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Archive for May, 2016

MY PLEASURE

MY PLEASURE

YOUR BELIZEAN FACE OF THE DAY: One of the (many) street characters you'll see on the streets of Belize City.

YOUR BELIZEAN FACE OF THE DAY: One of the (many) street characters you’ll see on the streets of Belize City.

OH. NEVERMIND.

OH. NEVERMIND.

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Seen at the riverside in San Ignacio today: a proud papa with his roly poly little fat face boy.

Seen at the riverside in San Ignacio today: a proud papa with his roly poly little fat face boy.

Picture here are two Mennonite lads parked at the no-entry side of the one-way, plank bridge over the Macal River that is the one and only bridge into San Ignacio and the rest of Western Belize. So why did the boys wait more than 10 minutes (I was sitting by the river and time it) to cross the one-way bridge the wrong way?

Picture here are two Mennonite lads parked at the no-entry side of the one-way, plank bridge over the Macal River that is the one and only bridge into San Ignacio and the rest of Western Belize. So why did the boys wait more than 10 minutes (I was sitting by the river and time it) to cross the one-way bridge the wrong way?

ANSWER: To get to the other side of the river where they could get out the bucket and get their horses drinks of water.

ANSWER: To get to the other side of the river where they could get out the bucket and get their horses drinks of water.

You know your truck may be too old it you've painted its name on the side of the door.

You know your truck may be too old it you’ve painted its name on the side of the door.

FOR SURE FOR SURE.

FOR SURE FOR SURE.

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AMEN.

AMEN.

INTERESTING.

INTERESTING.

/*

MOUTH DRYING GOOD.

MOUTH DRYING GOOD.

WINK, WINK

WINK, WINK

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MAYBE TIME FOR A CHANGE?

MAYBE TIME FOR A CHANGE?

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You need the practice of mindfulness to bring your mind back to the body and establish yourself in the moment. If you are fully present, you need only make a step or take a breath in order to enter the kingdom of God.

“And once you have the kingdom, you don’t need to run after objects of your craving, like power, fame, sensual pleasure, and so on. Peace is possible. Happiness is possible. And this practice is simple enough for everyone to do.

— Buddhist teacher and writer Thích Nhất Hạnh in an interview with Oprah

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Apostle Paul

I see Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh as the real “Superman.”

Not in the sense that the tiny monk is a comic-book hero type, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but rather in the sense of being so stress-free as to be almost other-wordly.

Thich is a Buddhist monk, teacher and writer who courageously made his name as a peace activist in his native Vietnam during the war years there before he left for 40 years in exile. The 89-year-old Buddhist was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr., for the Nobel Peace Prize.

For some reason he’s not as famous as his Tibetan Buddhist contemporary The Dalai Lama, but he’s quite well known at that. I actually became best acquainted with his spirituality and teachings in 2003, when my supervisor in chaplaincy at Methodist Hospital in Dallas gave me a copy of Thich’s 1992 bestseller Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. (My supervisor was an ordained Assembly of God preacher. Who says Pentecostals don’t read?)

That book inspired me to re-read the monk’s wonderful 1997 book examining the striking similarities in the teachings of Jesus and Buddha–Living Buddha, Living Christ. I had read it in a world religions class in seminary but appreciated it, and all the Vietnamese monks teachings, more on the second reading.

I raise all this up to you, dear reader, because Thich said a couple of things in an interview with Oprah a few years ago–it recently was re-broadcast on her network–that has stuck with me. It’s in this Q & A:

    OW: Do you meditate every single day?

    TNH: Not only every day, but every moment.

    OW: So, in a moment where you are perhaps going to miss a plane, or be late for an appointment, or something is causing you to be stressful, you do what?

    TNH: Go back to my breathing and try to be in that moment deeply. Because there is a possibility to handle every kind of event and the essential is to keep the peace in yourself.

As one who’s always had an abiding interest in Buddhism I’ve coped with a lot of stressful circumstances with that old-time Buddhist mindful breathing. But I’ve tried in recent years to be ever-mindful of the monk’s assertion that “there is a possibility to handle every kind of event.”

To my way of thinking as a Christian this comports with the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8: 26-28 about all things working for the good in the end:

    Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

In times when I’m so stressed out that it’s hard to even pray I try remember, first of all, to get in touch with my breath and “come back home to myself,” as Thich says–to get back in the present moment where God and I are most at home together.

If I think back to times when I missed a plane or ran a frantic hour late for an important appointment, I’m reminded that everything worked out. I lived to see another day, for gosh sakes.

I lived through it and somehow or another everything worked out, even if I didn’t necessarily see it working out for good at the time.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear,” Jesus says in one of my favorite gospel scriptures in Matthew 6.

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—-you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Take a deep breath.

This too shall pass.

One way or another, everything today is going to be all right.

Quite possibly for the good.

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“The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

— The United Methodist Church’s mission statement, found in the church’s Book of Discipline

United Methodist delegates from around the world are convened in Portland this week and next for our once-every-four-years General Conference--the meeting in which 500 clergy and as many lay delegates vote on church laws, budgets and other matters.

The United Methodist Church in America has 57 annual conferences (also called regional conferences), supervised by 46 bishops. The denomination has 76 annual conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, supervised by 20 bishops.

The United Methodist Church in America has 57 annual conferences (also called regional conferences), supervised by 46 bishops. The denomination has 76 annual conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, supervised by 20 bishops.

Inevitably, the delegates end up quarreling, sometimes bitterly, over the church’s longstanding stances in our Book of Discipline–our book of church laws and policies and such–that prohibit gays and lesbians from being fully included in the life of the church.

So I’m following General Conference via the web with much anticipation–and much hope against hope that the church will stop treating homosexuals in ways that are hurtful to them and their loved ones.

What follows are my own personal thoughts and opinions on it all.

* * *

As a “cradle Methodist” from Wesleyan stock, I love God and people and my church to such an extent that I took vows to serve God and others and the church in ordained ministry.

But that doesn’t mean I like everything about this heavily institutionalized church I serve.

I don’t like that as an ordained UMC deacon I can bless your dogs and cats and even your slimy pet snakes, but I can’t preside at the wedding of two people who love each other if they happen to be of the same sex.

I don’t like that the UMC doesn’t allow “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to be ordained.

A sidebar about ordination may be in order:

One feels called to ministry by God and the church’s role is to determine through a long and grueling candidacy process if the calling is an honest-to-God call. If the call is determined to be true–and if the candidate is found to have the unique “gifts and graces” required for United Methodist ministry–the church’s role is to affirm the calling and ordain the one called. Not everyone who feels called–or feels that he or she has the gifts and graces for ordination–makes the cut.

But anyone who is openly gay or lesbian and “practicing”–which means anyone who is out of the closet and openly in relationship with another gay or lesbian person–need not even apply, calling or no calling.

Some of the most devout disciples of Christ I know happen to be homosexuals. Churches throughout the UMC and every other denomination have these witnesses to God’s love, some who are in the closet and, increasingly, some who are not.

The United Methodist Church’s stated mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” So why can’t a homosexual as much as a straight person be a disciple of Christ committed to transforming the world and advancing the kingdom of heaven of which Christ gave us a foretaste?

I don’t like that my beloved UMC’s Book of Discipline contains language that is hurtful and condescending toward homosexuals and their families.

Our Discipline states:

    “While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. (My italics for emphasis.) Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

Again, I know many and very many homosexual Christians in my denomination and others whose “standards of holy living in the world” are as high as the sky–higher than that of many prigs who are in church every time the doors are open. (C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity that a lot of prigs in church every Sunday are closer to hell than a lot of prostitutes. In my book, he was right, as usual.)

For the love of God, I don’t understand why anyone thinks a person who was created and birthed (and baptized, btw) as something other than heterosexual can’t live a holy and perfectly good life in obedience to Christ, who of course never uttered a word about homosexuality.

Mind you, Jesus may have been dead-set against homosexual coupling since he used language about love between a man and a woman. Be that as it may, homosexuality didn’t make the cut in his list of priorities. Either that or the gospel writers left out his commands against homosexuality, though I can’t imagine why they would.

Jesus did speak out forcefully against divorce, which churches and Christians opposed to gay rights don’t obsess over.

But my God, do they ever obsess over homosexuality.

Especially the 55 to 60 percent of United Methodists from around the world who vote every four years to keep gay-inclusiveness petitions from passing.

* * *

I don’t even understand why “the practice of homosexuality” (all sexuality requires practice, practice, practice, I reckon–that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall) is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

At one time, it was “incompatible with Christian teaching, or perceived as such.

But times constantly and endlessly change. We are no longer living in biblical times.

We aren’t even in the 1950s anymore, or the sixties or seventies or eighties or nineties or the 20th century.

We’re in 2016.

Times have changed.

When I was growing up, getting divorced was deeply and harshly frowned upon in the Christian culture and only a slightly less degree in the secular culture. Divorce was what the weirdos in Hollywood did. Divorcees in Main Street, America were stigmatized and oftentimes ostracized, especially by righteous Christians.

Many if not most churches and pastors took a hard line in counseling people against divorce, even if a woman member of a church was stuck in an abusive marriage behind closed doors. But then, in those days, if a woman member of a church was stuck in an abusive marriage, she most likely would “suffer in silence.” She wouldn’t go to the pastor for guidance, much less to the police.

But times change.

Women have changed. They don’t “suffer in silence” and they don’t think twice about breaking their holy wedding vows if a husband beats on them or intimidates them at every turn–or they shouldn’t.

Churches awakened to the fact that there are things worse–in some but of course not just in any case–than a divorce.

So am I suggesting that Jesus Christ was wrong in speaking harshly against divorce except in cases of adultery?

No and a thousand times no, because we know that Jesus was on the side of life and it more abundant and healthy in every way. He was and is on the side of love that is healthy and whole, never on the side of abuse or violence or intimidation infecting a marriage or anything else.

We get so hung up on the words in scripture that we lose sight of the over-arching message of our Lord.

"Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. " I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and the rivers in the desert." -- Isaiah 43:18-19

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
” I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and the rivers in the desert.”
— Isaiah 43:18-19

Yes, God is constant and everlasting and reliable, but the people created by God change–and that calls for changes in how we see others, engage others, even minister to others.

By and large, white Christians see and engage African-Americans today in a far different way than white Christians did 200 years, 100 years or 50 or 70 years ago, when they engaged African-Americans with segregation, violence and intimidation. You won’t hear many Christians outside of the most radical and extreme circles using the Bible to justify slavery or interracial marriage as in days of old.

Theologians say that “new times call for new duties,” meaning that as times change, we have to change the way we as Christians offer ministry. (And Protestantism 101 says all baptized believers all ministers.)

As times change we have to change the way we interpret scripture–but being careful not to change the way we interpret scripture with every trendy new belief that comes down the cultural pike. So please do not accuse me of suggesting that the church should surrender to the secular culture every time an immoral or unethical idea in secular culture takes hold.

Churches and denominations that already have changed their doctrines and policies to include homosexuals didn’t change overnight. Their leaders spent years testing and challenging each other, in prayer and discernment, to make sure that it was God “doing a new thing” through the Holy Spirit.

We Methodists have been testing and challenging and debating and arguing gay issues for 40 years and more, but change comes to the church two ways–slow or not all.

* * * *

The real need for change is discerned by being attuned to the Holy Spirit, the wind that “blows where it will.” Our God does do new and unanticipated things through the Spirit.

Times change and the grace and love of God is experienced in new ways.

And yet, my beloved UMC, in my opinion, keeps resisting the winds of what would be, in my opinion, a long overdue change.

And this I know–baptized homosexuals and their supportive loved ones feel betrayed and hurt by my church as a result.

I pray for greater unity and understanding, healing and reconciliation, and what I believe in all my heart is the need for change in my church in Portland in the coming days.

FYI: See more links here on:

The current General Conference in Portland

What General Conference is and how it works

The United Methodist Book of Discipline

An interesting take from an Episcopal priest at Huffington Post

And here’s an overview of the denomination’s beliefs, structures and most everything else you might want to know about the Methodist Church that grew out of a movement by John and Charles Wesley.

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What. Me a cynic?

What. Me a cynic?

The Seven Seas of Cynicism, in no particular order of influence on our minds, are:

1. 24-hours of politicians in our faces

2. 24-hour cable “news” propaganda

3. late night TV & cable comedy shows

4. social (and unsocial) media

5. 24-hour “entertainment”

6. toxic preachers and churches

7. talk radio

Dive in at your own risk.

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

— Matthew 12:36-37 (NKJV)

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Happy Mother’s Day.

It's OK: mom will love you no matter what.

It’s OK: mom will love you no matter what.

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Every time I read or watch a story about some innocent man or woman being wrongfully arrested, jailed, prosecuted, tortured or spared execution, I rage a little deep down in my soul at the god-awful injustice of it all.

The happy face on the right once put the happy face on the left in jail for a crime he didn't commit. The happy face on the left really, really wanted to rearrange the face of the happy face on the right with a beating when he got out of jail. But then a funny thing happened . . .

The happy face on the right once put the happy face on the left in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. The happy face on the left really, really wanted to rearrange the face of the happy face on the right with a beating when he got out of jail. But then a funny thing happened . . .

It’s why I’m opposed to capital punishment and torture and all the other un-American and clearly un-Christian forms of revenge and retribution that have nothing to do with justice. Christianity is not about violent revenge but all about restorative justice and reconciliation.

Taking that position does not translate to a namby-pamby call to coddle or release incorrigible people whose blood has run cold from birth and always will. If I ruled America (and America could do a lot worse than having me rule if I may say), Charles Manson never would have been given so much TV air time that he became an iconic and American celebrity.

That said, I love stories about people finding peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, the kinds of stories that lift me up with the hope inherent in Christian faith.

That’s why I love the story about the former rotten cop in small-town Michigan who framed an innocent man for drug dealing, only to cross the innocent man’s path again. What follows is their story of reconciliation-of-the-New-Testament-kind from CBS News’s weekly, and always very interesting, “On the Road” series that airs on Friday evenings:

    BENTON HARBOR, Mich.– It all went down on a block in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Back in 2005, Jameel McGee says he was minding his own business when a police officer accused him of — and arrested him for — dealing drugs.

    “It was all made up,” said McGee. Of course, a lot of accused men make that claim, but not many arresting officers agree.

    Andrew Collins served time for a number of crimes, including framing Jameel McGee for selling drugs.

    “I falsified the report,” former Benton Harbor police officer Andrew Collins admitted.

    “Basically, at the start of that day, I was going to make sure I had another drug arrest.” And in the end, he put an innocent guy in jail.

    “I lost everything,” McGeee said. “My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him.”

    Eventually, that crooked cop was caught, and served a year and a half for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing. Of course McGee was exonerated, but he still spent four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

    Today both men are back in Benton Harbor, which is a small town. Maybe a little too small.

    Last year, by sheer coincidence, they both ended up at faith-based employment agency Mosaic, where they now work side by side in the same café. And it was in those cramped quarters that the bad cop and the wrongfully accused had no choice but to have it out.

    “I said, ‘Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry,'” Collins explained.

    McGee says that was all it took.”That was pretty much what I needed to hear.”

    Today they’re not only cordial, they’re friends. Such close friends, not long ago McGee actually told Collins he loved him.

    “And I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that,” Collins said.

    But he didn’t forgive just for his sake, even for Collins’. “For our sake,” McGee said. “Not just us, but for our sake.”

    McGee went on to CBS News about his Christian faith, and his hope for a kinder mankind. He wants to be an example — so now he and Collins give speeches together about the importance of forgiveness and redemption.

    And clearly, if these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?

That’s the kind of story that makes you go “Wow!” in a good way.

See here for more details and film.

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