Archive for April, 2009

Risky Business (Freudian Slips Div.)

“A distinguished yet insufferably pompous evangelist was preaching before a gathering of Presbyterian ministers.
“He was attacking moral decadence, particularly sexual sin in contemporary society–risky business for a preacher prone to sermonic slips.
“‘I remember,’ he shouted, ‘when we looked up to women, expected them to set the moral tone for society. We placed them on a pedestal of honor. But not anymore! Have you seen the scandolous way women dress today?’
“To illustrate his dubious point, he offered his former organist as an example. ‘Our organist, a precious young woman, came to practice for the service, dressed in a pair of short, tight, hiked-up running shorts. It was disgraceful! I determined to do something about it. It was my duty as a pastor. I confronted her and asked her to come down to my study. I shared scripture with her and told her how those shorts looked.
“‘And I’ll tell you, in fifteen minutes, I had those shorts off of her!'”
— Rev. (and now United Methodist Bishop) William H. “Will” Willimon, “The Last Word”

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It’s been bizarre to see film footage of someone as mindless and consumed with bloodlust as Ted Nugent on a stage in front of the Alamo with Glenn Beck–a TV pundit or entertainer or whatever he’s calling himself today (“I’m just a rodeo clown”) railing against the decline of American civilization.

Give them their due, these, uh, voices of reason aren’t shackled by any sense of irony.

And then there’s the governor who whips up the long dormant secession movement of Texas. He speaks from one side of his mouth about how Texans are the trueblood Americans, then speaks out of the other side about seceding from America.

Then his defenders come out and claim he was just “revved up” (Texas Congressman John Culberson’s words) and speaking in the heat of the moment, and never mind that there’s film showing evidence to the contrary.

He wasn’t all that revved up when he spoke on CNBC and in other interviews.

Personally, I have direct Texas ancestors dating to the Revolutionary War (remember when we found those gravesites Cpl. Adam McKay?) who are buried on a hillside in Washington County, Texas, very close to where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington on the Brazos.

My kids will tell you that Washington County, Texas, is sacred ground to old dad. They’ve all suffered enough poison ivy tramping around old graveyards to deter them from anymore historical cemetery tramping.

The supreme irony of all this secession weirdness is that the greatest of all great Texans, General Sam Houston, was more often than not resisting and opposing mobs that shared none of his cleared-headed thinking. He was an incredible fighter and warrior, yes, but also an intellectual and visionary and man of peace in the best sense.

If you want to know his very lonely and courageous position on secession from the Union in the pre-Civil War debates, start with John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer prize winning Profiles in Courage. That great book doesn’t even begin to capture all of General Sam’s unpopular but vindicated positions against the pitchforks.

Houston was despised and detested by the very war veterans and other Texans who had loved him, for more than any reason, because of his brave and lonely stand on secession and attempts to prevent the Civil War.

We all know the rest of the story.

I don’t think anyone, even our governor, is serious about secession. But it’s just unbelievable that there’s even a mention of it. I like to think the governor got caught up in the heated rhetoric of the moment–and boy, did he get heated up in Austin amid the cries of “Secede! Secede!”

Being a Texan is embarrassing some days.

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Of preachers, weddings, excess and — bears

Jay Voohees, a UMC pastor in Nashville, has a posting on his blog, onlywonder.com, that’s getting a lot of buzz in the preacherworld.
It’s also printed in the current UM Reporter under the headline, “A preacher rants on weddings where excessiveness reigns.”
“Early in my ministry,” Rev. Voorhees writes, “I didn’t understand when my colleagues seemed less than excited about officiating at weddings. Now I know: They recognized that very often we are simply stage props in a fairy-tale world.”
Indeed, most preachers I know would much prefer to do a baptism, preside over communion, or do five funerals a week than do weddings, which can quickly turn more pagan than Christian.
Voorhoos makes a plea for folks who get married in the church to take the ceremonies more seriously, and sacredly.
He’s not wanting to be a wedding spoiler, by any means.
“Understand that I do have great joy in seeing couples come together to commit themselves to one another, and I do enjoy helping these folks through this transition of life,” he notes. “Weddings are a part of what I do, so I have a chance to think about them more than the average bear.
“My prayer is that others will also take time to think about them a bit more intentionally.”

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Jitterbuggers will recall that Jitterbugger had a $100 wager riding on the back of Tiger Woods in the Masters last weekend, and Tiger couldn’t take the pressure. Folded his tent. Choked. Collapsed. Lost his Mojo and couldn’t find it again, thereby losing the Masters and causing Jitterbugger the public humiliation of having to pay $100 to the charity of the choice of Mr. Roberts the fabulously wealthy architect who bet on anybody to beat Tiger in said Masters.
I’m a loser.
I have no redeeming social value.
I stated for all the world to see on this very blog site that “this is the safest bet I ever made” in reference to my wager on Tiger to win yet another Masters.
The good news is, Mr. Walters said I could send the $100 to the charity of my choice and we’ll call it even.
And so, I”m sending $100 to Methodism’s Breadbasket, a ministry of The United Methodist Church in the North Texas Annual Conference.
See Methodismbreadbasket.org or more info.
And do Jitterbugger and favor and send them a donation if you’re so inclined at:
Methodism’s Breadbasket
c/o Cynthia Martin
executive director
P.O. Box 150425
Dallas, Tx 75223.
And tell her Jitterbugger sent you.

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The situation in Washington D.C.

“The situation in Washington was desperate. As usual.”
— Tom Robbins in the novel “Jitterbug Perfume.”
Indeed, the situation in Washington has always, always been desperate.
Always was, always will be.
It’s called democracy; it’s a messy experiment.

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Come and rock me, Dave Matthews Band!!!!!

Jitterbugger will be at the Dave Matthews Band show, section 204, row F, seats 9-11, with daughters Amy Nicole McKay and Courtney Pollard, on May 2, at the Superpages Center in Dallas, Texas.
You’ll be able to spot him in the crowd as he will be jitterbuggingforjesus.
Jitterbugger loves him some Dave Matthews Band.
They started their tour with a gig at Madison Square Garden last night, to rave reviews, of course.
Here’s some Dave Matthews spiritual background for you:
Grew up a Quaker and while he doesn’t consider himself a Quaker anymore and is not even sure he believes in God, as far as I can tell, he certainly lives a Christian disciple-like life with his passion for peace and love and mercy and justice. Can’t shake off that Quaker dust and he obviously would not want to.
If you are really a fan and know his music you know that he’s obsessed with the Big Bang questions of life, the right questions about the life more abundant (spiritual life) vs. death (very obsessed, in a good way), and God (He’s definitely on an interesting search for God and what to make of it all.
He’s been deepened in his spiritual journey, no doubt, by the death of his longtime friend and bandmate and sax player last year.
All that said, Dave Matthews just rocks!!!!

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The Fear Factor

The Bible says something like 365 times, “Do not fear,” or “Be not afraid,” or some other variation of the same thing.
And yet it seems that fear is epidemic in the land these days.
People express fears to me every day in my hospital rounds, and I’m not talking the fears you’d expect to hear in the hospital, like fear of what the lab tests will reveal.
I hear people fear another 9-11 attack. They fear that the country is doomed. They fear their 401Ks are doomed. They fear liberals and Democrats, or they fear conservatives and Republicans.
They fear the President. Or they fear FOR the President.
They fear tomorrow and they fear the far-off future.
And that’s just the self-proclaimed practicing and faithful and steadfast believing Christians!
Honest to God, it’s the people who profess to believe in God and trust in Christ who seem to live in the most fear. It’s just astounding.
Fear is built into us, and we need it. I fear a snake that has a variety of colors for good reason.
But I’m convinced that fear, as well as the love of money, is at the root of all evil.
Fear can be crippling because it can cause stress, and stress, of course, can cause illness, and I’m talking serious illness.
Fear can be lethal.
I have literally seen people make themselves sick with the stress of fear and anxiety and worry.
I’m not talking here about the situational fear that I would have or you would have if we were in the hospital having heart surgery first thing in the morning. For sure, that fear will keep you up all night. But that’s normal fear arising from an abnormal and somewhat uncertain situation. You’ll have it no matter how strong your faith is, because you’re human, which means you’re not God, which means you’re gonna be scared sometimes.
But I’m talking fear that’s not even rational, fear of something or somebody out there somewhere being reported on in 24-7 cable newsland.
We’re getting way too much fearmongering and not near enough actual reportage and serious-minded discourse anymore.
We’re getting Glenn Beck, who describes himself as a rodeo clown (an insult to rodeo clowns) and says people who believe everything he says are crazy, like him.
This is a guy who has a guest pass out on the floor, live on national TV, and later says, “HE apologized to me for passing out! I told him, ‘hey, don’t apologize, the ratings are gonna go through the roof.'”
Walter Cronkite he’s not, but Cronkite never had those ratings. (His compassion is also, uh, underwhelming. “Thanks for being humiliated on national TV by passing out–it’s all about my ratings!”)
People are watching this guy, who gives them a new conspiracy to fear every night. And there’s so many like him now, with bigger ratings.
Then there’s the matter of fear and violence. I’m convinced that fear, along with the love of money, is at the root of all evil.
All violence–all of humankind’s inhumanity toward humankind–can ultimately be traced back to fear of somebody or something. Hatred ensues, and violence erupts.
It seems to me that Christian faith calls for more trust and faith in God, and a lot less fear.
More prayer and less attacking the people and things we fear or don’t understand.
Maybe more serious Bible study and reflection and meditation and silence and living in the present moment where God dwells, and less news watching, of any kind or channel.
Maybe we need more introspection and honest-to-God reckoning of our own sins and the evil that runs in us all, even if it’s latent, before God, which does wonders for living in fearful times.
Of course, times have ALWAYS been fearful. Certainly in Biblical days, in the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment years too, and, closer to home, during the Civil War (man, that postwar must have looked like the end times had come and stayed), and the Depression and WWII–name a time in history. People lived in fear, which is why the Bible takes it so seriously and names it so often.
The only difference now is that we have so many people who are perfectly willing to fan the flames of fear, or simply shout at us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
(And yes, they come in Democratic and liberal packages as well as Republican and conservative, too. I sometimes wonder who’s going to hyperventilate, if not stroke out, on air first–Olbermann or Matthews.)
I, uh, fear that all this ranting and raving is not a healthy thing.
But I’ve digressed.
At this point it would be refreshing to to hear, at least from Christians, more trust, more faith in the God whose will for humankind is for love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and justice, and less fear talk.
The way to overcome the current epidemic of fear is to humble ourselves before God and be witnesses to the love and faith and trust factor that endures and overcomes all evil, all fear.
The love that overcame even death on the cross.

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Wisdom fit for a tea party

“The Bible tells me that God can make a human being out of a pile of dirt, that God can make a barren old couple the proud parents of a chosen people, that God can heal the sick and feed the hungry and raise the dead.
“If I believe that, then I cannot also believe myself or anyone else to be a lost cause.
“Nor can I believe only what my culture tells me about myself.
“The Bible gives me another authority to consult.
“When the culture treats me as if all I am good for is to produce or consume, the Bible invites me to love.
“When the culture encourages me to think of myself as a rugged individualist, the Bible calls me to be a neighbor.
“When the culture invites me to become a spectator on life, the Bible bids me to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
“Over and over, the Bible offers me an alternative vision, not only of myself but also of other people and ultimately of the whole world.
“Sometimes it seems far-fetched, but other times it seems truer than what is supposed to be true.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor, great Episcopal Church leader and writer
The Bible.
Still radical, still counter-cultural, after all these years.

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Countdown to ordination (Part 1)

I’m counting down the days until that June day when I’ll be ordained a deacon in The United Methodist Church.
I look forward to it with the same sense of joy, awe, excitement, wonderment and weird apprehension with which I looked forward to my children being born.
Of course, I waited months for them to be born.
I’ve been waiting about 10 years to be ordained.
There was a year of “declared candidacy,” almost five years of seminary and-or (for me in a specialized ministry) chaplaincy residency at Methodist Hospital in Dallas, three years of being a commissioned (licensed) minister and chaplain and “probationary” member of my conference (thank you, church, for changing that to “provisional” member of a conference, so that ministers-to-be-ordained won’t appear to be serving a sentence for crimes and misdemeanors), and maybe a year in there somewhere that I’d rather forget.
It’s not unusual, by the way, for ministers nowadays to go through such a long and grueling process to ordination, especially second-career ministers who have to pay those seminary bills and serve in churches or specialized ministries for precious little income, in many if not all cases. (I speak here as a UMC minister, but other denominations require stringent candidacy processes as well.)
The road to ordination can be be long and grueling for those second-career spouses and children, too.
I thank God every day for the moral support my wife and family have given me all these years.
I thank God they support me still in my ministry and my call to it.
Believe me, the road to Protestant ordination, like the life of ministry itself, can be harder on the families than it is on the one that God has tapped on the shoulder.
I feel like my whole family, in a sense, is going to be ordained with me.

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Frankly, haven’t been able to get my head into prayer this morning.
I have learned that on days like this it is simply OK to be still and let God hear and see and feel the prayer in my heart.
I take occasional retreats to St. Scholastica, a monastery in Fort Smith, Ark. that has one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve ever prayed in, and the most warm-hearted and hospitable nuns.
In my last stay there, one of the aging sisters told me that she has whole days, whole weeks, like anybody else, when praying doesn’t come easy.
“On those days,” she said, “I just say, ‘Lord, please accept the poverty of my prayer.'”
Praying with words and thoughts–head prayer–is not always necessary, as the contemplatives and saints and mystics teach us.
Just getting still, getting quiet, being rather than doing–really being fully in the present moment–that’s where we can find the deepest communion with the Lord.
Finding silence in such a noisy, crazy, messy and chaotic world, and getting still, knowing that God is God, letting God be God–that too can be a powerful prayer.
Today, may we find rest in your love,
peace in your grace.
Comments anyone?

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