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So here’s my thoughts on the Ebola situation in Dallas and in West Africa–and I hope you’ll take the time at least to view the Methodist video down below to hear West Africans talk about the horrific situation they face . . .

Nurses, other caregivers and support staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas organized and participated in a support rally earlier today outside of the facility's emergency department. They shared stories of their experience at Texas Health Dallas, offering prayers and words of encouragement for their patients and one another. I'm sure the chaplains--God bless chaplains who do ministry in the trenches outside church walls in hospitals, hospices, war zones and elsewhere--were involved.

Nurses, other caregivers and support staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas organized and participated in a support rally outside of the facility’s emergency department. They shared stories of their experience at Texas Health Dallas, offering prayers and words of encouragement for their patients and one another. I’m sure the chaplains–God bless chaplains who do ministry in the trenches outside church walls in hospitals, hospices, war zones and elsewhere–were involved.

It’s hard to imagine the real, utter suffering–not to mention the fear–that’s widespread in three countries whipped down by Ebola in West Africa. The suffering escalates by the day.

In the U.S., meanwhile, there has been, as sad as it was, one death, and two cases in which two nurses are responding well to the best medical care in the world.

So the impact in America has been bad, but minimal in the big scheme of things.

To minimize it for perspective is not to diminish the grief surrounding the one death and the two cases of severe illness. Nor am I suggesting that we in America shouldn’t be concerned and well informed about the deadly virus. There’s a lot of solid, educational information being put out by the media and others. My friend and former Houston Chronicle colleague Dianna Hunt and her colleagues at the Dallas Morning News, for example, have done some excellent, responsible reporting on Ebola in their own back yard in Big D. (For newcomers to the blog here, I was in newspaper journalism far more years than I was in hospital and hospice ministry.)

But there’s sure been too much of the other kind of reportage in the general media on one death in one hospital–a hospital with which I’m very familiar. Doctors and caregivers at Presbyterian Hospital (“Presby,” as the locals in Big D have always known it) saved my brother’s life when he suffered a bad heart attack.

In addition, I considered doing chaplaincy training at Presby in Dallas years ago, having interviewed with the hospital’s chaplain supervisors and being offered a residency with them. I opted instead to train with the Methodist Health Care System, another major, Dallas hospital. I also worked for five full years on a 3 pm to midnight shift at one of the city’s Baptist hospitals (Baylor) in the ER and ICU units.

So the Ebola situation hit close to home, since Dallas was my home for much of my life and hospitals were my pastoral “churches outside the church walls” for a number of years.

The Dallas situation also feels personal in the “struck-close-to-home” way simply because I have such an affinity with doctors, nurses and the many, many other caregivers everywhere who go about the high-stress, often heroic business of saving lives and healing the sick, day in and day out. I spent enough years as a chaplain assigned to emergency rooms and intensive care units, working side by side with those heroic caregivers as they worked ridiculous hours doing the most demanding work imaginable, to marvel at their tireless dedication.

Far be it for me to defend Presby Hospital in Dallas, Texas, for any mishandling of its now infamous Ebola cases. But I will say I’d still feel plenty confident receiving critical care there today or any time.

Methodists in Liberia passing out information flyers as part of an Ebola education program sponsored by the Methodist Church of Liberia and United Methodist Communications USA

Methodists in Liberia passing out information flyers as part of an Ebola education program sponsored by the Methodist Church of Liberia and United Methodist Communications USA

What seems to be overlooked in all the sensationalized media coverage, political posturing, finger-pointing and general fear-mongering in the U.S. is that three survivors of Ebola have survived and are well because of the treatment they received in American hospitals. My guess is–and my hope is–that Ebola in my country is not going to break out in any massive, widespread way before it passes. Nor will it spread much beyond the three countries in West Africa, excepting some isolated cases here and there in advanced, Western countries.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but I’m convinced there’s reason for hope that it’s contained and will remained contained to a relative few, isolated cases.

The people in three countries in West Africa, meanwhile–where Methodists “on the ground there” report a mood of despair and suffering because of issues like hunger as well as the disease–need more of our awareness, thoughts and prayers–and donations too.

So check out the video and please consider joining me in a donation to UMCOR, or some other credible aid source of your choice, to alleviate the suffering of brothers and sisters in West Africa.

Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren

Pastors live in a web of complex relationships. If they become close friends with members, problems can arise. If they don’t, problems can arise. If they are open about their doubts, mistakes, and struggles, problems can arise. If they aren’t, problems can arise.”

– Brian McLaren

An appreciation of one of the toughest “jobs” in this world of broken and wounded people, who all stand in need of God’s endless love, grace and tender mercies (and that’s each and all of us who get catapulted into this seemingly graceless world)–from Brian McLaren, who’s been there.

Read it and then you may want to give your pastor a hug of appreciation, but be careful–somebody will probably assume the worst about that innocent hug. (It may be better to send a note of appreciation for his or her endless days of work in service to God and others at that.)

    Pastors know things that are painful to know. Pastors keep confidences even though doing so leaves others to assume the worst. Pastors are routinely insulted, cussed out, lied about, or lied to. Pastors face expectations that range from challenging to oppressive to depressing to maddening to ridiculous. Pastors have to make tough choices balancing the needs of individuals and the needs of the community, needs of the congregation and needs of the staff, not to mention their own needs and those of their families. Pastors are called in to deal with life’s toughest realities — death, divorce, illness, prison, domestic violence, drugs, racism. Pastors have to keep congregations of diverse people together — even when political campaigns and culture wars try to divide them. And I haven’t even mentioned the challenges and responsibilities of preaching.

    Pastors live in a web of complex relationships. If they become close friends with members, problems can arise. If they don’t, problems can arise. If they are open about their doubts, mistakes, and struggles, problems can arise. If they aren’t, problems can arise. If their only income comes from the church, problems can arise. If they have multiple sources of income, problems can arise. If they address or engage with political issues they care about, problems can arise. If they don’t … You see the pattern.

    Meanwhile, when unethical or unwell pastors do terrible things, all the good and honest pastors also become the subject of increased scrutiny, even cynicism.

    No wonder pastors get worn down.

    And they’re often so busy helping others that they don’t even hear a little voice inside them crying for help.

    I was a pastor for over twenty years, and nothing I have ever done before or since has been more difficult.

    If you have a pastor who is doing a good job, be good to them. Let them know. When others lob grenades of criticism at them, speak up. Write a note. Say a good word of encouragement.

    If you are a pastor/priest/minister/whatever, doing good work for God, your congregation, and the common good — I don’t care whether you’re liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, gay or straight, man or woman, single or married, denominational or nondenominational: thank you, God bless you, and please, take care of yourself because the church needs you and the world needs you. Your life and work deeply, truly matter.

Here’s a great oldie from the Rev. Johnny Cash, an ordained and utterly authentic, gospel-preaching, gospel-folk-country-singing Baptist preacher, with a sermon wrapped in a song as relevant today as it was back in the day. . .

Teach your children well.

Teach your children well.

“Man In Black”
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

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I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

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I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen’ that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen’ that we all were on their side.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

jesus-christ-crucifixion-150

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”

— 1 Corinthians 11-23-25 (NIV)

The Best Supper, by Jan Richardson

The Best Supper, by Jan Richardson

Today is “World Communion Sunday,” an observance that was started by a Presbyterian Church in 1933.

1933–a year in which world events didn’t make for much hope for a better world, not unlike 2014.

Keep the faith and practice it.

And here’s a blessing for this occasion from the multi-talented United Methodist minister Jan Richardson. Learn more about her here.

    “‘Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

    ―Mark 10.15-16

“And the Table Will Be Wide”
A Blessing for World Communion Sunday

And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
to receive.

And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
with bread.
And our sorrow
will be met
with wine.

And we will open our hands
to the feast
without shame.
And we will turn
toward each other
without fear.
And we will give up
our appetite
for despair.
And we will taste
and know
of delight.

And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
And everywhere
will be the feast.


Today is National Poetry Day.

Let it be that.

“Buddhist Economics”
The instructions are clear
Stop talking, stop thinking
Look into where unchecked talking and thinking get us
Chaos, horror, violence, war, economic collapse
Suffering beyond comprehension
The challenge is to stop
To come back to the quiet place in your mind
Stop scheming, planning, acquiring, consuming, controlling, competing
Invest in the present moment
The place where you already have everything you need to be happy
Don’t lose your freedom in our economic disaster
Enjoy the failure of capitalism
Buy shares in the wilderness
Enjoy silence, the trees, the flowers, the birds
Justice will come from listening deeply and letting go
Value space and time, not your bank account
Invest in your breath, your steps
Sell our shares in fame, fortune, sensual pleasure
And look at how wonderful the natural world is
The forests, the mountains, the rivers, the smallest insects
Smile at the blue sky, the laughter of our children
And walk with peaceful steps in our beautiful world

— David Percival

"Buy shares in the wilderness"

“Buy shares in the wilderness” (photo from a bluff over the Mopan River, BZ)


From Job 37 . . . .

14 ‘Hear this, O Job;    stop and consider the wondrous works of God.  15 Do you know how God lays his command upon them,    and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?  16 Do you know the balancings of the clouds,    the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect,  17 you whose garments are hot    when the earth is still because of the south wind?  18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies,    unyielding as a cast mirror?  19 Teach us what we shall say to him;    we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.  20 Should he be told that I want to speak?    Did anyone ever wish to be swallowed up?  21 Now, no one can look on the light    when it is bright in the skies,    when the wind has passed and cleared them.  22 Out of the north comes golden splendour;    around God is awesome majesty.

14 ‘Hear this, O Job;
stop and consider the wondrous works of God.
15 Do you know how God lays his command upon them,
and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
16 Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect,
17 you whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind?
18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies,
unyielding as a cast mirror?
19 Teach us what we shall say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.
20 Should he be told that I want to speak?
Did anyone ever wish to be swallowed up?
21 Now, no one can look on the light
when it is bright in the skies,
when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendour;
around God is awesome majesty.

** (photo above by Melissa VanderPloeg Fischer up in Michigan)
——————

From Rabbi Heschel . . .

 "I am afraid of people who  are never embarrassed at the profanation of life. A world full of grandeur has been converted into a carnival. There are slums, disease, and starvation all over the world, and we are building more luxurious hotels in Las Vegas. Social dynamics is no substitute for moral responsibility. "I shudder at the thought of a society ruled by people who are absolutely certain of their wisdom, by people to whom everything in the world is crystal-clear, whose minds know no mystery, no uncertainty. "What the world needs is a sense of embarrassment."


“I am afraid of people who are never embarrassed at the profanation of life. A world full of grandeur has been converted into a carnival. There are slums, disease, and starvation all over the world, and we are building more luxurious hotels in Las Vegas. Social dynamics is no substitute for moral responsibility.
“I shudder at the thought of a society ruled by people who are absolutely certain of their wisdom, by people to whom everything in the world is crystal-clear, whose minds know no mystery, no uncertainty.
“What the world needs is a sense of embarrassment.” — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man?, 1962

FROM BARNES & NOBLES BLURB: Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was one of the great religious teachers and moral prophets of our time. Born in Warsaw to a long line of Hasidic rabbis, he chose instead to study philosophy in Germany. Expelled back to Warsaw, he escaped just weeks before the Nazi invasion and settled in the United States. Through a series of books, he contributed greatly to the spiritual renewal of Judaism. But he exerted an equal influence on Christians-so much that he was called another "apostle to the gentiles." A passionate champion of interfaith dialogue, he served as an official observer at Vatican II and was influential in challenging the Catholic Church to overcome the legacy of anti-Semitism. He raised a prophetic challenge to the social issues of his day, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. and protesting the Vietnam War. His writings here on prayer, God, prophecy, the human condition, and the spiritual life vividly communicate his instinct for the "holy dimension of all existence.

FROM BARNES & NOBLES BLURB:
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was one of the great religious teachers and moral prophets of our time. Born in Warsaw to a long line of Hasidic rabbis, he chose instead to study philosophy in Germany. Expelled back to Warsaw, he escaped just weeks before the Nazi invasion and settled in the United States. Through a series of books, he contributed greatly to the spiritual renewal of Judaism. But he exerted an equal influence on Christians-so much that he was called another “apostle to the gentiles.” A passionate champion of interfaith dialogue, he served as an official observer at Vatican II and was influential in challenging the Catholic Church to overcome the legacy of anti-Semitism. He raised a prophetic challenge to the social issues of his day, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. and protesting the Vietnam War. His writings here on prayer, God, prophecy, the human condition, and the spiritual life vividly communicate his instinct for the “holy dimension of all existence.

Rev. Paul McKay:

Let the church and congregants who are without sins like divorce and adultery and cheating on taxes and God-only-knows what kind of conduct and behavior behind closed doors at home throw stones and exclude this young and faithful couple providing a loving home to beautiful children.

    Lord in your mercy, forgive your church–the biblical “body of Christ,” for hurting and excluding people based on sexual orientation. Forgive us all who profess to be Christians for falling so short of the glory of the one person who ever lived without sin. Amen.

Originally posted on Candice Czubernat:

photo

by Candice Czubernat

I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity. Every week, I get emails from individuals all across the country who are full of desire to be a part of a church. They want to go on the church-wide mission trip, join the choir, serve in the youth group and attend a small group. These are people who long to serve God, connect with other Christians and be a part of a wider community.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Here’s the heartbreaking part: they write me because the church won’t let them do those things and they don’t know what to do.

Their church has found out they are LGBTQ and because of this are no longer welcome to join in these church activities they long to be a part of. The worst are the emails I get are from young…

View original 2,784 more words

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