Saturday, April 29, 2006

Oh Say Can You Sing...?

A lot of folks have their underwear wedged in uncomfortable places regarding the national anthem being sung in Spanish. This discussion reminds me of a discussion that came up in a college music theory class. Some songs are hard to sing; they may be very chromatic, or have extremes in range. The Star Spangled Banner has a lot of range. I can't sing it unless it starts very low... lower than most people are comfortable to sing.

If we're gonna make changes or enact legislation to "protect" the national anthem, let's change the national anthem to something singable, like America, the Beautiful, and actually have the word "America" in it! Has anyone ever realized that The Star Spangled Banner doesn't mention the word "America?" It could be about any country.

Plus... the tune of our present national anthem is set to the tune To Anacreon in Heaven - a British tune and theme song first sung by some wealthy British esoteric society who met to celebrate music, food and drink (in short - it was just another drinking song). The range on the song is incredible... it may well be that it was written by drunks because it was the only state that most people could be in to have the courage to sing it proudly. [grin]

America the Beautiful, on the other hand, is set to the tune Materna, written by Samuel A. Ward, an American composer. It's a lot easier to sing, and fewer people screw it up when singing it.

If someone was crazy enough to write the National Anthem in Spanish, I say let them sing it and more power to them. At least I wouldn't know it when someone gets the words mixed up.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Don't Forget Joy

As usual... I forgot my camera. And believe you me, it was a Kodak Moment.

I've been to two proms in my life; the first one was my high school senior prom. The other one was last Friday night; our church's preschool had a "Preschool Prom." The fellowship hall looked like a ballroom; ferns and beautiful flowers, a fountain, nicely arranged foodstuffs and punch (I stayed near the punchbowl to be sure none of the preschoolers tried to spike it), a D.J. to play dance music, and a professional photographer to make portraits.

Of course, the preschool director has it as part of the yearly curriculum; practicing prosocial behavior, using our manners and proper etiquette, dressing appropriately for the occasion, etc. I must admit that the children were well-behaved. But more was gained than just children learning social skills and having confidence in public. Parents were there (also dressing the part!) and nearly all of the church staff came as well (and no, I didn't "order" them to). What did we gain? We got to see honest, uninhibited, magnificent joy... the children were our teachers that night.

Is it possible that "growing up" causes us to forget our joy in life?

I come with joy to meet my Lord,
forgiven, loved, and free,
in awe and wonder to recall his life laid down for me,
his life laid down for me.

- Brian Wren, "I Come With Joy", Hymn #617, U.M. Hymnal

Don't forget joy.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Faith Without Works Is Dead

Yes... it's a cheesy cartoon. It was also the only one I could find.

I've read the Book of James and often quoted it in the spirit of voting in Chicago: early and often. But it was really hit home to me when I read Eugene Petersen's translation of part of it in The Message:

Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup--where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?
- James 2:14-20, The Message

I am admittedly a workaholic, and that often has me working at the office late, carrying work home with me, or finding various hiding places to work with a laptop or pad of paper. Part of pastoral work is administration, part of it is teaching, pastoral counseling and visitation, part of it is planning worship, sermons, and liturgical/sacramental actions. And... part of it is working with the poor in pocketbook and/or spirit. I don't do the last one very well. Yet, "Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand and glove." I can't be handling the faith department and allowing others to handle the works department and call myself an effective shepherd. It has to go beyond token efforts, too.

So yesterday I went to Dyer Co. Tennessee - just 30-some miles from when I grew up - and did some disaster relief work. Several of my church members have been there several times already, and it's painfully obvious that there is much yet to be done there. This afternoon, I will help a few of our United Methodist men complete a wheelchair ramp at a residence. In theory, Thursdays are my day off. But sometimes, we get behind. I've gotten behind on my works of mercy. And to be honest, being outdoors as opposed to indoors has always been restorative to my soul.

Is it hard to find the balance? Puzzled on how to do it? As Master Po once said to Caine on Kung Fu, "That is not a puzzle, Grasshopper. It is only something you do not yet understand."

Balance, Grasshoppers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Changing Our Ways - WWJD?

I used to have a fascination with cars. It was a fascination that I couldn't afford when I was younger... and now when I'm at an age where I might possibly be able to afford it, it's no longer practical. WWJD? That is... What Would Jesus Drive?

My dream car: A 1970 Pontiac GTO (nicknamed, "The Judge"), which came standard with Ram Air III 400 V8 engine. It got 9-11 miles per gallon. Would pass everything on the road except a gas station. But it only existed in my dreams.

My first car (1981): a 1967 VW Type-1, a/k/a the Beetle, gave $800 for it. It was made the year BEFORE the gas cap was placed on the outside of the car, so I had to raise the trunk (which was where the hood was on most cars) to put gas into the car... which I'm sure amused many folks who drove by. However, from it I learned how to work on VW's and Porsches, which were basically the same air-cooled engine design. It had a 1300cc engine, and I think I once got it to a top speed of 82 mph. It suffered an untimely fate when a steering tie rod snapped at highway speed, and we flipped and rolled numerous times off of the highway. Remarkably, my brother and I along with a close friend walked away.

My next car (1982), which my brother and I shared: a 1972 Chevy Nova (also bought for $800). Before you say that I finally got my muscle car, it wasn't a Super Nova... it was a 4-door sedan, with a 194 c.i. in-line 6 cylinder. It was without a doubt the ugliest car in town; it was army green with a white top (looked like an Army vehicle), had "chrome moon" hubcaps, and was nicknamed "the General" at my high school as a result. It suffered from a bad water pump, which led to a cracked engine block on a frosty October morning in 1985. But, hey - it ran for three years. We got our $800 worth.

The next car (1985): a 1972 Chevy Impala (bought for $850). Now it WAS a muscle car, even though it was a four-door... and eight people could sit comfortably in it (and often did). A 350 V8 engine made that thing purr. But no matter what I did to it, it only got 8-10 mpg. Downhill.

After that... reality kicked in. My wife and I had a series of small economy cars. We now own two cars: a 2002 Nissan Maxima (a really nice car, btw), and a 1993 Ford Ranger truck. Both are super dependable. The Maxima gets about 28 mpg (not bad). My truck gets around 19 (ugh). Gas is nearly $3 a gallon.

Pastoral work necessitates a lot of driving. Both of my cars are paid for... as is a 1993 Yamaha Virago 750VX motorcycle. It gets 45 mpg. Guess what I'm riding a lot these days?

Riding the bike used to be my method of relaxation on a day off, or on a night like this evening when my wife and I rode around looking at blooming dogwood trees and azealeas. But these days, weather permitting, it's becoming more of a mode of transportation. I mean, from an environmental and stewardship point-of-view, 45 mpg vs. 19 mpg?

Some are speculating that gasoline may hit $4 a gallon this year. I suspect a lot of our ways will have to change... including our American love affair with automobiles. Will we be able to afford to drive our SUV's, our muscle cars? Will we have to look at car pooling? Mass transit? None of this is new to Europeans or Far Easterners. One day, we will need to run our automobiles on less powerful and efficient, but more economical and environmentally friendly, engines. Can we handle that?

I don't adapt well to sudden change, so I guess I'm trying to prepare myself early. So my hair may be a little messed up from wearing a helmet, and there may be a few dead bugs on my pant legs. But I suspect those changes are going to be tiny compared to future changes our nation and world will face in the years to come.

When the Chinese say, "May you live in interesting times," it's intended as a curse. I suspect rising gas prices may just be the tip of the interesting times ahead. Life isn't static - our faith calls us to be ready for change. In fact... our faith calls us to be agents of change.

Can we change our ways... and the ways of the world? Even if it means I'll never get to own my '70 GTO?


P.S. Would Jesus ride a Harley or a metric cruiser?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Being Responsible Stewards

David Broder is one of the few columnists that I believe tells it like it is – no matter how unpopular or brutal. He refuses to take a side in politics. Sometimes that infuriates Republicans, and sometimes that infuriates Democrats. That’s a sign that he’s probably a good and accurate reporter.

He recently wrote a column about our country’s financial mess: “Fiscal Ruin on the Horizon.” For years I’ve wondered how our government is able to function the way it does fiscally. Our government spends, spends, and spends, yet does nothing to increase income. I don’t believe in taxing and spending to death… but simply engaging in spending without taxing is worse.

The official Financial Report of the U.S. Government, of which Mr. Broder was able to secure a copy, shows that our accrual deficit (in other words, the U.S.'s credit card balance) is $760 billion. David Walker, the head of the GAO (the official bookkeeper for Congress), said that “amounts to $156,000 of debt for every man, woman and child in America. For a family, it’s like having a $750,000 mortgage — and no house.”

It was said that Everett Dirksen once uttered, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.” He was asked about that later in life, and he said, “Oh, I never said that. A newspaper fella misquoted me once, and I thought it sounded so good that I never bothered to deny it." It does sound good. Almost prophetic.

Why am I writing about this? Because our denomination, while on a smaller scale, is functioning in a similar fashion! When I went to General Conference as an alternate delegate in 2004, I was utterly shocked how we disregarded the recommendations of our General Council on Finance and Administration, when our treasurer said, “We have an infrastructure that we can no longer afford,” and yet the General Conference approved off-line expense after off-line expense – knowing that we would not be able to fund our budget. I can understand something as inefficient as the government to function this way, but it’s irresponsible for the Church to operate this way.

Most local churches are like families: they operate within a budget, and live within their means. I see how faithfully people give to the church, and how faithfully local churches seek to use that money. I must say that I'm proud of the church I serve and how faithful it is. My prayer is that our denomination, like our government, might be faithful with that which is given from faithful people.

I may be naïve… but hey, it’s Easter. We believe in resurrection!



Christ is Risen! Alleluia!!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

In The News

I was recently profiled today (Tuesday) on the blog, "Locusts and Honey," which can be found here. John's site is one of the best (and more humorous) blogs on the Methodist Blogroll. He has also profiled several other Methodist bloggers, and they can be found on the links to the left on his page.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Holy Week

This week is one that is painful and powerful for me, because it is during this week that I am reminded of the bad aspects of human nature: fickleness, fair-weatheredness, peer pressure, cowardice. All of these were alive and well in Jesus’ day, and they are alive and well today. But it is also a week of gratitude - knowing what Christ did and does for us.

Holy Thursday is the “bridge” this week (it’s only called Maundy Thursday if you do a footwashing), and marks the beginning of the Triduum – the three days before Easter. Thursday allows us to recall the Passover and the simplicity of the actions and words of Jesus at the "Last Supper" that have gone on weekly for 2000 years (taking, blessing, breaking, and giving); the footwashing in Jerusalem that allowed Jesus to minister to the disciples and gave them the example of how to be in service. Good Friday is the painful reminder of the darkness and denial that Jesus faced. Holy Saturday causes us to hold watch and pray. And, on early Easter morning, we celebrate the empty tomb and Christ’s resurrection.

Holy Week services from years past remind me how moved and energized I am by such services. Services of footwashing instill in us humility and Christian service. Holy Communion feeds us with the soul food of Christ. Tenebrae services plunge us into holy darkness and call us to confront our bent to sinning and our own fear of darkness and abandonment.

Just as many of us stay up until midnight on December 31st to keep watch for the new year, Holy Week and the Maundy Thursday-Good Friday-Holy Saturday triduum provide us the opportunity to keep watch (and hopefully continue to watch) for Christ, and allow for our restoration and reconciliation to Christ and each other.

There are opportunities at many Paducah-area churches this week to observe Holy Week, including our own church. May our prayer life, our spirituality, and our salvation be shaped and informed by such observances, and convert and convince us toward a continuous watching for (and with) Christ.


Friday, April 07, 2006

"Right Down the Middle..."

No... it's not another baseball story.

I found this video on Shane Raynor’s Wesley Blog. It’s hilarious… but there is enough of a bite of reality in it to cause me to ask some questions:

After hearing Betty Butterfield talk about the Methodists being “right down the middle,” I wonder if the humor hits a little too close to home. Are we guilty of being “typical?”

  1. How are visitors received into our churches?

  2. How would someone who has never been churched feel upon coming to our church for the first time?

  3. What impressions would a visitor take with them upon leaving our church services on a Sunday morning?

  4. What changes to we need to make?

Before we answer too quickly, we need to examine ourselves and our church: is it a reflection upon the God we worship in Christ. or is it is reflection of ourselves?


BTW... Betty just doesn't pick on the Methodists... she critiques several faith traditions here.