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.