Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shall I Tell You How to Vote?

How would you feel if I told you how to vote?

Because “the Bible says so.”

This is exactly what’s happening in 35 churches across the country this coming Sunday. They will be told how to vote in a Sunday event labeled, "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."


Interesting concept, isn't it? "Freedom" to restrict thought, control behavior, dictate policy, quench diversity, all in the name of god. Sounds frightening, doesn't it?

They are a group of highly conservative churches working with the Alliance Defense Fund. They hope to challenge the IRS ruling that prohibits congregations from endorsing candidates and force a court case.

A pastor claims to have the Constitutional right to tell the congregation his views. Indeed, that's a right guaranteed to all of us, but to tell others how to vote and to claim the authority of the Bible is another matter.

The separation of church and state if vital to both.

Check out the article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

For Dog Lovers

Sent to me by a friend ...

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.'

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The Six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy-ride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

If what you want what lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.


Prayer - September 21, 2008

Walking quickly, head down, absorbed in thought … wonder what she’s thinking …
Is my child going to be okay?
I’ve got to get to work on time today?
I wish Mom and Dad were feeling better?
How are we going to pay the bills?
Why do we fight all the time?
What’s happening to my marriage?
What’s happening to me?
Her head is down …

He’s burdened, LORD.
There’s a weight on his shoulders …
Something dark and hard …
He doesn’t talk about it …
He says he’s okay …
He shrugs his shoulders and turns on TV …
He’s burdened, LORD …

Lehman Brothers belly up …
AIG bailed out …
Jobs, benefits, retirement plans …
Tough times for many …
Things upside down …

Some say: “We’ve been too greedy.”
“Too many risks taken.”
“Not enough accountability.”
We didn’t think … or did we think we might get away with it?

A trillion dollars … can’t even imagine …
I wonder, LORD … how many schools could have repaired or built?
Or bridges and roads?
Rail lines and subways?
Research and development?
Training for teachers?
Health care for everyone?
A trillion dollars …

LORD, what about our priorities?
What about my priorities, LORD?
Do I care … or do I just talk good?
How much of my life am I willing to give in order that others might have a slice of the pie?
LORD, help me search my soul!

Help us all, O LORD.
“We’re followers of the Prince of Peace,” we say.
“Of course we believe,” if someone should ask.
We say these things so easily …
LORD, help us to go deeper, higher in our thoughts and attitudes… to be more than lip-Christians, but hands and feet Christians … put our back into it … take up the burdens of faith, hope and love.

The refugee camp, O God, reaches to the horizon …
Tents and tarps, cardboard and tin, ten thousand tired faces …
The air dense with smoke and foul odor …
Children cry … children laugh …
A soccer game stirring up a cloud of dust …
Folks talk … folks wonder … far away from home … strangers in a strange land …

The young lady from France steps out of her tent …
An international aid worker …
Well-educated … good family … always wanted to do something good… she’s here now – to help ten thousand refugees – when’s the war going to end? … where are the doctors? … where’s the medicine? … is there any hope?… dirt creases her face, and she’s tired from too little sleep.

She’s a young lady, LORD, filled with visions of a better world – keep her safe, we pray, and safeguard her vision.

We give thanks, O LORD, for our place in time.
We’re here to worship you … to learn and grow in our faith …
To be comforted … but also disturbed …
To be consoled, but to be stirred and alerted as well …
To be forgiven … and to forgive those who’ve hurt us …
To receive mercy … and then to be merciful …
To have burdens lifted, so that we can take up our cross and follow you …

How shall we think, LORD?
How shall we live?
You said we’re the light of the world …
You said, “Let your light shine.”
How do we do that, LORD?
How do we do that?

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Religion and Politics

Do religion and politics mix?

Not really, but then neither does olive oil and vinegar … you give ‘em a good shake, and they intermingle for awhile, but ultimately, oil and vinegar go their separate ways. But what’s a salad with one of them missing? A good salad needs both!

Religion and politics are like neighbors with a a Tim Allen (“Home Improvement”) kind of fence between the two; yet Tim and Wilson talk most every day over the fence.

When Sarah Palin says our war in Iraq is a righteous cause given by God, I take a deep breath and pause.

I suppose it’s possible to say that … yet, it’s just as likely that one could say, “It’s not a righteous cause; it’s expansionist and driven by hubris.”

Religion says a lot of things about a lot of things, and it’s terribly important to know when to say what in any given moment. It’s a delicate conversation requiring wisdom and discretion.

Like good neighbors, neither tries to tear down the fence and move in. Rather, we speak to one another, maybe even shout and argue now and then, but the fence remains, and we stay in our own backyard.

Whenever religion and politics get too close, history reveals lots of problems.

When the crown and the crosier become indistinguishable, when the crown uses the crosier to further it’s pet projects by dressing them up in religious garb, and when the crosier enjoys the status and influence of state power, coercing folks into belief and parading around in the pomp of huge buildings and glorious processionals, it’s a formula from hell.

For centuries, the fence was torn down in the Western world, and it was virtually impossible to say who lived where. From time to time, a religious war would erupt; the pope would excommunicate the king, and the king would invade and send the pope packing, but most of the time, pope and king, crosier and crown, were hand-in-glove in controlling the empire and dominating the thoughts and values of its citizenry.

The Western world has paid an enormous price for this marriage – the crosier has lost its ability to challenge the crown, other than in irrelevant bedroom issues, and the crown has cravenly used the faith to cover its own immoral tracks. We see these issues anywhere in the world where the fence has been torn down. Whether it be some of the Islamic nations, the State of Israel as it is dominated by the Conservative wing of Judaism (they decide who’s a Jew and who isn’t when it comes to citizenship), or efforts by far right Christians to impose a theocratic model upon America through courts and congress.

Maybe another image will help.

Think of Dancing with the Stars – it takes two to tango, and when it’s done right, it’s powerful. Neither partner surrendering to the other; each engaged in a playful, if not serious, effort to prevail; yet if one prevails, the dance fails … the dance goes on as long as neither partner wins!

Religion and politics?

Good neighbors … great dance partners!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Catholic Bishops

Catholic bishops wade into campaign politics by barring Joe Biden from communion for his stand on abortion.

So what’s a Christian to do?

What’s a Roman Catholic to do?

The Roman Church is a powerful political force in this nation and around the world. One of the last things Pope Benedict said to his American audience upon departure: “Obeying the teachings of the church is part of your Catholic faith.”

Well, that says it all, doesn’t it?

I don’t like to engage in intra-church criticism – after all, we’re all in this together, but I’m a Protestant, and I affirm the Protestant heritage – a heritage that worked hard to liberate the believer from the control of the church, so that the believer could relate to God unhindered by the trappings of the church.

Presbyterians have never engaged in telling folks what to do.

Or have they?

There was a time when Presbyterians were told, generally, that drinking, dancing, card-playing and theater attendance were of the Devil. And there was time, as well, when Presbyterians were inclined to slam shut the communion door to one another, depending upon who the elders were at the time.

Early on, when Constantine embraced Christianity – more a political move than a spiritual one – the church became a vast institution with landholdings and powerful clerics.

The stability of Europe often relied more upon the crosier than the crown. Whenever I hear of a bishop telling folks how to think and behave, I’m reminded of the Middle Ages when people feared the church because it had the power of excommunication – that is, to bar one from communion and damn their soul to ever-lasting fire.

When we study the New Testament and the life of Jesus, we see God eschewing all forms of power and control. Having learned some hard lessons along the way, God realized that violence against the human spirit only begets dysfunction and more violence. So when God comes to us in Bethlehem’s cradle and finally becomes, not cross with us, but Cross for us, we see another way, the way of love. Longer, slower, more uncertain, but in the end, the darkness cannot overcome this kind of light.

I guess bishops will do what bishops do, but it’s a far cry from what Jesus envisioned when he gave the Spirit to the disciples and bid them go to the world, to love as he loved, not with might, but with mercy; not with control, but with compassion.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday Prayer - September 14, 2008

Prayer … Sep 14, 2008

Howling wind, … pounding rain … rising water, dank and dirty … homes boarded up; stores close; people flee - some can’t … some won’t … and who can count the cost … Ike rages …
So much damage … lives changed … some return when the sun shines again; some stay where they are; to make a new home for themselves … as best they can … remembering and wondering …

Campaign time in the United States … promises to run mud-free … and then mud slinging anyway … how to tell the truth … to win an election … the power of lobbyists … right and left; conservative and liberal … the war in Iraq; the war on terror … what’s right? What’s needed? How shall I vote?

And what about marriage … between a man and woman, only?
What’s love?
Does love come in different forms?
Everyone wants to love and be loved … to be safe with someone … so who’s to say, LORD?

We have a Bible, O LORD … your word, some say … but how to read it, understand it, interpret it – more than one preacher is quick to say: my way or the highway … more questions than answers sometimes … so who’s to say?

We are your people, O God … we’re here to worship, to learn, to grow, to become good salt and a clear light … to ask the questions that make for life … to know how to asses the time and think through the issues …
And to know ourselves, too, a little more today than yesterday … to get our act together; but it’s hard, LORD … life is rarely what we think it ought to be; and many of us have had to leave dreams behind … say goodbye to cherished hopes … take a different course … find our way in a strange land …

Was it a miscalculation?
An error?
Someone not paying attention?
How could it happen?
Trains collide … chaos and shock … debris and death …
LORD, have mercy, we say.
Grace to ease the sorrow.
Some means to heal the pain.
But who can bring a life back?
Who can stitch a family back together again?
We’ll do our best … but sometimes more is needed.
Can you help LORD?
Will you help?
What will it look like if you do?
The tenderness of a nurse?
The strength of a family?
The power of faith and hope in the face of adversity?
The human spirit bearing its burdens with dignity?
The quiet witness of your Love in the dark and trembling corners of the soul?

Covenant on the Corner, O God … a sixty-year story … Sunday School and Preschool … potlucks and preachers … so many folks who’ve passed through these doors … to sing the songs of Zion … to hear the Word proclaimed … to make a difference in their world … to bear witness to Jesus … to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
We’re a good congregation, LORD.
We’ve been a blessing to many.
We haven’t always gotten it right.
We’ve lost our way a time or two.
Sometimes we’ve been so interested in ourselves, we’ve lost sight of the gospel.
But we’re trying to figure it out, LORD.
We’re paying attention.
We’re praying …
And we’re trying to love one another as you have loved us.

It’s good to be here, LORD.
To be a part of this story, unfolding, emerging, transitioning …
Something new … something old … something borrowed …
Who knows, LORD … we’re eager and ready for ministry …

For the world, O LORD.
That’s why we’re here!

In the name of Jesus who taught us to pray, saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name …”