Monthly Archives: May 2013

POGO…PASTORS…AND PENITENCE

Do you remember the cartoon character,Pogo’s,  famous comment:   “We have met the enemy and it is us!”    I am reminded of that comment when I reflect back on my interim ministries with several different congregations.   I have seen many of the problems that congregations have—and way too often the problems are US—i.e. US PASTORS!!

Don’t get me wrong—I do NOT think that pastors set out to be a problem for their congregations.   That is NOT why we endured the hardships, labor and expense of seminary.   Certainly it is NOT because of the excessively high salaries we are paid!  Why is it then that we so often become  problems for our congregations?     As I have struggled to clean up the messes left in congregations by my  fellow pastors, I have seen several ways we become problems.   Let me explain what I’ve seen as a warning to all of us.

1.  One of the greatest problems we have is that we forget who we serve!    We serve  neither ourselves nor our congregations—-we are servants of the “Most High God”.   When we forget that it can be deadly for both the congregation and the pastor.   We begin to feel as though we should be placed on a pedestal by our congregation.  We fall victim to PRIDE.   Pride in what WE ARE DOING rather than AWE OF WHAT GOD IS ACCOMPLISHING THROUGH US as his servants.   That Pride leads us to drive our congregations rather than lead them as a shepherd, because after all, WE know what is best for them  (we’ve been to seminary, remember?)    We must never forget that the congregation is not there to honor and serve us.  We are there to honor God by serving the congregation!

2.   Secondly, we have a problem if we fail to recognize that only God’s love and grace is sufficient.   Too often we don’t do this.   And if we are not walking in the light of God’s love and grace, we can scarcely lead our congregations in that walk!   Instead, we stumble along in the darkness and the congregation stumbles along after us.   If we have not developed a loving relationship with God we cannot possibly lead others to such a relationship.  

3.  We get lazy!   Yes—LAZY!!!  We are able to hide in our offices and play games on our computer and let people think we are working hard on sermons and church business.   They won’t want to interrupt such “important” work so they decide if our door is closed they will not “bother us” because we are busy.   THE ONLY TIME I THINK A PASTOR’S DOOR SHOULD BE CLOSED IS WHEN HE OR SHE IS HAVING A CONFIDENTIAL AND PERSONAL DISCUSSION WITH A CONGREGANT OR OTHER PERSON.   Otherwise the door should be open to invite people to come in and to allow the pastor to get involved with the congregation and help meet their needs individually.     

I was in a church where the first day of my interim, the church secretary commented that was the first time in two years that the pastor’s office door had been open all day.   In that same church on the first day of my tenure, I requested a list of “Homebound and Nursing Home” folks from the secretary and was told she would have to put one together—-she hadn’t been asked for such a thing the last two years!

I feel that Pastors have a sacred mission to lead their congregation to a closer relationship with God as they themselves seek that close relationship with G0d.   We neglect that sacred mission at our peril!!  Let’s examine our hearts.  Is what I am saying above in any way descriptive of our present behavior?   If so, my friends, we greatly need to call ourselves to “Repentance”—-i.e. we need to turn and go in a different direction.  POGO…PASTORS…PENITENCE…Amen.

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MOORE, OKLAHOMA….AND BEING MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE…

As the news from Moore, Oklahoma, and communities nearby continues to get worse and the death toll continues to rise,  what seems to be  a very natural outbreak of love and compassion contiues to rise for those affected.   Human beings are basically good and loving, I believe.   And I believe that it is not just “church-goers” who reflect this love, but all human beings.  Perhaps that is because we  humans are all made in the image of God—-and the great revelation that permeates the books of our Bible and culminates in the life, teachings, and acts of Jesus is that GOD IS LOVE!     In the book of Genesis we are told that human beings were “made in God’s image”.    If that is true then we  naturally reflect the love of the God who created us unless we let other things obstruct this natural reflection—things like politics, exclusive religiosity, ethnic and racial bias, etc., etc.  

We see humans made in the image of a loving God so clearly in the disaster in Oklahoma.  On Facebook there is a natural outpouring of love and concern and prayers for the victims of the storm.  The Week of Compassion folks of my denomination (Christian Church, Dsciples of Christ) are already planning the best way to help and to reflect God’s love for those who grieve and those who have lost everything.    Week of Compassion  urges  us all to Pray, Pay, and Stay—-that is pray for the survivors,   make our expressions of love active as we Pay monetarily to help victims, and to STAY AWAY right now and let emergency personnel do their jobs and not get in their way.  

Richard Rohr says in his book “Immortal Diamond”:     “…God’s life and love flow through you as soon as you are ready to allow it.   That is the core meaning of faith—to dare to trust that God could, will, and does have eternal compassion toward you.”    And if that is true for me it is true for everyone.   May God’s love continue to flow through us toward those who are victims this day and everyday, both toward the victims of tornadoes and toward the many victims in our society who suffer each day of the year.   Amen.

AN ANSWER TO PRAYER…GOD IS THERE!

“Chaplain, it just doesn’t seem like my prayers go beyond the ceiling.   Where is God when Ineed Him now so much?”

It was  a Saturdaywhen the call came from the hospice I worked for that a patient  in Fort Scott was in a crisis and was calling for a chaplain.    The chaplain that worked that area was unreachable, and so I was called to see if I would go help her.   After making the long drive to Ft. Scott from Fredonia, I was greeted by an elderly woman who had  been placed on hospice  the previous week, after being told that her disease was terminal.    As the message began to take hold in her mind that her life was going to end soon,  she was having real problems dealing with it.   As we visited she told me about the message she’d received, how much she loved the hospice nurse that had already been to see her several times, and how her grand-daughter was to be there the next week to live with her for the next few months she had left in her home.   She told me she had been a member of the Episcopalian church all her life and she had tried to be a good Christian.   But now, she said “it just seems like when I pray, my prayer never gets past the ceiling of my room.”  

I reminded the lady that God was there in that very room with her all the time, since ceilings are not barriers for God, and that her prayers were heard before they had been uttered while they still were in her heart.   And I reminded her that not only had God heard her prayers, but was she aware that God was already responding to her prayers?  -How about the grand-daughter whose heart had been moved to become her caregiver?    How about the “angel,” as she called her, who was her hospice nurse?  God had already sent two people  to be with her and take care of her when she needed them!

God answers prayer—sometimes it just  takes us a little while for us  to become aware of the answers!

Ministerial Ethic or Guidelines? That is the question!!

I just attended the latest session of “Boundaries Training”  for The Christian church (DOC) of Kansas.    This is required for “standing” in our denomination  every three years just in case we ministers have forgotten them.   Most of what I heard was what I have always heard.  It was presented well, and I have no problem with the presenter.   The problem I have is with the Ministerial “Code of Ethics”.   

I find many problems, a few I will mention here:

1.   The “code” is too rigid and plays into the hands of those whose thinking is rigid.   It is written with the insecure minister in mind who doesn’t want anyone to mess with his relationship to his congregation.   All along, I’ve been under the mistaken impression, apparently, that the congregation is God’s faith community, not mine.     I failed to realize the congregation was  solely to be  owned by  the current ministers .   I apparently misunderstand when I read Paul’s words—“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the increase”.   Somehow I have the mistaken idea, apparently,  that all of us are ministers together for the glory of God, and not our own.  We all need the help of God and each other to effectively carry out our role as pastors.

2.    We need guidelines as ministers, not a strict code, because every probken that we face is one that is unique in the way it involves us and our parishioners and our faith community.  Instead, we spell out the “code” in great detail—-sort of reminds me of the Pharisees Jesus spoke to rather harshly—-we go into great detail as to what a minister can and cannot do, but fail to see the “spirit behind the law,” a guidelines that says, whatever you do it must be done in love for God, your parishioner(s)  your fellow servants and yourself.      I say to you—-Jesus rolled all the law and prophets into a single verse—the Shema—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself” to quote him loosely.     This is what we need to consider doing.   The Code of Ethics leaves out love for God, love for self, and love for neighbor (including fellow-pastors) and instead installs rules of behavior—-similar to all the rules that the Pharisees spelled out resulting in “an approach that is often counterproductive in the life of our  individual church members and of the faith community.  We say, for example, that we should never, I SAY NEVER go back and do a funeral at a previous church, regardless of pleading from one of your former sheep who is grieving and for whom we were a shepherd for many years.    Is this the way we  show Christ’s love  to our parishioner?   Is this the way we show Christ’s love to the community of faith?  Is this walking the path that Jesus walked? In other words, is this what is best for our parishioner, the community of the faith, and ourselves? I need some convincing! I always welcomed former ministers back in this role, asking only that I be a part of the service since I need to do the followup bereavement work.   After all, we are co-laborers in God’s vineyard. 

 3,   I propose that we revisit the entire code  of ethics with the iintent  of simplifying it and making it  more humane” and I daresay “Christian” or “Christlike” for ALL  who are involved—-ministers and laypersons.    I feel that as it is now, it , like the Pharisees, too often PREVENTS EFFECTIVE MINISTRY rather than FURTHING EFFECTIVE MINISTRY.  

I realize there is a need to “cover our exterior” , district-wide and regionally, from those who behavior might not follow these or any of  the guidelines or codes that we might produce.    There always will be those few who go ahead and selfishly act regardless of ANY   guidelines or code that may be in place..  

I propose that some of what I heard said at the Friday Boundary presentation be implemented in our ministerial guidelines; i.e.  (1) Is it good for the congregant;  (2) does it build up the body of Christ.   And I would add:  (3)   Is it Christlike?  

Give us  a break!     If ministers are not secure enough in their role  and not smart enough to make good decisions using a few guidelines rather than a code of rules of behavior for ministers. then perhaps we need to take a look at our ordination requirements.  Let me know what YOU think.

BE VERY AFRAID

Totalitarian dictators always consolidate their power by controlling the courts, the legislature, and the media.    If they can do this, then they have a free ticket to do whatever they wish.   

This seems to be the trend in Brownbackistan, formerly known as Kansas.   Our governor and legislature want to change the selection of judges so they can control their selection.    We have been brainwashed into electing legislators who are under the control of the governor rather than those who elected them, it seems.   Now there is a move to control the media by limiting the “open meeting” laws that make the legislative process transparent to the public.  

Media—you are our last line of defense!   My fellow citizens, if you must fear something, be very afraid of losing your freedom—NOT to Washington and the federal government—BUT fear its loss at the hands of your state governor and legislature.  

“PRO-LIFE” AND THEN WHAT?……

Here in Kansas, and especially Wichita,  there is a great “hue and cry” about abortion.   The state has passed extremely strict laws concerning abortion.    In Wichita we murder doctors who perform abortion and threaten those who seek to open a clinic to do so with the same. 

I am not “pro-abortion” and I am “pro-life”—-but I see my “pro-olife”  stand much differently, apparently, than most of those “pro-lifer’s”who loudly protest abortion.   I feel that to be “pro-life” means we must go  a long ways past just not being against abortion and consider the life that we have “saved” the fetus to live.     It seems to me that here in Kansas, once the baby is born then we feel free to forget the baby and consign him or her  to a life where hunger, improper medical care because of lack of insurance,  homelessness, poverty, and lack of educational opportunities past highschool—if with the above problems the child even finishes highschool—a doubtful theory.

If you are “pro-life” for children, how can you be against the extension of Medicaid  when many thousands of these children would be covered by health insurance who now are not?   If you are “pro-life” how can you not react to the fact recently published in the Wichita papers that over 2000 children in Wichita schools are homeless?   If you are “pro-life” why do you elect legislators  who run for office on the “pro-life”  platform, but who cut money to colleges and universities and all schools, thus causing many of these children to not be able to afford a college eduction.  If you are “pro-life” why are you not seeking to improve the life of our children??

Your actions,  or lack thereof,  speak so loudly that I just can’t hear your words….. “pro-life.”

BACK TO “THE GOOD OLD DAYS”

The cry now from conservatives and “tea partiers” is “let’s get back to the good old days.   Give me back my country.”   That has always been the conservative outlook—-preserve the status quo as it was 100 years ago.   Do not let the U.S. Constitution be interpreted in the light of the present technological and urban society that we have become  but interpret it as  the “founding fathers” did (who by the way fought vigorously over what it meant but WERE able to compromise on a form of government that has grown a great nation and provided us with a standard of living that all nations envy. 

Want to go back to the good old days?    How about the 1860’s?    Let’s go back to the doctrine of nullification (which our good governor and legislature seem bent on doing with the law passed to nullify the federal gun regulations and arrest federal agents enforcing them).    Let’s break the domination of the states by any federal government and let each state do what they want and decide what laws they wish to follow.  This, of course will break up the Union of States we Call the United States of America.  The southern States tried this.  What happened?   Civil War?    Oh, isn’t that wonderful????   Let’s all keep those guns we are fighting so desperately to keep unregulated by any federal laws and instsead use them on each other!!!

Want to go back to the good old days of the 1930’s?    Over 20 percent unemployment rate.   Widespread hunger.   Riots of workers in large factories?   Really good, weren’t they?   No medicare.   No unemployment insurance.   If you lost your job or were too sick to work, too bad.  If you were injured on the job you were fired with no compensation.   No welfare.   If you retired and didn’t have enough to support yourself or a family to take you in you were on the way to the “poor farm” as it was called.   Conditions there were miserable. I’ve seen “poor farms”.    Oh well!!

Want to go back to my early childhood years?    Be prepared to be anxious about contracting polio, because the cause and the vaccine had not been invented yet?   While you are back there, visit some of my friends who have been crippled all their lives by this vicious disease.  Have diabetes?   Might as well commit suicide now, as the pain will be unbearable so unbearable, as it was to my great grandfather, that suicide is the best course. You see,  manmade insulin had not yet been discovered. Diabetes was a death sentence—a very painful one.   Or we can go  go back to the time when schools closed for “scarlet fever” outbreaks—just an infection now that we can easily cure with antibiotics.  Trouble is when I was growing up there were no antibiotics.   While you are back in these times, check and see how much states were contributing toward conquering these diseases and how much the federal government contributed.   Case rested. 

Are you happy and content in the good old days, when everything was wonderful?   Are you crazy for wanting to go back?   Think about it!!

Let’s get rid of radios and tvs and cell phones and go back to newspapers and telegraphs and letters.   That’s the real way to communicate!    No more computers.   

We need to open our eyes and be critical of those who would lead us down this path of destruction of our lives and our great nation.