Friday, November 09, 2007

Holy Tongue Wagging

Quote by Kathleen Norris....

I recently was working with other women in a food pantry. When the number of people we were helping started to drop, we became concerned because we knew many still needed more food. So we started what I call “holy gossip,” asking questions of neighbors, relatives, and friends to find out who needed food. We found plenty of people who qualified for help but weren’t coming to get it. So we made up packages, loaded them in our van, and delivered boxes to elderly people living alone.

is related to the word for godparent, so it has a holy derivation. I was shocked when I discovered this! Unholy gossip is bad, of course, but I have a healthy respect for holy gossip.

I love the part in our church service when, before prayer, we share joys and concerns. We hear about somebody’s grandkids visiting from Spokane or the birth of a great-grandchild. We also hear about someone losing a job or going into surgery.
The gossips get busy after church and call around. They get in touch with friends, neighbors, and relatives—Does he really want to see people, or is he too tired? Should I drop in today? That is good gossip.

When my husband and I go away for three months in the winter, I get the local newspaper delivered to me so I can keep up with things. When I come back, I always check in with a friend and ask, “What’s really been happening?” She fills me in, letting me know so-and-so’s wife died and he’s not doing too well, or so-and-so retired and he’s doing great—the sort of things I need to know to be a member of the community. The next time I see the person, I can ask about their news, or I can write a note to people in the hospital.
“We know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:7).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Source:,2933,295809,00.html , Submitted by Jim Sandell.

The mayor of the Siberian oil Town of Megion has ordered city officials to stop using expressions such as “I don’t know” and “I can’t.” Officials who use those words in the city risk losing their job. Mayor Alexander Kuzmin banned those phrases and 25 others in an attempt to make his administration more efficient. Spokesperson Oksana Shestakova said, “It’s a suggestion to the staff that they should think before saying something. To say ‘I don’t know’ is the same as admitting your helplessness.” To reinforce the ban Mayor Kuzmin put a framed list of the banned expressions on the wall outside his office. Other prohibited phrases include “What can we do?”, “It’s not my job”, “It’s impossible,” “I’m having lunch,” “There is no money,” and “I was away/sick/or on vacation.”

Kuzmin posted a statement on the town’s website saying, “Town authorities are there to make town residents’ life comfortable and prosperous. Town officials must work out mechanisms to solve and remove problems, not to avoid them.” Industry in the area has caused Megion to grow quickly, but construction has not kept pace and the city suffers a lack of adequate housing. In response to the mayor’s orders, his chief of staff Anna Borovikova says the approach has improved discipline. She said, “Before it was easy to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Now before reporting to the mayor we prepare several proposals on how one or another problem can be solved.”

Luke 9:59-62 (CEV) Jesus told someone else to come with him. But the man said, "Lord, let me wait until I bury my father." [60] Jesus answered, "Let the dead take care of the dead, while you go and tell about God's kingdom." [61] Then someone said to Jesus, "I want to go with you, Lord, but first let me go back and take care of things at home." [62] Jesus answered, "Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn't worth a thing to God's kingdom!"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Change and Inconvenience

Reference: "Changing Times" by Joseph Small. Ideas for Church Leaders. Vol 7 No 1, Fall 2007. pg 1.

"Sixteen-century Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, best known for his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, knew a thing or two about church institutions. "Change is not made without inconvenience," he said, "even from worse to better."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Vision and Addicted Churches

from Kicking Habits, Welcome Relief for Addicted Churches by Dr. Thomas G. Bandy.


The congregation must have a vision. The difficulty with perceiving a vision, ist that too often the congregation is unable to discern between an authentic calling of Jesus Christ, and its abiding addictions to past ideals, forms, and procedures. Addiction is the right word. Just as an alcoholic, smoker, or drug abuser chronically denies the destructive impact of certain habitual behavior patterns, so also congregations simply cannot "see" that the demise of their congregational health is directly connected to their dogged and misplaced loyalty to the "sacred cows" of former ideals, forms, and procedures. Just as an addict dimly perceives the truth, but then rationalizes that a "gradual" change in the behavior pattern will "eventually" lead to freedom and health, so also many congregations only pretend to transform their church.

Methodist Middle



If you are not a U.M., please humor me while I indulge in some Methodist mullings. It could be applicable to other denominations as well.

I don't know about you, but when I heard the rumors Thursday about the proposed dissolution of the UMC, I had to reach for the Pepto-Bismol. It literally made my stomach sick.

This post is dedicated to the Rev. Bill McAlilly of Tupello, Mississippi, a strange person who spoke a word of truth and reason on the floor of General Conference!

When the proposal for unity was read, Bill McAlilly rose to the occasion and spoke up for the ''the Methodist middle."

''This group includes women, men, children, youth, lay, and clergy," McAlilly said. ''We teach Sunday school. We serve in food pantries," he said.

Too often, he said, moderates were silent. ''Perhaps that is our sin," he said. ''If those of us in the middle can contain those on both sides of the equation, we might be able to find the unity for which we seek."

It is strange for me to think of myself as part of "the Methodist Middle." I am such a radical in some ways. Like the MFSA, I am opposed to war, capital punishment, and the continued economic and social oppression and humiliation of the poor and marginalized. I am greatly disturbed when I think about all the moral support Christians have given our government to wage war against Iraq. I was proud of our general board of church and society for opposing the senseless and destructive war against Iraq.

Yet, like the Confessing Movement, I have a passion for our Wesleyan doctrinal heritage. It also disturbs me to hear of a bishop openly rejecting such normative doctrines as Trinity, virgin birth, atonement, resurrection, etc... I join conservatives in calling for our general board of church and society to withdraw from the religious coalition for reproductive choice.

What to do? Are you tired of liberals defying the Discipline in favor of their own private opinions? Are you tired of conservatives making plans to dissolve our denomination so that they won't have to be in fellowship with those with whom they disagree? If so, you may be part of the Methodist Middle!

What should we do? Organize another unofficial caucus? With Bill McAlilly as our president? Establish a web site? Print up stationery? Start hosting lunches at annual conference? Publish a petition to let MFSA and Confessing Movement slug it out on an island and leave the rest of us alone while we get on with the business of making disciples?

One part of me says, "the last thing we need is another unofficial caucus." Another part says, "If the Methodist Middle doesn't do something, we won't have a UMC to be in the middle of." Below is a great response I received to this post:

I think the UMC middle should focus its energy on being the church and not follow the lead of the extremes. To me, the most horrible thing about GC is there was too much attn to things that divide and not enough about what unifies. What difference does sexuality, etc matter in the grand scheme of things when prisoners are tortured, children starve, disease is prevalent, war rages, human rights are ignored, etc. I think Jesus cares more about the latter than the former. What do we want to be known for as a church and what do we want the papers to say about us? If the middles lead the way and get the extremes to focus with us on these issues, we will all be too busy to worry about the other. Perhaps this is a bit naïve but I don't think fighting fire with fire is the answer. I will continue to ponder and look forward to discussion.

from General Conference of the United Methodist Church, Friday, May 7, 2004.

MCALILLY: ...There’s another group in our denomination, some of whom are delegates here; others who are faithful United Methodists who are not represented nor identified with any coalition. We are, as Bishop Coyner wrote a few years ago, “the Methodist middle.” We are not organized and have no other agenda, save offering Christ to a hurting world. This group includes women, men, children, youth, lay, and clergy, maybe even a couple of bishops.

Together with those of differing viewpoints, faithfully serving United Methodist churches, we serve small, medium, large churches. We serve in agencies. We serve throughout the church. We teach Sunday school. We serve in food pantries, clothes closets. We build Habitat houses and serve worldwide through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. We have a passion for evangelism, and we seek to lift up Christ to persons who are hurting and who are lost and who need the grace of Jesus Christ.

However, more often than not we are silent; and perhaps that is our sin. Silent as other voices speak. Perhaps we’re gripped by fear, fear that if we speak, we will be labeled as the opposition. Fear that we are incapable of preventing our church from being pulled apart at the seams. In our efforts to be faithful collectively, we all of us have created the vision with little hope of ever—

BISHOP SPRAGUE: You need to sum up, sir, please.

MCALILLY: I pray that we can find a way to hold the tension of the opposites; and I would submit to this body that if those of us in the middle can contain those on both sides of the equation, we might be able to find the unity for which we seek. Thank you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Buoyant Prayers

Reference: "Buoyant Prayers" by Kristine Haig. Presbyterians Today, May 2007. pg 6.

Keywords: Prayer, community, care,

Buoyant Prayers
  • Bottlenose dolphins may aid ill or injured pod mates. They may stand by and vocalize, or they may physically support the animal at the surface so it can breathe.—from the website of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens

The social behavior of marine mammals might seem an unlikely topic to bring up in the context of a column on intercessory prayer, yet it has provided me with an intriguing image of how such prayers function.

If you ever have experienced a major life catastrophe or loss, you probably know what it feels like to be unable to pray. There are experiences that make you feel like your whole life has been pulled out from under you, plunging you into a state of emotional and spiritual darkness.

Words fail. Even thoughts fail. The soul feels heavy and burdened, the spirit nearly dead. God may feel far away or absent or simply unreachable. It may feel like those terrible dreams we sometimes have, in which we are in some kind of danger but are unable to move, or even to cry out.

The Psalmist knew this experience. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? . . .
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws,
you lay me in the dust of death.
(Psalm 22:1, 14–15)

Because most human beings eventually come to have at least one of these experiences. All of us will need the support of the faith community at some point in our lives. This is where the ministry of intercessory prayer becomes real.

When we are in dire distress we most need to be buoyed up by the prayers of others.

A comforting image

I was struck by the image of dolphins staying by their sick companions, and especially of their behavior of holding them up at the surface so that they can breathe. This is what it feels like to me when we pray for others and know that they are praying for us.

Without knowing what the dolphins are actually feeling or thinking when they engage in this helping behavior, I can still call upon the image as one of tenderness and care, of quiet companionship, and of trust.

Surely this is the spirit of the community in Christ, gathered together and supporting each other in mutual care and love.

May we buoy each other up by our prayers when one of us is “sinking low.” May we stand by each other, and quietly lift each other up to the surface — where the Breath of Life can come to us, and the Spirit of Christ sustains us through all our dark and troubled times.

Monday, May 14, 2007

On Mothers


Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but effective and eloquent witness of all those "brave mothers who devote themselves to their own fam- ily without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves". In living out their mission "these heroic women do not always find support in the world around them. On the contrary, the cultural models frequently promoted and broadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress and modernity the values of fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host of Christian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness, are presented as obsolete ... We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love! We thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in his love. We thank you for the sacrifice of your life ...
Pope John Paul II from The Gospel of Life

Monday, March 05, 2007

Heretics and Church Unity


“A man does not come an inch nearer to being a heretic by being a hundred times a critic. Nor does he do so because his criticisms resemble those of critics who are also heretics. He only becomes a heretic at the precise moment when he prefers his criticism to his Catholicism…The Church is not a movement or a mood or a direction, but the balance of many movements and moods; and membership of it consists of accepting the ultimate arbitrament which strikes the balance between them, not in refusing to admit any of them into the balance at all.”

—— G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Middle C

Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms by Max Lucado (Nashville: J. Countryman, © 2002), pg 13-14.
The Trivialization of God by David McCullough (Colorado Springs: NavPress, © 1995), pg 66.

grace, good news, immutable, permanence, steady, reliable

When Lloyd Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels, attended college, he lived in a boardinghouse. A retired, wheelchair-bound music professor resided on the first floor. Each morning Douglas would stick his head in the door of the teacher’s apartment and ask the same question. “Well, what’s the good news?” The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of the wheelchair, and say, “That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat. The piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, that is middle C.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cargo Cults and John Frum



Keywords: eschatology, Savior,

John Frum Movement

The John Frum movement appeared for the first time in the 1940s in the New Hebrideans. At that time some 300,000 American troops established themselves in the New Hebrides. The islanders were impressed both by the egalitarianism of the Americans and their obvious wealth and power. This led them to conflate perceived benefactors such as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and John the Baptist into a mythic figure called John Frum, who would empower the island peoples by giving them cargo wealth.

What became of the 'cargo cults' of Melanesia?
Did any cargo ever arrive?

* CARGO cults survive in a variety of forms throughout Melanesia. My own experience is limited to the John Frum cult. It is generally accepted that the cult developed around the possibly mythical prophet, John Frum, who came to the island of Tanna in Vanuatu in the 1930s. The islanders believed that he was the incarnation of one of their gods. During the second world war the John Frum cult seems to have adopted 'cargo' characteristics, probably from the arrival of the American forces and their vast wealth of goods. It was worked into the cult that John Frum originated from America and that one day he would return bringing great quantities of gifts of cargo.

To keep alive their beliefs the islanders gather on Friday nights in front of wooden red crosses and dance to guitar music. Prior to 1987 I had heard about the John Frum cult and had visited their village of Ipeukel. In February 1987, Tanna was devastated by Cyclone Uma. As part of the relief programme organised by the government of Vanuatu, I was sent to deliver food, tents and other supplies to the stricken areas. These supplies came in two types of packages. One type bore a large red cross explaining its origins. Other packages were labelled 'A Gift from the People of America.'

We delivered these by helicopter and did our best to explain that they were the result of the Vanuatu government working with other nations and that the British Government was in part responsible for this 'miracle'. The villagers said they knew of another cult in Vanuatu where people believed in the benefits that would result from friendship with the Duke of Edinburgh, but their own beliefs were rather better considered. The John Frum people accepted their cargo as a natural course of events and proof of their faith. As they told the French pilot of our helicopter, he had been waiting 2,000 years for his religion to fulfil its promise of 'gifts from heaven' but John Frum had produced the goods in less than 50 years.

David Corscadden, Llanelli, Dyfed.

1 Corinthians 13, Christmas Version

floating around the internet

Keyword: love, Christmas, busy, overwhelmed,

If I decorate my house perfectly with red and green bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls,
but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime,
but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity,
but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata,
but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

· Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

· Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

· Love is kind, though hurried and tired.

· Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

· Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

· Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

· Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

· Love never fails.

· Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust,

but giving the gift of love will endure forever

Social Action and Personal Salvation


"It isn't social action versus personal salvation. A half-truth is not a truth. Both sides are wrong to focus on one or the other. It's both. We have too many 'one-legged' Christians walking around." - Eugene Peterson, as quoted in the Waco Tribune-Herald

Thursday, January 04, 2007

World Communion

Fisher, Chuck. Newsletter First Presby Church. Colorado City, TX: October 2003.

Keywords: World Communion, forget, confession, pride

The first time I ever administered the Sacrament of Holy Communion was the first Sunday of October 1978 at the Main Street Presby Church of Honey Grove, Texas. I had listened to and watched many different preachers lead congregations in the celebration of this "outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of God at work." However, this time I would be responsible for sharing the elements with the people on the other side of the table.

To prepare for that awesome responsibility, I studied all week long the liturgy and the scripture readings that go with the observance of the Sacrament. I even practiced uncovering the tray of glasses and holding up the chalice and the patten, as I recited the Words of Institution.

As luck would have it-or as pride sometimes gets in the way of the best intentions-my memorization of the entire service of Holy Communion went out the window as soon as I stood up behind the table. Believing that I had the whole thing "down pat", I had not taken one note-much less the whole book with me to the table. Standing there in the silence of the sanctuary-with the whole congregation looking at me-waiting to hear what I would say-I could not find even the first word.

Folks from all over the whole world were celebrating the Sacrament together that day. Christians of every race and nation gathered around Christ's table to receive the elements symbolizing his body that was broken and his blood that was shed for the sins of the world. And I just stood there "brain-dead"-stunned by my own ignorance-unable to come up with a single word.

The silence was truly deafening. Not knowing what else to say or do, I finally said, "Let us pray. . ." and set about to ask God to forgive us of our sins (thinking to myself about pride), to make us deeply appreciative of the sacrifice made on our behalf, and to help us celebrate this Sacrament with great joy and integrity. Amazingly, when I got to the end of the prayer, the Words of Invitation came back to me and the celebration could begin

Sermon on the Mount (Sort of)


Keywords: teacher, pharisee, means, end, forest, trees, lesson

Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathered them around. He taught them saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are they that mourn.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are they who thirst for justice.
Blessed are you when persecuted.
Blessed are you when you suffer.
Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.

Then Simon Peter said, Are we supposed to write this down?
And Andrew asked, Are we supposed to know this?
And James asked, Will we have a test on this?
And Phillip said, I don't have any paper.
And Bartholomew asked, Do we have to turn this in?
And John said, The other disciples didn't have to learn this.
And Matthew asked, Can I go to the boys' room?
And Judas asked, What does this have to do with real life?

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus' lesson plan and inquired of Jesus, Where is your anticipatory set and your objectives in the cognitive domain?
And Jesus wept.

-As referenced by Mark Terwilliger,
Edmeston, New York

Conspiracy of Silence

Ferguson, Andrew. “Sex Talk.” The Weekly Standard. August 6, 2001. p38.

Keywords: Sex, silence, conspiracy, relationship

David Satcher, the surgeon general of the United States [1998-2002], held a press conference at the end of [July 2001] to issue a new report...The report issued...was titled The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior. Such a large, grandiose title invites sweeping claims to be made on its behalf, and after Satcher had surveyed his report’s findings about the social problems associated with sex, from unwanted pregnancies to sexually transmitted diseases, he made perhaps his most sweeping claim of all:

“We have created an environment”--he meant we as in us, Americans in the United States--"where there’s almost a conspiracy of silence when it comes to sexuality.”

Now, it is difficult to image how a statement could be more untrue. Americans started talking about sex pretty much constantly about 40 years ago and have yet to pause to take a breath. I wonder how many reporters at Dr. Satcher’s press conference wanted gently to take him by the arm and walk him to the nearest cineplex for a screening of any movie rated beyond PG-13, or sit him down for a night of watching reruns of Friends or Will & Grace, or hand him a “literary” novel by John Irving or a “trashy” novel by Jackie Collins or any women’s magazine at all, or let him flip through an issue of Maxim or Esquire, or, for that matter, make him squirm with a couple of long passages from the Starr Report. If this is a conspiracy of silence, it is absolutely deafening.

The Windows

"The Windows" by Mrs. Paul Singleton. First Presbyterian Church of Vernon. Late Summer or Fall, 1988

They unlocked the door to the store room, switched on the dim light bulb, brushed aside the cobwebs and cautiously approached the old stained glass windows that had once been a part of the old Presbyterian Church on Wilbarger Street.

"They surely are dull," said one.

"Not really great works of art," said another.

"I am disappointed," added a third, "because all the older church members said they were really beautiful."

One, who seemed to be the head of the group, said, "We promised to try to utilize them some way so maybe when we get them cleaned up they will look better."

Some weeks later the old windows, cracks, dust and missing solder, stood in the corner of the narthex, and this same group of people still shook their heads as they looked at the windows.

"You really can't tell what they look like without some light, can you?" asked one.

So they swung open one of the doors to the late afternoon sun and carefully slid one window over to catch the rays of light. The window depicted the frightened shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem gazing in awe at the angel.

The brilliance of the colors imprisoned in the glass glowed in rich reds, golds, greens and blues—the beauty was there after all! It only took some light to reveal the potential glory.

"I am the light of the world." (John 8:12)

"Ye are the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14)

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Moral Foundations of Society

“The Moral Foundations of Society” by Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, Imprimis Vol 24, No 3. March 1995

Keywords: human nature, morality, righteousness, moral code,

History has taught us that freedom cannot long survive unless it is based on moral foundations. The American founding bears ample witness to this fact. America has become the most powerful nation in history, yet she uses her power not for territorial expansion but to perpetuate freedom and justice throughout the world.

For over two centuries, Americans have held fast to the belief in freedom for all men--a belief that springs from their spiritual heritage. John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote in 1789, “Our constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” That was an astonishing thing to say, but it was true.

Sir Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, which was the birthplace of democracy. He judged that, in the end, more than they wanted freedom, the Athenians wanted security. Yet they lost everything--security, comfort, and freedom. This was because they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility. It is no wonder, then, that they ceased to be free. In the modern world, we should recall the Athenians’ dire fate whenever we confront the demands for increased state paternalism.

To cite a more recent lesson in the importance of moral foundations, we should listen to Czech President Vaclav Havel, who suffered grievously for speaking up for freedom when his nation was still under the thumb of communism. He has observed, “In everyone there is some longing for humanity’s rightful dignity, for moral integrity, and for a sense that transcends the world of existence.” His words suggest that in spite of all the dread terrors of communism, it could not crush the religious fervor of the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

And what is freedom without truth? I have been a scientist, a lawyer, and a politician, and from my own experience I can testify that it is nothing. The third century Roman jurist Julius Paulus said, “What is right is not derived from the rule, but the rule arises from our knowledge of what is right.” In other words, the law is founded on what we believe to be true and just. It has moral foundations. Once again, it is important to note that the free societies of America and Great Britain derive such foundations from a Biblical ethic.