Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Talk Radio in the Afternoon

A church staff member and I caught a ride to a luncheon today with a parishioner. He was happy that the luncheon ended just in time for us to catch the start of the Rush Limbaugh Show on our ride back to the church.

We listened to Limbaugh greet his listeners and then dig into his first issue of the day. Our driver turned down the volume so we could discuss what we heard. Two things struck me.

By United States War Department
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
First, Limbaugh began by telling his radio audience that those who listen regularly are intelligent people. I like that attitude. On another occasion when I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show (Yes, it was when I was riding in the car of this same gentleman!), a caller said that she had quit her job at a daycare center because it interfered with listening to Limbaugh's entire daytime radio show. It was clear from her sincere tone that listening to Limbaugh was an important part of her day. For people who are that connected, it has got to be nice to be complimented for listening.

What would happen if I start complimenting anyone who will take a few minutes to listen to my opinions? I'm going to try that.

The second thing that caught my attention was Limbaugh's use of terms. In his opening remarks, a response to a critical email he had received, he called out politicians, news writers, columnists, government employees, and sports stars by name in a roiling explanation of his stand. He frequently inserted the terms "the left", "liberals", "Democrats" and "the media". I checked with my parishioner to see if I had heard right, "I'm confused. Does left, liberal, Democrat and media all mean the same thing?" He said, "Yes."

Does that mean that if I am one of those things, I am all of those things? And what is the unifying definition that would put those terms all in the same column in a dictionary?

When we arrived at the church, the parishioner asked (while laughing) if we had time to listen to a little more of the show. We assured him we had loads of work waiting for us in our offices.

I am glad for our conversation and I believe that my parishioner is very intelligent for listening to me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Be Good

I recently finished the novel How to Be Good by Nick Hornby (pub. 2002). The story is narrated by Katie Carr, a doctor who lives a comfortable middle-class life. Her main complaint is that she finds her husband, David, bitter and manipulative. It is his habit to sneer at daily conventions that others take for granted. And then David has a mysterious conversion experience. Suddenly, he is kind to a fault, open-minded and generous with their money and belongings. He invites a homeless boy to live with them.

Rather than rejoice at David’s change of heart, Katie finds herself struggling with what it means to be good. For her, David is too good, too compassionate, too idealistic and too generous. As David leans toward self-righteousness, Katie is cynical and defensive of her way of life.

I hold my own notion of “goodness” from my middle-class vantage point. Frankly, I have found a way to be good and comfortable. I understand myself to be good, but I am not willing to bring disorder into my life for goodness’ sake. If I take on hardship, it’s short term.
By Mipago (Own work) (GFDL) or
CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I talked with someone today who invited someone to live in her home because the person lived in a car and needed some respite to get on her feet. I talked to another person today who is persisting on acting in kindness toward someone who calls her names and belittles her. Is this the way to goodness?

How are we to be good? While Jesus’ command is to love God and love neighbor, how is that done most effectively? What if being good takes us to uncomfortable places.

In the novel, Katie attends a church service in the hopes of finding an answer to her struggle with her husband. It is an empty and distressing experience. Later, the pastor who was leading worship shows up in her doctor’s office. Katie demands guidance from the pastor. The pastor, disheartened, tells Katie that she is leaving the ministry because it doesn’t make any difference to the people she serves.

Perhaps we all struggle with the question of "goodness" at some level. I have been challenged to consider what personal fears and desires may keep me from the good.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Editing Out Mercy

This is the introduction to the sermon I preached at First UMC of Brighton on April 28, 2013. You'll find the podcast of the full sermon at Sermon Podcasts - FUMC Brighton.

Years ago, when I was serving another church, a man broke into the church on a weekday night and did a lot of damage to windows, doors and locked file cabinets. Because the church did not keep money overnight in the church, nothing was stolen. Two Sundays later, I received an early morning phone call from a local broadcast news station. A reporter told me that the police had the man who broke into our church in custody. The arrested man had confessed to breaking into several churches in a two county area. The reporter asked if he and his crew could visit that church that morning.

So, with cameras and microphones they came. They interviewed the chairperson of trustees who stood in front of a door where stained glass had been broken out. They took pictures of the exterior of the building and worshippers entering the sanctuary. Then the reporter asked to interview me. His question: "What do you think should happen to this man?" I answered in a "pastor-like" manner. I spoke of mercy and forgiveness. I celebrated that redemption is at the heart of the Christian faith by the power of Jesus Christ. Near the end of my rather eloquent remarks, I did concede that in this life there are consequences for one's choices.

By Ardfern (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 or  GFDL,
via Wikimedia Commons
That night, our church was on the evening news. There was our chairman of trustees talking, and then I was on the television screen. In the seconds-long portion of my interview that they used, I said, "In this life there are consequences for one's choices."

No word of forgiveness, no word of mercy, no word of love.

By the power and living presence of Jesus Christ, I am convinced that love is a real force in this world. It can heal broken relationships and broken hearts. I also believe that we are tempted, like a news editor creating a story, to edit out the love. We are tempted to lean into our disappointment and fear. We want to publish, for the world to hear, the wrongs done to us, the injustices of life.

What would happen if we refused to edit out the mercy? the love?


The Best Place to Be

A parishioner called me a few weeks ago. He said, “I have been on Facebook and some of the people from the church have that equal sign symbol as their profile picture. It means that they approve of same sex marriage. Other church members are posting that they are against same sex marriage. I’m not sure what to think. The Bible is against it, but I have friends that have children who are gay, and they are good people. I don’t want to discriminate. Pastor, what do you think?”
             I asked, “What do you think?”
            The parishioner went on to share that he found himself in a difficult place, questioning and re-thinking beliefs that he felt, at one the best place of all. While it may be frightening to be in a position of seeking answers rather than standing by a long-assumed truth, it is also a place for growth and freedom.
time, were firm. I told him that I thought that he was in
            We talked about the few verses sited in the Bible when it comes to this issue and the guidelines in the Discipline of the UMC. We spent the rest of the phone conversation deciding on questions that he could ask people who had posted opinions on Facebook when he saw them in person. The main question would be, “How did you come to believe that way?”
            Consider the conversations that he is having now with people who have multiple perspectives. Rather than choosing up sides and closing off conversation and even relationship, he is generating dialogue. It is a gift for this community.
            I’ve decided that on the issues of the day, a little less certainty might make us all a little more civil. What if instead of carrying signs, proof-texting verses, shaking our fists at politicians or posting symbols for profile pictures on Facebook, we asked questions and then listened to all sides? Hearing the viewpoint of others, creating meaningful relationship, is a place of grace. It is the best place to be.