Monday, November 27, 2006


Thanksgiving is over - so why am I thinking of Passover? At Passover a meal is shared and each item that is shared has significance. One of those is a bitter herb -- to remind the Hebrew people of the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt. I've been reading a book by Garret Keizer entitled The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin. It's a fascinating book -- I highly recommend it. But as I was thinking on it today I thought not only about anger -- but about bitterness. I wondered if, in bitterness, and in remembering bitterness there is any grace.

I've talked with a friend in the past few days who in the midst of some current struggles made a comment that showed his bitterness at an event 10 months ago. Clearly it feels to my friend that the world has conspired against him. Perhaps God. But in whatever case -- it's tough. And he tastes the bitter herb on his lips.

I thought of a situation in my life from 6 years ago. I can remember walking for miles and miles every day -- for over a year and wondering if I would ever be able to walk again without having my mind filled with the question over and over again -- "Why? Why did this thing happen?" I would find myself in situations -- with people who were involved with my bitterness and I wanted to snap at them.

I wonder if bitterness is healing if one expresses it. Does it serve a liturgical function to encourage violence -- or does it inhibit rage by speaking its name, rather than allowing it to simmer? Or does the occasion to speak bitterness -- fuel us with a righteous anger that gives us the strength, the energy and the commitment to make things right? Can it also serve to remind us that we have come from this bitter past, and that we have survived to face our current travail -- but freed from the bondage to the past?

Today, as a friend of mine and I talked together about sadness, sorrow, and grief -- I thought of all the trouble I got into as a kid. I remember being angry -- bitterly angry -- at my punishments. But I also have a memory of one time, in particular, when in the midst of my punishment my mother came to comfort me. And the memory of that time has returned and returned to me at odd times throughout my life. Perhaps it is a reminder that the cure for bitterness is comfort. Not a hiding from the problem at all -- but providing comfort in the midst of the bitterness. Often we shy away from it -- we don't want to get close. We are afraid. We are intimidated. We think people want to be left alone. Maybe so. But maybe comfort could be a help as well.

Tonight as I left the church building after dark a woman stopped me to tell me of her plight -- her hunger. We talked for a few minutes. In the few short minutes, I could hear some of her bitterness at the "rules" of places that didn't allow her to touch base with them until after a proscribed number of days. I tried to provide a little comfort. I think I failed. I hope I'll do better tomorrow.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Weapons of the Spirit

Years ago I read a book that made an impact upon my life. It is called "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed" by Phillip Hallie. It is the story of the village of Le Chambon in France and, in particular, the story of this Protestant communities courageous actions in providing hospitality to Jews during World War II.

Much of the story, as it is told, centers around a pastor, Andre Trocme and his wife, Magda Trocme, who lived in Le Chambon. Trocme was a pacifist who urged his congregation to resist the Vichy government and their German patrons with "weapons of the spirit." He told the police who came with buses to take away the Jews, "We do not know what a Jew is. We know only men."

I was reminded of the story of Le Chambon while reading a book by Garrett Keizer entitled "Help: The Original Human Dilemma." In it he recalls: "Magda Trocme said, 'If we had been an organization, it could not have worked.'...There was no formal organization in the village dedicated to the work of saving Jews. (After the war some villagers who participated were surprised to find that certain of their neighbors had been engaged in the same work.) An organization would have been easier to infiltrate than the village and easier to incapacitate by seizing its leaders....What Magda Trocme's statement belies is the fact that there was a much deeper organization at work in the village, that is, the organic structure of the community itself. Simone Weil once noted that a phenomenon like Hitler would be inconceivable without 'the existence of millions of uprooted men.'"

That's enough quoting for this entry in my blog. It is enough to make me think, to challenge myself, about whether the work we are doing, in our lives, in our church, is helping not only ourselves, but others to take deeper root. This weekend I read the tales of my friend Chad in Lockerbie-Central UMC and their listening to the stories of the homeless and finding their church revitalized in the storytelling. Tonight I traveled to friend Danny'in Lebanon, Otterbein UMC, to discover that their are doing ministry -- one person at a time - one family at a time. Earlier today I took a walk with De'Amon and he told me the story of a woman he met at the food pantry at Broadway today. He also told me that he was going back to visit Russell, who he met in his home visits last week, and who is a professional jazz sax player. And I wonder again -- what causes deep roots to take hold and grow deeper and stronger?

Is that the cause of so much of the trouble within our own country and world these days -- a sense of rootlessness?

What does it mean for us to be a people? When we are at home and comfortable within ourselves, when we are not fearful - then the stranger is one to be welcomed into our home - we are entertaining angels unawares. Otherwise, everyone is a terrorist, a potential enemy, thief, and criminal.

How is it that we can take root, even deeper as a people? We cannot do it by a program. But perhaps by "weapons of the spirit." That still begs the question -- from where do such weapons arise. I guess my answer is that they are there in the stories that each of us share -- if we will pull ourselves away from the screens in our lives, long enough to listen. Those...those are the true weapons of the Spirit. Why? Because they show us that we belong to one another. They show that we are of one soil -- and one Spirit. And nothing is more powerful to set us free.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Tale of Two Meetings

Sometimes life sets contrasts right next to each other. It is helpful. We can easily forget that we live in one world -- and that there is another world where things are going on at the exact same time that are the exact opposite. I can easily forget that. I can think that the little world around me is the only one I live in. I can sink into despair when I think of myself as an island. But when I am reminded of the larger world we live in, by seeing another dimension or aspect of the world that I hadn't noticed before. Well then - that despair is tempered with a bit of hope -- and even, dare I say it, happiness.

On Wednesday evening we had our Charge Conference at the church. It is our once a year business meeting. The leadership for 2007 is elected. My salary is voted on. We receive reports from the Finance Committee and from those with responsibility for our building and grounds. It's fairly perfunctory. The lay leader and the pastors often give reports on what might be called "the state of the church." The District Superintendent attends these meetings -- and, in fact, presides at them. The District Superintendent, for non-United Methodist readers, is a "supervisor" of sorts over 50-80 churches in a defined geographical area. Ah -- I digress.

Both Mary, our lay leader, and Rachel one of the other pastors, gave fine reports on the state of the church. I spoke briefly about what I thought some of the highlights of the past year have been. I tried to speak honestly about what we are still learning and challenged by. But I also wanted to take the opportunity to voice my concern about what I see happening in the coming union of the two Indiana United Methodist conferences into one. There are people working on this union and I have seen their reports -- and I'm pretty disappointed. That's saying it mildly. The reports I have seen fail, from my perspective, on three accounts: 1) they do not reflect any theological grounding/thought; 2) they lack imagination and creativity; and 3) they don't seem to have any understanding of how organizations really work. I expressed my concern about that. Our District Superintendent interrupted to say that he is serving on one of the "discernment groups" but that he honestly doesn't have any "emotional investment" in it because he's sixty-one years old and by the time he retires it will be all said and done...and for the most part he agrees with what I'm saying -- but there's not much to be done about it (he seemed to say with a shrug of his shoulders). What a stunning view of leadership in our denomination. It was appalling.

I tell you that story, so that I can tell you this one. On Thursday morning I was in my study and I saw our intern, Greg, come in to the office. I stopped by his room and chatted with him. The night before he and our other intern Carla had pulled together a meal about a block and a half away from the church at a place called Unleavened Bread at 30th and Central. The restaurant was closed -- but the proprietor, Eleayse had opened it up for this "meeting." Greg and Carla had called together people who she knew had a love for cooking. They invited them to each bring a dish to share and there was no other agenda. Just a group of people who love cooking to share their food and get to know one another. I asked Greg how it went. His face brightened up immediately. This is what he told me. People came in he said and he told me the names of those who had come. Eleayse had pulled some tables around so they could sit together and eat and talk with each other. They begin to eat and then -- Greg said -- it exploded -- recipes were flying around the room, they were talking about techniques and ingredients and the energy was contagious. He said that they set another time to gather again and that this time the theme would be "international foods." Greg and Carla had been a little nervous about this gathering. Would people expect an agenda? Would people want something to come from this? But I had hoped and believed that if you bring people together who care about similar things, even if it doesn't go anywhere from there -- you'll have a delightful meal together.

This is one of the real ministries of our church -- to witness to the Spirit of God alive in people. To bring together people across all kinds of boundaries -- but who share a sense of calling and commitment. And out of that, as we say at Broadway -- "have conversations and have faith." Greg and Carla brought people together -- and I don't know what will happen long term out of it - but something was born out of that time on Wednesday night.

And it was in stunning contrast to a meeting where a tired church bureaucrat told us of his lack of care for what he was doing. I wonder if what we are doing at Broadway can help seed a renewed sense of setting people, like our D.S., free from his misery and inviting him into discussions and commitments that he truly cares about. How can we multiply the effect of that dinner - and reduce the effect of the first meeting?

Let this be our revolution...