Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sharing a confused look...

Here is the "pastor's note" for my congregations newsletter this month:

I was watching cartoons with my daughter Adeline the other day and an old Tom & Jerry cartoon came on. This particular cartoon was created in 1947. If you are familiar with the plot of every Tom & Jerry cartoon, Tom is a cat that spends all his time trying to catch the mouse Jerry. Typically explosives, knives, various contraptions, and lots of raise bumps on cartoon heads are employed in before said mouse catching strategy.

In this particular cartoon there was a slight variation to the theme - Jerry had a baby mouse with him;Nibbles.(His name was changed to Tuffy later in the series as I found noted on several Tom & Jerry web pages) I don’t know if Nibbles is Jerry’s baby, or if he a nephew or what, i’m not as informed on the family structures of cartoon mice as I should be... Anyway, as we all know, cartoon baby mice wearing cloth diapers complete with safety pin the size of your leg, need to drink milk... as do cats... thus the problem. Jerry wanted the saucer of milk for Nibbles, and Tom wanted it for himself... Lit the hijinx begin. The Tom chased the mice all over the house trying every way possible to exterminate them. Anvils were dropped , sticks of dynamite were exploded, at one point Tom even had Nibbles at gunpoint. Tom fired the gun narrowly missing the Nibbles and blowing off all the fur from his own smoldering tail. Then in a plot twist Tom swings at the baby mouse with a spatula and smacks him on the behind. Nibbles’ eyes grow large and big alligator tears begin to flow as the baby begins to cry from being spanked. That's the last straw Jerry appears furious at someone spanking the child and proceeds to beat the day lights out of Tom with hammers, chairs and dishes. The cartoon ends with Tom bandaged from head to toe complete with crutches, handing over the saucer of milk to the baby mouse.

Adeline and I both turned and looked at each other with puzzled looks. Adeline said “OK that's just stupid... Jerry freaks out over a swat with a spatula, but doesn’t care that Tom was using bats and guns to try and shoot his baby!???” I was thinking the exact same thing. Now I don’t want to get into a long discussion of violence in cartoons. I grew up watching Wily Coyote purchase bomb dropping hot air balloons from Acme like many people my age. What I was struck by in watching Tom & Jerry was how different communities have become. 50 or 60 years ago it was totally acceptable to have characters point guns at each others heads as a comedy gag. The communities we live in are entirely different than they were a generation ago.

Our taste in Cartoon humor isn’t the only thing that has changed. The way we view our world, the things we value and don’t value, the attitude we have about ourselves our families, our faith and beliefs have all changed so much.

Two weeks ago I witnessed a similar exchange. One person talking with another about one aspect of his faith that was incredibly important to him. As I watched the interaction the young woman listening had the exact same puzzled look that Adeline had while watching Tom & Jerry. I could almost hear the voice in her head saying “But what about this part of my life, or this way I view others, and the world?” To her credit the young woman didn’t lash out and try to negate or nullify the other persons values and beliefs, as many of us do sometimes with out thinking, but I could tell that the faith the person was so devoted to didn’t ring true for her.

As our communities change I pray that we all realize that the timeless message of Jesus, offers hope to every generation. I pray we will never loose sight of a savior who meets us where we are, and interacts with us as his beloved children.

Have a great May friends and look out for Cats bearing dynamite

Monday, April 14, 2008

The question... 2.0

Last week I mentioned a “conversation” I had with three high school kids on a pier in Seattle, as the asked me the question - “what will happen when you die?” as part of an evangelism program. Friday night at a Bible study that meets at my house, one of the women who attends voiced guilt she felt about not “sharing her faith with people”. It wasn’t a hedged in comments of “my faith is personal ... between me and God” or any of the other excuses we often throw out when we feel guilty about not being more “Evanelistic”. Her concerns came from a place of not wanting to alienate her friends, by always pushing Jesus on them, or running into that attitude people have when the Christian faith is mentioned - the Christians hate gays, or don’t like people like me, or only want our money attitude.
Here is the ironic thing, I would find it unimaginable to know Natalie for more than an hour and not know that her faith in Jesus is a huge guiding factor in her life. But because she wasn’t being confrontational in her conversations with people about Jesus, or because she doesn’t have a check list of friends that she has asked “do you have a personal relationship with Jesus”, or worse yet asked the big what happens when you die question, she feels guilty.

I just started reading Brian McClaren’s book “Everything Must Change”. I purposefully have not picked it up until lately because, to be honest, I have been pretty disillusioned with the Church in the Western world. This last year I have become disgusted that the biggest issue for many of us in the church is “who is going to paint our church building” or “the piano player at church plays too slow” or any of another million things of no significance at all, while at the same time millions of people have died of Malaria in Africa, or a hundred kids walk by our building everyday on the way home from school to be abused and/or neglected. I didn’t want to pick it up because I was working on a pretty good mad as it was, and really didn’t want any more gunpowder for this keg that was ready to blow already. (Sorry counting to ten... breathing deeply.... serenity now...)

Anyway, I was talking with a couple friends this last week on this topic. As we sat around the table we asked what are the biggest problems our communities face? In an effort to make first steps, we didn’t want to tackle wars in the middle east , or dependance on fossil fuels, or other global concerns, but what does my neighbor struggle with on a daily basis. As a disciple of Jesus I believe scripture speaks to us about those things and as disciples we can do something to address them. In that question I found some sense of peace and some ease in my frustration. I decided that the fuse had gone out on my keg, so I’ll pick up Brian’s book. Low and behold in the first chapters of the book Brian lays out the premise of the book based on two questions 1)What are the biggest problems in the world? 2) what does Jesus have to say about these problems? CRAP! He wrote the book before I could! Dammit!

If you haven’t pickled up “Everything Must Change” I recommend it (although I am only about half way through it.) And If the titles scares you... It should... When Brian says everything must change, he means it. So do I!

So in asking our local question there were a few things that seemed to rise to the top of all of our discussions. 1) Safety for kids in our neighborhoods 2) Financial issues, more specifically debt and addiction to a consumeristic identity. Out of those discussions I have proposed a couple ideas to the members or Orchards United Methodist Church to address those problems our community faces, and there is some traction and excitement about them.

Wouldn’t it be great to be a community that is not known for convincing people they were headed to hell, but as Jesus says in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Have a great week friends!

Monday, April 07, 2008

The question...

Hi friends,

I have been in Seattle for the last week. Part of the time on vacation with my beautiful wife and two above average children. The last part of the week I was interviewing candidates for ministry as a member of my Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry.

The Vacation time was a blast! We spent some time at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field . I have been a huge aircraft fan since I was little and have always loved Air Museums and the Boeing Field one is one of the best in the country. At first my wife and kids were kind of just going along to humor me, but I think everyone in the family said it was the highlight of the trip.

After the trip to the Museum of Flight we had a birthday dinner for my wife at the Rain Forest Cafe which was a lot of fun. Complete with giant cake and ice cream desert with sparklers! WhooooHooooo!

The second part of my week was spent talking with candidates for ministry about the written materials they have submitted to the Board. I walked away form those meetings very enthused about the quality of pastors we will have serving churches in The Pacific Northwest Conference in the next few years, and it gives me some hope that the progress I am many others in our church are making in steering this battle ship of a conference towards renewal and revitalization, could happen.

I had an experience on Thursday night after dinner. It was about 7:30pm or so and I had just completed a long day of interviews along with my colleagues. After dinner I drove down to the Marina at DesMoines Beach Park just to look at the water and pray and kinda’ collect myself. So while I was leaning over the rail three young high school aged people (a girl and two boys)approached me and asked “Sir would you be willing to answer some questions for a religious poll we are taking?” Ok, after the initial oddity of a high school girl calling me “Sir” wore off I said sure. They proceeded to ask me questions; Do you believe in God?... Do you believe God cares about people?... Then the tried and true question... If you died tonight... (Which by the way is probably a bad question to ask someone alone at 8pm at a marina. I wanted to answer “Why? You guys have a knife or gun in those hurley hoodies?” To tell you the truth, these three kids were so timid I think if I had shouted “BOO!” loud at them they would have all three crapped their pants and run for the hills)

As a pastor I admit I have a sadistic side. There were a few minutes where several scenarios played out in my head. I could act like the king of all sinners, and challenge them on every point of their argument, then ask where I could score some drugs... As tantalizing as that sounded, I opted not to do that. Then I thought I could play the miraculous convert. After they said two words I'd tell them a horrific story, but because they asked me what would happen when I died, I was a born again convert.... I opted out of that one too. When the poll asked if I belong to a church or place of worship, I confessed that I was a pastor, and they all sighed a little and relaxed. (It wrecked my opportunity to screw with their heads but oh well..) So anyway, when they finished their poll, and I gave them the good answer that my evangelical heritage drilled into my brain, about having a ticket to heaven if I die tonight, cause Jesus died for me, I actually got to talk to them a little.

I asked them how the poll had been going? Their reply was “not too good.” You could have knocked me over with NOT surprise. It was getting dark and I didn’t want to keep these three kids out on a dock, and I didn’t want to crush any fervor they had for their faith, but I can’t imagine anyone would really be too excited about talking with three kids, who were obviously scared out of their heads to talk to people about their faith, and especially using the “what will happen if you die?” angle. These kids were nice and I felt bad for them. It reminded me of the experiences I had as a youth with youth pastors who told me that I needed to go out and win arguments with people about sin and the afterlife. It made me sad. No concept of God caring about our lives now, No questions about transcendence or transformation... nothing for someone now. It was all about heaven and ..”someday”.

It reminded me of another experience I had in seminary. I was to write a paper after having interviewed three people regarding their decision process to become a Christian. So I asked three of the members of the little church my wife and I were attending in Central Kentucky at the time; Two long time members and pillars of the church, and one high school aged girl. When I asked them about how they came to make a decision to be a Christian, they all told me stories of someone who loved them and cared for them. Two of them said it was a grandmother who was most important in their decision. The other told the story of a member of the church who has since passed away but who was instrumental in their decision. When I asked all three what they thought was the most important thing someone needed in order to make a decision to follow Jesus - all three answered (In so many words) “You will go to hell if you don’t say the sinners prayer.” Even though that played little, if anything in their own decision to follow Jesus.

Friends I hope the faith that the world sees in us is not merely about someday. I hope that “hell” and “death” aren’t the first words out of our mouths when we talk about Jesus. I pray we love God with all our hearts and minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves!

Have a great week friends