Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Wish-List for 2010

(In the interest of full-disclosure, I wrote something like this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. I've changed it a bit for the blog, but I figured I'd mention its origin to explain all the church references.)

I’m already thinking about next year, and it’s not too early to hope for what the new year will bring. Here’s what I’m hoping for . . .

  • I hope that next year I will enjoy the benefits of devoting at least as much energy to my spiritual life as I do to checking e-mail and updating my Facebook status.

  • I wish every American could have as good of health insurance as their Congressperson or Senator. (Hey, I didn’t say all or any of my wishes had to be realistic.)

  • I hope that next year First Christian Church of St. Joseph will have had a successful capital campaign to pay for the expensive but necessary building repairs made this year.

  • I wish for a year without seeing the faces of Jon and Kate Gosselin every time I turn on TV—no matter what channel it’s on.

  • I wish the St. Joseph News-Press would spend more time reporting on the real problems facing our community and possible solutions rather than merely publishing the complaints of those who shout the loudest.

  • I hope that next year First Christian Church of St. Joseph will have even more new members like the ones who have joined in the last three years. We are so fortunate to have so many new faces.

  • I wish for new jobs for church members who lost their jobs in 2009.

  • I wish for some stinking answers on the final season of ABC’s LOST.

  • I hope that next year First Christian Church of St. Joseph will be experiencing the joy that comes when a church opens itself up to God’s new opportunities for ministry in its community.

  • I wish for a government (Democrat or Republican) that will invest as much money and effort in economic justice and peacemaking as it does in the development of new weapons and the waging of war.

  • I hope that next year both First Christian Church and I its minister will have the courage to give up our own comfort and convenience for the sake of others in need.

  • I wish for a year where no homeless men or women die alone on the streets of St. Joseph.

  • I wish for the Kansas City Chiefs to have a winning season. (I don’t need a a trip to the Super Bowl. I just would like them not to lose to the Browns!)

  • I hope that next year First Christian Church of St. Joseph will have discovered new ways to carry out the difficult task of welcoming all people in Christ’s name regardless of a person’s economic status, skin color, nationality, gender, political affiliation or sexual orientation.

  • I wish for companies who would put the long-term best interest of our planet, their employees and their customers ahead of their short-term profit margins.

  • I hope that next year I am still here doing a job that I love, serving a community of faithful and wonderful people here at First Christian Church of St. Joseph.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking for Some Joy This Christmas? (Dialogue Column 12.15.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO.

Christmas is next week! Do you feel frantic with last-minute shopping for gifts? Do you feel stressed when you think about guests coming to town? Do you feel happy with carols on the radio and in the stores? Do you feel sad as you approach the holiday without someone you love? More important than any of these questions, do you feel joy this Christmas season?

Joy is one of those words we throw around at Christmastime, but it is certainly hard to define. People can be sad, grieving and in the midst of difficult circumstances and still have joy. Joy is distinct from happiness; Frederick Buechner writes, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it—a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeathes it.” Joy is given by the Divine, and it is not self-generated. As near as I can determine, joy is that sense of rightness and meaning and empowerment which comes to us in moments that transcend our circumstances. In such moments of joy, we are aware of our connection to our Creator and our fellow creatures.

Although I know from experience that we cannot manufacture or manipulate joy, I do know that there are places where joy is more likely to be found than others. Usually you can find it in places where you are giving of yourselves to others in deepest need: I can’t guarantee that you will find joy in one of the following suggestions, but I believe if you want joy this Christmas, odds are you might find it in one of these possibilities.

Share some food. Serve a meal. Talk around the table. If you saw the front page of The St. Joseph News Press this morning, you know the cold temperatures and bad economy have filled our homeless shelters. At the St. Joseph Haven, in addition to the men living there on a transitional basis in apartments, there are men sleeping on cots in the common room on a temporary night-to-night basis. The extra mouths to feed are stretching Haven’s already tight budget. In your holiday cooking, how about preparing an extra meal and delivering it to them on a night they could use it? Better yet, why not come down and serve it yourself and take some time to meet the men who will benefit from the food? Their gratitude will put your holiday stress in perspective. For that matter, if you bring some holiday cookies down to Juda House or St. Joseph Haven, you will find some men who are struggling to turn their lives around and beat the cycle of homelessness. They love cookies, but they love even more knowing that somebody actually cares about them and is willing to talk with them as a person of dignity. Call 816-390-8884 to find out what these men need and when they could use it most.

Give a smile and some time. This past Sunday, some First Christian folks took Christmas cookies out to church members who are homebound or in assisted living facilities. Some of them are far from family and could use additional visits. These saints of our church have supported our ministries for decades in many cases and they deserve to be remembered this season. Give the church office a call and Cheryl can give you the name of someone who could use your presence, even if it is for a short time. Brief visits by children with homemade crafts or cards brighten the lives of people who often no longer have the joy of seeing children around. Even if you do not know one of these folks, everyone deserves to be remembered during the holidays.

Provide a ride. Deliver some food. Help in unexpected ways. The needs of people living on the edge and falling through our community’s social safety net do not stop during Christmastime. Our church partners with Faith in Action which matches church volunteers with the needs of people who lack the means and support to care for themselves. Usually they are low-income seniors or people with medical conditions who are without family to care for them. Sometimes they need a ride to a doctor’s appointment or someone to drop off a delivery of food from a food pantry. Other times it is an odd job like helping organize a kitchen cupboard or shoveling a snowy sidewalk. Contact Stacey Park or me for more information.

There are more options, of course, for finding joy through helping others. I’ll post these and more on my blog in the next few days.

Grace and Peace,

Welcome Rev. Heather Walchar

I'm four days late in mentioning the terrific article in Saturday's News Press regarding Rev. Heather Walchar, the new minister at Trinity Presbyterian Church here in St. Joseph. I appreciate religion reporter Erin Wisdom writing another great story and recognizing how fortunate the community is to have a talented new minister in town. Welcome Heather!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

HIV/AIDS in St. Joseph

Say what you will about our local governments--and I've said as much as anyone--we do have a nurse on staff at the health department dedicated to caring for people with HIV/AIDS and educating the public about the disease. Thankfully, that nurse is Kelly Kibirige, a member of First Christian Church. You can read Kelly's article in the St. Joseph City Weekly on-line newsletter where she shares her reflections. Thanks for all you do Kelly!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Colbert Discusses the Dangers of an Extraterrestrial Christ

With two small children, I barely can stay up to watch The Colbert Report, but for some reason last night I remained awake. I was thrilled to catch his discussion of the Vatican's recent conference on the theological ramifications of extraterrestrial life. As it always is whenever Colbert discussses religion, this is hilarious!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Gold, Frankincense and Mars - Guy Consolmagno
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Glee and Overzealous Youth Ministers

I've been subscribing to Time in recent months--it's the only weekly newsmagazine that doesn't bore me to death (are you listening Newsweek, U.S. News ???). It's still full of fluff as likely as not and like everything else these days it is quite obvious that they have cut back on their reporting budget. Nonetheless, it's decent and I can't sit in front of a computer monitor all the time when I feel like reading.

One of the essayists is Nancy Gibbs. I know nothing about her. She could be a xenophobic neo-Nazi who likes to strangle kittens for all I know, but I have found a number of her essays to be meaningful. This week's essay was especially so.

She wrote about an overzealous youth minister criticizing the TV show Glee because of its "anti-Christian" message. I always appreciate it when someone points out the ridiculous overreaching of youth ministers who feel the need to condemn what all of their kids are into. Gibbs does a nice job of pointing out the less obvious moral messages mixed in with the more obvious sensational plot lines. She even throws in a nice "Remember when everybody was condemning Harry Potter. . . ?" Yes, those were the good old days when self-righteous church leaders only had to contend with the evils of Hogwarts School of Wizardry instead of stuff like Glee's teen pregnancies, homosexuality, drug use, etc. For that matter, does anybody remember the uproar over Bart Simpson?

Despite Gibbs' protests to the contrary, I suspect that there will always be plenty of fodder for overzealous youth ministers.

Wendell Berry Interview on NPR

The Sunday before last, I read two poems by Wendell Berry--poet, farmer, activist mystic. For those wishing to hear Berry read his own poetry and speak eloquently and humbly about the relationship between our relationship between the land we live on, the food we eat and our souls, check out an episode of The Diane Rehm Show aired this week where she interviews Berry.

The callers gush quite a bit over getting to talk to Berry, but having read some of his poetry, I have to admit I would gush too if I had the same opportunity.

Great letter to the editor

I'm a few days late in acknowledging the great letter to the editor in Monday's News-Press written by First Christian's former pastor Tom Russell. Thanks Tom for standing up for the right of every person to have access to affordable health care. I'm amazed that the debate has turned to whether or not we can afford to reform health care rather than where it should be--can we afford not to reform health care?

Kelly's on the front page!

It was nice to open the paper this morning and see First Christian's own Kelly Kibirige in a picture of the World AIDS Day march yesterday. We're proud of yo9u Kelly! Thanks for all you do for people suffering from HIV/AIDS in our county.

Invite a Friend (not just any friend) to First Christian (Dialogue Column 12.1.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post my newsletter columns here.

There are two times of year when people who do not normally attend church think about doing so: Christmas and Easter. Rather than being critical of such thinking, we regular churchgoers should be thankful that Christmas and Easter still have enough of a religious cache in our culture to provoke people to consider darkening a church door. The thought of going to church by people who have either stopped attending or who never have attended may be something that has been in the back of a person’s mind for months or may be something that pops in their head when they hear a familiar Christmas carol. Either way, from the perspective of faith, we should consider these moments to be the promptings of the Holy Spirit and an opportunity for God to bring a person into a community of faithfulness and care.

The window for people to actually take action to try out a church is relatively short during Easter; maybe you’ve got Palm Sunday and Holy Week, but the window shuts quickly. At Christmastime, however, the window stays open for about a month after the busyness of Thanksgiving passes and people turn their minds to gift-giving, holiday parties and maybe even things of a spiritual dimension. This month is the time you need to invite a friend to church.

Pay close attention because I am not talking about just any friend; I mean the friend of yours who may actually be interested in a church like First Christian. This friend is the one you have actually talked with now and then about spiritual matters, the friend who grew up in church but quit coming as an adult because he or she couldn’t find a place in his or her life for a religion that was close-minded, exclusive or judgmental. This may be the friend who doesn’t quite believe you when you say, “My church doesn’t believe that.” Or, “My church would not have judged that kind of person.” You need to invite that friend who would be pleasantly surprised that an open-minded and welcoming church like First Christian actually exists.

I am not asking you to invite a friend who already attends another church; there is no need for stealing sheep from another pasture. I am not asking you to invite a friend in order to convert them or sell them anything. No, I am asking you to invite your friend who can use a church like First Christian, a community of faith that will care for them and walk with them on their journey. If you will think hard about what First Christian means to you, I believe you will quickly think about someone who could use the same. (By the way, those of you who claim all your friends already go to church, feel free to let me know, because I have some suggestions of who you could invite.) The Christmastime window is only open for a short time, so invite your friend before it closes.

Grace and Peace,

World AIDS Day--a day late

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. I didn't get around to posting anything yesterday--of course, ever day someone suffers from and/or dies from AIDS is World AIDS Day, but did put the following in The Dialogue, my church newsletter:

Today is World AIDS Day, a day to remember the men, women and children who have died from AIDS, to renew efforts to care for people living with HIV/AIDS, to increase education and awareness about HIV/AIDS and to honor those who battle this disease. For Christians, this day serves not only as an opportunity to address these goals but also a time to repent of past and on-going church-sponsored prejudice against people with HIV/AIDS. To commemorate this day (in addition to any other events you take part in), I invite you to say the following prayer with me. It is provided by Wes Jamison, a leader in the GLAD (Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples) Alliance.

God of Compassion,

you are with us here

and with all who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

You beckon us to be with the lonely,

to touch and heal those who suffer.

Stay with us and strengthen us

so we may learn to live with passion and compassion

through Jesus Christ, the One who offers healing to all

in the power of your Spirit, who tears down all walls that divide.