Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More tragedy? I've had enough...

I'm tired of reading about gun control issues.  I'm tired of ridiculous ideas such as arming teachers or principals in elementary schools where children are supposed to go to be safe.  The rhetoric around assault weapons and their connections to these rash of school shootings has worn me down.  The conversations on social media are really only of limited help since the people talking often are not talking to one another...

Why don't we stop talking about the symptoms of the problem and deal with the cause:  Evil.
Yes, evil exists in the world.  It has existed for some time, it still exists today, and I am afraid will be around for some time to come.  Evil excels at finding new ways to shock us as it creatively seeks paths, avenues, and people to twist and corrupt until we have the terrible situations that exist in the world.

Since this is the Christmas season, I found myself reading the birth story of Jesus- you know what happened shortly after he was born?  Herod ordered the deaths of all male babies under the age of 2 in attempt to kill Jesus.  His parents fled to Egypt of all places to escape.  Even Jesus, the Son of God, could not escape evil.  He could not escape it as an infant.  He had to deal with it in his earthly ministry.  And ultimately, evil brought him to die on a cross.  Fortunately, his death revealed the limitations of evil and asserted forever that God's love has the capacity and power to overcome the power of evil that would lead to death.

And even with this witness, evil continues to spread it ugliness in our world.  Let's be honest about this past tragedy- this one man's access to the weapons in his possession helped inflate the tragedy of those children and adults who were killed.  The access the shooter had to guns and ammunition made it easier for him to kill and to kill over and over.  However, it was not those guns that made the decision to start his spree against innocent children and teachers and no amount of control will be able to stop evil people from performing evil acts.

Don't allow the symptoms of these issues to distract us from the nature of this conversation.  Our desire to empty the world of evil can only be accomplished as we fill the world with love. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Musical Gratitude

Talking with my 2 kids about the election today led me to go back and consider just how blessed my life has been and how many people have contributed to helping me get to this place where I realize the extent of my blessings.  In this post, I would like to explore the people who have contributed to my understanding and appreciation for music.

I have to start back in 4th grade when Mr. Hays,  my elementary music teacher at school (it was a new school for me that year), told me I had a good voice and invited me to sing in a 4th grade choir.  It was in his class that I discovered that I did enjoy singing.  That participation led to an invite to be part of a select group called the Christmas Club Singers, where I remember being able to sing on the Cowboy Bob show!  It also led to my first musical, called the Secret Garden.  I can not express my appreciation enough to that wonderful music teacher who discovered a spark that fanned to a life of passion for music that is still with me today.

This love took root as I moved into Junior High.  The high school that year was doing a production of the Music Man and needed a younger student to play Winthrop.  I do not remember how I got to this point, but was actually able to audition and was cast in this show.  I will never forget the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I felt as the curtain closed on opening night.  It was an amazing sense of elation as I realized I had given everything I had that evening and found the joy in that night!  It also led to a relationship with my high school choir director, Peter.  I never had a good relationship with this man, finding that his arrogance might only be outstripped by his ability as a teacher/motivator, but I did learn a lot about the basic foundations of singing and singing well.  Peter also exposed me to something I would grow to admire and endure- the artistic temperament.  Later in life I would meet others who shared this quirky passion for music and I believe my ability to appreciate these gifted people came from my exposure to Peter.  There was very little that I could say that was normal about Peter and his leadership of the choir, but there was much that was extraordinary and my lack of affection for him as a person (which I think was a mutual lack on both our parts) in no way diminished that through this time my love for music only grew.

In college I had a chance to sing in an all male chorus under the direction of Dr. Gilbert while at Wabash College.  Never before had I chance to sing with such a group and I found an appreciation for the many different styles of music to which we were exposed.  It also led to one of the highlight trips of my life as the Glee Club was able to tour through Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.  I am of a small company of people who can say I sang at the Sydney Opera House (although I will point out that when I say at, I mean on the front steps outside...we did not actually sing inside the building).  It is also the source of one of my biggest regrets in that I did not return for my senior year in college to sing with the Glee Club.

My life as an American Baptist minister has also involved music- from singing in cantatas and musicals to this present day where I am one of the guitarists in our worship team.  I believe that in one case I was called to a church in southern Indiana to work with a great friend of mine who was the music minister at this church.  Our friendship endures to this day, only slightly changed by the distance between us now that we live and work in different communities. 

I also would have to mention the numerous people with whom I have shared the stage with in musical theater in Indianapolis.  My wife and I try to fit shows into our hectic family lives and our work with people such as Bryan, Susie, Buzz, Robyne and with such wonderful directors/leaders as Brian, William, and Kathleen.  These folks have furthered our journey down this road and we are blessed to know them and have them in our life.

Finally I would like to thank the people who are currently a part of our worship team at Crooked Creek Baptist.  Their gifts, and their willingness to use and share them constantly inspire and amaze me.  It is a loving and constant challenge to work with them and I value those times when we can get together and just play for ourselves.  It is with you that God provides some of the best nourishment for my own soul.

Some of the names I mentioned we have lost touch with.  Others we see on an almost daily basis.  But what this does for me is remind me of how God has blessed me with such fantastic people in my life.  I recognize that not everyone responds to music in the same manner that I do.  The fact that I do feel so nurtured in my spirit is a great testimony to the love of God, the Great Artist, and the impact of so many talented and beautiful people in my life.

Today as I walk down through my history with music, I praise God for these influences and hope that some day to pass along the great gift you, and countless other unnamed people, have shared with me.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sandy Relief

The response to the death and destruction caused on the eastern coast following Sandy has been strong and public. Federal and local responders have rushed to aid the survivors of this catastrophe and have made great progress helping to restore order and care for families affected by this storm.

American Baptists are responding to this tragedy as well. Funds from the One Great Hour of Sharing have already been committed to helping relieve some of the worst of this storm. Other organizations such as the Red Cross are also hard at work responding. Individuals interested in helping with relief can now make donations to a number of agencies involved with relief efforts.

Yet it is important for us to to be good stewards even with these donations. Before contributing to such an organization, it would be helpful to check into the organizations background to see how much of what you donate actually makes it to the people you are trying to assist. There are agencies out there that use funds you donate to cover costs of running an office, advertising and publicity, and sometimes even executive salaries. This means that sometimes less than 75% of what you give is actually used for the intended purpose.

Be informed. Ask questions. The One Great Hour of Sharing offering provides an opportunity for 100% of your donations to go toward relief of those affected by the storm. Additionally, American Baptists will not just care for those affected in the northeast, but all of those people affected in Haiti, Cuba, and the Caribbean. These areas feature many living below poverty and the savage nature of this storm can mean the difference between life and death.

Crooked Creek Baptist will be accepting gifts for the One Great Hour of Sharing:  Sandy Relief throughout the month of November.  Gifts can be marked in this manner and will be forwarded to help with both the short term and long term care and recovery of the regions affected by this terrible disaster.  Thanks to you for your prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in their time of need.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Now that our trip to South Africa is completed I have been trying to organize some overall thoughts about the trip and the experience of leadership that has affected the political, economical, and social lives of so many South Africans.  Even with the fall of apartheid, a racial system based on discrimination, there are strong lines between too many groups of people.

Apartheid had drawn strong lines between white, colored, and black people.  Even after the fall of apartheid, there still seems to be a strong line between these groups that is now drawn by economic status rather than race.  Poverty in this nation is extreme with the poor living in conditions where even such staples as clean water and sanitation are limited.  Employment opportunities are limited as are access to education, job training, and other vehicles to help improve the lives of these groups.  Corruption in the democratically elected government stifles many attempts to raise the standard of living.  To build a stronger South Africa, the untapped potential living in informal housing will need to be engaged.

In South Africa we heard a word from several of the different leaders with whom we visited.  This word is Ubuntu.  Ubuntu was defined to us as, "I am because we are" and stressed that no one person exists as an individual but always as part of a community.  If I demean someone, I also demean myself.  As one person's welfare rises or falls, my welfare is directly impacted.  I believe that this concept is one which has helped control the potential for violence in this nation.

As apartheid fell, a great deal of tension arose in the nation as a regime of racism, hatred, and fear drew to a close.  The challenge arose as these groups that had been target of the regime rose up to speak against the injustice they faced.  There is always danger when an oppressed people rise up and discover their strength.  The threat of reprisal, of vengeance, of inflamed righteous indignation was everywhere.  Its why a great a deal of credit needs to be given to the leadership that were able to help channel and control these emotions preventing a terrible backlash from plunging the nation into an even more violent and bloody time (It is important to note that there has been, and continues to be violence in South Africa.  Our group missed an opportunity to worship in a region where violence was a very real threat during a lorry strike that was taking place in the country).  As difficult as the transition has been in South Africa, it could have been much worse.

The concept of Ubuntu could be a mitigating factor in helping to control the violence in the nation.  The realization that the oppressor is also a slave to the system of fear has helped the people reach out to the ruling powers that have have denied justice for others.  There is a connection between oppressed and oppressor and a desire to liberate both groups from a system that would promote hate and intolerance.  I believe this may be the single greatest resource for the transition of South Africa.

And I believe it is also an important lesson that we living in the USA can take with us.  Our nation is still reeling from a strong economic recession.  The Occupy movement while quieted has revealed the disparity between the "haves" and the "have-nots" (By the way, by South African standards we are all pretty much haves in America).  One of my biggest concerns is with the increased sense of polarization in our society.  It is not enough to be a conservative or liberal now.  Our society has become fragmented to the point where it is difficult for us to discover or even talk about our shared community.  We even disagree over what the community is, the lines that create it, or our inter-connectedness in our communities.  We have very little understanding or appreciation for Ubuntu.  Republicans blast Democrats.  Liberals blame conservatives.  Paranoia and extremism clouds our views and understanding of so many issues.  In many ways, we have abandoned common sense for party loyalty.  We vilify the opposition because they are different from us.  When we do this, we abandon our sense of community and bring harm to our own self and to others.

Americans could use Ubuntu in their personal lives, in their communal lives, and in our financial world.  Honestly, I could not help seeing a strong parallel between this and the story line of "A Bug's Life"  What will we grasshoppers do when the ants wake up and realize that we need them as much as they need us?

Monday, October 22, 2012


Ok, on the fun side we had a great evening! We had about 3 hours out on safari and in that time saw elephants, zebra, white rhinos, impala, wildebeest, wart hogs, and red wildebeest. We are headed out tomorrow to look for the other 2 of the big 5- lions and jaguars!

The elephants we saw went right by our car! One walked up very close to me, as you can see. One other elephant walked to the front of the car, raised her trunk and waved it at us before walking off. It was an amazing experience!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Regina Mundi Church

This Sunday we visited this church where the service was conducted entirely in Zulu. The choir and congregation that sang was incredible! There was so much joy evident in this service! A huge building and a great attendance. We could use something else like this in the states...

Condoms for Catholics

Today we will be meeting with Bishop Kevin Dowling, a controversial bishop working near Johannesburg, South Africa. He happens to oversee a diocese with a large percentage of people with Aids (roughly 40%). To combat the spread of this disease Dowling has been urging the community that is sexually active to use condoms- not as birth control- but to save lives.

This should be an interesting meeting. And I should also add this should be my last post, at least from South Africa on South Africa. I do believe more will follow as we have time to process this amazing journey.

Stellenbosch University

One of the places we visited this week was the Stellenbosch University- where students are trained in the tradition of Dutch Reformed church. For the record, this is where the theological framework for supporting apartheid emerged as part of this tradition. Following the Second World War, the ideology of the National Socialist party from Germany moved south and found roots in the Afrikaner people, white Dutch settlers in South Africa. With the teaching coming out of the seminary, a justification for white superiority over people of color and of the indigenous people of Africa.

In other words, the Dutch Reformed church, and the University, were part of the architecture that led to apartheid.

That any form of the Church would be responsible for engendering this form of hate stains the entirety of our Christian faith and serves as a reminder of how easily our faith traditions can be subverted.

In the course of apartheid almost every Christian denomination outside of the Dutch Reformed church were told to abandon fellowship with this group, isolating the seminary and pastors from fellowship.

After the fall of Apartheid, the Christian denominations gathered in South Africa met to begin the theological groundwork for the recovery of the nation. As a gesture of goodwill they invited members of the Dutch reformed church to this gathering.

It was a tense moment at the meeting until a representative from this tradition rose and addressed the assembly. In this address they admitted the errors of apartheid and confessed that they had been wrong in its instigation. They confessed the evil of apartheid and renounced it as an ideology.

The gathered leaders were amazed. Desmond Tutu then came to the podium and said, "I don't know about you... But in my tradition if someone confesses their sin, I have to forgive them."

Stellenbosch University continues to train and educate students and pastors for work in South Africa. It is my hope that they might continue to help set right what was such a great wrong in this nation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Standing on Holy Ground

Yesterday we visited with the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town- the successor to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. Actually this is the second Archbishop to follow Tutu. It was humbling to realize that a man responsible for the spiritual life of such a vast and expansive group of people would take an hour out to speak with 17 Indiana pastors.

I have been impressed by some of the people we have met this week, but found that there was a aura of holiness around this man that was compelling. At the end out meeting he prayed for us and then pronounced a blessing- a simple benediction, and something happened inside me that almost brought on tears! It was such a moving experience for me. My roommate for this trip, a Disciples of Christ pastor, agreed with me.

Following this we had an opportunity to view the private chapel of the archbishop. One of the staff members told us Desmond Tutu spent 2 hours there every morning praying. From time to time he would disappear and no one on his staff could find him. They learned that when that happened he was back in the chapel and should not be disturbed. Great men seek God's Presence..

And now for something completely different

Having been in South Africa for several days now I though it might be of some help to post some of what we have come to understand about this nation and people. It's probably important to note that in no way should this be considered factual or even too accurate given our limited view and time in this country, but here are some observations.

When asking for the final bill eating out, you ask for the book, not the check.

You always greet someone with the time of day(good morning) not a simple "hello" or "hi"

There is a wide disparity between the wealthy and the poor in South Africa. 5% of the people possess about 95% of the wealth.

The coast of Cape Town is beautiful... See picture below

Americans are spoiled when it come to unlimited phone service. This week we are limited to 35 minutes of wifi access through our hotel and 1 hour at the local McDonalds- where no one seems to eat except tourists.

There is a deep, expansive level of respect in this nation for the people who spoke out and suffered under the apartheid regime. We saw it with Ahmed Kathrada, Mpho Tutu, and with the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Even with the fall of apartheid there is still a pretty strong class system here with the whites on top, followed by colored people (non-black) and then blacks. There is some room for movement now among these groups.

iPhone cords can handle the 220 volts from the outlets here. A Nook cord can not. Nothing damaged.. Just not helpful.

Mango juice is so sweet, I can hardly drink it.

African beef tastes awesome! Whatever grass they feed their cattle makes a huge difference in flavor.

Yes, I've tried warthog, kudu, ostrich, and crocodile- all of which tastes excellent. Springbok is my next hope.

Boike, which was an Afrikaaner traditional meal was very similar to beef stew, substituting warthog for beef.

South Africa reflects a very diverse group of people from the native South Africans, Influences from the Dutch and British and also the Afrikaans.

I really need someone to explain cricket to me. Not much of this makes sense. But a game that literally takes all day seems like a lot to me. Sports in South Africa seem to consist of rugby, cricket, and football (soccer)

African people we encounter appear to know much more about what is happening inside our country than we do about theirs.

There are simple switches on all South African power outlets that turn on and off these outlets. Why don't we have these in America?

I have a sneaking suspicion our 2nd bus driver hates Americans from the way he drove. He might not like too many South Africans either.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Visiting Robben Island

There is something amazing happening as I listen to Ahmed Kathrada speak about the time he spent imprisoned on this island along with Nelson Mandela for speaking against the Apartheid Regime. He spoke of how Mandela spent 14 years in prison before he was even given a bed to sleep upon, how their visitation was limited to one letter of 500 words and one visitor every 6 months, and of the distinction made between people of white (privileged), colored (non- black skinned), and blacks- a distinction that still seems prevalent in South Africa.

To understand that these men spent the better part of their lives isolated from society as political prisoners, and their response to these injustices that focus on healing and reconciliation is amazing to me! The humility with which Mr. Kathrada spoke belied his influence in a nation still struggling to find justice and peace for South Africans!

Even with the end of apartheid, there is still much work to do in this nation where being white is still very much a position of privilege and wealth. And I believe that there is much we can learn from this resistance to injustice that Mandela and others stand for in this country.

1. Oppressive systems and the people that exploit them also live a life in chains.

2. I can never be free unless we can be free. The freedom of an individual is integrally connected to the freedom of the collective. To deny one is to prevent the other.

3. There is a way to share the steps forward into this shared freedom that are rooted in love, reconciliation, and peace.

Pictured below is Ahmed Kathrada alongside Dr. Raymond Williams, director of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.

The next picture is of the outdoor recreation space for Mandela and 7 other political prisoners who were not allowed to associate with the other criminals at the prison- they were kept in isolation and not allowed newspapers or any contact with the outside world.

The third picture is a blow up detailing the differences between prisoners who were colored from blacks. If you can read this you will see how colored people were permitted more sugar for their coffee than black prisoners. Even in prison, white prisoners had privilege over others.

The 4th photo shows the actual cell where Mandela spent the majority of his 26 years of imprisonment.

The rise of Apartheid

One of the most disconcerting discoveries on our trip to Cape Town, South Africa is the suggested root of the rise of apartheid in this nation. Following the end of the Second World War, many European immigrated out of the area and settled in South Africa. They brought with them some of the ideas of their culture which included a belief in the superiority of white people. This idea took root and developed into what would become the Apartheid Movement that would dominate the country for years. Even today, 18 years later, there is a strong disparity between white people of privilege and the colored-blacks who mostly live in poverty. We seem to have a recurring theme in America of the have and the have-nots and South Africa follows this trend with maybe 5% of the population controlling 95% of the nations wealth.

Even attempts to stimulate the economy have failed as these attempts serve the interests of the wealthy instead of the poor.

Listening to this issue led me to connections with the issues in America where we still have in mind the demonstrations of Occupy Wall Street and other sites. The solutions to these two countries does not seem to be on the close horizon but there is developing a sense of urgency from the unrest in the lower classes.

It might be that by pooling resources we can find ways to address these issues before a terrible class war develops.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Change of Plans

We were unable to drive into one of the districts around Cape Town due to the threat of violence from a striking union, so we made some changes to the schedule and took a tour around the city with our bus driver.

Our driver shared with us that he had once been a police officer under the Apartheid Regime. He shared how he was paired with a man of color while on duty. By law he was not allowed to be friends with this man, visit his house, or socialize in any way. And yet they were asked to trust one another to watch each others back.

As part of this tour we stopped by St George's Cathedral, where we found this sign. In the same area we found benches from that time that were marked for whites or people of color, like the one in this picture.

We are looking forward to a meeting tomorrow with Achmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned on Robben Island in the same cell with Nelson Mandela. One of the comments we heard today was that the older people who suffered under Apartheid were able to forgive better than the younger people who suffered.

So tomorrow I believe we will have much more to report around healing and reconciliation.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Arriving in Cape Town

We have arrived safely after a grueling 20 hours in the air. The lodge where we are staying is called the Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge.

We just found out that our scheduled trip tomorrow morning to a township worship service had been canceled due to a lorry drivers strike and the threat of violence associated with this.

So at the recommendation of the police we will not be traveling to a local township at least tomorrow.

Welcome to South Africa!

Sunday, October 7, 2012


On Friday I will be leaving for a 12 day trip to South Africa as part of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. It is my intent to post daily here about our experiences on this trip.

Below is a rock labyrinth set up that we had occasion to walk last year as part of our trip to Tucson, AZ. It is a reminder to focus, center ourself with Christ as that Center.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shades of Hate

When I was growing up, I learned of the idea of something called a Shade.  This was a creature that existed as a shadow- a real life type of shadow of evil that with a chilling touch could destroy a person.  They were more dangerous than the undead and difficult to find as they could hide in any shadow.

I have come to believe that maybe these Shades are not as imaginary as I was led to believe.  For I think there are shades of hate all around us:

1.  In the minority of people who complain that our President is not American or a Christian.  In spite of evidence contrary to both these statements there are people who are mistrustful of our government and its current leadership.  I believe they use these statements to presume that Obama is less of a human being... as if being Muslim and un-American is sinful or wrong in some way.  There is a shadow here of hatred, a shade of mistrust in people with this attitiude.

2.  On both sides of the gay marriage issue.  People who oppose legalizing gay marriage are immediately labeled as homophobic, ignorant and intolerant.  On the other side people are called demonic, perverted, and anti-Christian or anti-Biblical.  Very little is talked about the ability to respectfully disagree. 

There are more example that could be named on other topics.  The concern I share is how quickly we seem as a nation and as individuals to label someone with whom we disagree as wrong, evil, or worse.  The insidious mark of hate colors us all and stains our spirit with the cold touch of death. 

I find it hard to reconcile these forms of hate with the gospel message of Christ.  How does our understanding of the call from Christ impact our understanding of those with whom we are in disagreement?  How can we lovingly disagree with others and where is the line drawn for this disagreement.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Dramatic Ministry

In the time my family has returned to the Indianapolis area we have re-discovered our love of musical theater- specifically community theater.  It has been a great source of release for all of us from the stress of work, family, etc... in the times we get to pretend to be other people and sing our troubles away.  In developing my professional and personal goals for 2012 one of the specific commitments I made was to be a part of at least 2 different shows in the year, a goal I am happy to say I have reached.  For me, theater is a important spiritual and emotional release for me.  I love the chance to step outside of my normal person and play someone else who may or may not be such a great person.  I love being a part of something magical that happens on stage with all my cast-mates, tech people, and staff.  I find my fellow actors and musicians to be a pleasant cross section of a community that I might not ever get to meet otherwise and find that some of my closest friends currently are from our community theater family.

Something else has happened to me since our return to this area.  In many ways I have come to consider myself the pastor/spiritual caregiver to this community of musical theater.  I am pretty sure there is not another professional minister in the area also involved in theater.  I have no statistics to back up these observations but I find that around 90% of the people I encounter in this community do not attend religious services regularly if at all.  Around 75% of them do not have any kind of spiritual relationship with Christ.  Even worse, there appears to be an inherent level of distrust about religious entities in this community and folks are usually shocked when in our friendship they find that I am a professional minister.

And so, by what I consider to be a sort of divine appointment, I feel that I have been called to minister with and to such a community.  The artistic abilities and interests of these folks (again this is only anecdotal observations) tend to marginalize them from other social circles.  Artistic people tend to view the world differently from those inclined with other gifts and their appreciation for art in its various forms takes top priority for their life and their dealings.

I know of very few religious communities attempting to minister to these starving artists.  And make no mistake, they are starving.  While some are working out an existence in the pursuit of their love others have caved in to the demands of life and taken secular work.  They share a common theme with the rest of our nation (and local community) in that they are striving against isolation.  Being artistic in many ways heightens this sense of isolation as their approach to the world is so different.  Even though we think of these talented musicians and actors as a community in many ways it is an unfair label on a wide and diverse group of beautiful, wonderful people.  What they have in common is their appreciation for art, music, poetry and prose, etc...  but even in their appreciation everyone responds differently.  It leads me to wonder if there is no other group that feels such a great deal of segregation as artists. 

It is into this community that I believe the truth about God needs to be shared.  I know of very few churches who would consider community theater to be such a group and find some of those who do have a very limited appreciation for such artists.  It leads me to ask:  Who did Jesus minister to during his time on the earth?  The marginalized people in society- then they were lepers, sinners, the demon-possessed... here and now one group (and I will admit there are many more) are artists.  Should we not be sharing the good news about the present Kingdom of God with the lost?  Jesus came to this earth so that God could reveal that Divine presence and show us that it is real and really connected with creation and particularly with us as human beings.  Those people who entertain us, who sing and dance and emote their hearts out give us such a gift with their talent.  Is it not possible for us to give them something in return?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

And now for a little perspective...

Now that the boycott/kiss-in of the Chick-Fil-A controversy has had some time to calm and we have a new tragedy with the shooting in Wisconsin by a member of a white supremacist hate group I thought it might be helpful to re-visit this incident to discover if there is anything we can learn, and more importantly, anything we can do different to help defuse the intensity of the emotions around gay rights/homophobia and free speech/conservative Christian businessmen. There are lessons here for each opposing viewpoint from this conflict. The first is one of understanding: Not all Conservative Evangelicals hate gay people. The turnout for the support day was, and we have to remember this is from their perspective, simply a chance to eat some rather tasty chicken while supporting a fellow Christian with whom they shared an important value. It was a chance to stand up for the freedom to voice their own opinion. Now, I have read several pieces written by gay men and women who have voiced their own emotional response to this support day, but we also have to remember that much of our world is built around our own worldview. We can not ignore the pleas from gay people who feel threatened by this day. However, not everyone who went to eat chicken did so with the thought in their heart, "I hate gay people, and by eating here today I get the chance to show them how much I hate them." It is important for the gay community to recognize this reality, as not everyone who believes homosexuality is a sin promotes or condones hate. From the perspective of this group, this was really about freedom of speech. Never mind about the information that surfaced about groups that Chick-Fil-A supports. Never mind about comments from the Family Research Council or other groups. This event, to many of this community, was simply about the rights of one man to step up and say what he felt was right. The focus was on a very narrow, regimented, disciplined topic and any discussion outside of this was simply a distraction to the heart of the point: Free speech. Any conversation beyond the scope of free speech would be dismissed as it moved beyond the topic of this group into different realms that are not as cut and dried, right and wrong. Focus of the Family, one of the groups targeted by gay rights proponents is not an anti-gay hate group in the eyes of the religious right. They are proponents for healthy, happy marriages and work towards that end. To label this group as such creates enmity and a desire to defend this organization. The fact that some of this group's activities are not in the best interests of the gay community are not acknowledged as the focus is so narrow. Which is exactly where the defenders of gay rights immediately moved. In the resulting uproar information came to light about some of the groups that Chick-Fil-A supports. Some of the people involved with these groups have lobbied, spoken, and acted to convince the gay population that they are not even tolerated- they are hated and a target for discrimination. When Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council advocates outlawing homosexual behavior this community can legitimately feel threatened. From this behavior, the gay community simply connected the dots back from such statements to a supporting organization and therefore all of the people who patronize such businesses. This is not some fabrication of the gay community to scream "Discrimination" this is a very real connection between people eating chicken and groups that seek to discriminate against them. Until these conservatives admit, "Yes, we see how in some ways some people are actively supporting hate of the gay community and this is wrong." that gay community will be suspicious. Its a form of guilt by association: one conservative Christian might not hate gay people, but in their association with people that do they are both influenced and affected by the hate/discrimination of the ones that do. It also does not address the latent forms of negativity that too many conservative Christians wish to ignore. "I think homosexuality is wrong, but I know and am friends with several gay people." To the person making this statement this expresses their love for the gay community. To others, it reveals a deeper level of ignorance about how insidious hate can be. The shooting in Wisconsin reveals how this association works. The Sikh community understands that there is a large difference between a white supremacist and most white Christians. The Christian community understands that white supremacists do not speak for the majority of Christians in this country. Even with this realization both groups are now living with increased tension- one from grief and fear from more violence, one over guilt and fear of more violence. It appears that the two sides in this Chick-Fil-A debate are having parallel conversations that do not intersect. Each side was frustrated by the others lack of dialogue without realizing the points of intersection that are and remain possible. Where was the ownership of extremist viewpoints on both sides of this matter? Where was the search for common cause and ground? Both sides showed little or no sympathy for the legitimate emotional stakes of each party in this conflict. This does not invalidate the position of either side of this debate. Both sides and many of the degrees of these sides have important points to make and consider. Until we as Americans can truly listen to one another we will continue to talk to one another on different telephone lines wondering why the other party is not responding. Incidentally, I think it important to say that in discussions with my own family we have decided to discontinue any patronage of Chick-Fil-A, and have begun to do what we can to investigate the activities of other businesses as well. But at the same time, we recognize that not everyone who has decided to continue their trips do so with malice and intent to harm in their hearts of actions. My plea is a simple one: Do you understand what happens to the investment you make by visiting such a store and are you will to stand up with these groups in their extreme viewpoints?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's not really about freedom of speech!

The topic of Chick-Fil-A and their recent statements on marriage has caused an uproar in media and on social websites. Yesterday there were long lines at the restaurants here in Indy from people who felt a need to voice their support for the chain and its stance on what Dan Cathy calls traditional Biblical marriage. Tangent: Traditional Biblical marriage? I am sure he is referring to way that women were bought and sold from father to husband as depicted in Scriptures (Isaac, Jacob, Samson, and even Mary to Joseph). Women were viewed as property in this culture and had little or no rights. He can call it whatever he wants to call it, but this is not a model currently practiced by the majority of Americans or too many Christians. But in his defense, he does have a right to believe as he does and speak his mind. Even if what he says is misinformed or misconstrued. One can wonder about the shock of the American people when asking a known conservative Christian businessman about a topic such as this that he would provide a conservative Christian answer. What else could we expect? I would also point out that boycotting Chick-Fil-A for their homophobia is a little ironic in the sense that we buy oil daily from Arab nations that put known homosexuals to death. Want to boycott buying gasoline and all the other products derived from petroleum? However, and here is where I find the major crux of this issue, there is information that has come out about some of the organizations and their homophobic activities. This is no longer about the right of an American businessman to voice his opinion on gay marriage. His business contributes to known anti-gay hate groups. Hate. What part of the Christian faith says its OK to hate a group of people with whom we disagree?
The issue is no longer one of personal opinion or our understanding and application of Scripture. It is one of hate and bigotry. The fact that Chick-Fil-A claims to operate under Christian principles and promote hate is why my family will discontinue our patronage. We refuse to contribute to any organization that will promote such values. As believers in a God of Love, can we in good conscience, continue to support hating people with whom we disagree? Is this the model Christ left for us with his death on the cross?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Violence to Solve Violence?

Is violence really the solution to violence? Does arming American citizens to defend themselves in movie theaters to protect themselves really sound like an answer? Or does it simply provide the formula for an OK Corral shootout surrounded by innocent lives? How can we, as believers in a God of Love, respond to this call for violence to solve violence? The model Christ left us as a victim of violence might be one helpful solution to consider. Rather than respond to violence with more violence Jesus chose a different path. He told Peter to put away the sword, submitted to the soldiers who arrested him and to the political powers that ordered his crucifixion. In that sacrifice he transformed creations relationship with the Divine. And now today, in this "Christian" nation there are calls for vengeance and escalation of violence. Give this Colorado shooter the death penalty, arm more American citizens with handguns to protect and defend themselves (Do unarmed citizens get a chance to refuse such protection from these gun carrying people?), increase security in places where people naturally congregate such as movie theaters, athletic events, etc... Christ did not solve the answer with, "Go ahead, punk... make my day." What is our duty, our call from Christ in the face of such violence? How can/should we respond?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sowing liberally

In preparation for a message this Sunday I was struck over and over by the liberal sowing of the Word that Jesus mentions in the parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20. If you recall the story, the farmer sows seed on the path where birds eat it, rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. The story has many implications that relate to God as the Sower and the teachings Jesus is sharing with the disciples (and the readers of Mark) but what I found myself drawn to was the willingness of the sower to liberally and without concern spread the seed in places where little return would be expected. When one considers the human element of this story, does it not strike as more amazing. Do we spend enough time considering the abundance of God's Word? It is so great that God would foolishly spread it over different kinds of soil when only one type could be expected to yield a return. What does this story tell us about the sharing of God's love to the world? What does it reveal about the abundance and power of God's love that seems to only grow in that sharing? In a world concerned with a shrinking economy, limitations among our natural resources, the quest for sustainable energy, and localized drought (where I currently live), how amazing is it to hear about the abundant bounty of God's grace and love liberally shared with everyone regardless of what kind of "soil" we consider them? It might be time for us to invest more in the richness of God's love and the resources this love makes possible..

Thursday, February 23, 2012


We all grieve in our own way. Everyone does so differently. Consider this part of the process for me.

A couple of nights ago, my wife's Uncle Matt was at a grocery store that was close to our home. I am not sure about all of the details in this incident but at some point a man hit the car in which Matt was riding with his hand. Matt got out of the car and this began a verbal confrontation. This man then resulted to physical violence, striking Matt on the head with his hand/arm. That one blow was enough to immediately send Matt to the ground.

He was rushed to the hospital where surgeons worked to alleviate the bleeding in his brain. They called the surgery successful in removing a clot and towards alleviating the bleeding. Later they found that Matt had suffered a massive stroke, damaging a large portion of his brain. Other complications set in and were uncontrollable. Last night around 11:30 p.m., Matt died. He was 50 years old.

The detective working on this case explained that the man who struck Matt was not a violent person. Although he had a small criminal record nothing was serious or dangerous, in the opinion of this investigator. His decision to hurt Matt was not made in self defense.

And now, two men, two families, are forever changed.

Now Matt's wife must learn to deal with having watched her own husband struck down right in front of her. She has to overcome sitting in a hospital room watching as her husband slowly passed away. Matt's parents are now having to say goodbye to a second child (no one should EVER have to bury one child, let alone 2), all within about a year. Matt's friends and family and all the people who love Matt have been wounded in spirit with his passing.

Now also consider the man who committed this act. He was already facing criminal charges for his action, and now Matt's death will increase the severity of those charges. He must also now live with the knowledge that his angry attack has caused another man his life. I have no idea how this will affect this man's spirit, but cannot imagine he could not be affected by taking another man's life.

The more I study Scripture the more I discover about what it means to have the love of God in my life. This kind of love leads me to develop a certain sense of respect for all life. We are created holy, and as such, should regard other life as equally holy. When we chose violence, and let me make no mistake here the man who hit Matt chose to be violent, we damage not only the object of our violence but also our own nature. We take that which is beautifully and wonderfully made and we damage that aspect of God's creation. But the act also affects us as human beings.

It is a blight upon our own soul. And one from which we can not easily heal. Whether we are the one who makes such a choice, the victim, or a concerned party to either of these, we are affected. As a man who spends a great deal of his time talking and thinking about God's love for us, it is amazing to me to find how quickly and easily something like violence can hurt so many people.

Now, I understand a bit about the grieving process having been through what I consider to be too many times. I am aware of where I am an am not in this process. I believe God to be equally wounded by this senseless tragedy and suffers along with us all. I believe this is why (though not exhaustively why) Jesus suffered on the cross. Jesus died to redeem the world from the scourge of violence such as this.

Tomorrow that may mean more to me than it does today. For now, I grieve over what violence has cost so many people.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Death of the Church

Acts 5 tells an interesting story about Ananias and Sapphira. This is the couple who sold a piece of property and agreed to withhold some of the proceed when they brought it to the disciples for distribution. Ananias was challenged by Peter, who explained that Ananias had not lied to him, but to God. The resulting revelation led to Ananias' death. Later his wife came in and met the same fate because she too could not be honest before God.

Now, as easy as this statement is to link to a story on tithing and stewardship before God, I also believe that its a lesson that the modern, established church would do well to remember and re-visit. I always wonder what made this unfortunate couple decide to withhold part of this gift. Were they worried? Scared? Selfish? Was there a lack of faith? In some ways I think all of these issues helped contribute to their foolish decision. Holding back from God, whatever part of ourself that we do whether financial, physical, or emotional seems to be a path that will lead us toward death.

And yet, I am afraid that this is exactly what some of our current churches do. Especially those "establishment" churches that have long and sometimes grand histories (at least in their opinion). There is an ongoing question being asked in the fellowships today of how to increase our membership. How can we get young people to come and support our local church. (This is true for other organizations as well, not just church.) I would offer that this question is closer to the thought process of Ananias and Sapphira, and is a dangerous question for a church to tolerate.

For what is at the heart of such a question: How can we get people come to church? Church seems to be the focus of this question, lifted up as the paramount goal of such a person/community. What is important in this question is the survival of the local church in whatever form the questioner perceives it. Most important to the questioner is the state of this "church". There is more to it than this, the questioner is also asking, "How can I get people to come and support something that is important to me so that they can help me preserve and extend this entity that is so important to me?" See the issue here?

This question reveals a self-interested goal. It exposes the selfish nature of survival. How can I preserve that which is important to me, and how can I convince others that this is so important that they should agree with me and work to help preserve it? Is there any wonder why this question is usually asked by a dying church. I believe this is a question that the contemporary Ananias would ask. Its hard to condemn such a question since it could that this comes out of one's own fear and concern for the local church. There is an aspect of love in trying to preserve something so important that others too might have a chance to respond to the blessings of church life.

So while I will indict the questioner for such a question, I will not indict the love they have for others. Yet we must come to understand the fruitless nature of such a conversation. Asking how others might come to help us runs contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ who came to serve and not be served. The Great Commission holds nothing in it about building large buildings and convincing others to help preserve them. Our call is to go and make disciples...

In the messages I have shared with our local church family I have invited them to turn the idea of bringing people to church on its head. Instead, we talk of bringing church to the people: to our families, our schools, our jobs, and our community. What we are really called to do is share this life changing love of God through Jesus Christ with those outside of our building. Our charge is to make this love known to people by caring for them, serving them, and thinking about them and their needs. A church who asks people to come to worship is revealing a selfish nature. A church who sends people out to care is living the gospel.

What would happen if our members were challenged to do something good for someone this week? Ask our bakers to bake a nice dessert or treat and deliver it to a neighbor for no other reason than to be neighborly? For us to offer a neighbor a helping hand even if it is something as simple as carrying in groceries for them, sweeping off a sidewalk, or making a delivering a casserole to a single mom and her family? And not to do so with an invitation to our church's service or with a tract about how to become a Christian- when we do this it makes the gift more about the giver than the gifted.

Its a simple piece to the puzzle but an important one. Let people know that they are important to God, loved by God, and that God has their best interests in mind.

When we ask people to come to our church. We ask them to believe a lie that we are more interested in them than our own self. This behavior, this mindset is what continues to paralyze and erode the established church.

And yet, we serve a God who specializes in resurrection. For every sin we make, every mistake we confess there always remains forgiveness and reconciliation. Though we might appear to be dying, the promise of Christ leads us to life in greater abundance. It is not too late to rescue this dying breed of church life. There is hope in the midst of decay that those who serve God will find life. But it will not be found in trying to rescue it out of can only be found when we surrender it to our Savior.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bad "Church"

Just recently I heard of a young man who, in the depths of his despair, took his own life. In an attempt to help others make sense of this tragic news a separate person, completely unrelated to the events, made a comment that their church teaches that people who commit suicide go to Hell. And yet by the tone of the delivery of this statement it was obvious the person thought they were being helpful.

Now, my first response is to start a long discussion about the concept of Hell and all of the non-Biblical connections that have popped up over many centuries. Maybe some day we can talk about this more.

More importantly to me, is the fear that there are people in our world, nation, and even communities who believe that there is some sort of Biblical statement about suicide and Hell. Let me be clear in my understanding: THERE IS NOT!! I always wonder how this value can be connected to Scripture. In all my studies and reading of Scripture I have yet to find anyone condemned to any version of Hell for the taking of one's own life.

A weak argument might be made from referencing the 10 Commandments, specifically the commandment about not committing murder. I can see that the taking of one's life could be construed as murder, and therefore might agree that this is a break with God's command and desire for us as human beings. But if we are going to start claiming that violating this commandment is a way to punch your one way ticket to the Underworld, then how do we deal with the other 9 statements held together with this one? Is a violation of any of these statements an eternal death sentence?

Even more important to this discussion is the absence of any statement about the consequences for such a violation. Later in the law there are some explanation about how to treat these individuals within the framework of society, but there is never any eternal damnation statement there either (even more problematic to this is the lack of Hell in Jewish theology...Sheol is not the same as our Christian view of Hell).

On the other side, and from within the Christian framework, we have other statements that seem to offer us a different perspective. Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, states that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is Jesus Christ. In his largely rhetorical statement he mentions that not even death can do this. Does Paul believe that God's ability to love us is greater than the power of death and transcends even this Great Mystery? It would appear so.

Jesus himself makes a statement about the forgiveness of sins. All sins will be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Is suicide blasphemy? Would it have been considered so in Jesus' time? Then how could we claim that it is now. So if Paul, the most prolific author of the New Testament and Jesus, the very Son of God would claim that love is greater even than death and that all sins (with one exception) could be forgiven then how can we lay claim that suicide victims go to Hell. Are we qualified to make such a statement in light of another command to judge not, lest we be judged.

And then how would we respond to all of the people in the world who are, as we speak, participating in habits (or refraining from good habits) that would help them live healthier lives. Are they also not in a way taking the same steps, yet on a slower pace?

Too many people whom I have loved dearly have taken their own lives forcefully. In every case these have not been rotten wicked people. They have been wonderful, love sharing, beautiful, talented people who in a state of depression, shock, and fear made one bad decision. But this decision does not invalidate all of the love shared or the fact that they made a formal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Their deaths have brought grief to friends, families, and loved ones. Grief because these men are loved!

For me, this boils down to one simple understanding of faith: Do we believe that God's ability to love us is greater than our ability to sin?

If the answer is yes then we have hope for our lives in the future as well as in the present. This faith can be a transformation of body, mind, and spirit. If we say no, then why are we Christian? The futility would be staggering.

I believe that there are enough bad "churches" or communities of people passing judgment on others and condemning them to all kinds of terrible places. Please do not let yourself become one of them and share incorrect information with others about God's love and our Savior Jesus Christ!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our McAlister's Manager

I do not make a big secret that one of my favorite dining places for lunch is McAlister's Deli. I love the food, and have even spotted a celebrity there (Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts). Since I visit regularly I have gotten to know a lot of the staff that serve there. I have not really ever talked to them about what I do for a living, but I thought I had tipped my hand by my choice of reading books that usually come with me to lunch.

Recently, one of the managers who works there asked me if he could talk to me for a moment... He sat down with me and shared some of his personal story and asked me a simple questions about a phrase he had heard mentioned the other day (prayer warrior...he did not understand that phrase)... After I explained what I could of this idea he then shared with me a desire to re-kindle his spiritual life and asked me about my church.

I was happy to share with him my love for its people...of how kind and caring I found them. He then surprised me by asking what our pastor was like...
I was amused. I told him our pastor was a bit long winded and sometimes talked too much.. He saw the gleam in my eye and then asked me if I was the pastor. I admitted my calling to the Crooked Creek Baptist Community.

I shared this story at church on Sunday morning and used this story to remind our members that sometimes the best testimony we can make is with the life we live. Something about the way I conducted myself in those frequent lunch visits impressed that manager enough that he felt comfortable in asking me questions about faith. I was honored by his expressed confidence in my character (Remember the old prayer: Lord please me the person my dog thinks I am).

As I reflect upon this more I realize that there is more to this story. For I believe that everyone has a "McAlister's Manager" in their life. Watching them. Judging them (fair or not, this happens). We have a chance every day to live out our faith in Jesus Christ- our Savior every day! And we have the chance to affect others with our actions and by our lifestyle. Our faith is not just something we believe is something we act upon. And this faith of action can have a long and lasting impact upon those we encounter in EVERY aspect of our life.

Who is watching us right now? Who can we impact with the good news about Jesus Christ. A good news that does not only mean new life for us, but also offers the possibility of new life for the McAlister's manager.