Thursday, August 31, 2006

Happy Homecoming

This is Chandra and BJ prior to their wedding outside of Broadway UMC.

This week has been a time of talking about the upcoming Homecoming celebration at Broadway (October 14 and 15). You can read about it at a special blog that has been set up by Troy Smythe. Check it out!

But I want to tell you a bit of how it looks from my perspective. I've been blessed to be one of the pastors here since 2003. But it's my second stint here as I was also one of the pastors from 1986-1991. So I guess you could say that I've already had my homecoming at Broadway!

There's a lot that changed in the 11 1/2 years I was gone from Broadway. But a lot that has remained constant as well. As I look across the long and rich history of this congregation I think of the amazing changes they have borne witness to across the years. Through the first World World, through the Great Depression, through the II World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Watergate, assassinations and resignations the world has changed a lot. The late 1940's and early 1950's were a real hey day for churches in the United States. And it wasn't any different at Broadway. People poured into the limestone cathedral located on Fall Creek on the north side of the College bridge. There are photographs of people parked up and down Fall Creek Parkway. The place was packed. What a grand time.

Through the fifties and sixties though the numbers at Broadway went down the congregation that stayed showed incredible faith and steadfastness. And yet today the life around our place seems to be bursting out of the walls. I can't imagine what it was like to be around here 50 or 75 years ago, but I can hardly believe that it could possibly be a more beautiful, diverse, healthy, joyous, hopeful place than it is today.

This summer our 17 year old son Conor spent 7 weeks away from our family, in Spain (part of a language immersion program through IU). I've found myself meditating some on homecoming since his return. A couple days after he returned the two of us were at dinner together and I looked across the table and the thing that overwhelmed me was that I could see how happy he was. I loved that. He was happy because of the terrific experience he had over in Spain, he was happy to be home, just happy in life. And I thought to myself -- I hope that this will be the experience of people in coming home to Broadway this October. And I hope that if that indeed happens I'll be able to look across the table at the folks who have returned home and see in the faces the shining happiness that I could see in Conor's face. Part of that is on me, to recognize that in the faces of those around me.

The other thing that happened, that took me by surprise, was that Conor and Jordan, all of a sudden, miraculously it seemed to me, were getting along great. They are 4 1/2 years different and have gotten along quite like one might expect a couple of brothers to get along. But now it all seemed different. And like the happiness in Conor's face, I cannot explain it -- but I certainly hope to see that at Broadway's homecoming as well.

My bet is that old frustrations and arguments that have been had across the years will be forgotten as people see one another and recall the stories of good times (and hard times) with laughter and graciousness. Oh, I think there will be sadness as well, as people look around the room and miss those that are no longer with us, the saints of the faith, of our life together. But I think even that sadness will find comfort and (dare I say it) joy in the communion of the saints who have gathered and in the powerful memories and remembrance of times gone by.

And at the same time Conor's homecoming also reminded me that we do not live in the days before he left this summer. But, in fact, these are new days. I miss some of the old days -- I miss the days when Jordan at 1 year old would run to me as I presided at communion at Broadway Christian Parish and I would pick him up and hold him in my arms as I prayed the prayer of Great Thanksgiving. I miss the days of walking down the street in South Bend with Conor at 4 years old, as the murderous dog two doors down would bark so fiercely at us that I was convinced that he was going to bite a hole through his thick chain link fence and be feasting on us in seconds, but Conor would lift his voice in a sing-song calling "Hello, friend dog." But truly, though I miss those times, they will live in my memory forever. I will not ever hear again the same rhythmic tones of Conor's pre-pubescent voice with his freedom from fear or feel Jordan's arms around me at the altar -- but these new days are so good as well (and I hope I will look back on them and miss them as well, in the future).

The days ahead (both for our family and for this church) look full of promise. And it is fun to both live in these days, remember the past, and live in joyful anticipation of the future that lies ahead (even though we know that some of that future will have its share of burdens and pain and grief).

My gosh, I look forward to this. I look forward to the laughter and tears, the memories and challenges into the future. Happy Homecoming!

How To Throw A Great Party

Last night my son Jordan sent me a paper on e-mail so that I could print it off on the printer for him. It was instructions on how he thought to throw a great party. Now -- that seems like a really great thing to think about. It's a gospel thought. I'm glad he's thinking about it and setting his ideas down in black and white. What do you have to say about how to throw a great party?

How To Throw A Great Party
By: Jordan Mather-Licht

There are a few essential things to throw a great party. I think there are eight essential things and one, not so essential. You will need invitations, a location, a proper chaperone, food, music, a date for the party, entertainment, and maybe a pool.
You can handwrite, create on the computer, or buy invitations. You can deliver them in many different ways. Some ways are e-mail, mail, hand delivered, or stick them in someone's locker at school. Keep in mind not everyone you invite will be able to come. Keep a list of everyone who says they can come.
You must decide on a location. Decide on a place big enough for all your guests. It needs to be somewhere where everyone can find it and it's not too remote. There will need to be room for dancing, snack tables, games, and chairs. Also be sure a chaperone is watching carefully to prevent anything illegal, lethal, or hazardous from happening.
Organization is also essential because without organizing everything who knows what could happen. Next snacks will be needed so everyone doesn't leave for food. You want to have a good outfit especially if you are the host. You will want decorations all around maybe just classic streamers etc. but nothing tacky.
You need the proper music that fits this time and age. You do want some activities like pin the tail on the donkey, but that is just a suggestion. A swimming pool is optional but it could be good. You don't just want random people at a party you probably want friends you have known for a while. Those are the essentials.
You want to pick a day when everyone can come. Like when they don't have an early curfew. You don't want a party that will last two days. The party should last a few hours and leave an hour to clean the decorations up. So timing is very important.
If you can afford it you might want to book some entertainment, but don't max out your parents credit cards. If you do hire someone you just want a singer or something. If you can, get a comedian. Just watch your budget.
Never promise anything you can't deliver or else you can be in a lot of trouble with your guests. So be careful of what you say. Don't try too hard to impress your guests. Just be yourself and you'll do fine. That is how you throw a great party.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Drinking Deep of the Spirit

The letter to the Ephesians today challenged us to drink deep of the Spirit. And the passage from I Kings told us that Solomon prayed for a "God-listening heart." I look out at the congregation each Sunday (and whenever I encounter them and others throughout the week) and I struggle to see whether I am living out what I am trying to do. I fail a lot. I've been meaning to teach a Bible Study around this place for months. Months! And I just haven't been able to get it together. Finally it happened. We'll do it beginning in September. It's the first time I'm not just doing a book of the Bible by itself. Instead it will be a class on Bible Study, the Indianapolis Star, and the Indianapolis Recorder. I keep thinking of the old Karl Barth comment that we should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. So we'll do that for several weeks this fall. (But I digress -- I was talking about drinking deep of the spirit).

I think of several conversations this morning. One was with Duane, who is the chair of our Committee on Lay Leadership. I love what he is doing and the way he is leading that body. The discussions that the group has about people in the congregation and larger community is exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming (but mostly in the best way). I talked with Dan who is struggling with his father's illness. I talked with Betty and Howard who served communion at the 8:30 service -- and did so with easy laughter and generous hearts. I talked with Debbie and her dad, Don who promised to get me some blackberry jam that he had just received a case of from a friend in Oregon. Oh yes, I get to drink deep of the Spirit here.

I talked with Bob about his work on the school board in his community. I loved hearing him reflect on that important work and his process of discernment on how to be most helpful to his community -- and his congregation. I watched Jim, the head usher, train young Daniel and Mari in acolyting. They made several passes down the center aisle. I stopped and hugged Bill -- a friend from my first tenure in the congregation -- who always has a generous and gracious word for me. At the passing of the Peace, Margaret came and gave me a big hug -- that always makes me feel good to get a hug from her. Frank sang beautifully. Peter talked with me about what has been going on in his life. And Frank told me about his battle with his illness this week -- and then I watched as George ran up and asked if he could give him the flowers from the altar to brighten up their home in the midst of his illness. Chris and I sat and talked about some of the folks from here who took a trip out to San Francisco last week and what it had caused him to be thinking about.

Kathy, Conor, Jordan and I went out to lunch with Lonnie and talked and laughed as we told him about our experience with watching the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" last night. Afterwards we came home and each had a piece of the Milky Way cake that Kathy had made yesterday. And then I fell asleep at the table. I was thinking about the passage from Ephesians and how it talks about drinking deep of the spirit in the same place that it urges temperance in drinking alcohol. I guess I must have been drinking deep, because I fell asleep at the table as we talked.

Later Marc called and we talked together about his internship, about mutual friends, and about how we make change. Great talk. Good things are happening. What a blessing to drink deep of the spirit in this place.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Where to Begin

It's hard to know where to begin. The last blog entry I made was an angry one. Since I wrote it there has been more violence here in Indianapolis. Since I wrote it I have been gone for about a week to the Chautauqua Institute in New York. Since I wrote it I have been in and out of the office, in and out of hospital rooms, in and out of telephone conversations, and in and out of my home. I've sat and talked with my friend Mari about grief, I've sat in on church meetings where we talked about the church we have here in wide ranging conversations (asking great questions from my perspective). I read seven books (most of them top notch). Conor has started his senior year in high school and Jordan has started 7th grade. It's been an eventful 12 days -- that's for sure.

So -- what do I write about? Where do I start? My homiletics professor from Drew, Charles Rice, would say "where do you start a sermon? Pick a place and start." So here goes.

Today I sat with my friend and co-worker Jack and we talked about worship at Broadway. We talked about how we help the worship of the people who gather at Broadway form us as people of God. Today I called a friend who was giving a job reference for someone we are considering hiring. On his voice mail the friend said, "May God fill your life with Blessings." (or something like that). I reacted against the message. I thought to myself "We don't need to ask God for blessings -- we need God to relieve our blindness from seeing and knowing the blessings that are in our lives." But what does that mean for us when we gather for worship and when violence and poverty and injustice continue to abound? Today I finally got a response to the letter posted on this blog that I had written to the bishop. He seems open to continuing the conversation. But one of the things he mentioned in his brief response was that he thinks that "justice ministries" should be more focused on at Annual Conference. I wanted to scream "AARRRGGGHHH." Programs aren't going to solve this problem. The problem will begin to be solved -- when the Cabinet sits down to make a decision and they begin by saying -- "we need to put our best clergy in the places that have the lowest income. Because that's where the realm of God is really breaking through and we can't afford to waste seeing it." or "Have you heard about the violence in the Indianapolis area? What are you guys (the two Indianapolis District Superintendents) seeing happen in response to this? What are your congregations doing in relationship to this? What are the people of your districts (not only the church folk, but the people who live in the boundaries of your districts) saying?" But here's the problem. No one is asking them the question.

Andre Lake was one of the last of the 13 murders that have occurred over the last three weeks here in Indianapolis. Andre was a little boy who lived five doors from the church when I lived here in the late 80's, early 90's. He always had an easy smile -- he was a person that made you feel better just by his being around. He was a person who built you up just by being in his presence. And now he's dead. And I've been to meetings and one on one conversations a lot over the past few weeks -- and it's extremely rare to hear this topic come up. I'm not trying to suggest that we all get together and weep and wail. In fact one of the most frustrating things is that I know some "institutional" people (people from the Police Department and other institutions) have gotten together to share their answers. The problem is that those answers are the same ones that they have had for years and years and years. Maybe things shouldn't start with answers, but with questions.

Where to begin? We begin by asking the right questions in the places that we are. We begin by not shying away -- but by jumping right into the tough questions. Because if we don't ask them, they certainly won't be asked anywhere else. Let's do it. And feel good about it. It is our gift.

Talk about these things. If need be -- go sit with family members, friends and neighbors of those who have died. Listen to their stories, and their grief. Pray together. Hold hands. Listen. Something will come. Something will arise. And I'mm pretty sure that what won't arise is glib answers like "mentoring programs" or "community centers" -- but instead, if we listen closely, we can recognize the blessings that God has around us not only this minute, but each and every minute. And if we pay attention I think we can begin to see the mentors that are already there and we can find ways to support, encourage and pray for them. And that will begin to make more of a difference than we can imagine.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

We Are At War?

The headline of the Indianapolis Star Sunday morning was – We Are At War. It seems an unfortunate choice of words. If we have learned anything about war these last few years it is that it is not solved by overwhelming force and tightly cordoned off communities. This week our own military leaders spoke of the growing civil war that they fear in Iraq. They agreed that things are worse than they were a year ago in this regard. What has come out of the Iraq war that we can learn from in our own community? It is what Paul talks about in the text from Ephesians we read on Sunday – it is being robust in love that works. The clearest and most helpful information I hear from Iraq is from those who have chosen to work alongside those that threaten them, not those who seek to destroy those that threaten them. They seek to make friends, rather than to punish. There are military leaders who are working with civilian leaders there on the ground – just way too few.

In the headline I see a city that is more concerned about a new stadium for its football team than it is for children who will live in the shadow of that building. It makes me think of a city where there is much brick and mortar work done in rebuilding the crumbling buildings and houses in the area just south of us – but the people who used to live there are just simply shuffled around to new areas of the city. What if the same investment that has been made south of the creek in the land and the buildings was made in the lives of the people of this city? What if the same amount of money that has been committed to the new Colts stadium (at least in tax breaks) was committed to the lives of young people who will grow up not only to be football players but scientists and doctors and teachers and business people in this community? Why? Because it’s easier, they say, to “sell” investors on buildings than it is to “sell” investors on the lives of people who will live in those buildings or who will attend those games. What a shame. What a shame. We have lost our capacity to believe…in the living bread. And it is a shame.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Quotes, part 2

I do quite a bit of reading every week and I can't share all of it (it's just too much) -- but here are some of the highlights from this week. This first from the book The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon by Donald Hall (a memoir of Jane Kenyon's dying at age 47)
Meantime we lived in a house of poetry, which was also the house of love and grief; the house of solitude and art; the house of Jane's depression and my cancers and Jane's leukemia. When someone died whom we loved, we went back to the poets of grief and aoutrage, as far back as Gilgamesh; often I read aloud Henry King's "The Exequy," written in the seventeenth century after the death of his young wife. Poetry gives the griever not release from grief but companionship in grief. Poetry embodies the cmoplexity of feelings at their most intense and entangled, and therefore offers (over centuries, or over no time at all) the company of tears.

The reading that comes to mind is shaded by life. Yesterday, my friend Shary's brother Dean died after a battle with cancer. She and his family were by his side.

In the midst of all the craziness in the Middle East this poem of Wendell Berry's came to my sight this week (from his book Entries)
A Lover's Song
When I was young and lately wed
and every fissionable head
Of this super power or that
Prepared the ultimate combat,
Gambling against eternity
To earn a timely victory
And end all time to win a day,
"Tomorrow let it end," I'd pray,
"If it must end, but not tonight."
And they were wrong and I was right;
It's love that keeps the world alive
Beyond hate's genius to contrive.

This week, as always, around here has been a time of meeting new folks who walk in looking for help with rent or a utility bill. The question always comes -- What to do in the midst of such questions." I picked up a book I really love by Donna Schaper. It's the first one of hers I ever read back in 1991. The title is A Book of Common Power: Narratives against the current.
My so-called ministry with the poor is not tender, or gentle, or even kind. It has had most of its softness stripped away. Confronted with a request for assistance, I never yield unitl at least three nasty questions are asked. How did you get yourself into this mess? How are you going to get yourself out of this mess? And who besides me and God, is going to help you? I then invite the stranger to worship and start telling him or her just how much help our congregation needs. We are desperate for their leadership and participation. They don't believe me, but it is true.

I've been reading for the last several weeks an old book (1977) by Howell Raines entitled My Soul Is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South. It is entirely a collection of interviews with participants and witnesses to what was happening in the Civil Rights Movement. Yesterday I read an interview with Amzie Moore who is described by Raines this way: "The U.S. Army made him a man, his own man, when it sent him from the segregated Delta to a segregated unit in the Pacific in World World II. 'Here I'm being shipped overseas, and I been segregated from this man whom I might have to save or he save my life. I didn't fail to tell it.' He kept on telling it when he got home to the steamy Delta town of Cleveland [Mississippi] in 1946."
But when an individual stood at a courthouse like the courthouse in Greenwood and in Greenville and watched tiny figures [of the SNCC workers] standing against a huge column...[against white] triggermen and drivers and lookout men riding in automobiles with automatic they gladly they got in front of that line, those leaders, and went to jail! It didn't seem to bother 'em. it was an awakening for me...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Best Part is the Blessing

I was talking with my friend Phil Amerson this afternoon while he is out in San Diego. He is there attending a conference on Church Redevelopment. He's giving a speech on urban ministry and he wanted to read me some things he had put together. It's going to be one heck of a speech, I can tell. He talked about being a five year old and hearing a man call for his father, the preacher, from out in the street. Even at that young age, he said, he knew such sounds. And even though the man was using curse words in his calling out for his father, he knew that his father's presence with the man was redemptive. Phil says, "redemption is beautiful." He went on to say -- we've given up on redemption. I'm afraid he is right. I was talking with my friend Chad today and he was telling me about the district superintendent who told him and his congregation that he was being appointed there "as hospice." In other words he was telling the congregation, and this new young pastor, that they were dead. We have sold ourselves out for technique. We think that if we just did things right then everything would be okay. That's just not so. We can't fix the system. We can't even fix each other.

Tonight I was on a panel on Health Care at a community forum at another church in our city. I was glad to be there. The keynote speaker -- a physician and politician from Kentucky was brilliant. But before he spoke and before the panelists spoke - there were testimonies from five people who have struggled with the high cost of health care and the effect on their lives and their families. They were moving and each one different. They all told a little different story of what it's like to be caught in a trap that they cannot find their way out. A grandmother spoke about her "million dollar grandson." She and her husband have lost their house as they have been helping their daughter and her husband to keep the medicine coming that the child needs to stay alive...and to keep the oxygen tank rented so that it wouldn't be repossessed when they child still needed it to breath. A man read a letter from his wife, who was supposed to be there to testify, but she was too ill. The letter ended with her cry that she sometimes wished she was dead so that she would no longer be a burden on her family. After the evening was over an acquaintenance came over to speak to me. The man with her thanked me for my words. She didn't. She said, "I wish we would have taken up an offering for Mr. Cooper [one of the testifiers] -- but I felt like they were just window dressing/entertainment for the experts." She took off her glasses as her eyes and nose glowed red -- "I don't like it when we do that." I understand her frustration. It would have been the one truly helpful thing that might have happened tonight. Every thing else was so much hot air -- and self congratulation that we all recognize the problem and that something must be done. But in the meantime we simply walk away from the stories that are shared. We don't talk with each other. Pray with each other. Encourage each other. We just look uncomfortable and move to the other side of the room and try not to make eye contact.

Back to urban ministry and Chad. I said to Phil what I had said to Chad earlier in the day. "Wouldn't it be great if a district superintendent would come to each of the churches in the city, would lay her/his hands on each member of the congregation -- would offer a word of thanksgiving to the gathered church -- in thanks for staying in the city when so many across the years had fled. Thank them for the blessing they are to the denomination. Thank them for bearing witness across the years to the grace and abundance of God in the midst of a downhill slide and increasing poverty. And then anoint each person in the congregation with oil." Why is it so hard to imagine such a thing. Instead all that can be imagined is that we would offer the latest technique to solve the problem. I don't mind the techniques. Some of them are quite good. They are good. But they aren't God. And that's the problem. There are plenty who will bear witness to the efficacy of the latest techniques...but instead of holding onto both the technique and the blessing -- the trust and faith in the redemptive power of God -- we think we can only have the technique and not the blessing. Man that sucks. The best part is the blessing. It's like getting oreos with all the insides scraped out.

Let me tell you I feel uncomfortable a lot -- a whole lot. The tears of the woman at the meeting tonight are a reminder that redemption is what we have to offer. Not answers - but listening and praying with each other...Not avoiding each other because we don't have an answer. goal for tomorrow is to remember the best part is the blessing -- to offer it when I don't have any answers especially.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Forceful Liturgy

The picture here takes the place of one I could not find. It is a photo of U.S. soldiers in Iraq grieving the death of a fellow soldier. Last week I was chatting with Mari Evans and she mentioned an image I remember seeing as well. It appeared in Newsweek. It showed soldiers gathered into a small space in Iraq. In the photograph was also a pile of stones that the soldiers had put together to commemorate their friend who had died. Each of them had taken a stone and written a message to their buddy and their friend on the stone and then in a grieving liturgy they had created this pile, this makeshift memorial for their friends memory. Mari talked about what a powerful image that was and how if she had been there and participated in such a thing she would have walked out of their angry enough to want to kill someone -- to lash out in grief and rage at the next person who came along who you might blame. Who knows whether that happened...but I cannot help but think of that ever since our conversation because it made me think of two things. One it made me think of the battles that are raging in the Middle East even as I type these words. I think of how it is not only the soldiers who are grieving in ways that perhaps build up and upon the rage rather than heal it...but also the civilians as their body tolls rise in both Israel and Lebanon (not to mention Iraq). There will be funerals galore...will those funerals be liturgies of healing or liturgies that will deepen the divisions and pain between peoples (of course no liturgy can erase the pain, for example, of a child's death -- but it can address the pain or it can feed the pain and rage). The United Methodist Book of Resolutions (I can't believe I'm quoting it here) says that war is incompatible with Christian teaching. And one doesn't have any doubt living in the midst of it -- or even watching it on our television screens.

The other question that image raises for me, though -- is how do the rituals the liturgies that we participate in, as the community gathers for worship on a weekly basis, shape us, form us? Every Sunday we gather for worship at Broadway -- how is it that the images and symbols that we use (not to mention our words and music) shape our lives, the choices we make, the people we are and that we are becoming? As a worship leader I don't believe I think clearly or creatively enough about this issue. When we share the peace of Christ in worship, we often find ourselves extending a hand or a hug to someone who we have had problems with in the past week or months or perhaps years ago. Yet...we "practice" our faith -- we practice the peace, in hopes and with faith that peace is there. But perhaps we are just going through the motions. Are we providing ways for one another to participate in our life together that more likely works for our healing -- that shapes us in ways that cause us to consider the choices we make each day to recognize God's presence and love even when things are miserable? I just don't know. But I'm glad to be wrestling with this question.

I worry that in our worship and in the commodity that has become Christianity in the United States we have made worship so nice that it doesn't shape us, it doesn't challenge us, it simply becomes a marker along the road that says "you're a nice person, you are doing alright, don't worry about a thing, you've checked the religion thing off on your checklist this week - now move on to the next thing -- i.e. trips to the grocery store, teeth cleaning, volunteer work, and then home to bed).

At the same time I see examples every week of ways in which the liturgy and language of faith intrudes on the choices of Christian people I am around. But I wonder still if we cannot be more thoughtful and creative about the opportunities we give to people to meet that in our corporate worship. Hmmmm.