A Great Nation

This past March the students and I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. on a seminar by the General Board of Church and Society on Human Trafficking.  There were so many things that struck us at the time, both the things that were disillusioning like walking into the Senate chamber and only 3 Senators being in there and the things that were truly moving like many of the war memorials that we saw.

The thing that was most hard for us to understand was how our houses of Congress work now.  I had never been on a tour of the Capitol building before and it was really neat to see the sculptures and history.  It was really cool going under the ground in the little cars made by Walt Disney.  It was amazing that our Senator’s office squeezed us in under short notice and that we got such a great tour.

It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen to witness an empty room with three Senators going back and forth over air quality and asthma and  these Senators primarily talking to the camera because there wasn’t hardly anyone else in there to hear them.  I understand what the aid said that these days our Congress people get briefed in the mornings and evenings and the transcripts are given to them and they are pretty much told how to vote in their briefings.  I also understood when he said that today our Congress people have to work hard with their constituencies taking meetings and working on those things during the day so that they can get re-elected.  I get that getting to that place is not easy and I’m sure it takes a lot of money and support and you’ve got to keep the people that give you those happy.  I get that.

What I don’t get is why we keep letting this broken system survive without all saying, “Enough.”  This is ridiculous.  I’ve heard most of my life that you’ve got to work in the system to change the system and I get that.  You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with and sometimes be able to speak the language so that change can happen.  But we are also called to be in the world and not of it.  We can be in the system and understand the system, but we don’t have to be one of the people sucked into it and trying to make it survive without glance at justice or mercy or ethics or even some good ole character and integrity.

I’m not talking about pointing fingers and blaming this group or that group or this person or that person for all of our problems.  I’m not talking about demonizing some of our fellow Americans even if we may completely disagree with them and think x, y, z about them.  The bottom line is that we are all in this TOGETHER.  We don’t need to waste our time trying to pit people against one another.  We don’t need to waste our time blaming all of our problems big and small on a select party or group or body.  We need to work at solutions, asking the right questions, having a dialogue with one another, figuring out ways that we can live it out with or without the support of the powers that be.

I realize that power is a precarious thing and I know that nothing is ever “that” simple, but I would love to see leaders that lead.  Not just when it’s popular.  Not just the party line.  (Either party.)  Not just what you’re told.  But what you think.  What you have discerned.  What you have wrestled with.

I know that Washington is not just a movie – it’s not just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The American President, Air Force One, or even the President’s speech in Independence Day.  But we’ve got to do something here.  In this nation that seems more and more divided.  In a place where unemployment is growing and I have more and more students graduating without finding jobs and more and more coming in barely making it through on loans and what little they can make on part-time jobs and not even enough money for raman noodles.

The thing that most moved me in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial.  Reading those words on either side, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and the face of a Congress that even then was working on a budget – was a powerful contrast.  There’s no way we’re more divided now than we were then and yet the words of Lincoln ring out.  “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

We may not be a nation warring with each other but it is time to bind up the wounds of our people.  When it is clear that many of our children are going hungry.  Many parents are wondering how to provide.  Our churches and organizations that are working to clothe and feed and help educate and give shelter, have more than enough work to last a lifetime and the numbers are doubling and tripling and growing by leaps and bounds.  Do I think all of the responsibility lies in Washington?  No.  Do I think it all depends on a President to shape the course?  No.  But I think it’s a start.  There are unsung heroes all around and I know that God’s people are faithful and that the words of Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God are words that many are living by not by just words but with their lives.

When I think about that nation that I believe in, this crazy idea of America, of freedom, of representation by the people for the people, I don’t think of trillions of dollars spent on defense.  I don’t think about loop holes or pork barrel spending or people after their own wealth or power.  I don’t think of people wasting time talking to the media or to the rich and wealthy in their districts.  I think about the men and women who have fought to make this freedom a reality.  I think of those who live their lives every day with grace and mercy and selfless service.  Not people that are going to cram an ideology or there own culture onto someone else.

I pray for people to step up in conscience and discernment.  I pray for people that will say, “Enough.”  I pray for people who go back to their roots of what this country was founded upon, of what truly makes us a great nation – not a superpower, but a great nation that has character and respect.  I pray for the people hanging in the balance of some of these programs and spending and I pray that we as faith communities step up and see how we can reach out across our communities and lead the way.  I pray that we will open ourselves up to the One who knows all of our needs and who can direct our course, to the One who doesn’t just bless America, but seeks to be in community and relationship with the whole world.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Speech on The American President

What would “A Great Nation” look like to you?  What do we as a church do to step up ready to work and to grow and to fight in this battle for justice and mercy?  (Yes, I know I used the word – “fight” – because at this point I feel like we’ve got to dig in and take action no matter what the opposition or what the cop out.)

But Mostly Me…

Y’all know I’m a lover of Broadway and with all of the Tony’s it received Sunday night – I’m not the only one who thinks The Book of Mormon is one of the funniest and heart-felt musicals to hit Broadway in a while.

The story follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham as they are sent to Uganda, Africa.  Elder Price really had his heart set on Orlando, but they’re sent to Uganda.  All sorts of hilarity as well as the tension of real issues of faith, theodicy and how to deal with the crud of life ensues.

One of the songs at the beginning of the musical that highlights Elder Price’s being the shining star of all things and his belief that he’s going to rock anything he does is called “You and Me (But Mostly Me).”  I think it says a ton about how we see ourselves in ministry sometimes.  Rev. Bob Howell during his leadership seminar during Annual Conference talked about the Lone Ranger who have heard about a ton in the old model of ministry.  In the midst of an election year, there’s always a bit of the sense of self-promotion or arrogance or those type words that get thrown around.  Thoughts like – but I’m smarter than the person or have put more years of service in or have a harder appointment or would study harder or would be more balanced or am wiser than so and so.  There’s a sense of competition or a if this person gets this, what does that say about me kind of thing that takes place sometimes.  I don’t entirely know how we combat that, but I feel like a lot of it is setting a tone that we are all in this together and that it’s for the good of the church.

Who wouldn’t want to be the one to do this big thing???  That’s sort of what the song is saying.  But you know – how much more powerful and contagious is an entire movement???  I don’t see the GC and JC folks we elected as having these shiny halos or spotlights on them like movie stars, but as servants of the church that stepped up and who are making decisions in the church with all of us.  The thing about the present and future of our church whether you’re a death tsunami-er or a let’s die to live person or a let’s just get the Spirit of God moving and continue growing into what it means to be Church-er, we all want the same thing.  Or at least I hope we are.  I don’t care if one person or a body of people or what I’d like – a movement of people – begin this renewal, reformation, outpouring of the Spirit, commitment to prayer, spiritual practices and the scripture – putting it all into action.  We just need to do it.  To live it.  To breathe it.  To commit to it.  To prayerfully and intentionally go forward.

We are all in this together.  Whether fresh out of seminary, whether just commissioned or ordained, whether second career, whether retired, whether right in the middle of our pastoral ministry, whether young or old or not wanting to be classified as either, whether man or woman, no matter where we are on our journey or what we may look like.

How do we feel when the person beside us is lifted up?  What are our motivations?  What role or part can we play in our particular time and place?  What does renewal in The United Methodist Church look like?  Not just what’s a vital congregation or Call to Action, but what does renewal and revival look like where you are?  What are the gifts and graces given to each of us?  How can those be used?  Instead of just hearing and absorbing what we hear and learn and are inspired by, what are our next steps?

For some of us, we hear these inspiring things at conferences or on podcasts or in articles and we’re so tired and worn out and blah from the day to day or the uphill battles, that it’s hard to go forward.  See, the thing about being lone rangers and thinking it’s all about us, is that we forget that we’re all in this together.  Not just a cliche or a good thing to throw out there in theory or during a presentation, but seriously.  Is there someone that you can be for real with and can bust open the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you know it will be okay?  Who do we depend on to be our church?

This is not just a “but mostly me” but something that if we are to survive, if we are to be a stronger, healthier, more grounded body – we’ve got to be supporters, advocates, confidants, friends to each other.

This isn’t just the church or ministry folk, but all of us.  It’s not about this congregation or that.  It’s not just about shuffling our membership to churches as we like the pastor or not or the youth program or not or that they talk too much about money or focus too much on social justice.  It’s about what’s essential and what the mission of the Church is.  How do WE make disciples?  How are WE in ministry WITH the community?  How are WE growing and learning and changing and praying and leading and growing?

It’s a heck of a lot more exciting and a lot less pressure when it’s not just all about me, but about all of us.  Let’s celebrate that.

How and why do we make it all about us???  What are some assumptions and world views that might change if it’s not so me-centric?  What does the Bible say about all this me stuff???  How is evangelism a whole new ball game when it’s just about you, but it’s about the world?

Blest Be The Tie That Binds

So I love this old hymn.  We sang it at the end of every worship service when we were at Wesley Chapel in Lydia and it was played at my Gandaddy’s funeral with Ganny’s alto voice ringing out as always.   It’s not the greatest sounding recording, but it’s about like I remember in UMC’s with a bunch of different voices and a lot of joy in the harmony and singing out as loud as you can even if you’re not the best singer in the history of the world.  The second video – different tune but also familiar and I think the images are cool with the words. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=9OfSm2LfX48&feature=related.

What is the tie that binds us?

Love that great cloud of witnesses always before us (can’t help but mention the LOST finale) and that great community of Christ followers that is ever behind us, beside us, and before us.  Love, love, love that in this crazy blog system that people’s posts look like patches in a quilt.  God is sewing community together all around us and that is beautiful.