Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New Wikileaks Emails Exposes the Truth of Mainline Protestantism

Under the cover of darkness Wikileaks Dumped more than 2 million emails from Mainline Prostestant pastors exposing quarrels over capitalizations for calls to worship, hand wringing over week-to-week attendance and donations, and most of all the inane requests people asks from their pastors.  

Wikileaks spokesperson Jill Walters explained, "We were hoping for so much more from these emails.  We were hoping for scandal and hypocrisy.  For God's sake we were hoping for a crisis of faith.  But no, they were actually amazingly boring.  We didn't even read all of them.  In fact, we didn't even want to upload them to the wikileaks page but one of the interns clicked on the upload button instead of the trash button.  Oh well, we'll probably take them down tomorrow."  That didnt stop Rev. Bill Allen from worrying though, "I cannot believe they were able to hack my emails.  I mean I've turned off my Dell laptop every night since I got it in 2001.  How could they have accessed it?  I feel like so much of my private life has been exposed for the world to see.  Everyone now knows I lied about liking Ms. Franklin's meatloaf, that I don't think Marvin Becker should be in the choir, and that i think we use the definite article way too much in the bulletin.  This will ruin me I tell ya.  I hope you're happy now Assanged (sic)."  

The emails, although terribly inocuous, tedious, and circular point to a growing trend in Mainline Protestantism: malaise.  Dr. Dana Helper Trout, an expert in the field of struggling churches, explained that once Mainline Protestants adopted sabermatrics, first used in baseball and made famous by Bill James, for worship attendance, sermon effectiveness, singable hymnody, ushering speed, and performance lighting you can see the inward focus of Mainline Protestantism and its demise.  Dr. Helper-Trout's only hope, as she sees it, "is that these emails will get people to focus on what matters most: loving God, loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, and loving yourself. Once churches start discovering and ministering in their neighborhoods.  Once pastors start reaching out instead of worrying about the future then maybe we'll see some flourishing."  

Until then, who knows if Wilma Bettendorf's boiled bacon pancakes really are Rev. Smalls's favorite.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Review

A few years back articles began appearing in The Christian Century (not the amazing and ubiquitous Brian Doyle articles) but the occasional articles by Terra Brockman.  Her articles concern the goings on at a small scale (but not real small) family farm in southern Illinois.  I love her articles, but I also hate them.

Hate them?  Yeah, I said that.  I hate them because deep down I wanted to write them.  I hate them because there was a time when I thought I would return to the old family farm in north central West Virginia and live out my days farming it.  I spent hours dreaming about Rambo and Grimes Golden apples, the asparagus patch, polled Herefords, grapes along the fence, Rhode Island Reds (or "big ladies" as my great aunt called them), the spring fed well (with its own two foot long salamander), and roots music.  But then, but then the coal companies came and bombed the mountainsides to smithereens!  (pre Mountain Top Removal)

I was 14 years old when my great aunt died.  We buried her at the old family cemetery across the road from the old home place.  We laid her in the grave with daffodils blooming, verdant aromas, and everyone close together. But when the minister read the 23rd Psalm I turned around and looked in terror at the valley of the shadow of death as I stared at the crosscut mountain.  I knew then my life wouldn't go as planned.

Over the years I have toyed with the idea of farming.  In Rhode Island I had a 1/2 acre garden plot but that will be as big as I get in this life.  After we buried Artie another family member died, my first cousin.  His death brought on a new calling - redemption.  And that is why I love Terra Brockton's essays.

They enable me to smell upturned earth, aging manure, or fresh picked lilacs.  They enable me to feel the warmth of a hen nestled up to my chest (if only for a second).  They enable me to pick up a calf and think if I could pick this calf up each day by the end of summer I could pick up 400lbs.  They enable me to dream again.

So if you haven't read Seasons on Henry's Farm, get you going and read it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Being King Eglon's Attendants...

I don't know how much sleep I've lost, I don't know how much productivity has been lost, I don't know how much stress has entered my body and not left it because of the 2016 election.  But I know my answers to those situations would equal a number too high.

Like most people I too am worried about what will happen on Nov. 9th forward.

As a pastor I have been searching the scriptures trying to find a story that resonates with our current situation.  And I think I have found one.  King Eglon.

King Eglon was the Jabba the Hutt of biblical times (in the book of Judges).  The Israelite spy, Ehud, stabbed and killed King Eglon.  The bible only records King Eglon's death, it doesn't say what happened next.  But imagine the mess from his death; someone had to clean it up.  And that mess is the metaphor for today: lack of civility, the degrading language and action toward minorities and women, lack of empathy, lack of an aspirational movement.  And someone needs to clean up this mess.

So who will clean this mess up?

I think faith communities will be the ones most responsible for cleaning this mess up.  We are the communities (but not solely) who have in our lexicon the words of forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation.  So how do we exercise these words for the good of the whole?  I am not sure just yet.

Trump supporters expressed a real pain that Democrats need to acknowledge.  Democrats expressed issues that Republicans need to acknowledge.

How is it that the party of working people is now the party of mainly the college educated?  How is it that a party that lifts up tax cuts (when we all need tax revenue for good schools, affordable health care, working infrastructure, & etc) is now the party of the working class?  Such reversals that I cannot quite figure out.  I don't put all my faith in politics and policies but they are reflections of the commitments we have as a society.   And there is a need for issues to be raised: the environment, the poor, justice and environmental and societal integrity for Native Americans, peace to name just a few.

I'd rather be a prophet, I'd rather be a pastor, I'd rather be a writer, but it looks like I (and you) will be one of King Eglon's attendants cleaning up the mess.  

so you know what I'm talking about...Judges 3:12-26

And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.
And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees.
So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.
But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.
And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.
But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.
And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.
And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.
Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.
When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.
And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.
And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirath.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In Search for a Friend

On many occasions while talking with divinity school classmates, deans, and colleagues the question always arises: What did I not learn in seminary that I wished I had?  Normally, I answer something like this, "You know, I really enjoyed seminary.  Once I entered parish work I realized there were many things I needed to know, however, I viewed these inadequacies as on-the-job training.  So I read books I didn't finish in school, I read books on topics I needed help on, I took a unit of CPE, honed up on pastoral care, read or listened to as many Beecher lectures as i could, & etc."  And this response usually falls on ears that desired a different answer.  But lately I've come up with a new answer. 

What did I not learn in seminary that I needed to learn?  

I wished my professors would had told me or warned me how difficult making friends would be.

I wished they had said something like: making new friends once you are ordained is not impossible, but it is difficult.  And then followed with this imperative: despite the difficulty and frustration you must do it, because you will need them.  

In 1978 I attended preschool class at St. Andrew's Methodist Church.  This class provided me with nearly 95% of my friends in elementary, junior high, high school (and even college).
Back row, fourth from the left - that's me.  We all had Ms. Davis for gym class, we all drank Slush Puppies during mid-morning break, we all were scared by Mr. Miller in Biology class, we all went to Marshall Football games on Saturdays, we watched each other grow 2-3 feet, gain give or take a 100lbs, we all wore Jams shorts, feasted at Tudor's Biscuit World, watched movies at the Drive-In Theatre, saw Main Street turned into a pedestrian plaza, and suffered through the Arch Moore governor days. Some of these people in the above picture married one another, some moved to other parts of the state or nation before graduating high school, and some have gone over into glory. 

I'm not seeking to reconnect and reestablish the friendships from preschool, I use the picture as a door to a world where friendship was so much easier.  We had no choice but to be friends, we were in class together each day, played sports in the afternoon and summers together, went to church together...  

But as an adult friendship is not that easy.  A good chunk of this is my own fault, I transferred college, and seminary, I moved four times in 12 years.  Sure I am on facebook and sure I have 600+ "friends."  600+ "friends" not really.  What a scam to call them all friends, more like mild acquaintances.  Sure my close friends are on facebook and we use it strengthen our friendship.  And I have made a few new friends via facebook but to call them all friends... To make the journey of friendship as simple as confirming a request, that aint friendship.  Plus, on social media we reveal what we choose to reveal.  Me, I reveal pithy stories that I think are humorous, or righteous declarations against injustices that I perceive, or promote things going on at church.  By and large it is not a medium of cultivating and creating friendships.  

I thought about taking an ad on craigslist for a friend, but they do not have a category.  Also, what would I say on this ad?  Who would respond?  I've sold several items on craigslist, there is no way I would want to wade through all the responses (if folk responded).  

So I am curious folks, especially those of you with Rev. in front of your name, how do you make friends?  

Generally pastors make friends with other pastors.  But with religious life in America dwindling it seems everyone is in competition with one another.  It is not a zero-sum game; it's not a competition.  And we want to avoid honest speech, no one wants to say - You know I'm giving it my all and it still aint enough to get the church to a healthy place.  A few months ago I was in an Executive Committee meeting where we discussed a name change to an organization.  I proposed, "The Network of Small Struggling Churches."  My proposal was not accepted, but you get the point.  

So in this new world, how do you make friends?  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Just Words

I wish I had cable so I could watch the baseball playoffs...
i keep hearing the "just words" defense by the tr*mp team for his "locker room-i.e. bragging about sexually abusing women-talk"
The phrase "just words" is such a hollow & empty phrase. Words shape reality. Words, in the scriptures, initiated creation. Words matter.
In October of 2006 Jerry Fallwell was interviewed on 60 Minutes. During the interview he bashed the prophet Muhammad. His "just words" were relayed in Bombay, India which sparked a riot between Muslims and Hindus. By the time the dust settled from the riot 5 people were killed and over 50 were injured. Just words...
More than ever during this election cycle I keep waiting to hear Just Words: reconciliation, deep love, repentances, environmental justice, living wage, reparations, equity, peace, and other just words. till then...