Thursday, December 06, 2018

Discoverables versus Deliverables

7 years ago my friend De’Amon Harges and I were taking our regular walk together. De’Amon was working on a grant to a local institution in Indianapolis, for the organization he created with his neighbors called “The Learning Tree.” One of the questions asked for what deliverables would come from their funded activity. De’Amon said, “I don’t know what to say.” “I bet you do know,” I shot back. De’Amon said, “we don’t think in terms of deliverables…we’re trying to learn, to figure things out, to discover.” “That’s what I mean,” I said, “it’s discoverables not deliverables you are interested in. So tell them that.”
De’Amon wrote it into the grant and sure enough he got a call from the funder who wanted to see him. “We love this,” they said to him. “Tell us more.”
So, here’s more. A young man walked into the sanctuary. I had sent him searching for the top of the old grandfather clock in the parlor that had been missing for a decade. He came back and said, “I couldn’t find it.” De’Amon asked, “What did you find?” “Well,” he said, “there were Christmas wreaths, and boxes of cameras, a fireplace, a microphone and speakers, and a lot of wood, and more.” If when he said, “I couldn’t find it” - De’Amon didn’t ask him the follow up question we would have never known what was discovered.
In years of running programs funders asked me for deliverables. I would tell them we had x number of young people, they spent y numbers of hours in the program, and we had z numbers of volunteers. No one ever asked me something interesting…like “what did you discover?” What did those funders do with the numbers? They put them in reports.
Scientists, like De’Amon’s son McKeith, remind us all the time that science is all about discovery. The things in this world that have made us healthier, our air and water cleaner, and so on - all come because of discovery, trial and error, and glorious failure, from which we learn a lot.
What works when people are trying to start a business, getting themselves and their neighbors healthier, deepening their skill at writing music or poetry, or growing fish and plants together? Those questions might lead us into the answers to the important and deep questions that our society holds. It builds on the gifts and abilities we all have to learn and the deep desire we each have to be utilized in service to the common good.
Seamus Heaney wrote: "...poets themselves are finders and keepers, their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for.” We want to be discoverers too

Friday, August 11, 2017

Eden in Indianapolis

This afternoon I walked by this sign and I took a photo because people often call the neighborhood this is in a “food desert.”  One of the problems is that when someone calls a place a “food desert” they miss all the food that is being grown and is present in the generosity of neighbors, one for another.  Last Saturday I stood in a kitchen in another “food desert,” while one friend was making sriracha.  His wife (another friend) was telling me about the garden she is growing in her backyard.  In this particular “food desert” there are over 20 gardens in a three block area around that kitchen.  The problem with language like this is it disguises what is really missing.  What’s missing is not food. What’s missing is a grocery store (in both of these communities).  What is missing is an economy that invests in the goodness being literally grown by the hands and land of the people of these places.  They aren’t food deserts.  In fact one friend once called one of these neighborhoods “Eden in Indianapolis.”  That person sees with Gospel eyes.  That’s the more accurate picture of these neighborhoods.  If one can see that - then one can begin to figure out how to “grow”  off of and invest in the gardens that already exist in people’s backyards, front yards, and side yards.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Words for Andre Green's funeral

A 15 year old African-American young man, Andre Green, died this past Sunday after being shot by police officers in Indianapolis.  I am gone from Indianapolis for the month of August.  But if I was there for the funeral which will be held at Broadway on Monday, I might have said this:

The people of Broadway United Methodist Church wish to express their sympathy to the family and friends of Andre Green.  God’s presence and power are made perfect in our weakness and in this moment we know our weakness and grief. 

It is not enough for the mayor, or the chief of police, or city council members, or members of the media and others to pontificate and lecture about responsibility when they show more commitment to the professional young black men who play in Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse then they show to the black young men, native citizens, who live in the shadow of those buildings in neighborhoods not so very far away.  Where is their commitment not only to Bankers Life, but also to Young Men’s Lives?  We know.  Oil Matters.  Bankers Lives Matter.  But where is the evidence that Black Lives Matter too?

So, we do offer our sympathy and our prayers to you today.  But we also offering thanksgiving for the life of Andre Green.  Many will make of him a symbol of either what they love or what they hate - but he is not a symbol.  He is a person.  A human being.  A beloved child of God.  And we are grateful for his life.  Thanks be to God.  .

Often at moments like these the pastors and leaders and members of the congregation offer their prayers and support to the family.  There have been too many funerals of young black men held under this soaring ceiling to have that be enough today.  It is not enough for those of us at Broadway.  It is not enough for the faithful followers of Christ.  It is not enough for this city.

There are guest preachers who have stood in this pulpit on such occasions and said, “it is not about race.”  How could good folks be blind to such obvious truth?  How many funerals have been held in this space of young black men who have died from violence over the last thirty plus years?  Many.  How many funerals have been held in this space for young white men who have died from violence over the last thirty years?  None.  It is about race.  And unless we can begin to talk about this directly, honestly, and courageously with one another, we should not speak at all.  We should let our silence rain down, pour down on us until we are so soaked in the waters of our baptism that we cannot keep silent.

It is not enough to just offer words, or a casserole, or a comforting arm.  It is not enough to offer youth programs, it is not enough to offer tutoring, it is not enough to write editorials, or to even thunder words from our pulpits.

We must love one another and we must organize ourselves to do so.   We must notice each young black man around us and pause and tell that young man what we see.  We must tell the young man the gifts of God we see in his life.  We must point out how much the other people in that young man’s life see and notice the gifts of God in his life.  We must not only TELL that young man how needed he is, we must SHOW that young man how needed he is.  We must listen to the young men, learn from them.  We don’t do that by doing things for them, we do that by opening ourselves to receive their gifts.  By being insistent, willing and eager, even to fail in our efforts to build up what God has put inside the life of that young black man, to both know he is loved and to act on it by receiving the good gift of God in who he is.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Palm Sunday in Indianapolis

Years ago in a book by Kurt Vonnegut I came across these words:

“I still quote Eugene Debs (1855–1926), late of Terre Haute, Indiana, five times the Socialist Party’s candidate for President, in every speech: 

“While there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” 

In recent years, I’ve found it prudent to say before quoting Debs that he is to be taken seriously. Otherwise many in the audience will start to laugh. They are being nice, not mean, knowing I like to be funny. But it is also a sign of these times that such a moving echo of the Sermon on the Mount can be perceived as outdated, wholly discredited horsecrap. 

Which it is not.”

They came to me again today as I contemplated the actions of the governor of Indiana in signing a bill that is clearly aimed at allowing and encouraging discrimination against glbt citizens.  

As I reflect on the governor’s action in signing this piece of excretable legislation I was struck by one religious leader’s letter expressing “hope this law will not allow or encourage discrimination.”  It is the only reason the bill exists. This is a bit like saying one hopes that eating in a steakhouse won’t allow or encourage meat eating.  At this point the cow has already left the barn.

How is it that a dead avowed atheist (as Vonnegut is and was) can speak to the gospel so much better than the leaders of our ostensibly Christian churches?

I’ll say this though.  When we gather at worship at Broadway on this Palm Sunday morning we will remember and tell the story about one who understood what it was like to be castigated and told lies about.  We will remember one who knew what it was to have the religious authorities (even his own followers) dance away from the uncomfortable stuff he was always trying to get them to see and accept.  We will remember one who knew what it was to suffer simply for being his gracious healing beautiful self.  Even Jesus.

I hope that for one brief hour on Sunday in a state willing to allow and encourage discrimination amongst its own citizens, people will be allowed and encouraged to remember that though times get tough - God, not the legislature, gets the last word.  And that word is a bright and shining morning where all are welcome.

Rev. Michael Mather
Pastor, Broadway United Methodist Church

March 26th, 2015

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let the games begin (okay, too late)

Back in April I was part of a discussion where some folks were complaining about the dashboard that the Indiana Annual Conference is "requiring" us to participate in.  The dashboard asks us to put in how many people showed up for worship, how much offering was collected and how many in our congregation were in ministry this week, and how many small groups are going on, and how many glory sightings have there been.  I put requiring in quotes because there seems to be no penalty for not putting your numbers up.  Most of the largest congregations don't put their numbers up.  I don't mind putting the numbers up.  It requires all of 1 minute from me - to do so.  Besides that - it is not particularly useful or helpful - but if the Bishop wants it - why not?  So - I dutifully send in my information.  

I should say that I have complained about it - but my brother, Alan, who is a principal of a public high school (Lindblom Math and Science Academy) on the South Side of Chicago (and doing an awesome job at it I should add) - was listening to my complaints about it and he explained that they had been having to report like that for over 10 years and so I should stop my complaining! (he did add that he didn't pay much attention to it either - because the information was neither useful nor helpful to them either)

Back to the discussion I was a part of - so someone in the group said "what would you count?"  I decided to take that challenge on.  I came up with a list of 12 things (I thought this was biblically justified) and shared them.  After that I got thinking about a book I read a couple of years ago I really liked: Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal.  Jane talks about the power of games.  I suggested that perhaps our pastoral team (myself, Rachel Metheny and Duane Carlisle) might "play" one another by giving a point value to each of these actions and see how many points we each had after playing this game for a month.  What I really wanted to know was what effect, if any, it would have on us.

At the end of the month I would say that the effect on me was that I was thinking of these things more often as a result of having spelled it out.  We have talked about returning to the game - after Rachel returned from clergy renewal leave, but it hasn't happened yet.  I did include this list in our intern's job description (from Christian Theological Seminary) - part of her job description is to score 5 points a week.  Most of the items in the game count for 1 point each.  Pulling a meal together does get your five points.

Lately we have had a discussion with the church leadership about their joining the game as well.  We shall see.

Here are the things we count at Broadway:

1) Counting the numbers of people to whose homes we went and we laid hands on and blessed them and offered a prayer of celebration and praise for their ministry: in their life, their home, their workplace;
2) Counting the number of people we introduced to each other that week because "we see in each of you that you seem to have the same call and claim of God upon your life and it seemed like it would be great for you to know that about each other";
3) Counting the number of people who we prayed with that week in hospital rooms, on street corners, in alleys, in living rooms, in offices, and in car repair shops;
4) Counting the number of people each week to whom we wrote letters celebrating their discipleship in the life of the world;
5) Counting the number of people each week we anointed with oil for the challenge that is set before them;
6) Counting the number of people that we journeyed with to visit with someone else: at home, at the hospital, in the workplace;
7) Counting the number of people who you visited to remind them of their baptism that week (perhaps an anniversary of their baptism, or the baptism anniversary of someone in their household);
8) Counting the number of times you ate with someone that week and reminded them at the meal of the communion that Jesus shared with his friends on Maundy Thursday and reminding all of Christ's presence at the table;
9) Counting the number of times you went and announced forgiveness to someone who was laboring under guilt and shame;
10) Counting the number of times during a month you threw a party to celebrate the presence and power of the love of God in the people and parish around you;
11) Counting the number of times in a week you took your Bible and read a story to someone whose life you see in that particular story;

12) Counting the number of times you posted on facebook that month celebrating the discipleship of the people in your parish in concrete and joyful ways.

I don't know if this was a good idea or not.  But I'm grateful for the things it's made me think about - and for the conversations that have come out of it.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Poverty 101

Today at Annual Conference I learned that some of the affluent white United Methodist congregations in Indianapolis have been hiring a white middle class guy in Indianapolis to teach "Poverty 101."  When I asked the person who was coordinating this why they did this in this way she said it "helped the people in these congregations know more about poor people and relate to them."  I can imagine the relief of people who don't have much money that people who have more money now can "relate" to them.  Yikes!

I asked the person talking to me about this if she thought a class about women would be best taught by a man - or a class about African-American folks would be best taught by a white Englishman?  She wasn't quite sure.  Really?  I very much doubt that those things would happen - but we would easily pay someone who is not poor to teach another group of people who are not poor about what it is like to be poor.  This, of course, misses the whole irony that people who don't have much money (i.e. - the poor) could really use a job - and especially one that they are eminently qualified for, i.e.: teach us what's it like to not have money.

Over and over again I'm struck with how much in our society we construct ways to think that people who don't have money are a different species.

I was watching "The Daily Show" tonight and saw one of their correspondents take a trip to Iran to visit our enemies there.  The people that they showed visiting - were thunderstruck that people would think that hated Americans, of course they didn't.  They didn't laugh at jokes making fun of Jewish people and they didn't fall into any of the stereotypes that people would expect them to meet.

I think if people went into the homes of people who didn't have money (something I often do) they would discover that the people they are visiting are in all ways, except that they have less money, exactly like other people they know.  They would discover lively 80 year olds, and parents struggling to figure out how to do the right thing, and young people who are full of energy, excitement, and dreams.  They would discover that most people who don't have much money - do, in fact, have food in their cabinets.  They just don't have a lot of extra food.  They would discover that they have a lot of bills - but also that they have art work up on their walls, and certificates from their child's school celebrating achievement, and the delicious smells of the flowers on the front lawn and the baking going on in the kitchen as you talk.

As Christians you would think that they trust there is abundance in these places - you would be expecting to meet healers, and teachers, and thinkers.  You would expect to meet poets, and musicians, and philanthropists.  But not if what you are expecting to meet is poor people - rather than beloved children of God.  But that's what these Poverty 101 classes do.  They make the poor a group of people to be studied, rather than sisters and brothers to share life with and learn from and alongside.

I hope that we'll (that is "we Christians" to begin with) stop studying the poor and start hanging around to see what God is doing in and around the poor.

I wrote a piece that I presented at worship a few months ago - that I hope captures this more clearly.

Light burst into being...and God saw that it was good.

A couple of years ago Matt Tulley wrote a story in the Indianapolis Star about
the band at Manual High School.  People filled the auditorium.  Randall Shepherd
the Supreme Court Chief Justice sat on the floor so others could have seats. 
They had to expand the nights of performance so that all could see and hear and
people were thrilled.  Money poured in from around the city and support has

Matt Tulley saw the dedication of the teacher, the head of the band.  He saw
that he was doing something difficult in difficult circumstances. 

But here is what he did not see.

He did not see the parents getting their kids up every morning to go to
school, before they headed off to work, or as they came home from their night
shift job.  He did not see the one who despite the fact that they didnt have
electricity in her home - got her son out on the front porch every afternoon to
practice the clarinet.  He did not see the father who borrowed money from every
member of the family so that he could get a drum set and put it up in the
basement from the time her daughter was aged five.  He did not see the brother
who was responsible for getting his brother up and out of bed and headed to
school because their parents were already on the bus out to the IHOP on
Pendleton Pike to work.

He did not see the kid who got up sick and headed out to school, because he
loves his classes and he loves his music and the two feed each other.

When God said let there be light and saw that it was good - God intended for
that light to be used to shine on the places where no one ever sees.  Not only
the schools, but the homes.  Not only the leaders, but the invisible ones, the
parents, and students, and grandparents and siblings.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


On Palm Sunday I asked the congregation to find someone that week and publicly celebrate some way in which they see the spark of God, the Holy Spirit, or Jesus in that person's life.  We talk about this a lot around Broadway - how do we celebrate what God is doing in our lives and in the life of the world around us?

This week Annual Conference will be meeting - and often it is the occasion for many of us who are clergy to complain about the people who worship in our places.  More and more I see this in much the same way as I see that we in the church (and in the larger society) treat our fellow citizens who don't have much money (that we label as "poor").  Our denomination pushes us to be critical of our members - to challenge them to give more, involve themselves more in local mission and outreach, ask them to be more than they are...and yet there is very little done to celebrate the discipleship that we see in the hearts and lives of people in our congregations.  Also, there is very little encouragement (check out our UM official liturgy to see if I'm wrong) to celebrate this which we see in the lives of our parishes.  And I mean "parish" both on the inside the walls and outside the walls measure - that old sense of parish that include a geography (we do believe in the incarnation after all).

I was recently filling out the "self-evaluation" for my district superintendent - and I was struck how even the questions that are asked and the way that they are framed - point us in the direction away from celebrating the lives of faith that the people in our congregation live - and point us toward their activity in and through the agency of the congregation.

I am continuously struck and amazed by the faithful living that the people of our congregation do.  I'm often overwhelmed with gratitude at the people of the French Lick UMC's, the Whiteland UMC, and the Huntingburg UMC, that shaped me and formed me.  Not only the worship did that - but the people of that congregation did.  Joe O'Nan who sang with me in the choir in Whiteland, talked to me not only like I was a kid, but a fellow choir member - he treated me as an equal.  That was a remarkable thing for which I'll always be grateful.  Chub Money would kid with me, but I knew he was paying attention to me.  Dale Helmrich was the mayor of Huntingburg and an active member of the church - and I got to see his stewardship of the city as a vital ministry that he undertook (and he understood it that way)...and Bruce, who owned the Gaslight, in Huntingburg, and who when I ran away from home when in high school, took me in, gave me a respite from my home, and unknown to me called my parents and told them that I was alright and that he would take care of me for a couple of days, but that they didn't need to worry.  I think of Jim Lammers, whose farm I threw hay on, and what he taught me about his care for his family and his care for the earth - his daughter who had a congenital heart disease, forcing her to be sometimes inhumanly treated by our health systems, and Jim's battle to have her always treated as a human being.  I think of Jim's care for his animals and the land on his farm - and the gentleness and care he took with it, because he loved it - the animals, the land itself.  And I saw in that - that Jesus had implanted these things in him and he knew it.  I saw Mrs. Suhrheinrich and her vocation as librarian at the high school and how seriously she took this as an obligation.  I think of Bob and Trudy Peterson, who often had us to their home at Thanksgiving after we met them when my folks first moved to French Lick in 1960.  They were a fixture of my life growing up - and I was constantly impressed with the ways in which they loved God, their family, and the church.  I saw them carry loads of pain, for themselves, their children, and others around them - and they were often a comfort to those who are burdened in ways that they knew all too well.

When I was at Broadway the first time I think of the Mosiers, John and Helen, who I'm pretty sure didn't like me - my irreverent and liberal ways.  But who in my first years back, found myself presiding at their funerals and spending time with them before they died and beginning to see past the way they had been upset with me and into the remarkable ways they shared themselves with the world.  Their oldest son had died in a fire his senior year in high school.  Across the years, when other families (inside and outside the congregation) faced similar tragedies they would go and be with families.  They knew what to do.  We don't celebrate such holiness of life and heart nearly enough.

I'm not saying that the stuff that we do in and around the life of the congregation should be ignored.  But it often isn't.  We are much more used to that and giving praise for that.  I think we have divorced Christian faith from our life in the world and made it more about a formed sense of piety - and attendance at Bible Study - then about how we treat our neighbor.  This is not an either/or - but it is out of balance already.

The Hebrew scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote a book several years ago celebrating an old biblical idea (he claimed anyway) - "the common good."  That's not spoken of much in church these days.  We talk about faith an individualized faith and moral code and not much about "the common good."  I bet it's been nearly 20 years since I've heard someone talk about the common good.

And we could begin by noticing where it is happening and we could celebrate it.  When we shine a light on those places and practices that others don't see - we give a remarkable gift.