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November 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

I’d like to believe that the arc of history bends toward justice, but sometimes I’m not too sure. So many injustices persist.

Sexual assault persists. We’d like to think that in an enlightened society such as ours women can feel as safe as men. But intractable injustices persist from the offices of Fox news to the dorm rooms on college campus. Did you know that reports of rape go up 41% on the days of home college football games? Maybe that locker room banter isn’t so harmless after all.

Child abuse persists. Coaches, pastors and teachers violate the trust placed in them by parents. Schools, athletic departments and churches still transfer their problems somewhere else rather than risk the scrutiny of honest disclosure. Overwhelmed siblings are asked too early in their lives to be responsible for their little brothers and sisters.

Poverty persists. The accident of birth is sometimes the only difference between a six year old bound for a career in genetic biology and one bound to be the “lookout” for an open air drug market down on the corner.

And yes, racism persists. After World War II the GI Bill helped thousands of mostly white families climb the social ladder while people of color who couldn’t afford to buy a house in the suburbs languished. That system still persists.

At the church we recently attended the white preacher told the story of how he was caught carrying a pistol while he was a student in a downtown middle school. He was in the musical, “West Side Story”. As one of the characters who was armed on stage, he got to carry a starter’s pistol. One day he was goofing around during rehearsal, chasing another kid down the hall with his starter’s pistol. When the black vice principal rounded the corner right in front of him with his gun drawn, he scolded both of them and took the pistol away. That was it.

The preacher then asked us to imagine the situation reversed. Black kid with the starter’s pistol. White vice principal or security officer. Would it have turned out any different? One has to wonder.

Injustices persist. They don’t go away just because we name them. Like “whack-a-mole”, when we lean into them in one place, they pop up somewhere else. Which makes me think that we, who have the deck stacked mostly IN our favor are wise to temper our judgement about the injustices we see around us. It pains me to hear those of us who benefit from white privilege rail against the police who are asked to stand at a border that helps us keep that privilege. It is equally painful to hear people deny the reality of systemic racism.

Instead of the all-too-common rant, perhaps the next time something happens that reveals the world’s persistent injustice, we concentrate on the log in our own eye and ask what we are willing to give up in order to make the world more just. I’m not sure anything will change until that question is faced.

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October 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Little Me and Big Me.

These are the two ways people think of themselves according to New York Times columnist, David Brooks. In his book “The Road to Character” Brooks suggests that our culture has moved from Little Me to Big Me since the end of World War II.

He recalls hearing a rebroadcast of a radio variety show that was aired for American troops on August 15th, 1945, the day after Japan surrendered. As he says, “the allies had just completed one of the noblest military victories in human history and yet there was no chest beating”. Instead Bing Crosby who hosted the show opened by saying, “Well, it looks like this is it. I guess all anybody can do is thank God it’s over.” To be sure there was joy in the country that day. But it was a joy mixed heavily with humility.

This is what Brooks would call the culture of Little Me-a culture filled with people who have a deep appreciation for their own flaws and who go through life with an authentic sense of gratitude and humility.

Big Me culture is different and, today, more the norm. It is filled with people who see themselves as the center of the universe. It can be seen and heard in people who are cultural stars, athletes, even pastors. Brooks quotes Joel Osteen who is the minister of a church the size of Rhode Island, “God didn’t make you to be average. You were made to excel.”

Brooks draws a stark contrast between Little Me and Big Me by mentioning the two quarterbacks who played in Super Bowl III between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets in 1969. Remember that one? Johnny Unitas- Little Me. Joe Namath- Big Me. Remember who won?

I’m not a big fan of those Facebook memes that long for the good old days when Pepsi Colas cost a nickel and parents didn’t have to keep such a close eye on their kids. My experience is that all of us, no matter what our generation happens to be, see our childhood as a simpler time than now. Plus, those days when we could all ride our bikes to school are the same days when our neighbors would organize to keep people of color out of our subdivisions.

But, there is something to what Brooks says. The pendulum seems to have swung pretty far toward the Big Me. More and more we define ourselves by what we’ve done than by who we are. Or, as Brooks would say, “we’re more interested by our resume virtues than our epitaph virtues”. Again, not all bad. But somehow a little dangerous.

Maybe one place church can fit into the picture, is to provide us some balance: to remind us that we are loved by God no matter how badly we mess up, but that we also have lots of gifts that God and the world could really use.

What do you think?  Shalom, Rick

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September 2, 2016, 9:44 AM

My Two Cents

Through the course of a year, there are many times when I just can’t imagine NOT being part of the church. The obvious ones come to mind first.

I can’t imagine not having to wake up at the crack of dawn on Easter Sunday to make a full morning of worship, breakfast and worship again- this after the quiet of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I have to assume that for millions of wonderful people, being greeted by an overflowing Easter basket and hunting for eggs makes everything perfect. But what would Easter dinner be without the chance to talk about the bonnets everyone wore to church?

And, of course, there’s December 24th. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that those who don’t include worship on Christmas Eve MUST take a moment around the dinner table to light a candle and sing “Silent Night”- at least one verse. But, I wouldn’t know.

There are other times when the church adds meaning to our days. The happy noise of a roomful of people enjoying Thanksgiving dinner in fellowship hall; the feel of ashes on our foreheads; the naming of the saints; the small, hearty group of folks who were able to make it through the snow storm into worship; the way a high school kid who was four years old just a day or so ago, speaks of finding Jesus on a work trip clear across the country.

The church adds such rich texture to the warp and woof of the year, doesn’t it?

But, one of the times when the church feels most “right” is in the fall, when things get started up again. I have great memories of kick-off events for our youth group when we’d see each other after being away for much of the summer and the smell of hot dogs roasting at the annual Rally Day picnic to mark the beginning of Sunday school. One year, on such an occasion we launched balloons before we realized it wasn’t the best thing in the world for the environment. Another year we had a guy in a bear costume waving people into the church parking lot on Sunday morning!

Around here for the past fourteen years our annual “rite of fall” is “Respond to the Call” when about a hundred of us figure out a way to remember the victims of the attacks on September 11th by offering ourselves in community service. We’ve been doing it for so long now I can’t imagine September without it.

There are so many different ways for us to say what our mission is as a congregation. But one good way might be this: Our purpose is to offer ministry in such a way that when fall rolls around people begin looking through their closets to see what they might wear to church next Sunday.

Anybody out there want to join the fun?!

Shalom,

Rick

 

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August 25, 2016, 12:00 AM

With Warmth

One of the many benefits of my theological education is the structured time to read, to think, to talk and to ultimately put into practice what I am belaboring.  Praxis, is a process by which a theory, lesson or a skill is enacted, practiced, embodied or realized.  During my time at Vanderbilt I became increasingly interested in the praxis of Christian hospitality. My studies ultimately lead me to frame Christian hospitality in this way:  The way a church views their property is both intrinsically and extrinsically linked to their practice of hospitality.  We might even be familiar with the scripture in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, For the body of God does not consist of one part, but many… we are to be God’s hands, feet, ears etcetera and working together we will live into a sense of cohesion for the living Christ.  We are the body of God, and together we can accomplish many things.  What if we took this a little further and began to conceptualize the church building as the body of God?  Perhaps this could lead to new and curious connections.  
 
A metaphor can be a powerful tool, they can push us into new and uncomfortable ways of viewing the everyday; maybe even a new spin on the old concepts that we have inherited. And so too, with inheritance comes great responsibility. 


So what is this Church building as the body of God business? I think of it as just one tool in the metaphor tool box to enhance the conversation of Christian hospitality.  For me, how we structure and interact with even the most mundane tasks of the church building use policies have an impact on how you view the stranger/ the outsider. You have heard that body language is important when meeting someone for the first time… think of this as our holy body language.


 This is one of my most important theological preoccupations!   To put it differently, the way Christians conceptualize and articulate physical space inevitably influences the way we treat our neighbor. 
 
And let me tell you, Christian Temple is one of the best functioning examples I have had the privilege of living into!  Community playground, baseball diamond, garden plots, basketball court, Montessori School, farmers market, Al-anon programs, camps etcetera etcetera the list goes on and on.


This is the greatest indication of vitality in community life, when we are able to use our physical property as a gift- to use our physical property as a manifestation of Gods love for Gods people.


Proximity to others / proximity to the stranger will continue to define Christian Temple. Our identities are constructed in our relationship to place and to ownership, we are boundary setting creatures and boundaries are tantamount to our health. I sometimes wonder what it would look like if we expanded our circle. Despite what we might fear the consequence. I will leave you with one of my favorite lines from poet William Stafford ...   “What you fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you.” 
 
We are called as a community to grow into newness both thoughtfully and with great care. 


Who is the stranger among us?


What does our body language say to our larger community?  

-Andy
 

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August 4, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Back in Indianapolis Don’s Guns was the biggest gun shop in town. Don’s motto: “I don’t want to make money, folks. I just love to sell guns.”

And our country? We just want to buy them.

Last month while I was waiting for my glasses to be fixed at Costco, I stumbled upon the terrific book, “Epitaph: A Novel of the OK Corral” by Mary Doria Russell. The book tells the very involved story leading up to one of most iconic incidents of gun violence in our history- one in which both good guys with guns and bad guys with guns were killed.

The main story is about the OK Corral, but a side story that is hard not to hear, especially this summer, is how deeply our country’s love of guns is woven into our culture. This stuff was real, and it didn’t happen all that long ago. Everyone was armed. And the way to be safe was either to carry a gun or live with someone who did. That’s who we were. And, to a large extent, that’s still who we are.

But Russell’s story makes it clear that so many people got killed back in the good old days because of what went along with all those guns. The most lethal accomplice was alcohol, the 19th century drug of choice. Then came things like revenge, poverty, jealousy, racism, and good old fashioned American machismo. Then, as now, guns were everywhere. Then, as now, these were the things that led people’s fingers to curl around the trigger.

I wish our country wasn’t so enamored with firearms. Now that we’re not fighting the British from our front porches, I wish our Constitution went from the first directly to the third amendment. The presence of guns in anyone’s hands other than hunters, law enforcement officers, and soldiers doesn’t make me feel one bit safer.

But until that day comes, let’s not JUST talk about gun control after the next shooting. Let’s also focus our attention on the people pulling the trigger. They haven’t really changed that much since 1881. They are the young, the angry, the poor, the despondent, the ones desperately suffering from addiction, the ones who stand in harm’s way on our behalf. They may be us, actually. But, if not, they are certainly within our reach.

Shalom,

Rick

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