Aug 28, 2010

When One is Proud to be a “Blockhead”

One of our fine members—dare I print his name?—[Rick Smith] recently introduced me to Peter Block who is an author and a business consultant. Block lives in Cincinnati, OH. Block says on his web site that he sees his work as concerning empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability, and the reconciliation of community.

Peter Block has written several best selling books. I mention them because I like it when people mention my books. Among Block’s books are: Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (1st edition 1980, 2nd edition 1999); Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest (1993), and The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work (1987).

In 2008 Berrett-Koehler published Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging. After spending several evenings with this jewel of a book, I want to share something that I read. Block writes:
One aspect of our fragmentation is that the gaps between sectors of our cities and neighborhoods; businesses, schools, social service organizations, churches, government operate mostly in their own worlds. Each piece is working hard on its own purpose, but parallel effort added together does not make a community. Our communities are separated into silos; they are a collection of institutions and programs operating near one another but not overlapping or touching. This is important to understand because it is this dividedness that makes it so difficult to create a more positive or alternative future—especially in a culture that is much more interested in individuality and independence than in interdependence. The work is to overcome fragmentation.

This is exactly right in my judgment. Community work is hard work because everyone’s success is tied to everyone else’s success. We all know the temptation to “do our own thing” and let everyone else pull their own weight.

I recollect that when Paul was addressing those obstinate Corinthians he throws at them their own words: “Each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)?

I wonder if Paul ever said out loud—“I belong to you and you belong to me because we all belong together.” I wonder.

Aug 21, 2010

The Tracks We Leave Behind

A few years ago I happened across a newspaper story near Spokane, Washington, while visiting some of Helen’s relatives. The article was about graffiti, but not the kind that “artists” spray in our church neighborhood. It was rather the kind that we could call 1800s graffiti and some workers found the graffiti inside the Washington Monument. Here is the story complete with dateline.

Washington -- Graffiti from the 1800s discovered by workers renovating the Washington Monument has quite a different tone from that usually found today on the sides of buildings and subway cars.

“Whoever is the human instrument under God in the conversion of one soul, erects a monument to his own memory more lofty and enduing (sic) than this,” reads the inscription which can now be viewed by visitors to the monument.

It is signed BFB. No one knows who that is, or who left the small drawings and 19th century dates on other walls.

The markings in the lobby of the monument were covered over when it was decorated at the turn of the century. They were found when workers removed marble wainscoting as part of a yearlong $500,000 renovation which was just completed [Spokesman-Review (P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210), June, 1994].

When I celebrate the life of a Godly person as a pastor at a funeral or memorial service, I habitually scan the gathered congregation—some religious; some not; many not sure—and wonder what sort of evidence or fingerprints has the deceased left on the lives of these people. Sometimes when I think back over 31+ years of ministry, I thank God for so many of the souls who have enriched my life through encouragement or some other manner of human interactive sustenance. It is a blessed thing on this side!

As we live we build a resume of kind words and helpful acts. Ultimately this I think was what Jesus meant when he said to the one asking about the Samaritan: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). After all mercy is often pretty cheap to dish out in abundance.

Aug 14, 2010

Just Saying . . . .

Last week I asked a twenty-something year old what I could write about in the “One Mile Mission” Blog. The twenty-something said: “Anything but religion!”

This was an interesting way to frame the content or anti-content of a blog—“Anything but religion!” I was somewhat vexed by the response as the question was deadly earnest. Yet the more I thought about it and looked around, listened to people, and read things in the newspaper, I realized that many of the issues that “religious people” seem to be hung up on have little or no interest for college age students and younger.

Our poor young people are so idealistic and optimistic that they think when the church sings “Let there be peace on earth—and let it begin with me” that we really mean it. When I read some of the hateful rants in the newspaper about various groups both religious and otherwise, I have to scratch my head. When I read about good Christian people saying that a mosque is a symbol of killing Christians this makes about as much sense to me as saying that Fred Phelps is a mainline Christian leader. Phelps, as you may remember, is the pastor who said: “You can’t preach the Bible without preaching hatred.” As one website puts it: “Fred Phelps: Giving Christians a bad name since 1929.”

Thus my young friends, if they think that all we do in the church is talk about who is wrong about religion, I can understand their point. Their point of view reminded me of what Thomas Cahill said a few years ago. Cahill, the author of a series of best-selling books that explore the hinges of history, said something quite remarkable during an interview, recorded in The Dallas Morning News. Although I do not agree with the quotation wholly, Cahill’s perspective does give us reason for a slight ironic pause. Cahill remarked, “In general, institutions tend to do the opposite of what they claim to do. Banks make people poor, schools make people ignorant, hospitals make people ill. And churches make people evil” (Dallas Morning News, Religion Section, Jeffery Weiss, “Longest Story Ever Told,” pp. 1-2G).

I think my young friends would not be so down on religion if we did not resort to in-fighting, finger-pointing, and trash-talking other people and their beliefs quite so much. After all we do follow a messiah who said once: “. . . love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35).

In order to counterbalance this perhaps not so unfair characterization of religion in general and the church in particular, perhaps we ought to practice what Jesus preached and follow Jesus’ commandment. If you forgot the commandment it is simply this: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus always has a way of assaulting our prejudices.

Just Saying . . . .

Aug 8, 2010

“The Dog Days of August”

Being pastor of Arlington’s First United Methodist Church brings me such joy. As I watched our students lead our worship this past weekend I could not help but feel the pride well up. The adult leaders who work with our youth and students do a remarkable job and we are fortunate to have them. Make sure and give them a pat on the back.

In fact just last week we also had a wonderful Vacation Bible School for our youngsters and what a marvelous time they had learning about Jesus and the historic faith in fun ways—crafts, snacks, the Bible—what could be better. This is yet another example of the good work our church staff does with spiritual formation at every age-level in this church and we should be so proud of our folks who lead and sacrifice for the Kingdom. The adult volunteers were outstanding in their ability to put their own needs and wants aside for the sake of our children. This is what agape love is all about.

I hope you will join me in encouraging the many amazing ministries that take place thanks to our staff and dedicated lay folks. Offer someone a good word today. Tell them you appreciate their efforts. It is a good thing to stand close to these folks and soak up their spirit!

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