Monday, May 21, 2012

Healthy Systems and the Downfall of the Church

This morning I was reading a commentary by William Willemon on the recent United Methodist Convention.  There was one concept that really caught my imagination...

My organizational guru Ron Heifetz speaks of the “myth of the broken system.”  Heifetz argues that all systems are “healthy” in that systems produce what those who profit from the system desire.
It makes a lot of sense to me... and to the degree Heifetz is correct,  it really calls into question the future of the Church.

The first important observation is that Heifetz is not saying that all systems have healthy goals.  Indeed, they may be fooling themselves about their goals.  In my 34 years as a pastor and three moves plus a few other times when I've considered moving, I have interviewed with many churches representing a variety of different settings all across the country.  I dare say that every single one of them has said that they wanted to grow.  Almost all of them had a statement regarding growth in their descriptor of hat they were searching for in their next pastor.  I don't doubt they actually believed that they wanted to grow.  When faced with the changes that were required in order to grow, almost all of them declined.  They were committed to maintaining the status quo, not to moving forward.  Those few who actually took steps to change often did so with considerable conflict.  The reality was that the vast majority of folk who were there, were there because their needs were already being met.  They didn't really want change and if that was what growth required... never mind.

When I look around, I don't see a lot of hope... (sorry, it could just be that I'm feeling particularly cynical today).  I live in an area of the world where there are lots of megachurches very willing to change style at the drop of a hat to bring in new people.  The problem is that in large degree, I think the UCC folk are correct when they observe the conservative wing of the Church has put a period where God has put a comma.  And they often fight against what seems to me (although obviously not to them) the clear movement of God.  On the other end of the spectrum - very rare in my part of the world - I see more progressive churches who clearly see a comma when it comes to justice issues and theological questions... but when it comes to style, they have a period that was drawn no later than 1950.  In either case, there are large proportions of the population left out... they yearn for a theological openness (which I believe is a yearning of the Spirit) of the more progressive church but chafe at a stilted style... or the resonate with a freer style in the megachurches but cannot abide by what they experience as a simplistic and irrelevant theology.

In either case, there are populations in the Church whose own needs are being met by the status quo... and who see very little need to struggle with the implications of real change.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Romney & Religion

LDS Temple in Salt Lake City
There was an interesting development this week in the presidential race.  A Romney supporting super-PAC planned a $10 million anti-Obama ad campaign centered on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  Presumably, the ads would have focused on the kinds of themes that often come up in Black Liberation Theology and the fears, anxieties, and misunderstandings that theology might ellicit among many white folk.  Mitt Romney squashed the campaign.

The cynic in me says that the reason for this was not because he felt the ads were out of line, but because he was worried that if religious questions come to the forefront of this campaign, his own Mormon faith would be under the magnifying glass.  There are lots of evangelical Christians who already have problems with a Mormon president, to add more doubts to that piece of the picture would, I believe, be very damaging to Romney.  He needs the Christian Right and underscoring Mormon doctrines, history, and even his own family story of faith would not be helpful with that constituency or with more secular folk.

I think that Mormonism should come under the magnifying glass, especially with regards to Romney's commitment to his faith and the way that would play out in social policy, ethics, and in who Mitt Romney is...  Likewise, I think it is not a bad thing for people to wrestle with the ideas of Black Liberation Theology and the role that tradition plays in Obama's formation and ethics.  I do see at least some of that tradition playing out in Obama and it makes sense to me to understand that when I make a decision about whether to vote for him.

I have no idea how serious Mitt Romney is about his Mormon faith at this point in his life.  I do know that he did his missionary work and that he continues to give substantial amounts of money to his church.  I also don't know a lot about Mormonism.  I do have impressions about the way that religion sees its relationship to the government and that makes me a little nervous.  From the little I think I know, I'd be very nervous about a seriously committed Mormon as POTUS.  I'd like to hear more about Romney's relationship to the teachings of his church and to see more of those teachings made public.

On the other hand, I know a good bit about the various strains of Liberation Theology and feel quite comfortable with the way that theology would and does interact with politics.  Indeed, I wish that Obama had shown deeper roots in that tradition and stronger commitments to it during his first term. 

I'm not arguing that a Mormon or a Wiccan or a Presbyterian or an Atheist or whatever cannot be POTUS.  I am arguing that a candidate's faith or lack thereof are a part of the package that must be considered when we go into the ballot box.  I'd like to know more regarding Romney and his Mormon faith.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Big Lie

Our economy requires unemployment.  It requires that there be poor folk without jobs to keep the costs down for low skilled jobs.  If you sat any Republican down and asked whether they really want 0% unemployment, if they were being honest, they'd say, "Absolutely not.  If we had 0% unemployment who would work at McDonalds or Walmart?  What would happen to prices?  What would happen if some sector decided to go on strike and there was nobody available to replace them?  We need people without jobs who are looking for work to drive wages down."    For that reason, I find comments like the one in the video below to be particularly offensive.  Even if it was true, it would be impossible... get real, where would we put all of the golf courses?   The reality is that Romney does not want you or me to get rich and he certainly doesn't want everyone to get rich. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

just what you needed

is another sermon to enjoy on the web!

no seriously, I've begun to put some sermons up on the web for your listening pleasure... or comments...

you can find them at

I've also added a little media player in the lower part of the right column that should update with each new post.

There are four available now and I'll add more as I feel moved.  The four that are there are all within the last two or so months so it isn't a "best of" series, but I am particularly happy with each of them.  The most recent one - Radical Inclusion - was from this morning and is done in a first person style, a style I find particularly effective when not used too much.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Here's to Singer/Songwriters

I get to rub shoulders with lot of great singer/songwriters at the Cambridge Drive Concert Series.  They amaze me.  I've never been a good songwriter.  It requires skills that I just don't have.  Think of it for a second...  a good songwriter has to be able to write a memorable melody, surround it with chords that make sense and aren't too predictable, and has to be able to condense human experience into three or four verses with a chorus and bridge that fit rhythmically and likely have some sort of rhyme scheme.  Then, they have to be able to play and sing all of that in front of an audience.  More often than not, they do their own booking, web site management, and maintain their relationships with their fans.  And they have to have at least a passing knowledge of how to use the gear they need and what gear is available to do whatever they need.  It is just a very broad and diverse set of skills that not any people have.

I'm a reasonably good guitar player with a good ear, a good sense of melody, a good sense of how an acoustic guitar (vs. an electric guitar or some other instrument) works in a song, and reasonable knowledge of theory (both in my head and in my hands)...  I'm not good at writing lyrics.  I'm much too prosaic.  And I'm not particularly good at performing by myself.  I forget lyrics.  When I'm singing, I tend to get nervous about the whole package and it impacts my guitar playing in a not good way.   Then there are the other non-musical pieces... some I'm quite good at and others not so.    I marvel at the singer/songwriters who do all of that while making incredible music.

So, here's to the singer/songwriters who do all of that AND make our lives richer with songs that touch our hearts and delight our ears!