership is gradually trickling out toward the suburbs. For several decades our congregation and our immediate geographical neighborhood has been in a severe change mode. Some have noticed it; many have not. Yet we have many people here—in Hebrew Bible terms “a loyal” or “faithful remnant” that has boldly (and inconveniently) decided to continue to worship here in the heart of urban Arlington. For those dedicated to this congregation and the mission area in which we find ourselves we now focus on others as much as ourselves. Radical? Perhaps. Like a good Rabbi, this church’s radical loyalty reminds me of a story.

Before dying, Rabbi Zusya said to his disciples, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses? Why were you not David? Why were you not Abraham?’ No. In the world to come they will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ ”

As is a constant and legitimate question of Jesus’ disciples, we ask ourselves who and what we should be. Maybe subsequent to that question is another: Why have we not been what we should? There is much for us to learn from Rabbi Zusya’s question.

Church members ask me intermittently “why can’t our church be more like White’s Chapel UMC (in Southlake) or more like FUMC, Mansfield?” Granted we used to be something like those churches—maybe better (?)—then. But now—we are much different. Now God calls us to respond to our neighborhood community and to offer the gospel as a “regional church” might offer the good news of Jesus Christ. We have not been in reality “a suburban” church for at least twenty-five years or more and perhaps it is an act of faithfulness to notice.

To paraphrase a rabbi: “In the coming world, they will not ask FUMC, Arlington: ‘Why were you not Arbor Lawn UMC? Why were you not First UMC, Plano? Why were you not First UMC, Wichita Falls?’ No. In the world to come they will ask: ‘Why were you not FUMC, Arlington?’ ”

Thus I propose to our entire congregation, via Church Council, that we adopt a strategy that goes even beyond what we called the “One Mile Mission” last year. In the year 2010 I want us to explore what it would mean for our congregation to “go the second mile.” As Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:41-42). Can we “Go the Second Mile” for Jesus in 2010?

Nov 7, 2009

Wal-Mart verses Brookshire Hospitality

As I was perusing ideas during the sermon series “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” I ran across an attention-grabbing quotation too painful to share in worship from a book titled Deep and Wide: Hospitality and the Faithful Church:

Within a year of officially joining a congregation, 62% of new members are less active in the church than at the time they joined. Twenty-five percent simply stop coming within the first year of official membership. Evangelism and outreach are important, and growing churches have learned how to practice warm hospitality to new people. But new members don’t continue involvement unless they are thoroughly assimilated (Steve Clapp, Fred Bernhard, and Ed Bontrager: 1 January 2008, no page number given).

Most people say they want to receive a warm welcome, but the truth is that not everyone is a “welcome sponge.” I once watched a family visit a particular church a few times. They complained that people were not friendly. After watching a few Sundays, I could honestly say something like (slightly tongue-in-cheek): “I understand we all want people to be friendly, yet I notice that you folks sit on the back pew, arrive after the announcements, leave during the benediction, wear running shoes, have your car backed into its parking space . . . and leave the motor running—maybe people don’t get the opportunity to be friendly to you.” This happens, of course—but not often.

How is it we want to be welcomed? On my day off I often go to one of two places to buy groceries in Midlothian, Texas. I also notice how they handle customer relations—if we were at church then we might call it hospitality.

At Wal-Mart, after the initial greeting “Welcome to Wal-Mart,” the shopper is pretty much on his or her own. You hope you can find what you are looking for—or you hope you can find an employee who can find it for you. You have the “self-check out” option and then you roll your groceries to your vehicle and head for the exit. “Please put your cart in the cart rack to help us keep our costs to you to a minimum! That’s the Wal-Mart way!” Wal-Mart also specializes in exclamation points! No matter how often I go to Wal-Mart I never get the feeling that anyone knows me—not necessarily a bad thing either! (I also specialize in exclamation points!)!

By contrast, at Brookshire’s—the local-feel grocery store (also a conglomerate—just not as obvious) they are more hands-on with the customer relations. “Self-check out” is not an alternative and generally the store is small enough that people like me can track down someone to help me find the blueberries because someone moved them from last week’s location. The bag-persons insists on transferring your groceries to your vehicle and this way they bring the cart back—in case I wanted to abscond with one to add to my large collection at my house—Ha! Ha! At Brookshire’s you have a passing acquaintance with many of those who work there and know which ones to avoid because of their obvious low tolerance of tomfoolery.

What this has to do with church hospitality is simply this: there are many ways to make people welcome and the best way is to make them feel welcome the way that best makes them feel welcome. That is all—the groceries get eaten in either case. So be it!

Oct 30, 2009

Celebrity Preachers

One of my friends recently floated an idea by me and honestly I did not know what to say. He suggested that what is wrong with “Old Line, Main Line” churches, those that he suggested have a wonderful tradition that modern people need and good theology to boot—is that these churches need Celebrity Preachers.

I said, “Oy Vay!!! What’s next?”

Then he said, “Well think about it. The churches that are really doing well (numbers, statistics, collections, etc.) have preachers that everyone knows about. Take for example he said . . . and then rattled off a horde of preachers . . . Rick Warren, John Piper, Tim Keller, Joel Osteen, John Maxwell, Ed Young (senior and junior), Bill Hybles, T. D. Jakes, Rickie Rush, Jack Graham, Adam Hamilton, John Hagee, and well you get the idea. I support this by telling you that you know the preachers and not the churches. So . . . what you Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ churches need is . . . Celebrity Preachers.”

Has it really come to this? Is our church worship and community life based on who has the biggest celebrity or ecclesial pop icon? This Sunday I preach on a text from John’s Gospel. In this text, in the older translations, it reads “Jesus wept.” Perhaps we moderns now have given Jesus yet another reason.

PS. Anybody got Jimmy Swaggart’s telephone number?

Oct 22, 2009

What We Have to Fear

In a 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death (almost 25 years ago), Neil Postman contrasted authors George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Their legendary books were 1984 and Brave New World respectively.

In the Foreword Postman observed, “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one . . . Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance . . . Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

The final part of this Foreword chills. It reads, “In 1984 . . . people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” How ironic that even twenty-five years ago, Postman revisited two renowned authors who have in one way or another prophetically measured today’ world.

A youngish woman told me the other day (one who never attended our church) that she cannot go to church any more because “it is like watching the same movie over and over again.” She said “I need to see something new and exciting.” Life as entertainment always ends up making people merely an audience or spectators—those who endlessly evaluate and assess other people’s performances.

Sadly many people trek through life today and see themselves as objective observers and not subjective participants. As this occurs our lives become more about entertainment than about meaning and value. On virtually every page of the gospel we see a clarion call and an invitation to invest ourselves into God’s realm. Mark wrote it this way: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:35). Now how entertaining is that?

Oct 9, 2009

Other People’s Treasures

It could be pity or simply over-accessibility but people give me stuff sometimes.

A couple I knew, Frank and Lou Dean, decided to move back to the Rio Grande Valley because as he put it, “It is too darn hot and too darn cold to live here in North Texas. We can’t stand it.” On their way out of town, Frank and Lou came by and gave me about twenty pounds of long playing phonograph albums that had the entire Revised Standard Version of the Bible on them. Fortunately, I knew what records were, but I am not sure if many of our children would know.

Before this, a fellow named Hunter awarded me an old Swedish language Bible saying that he thought I could use such an old and valuable Bible—I guess being that I looked like I probably read Swedish(?). “Besides,” he asked, “Isn’t your wife of Swedish descent?”

Over the years I have received many gifts of this sort, from old clocks to old books. I suppose that these various articles hold some sentimental value for people if nothing else. Perhaps, people give them to me because they cannot bring themselves to toss these kinds of artifacts into a dumpster.

What does all this mean? I haven’t a clue.

Oct 3, 2009

Eschatology of Baseball: Doctrine of Baseball Season’s End

Could they put a “warning label” on Talk Radio? As someone who spends too much time driving from home to hospitals to schools to church to various places, I also spend too much time listening to Talk Radio. After listening to one conspiracy theory after another from radio geniuses—without a shred of evidence in sight, I finally relented and turned almost exclusively to sports. I now interchange the Rangers baseball games and radio shows that discuss baseball with WRR (Dallas’ Classical music station). By the way, my favorite Ranger’s feature is Eric Nadel’s “A Page from Baseball’s Past.” It is a short entertaining story from baseball history and is utilized principally as a pre-game program before Texas Rangers baseball games are broadcast.

Tomorrow is the end of baseball season and for six long months I will have to be satisfied with listening to classical music—which will not be too hard. Yet as we say good-bye to baseball for 2009, I do want to say that some of the sports talk radio geniuses have suggested that the Rangers dump their manager Ron Washington. For the record, who would have thought that with two games to go that the Rangers would be 14 games over .500%? No person in April in Arlington I think. Wash had gotten his people to “play ball” and this team has a good up-side!

I just hope that the Rangers continue to go in the right direction and the future with Nolan Ryan, et. al. looks pretty appealing.

Sep 25, 2009

Darwin Awards

The Darwin Awards are a chronicle of enterprising demises honoring those who improve the species by accidentally removing themselves from it! One must be slightly sick (in the best possible sense of the word) to enjoy these, but some of them are downright hilarious. There is even a web site that offers at least a hundred such stories (

One of my favorites from several years ago tells this story:

A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer...$15.

If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a crime committed?

Sep 18, 2009

Caught in the Middle

Someone near Detroit, Michigan, called and asked: “Do you know that poor guy, Jerry McCullough, the school superintendent in Arlington? I said “Yes, as a matter of fact I was at a breakfast meeting with him on Wednesday and had lunch with him on Thursday.” Why would anyone from Michigan call a Texan about a local news story concerning a church and public school? Below is a story that that has disturbed far too many.

Six days after drawing fire for not showing President Barack Obama’s speech to schoolchildren, Arlington Superintendent Jerry McCullough announced Monday that he also will not be allowing 600 fifth-graders to attend a Super Bowl event next week featuring former President George W. Bush.

McCullough made national headlines – and issued an apology - last week after it was discovered that he didn’t allow students to watch Obama's speech live, but that the district had previously approved a fifth-grade field trip to the new Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 21, where Bush is scheduled to speak during a Super Bowl XLV kickoff event.

For those of you who do not know Jerry McCullough he is the fellow who has managed to unite each extreme wing of American politics. Dwight and Mrs. Vera McKissic who on the one side graciously said, “we accept the apology of AISD School Superintendent, Jerry McCullough” after demanding an apology and Mark Davis who opined: “Under absurd pressure that should have been dismissed with ease, Superintendent Jerry McCullough buckled, yanking this opportunity [to hear former President and Mrs. Bush] from hundreds of kids to appease the gods of political correctness” at least agree on this much: Jerry is an futile leader.

Where is the sanity? Circumstances put Jerry McCullough in the position of an umpire in a pressure packed game—whatever call he makes the other team thinks, conspiracy, incompetence, or bungling. Jerry never had a chance.

I know Jerry McCullough and he is a good and kind human being who is taking a public beating for decisions that scores of other people no doubt made. I am not sure what the answer is or could have been, but I find it ironic that when we involve our children, adults and their desires/demands can look so childish.

I like what the prophet suggests when he tells us what the Lord says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, KJV). Perhaps this might be an example from which school children could learn.

Sep 11, 2009

A Short Word about Preaching

For years I have had a running debate first with myself and then others about the value of doing sermon series as an alternative to preaching texts from The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Some homiletic evaluators suggest that sermon series engage people for a time of say, four to six weeks. Others declare sermon series are a way to make the Bible “useful to modern people” (O Lord, please forgive me for typing that sacrilege). Others suggest people in our culture are accustomed to series as in a football season or a series of TV episodes like “The Closer” or “Monk: The Final Season.”

Whatever the ultimate purpose of preaching is, I do know that I have been alternating in a random way for a time between pure “lectionary” and some sermon series. Currently we at FUMC, Arlington have been preaching a five week series on Bishop Robert Schnase’s best-selling book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

This little book describes what the Bishop sees as the five core practices of effective (fruitful) congregations. The chapters cover: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.

One quandary I have encountered preaching this particular series is the person (several) who says “everyone already knows this” (the content of the practices). Because this statement “everyone already knows this” is more or less true, on my last Sunday in the series I am going to sub-title my sermon: "The Five Practices as Flat or Round Characters."

On that final Sunday I will express an idea of E.M. Forster in his book Aspects of the Novel (1927). Forster describes authors using two kinds of characters as portrayed in a work of literature. Flat characters are two-dimensional and are rather straightforward. They rarely change throughout a novel or short story. On the other hand, a round character is far more multifaceted and undergoes growth throughout the story—often surprising readers. Round characters are the main object of our attention; flat characters are like grooms at a wedding—mostly used as props.

The point I want to make about the relative simplicity of the Five Practices is simply that when we actually engage these practices, then we take them from being “flat” theological principles to “round” ones. This is the point of the gospel. When we move our actions from flat to round gospel principles then we produce fruit.

Sep 5, 2009

Lincoln on Leadership

Last Sunday (30 August 2009) as I was safely tucked into the pulpit someone put in my mailbox a photocopy of the following quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

After reading it with interest, I did some research and found the following explanation about this particular quotation on website dedicated to Lincoln. It said (see: creative/lincoln/speeches/cannot.htm):

These sentiments were created by the Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, who lectured around the United States about industrial relations at the turn of the twentieth century. There is no evidence linking them to Lincoln as the author.

At one time President Ronald Reagan used them in a speech, wrongly attributing them to Lincoln. Those who are familiar with Lincoln's writings, recognize that these statements do not reflect Lincoln's "voice," nor can they be found in any authentic Lincoln literature.

In any event, the quotation reminded me of something that I read about a decade ago. The book was insightful in terms of dealing with people. What follows is a laundry list of chapters in Donald T. Phillips’ 1993 book titled Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times.

Most of these items are pretty practical and those who have read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, (she was at UTA last year) know how winsome and engaging Lincoln could be. Here is a list of Phillip’s chapters:

1. Get out of the office and circulate among the troops
2. Build strong alliances
3. Persuade rather than coerce
4. Honesty and integrity are the best policies
5. Never act out of vengeance or spite
6. Have the courage to handle unjust criticism
7. Be a master of paradox
8. Exercise a strong hand - be decisive
9. Lead by being led
10. Set goals and be results oriented
11. Keep searching until you find your "Grant"
12. Encourage innovation
13. Master the art of public speaking
14. Influence people through conversation and storytelling
15. Preach a vision and continually reaffirm it

Some of my students say that history is boring and what counts is only what is happening right now. Yet I would like to suggest if you can handle people and circumstances with the poise and integrity that Lincoln did, then maybe we won’t flush our historic opportunities down the drain with the rest of civilization.

Sep 2, 2009

When Does an Idol Assume Deity?

As a pastor of a relatively large and diversified urban church reality forces me to address various “crisis” quandaries in which our congregation and members find themselves. The latest is, of course, the so-called “economic crisis.” It is crisis that began in earnest about a year ago and has affected virtually every person in our culture regardless of where he or she falls on the social/economic continuum.

One question we might focus on is how and what Christians might learn from this particular crisis. In fact, we can all learn at least one thing from all crises. That is we can learn whether or not, and to what degree, we as believers trust God. Whether our culture sets up a particular political agenda, a style of national security, or an economy as an object of worship, when these bits and pieces of false devotion crumble all is not lost. As believers we place our faith and hope in God who helps navigate us through all such calamities.

This latest “crisis” is merely an opportunity to share the gospel’s good news that nothing can “separate us from the love of God”—not even Bernie Madoff or Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. In fact, as people live in a panic state whipped up by a constant harangue concerning the state of the economy from television, newspaper, and other media outlets we can test our faith as we move along. This way of testing our faith as we go (is there any other kind?) reminds me of a title of Robert Quinn’s book: Building the Bridge As You Walk On It.

Talk about the state of the economy from television, newspaper, and other media outlets twenty-four hours a day provides the church an anxious and attentive audience it has lacked for some time. We can now address greed, speed, incompetence, and other “sins” that have created our crisis. As a church we can help people cope with their fretful angst and help them re-discover things of eternal value and meaning. I suggest that this is a rare teachable moment for people in our culture. We see crises each day, but the economic crisis is long-lasting and affects everyone. Therefore it offers us a singular prospect to edify in a redemptive way.

Maybe you can help me identify some very good hands-on-stories that illustrate our “idol making” tendency as a 21st century American culture. As we all know our economy only scratches the surface.

Aug 29, 2009

Evaluating God?

Have you recently eaten at a restaurant at which a waitperson URGED you to take a “customer satisfaction survey” so that “Outback” or “Blimpie’s” could better serve you? Sure they offer a large drink if you do so. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes this serving mentality is annoying—especially when the humanoid who is doing the urging also promises to give you computer lessons because doing it on line is so much quicker. What is quicker is a paper shredder!

Some best know the name Ludwig Feuerbach for his criticism of Idealism and religion, especially Christianity. Feuerbach held that humankind was not made in God’s image as we are used to reading in the biblical book of Genesis. Rather, Feuerbach believed that God was created in humankind’s image. He wrote that “Religion is the dream of the human mind. But even in dreams we do not find ourselves in emptiness or in heaven, but on earth, in the realm of reality; we only see real things in the entrancing splendor of imagination and caprice, instead of in the simple daylight of reality and necessity.” Thus, Feuerbach became an intellectual forerunner to Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Why all this verbiage about Professor Feuerbach? The verbiage about Professor Feuerbach comes about because today I saw a church’s (tongue-in-cheek) attempt at better “customer relations.” What I saw was a survey from one of my colleagues titled “To Better Serve You . . . ‘Please Evaluate God.’ ”

Among the questions: “How did you find out about God?” followed by 18 options including the newspaper, Dead Sea Scrolls, and a burning bush. The evaluation sheet has ten different kinds of “customer satisfaction survey-type” questions, many of which are very funny. My favorite questions were number six which asked the respondent: “Have you ever worshipped a false God before? If so, which false God were you fooled by? Please check all that apply [12 choices plus other].”

Yet this tongue-in-cheek survey does point out that in many people’s faith pilgrimage we pray to God that we want “to have it our way” [Burger King]. Do we simply consume God like we do a “Blimpie slow-cured ham, prosciuttini, pepperoni, provolone, roasted red peppers and creamy Italian dressing Meatball Parmigiana hot sub on ciabatta bread?”

PS. When was the last time you saw Blimpie and Ludwig Feuerbach in the same article?

Aug 25, 2009

“The Intuitive Mind”

School begins for all of us soon! It is ironic but only those who have suffered under all the teaching and reading and instruction are in a position to appreciate the gift of a good education. I recently re-read a quote I copied from Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes:

You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else, but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture, would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish? Your mind is your house and if you fill it with rubbish . . . it will rot in your head. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.

I have always been a great advocate for education. But there are people who are formally uneducated who have a deep understanding of reality that defies education. I know people who have only finished 3rd grade, but have a unique kind of wisdom that you cannot get in a classroom.

There is a kind of learning that is more important than factual knowledge, as important as facts may be in the big scheme of things. There is a kind of learning that is more essential than the frailty of human reasoning, as important as reasoning may be. It does not defy reason; it confounds it because it surpasses it. It is akin to faith; it resembles insight, and approaches intuition.

May our school year be blessed and may we remember that education and knowledge are means to the end of a life with value and meaning. This is what I have been thinking.

Aug 21, 2009

"Our enemies can often correct our faults by their disparagement, just as the flattery of friends can corrupt us" (Augustine, Confessions).

During my travels this summer (2009) I spent some time with James J. O'Donnell's relatively new biography of Saint Augustine titled of all things--Augustine: A New Biography (2005). Of course there are many splendid biographies of Augustine--Peter Brown, F. Van Der Meer, and Gary Wills, to name a few . . . and scores more besides. O'Donnell's Confessions, however, seems well written and thorough. Best of all this 340 page book got me through a lot of "down time" in airports and elsewhere this summer. As Augustine is one of the theologians most influential in Western culture, I can never read enough either by him or about him--and the literature is extensive.

Perhaps it is a reflection of my advancing age, but I still enjoy reading. In fact one of the best gifts people give me is offering tips on a good read or two. So today I want to thank Dan Dick and John Robbins for providing me six book titles to add to my reading list. I hope these will get me through all my "down time" between now and Advent!

Aug 18, 2009

Coming Attractions

Several decades ago, in fact in July 1976, the following banner was seen draped across a London street: "America! Come Home—All is Forgiven!!" Those Brits have a wry sense of humor—especially about our US bi-centennial.

In an ironic sense, however, this is a similar call the church makes to modern America every autumn. Many of our citizens/members have been recreating or slumbering all summer, but now the call goes out—Come Home--All is Forgiven! Therefore Sunday 7 September 2009, is hereby declared “Amnesty Sunday” at First United Methodist Church, Arlington, Texas. All persons who claim FUMC as domicile can come home without penalty. You are eternally welcome here!!!

I look forward to worshiping with you Sunday and hope this next year, although demanding, will be one of joy and discovery for us all.

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