Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Straight No Chaser

If you heard my sermon or visited my Facebook page, you know about my shameless promotion of a group called Straight No Chaser. This was an a cappella group at Indiana University in the 1990s. When they were coming up on a 10 year school reunion, one of the members discovered an old video of the group and put it on YouTube for the rest of them to see. Their version of the 12 Days of Christmas got 8 million hits last year. One of them was the president of Atlantic records. The now have a multi-record deal.

Now, you need to know that the 12 days of Christmas is a song that, around day eight, I start looking for an ice pick to put through my eardrum so I don't have to listen any more. It's is not as bad as grandma and the reindeer, mommy kissing Santa, or those damnable dogs barking, but it is pretty horrible. If you are like me, you'll appreciate this version, which even take s a stab at the fact that maybe not everyone out there being forced to listen to this stuff in the malls is a Christian!

Most of the guys in the group were holding down regular 9 to 5 type jobs, not even thinking of show business as a career. They are still not sure where this will take them. At least one person I know is getting their holiday CD as a gift. Take some time out ans laugh.

The End of the Year

Yeah, I know. For Christians, it is the beginning of the year. For campus ministers, it is the middle of the year. But let's face it. Weall know it is December. The media has already been fixated on their 10 best ___________s of the year and their person of the year stories. It's over

Admit it. Christmas hasn't even come and you are already thinking about what you will do differently next year. I've got an idea. Since next year has already started, why not get going on living in it? You don't have to wait until January to work on those resolutions--if you want to lost weight, for example, starting now is better than after packing on an additional five over the holidays!

The day you start your journey is the day it gets shorter.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Thoughts on the Last Post

As an African American, I've certainly heard the cries of White Americans that we need to get over it. I've usually suggested that I will when you will. Nice to hear one of y'all figured it out. I'm sure there are more of you.

However, as a Christian and more specifically an Episcopalian, I now have to ask some other questions along the same lines. Since 1979, the Episcopal Church has asserted that gays and lesbians are beloved of God and that sexual orientation should not be an impediment to the ministries and sacraments of the church. Yet when Gene Robinson got ordained a bishop, people decided (albeit five years later) to walk out. He had to wear a bullet proof vest for his consecration.

We ask our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to sit quietly and wait for change and let provinces across the seas who have no idea what the discussion in this country has been like threaten our standing in the communion. We learned from Lambeth last summer that much of the work we have done on human sexuality has not been passed on to some of these bishops.

So it is just as valid for us to ask, "When are we going to get over it?" When are we going to live into our General Convention declarations? When are we going to let or lesbian and gay sisters and brothers live into their baptisms? And when are we going to stop letting ourselves be bullied by the threat of being cut off?

Maybe we should call their bluff, or let them call ours. Hold our grounds and let them throw us out (or not). At least we could end this nonsense and get on with the work of the kingdom.

Getting Over It

This showed up in the email today. Kind of turns the tables, doesn't it? The author is Andrew Manis, who is author of Macon Black and White and serves on the steering committee of Macon's Center for Racial understanding.

Here is a commentary responding to these phenomena which I have sent to Charles Richardson at the Macon Telegraph Newspaper. I hope he will see it into print:

When Are WE Going to Get Over It?

For much of the last forty years, ever since America "fixed" its race problem in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, we white people have been impatient with African Americans who continued to blame race for their difficulties. Often we have heard whites ask, "When are African Americans finally going to get over it?

Now I want to ask: "When are we White Americans going to get over our ridiculous obsession with skin color?

Recent reports that "Election Spurs Hundreds' of Race Threats, Crimes" should frighten and infuriate every one of us. Having grown up in "Bombingham," Alabama in the 1960s, I remember overhearing an avalanche of comments about what many white classmates and their parents wanted to do to John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Eventually, as you may recall, in all three cases, someone decided to do more than "talk the talk." Since our recent presidential election, to our eternal shame we are once again hearing the same reprehensible talk I remember from my boyhood.

We white people have controlled political life in the disunited colonies and United States for some 400 years on this continent. Conservative whites have been in power 28 of the last 40 years. Even during the eight Clinton years, conservatives in Congress blocked most of his agenda and pulled him to the right. Yet never in that period did I read any headlines suggesting that anyone was calling for the assassinations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, or either of the Bushes.

Criticize them, yes. Call for their impeachment, perhaps. But there were no bounties on their heads. And even when someone did try to kill Ronald Reagan, the perpetrator was non-political mental case who wanted merely to impress Jody Foster.

But elect a liberal who happens to be Black and we're back in the sixties again. At this point in our history, we should be proud that we've proven what conservatives are always saying -that in America anything is possible, EVEN electing a black man as president. But instead we now hear that schoolchildren from Maine to California are talking about wanting to "assassinate Obama."

Fighting the urge to throw up, I can only ask, "How long?" How long before we white people realize we can't make our nation, much less the whole world, look like us? How long until we white people can -once and for all- get over this hell-conceived preoccupation with skin color? How long until we white people get over the demonic conviction that white skin makes us superior? How long before we white people get over our bitter resentments about being demoted to the status of equality with non-whites?

How long before we get over our expectations that we should be at the head of the line merely because of our white skin? How long until we white people end our silence and call out our peers when they share the latest racist jokes in the privacy of our white-only conversations?
I believe in free speech, but how long until we white people start making racist loudmouths as socially uncomfortable as we do flag burners?

How long until we white people will stop insisting that blacks exercise personal responsibility, build strong families, educate themselves enough to edit the Harvard Law Review, and work hard enough to become President of the United States, only to threaten to
assassinate them when they do?

How long before we starting "living out the true meaning" of our creeds, both civil and religious, that all men and women are created equal and that "red and yellow, black and white"
all are precious in God's sight?

Until this past November 4, I didn't believe this country would ever elect an African American to the presidency. I still do n't believe I'll live long enough to see us white people get over our racism problem. But here's my three-point plan:

First, everyday that Barack Obama lives in the White House that Black Slaves Built I'm going to pray that God (and the Secret Service) will protect him and his family from us white people.
Second, I'm going to report to the FBI any white person I overhear saying, in seriousness or in jest, anything of a threatening nature about President Obama.
Third, I'm going to pray to live long enough to see America surprise the world once again, when white people can "in spirit and in truth" sing of our damnable color prejudice, "We HAVE overcome."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Small Colleges Can Teach the Church

A while back, I wrote a piece about what universities could teach the church. I attended two universities as an undergrad and have served as chaplain for three others. I also did graduate work and taught at one.

Now I find I am also chaplain to a small liberal arts college in addition to the large state university I work next to. I also went to a stand alone seminary, unattached to any larger school, which had a total of about 200 students. Here are just a few things I have noticed--and yes, this will sound a bit idealized. I know things are not actually this smooth.

Small colleges have departments that are sometimes only one person. A big department might have five people. The big exception might be the English department, particularly if the school has a required writing course. Otherwise, faculty tend to have to be generalists. While they may have an area of focus, they usually find themselves teaching well beyond their degrees.

What I have noticed is a heck of a lot more cooperation between fields at small schools. For one thing, they all work in just a few buildings and probably eat in the one school cafeteria. For another, it would be a lonely existence to stay within your department.

When a department is up for outside review, the whole school pays attention and lends support. When money gets tight (like now) everyone feels the pain. Talk about expansion is tempered with a desire to continue to serve the students well. Students and faculty know each other. Teaching is actually valued as part of the tenure process.

On the other hand, salaries suck, teachers have to teach more classes than at big schools, and they are still expected to do research. Lots of people get hired prior to finishing their dissertations, so they have to try to get that work done too. Libraries are small. Tuition rates are just as high as top ranked research universities.

Still the competitiveness seems to be much more muted. The trend towards specialization is confronted with the needs of the teaching load. And small school really know what they do well and target those potential students who will fit their particular niche, rather than trying to be all things for all people.

Now on that last one, I should mention just how much I dislike the church growth movements that suggest that we identify a particular group and aim our programming at them. For some reason, the group everyone targets is middle class suburbanites! A group of people who are all alike is not my idea of what church is about.

However, choosing particular ministries to concentrate our efforts on is not a bad idea. Most churches cannot do everything, and it is especially a mistake when smaller churches spread their efforts too thin. Better to do a good youth program (especially if it reaches beyond the congregation) than to do a mediocre job with youth and homelessness and mission trips and singles and....Well, you get the idea.

So what can small colleges teach the church collectively and Christians individually? Cooperate. Never see the world as only being your myopic interests. Do a few things well. Resist growing for growth's sake (growing because you are being successful at evangelism is a whole other issue.). Know what your mission is. Be okay with other churches doing some of the things you are not doing. Know one another. From time to time, take on tasks that will stretch you. Lend a hand when someone else's schedule gets full.

Next up: what colleges and universities can learn from churches.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Not-So Anglican Covenant

Here is a wonderful reprint from The Lead at Episcopal Cafe. A friend passed it on to me. You can read the whole article here: http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/

For all you non-Episcopalians out there, the Anglican Covenant is supposed to be an agreement that the various world provinces of the Anglican Communion sign on to as a way of governing our common life. Some of us thought a common confession and worship were supposed to be our cohesion, but some others want the ability to punish, those who step out of bounds (which, in their minds, means the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The reason: our attitudes towards gay people, blessings, and ordinations). Others see it as a way to punish provinces that cross bounds, such as the Nigerian churches accepting American churches as part of their dioceses. Many of us find the whole process repugnant and unAnglican. And now, apparently, the mother church cannot sign on anyway. Read on:

Church of England can't sign Anglican Covenant http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/church_of_england/church_of_england_cant_sign_an.html
Peter Owen of Thinking Anglicans calls our attention to what may be the most overlooked aspect of the current controversy in the Anlgican Communion, namely that Rowan Williams believes that the solution to our problems lies in the development of an Anglican covenant which the Church of England CANNOT LEGALLY SIGN. (excuse the capital letters, but really...)

Note this response from the Secretary General of the Church of England to a written question from a Synod member:

Mr Justin Brett (Oxford) to ask the Secretary General:

Q2. What research has been undertaken to establish the effect of the Church of England’s participation in an Anglican Communion Covenant upon the relationship between the Church of England and the Crown, given the Queen’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the consequent tension between her prerogative and the potential demands of a disciplinary process within the proposed Covenant?

Mr William Fittall to reply as Secretary General:

A. The Church of England response of 19 December 2007 to the initial draft Covenant noted on page 13 that ‘it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take.’ The same would be true in relation to delegation to any other body of the Anglican Communion. Since as a matter of law the Church of England could not submit itself to any such external power of direction, any separate possible difficulties in relation to the Royal Prerogative could not in practice arise.

A pattern is beginning to emerge here. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada must cease blessing same-sex relationships, but the Church of England does not have to because it does so quietly. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada must relinquish their autonomy and sign on to a covenant that will almost certainly be used to marginalize them, but the Church of England doesn't have to because it is an established church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury continues to demand from the North American churches what he does not ask from his own people. And the peculiar thing is that nobody seems to find this objectionable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Result

And guess what? They did not print my advice to the new president. Go figure.

More comments coming soon. It's been a busy week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Letter to the President Elect

I received this request in my email yesterday from a features reporter:

"I’m working on a story that will run Nov. 8 on how local faith leaders would minister to the next president, whoever he may be, should he choose your parish to worship for a Sunday or weekly before Inaugural Day. It could be a letter to the president or just a thought or advice on healing divisions. If you are interested, I’m looking for a written paragraph or two at the most, and will run them as written.

"I’m trying to collect these before the votes are tallied because I truly want this to be a story more about what the president inherits and how he/she might best with it."

As I wrote my response, I realized there were several ways to respond here. I could have outlined a strategy for regular meetings and helping him to think through the implications of his new position in spiritual terms. Unfortunately for him, I have been reading Jesus for President with my congregation (If you have not read it, you need to.), so I am not very inclined to think in terms of fixing the political system as much as I am thinking about how we are called to live within a different landscape, the Kingdom of God. Hence, I gave the following response, which was simply my challenge to try to live as much as a Christian as is humanly possible in that job. Hey, if you get just one chance to speak to the President, say what is on your mind!

"Mr. President: Congratulations. Please remember that Jesus, the author of the faith you confess, never held public office and rejected the temptation to rule. In order to do your job well, you will have to worry less about maintaining power or getting reelected and more about caring for the people of this nation and the rest of the world. Show all of us that that the true America recognizes that people are more important than empires, food is more important than bombs, and housing and medical care are more important than our reputation.

"Remember that Jesus rejected violence, even to save his own life; reject torture, reject revenge, and reject nation building, all of which seek to serve our own selfish ends. Remember that God gave the world to us with the instruction that we be its stewards; be a leader for a new way of relating to the land we have so severely abused. Remember that Jesus spent most of his time with the poor, the outcasts, the despised, the criminals. the workers, the foreigners in the land, and even the people of other faiths; befriend and welcome those who are considered the ‘others’ in our world. Finally, no Christian acts in isolation; find a way to maintain your life in a faith community."

So what would you have written?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What the Church Can Learn from the University

I’ve spent a lot of time on university campuses. A lot of time and a bunch of campuses. The University of California, Riverside. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Johns Hopkins University. North Carolina Central University. Duke University. Shaw University. And now, I am in my third year as the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Now before I go any further, I have to mention that Guilford College, which I also serve, is conspicuously absent from this list. So is Virginia Theological Seminary, from which I actually got a degree! Never fear all you Quakers and seminarians. Your time is coming. This column is specifically about universities, which you are not. That column is coming.

I’ve been a student, faculty, staff, and chaplain at these institutions, occasionally serving in more than one capacity, even at the same time. I know universities. Let me just say for all the church people one thing I know you want to hear: Universities are incredibly screwed up places to work. The faculty intrigue about tenure and promotion, the jockeying for control of a department, the utter lack of concern about meeting student needs, the bizarre and failed attempts to come up with a coherent and consistent alcohol policy, the borderline personalities, the extreme political correctness, the panic over publishing, the funding shortages coupled with wasteful spending, I’ve seen it all.

But now that I’ve castigated universities for their wackiness, I have to say that they get a lot of things right that we in the church cannot. Universities, for all their failures to protect the rights of minority groups, are so far ahead of us in the hiring process that it is a tragedy. For one thing, universities tend to be a lot more honest in stating who they want to hire and why. For example, a department that is all male will openly state it is looking strongly for women to apply for an open position because it believes a woman teaching in the department will be good for students, and will balance the type of research being done, and maybe even that the lack of female hires is an indication of a problem. When a gay person is hired, there is often as much attention paid to finding his or her partner a position as there would be for a heterosexual spouse.

In the Episcopal Church, we’ve made great strides in much of the country when it comes to the calling of women to lead churches. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are still areas of the country in which women cannot get ordained, much less called to lead churches. And it is still probably true that a black priest has a better chance of getting elected bishop than of being rector of even a medium sized predominantly white church. African Americans advance their careers by becoming diocesan staff or appointed deans of cathedrals. We clamor for Spanish speaking clergy but fund the positions we have for them at the absolute minimum. And for gay clergy: good luck. There are places that will take you, but….

People in universities will be happy to tell me about their poor track record on the road to equality. Don’t bother. The Promised Land may be a vague blur on the distant landscape for you, but we’re still back at home loading up the truck. For all the times your car breaks down, at least it is on the road. We’re still arguing over whether or not the trip is a good idea. You have some pretty good road maps. We’re trying to decide if the world is flat or round.

A second example: Universities have built it a system of evaluation and accreditation that involves outside visitors, a standardized evaluation plan, and a schedule that everyone knows years in advance. It is a great deal of work and everyone hates going through it. But every academic department goes through it.

Churches are individualized enclaves (even those that are part of a denomination). In some cases, clergy get moved at the whim of a denominational leader whose information may or may not be accurate. In other cases clergy outstay their welcome for years because no one knows how to challenge their authority. Evaluations are done sporadically at best, with criteria that are developed on the spot—and the congregation’s responsibilities for getting the ministry done are rarely acknowledged. It’s all the clergy’s fault if things do not go well.

I seem to vaguely recall that one time there was a connection between the church and the university. Oh, wait, now I remember. We started most of them. Given our current state of confusion, it is no surprise that the good universities have largely disassociated themselves from the churches. Maybe they noticed who was getting things done.

It would be great to get screaming angry letters from university folk about how wrong I am about this. Unfortunately, hardly anyone is reading me yet.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the next post will be "What the University Can Learn from the Church." But that is another day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Obligatory Election Post

Trust me to set up all these grand ideas of what I will be blogging about and then ignore them with my second post.

Has anyone out there with a blog not written about the candidates? Is there anything else you need one of us to say?

Okay, I’ll answer both questions for you. NO and HELL NO.

Sorry. I just needed to get that out of my system. Now, let me say two things. First, there is not excuse for not voting this time people. Second, protest voting for one of the minor party candidates is a stupid waste of time. No one cares and your protest goes unnoticed. The truth is, the major party candidates are different from each other, and both of them are more likely to be able to get their agendas through Congress than Bob Barr, Ralph Nader or the other third party people out there. The next president’s primary job will be cleaning up the mess from the last eight years—you can forget just about anything else in their platform—so they better have the backing of at least some people in Washington.

If you need to feel good about yourself, don’t vote for the people who are going to lose. Stop going to Starbucks and give the money to your favorite charity. Dance naked in your living room (draw the curtains, please). Go work for Habitat. Volunteer at your church for one of those jobs no one wants. Quit drinking. Tell your pastor how you really felt about that awful sermon he or she preached last week. Start that diet or exercise program.

If you do any of these, you’ll feel better a lot longer than the half a second it takes to push that button. Protests only work if someone notices them. In this case, none of the minor parties have made enough of a case for why we should choose them, so it’s not going to matter.

Oh, and one last thing. No matter how many people want to say it, let me just go on record: Sarah Palin is not, I repeat, not a hottie. And if they were going to spend all that money on clothes, they should have done a better job.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Revolt Now

Okay, everyone who knows me knows I have resisted a blog for the longest time. So the question begging for an answer is 'why now?'

Too bad I don't really have a good answer. Maybe I just gave in to the fashion. Or maybe I realized how many people I might meet -- I like meeting people.

I do know why I should not have a blog. 'Cause I hate deadlines. I already have one. Some people call it a sermon, but from my point of view, its a deadline. There is no option but that I have something to say at 11:00 on Sunday mornings. The idea of having a blog means that you write something. And even if there is no set deadline, we've all read blogs that we STOPPED reading because the blogger didn't post often enough to make it worthwhile.

Which leads to the second reason why not; I have the basic insecurity that maybe I don't have enough to say to sustain this. As above, we've also dropped blogs that had little to say or kept repeating the same tired themes. I refuse to be one of those.

Finally, I see no reason to have a blog simply to point out stuff out there that other people have written, no matter how witty, intelligent, thoughtful, ironic, dry, or creative it might be. If I want you to see it, I'll email you. If I am going to blog, it will be mostly my own stuff, or, at the very least, my comments about someone else's works.

So who am I? Well. I am many things in this world:

- Owned by a Siberian Husky named Andy
- Home Brewer (recently reaching into wine too!)
- Former fat kid and successful dieter
- Home owner
- Episcopal Priest and Campus Minister
- Single Guy
- Person who has actually visited Kazachstan
- Surrogate Parent to Several high school and college students over the years
- Person who does not easily align with the right or the left
- General Convention Delegate (the Episcopalians out there understand what that means)
- American of African, Native, German, and Irish descent (and still looking)
- Person who is fed up with the way Christianity allows itself to be sold in the culture
- Watcher of Dr. Who from the beginning (currently on the second doctor) - Wow, what kind of a geek does that make me!?
- Survivor of an aortic aneurysm

And, I will certainly add to that list. But the title of this blog is not "Dr. Who Watcher", but "A Revolting Christian." Since no one has ever called me that to my face, you can assume that I mostly mean rebelling, rather than disgusting, though I suppose to some people that's the same thing.

What am I revolting against? How about these for starters?
- People who talk to the media as if their understanding of Christianity is the only one out there
- Media people who are too stupid to know the truth about that or fail to point it out
- Liturgical Nazis (Q: What's the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? A: You can negotiate with a terrorist)
- Christians who threaten to leave (or actually do) when they don't get their way
- Christian litmus tests for politicians
- Biblical literalism (I've never met a literalist who was consistent about it)
- Hymns sung too slowly
- Sacristy rats (you know who you are! Only clergy with weak egos want you around.)
- Complaints about overhead projecting in church (It can be done well.)
- Middle aged women (and one guy) in black leotards prancing around the altar with streamers and calling it liturgical dance
- The use of the words 'just' and 'really' in prayers ("We just really want to thank you Jesus....")
- Interfaith services that reduce God to a warm fuzzy
- Any services that reduce God to a warm fuzzy
- Ordination processes that take five or more years
- People who retire from the military and get a call to be ordained after they begin receiving a full pension
- Complaints about acolytes in sneakers, female clergy in open toed shoes, and ushers not wearing ties
- The notion that I cannot bless two people's relationship, but I can bless your battle cruiser
- The belief that Jesus turned water into grape juice

Okay, this could go on for awhile, so I had best quit while I'm not too far behind. What I am seeking here is ways to strip the church of its silliness and to present ourselves to the world as a transformative presence like Jesus did. To do that, we need to toss a few things away and start adding a few new ones. Like not fighting all the time. Or really accepting people the way they come to us. Like doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

In other words, this blog will not be aboutcreating a list of the things I dislike (see above), but about suggesting alternatives, reviewing new ideas that others are trying, and posing questions about things we might want to reconsider.

And maybe I'll talk about a few things that have little or nothing to do with the Church (remember that home brewing item?)

I bet you can add a few areas to reconsider to my list. Hopefully, I've ticked off one or two of you out there. Or maybe no one will ever read this. Does anyone ever read the first post of a new blog?