Saturday, September 30, 2006

Something to Think About...

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
--James Madison

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What is done in the dark, can be brought to the light.

First, for those of you who may have thought I disappeared, I had a problem with Blogger in the last couple of days that caused my blog to disappear. I appreciate the quick response from them, especially considering I pay nothing for this service. If it happens again, just be patient and try again in a few hours.

Associated Baptist Press has a very interesting article about the role of blogs in a church conflict. One of the churches mentioned is Bellevue Baptist Church, which is the well known church where Adrian Rogers served as pastor.

I would love to hear some reaction to this story, so if you read it, take a minute and leave a comment.

You can read the story by clicking here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A New Perspective on Pastoral Care

***Update*** Something went a little screwy when I copied text from Word to Blogger, I think I have it fixed now, but some of the punctuation may be missing.

Occasionally, I like to write about some of the things I have learned in class, and that is the case with this post. I am enjoying my class on pastoral care, so I decided I would write on that for this post.

For those of my readers who are or have been pastors, this may not be a "new perspective," but it was for me. One of the classes I am taking this year is "The Ministry of Pastoral Care." Before starting the class, I admit that I thought of pastoral care as something that mostly happens one-on-one. I thought I would be learning about dealing with birth, marriage, divorce, death and dying. And all of those things will be a part of the class. But, in a congregational setting, ministers must not only do what they can to promote the health of each individual member; they must also protect and promote the health of the congregation as a whole. We are currently reading two books that begin by discussing the health of the congregation.

The first book is Cultivating Wholeness by Margaret Kornfeld. One of the concepts introduced in our reading so far is the role of the pastor in helping to create what she calls "real community" in a church. Churches are frequently referred to as communities of faith.” A community may be thought of as a group of individuals, and, just like an individual, a community can be either spiritually and emotionally healthy or unhealthy. Kornfeld uses the term real community” to describe a community that is healthy. In a real community, a person feels free to be who he or she is; a person does not have to change or pretend to be someone they are not to be accepted by a real community. Real communities are safe” places to be. Real communities allow individual members to disagree with each other and question the leadership of the community without risking their membership in the community. When these characteristics are considered, it becomes easy to see why real communities are actually more prone to conflict. This should actually be considered healthy, however, because in any community situation, conflict is inevitable. The characteristics of a real community allow it to deal with conflict in a healthy way; they are able to, as Kornfeld puts it, claim their conflict” and potentially resolve them before anger reaches a level that harms the community as whole.

Kornfeld uses the term “pseudo community” to describe a community that is unhealthy. Pseudo communities may appear to be real communities, but appearances can be deceiving. There is little room for individual identity in a pseudo community because they tend to emphasize a group identity. The differences of the individual members are not valued, so individual members feel they must conform to the identity of the group and follow the leadership no matter what. Disagreement is discouraged which causes a build up of anger allowing the smallest disagreement to rapidly escalate into a war within the group. Pseudo communities are not safe places to be.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul described Christian community as the “body of Christ,” and the concept of real community fits nicely with PaulĂ‚’s description. A real community values the differences of its members and understands that each of us has different gifts. In addition, only a real community follows Jesus' command that we “love our neighbor.” The type of love Jesus was describing is not conditional; it is not a love that is available only if one is willing to conform.

The second book is Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals by Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley. Anderson and Foley discuss the impact that narratives and rituals have on our lives, our worship and the practice of pastoral care. All three of these categories are at their best when they are able to achieve the proper balance between the divine story and the human story. As human beings, we yearn not only to find our place in the divine narrative, but we also want to discover where God is present in our story. Anderson and Foley believe that worship and the practice of pastoral care do not have that balance. Ironically, they believe they are out of balance on different sides of the narrative spectrum. As Christians, we need to do a better job of integrating the human story into our worship and integrating the divine story into pastoral care.

There are many Christians who find worship to be boring and irrelevant. I believe Anderson and Foley are correct when they assert that one of the reasons for this is the fact that many churches have taken the human story out of worship. When a member of a congregation complains that a worship service is boring, he may be told that he is just being selfish and that the worship service is not about him; it is about God. In other words, worship is only about the divine story. But, what if the real problem is that the worship service is not allowing God's story to connect with the worshiper's story ? Would that not result in an image of God in which he can only be found in the church building and not in the daily life of a believer? When we attend a movie, we most often become the most interested in the character we can identify with because their story somehow intersects with ours; we see some part of our story in their story. Consequently, the solution to boring worship may not necessarily be a flashy service with upbeat music and high tech displays. Rather, the key to genuine worship is designing a service that illustrates how God is a part of our lives outside of the church and show where God's story is present in our story. If we are able to do that, our worship, whatever style it may be, will be more genuine.

On the other side of the coin, those entrusted with the ministry of pastoral care may have erred the other way: they have emphasized the human story at the expense of the divine story. One of the reasons for this is the tendency for counselors to draw from psychological theories and practices rather than the Christian story. When we begin to draw from the Christian story, we have to acknowledge the role of God as a co-author, and in doing so, identify where the divine story intersects with the human story. These acknowledgments allow us to open the door to the practice of communal religious rituals in the ministry of pastoral care. The result is that we are able to not only re-connect an individual's story to the divine story, but we are also able to reconnect the individual's story with the story of the community of faith.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Olbermann Commentary

School is keeping me really busy, but I hope to post something this weekend. In the mean time, I read this commentary that Keith Olbermann delivered on MSNBC last night, and I thought it was incredible. Video is available by clicking here.

This hole in the ground

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.