Time to Speak


So I have debated about whether to write anything on this topic, but perhaps it’s the pastor in me, but I can no longer remain silent when reading various comments online whether in response to news articles or social media.  I’ll do my best to not belabor the point here.


It’s time to greater gun control in our country.  Please be clear here.  I’m in favor of gun CONTROL not an entire gun BAN.  Exactly how far this should go is still something I’m working out, but I’m all for the examination of the idea and a ban on assault rifles, of which the only purpose is to kill many lives as quick as possible.  I’ve always felt this way, but even more so considering the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  I’m not going to quote stats because so many studies have been done and manipulated on both sides of this debate, very few find stats compelling.  I’m not going to quote the Constitution because it inadequately defines whether the “right to bear arms” indicates ALL arms.  Also, the exact nature of the introductory comment of a “well-regulated militia” is additionally unclear and used on both sides of this debate.  Instead, I propose for your consideration two points of reason that I have been dwelling on as of late.  These admittedly come from my worldview as a Christian. 


First, many opponents to gun control say it would not keep events like this from happening.  To them, I agree completely.  Gun control laws won’t keep these things from ever happening again.  That’s correct.  However, it may keep SOME of them from happening.  If new laws make it more difficult that any one considering such a massacre would have to find illegal means of getting the weapons needed, that MAY discourage SOME from doing such acts. 


We applaud these types of laws in other areas of our lives.  We set speed limits, which work for SOME, but not all.  We set drinking ages, which preclude SOME, but not ALL those underage from drinking.  I know these are not nearly as important examples as gun control, but that makes the restrictions all the more important.  If perhaps, new laws keep just 1, just ONE tragedy from occurring, isn’t that worth it?  All that is in me and all I have learned about the kind of God we have answers, YES!  No, it won’t keep them from happening at all, but it may, JUST MAY, keep SOME from happening, and that’s a chance worth taking.


I keep going back to saying of Andy Stanley’s, “Do what you can for what you can’t do for all.”  I’m paraphrasing there, but you get the point.  We can’t do everything for all people in all places, but we can do some things for some people.  It’s important to do those things.  God has done that for us.  In a week, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  God’s own Son sent to do a huge thing in hopes that SOME might be reconciled, redeemed, and restored to Him.  Frankly, if it’s good enough for God to take that kind of chance with the life of His own Son, then it’s good enough for me.


The second reason I’d like you to consider is the chief message of the season in which we will soon celebrate: Christmas.  We have and will continue to hear this phrase over the remaining days of the year, “Peace on Earth.”  It’s in carols, we’ll hear it read in Luke 2 on Christmas Eve, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Peace.  It is one of the great messages of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus desired to give inward peace in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  He continued in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  He even greeted the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection with, “Peace be with you.” 


However, the verse that is probably the most applicable here is from Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  Among the most disturbing things I have read over recent days are Christians who are advocating for MORE weapons.  Look, I’m all for having police officers in schools, but to have teachers and other civilians take arms is too far.  Beyond that, it is increasingly disturbing to see Christians on the front lines in favor of MORE guns, to see them post pictures of weapons and sayings that clearly indicate valuing weapons above the desires of God and Christ. 


I’m not talking about wartime, which is a completely different discussion.  We are talking about people showing attitudes that clearly indicate they WORSHIP their guns.  Again, what proponents are asking for is not a gun BAN, but gun CONTROL.  In many ways, I get a picture of someone with a cross necklace, a Bible in one hand, and an assault rifle in another hand.  Is this the picture God has for us?  Is this what Jesus is calling us to be?  Is this the kind of “peacemaker” Jesus was talking about?  (Pun intended).  I don’t think so. 


As Christians God calls us to 1 primary thing, 1 primary attitude, 1 primary feeling: LOVE.  We are to love God and love others.  At its basic nature, a gun is a message in the opposite direction.  I would ask all Christians to please consider, if we are to live out God’s call to love, can that be done with a gun in your hand?  I truly don’t see how.  For those of you saying, “Guns can save lives, too.”  Yes, they can.  However, I question whether that is the way God wants us to save lives.  I question how earnestly we can truly spread the Good News of Christ’s love with a gun as our tool. 


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Ordination Service Needs Revisted in the Susquehanna Conference

First, my apologies for not posting in so long.  Just been one of these seasons for me…Now onto, the post:


For those reading this outside the Susquehanna Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, I’m not sure how much of this will interest you.  However, I feel compelled to write it any way in hopes that somehow these words might make an impact and enact appropriate change.


We just wrapped our annual conferencing together yesterday in our traditional way: the ordination service.  I love the idea of this service.  It can and should be the highlight of holy conferencing: the welcoming in of new members of our annual conference as fully ordained members!  However, as I have now attended 5 of these services, there are some glaring problems with this service, which are holding it back from being a fully, embraced and celebrated part of annual conference.  To be honest, I do not know who exactly puts this service together, whether it is our Sessions committee, a member of that committee, or the bishop.  I love all these people dearly, but that doesn’t mean changes do not need to be made. 


Frankly, to hear and talk with so many clergy looking for ways to get out of this service should be a huge red flag for whoever puts this service together.  Clergy should be tripping over themselves to be a part of this blessed event, but often, the opposite is quite often the practice.  Why is that?  Well, I think a part of the answer is time. 


Some might argue the timing of the service on a Saturday afternoon is the best, but I don’t think this is a deal breaker.  I think the major time issue is the length.  Typically, our ordination service takes 2 hours.  2 hours may not be out of the question if it is a well-spent 2 hours without any elements that might be filler.  However, yesterday there was quite a bit of filler, especially when one looks at the music for this service. 


Yesterday, we had 9 songs.  9!  I love music but 9 songs is over the top.  Not only did we do 9 songs, we did most, if not all, of the verses of these 9 songs!  Seriously, I am not kidding you.  If we as pastors did this within our local churches, we would no longer be in the disciple-making ministry.  We would be in the church-clearing ministry. 


I wish that were the end of the critique, but these 9 songs also gave little consideration to how mutli-facetted we worship.  This strictly traditional worship, which I understand for the memorial and retirement service at this point as those we are remembering and celebrating worshiped in this way for most, if not all, of their lives.  However, if we are celebrating the wonderful, multi-faceted vocation that is ordained ministry, why do we so constrain ourselves within the ordination worship service?  How many folks attend this service are friends or family who may never attend a worship service, and then we ask them to sing 9 hymns that they probably have never heard of, and a number of which were difficult to sing unless you have grown up singing them?  Is it so profane to think of putting some music in written in the 2000s?


I know I’m touching on people’s toes here, and I wish I knew who these toes were as I would go right to them instead of using this public forum.  However, I do not know who to go to with this.  Please, understand this comes from the heart of someone who loves what the Ordination service could be come.  I do not believe we need MAJOR changes to this service, but I do think with some tweaks in time and music, we’d have something that would be great.  I could be completely wrong, though, and I would be anxious to hear other people’s thoughts.  Am I off base here? 


All I want is the end of the annual reminder from the Bishop each year on Saturday morning of annual conference, “Clergy are reminded that attendance is required for the ordination service this afternoon.”

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Deacons and Sacraments Part 2

It seems that the petition I hoped would pass giving Deacons full sacramental authority is unlikely to happen. What s saddening to me is that it wasn’t even considered. What is upsetting me most, though, is tat so few Deacons seem to care. Instead, many are rejoicing because we have new aspects to our ordination beyond Service and Word. While I understand some folks passion about this, in all honesty, I really care very little about this. It won’t change the day to day ministry for me or hardly anyone. However, what would drastically change this, i.e. sacraments, fails with little notice of any deacons.

I don’t get it. Think about how much more many of our ministries would be greatly augmented by this! Yet, what I have heard so often is that this doesn’t need to be nor should it be a part of Deacon ministry. Really? Let’s look at this. The primary charge of Deacons is to bridge the church and the world. When this happened in the New Testament and people came to faith, what happened? In Acts 8 when Philip talked to the Ethiopian and he came to faith, what followed? Baptism. When Paul converted so many as he bridged the church to world, what followed? Baptism. If I visit someone in the hospital, and they come to faith, what happens? I have to find the nearest Elder, and then they can be baptized. If I am visiting someone on their deathbed and they desire communion, what happens? I have to say, “I’m sorry.” Yet some persist in saying thus is not a part of deacon ministry? These are just my stories. How many do there’s have to share?

But these stories are rarely shared or cared about by my deacon brothers and sisters, and that saddens and frustrates me. Instead, we spend time on other matters like titles and other theoretical issues that won’t change any practical part of our ministry. I’m not saying these other things don’t matter, but I do find it maddening when so much time is given to those issues and so little to the practical ones.

Four years from now when General Conference meets again, I can only hope a similar petition will be brought again. I can only pray at more of us will fight for it. People have talked a lot about discrimination this year at General Conference. Considering how many folks can do sacraments from local pastors to Elders, but Deacons cannot, we too are being discriminated against. So few of us seem to care, though.

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Deacons and Sacraments

The General Conference United Methodist Church is now underway. It is the denomination wide gathering that occurs every 4 years where any changes to discipline and other things are accomplished. While many are once again curious if the UMC stance on GLTB issues will change as well as changes in structure or elimination of guaranteed appointments are eliminated, I am curious if legislation will pass allowing full sacramental authority to Deacons. For those unaware, ordained deacons in the UMC are only permitted to assist in sacraments. Deacons can apply for sacramental authority in unique appointments, but to my knowledge, no bishop has granted this.

While there may be some legitimate reasons to not pass this legislation, one illegitimate reason is that this would negate the ministry of the ordained Elder. I have heard more than one Elder oppose this idea because, “Why would anyone be an Elder then? You can be a Deacon and avoid itinerating and still get to do sacraments.” This is wrong on multiple levels.

It implies that the only reason to be an Elder is to do Sacraments. If that was all someone said is why they are called to be am Elder,I would seriously question that. While that is a part of the ministry, it is not THE end all of being an Elder. What is ignored by this assumption is why no called deacon would ever be a good Elder, and why no called Elder would be a good Deacon. The nature of the ministries are drastically different.

Deacons serve in specialized ministries. They rarely more than that, and I only say rarely because I do my best avoid saying never. While Elders on occasion serve in specialized ministries, the primary ministry of the Elder is parish ministry. They lead the local church. Only Elders serve as DS’s. Only elders can one at be bishops. These ministries are so drastically dissimilar that no one called to one would choose the other.

Therefore I just don’t see a hypothetical where if the GC granted sacramental authority to Deacons, that prospective elders everywhere will say, “Awesone, I can be a Deacon now.” this idea completely ignores calling and shouldn’t have any place in a discussion on whether Deacons should be granted sacramental authority. There are other reasons out there, but this simply isn’t one of them.

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Why I Struggle With Media

I think I’ve pinpointed my struggle with religious media. It’s the same struggle I have with most media, especially politics: there’s no moderate viewpoints any more. We have lost moderate media.

Everywhere you read something or consume some form of media, it’s polarizing. It’s not surprising really. There’s little money in moderate viewpoints, and these are businesses first after all. The problem is it makes it hard to read, ponder, comment, etc with civility anymore.

In politics you have ultra conservatives like Rush or you have ultra liberals like Maddow. There’s no middle ground. This as infiltrated religious articles as well, and it quite frankly bums me out. You have huff post pretty much all liberal viewpoints unwelcoming of those who disagree or challenge them or fluffy regurgitation of traditional theology on the other. Neither are particularly healthy or helpful.

How i wish I could go somewhere to read and discuss challenging issues where healthy discourse of various views could be civilly discussed! Instead what we have is a host of media sites that refuse to listen, and offer those on either end of the spectrum the affirmation they long for.

I guess I’ll just have to stick to reading sports. At least those polarizing disagreements are over trivial matters!

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Rick Santorum: A Caution for Us All

My conservative friends may be taking a double take at the title for today’s post.  I have long been a part of the more conservative elements in the circles I run, but the things that Rick Santorum and some of his ilk have said over recent weeks and months have really caused me to question that label on many fronts.  The reality is I am just a moderate like so many Americans, but I didn’t probably realize how moderate I was until Rick Santorum started gaining momentum in the presidential primary…which many of us in PA are totally aghast at…


A good starting point are the comments Santorum made quoted in this article (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/santorum-obama-hits-new-low-of-oppressing-religious-freedom/#.T0j3U-5wd0c.mailto) regarding Obama’s requirement that all employers are required to pay for contraceptives.  Granted, this has changed somewhat since the article was published, but the main quote still applies.  Santorum says, “He is now forcing people to do things that he believes that they have the right, that they should do. The Catholic church has a theology that says this is wrong, and he’s saying no I’ve got a different, I’ve got a different — you may want to call it a theology, you may want to call it secular values, whatever you want to call it, it’s a different moral values. And the president of the United States is exercising his values and trumping the values of the church.”


In all honesty, I agree with the crux of Santorum’s statement.  The government should not be forcing any religion to do something it theologically disagrees with.  In this area, I am soundly conservative.  I am a big believer in less government…across the board.  Unfortunately, Santorum disagrees with this.  In a separate interview, Santorum bashes prenatal genetic testing as it would “encourage abortions” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/rick-santorum-prenatal-testing-encourages-abortions/2012/02/19/gIQAvmZeNR_blog.html?tid=pm_politics_pop).  While I do not question that as a possibility, I would argue in this case, Santorum is now asking for MORE governmental interference to affirm his theology.  This is the opposite of what he wanted in the previous case, but now when it works for him, he is all for it.

I find this inconsistency in many conservative political views.  We like to talk up less government in one case, but we are all for big governement when it works for us.  Is not the Roe v. Wade decision for against the outlawing of abortion a decision for LESS government?  Yet, if you are pro-Choice, you cannot be conservative.

The other issue with such drastic conclusions is that he condemns such slipper-slope thinking when it comes to the issue of climate change.  At one point, Santorum called the idea of global warming a “hoax,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/rick-santorum-global-warming-hoax_n_1260168.html).  Granted there is some measure of debate about climate change, but it is not a debate about whether our planet is warming.  Nearly all sound meteorologists and researchers agree that we are seeing at least a slight increase in temperatures.  The debate surrounds how much our planet is warming and how drastic the consequences may be.  Yet, Santorum, who jumps to cataclysmic thinking for genetic testing, says such drastic thoughts jump too far too quickly in this case.  Again, a flip-flopping…

Granted these are just a small sampling of what Santorum has said, but he continues to delude himself into thinking that he can unite America.  I find myself incredibly fatigued by the polarization of politics this country of ours.  Yet all the big money comes from those polar ends, and so we only get candidates of those polar ends.  No one I know has really voted FOR someone in many years.  We continue to find ourselves in elections where we vote against someone, whether it is George W. Bush, Barrack Obama, or whomever.  As much as anyone wants to bemoan the state of our country, this is the true tragedy.  Conservatives cry out against the loss of morality, when so many conservative leaders have shown themselves to be without moral character on many instances.  Liberals cry out against the starch intolerance for diversity our country was founded on.

In the meantime, while we bicker and argue amongst ourselves, people are going hungry.  Drug addiction is increasing.  We find our defenses spread across the globe spending money we do not have.  Our political leaders, both conservative and liberal, make more than many of us will ever get.  This is not about 1% or 99% or whatever you want to make it into.  It is simply about the fact that I believe the greatest danger to our country is not about it losing values.  The greatest danger is our refusal to see value in each other.

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So Fat Tuesday has arrived, or as we PA Dutch like to call it: Fausnaught Day.  A day to fatten up before the season of Lent.  Lent is truly one of the most powerful times in the Christian calendar, but for me, it is also an annual time of frustration by the question, “Whatyagivinup?”


That’s right.  Whatyagivinup for Lent?  Don’t get me wrong.  Giving up something for lent, or fasting, is indeed an appropriate discipline to practice during this Holy Season.  The problem for me, though, is has become a bit of an innocuous practice for many folks.  People give up soda or coffee or sweets, and while that may be a bit of a sacrifice for some, but from my experience so many that participate in this activity are further evidence of the “routine of church” instead of the “heart of church.”


I struggle with this practice from experience for a couple of reasons.  It is not just about what is being fasted from, but how it is being practiced.  First, far too many people advertise what they are fasting from, which is completely antithetical to what Jesus says in Matthew 6:16-18.  He says, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  In other words, don’t advertise the fact you are fasting.  It is something to be done between the one fasting and God.


My second issue is even a greater grievance I have about this frustrating common practice.  The fasts are often empty.  The complete fast is not just about giving something up, but using the newly freed up resources to grow closer with God.  So if you are giving up your morning cup of coffee, then take the money used for that and give it somewhere it’s needed.  If you are fasting from a meal, then take that time devoted to lunch and spend it in study and prayer.  Take the money normally spent, and yes, give it away.


Fasting is an innocuous, heartless activity when all one does is “give up sweets,” advertises it, and does nothing else with that time or money.  It is an empty routine, lacking all heart of what fasting is to truly be about.


So as tomorrow approaches, consider not just “Whatyagivinup?” but what you will giving towards?  Consider whether your fasting is empty ritual or a heartfelt discipline aimed at getting closer to our God.

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