““From Which Direction Does The Ministry Grow?”


Meditation for August 24, 2014, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1- 8, Matthew 16: 13 – 20

This is for this coming Sunday.  I am trying to get back into a writing mode.

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In 1970, while I was a student at Northeast Missouri State College (now Truman State University), there was a transfer of power in the office of the President. But this was more than simply a change in the person who was in charge; it marked the beginning of a change in the attitude and perhaps the intellectual direction the college was taking.

When I began classes at Kirksville, it was known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College and its primary goal was the preparation of teachers. In 1968, the “Teachers” part was dropped, though I suspect that the purpose and goal of the college remained the same. Ultimately, the goal changed and the name changed to reflect that change. I think this all began when Charles McClain became President of the college in 1970.

Now, during the first four years that I was at Kirksville, three individuals served as President. I knew who each of them were but I had never met them and the odds were very good that I would never actually meet them.

Each one of those three gentlemen operated on the theory of an “imperial presidency”. They may be on the campus but they, to the best of my knowledge, never interacted with the students and with only limited interaction with the faculty. The only time that they may have interacted with the students was on those occasions when they ate in the private dining room off the student dining room in one of the dormitories.

So, for some reason, when Charles McClain became the new President of the college, I decided that I would invite him to be my guest for dinner in the dormitory one evening. And with this in mind, I went over to his office one afternoon, found that he was free for a few moments, and offered the invitation for him to be my guest that evening for dinner. Much to my surprise, he agreed.

As I recall, I went about my business for the rest of the afternoon and then came back to his office around 6 or so to meet him and walk across the campus to the dormitory cafeteria. I do not recall what we talked about that evening though it was probably about college life. What I do remember is that no one recognized him as the new President of the college and assumed that he was my father.

Even the cafeteria workers, employees of the college, did not recognize their new boss. And quite honestly, that would have been expected. The overall “bosses” of the college never interacted with the staff and the only adults that came to dinner with the students were the parents. So it would have been reasonable for them to think that this gentleman in the suit accompanying me to dinner was my father and not the President of the college.

I cannot say how much change happened after that evening. The college would become a university in a couple of years and then ultimately drop the direction from its name when its mission and direction were more clearly defined. But something had to change when the new President did something that none of his predecessors (or the ones that I knew) had ever done.

In the 1980s we would see changes in the business world that spoke of new management ideas, one of which was the involvement of the top level managers in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Now, I have written about this before (I told the dinner story in “What I See” and the nature of change in “To Search For Excellence”) but it bears repeating, especially in light of the situation that the Israelites face in the Old Testament reading for today. When the upper levels of an organization do not know what is going on, that organization is really in trouble.

And what studies on excellence have shown time and time again is that the best change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. And if upper level management is going to embrace change in the organization, then they must be actively involved in the process. They cannot simply make a decision that change will occur and then expect it to take place.

The United Methodist Church is faced today with perhaps two problems. But being an aging church is, in my opinion, not one of the problems, provided you see age as a number on the calendar and not a state of mind. You can be young according to the calendar but have a relatively old state of mind. And this is evident in how they view the world.

Too many people in positions of management and/or power hold onto a world view that is outdated and limited. These individuals view the Bible as a fixed and unchanging law book. Theirs is a view of a world some two thousand years ago, when knowledge of the world was limited.

The second problem is that the size of the United Methodist Church makes it impossible to facilitate change and almost encourages a top-down model of operation.

But such models very seldom work and by the time the instructions are delivered from the top to the bottom, the meaning behind the instructions is lost. Now, I am fully aware that the only way the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, could receive the Ten Commandments was from the top down. But later on, when it came time to implement laws based on the Ten Commandments, then things got confusing.

Second, I also recognize that not much can be done about the present structure of the United Methodist Church. But we can either be bound by the structure, in which case, we lose, or we can, at the lower levels, where all the fun is, take it upon ourselves to do what it is that must be done, remembering the wonderful quasi-biblical phrase that is is better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission. And as I was writing this, it occurred to me that if any one of the Bishops of the United Methodist Church were to wander into my church on some Sunday, I probably wouldn’t know who he or she was. But that wouldn’t stop me from introducing myself and finding out if they needed anything or information about the church.

When you read the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, you can quite easily get the impression that the Pharaoh had no clue why the Israelites were even in Egypt. And because he did not know why they were there, he had ever reason to fear them. What happens when change is occurring at the lower levels of the organization and the upper levels of management don’t know what is going on?

The same is true for the United Methodist Church today. We still hold to a view that everyone should be in church on Sunday and when they are somewhere else, we get worried and scared. But we have forgotten the mission of the original church and what it is that we are supposed to be doing as people who have chosen to follow Christ.

All the talk about splitting the church over sexuality only amplifies the one problem that I mentioned above; an outdated and limited world-view. And as long as we think that limiting who can be a part of our church, we are showing our age and that we don’t know the mission of the church.

We can, if we want, wonder who the next Peter might be. Who will be the person upon which we can build, or in this case, rebuild the church? Quite honestly, I don’t see another Wesley, Whitfield, Boehm, Otterbein, Asbury, or any one of the many founding fathers and mothers of our denomination stepping forward.

I think it would be folly to look for one person to revitalize and/or change our church. But this isn’t a call for one individual; it is a call for many individuals. It has always struck me that as this denomination has gotten older and bigger, it has forgotten from which the strength of the church came, the laity. And maybe it is time for the laity, individually and collectively to step forward and do what they should have been doing all along.

What was it that Paul wrote to the Romans? Use the skills and talents that God has given each of you to the fullest possible extent? I wouldn’t wait around for someone at the top of the organizational pyramid to come up with an idea and hope that it will somehow work in our environment.

What works well for one church often times will fail in another. It isn’t about the lack of people or the lack of motivation; it is how well one mission idea fits within the scheme of each church. A plan that calls for 1000 people will not work in a church with only 10 members. But the church with 10 members can do a lot if it works with other churches, providing talents and skills that the other churches don’t have.

Not everyone can go on a mission trip but everyone can support a mission trip. But for this to work, the people who go have to meet the people who are supporting the trip. We need to start putting faces on the people that make up the church and not simply put a statement in the bulletin. We really need to get back to our roots, to that which helped the church grow.

Any organization that forgets where it came from is bound to fail. The church grew from the bottom up, with its roots in the soil of its community. Each community is different so each ministry is different. But the results of each ministry, unique and different, is the opening of the doors to the Kingdom for all the people.

So take the words that Jesus spoke to Peter so many years ago and put them in your heart. Each one of us is the rock upon which the church will grow and as it grows from our hearts, with all of our love and care, we can see the direction the ministry will take.

“Simplifying A Complicated Life”


First off, let me say that this will probably not offer the solution that you think it might. But that’s because I don’t think the “normal” solution works or that it has ever worked.

Let’s face it, our lives have become overly complicated lately and each day it seems as if they get more so. We long for a simple life, one where we can make easy decisions and troubles are limited. But I don’t think those days ever existed. No matter what age we may have been, each day brought about some sort of complication.

When we were just beginning to walk, it was a complicated process of being able to stand and keep our balance. And when we could keep our balance long enough, then it became a matter of moving one foot in front of another while still maintaining our balance. But once we could walk, boy (or girl) did we begin to move.

Then when we were older, we started riding our bicycle. We may have moved up from riding a tricycle but the process was still the same. Maintaining balance and then learning how to move our legs while keeping our feet on the pedal. Each step more complicated than the next. But walking by ourselves and riding a bicycle seem so simple now.

Our lives are inherently complicated, both externally and internally and we try to find simple solutions. Unfortunately simple solutions may not always be the best answer. We live in a violent world but I personally don’t believe that violence is the natural state of the world. Some may disagree with me, pointing out that in nature life is often times violent.

But is that how we should view things? Doesn’t the fact that we are supposedly a highly evolved creature with some sort of intelligence mean that we can see other alternatives?

Can we not see that violence is the product of other facts? Can we not see that violence is not always the answer to violence? Or have we allowed ourselves to believe, mainly because other people tell us, that violence is the answer? I have come to believe that, in this complicated world that we live in, we have become complacent in our actions, choosing, in the name of simplicity, to let others do our thinking for us and accepting the first option rather than thinking through the process.

Stop and think about it. Our world is full of experts telling us what to think and how to think (and I suppose that this qualifies in some way). But I am not telling you what to think or how to act; I am simply asking that you first think and then make the decision yourself.

I remember when I was growing up that there always seemed to be a controversy when certain families moved into certain neighborhoods with the comment being made that if that were allowed the property values would go down. I think that attitude still holds true today. But I thought to myself, how could that be if the family moving in had the money to buy the house in the first place? Let’s just say that I didn’t see the logical in that argument.

There are too many people making that sort of argument today and it still doesn’t work. I know today part of the reason why that argument was made and it is called fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the different. And what has transpired today is that when one person’s response is out of fear, it is likely that the next response will be made out of fear as well. And the circle, pardon me, will never be broken. It will only get bigger and out of fear comes violence and hatred. Out of fear comes greed as we are unwilling to share our lives with others, even if we know them.

Life is a complicated process and in our attempt to simplify it, we have made it more complicated. But I do believe that we have the capability of changing things, of making life, no matter how complicated it may be, simpler. We start by thinking and we then add a component of love to our lives. We will quickly find that it is an easier way to lead a complicated life. Will it happen overnight? Of course not! First, we have let the bad become to much a part of our life but if we keep pushing, it will disappear.

Second, we tell those who push anger and violence as the solution that they are wrong and that we won’t listen to them anymore. Pretty soon, the voice of reason will be louder than the other voices.

Simplifying a complicated life is not easy by any means but it can be done.

“Why Are We Surprised?”


Readers of this blog know that while I am not from St. Louis, St. Louis and Missouri play an important part in my life. So I am a little surprised and perhaps shocked by the activities in Ferguson over the past week.

But, to some extent, I am not surprised by the responses by both parties and their representatives. And why should I be surprised? After all, the actions of the police and the protestors are what we have come to expect in incidents and actions such as this.

Let’s face it, we have created the environment and culture in which we live today. We live in a culture of fear; we do not trust anyone who is not like us in any way. We see those who are in someway different from us as a threat to our way of life. We have become greedy because we see anyone coming close to us as a threat to our stuff and we are not quite prepare to share.

Our politicians feed on this fear. They paint a picture so frightening that we cannot do anything but live in fear. And the answer that most politicians offer, that we will combat this fear with force and strength, only makes the level of fear higher.

We live in a culture of violence. While we would hope for non-violent responses, we find that violence is often the first and immediate response and not by one side of the argument but by both sides. And the combination of fear and violence is a very bad mixture.

We live in a culture of guns. Not withstanding the 2nd amendment, we have created a culture were guns are the answer (which was never, I believe, the intention behind that amendment). We have allowed guns to dominate our lives. Our fear of what might happen, our fear that they only way that we counter the unknown is with massive power on our part has lead to many police departments becoming mini-armies, supplied by the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department.

We have allowed, through our silence, our acquiescence, and our apathy this world of fear and violence to encapsulate and consume us. And perhaps it is too late.

The only voices speaking right now are angry. I am not saying that they should not be angry but I sometimes think that words spoken I anger carry a different message from those spoken softly.

There are reasons to be angry; all one has to do is look at the world around us and know that there is a great deal of anger in this world. It comes from a world that lives in fear and depends on violence to solve its problems.

We need to stop and take a step back so that we can see what we are faced with. We need to listen carefully to the words being spoken and make sure that they are words of peace and solution rather than words of hatred and anger and discord.

We need to look at what is going on in our communities, both at home and abroad. How much better would the world be if the monies that are spent on armaments were spent on taking care of people? How much better would the world be if monies spent on death and destruction were spent of life and construction?

There will always be evil in this world but it cannot be left to infest the world. We, the people, must begin by saying that things must change. Monies spent on war must be spent on peace and those who promote hatred (in all forms) and such that we must have more power than any one else must not only be told they are wrong but shown that they are wrong.

Then we won’t be surprised when the world becomes a better place.

Understanding Advent in the 21st Century

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You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A Pre-Advent Bible Study”


All the details haven’t been worked out yet but we are thinking of hosting a pre-Advent Bible study at our place in October.

#1 Yes, I know Advent doesn’t start until November 30th but weather issues suggest having the study in October.

#2 I have come up with the following questions/thoughts:

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us consider the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of Advent?
  2. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

#3 What questions would you cover during such a study? (For those reading this on Facebook, I would appreciate it if you would also add your comments on the blog page as well. Thanks!)

An Anniversary We Need To Remember


We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. For the next four years or so, we are going to be reminded about the death and carnage that circled the world one hundred years ago.

In one sense, I am more attuned to World War I than World War II simply because I have my Grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in France and Belgium in 1918 and 1919. (I have photos from that period in his life on a backup file and if I can find the software to recover the files, will be able to recover them and publish them even though they aren’t pretty by any means.)

What I find interesting is not that this world went to war 100 years ago or how it began. What I do find interesting is how it all developed into what it became and what happened when it was all over.

First, think back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and how John Kennedy was worried that what was happening between Cuba, the Soviet Union, and this country could easily escalate into a major conflict. He pointed out the leaders of Europe felt that they were so attuned to each others thoughts that they could anticipate what they were going to do. Obviously, the outcome of that particular thought process didn’t work and millions died as a result.

The other thing that I find interesting comes from a series of comments for the post “Study War No More”. In response to my comment that wars did not solve problems, one commentator replied “except for slavery, Nazism, fascism, and communism”. I didn’t realize that his comment came from a bumper sticker.

When we look at the map of the world before and after World War I, we see the loss of two empires and the expansion of others. The African and Pacific colonies of Germany were given to other European countries and Japan; the Middle East was re-mapped to favor British and French interests (especially considering oil). The concerns of the people living in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia were ignored in favor of the winning colonial powers. And the burdens placed on Germany by the Allied Powers definitely contributed to the beginning of World War II.

So here we are today, watching wars and conflicts in the Middle East that have roots in a conflict in Europe 100 years ago. How different would the world have been if we been more attuned to the needs of the world instead of mankind’s selfish interests?

So this is anniversary we should remember. Maybe we will learn something this time around.

I published my Grandfather’s thoughts for the day of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 here – “My Grandfather’s Diary entry for this day, 11 November 1918”

“Why Is It”


That We Seem So Either Incredibly Stupid or Incredibly Dumb?

Forty-five years we walked on the moon and looked beyond the stars. Why aren’t we doing that today?

I saw a note the other day that stated the Missouri State Legislature was again considering a bill that would allow the teaching of creationism in schools. This is not the first time that this august body had tried to do this.

Back in the early 1980s, I was teaching high school chemistry and freshman science in the boot heel of Missouri. Now, you have to know that I was able to get through four years of high school without taking any sort of biology course. And during college, as a chemistry major, the only biology course I took was a 1-quarter course on evolution that met the graduation requirements for my B. S. Degree (and which, because of the circumstances at that time, I barely remember). I would later take a biochemistry course at Truman and courses at the University of Memphis in biochemistry and bio-inorganic chemistry.

But at the time I graduated from Truman, I was, in no way eligible for certification to teach biology. (Interestingly enough, when I applied for my teaching certification in Tennessee, I was certified to teach biology but I haven’t a clue how that was accomplished.

On that basis alone, I shouldn’t even be worried about the issue whether or not the issue of creationism versus evolution should be presented in the biology classroom. But when any group of people get together and make decisions for which they are not qualified to make, then I get a little worried.

It is what we can call academic freedom. Now, one may decide that there are certain areas that need to be covered during the course of a school year and over the course of multiple years of school but that is called a curriculum and it should be and generally is decided by qualified individuals.

But when any legislature, be it at the local, state, or national level, decides to pass a law which clearly imposes the beliefs of one group on the whole population, you are stepping outside the boundaries of the curriculum and into the area of academic freedom.

Now, I do not know what the Missouri State Legislature was thinking back in 1984. I do know that the idea of any legislature thinking is something of an oxymoron and that no one’s life or liberty is safe when the legislature is in session (thank you, Molly Ivins!). And I do know that if that legislation had passed, I would have walked out of the classroom right behind my department chair, who taught the biology courses at that high school and was a deacon in his local Southern Baptist Church. While he may have had sympathy with the ideas behind the legislation, he also knew that it was a wrong idea and a clear infringement on the academic rights of teachers in the state of Missouri.

The Missouri Legislature did not pass the legislation back then, in part because the Arkansas Legislature did and it was overturned in a court case. But now, it would seem they are going to try and do it again.

Why is it that they are doing this? Don’t they know that if it does passes, it will be challenged just as other similar legislation has and it will, in all likelihood, be found unconstitutional? Or are they so incredibly dumb and incredibly stupid to think that this time they might get away with it?

Now, what I fear the most is that this might actually happen. Consider what has happened to our schools over the past say forty-five years (and that is a deliberate time frame). We have progressively moved away from the type of science and mathematics instruction that enabled us to create rockets that took people to the moon and began to search the horizons beyond the stars.

We have seen in the past month failures of lab safety that had the potential of injuring and killing thousands of people (and I thought it was just an episode of “Leverage”). And we honestly believe, as a society, that war is somehow better than peace and that turning away people who are hungry, homeless, and in fear of their lives is better than showing compassion, feeding them and working to make their lives better.

We watched with awe and amazement as two men, representing this country and the whole world, landed and walked on the moon forty-five years ago today. We rejoiced in the triumph of mind, body, and spirit that this event represented. But, as the cost of the Viet Nam war continued to grow, we found it harder and harder to justify research and exploration. Why is it that, even today, we find war and violence so much easier to do when it has never solved the problem? Why is that we can do so much more good in the world feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and working to remove the causes of oppression and injustice and do it for far less than the cost of a war?

Why is it that we even have to keep saying this? At what point will we, as a society, a people, a nation, and a planet, begin to understand than we seek to find the answers, we get results but when we create more problems, all we get is more problems?

Are we that so incredibly dumb and/or stupid that we cannot see the handwriting on the wall? Can we not see that as long as we see life individually we will only lose; that the only way to succeed is in collectively unity?

Why is it that the only ones who want to introduce legislation that basically destroys the minds of children are those who seek power and glory for themselves? Why is that those who oppose the helping of others seem so greedy? Do they oppose helping others because they think they will somehow lose all that they have stolen, legally or otherwise?

At some point in time, many years ago, I was challenged to look at the world around me and to seek ways to make it better. Maybe I haven’t done such a good job as I should have but I will keep trying.  And I shall ask what you are going to do.