Friday, June 30, 2006

Jordan and Paul

I wish I was a poet. A poet could tell you better about Jordan and Paul. Jordan is our 12 year old son. Paul is his 11 year old friend. They were born and raised together in the congregation of Broadway Christian Parish in South Bend until we moved away from there in the summer of 2003. They have since found many opportunities to steal a week or two with one another a couple of times a year.

They have a friendship that speaks its own language. And much of that language is in laughter. Some of it involves electronic games. Some of it involves movies (especially of late the Monty Python oeuvre). They are hilarious. We stopped by to visit our friends John and JoAnn and Anna in Dayton, OH. John and Paul and Jordan would feed each other lines from "The Life of Brian" and then challenge each other to furnish the next line of dialogue (complete with English accents).

Sometimes as we drove through Pennsylvania, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, and Ohio, we would hear them erupt in giggles that could not be stopped.

One of the most beautiful things about Jordan and Paul is that they are very different from one another. Paul is interested in airplanes and World War II (the air and space museum in Washington was a highlight). He wanted to revisit (having just recently been there with his family) the WW II Memorial on the mall, the Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetary. All of which we visited. And at each of these places he pointed out for us things we wouldn't have seen or known otherwise. He is inquisitive about the world and about his own life. He is anxious in the ways that most all pre-teen boys are...but, impressive to me at least, is his willingness to talk about those concerns with his friend Jordan (which we happened to eavesdrop on unavoidably once or twice on the trip). Paul keeps his head down a lot. I wonder if that is because he is tall for his age (it seems to me) and it is a small attempt on his part to blend in, where he truly stands above.

Jordan has his own anxieties...he is not fond of new experiences, and in fact, is frightened of them. And yet he is the most comfortable person I have ever known within his own skin. He is the most social of all of us. He endears himself to people, he jokes easily with others, and he is eager to share his joys with you as they come along. He is magic with younger children (while many his age would shun them) -- in fact he is a pied piper of sorts. He relies on lines from entertainment sources to feed him responses to rhetorical questions that people ask. He is playful with others and will introduce himself to strangers as "Lars Honeytoast." He writes. And he is always making up plays in his head. He does fine in school, but the academic pursuits of science and math are not all that interesting to him.

Both Paul and Jordan seem to live in their own worlds. And yet are a part of this larger world we all share. I have more than a thing or two to learn from them I think.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Corporate Facilities, Inc.

Weird, weird, weird is all I have to say (okay, I really have more to say). I was walking through downtown Philly a week ago Tuesday morning when I went by this church. Or at least it used to house a church. But is the home of "Corporate Facilities, Inc." I thought of that some more as I passed other church buildings clearly closed and locked up throughout the busiest parts of the week. I'm sure the only time you can walk in the doors of most of these places is on Sunday morning (when there is a lot less activity than usual).

I was in Philadelphia to meet with a group of congregations brought together by a group called Partners for Sacred Places. This group works with congregations mostly in urban communities (but not exclusively) like those ones I find myself walking past. Having been around this work for 20 years I have seen congregations in every city I have served (Evansville, Indianapolis, and South Bend) downsize and close.

It makes me appreciate the steadfastness of the congregations that remain. There is a stubborness; a holy stubborness to our presence in urban communities. That congregations remain in these places is truly a miracle. And in many cases not only remain but flourish. In each of the congregations I have been privileged to join in ministry -- there has been a real unique sharing of themselves in their local communities. There is something a whole lot more than social work going on if a place is going to hang on and hang around. There is a sense of life and vitality. There is a seeing with different eyes the life of the community around us.

I put this photo at the top of this in the hopes that it may be a talisman against other such places popping up. But is also makes me think about a discussion I had at Annual Conference with the fellow who is taking on the responsibility for New Church Starts and Redevelopment. When I asked him about urban church redevelopment he looked like a deer caught in the headlights...and immediately started trying to stumble around to find something intelligent to say. I had some sympathy with that. But I would have just been as happy to hear him say, "I don't know...what do you think?" What I did say to him is that perhaps we didn't need to think about more church buildings -- but that it was certainly sad to me that most of our neighborhoods in this city no longer have a United Methodist presence. Sad...not for the sake of numbers, but because I believe that we have something unique to offer. I asked him to think creatively about the options before him. I hope (and I should write and suggest this) that he should pop around the country and look in on some of the more creative things happening -- NOT so that we might imitate them (Lord, save us from that), but so that we might be inspired to see our own communities and congregations new in all their possibility.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Life is a Gift

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through the back yard and Conor pointed out a rose breaking through our fence and pushing it's beauty into our yard! It was very cool. I took a picture of it (so you see). I was thinking about that when I was recently reading a book my friend Mike Green recommended. It's called The World I Live In and it is a collection of essays by Helen Keller. I've been reading a lot on vacation and this little book has been a real gem.

Here is a passage:
The poets have taught us how full of wonders is the night, and the night of blindness has its wonders, too. The only lightless dark is the night of ignorance and insensibility. We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond our senses.
It is more difficult to teach ignorance to think than to teach an intelligent blind man to see the grandeur of Niagara. I have walked with people whose eyes are full of flight, but who see nothing in wood, sea, or sky, nothing in city streets, nothing in books. What a witless masquerade is this seeing! It were better far to sail forever in the night of blindness, with sense and feeling and mind, than to be thus content with the mere act of seeing. They have the sunset, the morning skies, the purple of distant hills, yet their soul voyages through this enchanted world with a barren stare. The calamity of the blind is immense, irreperable. But it does not take away our share of the things that count--service, friendship, humor, imagination, wisdom.

I think of that as we are in New Jersey, in Madison, New Jersey, precisely as I write these words. We are at our friends' Lynda and Evie's home. I haven't seen Lynda in 18 years -- and it is so great to see her again that I can hardly believe it. In our friendship I know the gift that life is that Keller writes about. Lynda and her daughter Evie, live just a few blocks away from where I went to seminary. Kathy and I walked the grounds of the school again tonight.

What a whirlwind of days it has been. We have walked the blistering hot streets of the nation's capitol. We walked by the WW II monument and the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial. We visited the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian. Mostly what I enjoyed was listening to the laughter of my son Jordan and his friend, Paul, in the back of the van as we traveled. Kathy and I had a good chance to talk and laugh as well. It all reminds me that which Keller writes.

We went out to Arlington Cemetary on Friday before leaving Washington. When we did that I looked at the rows and rows of tombstones and I thought about all those deaths. And I thought one final time -- "Life is a Gift."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


So...we're in Philly and I'm scratchin' my head. I don't feel too far away from Annual Conference (S.IN.) unfortunately. The sign reads -- "Building God's Kingdom One Child at a Time." Here's the two things (or maybe three) that you can't see. One is the beautiful new playground that the sign celebrates. The other thing is that there is a gate -- that is locked - protecting it from the neighborhood. And the third thing is that their are no children playing on this beautiful play set.

This seems so much like what happening with the Church. There is this entire inward looking thing - and there is a real disconnect between that and what people say is "the hospitality" that we Christians would like to say is true of us. Today in walking into downtown Philly early this morning I passed by a Lutheran Church that had set up a sandwich board outside that shouted "Everyone is Welcome" - unfortunately right behind that sign was a very large ornate and clearly locked gate. It just seems not to fit. Or to fit too well.

Perhaps Christianity needs to take a step (or a whole lot of steps) outdoors. Maybe we ought to take our liturgy into the streets. Maybe we ought to listen to the voices of the streets and see what new liturgy might arise. Maybe we would have liturgy then that would never seek to restrict, but would always really welcome. There is so much going on in the lives of people around us -- and in the world around us -- that needs to be shouted from the mountaintops -- rather than held behind closed doors and locked gates. I'm not talking about street preachers calling everyone to repentance -- I'm talking about a host (a heavenly host?) of people filling our streets, listening to the stories of those around us and finding ways to build on the dreams and gifts of those around us. It would be a lot of fun, I think.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The World is Our Parish

At worship yesterday as I was standing in the chapel of Broadway I look write at a stained glass window of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that proclaims his oft repeated comment "The World is My Parish." As I heard those words again I thought of Conor in Spain, Rachel having just left New Zealand. I thought of the three people we would be sending forth that morning -- Laura Chisler heading off to Malawi to work in the Methodist Mission there for two weeks and Chris Whitsel and Eric Espinoza to Tajikistan (I hope I didn't mispell the country). Chris is doing his graduate work on Tajikistan as he attempts to understand and help their fledgling education program connect to the lives of young people of that country (not many are involved in the schools there). Next Sunday Chandra and BJ will be sent out as they prepare for a two year stint in China - teaching English as part of the Peace Corps. I guess you could say that the people of Broadway certainly live that "the world is our parish" idea!

I think of those who are going particularly to the third world – to Africa and the former Soviet Union and to China – where the poor truly are poor – that Broadway will be filled upon their return with overflowing stories of God’s grace and abundance bursting forth in unusual places.

I’m reading a book called The Shadow of the Sun by a Polish journalist named Ryszard Kapuscinskiwho is writing about his over 40 year history of reporting on Africa. In it he tells of an experience in Somalia back in the 1990’s of traveling on a bus and stopping at a restaurant for dinner. He says that the travelers on the bus divided themselves into groups of six or eight and sat together on the floor. The waiter, a young boy in each case, would put a pot of rice and brown spicy sauce in the middle of the circle. Each person, in turn, would put their right hand in the pot and get a handful of the rice and squeeze the spicy sauce out of it and then put that dumpling into their mouth and eat. And so it went around the circle – no one going out of turn. And so they ate until all was finished.

The Gospel lesson Sunday morning was from Mark 4 about the sower sowing the seed and "knowing not how it grew" and the story of the mustard seed -- the tiniest of all seeds that grows into a bush or a tree (depending on which gospel the story appears in) into which all the birds of the air nest. It is this wonderful reminder of the mysterious power and presence of God's realm in the world around us. It is a reminder that it is in the little places of this world - on the edges, in the places that no one sees, in the midst of war and poverty and injustice and what others call "disability" that God is present in the what others don't even notice -- the small, the simple. It is from such "little places" that we can see the wonder and glory and extravagance of the Gospel at work. I think of the layers our culture and society puts up between us in this country -- all our things and all our busyness with television and the internet (amusing ourselves to death?) that keep us from truly seeing each other. Everything has to be "big" - heck "big" is to small any more -- now if you aren't "mega" you aren't even in the game.

I look forward to hearing the stories from Chris and Eric and Chandra and BJ and Laura and Conor and Rachel -- stories that I trust will help me know even more clearly the mystery and power of God in our lives and in the life of the world. Perhaps we can do that sitting around a dish of food - taking turns not only with a bite of the food - but with a story, as well.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Meek Are Gettin' Ready

One of my favorite songs from the early 80's was from an album by the folk singer, Holly Near. The song was called "The Meek Are Gettin' Ready." It was a song that cast that passage from the Sermon on the Mount: "The meek shall inherit the earth" -- in a whole new way. "The Meek are Gettin' Ready" was a challenge to the powers of this world.

This morning I led devotions out at the Day Camp that is held every year out at Marott Park. I stood and watched as the kids played Keep Away in a giant circle, with a bean bag. Then we all gathered together -- in lines a bit like calisthenics in gym class when I was a kid. We sang and made hand motions and moved our bodies to the music. It was all good. When I led the devotions I taught the young 'un's a passage from I Corinthians. It's not usually included in "memory passages" - but it goes "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." I then went on to tell them the rest of the text that talked about how God purposely chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the strong, and God purposely chose what the world considers foolish in order to shame the wise, and how God purposely chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks of as nothing in order to destroy what the world thinks of as important. I told them that, because I thought that perhaps they would hear this as good news. Maybe this wasn't the right idea to be talking with them about...but I still hoped they might hear it that way.

I thought of the discussion I had with an intern candidate from CTS on Tuesday afternoon. He's a social worker as he prepares for the ordained ministry, so we sparred (very good naturedly) about the difference between social work and ministry. I happen to think that there is a huge difference. I think that social workers are much more content to work with children or adults in isolation...while the ministry of churches understands that work with children or adults is only one piece of a larger perspective. While in the church we might work with children, for example, we would never do that in isolation from the rest of their family.

That's because churches are communities, while social workers don't operate from a community base. They operate from an office. Everyone there is an employee. No one is there ONLY because they care or because they choose to be there. At least some are there because they are paid to be there (that's not a bad thing - but it's not the same thing as choosing to be there -- so says the paid religious professional on the premises of the church building).

I met with some folks from the congregation in separate conversations on Wednesday. Most of them are going through some very real personal struggles. But that wasn't why any of us were meeting. We were meeting because they had some work to do and they wanted me to know about what they were doing. I thought of them, I thought of those young people this morning, and I thought of the folks getting ready to take our summer program, JCAMP, in a new direction this summer (that new direction is to focus on our neighbors as teachers -- neighbors, who are parents and family members of many of those in the program).

I think to myself -- yes, indeed the Meek are Gettin' Ready -- and we in the church (I mean not only Broadway, but larger Christendom) best be ready ourselves to join with the children who are leading us. I thought of that today when I met with Kirk Taylor who is working to prepare himself to head off to Johannesburg, South Africa this December as part of a Global Youth Convocation for United Methodists. I was reminded as I am almost every time I am around him of the real giftedness of this young man -- of his intensity and insight. But also of the ways in which he still doesn't see and know all the abundance that is bursting out of him. But he will know. The Meek Are Gettin' Ready.

Monday, June 12, 2006

S.IN. and 7-11

Well...I got back on Saturday afternoon from South Indiana (S.IN.) Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church down in Bloomington, IN. I was there with a representative from Broadway, named Scott who is terrific. But that was about the only good thing I felt the whole time there. It wasn't that what happened was so was that it all seemed so lifeless. I couldn't believe how lifeless it felt.

Perhaps I'm way too cynical -- but it just seemed so divorced from the everyday lives of not only the people of our congregations -- but also the people of the whole state of Indiana. The Church seems to act as if it exists in a vacuum, that we live on little islands apart from our fellow citizens. And it's just not true.

The issues that face us in Indianapolis, face us not because we are United Methodists but because we are citizens of the state. The health care costs (whether insurance or drug costs, etc...) for people of all ages and stations of life, are pretty real and dramatic concerns. What is happening with the young people in our schools, again another real concern. What happens in our communities happens to our churches, as well. We are tied together.

We should have picked up on that when we saw the video at Annual Conference about the effect of Hurricane Katrina on the people of the Gulf Coast. But what we almost overwhelmingly showed was simply the destruction of United Methodist Churches. All that was asked for was donations for United Methodist Churches that are being rebuilt. It made me wonder if it wouldn't have be better for everyone (including United Methodists) if we could be part of the solution for healing the whole area. But instead -- we only look to ourselves.

Then there were all the votes being taken and the groups reporting...and it just seemed so empty to me. What we could really do if we would tap into the potential of all those good folks gathered in that room is amazing too me. But instead -- we just make plans that we will never fulfill -- not because we don't want to, or because they aren't good ideas -- but simply because no one was called to do them in the first place. We have so little faith to look around and see what God is doing around us.

I did enjoy the one morning I heard Randy Maddox, the Wesley Scholar, speak for a bit on John Wesley's life. One of the things that Wesley published in his life was a "physic." That is to say it was a book on how to cure a whole lot of ailments that came to his door as a pastor. And most of what was in the book was available in good medical books of the time. It made me wonder what it would look like if someone were to publish a book today of what to do with the variety of gifts and interests that people present to us in the church when they come to ask for financial help. Mostly what we do today is probably what most pastors did during Wesley's day for those who needed physical help - they were referred somewhere else. You know -- let someone else handle the problem. But Wesley took time to listen to folks and to look into what some actual solutions might be.

Scott and I attended the ordination service. Scott always wants to attend -- but it is always painful for him. It is reminder to him of the time when he was in college and felt a call into the ministry -- but knew because of his sexuality that it would not be possible to follow through. As I looked around the room at Annual Conference I knew that Scott would be a better pastor than 90 percent of us in the room. And that is because Scott is so talented and gifted a leader, a spiritual leader.

We celebrated 50 years of women's ordination on Friday afternoon. And it made me wonder all over soon we would have to wait until we could start counting the years to the 50th anniversary of the ordination of gay and lesbian folks (of course we have been ordaining gay and lesbian folks for years -- just not if they actually admitted it).

The lack of commitment to the poor was astonishing to me. Astonishing if you consider the rich history of our denomination. The history of our denomination is not food pantries -- it is economic development. But we have a hard time wrapping our mind around that today. Instead the best we can do is celebrate "us" helping "those people." Yikes!

Mostly I looked around that room -- I know a lot of people in the room. I grew up around these folks. Literally. There are people in the room I have known since my earliest memories. And yet...I feel that most of the people in the room are being wasted. They are only being asked to be slotted into committees that meet with overwhelming portfolios. They are being asked to spend their time driving to meetings, where they sit and simply report on what they are doing. They are wasted. And that's a seems to me.

I left Annual Conference feeling drained and frustrated. I should know better than to expect to feel some other way, I suppose. As we left, Scott wanted to take me to a local hang out -- "Bears" - and we had a good lunch. Afterwards he wanted to stop in the Seven - Eleven, so we did. As Scott was making his purchase and I heard him say to the cashier – “a word of wisdom? You don’t walk to talk with me…you want to talk with my friend!”

I stepped over skeptically and looked at the cashier. She explained that a friend of hers is graduating from high school and that she thought she would get her the gift of wisdom from everyone who stopped by her cash register in 7-11 that day. While Scott and I pondered what we might say to her friend…two other young men stepped to the counter. They were asked the same thing…one of them wrote two words – “Don’t Die.” I thought -- well gosh...I don't know if a teenager needs to be encouraged to think they are immortal! Scott and I then both added our words. I’m not sure what Scott wrote…but I asked if I could write a quote and she said “sure” that there were two quotes already – one from the Grateful Dead and one from Elvis – I said – “well…mine is from St. Augustine.” What would I want a young person to hear? It is what I say when we prepare to share communion, “be what you see, receive who you are and say Amen!” That is the way to approach life and faith.

I’m a little curious about how this young graduate will receive this information – but mainly I think that she is fortunate to have a friend who sees all who come into her store as people who have personal wisdom and gifts to share. She sees all who come in the store as people who have something to offer, and then she ties us together – though we will never meet. I wonder if 40 years from now the graduate will remember some of those words and they will be encouraging in a difficult time – I think, in particular, that the young man who wrote “Don’t Die” could be very encouraging to some one struggling, struggling with a difficult issue in their life – and who just wants to fold up and die.

Mostly I was struck with the contrast between our Annual Conference session of the church -- who could only see giftedness in its own hands -- and then was wasting what it did have. Over against that was this young woman, a friend, who sees the stranger not as a scary figure - but as one with wisdom to share and gifts to give.

The Gospel of John from Sunday reminds us that Jesus said, in responding to Nicodemus -- "'Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdo of god without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of hte flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I say to yu, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.'" -- This text is so often used by the church to exclude others - while really it is exactly the opposite. It is a reminder that the Word comes to us much more often from cashiers in 7-11's -- than it does in sanctified church gatherings. Or so it seems to me.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Adios Conor

Our son, Conor, left on Thursday morning, to spend seven weeks in Spain as part of an IU Honors program. Kathy and Jordan and I went to the airport to see him off. For the next seven weeks he will live with a family in Cuidad Real (a little south of Toledo and Madrid) and immerse himself in the language and culture there. He is only allowed to read or communicate in English one hour a week. He will have classes Monday through Thursday throughout the day in literature, culture and grammar. On Fridays they will take field trips to Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla and Granada among other places. On the weekends and in the evenings he will live as part of the family with whom he is staying. The "state" that he is a part of in Spain is La Mancha. i suppose that makes him a "man of La Mancha" now.

It's odd to think about him living apart from us for the next seven weeks. We have never spent that much time apart...but I suppose, in a way, it is good preparation for him heading off to college in 2007. The changes that come along in life, while not always easy, are not necessarily bad. Adios Conor...have a wonderful time and we look forward to welcoming you home on July 25th!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Public Pentecost

A couple of years ago in the week following Pentecost I attended the only Pentecost Celebration that ever really made me mad. I was at Annual Conference at Purdue University and it was in the midst of one of the reports -- I think it was from the district superintendents. Whoever it was that was giving the report concluded it by leading us in song while balloons floated down from the ceiling. Now I love a good party as much as the next guy (if not more) -- but man oh man this made me mad.

You see the first Pentecost started in a room behind closed doors. But it sure as heck didn't end that way. The first Pentecost began with the disciples still in fear and hiding after Easter. They are in an upper room still trying to figure out what to do since Jesus has died...and even though he had made a resurrection appearance...they still were feelin' a little sketchy.

So...this Pentecost Sunday, at Broadway, we reminded ourselves of the pouring out of God's gifts -- on women and men, young and old. At worship Marc McAleavey played the drum while the choir marched in singing and stepping to the beat. Clay Taylor read the scriptures just right -- conveying the depth and passion of that first Pentecost. We began like that very first Pentecost, by meeting behind closed doors. But at the end of worship we headed out doors. The congregation thought we were only heading out to received the benediction...but no, there was more to come.

As people came outside Trina Evan's children handed out bubbles and were blowing some themselves. Out on the lawn Jerrilyn was at the hospitality table with refreshments for those who just wanted a snack and Anita had a table set up with taco salad for those who wanted something more. Brandon had photographs taken by the young people in his photography group from around the neighborhood on display and there were two young women - Crystal and Jolanda who had massage chairs set up and were offering them to any and all who came along.

That first Pentecost drove the disciples out doors. It is important always to remember that the gifts of the Spirit surround us all the time -- inside and outside the doors. We had a very vivid reminder of that this Sunday. It was wonderful. A good day. A holy day. A Pentecost day.

Friday, June 02, 2006

We Forgot to Be Humble

I got my "Hooser United Methodist e-news" today and was interested to see this item --

On the heels of the rapid escalation of both the heat index and the record high crime, the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, including Barnes UMC, is geared up to once again hit the streets in record numbers. Various local congregations are planning to meet today, June 2, at 9 p.m. at Christ Church Apostolic, 6601 N. Grandview Drive before strategically hitting the streets to evangelize and present a united front against the violence that has reached record levels. Groups of walkers will traverse the city of Indianapolis to pray and provide a positive presence to area residents. Armed with determination and past successful experience, it is anticipated that the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition‚s leadership in this effort will have the same or comparable effect as in 1999 when 20 churches participated in a similar walk. As a result of the neighborhood patrols and other Ten Point programs and services, there was a 44 percent decrease in the homicide rate in the Mapleton-Fall Creek and UNWA neighborhoods and the City of Indianapolis enjoyed a reduction in the homicide rate for the first time in five years.

44 percent decrease in the homicide rate in Mapleton-Fall Creek? That stat was pretty interesting to me -- but the part about Indianapolis enjoying a reduction in the homicide rate was bad timing considering the headlines of this morning's paper (a family of seven was killed in a horrific mass slaying last night).

This reminded me of Boston a few years ago claiming that it's crime rate had gone down because of their stricter sentencing guidelines on crimes committed with a gun, and New York claiming that it was their focus on broken windows (and other petty crimes). Actually during those years the crime rate went down almost everywhere -- no matter what strategy was adopted. The Freakonomics authors suggest that it may be because of the legalization of abortion. Everybody wants to take credit when things get a bit better and point the finger when things are bad. That's not so good. And, from my perspective, not particularly Christian. It just got me thinking that when people take credit for things like this I think it's a pretty tough thing to prove -- and unfortunately it provides some very unrealistic assessments of what would happen if you would just adopt a particular tactic. For years the church as done this with "if you only do contemporary worship then people would flock to your church" -- or variations on that.

In the book The Plague by Albert Camus a couple of the main characters are talking about how it is that the black plague was able to spread so rapidly through their city and the doctor responds "we forgot to be humble. That was all."

When I see the news from Iraq this week and read the responses to the allegations of what happened at Haditha -- whatever else ends up being true...I wonder, all over again, if we simply haven't forgotten to be humble. When I saw the news out of the eastside this morning and know (because I've been around this more than a few times) that a little money (very little money) will be thrown at this problem for a bit...and then things will go back to normal until we get shocked when the next really bad thing happens.

In the midst of that I certainly don't want to say a bad word about churches getting out to the streets and talking with people. But I imagine that these conversations, for the most part, will be fairly perfunctory. I doubt if much of substance will happen. But it is a good FIRST step. If it leads to further people really listening to one another -- to trusting that the answer is out there in what the Spirit of God is doing even (if not especially) in the midst of what are so often labelled as "at-risk" communities or "blighted" neighborhoods or "inner city" which seems a code word for a whole host of bad things.

Hope will rise when we don't forget to be humble and we turn toward one another -- we pay attention to the enormous personal resources that are available in each person and that we cannot afford to waste. Those resources are fairly different...just like Paul so often pointed out -- some are called to be teachers some prophets and so on...each person is necessary, each person is needed. When we aren't humble we see people as objects not subjects and we miss the gift that will not only add a little bit of "zazz" to our shared life, but will also keep us safer, and healthier and stronger.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It'll be Alright. You'll be Alright.

I attended Bishop Leroy Hodapp's funeral yesterday. My friends Kathy and Craig Sweet drove over from Kankakee, IL to attend. Kathy went to college with my wife, Kathy, and me. She began in Nursing School (with Kathy) and then came over to Pre-Theology (with me). She went to Drew University Theological School the year before we did -- and she met Craig there and they got married a short time later. I saw old friends from South Bend and older friends from Evansville in attendance. There were a host of bishops gathered up front to see their old buddy off. Lloyd Wright gave the eulogy and remembered his friend warmly and well. So did our current Bishop Mike Coyner, and another Indiana bred bishop -- John Hopkins. But it was Bishop Hodapp's grandson, Brian, who set the tone and gave me something of substance to write about today.

I must admit I had both my appreciation for and my problems with Bishop Hodapp. I appreciated his support of me in my first parish when all hell was breaking loose. I called him to tell him my district superintendent wasn't supporting me. A week later he called me to say "he will support you now." I would write him letters complaining about the state of the church in one way or another and his response always was to (hand) write me a response and invite me to his office to chat with him. And that's what I would do. He was easy to talk with -- even when disagreeing.

When he sent me to serve Broadway Christian Parish in South Bend he described me to the new district superintendent as "John the Baptist with a sense of humor." I got some delight out of that characterization.

Our last correspondence was on his response to the union service of two men at Broadway Church back in 1992. I felt that the response he gave to it in writing to all the churches of the Indiana area saying that no church or clergy should do such a thing was a political response out of fear and I felt that was beneath him. His response back to me sounded more confused than clear. was interesting to read in his obituary that appeared in the Indianapolis Star that when his grandson, Brian, asked him what he thought of the current church controversies regarding homosexuality and what, in specific, the Pauline epistles had to say about it, the obituary reported that Bishop Hodapp had said to his grandson -- "Well...I just think that Paul got that wrong."

At our gathering to celebrate his life his grandson rose and told us about his grandfather. He told us with rich, warm memories of his grandfather who he thought of as one of the smartest people he ever knew. He knew, as well, that his grandfather had been an athlete. As Brian grew older he and his grandfather would stay up late after everyone else went to bed and talk. He asked his grandfather about the texts in the bible regarding homosexuality. He asked his grandfather "Am I going to hell?" And his grandfather told him -- "No. It'll be alright. You'll be alright." Confronted by his own grandson he knew the truth and he had to face it within himself -- and he did not seek to justify himself for his past actions. Brian returned again and again to that comment -- "It'll be alright. You'll be alright" to acknowledge his grandfather's support and love for him and for the living out of his faith.

I've not been able to let go of that image all day. I've thought about it as I've struggled with some issues within myself over the last couple of days -- of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. And then I hear that voice -- "It'll be alright. You'll be alright." I have thought of that as I walked down the street and heard a man yell "That was 40 years ago! 40 Years ago -- and You're STILL HOLDING ON TO THAT?" And I thought to myself..."It'll be alright. You'll be alright." I wanted to walk over and say that right then...but I know I would see this man later and I thought he would hear it better then. Later that night I did get a chance to tell him.

I thought of that as I talked with friends this week who talked about struggles in their family and in their lives -- and I found myself saying -- "It'll be alright. You'll be alright.'

One of the reasons I know that is true -- is because I knew this man who could change his mind. It reminded me that as painful and slow as change is -- it is inevitable and it comes. I sure as heck wish it came faster. But I sure am glad it comes. And I know that God can use even the things that we screw up, even the evil we do -- and bring good things out of it. And that's a real miracle. Each and every day. It'll be alright. You'll be alright.