Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Realities of College Freshmen

Every year, Beloit College publishes a list of what incoming freshmen have always known, or not known, and each year I feel older. Prior year lists can be found here. I know I am way behind, but here is this year's list.

Students heading into their first year of college this year were generally born in 1996. Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, Carl Sagan, and Tiny Tim.  On Parents’ Weekend, they may want to watch out in case Madonna shows up to see daughter Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon or Sylvester Stallone comes to see daughter Sophia.

For students entering college this fall in the Class of 2018...

1. During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
2. Since they binge-watch their favorite TV shows, they might like to binge-watch the video portions of their courses too.
3. Meds have always been an option.
4. When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.
5. “Press pound” on the phone is now translated as “hit hashtag.”
6. Celebrity “selfies” are far cooler than autographs.
7. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has always been the only news program that really “gets it right.”
8. Hard liquor has always been advertised on television.
9. Ralph Nader has always been running for President of the U.S.
10. They never sat glued to Saturday morning cartoon shows but have been hooked on FOX’s Sunday night “Animation Domination.”
11. The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.
12. In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.
13. Women have always attended the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel.
14. FOX News and MSNBC have always been duking it out for the hearts and minds of American viewers.
15. Pepsi has always refreshed travelers in outer space.
16. Hong Kong has always been part of China.
17. Courts have always been overturning bans on same-sex marriages.
18. Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.
19. Bosnia and Herzegovina have always been one nation.
20. Citizens have always had a constitutional right to a “dignified and humane death.”
21. Nicotine has always been recognized as an addictive drug requiring FDA oversight.
22. Students have always been able to dance at Baylor.
23. Hello Dolly...cloning has always been a fact, not science fiction.
24. Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA.
25. Ads for prescription drugs, noting their disturbing side effects, have always flooded the airwaves.
26. Hell has always been associated less with torment and more with nothingness.
27. Whether to embrace fat or spurn it has been a front page debate all their lives.
28. Parents have always been able to rely on a ratings system to judge violence on TV.
29. They never tasted the “texturally enhanced alternative beverage” known as Orbitz.
30. There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.
31. The Unabomber has always been behind bars.
32. Female referees have always officiated NBA games.
33. There has always been a national database of sex offenders.
34. Chicago, a musical about a celebrity getting away with murder, has always been popular on Broadway.
35. Yet another blessing of digital technology: They have never had to hide their dirty magazines under the bed.
36. U.S. major league baseball teams have always played in Mexico.
37. Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.
38. Attending schools outside their neighborhoods, they gather with friends on Skype, not in their local park.
39. While the number of Americans living with HIV has always been going up, American deaths from AIDS have always been going down.
40. They have no memory of George Stephanopoulos as a senior White House advisor.
41. The PGA has always offered golfers with disabilities a ride—reluctantly.
42. “African-American Vernacular English” has always been recognized as a distinct language in Oakland.
43. Two-term presidents are routine, but none of them ever won in a landslide.
44. The family has always been able to buy insurance at local banks.
45. One route to pregnancy has always been through frozen eggs.
46. They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser.
47. Everybody has always Loved Raymond.
48. “Salon” has always been an online magazine.
49. The rate of diagnosed diabetes has always been shooting up during their lifetime.
50. Affirmative Action has always been outlawed in California.
51. Boeing has never had any American competition for commercial aircraft.
52. U.S. soldiers have always been vaccinated against anthrax.
53. “Good feedback” means getting 30 likes on your last Facebook post in a single afternoon.
54. Their collection of U.S. quarters has always celebrated the individual states.
55. Since Toys R Us created a toy registry for kids, visits to Santa are just a formality.
Copyright© 2014 Beloit College

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Five Practices: Risk-Taking Mission and Service

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 16:21-28:

Today we continue looking at the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase.  We have already looked at passionate worship, radical hospitality, and intentional faith development, and today we move on to risk-taking mission and service.  What are some of the ways we practice mission and service?  In the passage we just heard from Matthew, Jesus says that if we want to become followers, that it’s not based on what we say, it’s based on what we do.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  How often?  Trick question, in Matthew it doesn’t say, in Luke we are told that we must do it daily, and I think that’s correct.  This is not something we do once in a while, but instead that we do it continually, and what Bishop Schnase says is that when we do it we need to be a risk-taker.

What does risk taking mean?  It means going beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort level, going beyond the bounds of safety, not necessarily things that actually are physical risks, but safety in the sense of playing it safe.  In some ways this is at the heart of being a Christian, not only because we are told to pick up our cross and follow, but also because it’s inherent to faith.  Has anyone ever said that you need to take a leap of safety?  But you have heard someone say to take a leap of faith.  That is to take some risk in what you are doing, and that is especially true when we are talking about mission and service, because what we would like to do is sit back, to do the things that feel comfortable, to do the things that are safe, to do the things that pose no risk to us, again not necessarily to our actual physical safety, but pose no risk to us in being changed in any way, of being transformed by the experience, of doing things that transform others, let alone our community and the world.

Our donations to the food pantry are fantastic, and I would never want to do away with them.  I like seeing the food piling up at the front of the sanctuary each week because it’s important to what we do and who we are, but it’s not risk-taking.  It’s important, but it’s really safe, other than perhaps missing a really good sale, what risks do we take?  We never interact with those who we are helping, and one of the major problems is in doing this we can begin to think that we are being generous in giving, and those who are receiving are only receiving.  It sets up hierarchical relationships.  Even in our mobile food pantry, there is still a difference that is kept between those who are serving, and this is not unique to us.  Rev. Joe Daniels said about many programs being run by churches, “The problem is that if we ask the people engaged in these serving ministries the names of those they are serving, where they live, what’s going on in their lives, why they are hungry, and what is the deeper need in order for them to reach God’s dream for their lives and their community — the answer for most is “I don’t know.” We are often doing ministry for people, but not with people. Many of us are doing “caring” ministry, but are we engaged in “transformational” ministry?”  Are we seeking to be in mission and service to someone, or are we seeking to be in mission and service with someone?  Although certainly not the only thing, that is one of the differences between whether mission and service is risk-taking or not.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Five Practices: Intentional Faith Development

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 2:37-47:

Baseball Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver was known for many things besides for leading the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title.  His temper tantrums were legendary.  He owned the major league record for being thrown out of the most number of games for many years, including being thrown out during the exchange of the line-ups before the game twice.  He was also known for his unique philosophy of winning baseball games, in which he said the key was “pitching, defense and three run homers.”  But none of that really has to do anything with today’s message except as a set-up to this.  One of his players once said, “Don’t you want to walk with the Lord?” to which Weaver was said to have responded, “I want to walk with the bases loaded.”

I thought that quote was appropriate for today, not only because we are now in the midst of the baseball playoffs, but also because today we look at the third part of our series on the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase.  We started by looking at passionate worship, which is to give all that we have and all that we are to God in worship, to literally bow down and pledge our allegiance to God through our lives.  Last week we looked at radical hospitality which is about opening ourselves up to welcoming others way beyond the ordinary, and this also begins with opening ourselves up to receiving God’s radical hospitality which is offered to us and is best represented by the table fellowship we share when we participate in communion.  And today we move onto intentional faith development.  Now it could be argued that passionate worship and radical hospitality are issues of the heart, because as we commented on, you can do worship and hospitality and go through the motions, but never live into the adjectives that we have accompanying them.  But when we give of ourselves in these things and become radical or passionate, it comes from the heart, from the emotion, from the feelings we bring to these issues, not really from the mind.  Surely there is something of the mind involved, but that’s not really what we think of when we talk about these subjects.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Five Practices: Radical Hospitality

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 21:33-46:

I’m sure most of us have stories we could tell of when we have gone someplace and we have been greeted and treated well and when we haven’t been.  Our family went to a restaurant recently and we were seated right away, but then sat there waiting for our server to come by.  Lots of people passed by the table, including one of the managers, but no one stopped.  Finally just as we were contemplating getting up and leaving, the manager stopped to ask if we had been helped yet.  It turned out that although we were seated, the hostess did not assign us to a server.  But, as if that was not enough, we kept trying to order things off that they were apparently out of, even though they were still listed on the chalkboard.  They were clearly not ready to welcome us, nor definitely seek to have us return as customers.  There was no sense of hospitality, which is what the entire restaurant and hotel industry is called, the hospitality industry, and without hospitality these places are not likely to survive for very long.

Today we look at step two in the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase, and I think appropriately enough for the Sunday in which we receive communion, we are talking about hospitality.  What is hospitality?  (friendly reception of guests or strangers, the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.)  But hospitality is not just what we do, it also is about an attitude we have, that is to say that we can do all the right things, but if we don’t seem happy about it, or are just going through the motions, then we are not truly being hospitable.  That’s why Bishop Schnase says it is the adjective that makes all the difference, because we are called not only the practice hospitality, but we are called to practice radical hospitality.  So what does it mean to be radical? (Going above and beyond, beyond expectations, on the edges)  The word comes from a word meaning root, which is why we often use the term to refer to something which is  affects the fundamental  nature of things, saying something like “it made a radical difference.”  Radical represents something that is part of who we are, or something which fundamentally changes us and makes us different.  And so radical hospitality is something that can be in us already, or it can be something which we acquire through practice or by intentionality.  But what we see in scripture, and what we have to understand about hospitality is that for us to practice radical hospitality, we first have to understand God’s radical hospitality and second we have to accept that radical hospitality into our lives so that we can then practice it in the world.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Five Practices: Passionate Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 22:34-40:

Most of us are aware of the importance of words, and how one word can make a huge difference in our perspective or in the story we tell.  When I was growing up my brother loved madlibs, in which you add random words to a story to create something funny.  Many of you are probably familiar with the idea, but we are going to do one here today, and to warn you this is going to be a much more interactive sermon than normal, and interactive, so you are all aware, means that you are active in it along with me.

An Unforgettable Church Service

We arrived at the Church of the Holy _________ (noun). We were dressed in our __________ (day of week) best. Today was special because it was ___________ (holiday) and the kids looked forward to receiving _________ (noun) as part of the celebration.

Pastor John welcomed us and the service started with invigorating ___________ (action verb). It was so __________ (emotion), people were ___________ (verb ending in ing).

The sermon was based on _________ (Book of the Bible). The pastor talked about  ____________________ (biblical character)’s injunction to love God with all of our  ______________________ (body part) _________________ (body part) and   ________________ (human characteristic).   When he finished, I couldn’t believe he had only talked for _________________ (amount of time).  Then we sang a ___________________ (musical style) version of Amazing Grace. 

We wrote a check for $_________ (amount of money) and put it into the __________ (noun). This made us so ________ (emotion) we couldn't contain ourselves.

The _________ (kind of team) team played another song and we filed out to the ___________ (name of a room) to have _____________ (beverage). We stood there waiting to ________ (verb) to someone.

All in all it was a(n) ________ (adjective)  worship service.   _________ (exclamation) God!

Words matter, and descriptive words sometimes make all the difference.

Today we begin a new sermon series based on The Five Practices of Fruitful Living by Bishop Robert Schnase.  It’s been said that once someone becomes bishop that they believe that everything they think has to be written down and published, and Bishop Schnase certainly lives into that belief, but he also has something to say to us.  He says that the five habits are radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.  But, while the activites in and of themselves are important, Schnase says it is the adjectives that really make all the difference, and you can move them around, you could have extravagant hospitality and passionate mission and service and risk-taking worship.  The adjectives make a difference because they are describing what it is that we are really doing.  There is a difference between worship and passionate worship.  The adjective matters.  Most of us have probably participated in boring worship or even mediocre worship, maybe even here.  Those are the times in which we don’t feel like we worshipped at all.  And then there are the times in which we have been truly moved, in which we knew that God was present for us in that moment, in which we may have been fundamentally changed.  That is what passionate worship feels like, and yet it is about so much more than that as well.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Forgiveness: Forgiving God

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Psalm 91:

What I am about to say will be shocking to some of you, and may even upset you a little but bear with me.  The Bible sometimes lies.  I don’t mean that there are mistakes or contradictions, because there are those as well, but I mean the Bible outright lies, and we just heard it in the Psalm.  In fact, as we were preparing for this week, Donna, who is our office administrator, read that psalm and said, “Are you going to talk about how that doesn’t match reality?”  And I said that was exactly what I was going to talk about.  In that Psalm we are told that those “who live in the shelter of the Most high,” will be delivered from “the snare of the fowler and the deadly pestilence….” that a thousand may fall at our side and ten thousand at our right hand, but we will remain untouched.  That God will command the angels regarding us to guard us in all our ways, that they will bear us up so we will not dash our foot against the stone, that we will trample the lion and adder under foot and they will not harm us.  Those who love God will be protected and rescued from trouble.  And yet, that doesn’t ring true, because the reality is that we do dash our foot against the rock, the lions and the adders sometimes strike us, we do fear the terror of the night, and, in fact, we are not always rescued from trouble.  And since that is true there are only really two conclusions I think we can reach.  The first is that none of us truly love God, that we don’t know God’s name and therefore we deserve what we get.  Or the second is that this psalm is simply not true, and I’m going with the second.

Today we conclude our series on forgiveness, by looking at an idea with which many of us struggle, and that is forgiving God.  And not only do some of us struggle with the idea of forgiving God, but many others don’t even think it’s a consideration.  I did a lot reading on forgiveness in preparation to talk about it, and of the probably 15-20 books I read, only one of them discussed the idea of forgiving God at all, and that book was sort of a new-age perspective on life.  Only 1 book talked about forgiving God.  But for me that too does not match reality.  I have known many people, and I’m sure you have as well, who have been mad at God for something that has happened to them, and most of them have left the church, have lost their faith, because they didn’t know what to do with that anger, or were told that it was inappropriate to have it, but they had it none the less.  We began this series talking about the shooting at the Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  One of the reasons the perpetrator of that shooting gave was because he could not forgive God.  He was mad at God because he and his wife had lost their infant daughter.  He was mad at God and he couldn’t strike back at God, so he struck out at his neighbors.

An Ode To Derek Jeter

Tonight Derek Jeter will play his last game at Yankee Stadium, or at least he will if it doesn't get rained out.  If we still lived on the East coast we would probably have tried to be there, or at least would have gone during this homestand.  I'm not really a fan of the "farewell" tour with every team giving him presents and things, and really hope this doesn't become a regular thing.  If it does, my question is who qualifies for it?  What if one team gives a player a gift but another team doesn't?  How would that work?  But that's off topic.

There has been a lot of conversation in the past week from two different camps.  The first are those who are praising Jeter and making him out to be the greatest Yankee ever.  He is not.  If we have a Mount Rushmore of Yankees (which would be 4 people), he's not on it.  He is easily in the top ten, but he is not number one.  This is not a knock on Jeter, because on many teams he would be the greatest, but when you have to compete against Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio just to start, it's tough to get to the top.  So let's lay off that side for a while.

The other side is trying to denigrate him all together, and say that he's not that great at all, and I'm looking at you Keith Olbermann.  There are also some saying that without "the tour" that the Yankees would have made the playoffs.  That by continuing to play Jeter every day at shortstop at age 40 and also continue to bat him second that he cost them some runs, and thus some games.  And then they claim that he should have either removed himself from the line-up or asked to bat lower "for the good of the team."

There are many problems with that argument.  The first is who Jeter is.  He is a competitor, and he has said and continues to say that he thinks he is the best person to be out there, that he brings more to the game than whoever would replace him.  So knowing that, we know he's not going to do that. Second, the manager gets paid lots of money to make these decisions, so it should be up to Girardi to do what needs to be done "for the good of the team" not the player.  And for those who bring up Gehrig removing himself, remember that he could not physically continue to play, and if I remember correctly never played again once he did take himself out.  And speaking of Gehrig, what happened when Wally Pipp took himself out of one game?

And please don't bring up WAR to me, which is wins over replacement.  What this seeks to measure is how many wins a play generates over the average player if he were replaced.  But here is my problem, these numbers never pass the sniff test.  One year, according to WAR, Jeter was the second worst player in the league and the worst player was Manny Ramirez.  Not when he was with the Dodgers, but during his hugely productive years with the Sawx.  Jeter and Ramirez the two worst players in the league?  The stat may say it, but I know that every GM in the league would have taken them if they could have them.

But here is the main problem.  Here are three batting lines from the Yankees this year:
BA        OBP       SLG       OPS
.253     .301      .309      .611
.176     .217      .213      .430
.155     .224      .279      .503

Now in hearing people talk about how much Jeter is hurting the Yankees, you might think that one of the bottom two lines would be Jeter.  But they are not.  Jeter's is the first line, and the other two belong to Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, the two people who would probably play shortstop if Jeter wasn't there.  Now these are not normal Jeter numbers, but they are a lot more impressive then his replacements.  Drew and Ryan would have been better with the glove, but the runs they saved on defense more than would have been given up by the runs they would not generate on offense.

Should Jeter have been moved out of the number two spot?  Yes, he probably should have been batting 7th or so.  But who would have batted in his place?  The problem is we had 6-7 guys in the line-up who should have been batting at the bottom on the line-up.  The entire line-up did not produce this year.  There are only two regular starters on the entire team who batted over .280 for the season. Two!  And those are Ichiro, who batted .284, and Cervelli, who is our back-up catcher, who hit .285.

When Jeter went 0-28 and everyone was bashing him, no one else on the team was hitting either. Gardner also went 0-28 from the lead-off spot right around the same time, and no one was yelling about him hurting the team, and that he should be benched or put lower in the batting order.  Instead it was Jeter's fault.

Should Jeter have retired last year?  Probably, but he didn't want to end his career on an injury, just like Marianno didn't, and so he played.  And I for one am glad he did because my daughters are old enough to realize what this means and will curl up on the couch with me tonight as we see the greatest Yankee of my generation, no offense to Mo, hang them up.

Is he the greatest Yankee of all time?  No.  But when his name is included on the lists of those who are, that is more than enough for any player.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Forgiveness: Forgiving Yourself

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 15:11-32:

Some of you have already heard this story before, but when I was growing up there was a kid who attended my elementary school whose name was Paul, although we called him Pauline, and we hounded him unmercilessly.  I don’t know why I did it, maybe because everyone else was, or maybe because, and this will come as a surprise because of my incredible athletic build, but maybe I did it so that I could eliminate some of the teasing I received.  But whatever the reason I teased him, or to be honest, bullied him right along with everyone else for being different, for not being a real boy.  Now I don’t know whether Paul was gay or not, although I strongly suspect that he was, and knowing the elevated rate at which gay and lesbian teenagers commit suicide, I wonder if it made it.  But today as we talk about forgiving ourselves, this is one of the things that I carry around with me that I can’t let go of even nearly 30 years later

Most of us have something like that we carry around, that not only might we need to receive forgiveness from someone else, but that we also need to forgive ourselves.  Comedian Bill Crystal recounts that the last words he ever said to his father to shut-up, and his father’s last words to him were “don’t you ever say that to me again.”  Little did either of them know that Crystal’s father would have a heart attack and die that night.  How do you let go of that?  Or perhaps it’s guilt for what we did or didn’t do.  Joe lost his 6 year-old son in a household accident which he was unable to prevent, even though he was there, and he is wracked with guilt and grief especially remembering his son crying out his last word of “Daddy!”  and he is obsessed with the what ifs. How do we forgive ourselves for the guilt that we carry around?  Or really more to the point, how do we claim the forgiveness that God has offered to us?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cokesbury Just Doesn't Get It

Cokesbury, who is the publishing house and the bookstore for the United Methodist Church, continues to loose market share and to struggle financially.  Several years ago they closed all their stores in order to remain viable.  They then hired sales reps to cover the territories, although there is no one to cover New Mexico, because I guess we just don't matter.  But that is really a secondary issue.

The bigger issue is that the don't seem to understand the reality of most churches.  We are working on our stewardship campaign and purchased a program from Cokesbury.  As part of this program, they want everyone in the church to use a daily devotional during the four weeks of the campaign.  That is great, and my congregation would probably be open to it because I talk with them constantly about doing daily Bible readings and provide them the resources to do so.

But, the devotional they want us to use cost nearly $7 a piece, which is going to run me close to $600 to get one out to our active families.  We could subscribe to an email of the same material, but that is $4 per email address, not a dramatic savings.  I know sometimes you have to spend money in order to get money, but I honestly cannot justify that expense.  And here is the kicker for me.

I get catalogs from lots of different vendors besides for Cokesbury, and I know that I can buy other devotionals for less than a $1 a piece.  Are they as "nice" as the ones Cokesbury sells?  In quality of printing, paper, etc., no. But in terms of theology and message they are just as good, and for something that will only be used once for a month, they don't have to withstand the test of time.

I like Cokesbury.  I want to shop at Cokesbury and I do when I can.  But they don't seem to understand the reality of the small to medium sized church and the budgetary constraints we face.  I can afford something in the $100 range and slightly above, and would purchase it if available to help my congregation, and I do purchase them from other vendors, but I cannot afford and will not buy a similar item when it's going to cost me 4 to 5 times the same amount.

Until Cokesbury wakes up they are going to continue to lose my business to other vendors.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Forgiveness: Forgiveness in families

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 18:21-35:

Rev. Adam Hamilton says that there are six simple words that keep relationships together, and so we’re going to practice them here.  The first three are “I forgive you.”  Can we say that together?  Sometimes easier said than done, but here are harder words.   “Please forgive me.”  Let’s try that together.  And here is where I disagree with Hamilton; I think there are at least 9 words necessary, or maybe even twelve.  So let’s try this.  “I was wrong;”  “I am sorry,”  “please forgive me.”  Now let’s say it all together.  I wanted to practice here because it’s easier to practice it when there’s nothing on the line then saying it without practice when it really matters.  And as also keeps coming up, it’s easier to forgive someone else, especially those who are close to us, when we remember that we have also been offenders, that we need to seek forgiveness as much as we need to forgive, and when we remember that we approach forgiveness and those who have hurt us with humility, rather than with superiority like the unforgiving servant does towards the person who owes a debt to them.

Peter comes to Jesus and asks how often he must forgive someone in the church who sins against him. Peter then provides a possible answer, one that goes beyond the normal, and says “is seven times enough?”  But Jesus says, not just seven times, but 77 times, or, some manuscript texts say, 70 x 7 times, which is to say forgive approaching an infinite amount of times, and then Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which a man is forgiven by his king a debt of 10,000 talents, but is unwilling to forgive the debt owed to him of 100 denarii.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American makes about $179 dollars a day, which would be the modern equivalent of a denarii.  That means that a debt of 100 denarii is equal to a debt of $17,900.  That is what the servant is unwilling to forgive.   A talent is equal to 6,000 denarii, or 16 ½ years labor, if you were working every day.  Thus one denarii is equal to 1 million, 74 thousand dollars and 10,000 talents, the debt that is forgiven, is equal to 10 billion 740 million.  Now I don’t know about all of you, but it would take me a long time to pay off a debt of nearly 11 billion dollars, and you are going to have to give me a massive raise.

Protecting the Shield: NFL FAIL

As by now most people who even just follow the news, even if they know nothing about football, are aware that TMZ released a video yesterday showing Ray Rice punching his then fiancee twice in the face, then unceremoniously dumping her outside the elevator, where he also kicks her.  In response to this, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.  I know I am just one more commentator jumping on the bandwagon on commenting, but commenting I am.

My first question is did this surprise anyone?  I know the violence was shocking, but we had already seen video from outside the elevator which is what started this whole thing, so we already knew something violent had happened.  This did potentially contradict maybe what Rice had told the NFL and the Ravens, but maybe not depending on who is saying what, which is where the biggest problem lies for both of those entities.  Now people are asking the eternal question, "what did they know and when did they know it."

The NFL is saying that they never saw the video, that the state police wouldn't turn it over.  Problem is the state police say that is not true because they didn't have the video, it was with the local police. The NFL has said they had all the information the prosecutor had, which presumably would also include the video.  Now if the prosecutor didn't have the video, then we might have criminal action against them, or someone else if they were pressured not to pursue anything against Rice by powers of interest.

The bigger problem with the NFL's story, first is that they have really good investigators and lots of money.  Do we honestly believe that TMZ has more power and pull to get this video then the NFL does?  Hardly.  So then either they saw the video, and did nothing, or they didn't pursue it at all because they wanted to remain willfully ignorant, which for me is just as bad.  But, Chris Mortensen of ESPN is saying that he talked with sources inside the league office when this first happened who told him what was on the video and what they told him matched what we saw yesterday.  Sports Illustrated is also standing by an earlier story that they the league office had seen the video.  That means that someone in the office had to have seen it, and then it doesn't matter if Goodell saw it or not.

Goodell also sent a crony out to defend his original two game suspension of Rice to Mike and Mike on ESPN.  During that interview, Adolpho Burch was given two different opportunities to say that they never saw any other video, and he refused to do so, and danced around not being able to talk about what evidence they did or did not have.  And the NFL and the Ravens both refused to send anyone to talk with ESPN yesterday or today.  They are too busy trying to figure out what to say, but as former PR person, I can say they better come and say something very soon, because at the moment their silence is deafening.

It is very clear that the NFL did not know what to do with this situation.  Just as a starter they interviewed Janay Rice about the incident with Ray Rice sitting next to her.  What did they expect her to say?  This followed the Ravens also running both of them out for a press conference so that both of them could express their remorse, and the Ravens even tweeted out Janay's remorse for her "role" in the situation and it remained on their twitter page until yesterday.  Her response is not unusual for a battered woman, if for no other reason then she is trying to protect his income stream, and it's also possible that she was threatened with worse if she didn't.   The NFL should have stopped this, should have done something different, and they didn't, and allowing Rice's fiancee to say basically I'm sorry my face got in front of his fist, only exacerbates everything.

As for the Ravens, their treatment of Rice and defense of him should not be surprising.  After all this is the team that just unveiled a statue of Ray Lewis, who was accused of murdering of two men following a fight.  Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice in the case in return for his testimony against the two other defendants.  They were later acquitted, but some of that is undoubtedly because some evidence was destroyed and they initially lied to the police (which is what Lewis plead guilty to).  And yet in the midst of this, the Ravens defended and protected Lewis.  (As an aside, last night Lewis was interviewed and he said you can't compare his story with that of Rice, to which I said, "absolutely, in your case two people ended up dead.")  Lewis has long maintained his innocence and said he would like those guilty to be caught, which may be true, but if he hadn't lied to start maybe the police would have been able to solve the case.

I really hope that this might be a watershed for domestic abuse.  That the league might begin to take this seriously, as they now have a video to go with the idea, and video matters.  There is a reason why we still travel by boat, but we don't by blimp, and that is because we have video of the Hindenburg burning up, even though few people comparatively were killed, but we don't have a video of the Titanic or Lusitania sinking.  Does this put a face to domestic violence?  I hope so, and yet also have great concerns for the victim in this incidence.

Janay has put out a statement in opposition to the release of the video, which is understandable because it victimizes her again, because now we all can see what happened.  She also defends her husband once again, which is also understandable because they have now lost their source of income, and it really makes me worry for her safety.  Is Rice going to blame her for all this and attack again? Quite possibly.

Here is the long and short of it.  Roger Goodell has to go.  The owners have to remove him, because I don't think this is going to go away, first of all.  Second, he has lost his moral authority, because either he saw the video and did nothing, or he chose not to go out and see the video so that he could do nothing.  Either way he has to go, as does the GM of the Ravens, at the very least.  The fact that ESPN ran Keith Olbermann's commentary saying the same thing twice in the space of 30 minutes on Sportscenter last night (and perhaps more, I turned it off) says that this is going to be a rising clamor, and the NFL better pay attention this time, because the bottom line really is at stake.

Many of the commentators on ESPN talked about being fathers and what would they do if this was their daughter.  We talked with our daughters again last night to never stay with anyone who hits them, regardless of what they say, that they are to leave, and we have told them all this before, and will continue to tell them as they get older and approaching dating.  But it's not just about the girls and women, it's also about the boys and the men.  This should not rest entirely on our women to stop. So dads, tell your sons that it is not okay to hit women (nor is it okay to hit men either), tell them what will happen if they do, and set the example to them by not hitting any women as well.

Finally, we have been talking about forgiveness the past few weeks in worship.  But let me reiterate again, forgiveness does not meaning condoning actions or enabling actions and it does not mean reconciliation.  No one has the right to hurt you or abuse you.  If you are being abused, you need to get out.  You can forgive later, but for now protect yourself.

If you need, please call the national domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233.


Here is the United Methodist statement on Family Violence and Abuse:

"We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms -- verbal, psychological, physical, sexual -- is detrimental to the covenant of the human community.  We encourage the church to provide a safe environment, counsel, and support to the victim.  While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God's redeeming love."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Forgiveness: Steps of Forgiveness

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 5:21-24:

Due to overcrowding in the prisons in New Mexico in the 1970s, the department of corrections took some of the adults and put them at the New Mexico School of Boys in Springer, to act as mentors to the youth who were there.  One of those inmates was John Burton, and in 1976 he escaped from the school and stole a car in an attempt to get away.  He was pulled over quickly by a state trooper for speeding, although the trooper did not yet know he was an escaped convict.  A struggle ensued and Burton was able to take away the officer’s gun, and take him prison, escaping to a local ranch to the west of town, where he held that family hostage as well.  A standoff ensued, but Burton was able to escape on foot and made his way to another farm, where he hid out in the barn.  When the owner of the ranch went out into the barn in the morning, he encountered Burton hold the officer’s .357 and together they walked into the house, where a young girl was sitting.  That young girl was Beth Rose.  Burton told her and her father that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them rather than being caught and go back to prison.

Burton had them get into their truck, with Beth’s father driving, Beth in the middle and Burton sitting in the passenger seat with the gun pointed at them.  Burton kept changing his mind about where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do with them.  Beth says her father kept cool the entire time, trying to reason with Burton and giving him suggestions of where Burton could leave them so he could get away.  He also tried to give Beth little glances and assurances that everything was going to be okay.  They drove all over that day, until ending up in Albuquerque that evening, where Burton, for some reason, abruptly let them go, and ended up kidnapping a cab driver.  Several days later Burton shot himself during a showdown with police near Melrose, New Mexico, but Burton survived and was taken into custody and then sentenced to time in a federal prison in Arizona. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Forgiveness: Carrying Stones

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 6:27-42:

On Monday, October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts entered into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania carrying several weapons and 600 rounds of ammunition, and most of you know the rest of the story.  It was the third school shooting that took place that week, and the sense of shock that struck us all in that moment was not just of the five little girls who lost their lives and the 5 others who were wounded, but the shock was also about how the Amish community and the parents of the victims responded to this senseless act of violence.  The idea of forgiveness in the immediate aftermath came to be one of, if not the, dominating storyline of this tragedy.  Because on the same day of the shooting, members of the community, including relatives of the victims went to see Roberts widow and his children to tell them that they forgave him and them for what had happened.  They attended R oberts funeral and burial at Georgetown United Methodist Church, and when a fund was established to help support the girls and their families, a similar fund was also set up for Roberts family and the members of the trust who oversaw the disbursement of the funds, most of whom were Amish, made sure that Roberts family was also taken care of.  This was not what people expected, because this was not what people normally saw nor what they thought they would do in the wake of such a tragedy.

Now here is some good news.  Our desire to seek revenge, to be filled with anger and hatred, to want to get even with someone who wrongs us, has been programmed into us by evolution; it is part of who we are.  But here is the other good news.  Forgiveness is also part of our evolutionary programming, the desire to forgive, to heal, to reconcile and to move past tragedy are just as much a part of who we are as our desire for revenge is.  In fact, in every animal that has been studied except for one, they have demonstrated acts of forgiveness, conciliation and reconciliation.  The one animal that doesn’t do this is the house cat, and for those who own cats, and those who dislike cats, this should not come as a surprise.  The reason why it is found in other animals, including humans, is because we live in community, and to stay in community which is necessary if we are to survive we have to have the ability to forgive wrongs.  The simple fact is, we forgive every single day, even if we don’t know that we are doing it, because if we clung to every hurt that is given to us, we wouldn’t be able to go on.  But on the flip side of that we also hang on to a lot of those hurts for many reasons, and I’ll be honest and say that I am really good at holding grudges and not letting go of things, and I’m willing to bet, if we bet but we are Methodists are opposed to gambling, but if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to be that that is true for you as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Standing Up and Speaking Out

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 37:1-28:

In the high school I attended, athletics reigned supreme.  To give you a small sample, our football and basketball teams played for the state championship in two of my four years, our soccer and golf teams won the state championship, and our softball team won several, and the level of play was high.  One of the members of our basketball and track team could dunk the basketball after beginning his jump at the top of the key, and he went on to the University of Arizona. The quarterback who graduated the year before I did, went on to become the starting quarterback for Ohio State, and the quarterback who graduated the same year I did went to play for Utah.  Our kicker was all-American, and two people from my graduating class of 336 played in the NFL.  And, as you might guess, when athletics rule supreme, the players who play them also rule supreme.  Jocks were the BMOC’s, the big men on campus, looked up to by many, supported, lauded and favored by much of the administration and some of the teachers.  Allowed to do things and get away with things that other students couldn’t and administrators often turned a blind eye to how some of them treated other students, causing them to be loathed or even hated for the special treatment they received.  I was thinking of that this week as I pondered the beginning of another school year, and as we continually hear stories about bullying and other inappropriate behaviors that take place at school, and as I thought about this story of Joseph that we just heard.

In Numbers we read that the sins of the father will be passed onto the third and fourth generations.  And while we could argue about that, or perhaps argue about what that really means, we do see those sins continuing through the Abrahamic line, into this the third generation from Abraham.  There is a DNA in their behaviors that continues to repeat itself, and so they keep making the same mistakes, although it also allows them to keep doing some things well.  The same thing happens in our families and in other organizations as well.  Churches and other social organizations, like schools, will develop a certain DNA, and if you track through the history of a church you will see the same things happening over and over again.  And those things will continue happening until someone steps up and stops it.  Until someone says enough is enough and begins to move things in a different direction, or at the very least says this is wrong, the same things will repeat themselves over and over again.  And that certainly is happening with Jacob’s family.

Jacob was the favored son of his mother Rebekah, while his father Isaac, favored his older brother Esau.  Plotting together with his mother, Jacob is able to steal both Esau’s birthright and also the blessing due to him as the first born son, causing Esau to hate Jacob and to plot to kill him.  Sounding familiar?  Isaac too was the favored son, at the very least by his mother, who plots to have the older son Ishmael expelled from the household so that only Isaac will inherit from his father, even though he is the second born son.  And while we don’t know anything about what Ishmael things about all of this, we might surmise that he has some hate in him for his brother, and his people the Ishmaelites become contenders with the Israelites and also play a part at the end of this story.

Death by Suicide

Yesterday we learned of the loss of Robin Williams, who apparently took his own life after battling severe depression.  It's somewhat of a cliche, but also one that is often true, that those who laugh the most on the outside, or cause others to laugh, are hiding and covering for deeper pains, and that appears to be true for Williams as well.  For me his most memorable performances are not the ones he is perhaps best known for, but instead those like The World According to Garp or One Hour Photo, which showed that deeper, darker, vulnerable side.  As comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted yesterday, "We lose at least one great comic to suicide or ODs every year. Our jobs are to communicate, but we seem to not know how to ask for help."

There is enormous stigma that comes with suicide.  Stigma laid on the victim and on the families who are left behind.  There are also enormous questions that follow in the wake, and many things with which to deal.  I can still remember my pastoral care professor in seminary talking about having to deal with the giant "FU" that suicide victims often send out to the world.

And yet we must also recognize that most, if not all, victims of suicide are also dealing with and struggling with mental illness in many different forms.  And so while as we would not castigate someone who died from cancer, we should also not castigate someone who dies from suicide.  It is a tremendous loss and so we should take the time to talk about mental illness, to pull it from behind the curtain of shame and put it into the light so that we can actually deal with and work to get people the help they need.

Here is the official statement from the United Methodist Church on suicide:

We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide. We encourage the church to provide education to address the biblical, theological, social, and ethical issues related to death and dying, including suicide. United Methodist theological seminary courses should also focus on issues of death and dying, including suicide.

A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.

We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.