Saturday, April 20, 2013

Crime & Punishment

A friend of mine posted the meme below once it was learned the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were from Chechnya:
Just as we had armchair forensic experts examining photographs online and identifying anyone with brown skin as "the suspect", so now we'll have to put up with closet foreign affairs experts and, now, Constitutional experts who will weigh in with their sober judgments about the ensuing legal proceedings against Tzokhar Tsarnaev.

This post at LGM demonstrates  why it's important to let real lawyers deal with legal matters.  Of course, it also demonstrates why so many people detest lawyers, because there is much hair-splitting and focus on minutiae.  All the same, this is the legal system we have, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  Far better, at least in my view, to have this clunky legal machinery do its thing than shout with one voice, GUILTY! and hang him from the nearest tree.

Because we're Americans, we do things differently.  Or at least we should.

And isn't it funny how so many of the same people who froth at the mouth at the mere mention of gun control or abortion suddenly dismiss long sections of the Constitution dealing with the treatment and processing of criminal defendants?  Well, funny as in, "Wow, you're kind of whackadoodle, aren't you?"

And in the midst of it all in Boston, let's look southwestward for a moment and remember the people of West, TX, and those brave young volunteer firefighters who ran in to that burning fertilizer plant moments before the thing exploded.  I don't care what kind of people they were in their private lives; at that moment, in those circumstances, they showed the rest of us what real courage is.  God bless them, and be with their family and friends and everyone down there.  Let's let Boston party this crappy week out of its system and remember another American town that's hurting.

Here's to West, TX:

Jesu redeemer of the world,

mercifully deem worthy and accept

praises and prayers from your supplicants.

Who once was clothed in the flesh
.for those who are lost.

Allow us to become members of

your holy body.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Always Some Good

Actor Patton Oswalt dragged out a chestnut from the late, great Fred Rogers this week.  There's something about the admonition to "look for the helpers", heard in our inner ears in Rogers' comforting, child-like voice, that reminds us that in the midst of all sorts of horrors it may yet be possible to find people being the best kind of people there are.

This week, alas, has made the need for such a search that much more important.  It's only Thursday morning, and I think most of us would prefer the week be over.  The cities of Boston, West, TX, and Washington are not doing so hot.  The guy who sent ricin-laced letters to Sen. Wicker and Pres. Obama has been caught, which, in a normal week, would be major news.  As is the story of the guy arrested for carrying a firearm on the Capitol grounds (I sometimes wonder if people like this know how stupid they are, or if they think they're some kind of martyr for the cause of stupidity); that, too, would be a major story.  As would be the US Senate managing to demonstrate all the political savvy of a coatamundi and voting down a series of mild gun-control measures the vast majority of the American people support.

If there's a theme to the week, it's cowardice.  The person or people who planted the bombs in Boston are cowards.  The folks who took to social media to blame everyone from North Korea to the International Islamic Caliphate to our own government for the bombing; those folks are pretty much cowards.  The Senate's action is a case study in cowardice.  Glenn Reynolds going after Gabby Giffords on Twitter?  Oh, hell, yeah.  Nothing demonstrates cowardice like going after someone like former Rep. Giffords on social media.

I would be remiss if I didn't highlight something Erik Loomis noted about the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, TX.  Loomis said, accurately enough, that Texas's efforts to demonstrate to the world that "Third World" can be a local phenomenon, and thus we have the spectacle of a nursing home close enough to a fertilizer plant that, with the explosion, it has collapsed.  Among other horrors.  Alas, for pointing out the obvious - that we have things like zoning boards and safety regulations and unions for good reasons - Michelle Malkin dispatched her Flying Monkey Brigades who demonstrated all the wisdom and spelling acumen of third grade repeaters.

As I noted on FB this morning, there have been examples of real heroism this week.  People showing the rest of us how to live and act in the midst of chaos and confusion.  Yet again, and sad enough to say, it has been our first responders, EMTs, firefighters, and police officers who show us what courage is.  It isn't haranguing people on the internet; it isn't selling out 90% of the American people because Wayne LaPierre might say something bad about you; it isn't pretending to be a combination of Gil Grissom and Leroy Jethro Gibbs and looking at photographs on the internet and discovering who the "real" culprit or culprits in the Boston bombing are; it isn't telling the world an arrest has been made then having to admit you had no idea what the hell you're talking about.  And, of course, despite the repeated admonitions over the past four months, it isn't owning a gun to defend oneself against invisible enemies.

No, real heroism is seeing a fire and going toward it.  Real heroism is knowing there are people hurt, people who need your help, and also knowing it might well not be safe to go to them and going anyway.  Real heroism is kneeling on a sidewalk or street and while all around you people are running and screaming and you really want to run and scream but you can't because there's a woman lying on the ground whose leg has been blown off and the only thing between her and death is you doing your job.  So, you stay.

In the midst of what could hardly be described as a banner week for the United States, we can look at people like this and say, "Thank you."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Image Of The Kingdom

I have been leading a class at church since last autumn. The class meets on Tuesday nights.  We're using Abingdon Press's "Jesus Collection", a series of studies centering on various aspects of Jesus' life and ministry.  The volume we are using in this, our last section of our study, is entitled The World-Shattering Ministry of Jesus, written by Anne B. Crumpler and John O. Gooch.  Tonight, we're studying sin through the lens of Matthew 9:9-13.

On pp. 29-30, the authors offers the following thought-experiment:
Imagine.  Walk down a city street at night.  Gray buildings fade intro gray sidewalks.  The streets are wet with rain.  Streetlights turn the clouds an eerie pink.  No one's in the city at night.  Businesses are closed.  The theater crowd's gone home.  You hear the clatter of your own footsteps.  Up ahead, light from a window floods the sidewalk, like a porch light welcoming you home.  You walk closer and peer in the window - your nose on the glass of an all-night restaurant.
Inside, a group of people sits at the table.  A woman sits drinking coffee, briefcase open, going over reports.  Nearby, a couple who have apparently just left the theater treat themselves to a snack.  A man with his son, still in his sports uniform, laugh over sundaes.  Good; a safe place.
You go inside, only to see a man with a knit cap, his skin slick with rain and lined with dirt, shoveling in a plate of eggs.  A woman makes a pass at him.  An old man sips on a bottle in a brown paper bag.  A teenager with Coke-bottle glasses play cards; his companion lays a gun on the table.  A man sits with one foot on the edge of the table, talking to a woman in black with a rose tattoo on her breast.  A man in a blue tattered suit pulls up a chair.  A waitress leans over a counter, watching.  Do you go back out or stay there?  Tell the ragtag bunch to leave?  Sit only the the "nice" folks?
I can't imagine a more beautiful description of the Kingdom of God.  Precisely because it challenges me to think what those three words really mean, this little sketch demands we ask ourselves uncomfortable questions.  Questions such as, "Am I one of those 'nice' folks?"  Questions like, "Who has turned and walked out of church because of something I've done/said/how I appeared?"  Questions like, "The Bible says Jesus probably would have been right at home in a scene like this; why am I not at home here, too?"

I'm really looking forward to my class tonight.  And, boy, am I glad the volume I wanted to use is in between printings.

Offered Help In A New Role

With Lisa appointed District Superintendent, we all face many changes in our lives.  First and foremost, we're moving.  That means a new house, a new neighborhood, a new city (well, an actual city because we currently live in the country; Lisa and I still laugh it took two decades for her to be appointed to a place that has its own grocery store), a new school for our children (which could but won't be the subject of a post all on its own; my kids' struggles are for us, thank you very much).  I'm losing my pastor of 19 years, because she won't be serving a local church.  Which means my kids and I have to find a church home.  Our older daughter told me a couple weeks ago it will be "weird" going to church and not having her Mom lead the service; so that's another layer of change and different and new with which we'll all have to deal.

Yesterday, Lisa received an email about new DS training the United Methodist Church offers.  It takes place at Lake Junaluska.  Along with being a beautiful retreat center, the area is famous among United Methodists as a place where retired bishops have homes, so it's kind of a UM hub.  What fascinated me as I listened to Lisa read off the information about the training was that spouses are encouraged to attend, and there will be "training" for the spouses for their new "role".

I would be the last person to suggest clergy spouses have no special role in the ministry of their wives and husbands.  On the contrary, it's something with which I've struggled every day since July 1, 1994.  Back then, as much as we imagined we were so advanced, local churches just weren't sure what to do with us clergy husbands.  We weren't expected to play the piano or teach Sunday School or work all the pot luck dinners, although I did what I was comfortable doing.  I enjoyed, and have enjoyed, singing in the choirs, teaching adult classes, including Christian Believer and team-teaching Disciple with my wife, along with other classes.  Beyond that, it's kind of like a map with large empty spaces.

My experience has been that I would be, well, a man.  I'd have a job, perhaps even a career, that was my own and separate from whatever Lisa was doing.  By and large, that assumption has created all sorts of pressure on me - pressure I was surprised to experience, and with which I've struggled the whole time I've been in this position - as I have always identified first and foremost as Lisa's husband rather than by whatever occupation I currently have.*  Who I am is defined far more by my domestic relationships - husband and father - than whether I worked at a hotel or WalMart or whatever my occupation might be.

And I received all the training the United Methodist Church brought to bear on this role: Zero.  None.  Zilch.

I do know there are clergy wives who struggle with their roles, a position with which I feel much sympathy.  Their struggles, however, are very much the opposite of mine.  Usually, especially over the past couple decades, the struggle has been to escape the straight-jacket of the traditional role, as clergy wives have jobs and careers outside the home and local church that push back against the expectations too many people have of what they "should" be doing.

And now, with this new position to which Lisa will be going, the church is turning to us spouses and saying, "Hey, you've got a job to do, too!  Come!  Let us help you!"

All I can think is, "Really?"  I've been married to a minister for 20 years.  I've been making it up as I go along, and only now you care about how I live my life as a clergy spouse?  Because, I have to say, if the denomination has expectations for the spouses of District Superintendents that differ in any substantial way from that of regular clergy, all I can say is, "That's just swell!"

Will it be that my wife won't be around much because she'll be at meetings, whether at the local churches in the District, on the District, or the Conference level, or even for the General Church, all I can say is, "Been there, doing that."  Will it be that clergy and their spouses will be looking at me as if I'm some kind of role model, all I can say is I've never considered our District Superintedents' spouses to be any kind of role model.  I'm at a loss as to how my position as the spouse of a DS will be qualitatively different from that as the spouse of a minister under local church appointment.

While I'm disinclined to accept the invitation - only because I'm already taking too much time off from work this summer; plus, this will be my kids' second week at a new school, and I think my place is with them - I am curious as to what, exactly, the planners for this training think we spouses "should" do that we haven't been doing all along.  And I wonder why there aren't support networks for clergy spouses that include help from the District, Annual Conference, and General Church.

*That's changing slightly with my current job as Office Manager at a United Methodist Church.  I'm in a place and space where I'm serving the people of God, and I'm so happy to do so.  Perhaps a preacher's spouse being a church secretary is as much a cliche as a preacher's spouse leading Sunday School or something, but it's a cliche that feels right for me now, so who am I to complain?

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