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December 25, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Two weeks ago, while I was on my morning commute to work- four blocks through the neighborhood- I spied a young man who looked to be in middle school. I’m guessing he was a sixth grader. He didn’t have that “I’m about to be in high school” swagger. But it was too early in the morning for him to be catching the bus to elementary school.

He wasn’t very big. And walking down the sidewalk he looked even smaller because he was lugging a bulky French horn case that was about half his height. That case is so awkward. It’s like brief cases with an aneurism on one end.  Step, bump. Step, bump.

Once this budding musician got to the bus, he would have to lug his case up its precarious steps and around the corner without crashing into the bus driver, or accidentally knocking the bus into gear. Then when he got to the aisle  between the seats, he would have to lift the awkward case above his head to be sure he didn’t knock the pretty Red Haired Girl’s I phone or lunch box to the floor or even worse, hit her in the knee. Finally, he would find an empty bench where he and his case could sit together and make idle conversation.

Then, when he got to school he’d do the same thing in reverse. He’d be the envy of everyone as he step-bumped down the hall, until he got to the band room where all the other cool kids hang out and where, after all that work, he would drop his horn off in the instrument room.

Believe me, I know this routine. What work!!!

But then, later that evening, he’s back at school with his hair slicked down, wearing his Sunday best. He takes his place in the middle of the band. The auditorium is filling to capacity with adoring fans. The lights dim. The conductor climbs to the podium. For just a moment her eyes rest on him and his horn.

Then the baton drops. That same young man finds himself sitting in the middle of the celebration playing his part, swept up in the music and the magic of the season and thinking to himself, “All that work was worth it.”

Let’s be honest. December feels a lot like work. Lugging and bumping and walking and “excuse me” and “I’m sorry”. December can also make us feel like we’re carrying an extra burden that no one else really appreciates.

But, hopefully for all of us this December, that   moment finally comes, when we can set aside all the work of the season, take a moment, sit, and get swept up in the presence of something greater than we can see. The music we add may not seem like much. But then neither did that baby dozing in his mother’s arms, after all that work.

Merry Christmas!

 

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December 19, 2016, 12:03 PM

My Two Cents

Here it is, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Over the past five days we’ve been busy. We left homes still smelling of turkey and gravy to find the deals on Black Friday. We snuck in a trip to the Main Street boutique before the movie began at the metro-plex to be in       solidarity with local merchants on Small Business Saturday. Some of us went to church to hang the greens on Sunday! We sat in front of our screens and ordered Christmas gifts from way over the river and through the woods- to be delivered right to our front door- on Cyber-Monday.

And now finally it’s Giving Tuesday. After all of that eating and shopping and strolling and browsing and pointing and clicking, we have an opportunity to give a little of what’s left over to charities that touch our hearts and lives.

The radio show that woke me up this morning told me how much it touches my heart and gave me an opportunity to give. Advertisements in the newspaper reminded me of how many people are doing such good things in our city. Messages from organizations I love and trust like the Week of Compassion and the National Alliance for Mental illness dropped into the inbox on my computer as I was eating breakfast.

Now it’s our turn!

True enough, most folks will not be reading this until at least a few days after “Giving Tuesday”. And, we know, we are asked to give practically every week on Sunday. But, here’s the deal: We have a unique opportunity before us to make a gift to Christian Temple in the month of December that will make a      difference for a long time to come!

Last spring our congregation voted to take our boldest step in many years toward increasing our capacity for ministry when we included the funds necessary to call Andy Eaker as our Pastoral Resident. The decision back in the spring was to underwrite that bold step by       approaching the congregation this month with an opportunity to BRIDGE THE GAP and make a one-time gift OR an increased pledge for the  remainder of the year to cover the cost.

Andy’s presence has blessed our community of faith in so many ways. He has reached out to the next generation of followers of Jesus- single young adults, new parents, children (or kiddos, as he calls them) and our youth. He has strengthened bonds with our community.     Meanwhile, we have provided him with an      opportunity to be a “pastor” to see how it feels. So much that is good and right.

So, whenever you happen to be reading this, please remember that, while there are so many fantastic organizations out there doing great work, only one of those has as its specific mission to pass along the faith tradition we’ve been so lucky to receive. This year we’re     bringing Jesus Christ to life in new and exciting ways.

Generous gifts from all of us will keep that     ministry alive!

 

Shalom,

Rick

 




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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