Friday, December 14, 2012

Can we please get uncomfortable?

Sadly, we will demand and be horrified by the images of the CT shootings for a few days and invest incredible emotional and psychic capital in being upset and offended and wringing our hands while asking "How?" and "Why?", then after a few days we will totally forget about it because it might lead to an actual - and uncomfortable - conversation about those questions, and 10,000 gun murders a year just isn't enough death to make us willing to that uncomfortable.
I'm a gun guy. I like guns, I own many guns. Though I have not hunted in a long time, I kind of enjoy it. Sort of. I like target practice. I have nothing against guns. But to all the rabidly pro-gun folk who refuse to even entertain the idea of having a national dialogue and who proclaim "It's too soon!" to raise the issue after a mass shooting: it is not too soon. It is, in fact, way too late. Way, way, way too late. Multiple dead kids in CT late, multiple dead Sikhs in Milwaukee late, multiple dead movie goers in CO late, not to mention the other 10000 or so people who will be murdered with guns this year late.

We need a very serious discussion about our addiction to violence as a tool of diplomacy (between nations and neighbors and all the way down to between friends and family members), our lack of care for the mentally ill, our lack of resources to help and/or target those who are troubled (financially, mentally, emotionally, etc.), our disregard for the poor, and whatever else it might be that we need to deal with. And I don't even know what that is, because every time someone raises the idea of JUST HAVING THE DISCUSSION, the NRA and those at the extremist end of the gun-liking population shut down the conversation out of fear that the discussion might mention the word "gun" and who say that guns are absolutely not in any way whatsoever part of the problem. And to those who want to say that the only problem is guns, that also is far too simple an answer. It is far more complex than guns or not guns. And we need to start the conversation in a serious, deliberate, life-respecting and liberty-respecting way.

People are hurting - hurting from violence, and hurting from other things that lead them to do violence. It's almost Christmas - can we not come to the manger, at least, and see that there is a better option and talk about what it might be?

How many have to die, how many have to grieve over the senseless deaths of loved ones, how many parents have to bury their children, and how many have to suffer in silent, boiling anger before it is no longer "too soon"?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Crazy Life Out of Balance Day

On this day when the east coast has been damaged and some religious folks are claiming it is the fault of gay people, and not climate change or even simple random "that's kind of what the weather just does on its own once in a while";

or others have blamed it on secular humanism or feminists or even Obama, because they think God is really evil and all-powerful but not powerful enough to hit individual people with smiting and so has to shotgun half the country with an 800 mile wide storm of wind and rain to punish a few, that, for some reason, He had to start down off the coast of South America;

and a day on which Michael "Heckuva Job, Brownie" Brown is criticizing Obama for responding *too quickly* to Sandy;

and Gov. Christie is praising Obama's response as much as he can and yelling at people for bringing politics into it;

and a day on which the Presbyterian Permanent Judicial Commission has ruled that gay Presbyterian clergy can marry in states where it is legal but they cannot do so in a Presbyterian church;

And a day on which Disney is buying Lucasfilm;

I'm listening to Koyaanisqatsi. It is the only thing that makes sense.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On Clericism and the American Way.

A post from my friend Rev. David Bocock about the "pastor as CEO" mentality has had me thinking this morning, and I had a thought about our tradition (mainline Christian that has pastors that are free to accept calls wherever and congregations free to call whoever - that is, not being moved around by the greater Church, for instance). In our tradition, there really are no "promotions" except to "move up" to a larger church. We're American, after all, and even in the church we've bought the "bigger is better" mentality, and so going from smaller to larger is always a move up, never a downgrade, and going larger to smaller is always a downgrade, never a move up, unless a pastor is ready for retirement (or is retired) and wants to "slow down". And we definitely offer more honor and prestige to pastors who have large flocks. What do pastors generally ask each first when they meet? "How big is your church". No different, really, than the Wall Street Execs asking about house size, or the monster truck folks, or on and on and on...

Which led me to wonder - if going to a larger church is the upgrade, why not make the one you're at into that church? We have for so long cultivated the idea that we get a "starter church" (not a church start), then move to a medium one, and so on, and then, at the height of our career if we're really, really good, we'll get the Big Church. But we have not cultivated a culture that says "grow where you are" - not in the UCC or many of the mainlines, anyway. That's one thing the entrepreneurial churchers have on us: they make their church into the church they want to be at. They have an addiction to growth and bigness as well (far more than we do, I would say, because business is their model), but it seems we're missing something by seemingly not even entertaining the idea that our ancestors had of growing where one is.

If one wants the giant church, why not build one?

I realize there is far more complexity to this, and all sorts of variables and legitimate reasons, but my question is rhetorical anyway so I'm not looking for an answer, only discussion. But it's something that I think we (as clergy, and as a denomination and as the greater church) need to think about.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Carl Sagan, prophet against superstition but missed fundamentalism

Sagan was so amazing in thought and generous spirit, and prophetic warning us as a species and as citizens of the universe, but he really missed (and I base this not just on this quote, but from other of his writing and videos I have read/heard) is that he thought too highly that humanity would succumb to the allure of superstition (astrology, horoscope, fortune telling, crystals, new age crap, etc.) and not the real danger of fundamentalism.

But, in his time, the danger of fundamentalism was not seen by many and its power, especially as seen in Dominionist ideology, particularly in TV and megachurch Christianity and many of our Republican politicians (Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich, Akin, Ryan and Romney, etc.) was still pretty much relegated to the margins of society and was not the main player, and even Muslim fundamentalism was not seen as a particular danger beyond plane hijacking or violence contained to the Muslim countries.

But still, one wishes that Sagan would have seen better that astrology would not kill us - but fundamentalism will.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Well, that was interesting.

Had quite the interesting experience with a guy at the pawn shop. I bought a guitar pedal (flanger!), and he asked me if I knew about  Joe Bonamassa. I said "No", so he took me out to his car and played me a few tunes. Amazing! We were having a good time, then he mentioned that he's a Christian. Ok. Then he talked about Leonard Cohen. And that's where it got weird.

He claimed Cohen is of the line of the Kohathites and had converted to Christianity a while ago (he didn't; he's still Jewish, and practices Zen as well), and that his lyrics can only be understood by someone who understands Jewish religious thought and symbology (or something like that). He offered a few truly interesting examples which I could never repeat because my brain refused to store them in memory.

Then he got off on the end times - never a good thing to do around me. Always fascinating to listen their silliness, but this one got weird, and instead of being entertained i found myself getting increasingly disturbed because even for end-timer, he was way off the chart.

He was predicting the end in 2017 (the second jubilee year after Israel's formation, according to him, and this is where I knew the conversation was going to go farther south than usual). He quoted something out of context from Daniel and Isaiah to back it up.

Then he went after the Masons.

Then the Pope.

Then the collusion between the Masons and the Pope, except for the group of Black Priest Masons that assassinated John Paul I because he was going to expose the whole Catholic banking conspiracy.

Then some stuff about how if he were a Jew, he'd never let a woman cut his son's hair because, seriously, why would ANYONE let a woman cut the hair of a Jewish male?

Then it went back to the Masons and how they all have to take a vow to serve Lucifer between degrees 7 and 8, and that they are a satanic cult that is fully confirmed on entry into level 33. I tried to correct him here, but he told me to do an Internet search on black priests P2. I said not everything on the Internet is true or based in reality, to which he said something like "No, this isn't an Internet thing. It's true!"

Then some numerology garbage (redundant, I know) - especially loved this winner of a statement: "What's nine times seven? It's 63 - Israel was founded 63 years ago! [even though he earlier said it was founded 93 years ago...] Add 7 to 63 and what do you get? 70!! Add 70 to 1947 and you get 2017. See?!"

Then I thanked him for turning me onto some great music, and we ended the conversation.

Fascinating. Really nice guy, but - hoo.

Oh, and he's non-denominational. He was adamant that I understood that.

I think God keeps sending me these moments for me to connect with others, and I keep blowing it. I always wonder, when I get into these odd conspiracy/religious conversations, if it's worth my time to mention that I am a pastor (this guy never asked; I always say I am if they ask about my religious expression) and invite them to church, or if it's going to lead into something ugly when they realize that I am so completely far from what they believe. I've had some good experiences, but a few very uncomfortable ones. This one got very uncomfortable.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why "From The Pastor's Pen"?

I chose that title because I do most of my writing with pen (a black Aurora talentum fountain pen with silver trim and silver nib) and paper (usually Levenger or Tops Dockets narrow ruled when writing sermons, articles, stories, etc.; and 3x5 note cards for notes to myself or to-do lists; and Levenger 3x5 personalized note cards for quick notes to others). It is also the name of my "column" in the monthly church newsletter. "From the Pastor's Pen" offers, I hope, a sense that something worth reading is about to come before one's eyes, and that the something could be on almost any topic but will probably, in one way or another, relate to faithful living even if it never specifically mentions anything theological or faith-based. If we are to be faithful in all areas of our lives (and I believe we are), then all areas of our lives are places related to being faithful.

Ironically, this entire post was written on the computer.