Friday, December 30, 2005

What is happening to America?

What is happening to America?

The President has admitted that he broke the law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution.

America has invaded another country based on a claim of a threat that was false. Our President has said he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat.

Our nation is using torture.

We hold prisoners for years without charges or due process. Some are as young as 11 years old. As Maj Gen Wodjakowski said, "I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent civilians. We're winning the war." But are we losing our values?

We operate secret prisons overseas.

We pay journalists to write propaganda in our own nation and abroad.

All of this is done in the name of protecting American lives.

Robert Steinback wrote about much of this in a column in the Miami Herald recently. He asks an interesting question -- "Who would have remembered Patrick Henry had he written, "What's wrong with giving up a little liberty if it protects me from death?"

American lives are important, but what of our values?

Pastoral Meme

I keep seeing "memes" in blogs, so I thought I would create my own. It goes with what I'm doing.

The vacation I'm on is actually something that three of us started in 1980. It was called the Annual Ecumenical Pastoral Enhancement Conference. Three of us were chatting about how we needed to celebrate our ordinations with a trip to the beach. We didn't have any money to take our wives to the beach, so we started looking for ways to spend our new Continuing Education budget together. We couldn't agree on a conference that we all liked, and then Bart said, "Why don't we do our own conference? I'll lecture you guys on crap Methodist ministers put up with, and you two can lecture me on crap the Presbyterians put up with -- and we can hold this conference at the beach."

So we did.

It started as a joke, but it has developed into an annual gathering of our families. It is a retreat in the truest sense of the word.

We usually just take turns hosting the AEPEC at each other's homes. Next year, we meet in Miami, then it is onto Columbia, SC -- this year it is Atlanta. The time of year changes -- I think this is the first Christmastide event we've held.

Occasionally we think of holding it in Paris.

Anyway, we were all thinking together about a Pastoral Meme -- those of you who are pastors might enjoy the challenge of answering. Those of you who are not pastors might enjoy the glimpse into the lives of the members of the AEPEC.

1. When were you ordained?

2. What was the first official act you did as an ordained minister?
I gave a prayer of invocation at a fund raiser for a democratic congressman and long-time family friend.

3. What were your most embarrasing moments in ministry?
I don't embarrass easily. I would have to say talking to someone recently and confusing them with her sister -- I felt horrible about that one.

4. What have been your best moments in ministry?
I've had great growth in membership. I've held high positions in presbytery, published a number of things, accomplished a lot of measurable goals. But the best moments have been in pastoral care -- being with someone at death, holding the hand of someone who is in a nursing home, etc.

5. What weddings are your most memorable?
We all have tons of wedding stories. After a while, you get tired of the weddings that are so formal, over priced, or combat zones for fragmented families. One delightful wedding involved a couple from Africa. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Dad went to the ER with a suspected heart attack (false alarm) an hour before the service. People were late. Organist was late. Rain was pouring down and everyone came into the sanctuary soaked. Just as we -- the best man, groom and I -- were about to enter the sanctuary, the best man starts patting his jacket and pants' pockets and says, "I left the rings at home."

Well if I had a dime for everytime I heard that lame joke.

But it was true.

I thought, this is it, this will be the last straw.

But no, the bride and groom didn't care. They borrowed their parent's rings and the service continued.

They enjoyed the wedding. They were determined to have a great time no matter what happened. That will probably be a strong marriage.

6. What baptisms are your most memorable?
The child who snored in my lapel mike while I held her. We were all laughing at that one.

Presbyterians baptize through sprinkling, pouring or immersion, and I've only done one immersion. It was at South Beach. The congregation all followed me and Matthew as we walked to the water wearing old choir robes. Two thoughts came to mind as we meandered our way through sand castle building children and topfree sunbathing women -- first, I suddenly realized what St. Paul meant when he wrote about being a fool for Christ, and I savored and enjoyed that foolishness. Second, while Presbyterians do not practice PRIVATE baptism, this was the first truly public one I'd ever done.

Then there were the Davis twins -- the Associate took one and I took the other. For that one, we added a line we had removed from the liturgy -- "Name this child." Mom actually had to check to see which ear had the piercing (which was how they were telling them apart).

Also I remember my own son's. Some ministers invite other pastors to do their children's baptism -- a tradition I never understood.

7. What do you hate about ministry?
The feeling that I am wasting my time and that I have never accomplished anything worthwhile.

8. What do you love about ministry?
The feeling that I am doing something worthwhile and that I am accomplishing something every day.

9. What do you wish your parishioners would do for you?
Pray for me. That may sound corny, but it is true. I have people who pray for me, and it makes a world of difference.

10. If you were not a minister, what would you be?
A retired minister.

11. If you were not a member of your current denomination, which would you be?
Episcopal -- I love the Book of Common Prayer.

12. Who have been your mentors?
Tom Long -- my professor during my Master of Divinity and Doctoral programs. Great preacher.
My father.
One of my former Presbytery Executives.

13. Who are your top 5 favorite bloggers and why?

1. Donna in Hollywood -- she is a member of a Presbyterian Church, has a Stephen Minister, and has struggled with cancer.

2. Rev. Bill -- I like his writings, and he often sends me to other new blogs and interesting web places.

3. There is a whole group of Rev. Gal Pals -- They are each worth reading -- St. Casserole, Quotidian Grace, Rev. Mommy, and all of the others. OK, I'm cheating here. Five is not enough and this is my way of including a bunch!

4. There are several bloggers from Columbia Seminary -- Baily Blog, Fork in the Road, Exodus 4:13, These seminarians remind me of how out of touch I've become with some issues in the church -- and they reveal to me how out of touch the seminarians are with the realities in the church. Well, I suppose that is something that never changes.

5. Is there still room to mention Kitty Titty, Dawn, Thoughts from a First Year Minister and
Rebel without a Pew?

There -- that's five!

Oh no -- I left out I Married The Pastor.

14. What was it like the first time you were with someone who died?
Humbling. It is the most sacred ground I ever stand upon.

15. What was it like the first time someone made sexual advances to you -- their pastor?
It was at a funeral, and I knew the woman whose father had died was a prostitute. Don't be judgmental -- she was struggling with poverty and trying to get out of the sex trade. After the funeral, I went to her and said something and shook her hand. She took my hand and put it on her breast and said, "If there is anything I can ever do for you, let me know."

I was so shocked I jerked my hand away without even savoring the moment.

"Just glad to be of help m'ame."

That was the end of it.

16. If you were not the pastor, would you be a member of your congregation?
Yes -- it is one of the "test questions" my family and I ask about a church considering us.

17. What is the best thing about your church?
I like preaching in a church that is basically 50% white, 50% black, with Hispanics of both colors, and lots of folks from different nations.

18. Do you think of leaving your church and/or ministry?
I think of leaving the congregation for the next call, but I'm not at the point of serious thought and action.

Leave the ministry? No.

OK -- anyone else want to add their answers on their blogs? Let me know in the comments section so I can see your answers.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Things I've Learned As Senior Pastor

One thing I have learned in the ministry is that the only person who can take care of the minister is the minister.

Lately my hours have been rough -- I start work at 8 AM and finish at 11 PM, midnight or 1 AM. I'll take a 2 hour break when I get home, spending time with the family and cooking supper. Occasionally I'll spend a few minutes surfing the web as a diversion.

It's part of the Advent and Christmas routine -- too much to do and too little time. Long ago, I learned to finish my Christmas shopping by November. I suppose that is the second thing I've learned in ministry.

If I tell people about my long hours, they think I am exaggerating, or they will say, "You think you got it bad, let me tell you about my life..."

The one thing I have to do when I get home is to get back on track with my exercise program. No one will do it for me.

What else have I learned?

1. Never tell people you are taking a day off, or that you can't meet with them because you are taking your son to a movie or planning a romantic dinner with the wife. That produces a negative response. Simply say, "I'm booked at that time, what other time is good for you?" People respect your professional time more than your personal time.

2. Proof read the bulletin over and over -- with lots of eyes looking at it. Any mistake will be the pastor's fault.

3. Protect your staff. Stand up for the Associate Pastors, DCEs, custodians -- everyone. You are all in the same boat. Never put down a staff member in front of a parishioner. If the staff member screws up, deal with it behind closed doors with just the staff member, and maybe a couple of elders if it is serious.

4. Negotiate salary and compensation when you accept the call. Never negotiate after that. Negotiate for the staff members, encouraging the Session to give Cost of Living and Merit increases. If you succeed for them, the Session will provide for the Senior Pastor. If the church has a good staff -- you all deserve the best the church can give.

5. Never handle money belonging to the church. I made this a rule from the beginning, so there is no experience-story here. Sometimes people will hand me an offering envelope and say they were working in the nursery or whatever, and couldn't put it in the plate -- I tell them I don't handle church money, and ask and elder to handle it for us. The people seem to appreciate this hard and fast rule.

6. Always have access to people's giving records. Some churches won't let you do this, but we know who is on drugs, who is having an affair, and who is doing all sorts of private and secret things. Knowing that a person who gives generously has suddenly severely cut giving indicates there is a pastoral concern. Is the person suddenly unemployed? Is the person angry and trying to send a message to church leaders?

7. Always stay in touch with the members who need pastoral care. Follow-up after a while. Everyone forgets a person whose Mom died 4 months ago -- but they are still grieving and a call from the pastor is always appreciated.

8. Never make pastoral visits in homes. This one I break, but only on rare occasions. Nothing bad ever happened to me, but I could see the potential as a young pastor. A woman said she and her husband wanted to talk to me, so I went to her home and found only the wife. She was wearing a see-through blouse and was mad at her husband for having an affair -- she must have thought I'd be good revenge. Twice I've had people pull a gun on me -- we need to remember the church attracts disturbed people (healing is our business, after all). If I go to someone's home, an elder must go with me. I always clarify this sort of thing in the hiring or call process.

9. Someone in business told me that the most important person to a meeting should be the last to arrive and the first to leave -- it is a time saving thing. I've learned pastors need to be the last to arrive at a meeting, start the meeting immediately, but after the meeting we need to be the last to leave. The socializing builds foundations for pastoral care.

10. Prayer is crucial. I spend at least an hour a day in the Sanctuary or walking in the neighborhood in prayer. Truth be told -- that's not enough.

11. Reserve only one or two nights per week for work. The rest is for the family. For me it is Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, me family is attending church programs -- so I reserve that time to meet with individuals in the office. Tuesday is usually Session or a committee.

12. Network! Meet lots of other ministers and church educators. Help them when you can. They can help you as well. Support one another. For Presbyterians, this means being part of the Presbytery.

13. Be a cheerleader. You know people who just make you feel good when you see them? That is the kind of person you should be for others. People need to feel good about their pastors and churches -- help them feel that way.

14. Be sincere. There are times when cheerleading is inappropriate. Know the difference.

15. Remember the names of parishioners' children and pets -- and be sincerely interested in them.

16. Consider the children true parishioners, and treat them accordingly.

17. Dress appropriately. I always wore a suit and a clerical collar until I moved to Miami -- now it is jeans and a clerical collar, which is culturally appropriate for an inner city congregation in the tropics.

18. Remember the Coca-Cola rule. We are going to the Coca-Cola museum later today. YES, there really is such a museum in Atlanta. How can one visit Atlanta without taking in the Coca-Cola museum, Cyclorama or the Varsity? Remember the cola wars of the 1980s? Coca Cola and Pepsi were in hot competition, and Coca Cola decided the best way to compete with Pepsi was to become Pepsi. They changed the formula and sweetened the taste. Sales went down. Stock prices plummeted. They went back to the real Coke. As Popeye the Sailer man said, "I yam what I yam." God Himself said, "I am what I am." Or as Will said in a play, "To thine ownself be true." Be yourself.

Well, those are a few thoughts -- I might post some more. What have you guys learned? If you are in the ministry or not -- what have you learned about the work of the pastor?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I Love Vacations!

I was standing behind the pulpit.

It was 11:30 PM on Christmas Eve.

I was close to the end of my sermon, which I had delievered three times that night.

"I could just collapse," I thought to myself.

"I could fall over, and not say anything. People would gather around and say, "John, are you OK?"

If I didn't say anything, someone would come and take me away.

They would put me in a bed in a hospital and feed me. There would be a television set with a remote.

How did I let myself get so tired?

But, I made it through the services and now I'm at home. We are on our way up north to Atlanta later today.

("Up north to Atlanta?" -- I never thought I'd live so far south that Atlanta would be considered north, but after a decade or so, I'm getting used to it.)

We're going to visit family in Atlanta -- maybe I'll drop by the Seminary -- or maybe the new Aquarium. And maybe I'll post something here. And maybe I won't :)

If I don't post anything while we travel, I will definitely be back soon. After I return home there is a conference in my backyard -- No2Torture. I hope to post something about that event.

Well, I'm babbling. Maybe they should have taken me away after all :)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Marathon -- here I come!

No -- not Marathon, Florida.

The Christmas Eve Marathon. For years we have had the same schedule -- 7 PM, 9 PM and 11 PM. On Christmas Day we have one service instead of the usual routine -- 10 AM.

I love the services.

I love the candles.

The music.

The children.

And yes, even the CEO's who come to visit -- you know who you are. Christmas and Easter Only.

I hope everyone has a Happy Christmas and a Merry Holy Day.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Test for sinning

Is this for real? Well, maybe...

Greed:Very Low

Gluttony:Very Low

Wrath:Very Low


Envy:Very Low

Lust:Very Low


Discover Your Sins - Click Here

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

As our nation loses its soul...

Our nation has a soul.

It is called the Constitution.

Terrorists can burn the White House and the nation will survive -- the British burned it in 1814, but the nation moved forward.

A sniper can put a bullet in the head of a beloved President, and the government continues -- 1963 was a sad year, but America endured.

A President can resign in disgrace, and the rule of law will stand firm -- as it did in 1974 when President Ford declared "Our long national nightmare is over."

Let Mt. Rushmore crumble.

Let the Statue of Liberty collapse into the waters of Upper New York Bay.

Let the Liberty Bell turn to dust.

Let even the ink upon the old parchments fade from the Constitution of the United States.

But as long as the words of the Constitution survive and are kept in force our nation will endure.

The only true threat to our country is the abdication of our Constitution.

Have you ever noticed that when joining the American military the soldier, airman or sailor does not vow to protect the people or the government or the land? They are asked to state their names and solemnly swear (or affirm) to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Judges, senators and representatives of congress repeat the same oath, according to the US Code, section 5, subpart B, chapter 33.

Likewise, the President of the United States does not pledge or swear to protect America, Americans, national security, or vital interests. He or she must pledge "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

If the Constitution dies, so does the soul of our nation.

Which brings me to the first ten amendments that were added to the Constitution -- we call them the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

Few provisions of the Bill of Rights grew so directly out of the experience of the colonials as the Fourth Amendment. It had long been part of English law, and Americans were slow in embracing the concept -- which it did after painful experience.

King George and his soldiers had frequently entered homes without permission of the owners or warrants from a court.

After the Revolution, Americans found it easy to think that their own government would respect the English concept, ''Every man's house is his castle.''


Any government will abuse its power over the individual, and so a collection of amendments were added to the Constitution protecting the rights of the citizen.

Which brings me to President George W. Bush.

He is spying on American citizens.

He calls warrants inconvenient -- but under the Foreign Intelligence surveillance Act, a warrant PRIOR to the search is not necessary. The government has three days after the search to obtain the warrent, thus enabling immediate action in dealing with potential terrorists.

Our nation is losing its soul.

Could it be that the terrorists won on September 11, 2001, and we are only just now noticing?

Who Will Be The 5,000th visitor

I can't believe I've had 5,000 hits since July 1st, when I started the hit meter.

I'll give 500 points to anyone who identifies himself or herself as visitor 5,000.

Right now the counter is at 4,909.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Being a Prostitute for God

I had an interesting comment on my previous post: Lorna heard it said in her church, "I don't serve as we emply our pastor and secretary to do that."

Ideally, the paid staff should be here to help the volunteers in their service of God -- we are not paid to do the work of God for them.

In my first church, I struggled with this issue. My elders wanted me to visit the people of the church. I grew up in the church and the pastor was always a big part of our family. The pastor was invited to parties, and even a few that were mostly family gatherings. We would give the pastor gifts at Christmas and on birthdays. Occasionally the pastor was invited to join us for dinner, or we'd take the pastor and family out to a restaurant. But I don't remember any of our pastors coming to our house unannounced for a visit.

I suppose it is a cultural thing. I was willing to do it, but I hadn't really prepared for it.

"Who will go with me," I asked.

"Pastor, we don't visit. That's what we pay you to do."

What about praying for the people, visiting them in hospitals, helping them get to the doctor -- what about loving the people?

Am I paid to love the people so the members don't have to?

Sounds a bit like a prostitute.

Give me some cash and I'll make the members feel good and loved, and then I'll go home.

Paid clergy can be a problem in a church, if the church doesn't understand that paid staff are there to help the church be the church -- not be the church for them.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Re-Doing the Church

If you could re-invent the church, what would it look like?

Real Live Preacher asks that in his blog -- you can read his vision in his December 5th posting.

Real Live Preacher goes onto to describe a church that looks like most of the churches I've served -- at least in some ways.
--We would meet once or twice a week to worship together. This meeting would be a very high priority in our lives.
--We would make these friendships intentional ones and make it a point to spend time together.
--We would agree to pray and study the scriptures together and on our own.
--We would nurture each other and care for one another, especially if one of us was hurting or in need.

But he goes onto say some things that are quite different...
--We would never pay anyone to be a professional Christian. There would be no staff, no paid ministers, no salaries, and no overhead.
--We would never purchase or rent a place to worship. Homes would suffice.
---If there is preaching, it would be done by everyone. All who feel ready to share would take their turn. You would have weeks or even months to read your passage of scripture prayerfully. Then you would simply share the wisdom you found in the scriptures with your good friends.

Hey, anyone out there remember the 1960's and 1970's?

Real Live Preacher describes EXACTLY what was happening in the church during that time. We called it the Jesus Movement, and people referred to us as Jesus People.

We had no paid staff.

We met in homes.

We collected offerings and they were always at least a tithe of what we made. We gave the money to missions or to the poor among us.

We never advertized, or even had press releases -- but people found us even though we worshipped every week in a different home.

Anyone could preach, and we never knew who was going to preach at any given time.

It was wonderful. It had passion and drive. We were bringing people to know Christ.

So what happened?

The money we gave away was often wasted, because there was no structure for discernment. Someone asked us, we gave it.

The groups got too big for homes, so each house church birthed newer house churches. But none of them were large enough to do mission work effectively, and so we found ourselves moving to larger, more traditional congregations.

Because anyone could preach, anyone did. We heard a lot of heresy back then. One of them was the Children of God movement. One of my friends became caught up in the sex and drugs that cult was famous for.

Eventually, we moved more and more into traditional churches, and called on them to offer contemporary worship. Yep -- there is nothing new about contemporary worship. I find them very nostalgic. They offer pretty much the same format as we were offering in the 1970s --- except we've gotten rid of the overhead transparency in favor of the power point presentation.

I am not putting Real Live Preacher down -- not at all. I think his vision has courage and I share some of this thoughts. My church has a motto of sorts -- reformed and always reforming.

We ought to always be rethinking the way we do church.

We need to be careful, however. There are lots of dangers here!

We could create just another human institution, rather than rebuild the Body of Christ.

It is easy to lay aside 2000 years of lessons we've learned -- forcing us to live through the same mistakes.

Everytime a group wants to re-image the church, they often accomplish only one thing -- another division in the unity of Christ.

If a group does re-create the church, it must realize that the church needs two things -- a body and a soul. The organization and the purpose. The structure and the mission. Alban Institute refers to these as the mission and the enterprise of the church.

The enterprise is the part many have longed to get rid of -- structure, buildings, committees, and such. We need order -- which means some form of government and some way of saying who gets to teach and what confession or doctrines will they preach and teach.

And on the other hand, there is the part that excites those of us in the church -- it is the church's missional aspect. That means our soul, purpose, passion and mission . Think tithing, fellowship, mission work, Bible study, and such.

The enterprise of the church is what enables the mission of the church to happen.

I have found that when a church does both of these two areas well -- THAT is where you find a great church.

When they do either poorly -- you will find that is a church that can't function.

So what's my vision?

1. Church members would not be allowed to radiate Gamma Radiation (see previous entry).

2. We would have smaller sessions, so that everyone has a voice and we get things done quicker and more effectively.

3. Elders would visit more, pray with people more.

4. Members would invite friends and strangers to church.

5. Every church would be multi-cultural. In 25 years plus of ministry, I've only served one congregation that was of one race -- I didn't like it.

6. On Sundays I could preach as a prophet without being crucified by Friday.

7. Speaking of talking prophetically, I could tell Adam he is an ass hole and he would agree to stop being an ass hole. I could use anatomically correct terms in the conversation and not be crucified by Friday.

8. People could tell me I'm an ass hole, and do it in a loving way -- I'd listen and figure out how to improve my life. That would be much better than what they do now -- "Good sermon preacher, good sermon preacher, good sermon preacher," as they shake my hand at the door.

9. I would love to see churches cluster in cooperation. One office building for several churches. One copy machine, one secretary or two, maybe one educator, one youth director, etc. Perhaps share pastors. The church buildings would be for worship, fellowship and education, but not for business. Cut a lot of cost there and enjoy more cooperation. It's a way of getting toward what Real Live Preacher desires, while accomodating the culture we are in.

10. I would like elders learn that a church budget is nothing like a government or business budget. It is a cash flow system that depends on the generousity of others, and that pledges are not a guarenteed income. You don't have to balance a budget with pledges that "insure" we will have enough to cover expenses. Elders should understand that they control the budget, the budget does not control them. Can you tell we approved our budget for 2006 this week?

11. Worship would not change, at least in my church -- I like the traditional at 8:30 with Communion every week. I like the 11:00 with the wide variety of music and worship styles. I like the Saturday 5 PM contemporary.

Hmmm.... that's a beginning of my thoughts -- what's your vision?

More on Adam -- and other people who radiate Gamma Ray stuff

St. Casserole asked, "Why does Adam stay?" (see yesterday's post)

Good question.

I have known three people who got under my skin the way Adam does -- although Adam is by far the one who gets to me the most.

Burt was Clerk of Session in my first church. He suddenly turned on me and began making my life misserable. One of the other elders pulled me aside and told me that Burt was a cumpulsive gambler. Whenever he was losing he would attack the minister -- whoever that might be at any time. He'd been doing this for years.

Charlie was my Presbytery Executive. He attacked me and everyone else in the presbytery. He actually accused me of falsifying the annual report we have to turn into the Presbytery office, claiming, "no church could grow that fast." My whole session met with him and we documented every single new member for that year. Looking back, I regard that accusation as a complement.

But he made my life miserable, and he tortured other ministers as well.

Charlie died a few years ago. He'd had a rare brain disorder that effected his conduct. Eventually he lost his memory and the ability to take care of his most basic needs. I look back on the years before his illness and give thanks for all in him that was good and kind and faithful.

Diane and her family became very antagonistic. I'd invited an African American family to the church. It's one of the reasons I served only two years in Alabama.

So what is Adam's story?

Why does he stay in this church?

First, because he has no where else to go. It is the only place in his life where people are civil to him.

Second, he is powerless in his life. He has suffered unemployment frequently. His job is always on the line. His children rebel against him and his wife. The powerless often find the church to be a place where they can grasp power. Sadly, they miss the whole point of authority in the church as being a role of servanthood.

Third, I have learned that he fears change. It is not just that he doesn't like change. He is terrified of it. Many people may use the old expression, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Adam would say, "If it's broke, don't go messing with it because it might get worse."

One thing I am sure of -- when Christ returns to earth and sets up His kingdom, and we celebrate the Feast of the Lamb -- I will be there. I will sit there and savor the moment my savior allowed me to sit in His presence.

I will turn to one side and see Adam.

And on the other side there will be Burt, and across from me will be Charlie, and next to him will be Diane.

We will take the bread and eat it together.

We will take the cup and drink the wine together.

We will know that each of us is made in the image of God, and each of us are loved by God, and each of us will be at that table because the Lamb gave his life for each of us.

If God loves us so much, Adam and I really ought to get along together.

When I found out Burt was a gambler and had lost his home, I could love him because I understood something of his pain.

When I found out Charlie was close to death and why, I could love him becuase I understood why he had acted the way he had.

When I reflect on Diane, I know that racism is a terrible sin. I don't share that type of sin with her, but I have other sins I struggle with, and knowing that I am a sinner of a different sort helps me love a fellow sinner.

Someday I will understand Adam a bit better. Perhaps love will come more easily at that time. But for now I have to watch out for those Gamma Rays.

Friday, December 16, 2005

There is something about Adam, and I think it's radioactive

There is a fellow in our church named Adam.

The sad thing about Adam is that he is radioactive. I'm not sure how this happened, but he has some sort of rare condition in which his body radiates a type of Gamma Ray radiation.

You know the kind -- the type of Gamma Rays that turned David Bruce Banner into the raging Hulk.

Adam comes near me and I feel the radiation getting to me.

My blood begins to boil.

My blood pressure increases.

My skin turns green.

My body expands, ripping apart my all of my clothing -- well, not quite. For some strange reason my shirt is ripped, by shoes are ripped, my socks pop off, but my pants stay intact.

OK -- maybe it is not that bad, but there is something about Adam.

He just gets to me.

"Love your neighbor," Jesus said, echoing the teachings that God has given since the dawn of time.

I have no problem with that until I see Adam coming.

Adam. Elder. Member of the Session, which is the governing body of the church.

Adam, who shut down the food pantry in the church, convinced the Session to cut mission budget, led the move to freeze salaries for a year, and drove the last two secretaries I had nuts. Each eventually resigned. I often expect my current secretary to resign.

Adam, who lies to people, manipulates people and has such a sweet smile as he stabs people in the back.

Adam is tough to love.

Adam! I despise him. I detest him. I am alergic to him -- he actually causes my blood pressure to go up (record so far was 205/105 -- calling for me to take a day or two off).

I see him headed down the sidewalk to the office, and I walk out the door and head to the nursing home to visit Miss Beth.

I see him in the sanctuary and I find myself turning to Claire for a chat with her in the far pew.

I'm not the only one. I notice that when David organizes a group trip to the Marlins, there never seems to be a ticket left for Adam. When Evelyn is asking for volunteers for the Easter play, she avoids Adam. Elders don't stand up against him in Session meetings because he is so very toxic -- as I say, he has that Gamma Ray thing.

I decided a long time ago that Christian love is not an emotion. It is not something you possess for someone.

Christian love is a verb -- it is action. It is a way of respecting and treating someone.

I can't feel love for Adam -- I'm trying my best not to feel hate for him.

But I can love Adam in the way I deal with him. I can treat him like a human being and show him respect.

So I look out the window and see him coming, should I stay and chat with him when he arrives in my office?

I see him in the Sanctuary, should I turn to greet him?

Should I make sure he gets a ticket to the game with the rest of the church group? I could make sure he'll get the aisle seat and I'll sit next to him.

No -- no I can't do that. He is a vampire who bits into my soul and sucks the life right out of me. He is toxic -- after all, he has that Gamma Ray thing. Being around him too much is bad for me -- I can't survive.

He is abusive and mean and a trouble making bully.

I think the solution is to turn into the Hulk. I could pick him up and hurl him across the room, then bang a hole in the wall and run away from it all.

What would Jesus do?

Actually, I think he would turn into the Hulk.

Remember the time Jesus walked into the Temple and saw the merchants making a buck on God? Jesus didn't turn green. His muscles didn't grow so his robe was ripped off his body. BUT he did pick up a few tables and turn them over. He made a whip and drove the merchants out. (Matthew 21:12-17)

Dr. Banner would understand.

Some behavior is unacceptable.

Some of it demands that we say "No!"

A friend of mine has a son who was about 10 years old when the family was visiting a church. Strange thing this ministry -- the whole family goes on the job interview. The search committee was showing my friend around the church and the chair of the search committee son, age 5, was picking on the prospective minister's son, age 10. The ten year old took it in stride and with great patience. However, when the 5 year old son of the search committee chair picked up a rock and hit the minister's son in the head, the preacher's kid snapped back, "Would you please stop acting like an ass hole."

My friend didn't get the job, but then the 5 year old did begin to behave.

So I talked to Adam the other day and told him to stop acting like an ass hole.

I did it in a very pastoral way, however, and no reference to body parts was included in the conversation.

It didn't help.

But then, I don't think Jesus was very effective in turning the tables over in the temple. Want evidence? Buy a bobble headed Jesus statue online.

But he still turned over the tables, because it was the right thing to do.

And so I told Adam to treat the staff, especially my secretary, with respect. It seemed to be a good starting point.

It didn't help.

So what now?

Turn green and go on a rampage?

No -- I think I will continue to love Adam and treat him with respect, but avoid him as much as practical. I won't run from him, but since he seems to radiate something toxic -- you know, that Gamma Ray thing -- I will limit my exposure to him.

It seems to be what Jesus would do.

Matthew 10:14 talked about dealing with a difficult person or community -- just dust your feet off and move on to the next person.

I can't change Adam -- but I won't let him change me either.

Green skin and tattered shirts would never look good on me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Here I Is

It was amazing!

I was walking down the street several weeks ago when all of a sudden a light appeared. I got sucked into a time portal and ...

... OK, that excuse didn't work when I was in high school and forgot my homework, and I guess it won't work now.

The truth is, I've been way too busy to blog. Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas is like a wild roller coaster. But things should even out now. I've got the worship services and sermons pretty much completed between now and the rest of this year -- which come to think of it, ain't much to be left of :)

Tomorrow will be my first day off in about two months. I'm tired and plan to get a massage at Living Waters Spa in Pembroke Pines -- great place. Very restful. Then I plan a day of catching up with some of my favorite bloggers, and to start writing in this blog again.

Catch you later :)