Not Now, Not Ever

Not Now, Not Ever

Did a mother just justify sexual assault and attempted rape because “ALL boys do it?” And have I really heard fathers and grandfathers laughing recently: “If they only knew what all I did. HaHa... It’s a wonder any men get jobs!”

For the record, let me state unequivocally: Not me. Not ever.

Losing Our Humanity

Losing Our Humanity

Sadly and ironically, as studies show, the more we get, rather than opening our hands even wider, self-sufficiency tends to foster selfishness. Affluence begets anxiety – rather than having too little to share, it seems we have too much to be willing to share. Abundance often turns in on itself, sometimes even to the point of greed.

The Beauty of Relentless Discipline

The Beauty of Relentless Discipline

We’ve just gotten back from an amazing week of vacation.

We were at the theater. It was Broadway and Holly wood, the Silver Screen and the community playhouse all on one stage. The stories were raw and moving, each one unfolding a deeply spiritual saga. There was wisdom from ancient lore, contemporary dramas enacting the eternal human predicament of sin and redemption, and there were modern, avant-garde tales filled with ecstasies of joy and the blinding pain of suffering and death.

Interwoven into the theatrics was the festive panoply of a grand parade. There was pageantry to beat the band: flags and rifles and batons, spectacular dance and intricately woven choreography. The colors bespoke the spectrum of emotions told in all of the stories: lush, dark shades and somber earth-tones, a rainbow of vibrant hues and the soft tones of the pastel spectrum. The stage was a visual carnival, a feast for the eye.

Tying together the message and the color was the music, and it was a concert venue to beat all concert venues. In one arena we heard it all: the driving, edgy pulse of rock-n-roll, the fanciful melody of the musical stage, the triumph of classical harmonies, the syncopation and dissonance of the big band, the proud patriotic anthem, the soaring strains of the opera house, the cadence of the marching band, and the brash brilliance of the brass band.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, put all of this in a covered dome big enough for a franchise in the National Football League, and wrap it all into a national championship, and you get 25,000 screaming fans and all the excitement befitting such a competition – all the athletic strain, all the strategy, all the tension, all the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Someone with an untrained eye might scoff: “It’s just a bunch of marching bands. Sissies… band geeks… music nerds…” The operative word there would be “untrained” – through it doesn’t take much training to recognize that the 154 competitors that make up a Drum Corps International corps are anything but sissies.

Our younger son just completed his second DCI summer, and the rigor and discipline and stamina and perseverance and coordination and strength required to run and jump and plank and leap-frog and dance – while playing a trumpet in a DCI-inspired show – far out-pace any athletic discipline he has ever faced, even as a high school baseball player.

The season started in mid-May, and from the first day of move-ins until that championship night in Indianapolis, he spent 77 days of toil and travel, all the while practicing perfection. In those 77 days, the corps enjoyed a full 3 days off. Practice days consisted of 12 hours of rehearsal, most of it outside in scorching summer temperatures. Show days included 3 to 6 hours of rehearsal, and after the evening competitions the 10-vehicle entourage would travel overnight, so the corps didn’t miss any daylight rehearsal time. This summer they covered 8,600 miles, zigzagging the U.S. in the dark. When corps members did get “floor time,” they slept on the gym floor of some local high school. When they had the luxury of a shower, it was usually cramped and cold.

By a loose estimate Bennett’s corps, “Spirit of Atlanta,” rehearsed 680 hours in 77 days. That’s 24-hours-a-day for one solid month – or, 61.8 hours for each minute of their 11-minute competition performance. An old band director of mine once said, “Practice does not make perfect. (You only get what you practice.) Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

The members of Spirit of Atlanta, and the 154 members (each) of the 23 other DCI corps spend their summers practicing perfection. The end result for 3,696 teenage musicians and staff members and volunteers is the satisfaction of cooperation, the creation of a show of amazing beauty, a feast to sate the senses.

We traveled with the corps for one week, working on the food truck, helping with repairs, driving one of the overnight equipment vehicles. Behind the scenes it’s just as crazy as it sounds from a distance! Some might wonder why: what’s the appeal of such relentless discipline? Asking the question might provide its own answer – and,

Who knew relentless discipline could be so beautiful?

Quoting the Bible Without Understanding It

Quoting the Bible Without Understanding It

It’s easy, and it appears sadly enjoyable for some people of faith to read the Bible in a way that gives “legitimacy” to pointing the finger at other people. If that is the result of your reading, please, read again.

What is Missing Without the Church

What is Missing Without the Church

Before we parted I had taken the opportunity to ask a daring question. “No preacherly pressure or guilt intended,” I said, “But I need to ask about the English Church. Many people feel the US is going the way of European secularism, and the US Church may also become a casualty. So, I need to know what is missing from England without the influence of the Church. Is anything missing?”


Unwilling to Remain Silent

Unwilling to Remain Silent

So, any nation that can stare into the faces of children, afraid and alone, orphaned by a policy designed to deter by terror, and argue only about our politics instead of their protection is in danger of losing its soul. We are there.

A Baseball Parent's Prayer

A Baseball Parent's Prayer

Amy and I don’t pray about baseball.

We have consistently taught our children two key elements about prayer: Prayer is not magic. God is not Santa Claus.

God doesn’t score winning touchdowns at the Super Bowl, no matter what the quarterback who threw the pass says. With starving children and natural disasters and the again-increasing threat of global nuclear war in the wind, we believe God has much more important things to do than worry about whether Jackson gets a “W” in the stats book today when he steps onto the mound to pitch for Presbyterian College.

But we’re his parents. And we happen to pray.

One of the last times he stepped onto the mound, Bennett was sitting with his mother who said a little more loudly than under her breath, “Lord, help him to do well.” B quickly jabbed his preacher-mother, “I thought you didn’t pray about baseball!?”

So, what to do…?

He has worked so hard. I mean so hard. Hours and hours and hours on the field, in the weight room, running, throwing, listening to coaches. Hours and hours and hours riding a bus – and then studying organic chemistry through coffee-drenched wee-hours of the morning.

He spent his first year as a very-disappointed “red shirt.” He doesn’t want to spend a fifth year in college, so that was a season of wasted eligibility. He didn’t play that year, but it didn’t decrease the time on the field, in the weight room, running, throwing…

Then he worked last year, all season, working, hoping, waiting for a chance to show himself. And it finally showed up.

There are about 18 pitchers on most college baseball teams. And there’s only one mound. So, you do the math, and figure in a bit of the maddeningly-frustrating coaching Zen, and you realize how hard it is to claw your way up to a starting spot. But that happens. Today.

So, his father, the Baptist minister is typing these words on a Sunday morning from a Starbucks in Asheville, NC. Since Amy was scheduled to preach, I’m playing hooky, but will slip in to the back of the sanctuary at First Baptist, just down the street. I’ll be one of those guests that the ministers, sitting on the podium see and ask, “I wonder who that guy was, and why he came late and left early?” And while I’m there, maybe I’ll pray.

Which is a tricky thing for a Baptist minister, a father of a pitcher, who honestly doesn’t pray for baseball. But maybe my prayer will sound something like this…

God of all good things
from saving grace to a well-timed curve ball
Be with Jackson today
as he climbs onto that mound –
not unlike others
who have gone up the mountain in hopes of seeing glory
You know that I know that you don’t care who wins baseball games
But you know that I’m a father of a son
and you know that he does care
You know that I know that you have more important things to do today than worry
whether one player, throwing a round, white ball 60-feet, 6-inches at a time
can throw it straight and fast or twisted and off-speed
all in the right combinations
all for the meaningless glory of
"strike three and you’re out!"
but I believe you grace this world with beauty –
beauty that shows itself in many different ways
and I believe you intend good health for the people of this world
and that healthy bodies and some drive down in the core of our souls
calls us to compete
so this day, I hope you can hear a father’s prayer
not for a win
but for a son
If you can strip away the selfishness of such a silly prayer
(Which you’ll have to do, because I can’t)
Hear my prayer.

Amen.

ps God… Go Blue Hose!

---

Photo by ALP STUDIO on Unsplash

 

-

CBF Hiring Policy Discussion: Background Materials

What is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship anyway!?
A very brief history…

In 1979 fundamentalist leaders in the Southern Baptist convention began and organized movement to take over the agencies of the convention. In the annual meeting in Houston, delegates from fundamentalist church is arrived in mass to vote for Adrian Rogers, a fundamentalist pastor from Memphis, Tennessee. This began a 20-year organized effort, electing fundamentalist pastors, who appointed fundamentalist to trustee positions in seminaries, hospitals, mission sending agencies, children's homes, retirement centers, the publishing enterprises of the convention. In about 20 years the effort was complete, and all of the agencies were controlled by fundamentalists.

The Alliance of Baptists…
In 1987 a group of concerned, moderate Baptists gathered at Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte to form the Southern Baptist Alliance. This group represented Southern Baptist churches, but not the new, fundamentalist values of the convention. Some years later the name of this organization, which from the beginning has been open to women and all roles of church leadership, and to the inclusion of homosexual persons in the life of the church, changed its name to the Alliance of Baptist.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship…
In 1991, out of concern that the Southern Baptist Convention was too conservative, but also sharing the concern that the Alliance was too liberal, a centrist group gathered to form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Baptist churches across the country have found their way along this divisive path, often aligning with the SBC and the CBF, or with the alliance and the CBF. Over the years Park Road has chosen to affiliate with the alliance and CBF, as well as with the Baptist Peace Fellowship and our local association of churches, The United Baptist Association.

The alliance has always been more of our home, representing more of our theology and our style of ministry. The more conservative leaning of the CBF has been problematic for many of us, for most of its years.

The origin of the hiring policy…
In the annual meeting of the CBF, 20 years ago in Atlanta, a hiring policy was adopted that excluded homosexual persons from service with the CBF. This issue has caused friction from the very beginning. Eighteen months ago the CBF formed a committee to lead what was called the Illumination Project. The committee sought feedback from churches and agencies that are part of the CBF network, and recommended a new hiring policy at the last meeting of the Governing Board in the spring of 2018. The Governing Board adopted this policy, which eliminates discrimination based on homosexuality (from the policy itself).

In an associated document, however, the Implementation Plan for this policy, makes clear that homosexuals who practice celibacy......

There's been quite a bit of fallout from this new policy. A number of conservative churches have already announced their withdrawal from the CBF because the hiring policy allows some homosexuals to serve in some roles in the CBF. Churches from the left have been frustrated by the policy because it still discriminates, prohibiting full participation of gay members.

Our ministry counsel discussed the new hiring policy, and whether or not this should alter our churches association with the CBF. Deacons also discussed this issue on Sunday morning. We are soliciting your input, and will provide further notice of any church discussion, and a culminating vote on our relationship with the CBF.

---

CBF Hiring Policy (Adopted February 9, 2018) 

CBF employees serve as co-laborers with the Holy Spirit in God’s mission, striving to be Christ-like, innovative, authentic, globally focused, committed to hearing and respecting diverse perspectives and to pursuing excellence. Employees will also be committed to CBF’s mission of serving Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission while working together to renew God’s world by cultivating beloved community, bearing witness to Jesus Christ and seeking transformational development in the contexts of global poverty and global migration and in partnership with the Global Church. 

Because of our compelling mission and vision, CBF will employ only individuals who profess Jesus Christ as Lord, are committed to living out the Great Commandment and Great Commission, and who affirm the principles that have shaped our unique Baptist heritage. Preference in hiring will be given to applicants who are active members in good standing of CBF churches as well as those who have demonstrated an active participation and contribution to the missions, ministries or other initiatives of the Fellowship and its partners. 

CBF employees are expected to have the highest moral character, displaying professionalism and a commitment to the highest ethical standards. These include: acting with integrity, being a faithful steward of resources, speaking truth in love, embracing accountability, facilitating fairness, supporting and encouraging peers, nurturing a community of respect, and establishing collaborative relationships. CBF employees are expected to live out their Christ-centered relationship both inside and outside the workplace, serving as active members of their local church as well as through service to their community.


The Implementation Plan…

About the Proposed Hiring Policy

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 4.07.10 PM.png

Implementation Procedure

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 4.12.15 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 4.14.11 PM.png

---



For further background…

Denominational Affiliations
An initiative of the 2003 Diaconate
August 25, 2003

(Note: In contradiction to this statement, Park Road Baptist Church officially severed ties with
the North Carolina Baptist State Convention on January 31, 2007.
See below for information concerning this decision.)

One of the major initiatives of the Diaconate of the Park Road Baptist Church for the year 2003 is to evaluate the church’s denominational relationships, and to make recommendation(s) to the congregation concerning these (or perhaps other) denominational entities. Mack Duncan and Ken Godwin were appointed to lead this initiative, and after some dialogue with deacons and ministerial staff, the decision was made that we not establish any new relationships at this time. In evaluating our current affiliations, both Daniel Vestal, Executive Director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Stan Hastey, Executive Director of the Alliance of Baptists made presentations to the congregation concerning their organizations. Materials were distributed to deacons and the congregation, and all church members were urged to explore these materials and related websites in order to gain further knowledge of these affiliates. 
Six different denominational affiliations are recognized below, all of which our church currently maintains, with some level of participation. The subcommittee recognizes that in a “post-denominational” age, multiple relationships such as these are valid, and can be maintained without consuming energy distracting our congregation from its primary mission. The subcommittee sees its most important contribution through this process as having increased the congregation’s awareness of a need for networking with other churches and agencies, and the partnerships which denominational agencies can provide to this end.
After the two presentations and ensuing conversation with the Administrative Deacons, a three-tiered approach to our currently held affiliations is recommended:

1. That Park Road Baptist Church pursue its relationship with the Alliance of Baptists, the United Baptist Association, and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.
A. In our evaluation of the Alliance of Baptists, we have come to believe that the theology and mission emphasis of the Alliance most closely resembles our congregation’s own theology and mission, and that this organization, therefore, is the affiliate with which we can most fully participate. “Pursuit” of such a relationship includes, but is not limited to:
* Encouraging church members, especially church leadership, to subscribe to the Alliance newsletter, Connections, for information concerning the Alliance of Baptists;
* Encouraging congregational participation at state and national meetings, and striving to contribute leadership from within our congregation to the leadership committees of these bodies;
* Encouraging an increasing level of financial support for the Alliance and its missions and ministries;
* Encouraging active participation in the missions and ministries of the Alliance of Baptists.

B. Since the founding of the United Baptist Association, our congregation has enjoyed a strong association with our partner churches in the association. Through this association our church has opportunity to participate in a multi-racial climate of fellowship and collaboration, supporting a number of local projects, such as Hope Chapel for homeless men, and a Vacation Bible School program for under-privileged children. We recommend a level of continuing support for the UBA through:
    * Encouraging participation in the monthly associational meetings;
    * Encouraging church members to participate in UBA sponsored ministries;
    * Encouraging a continuing level of financial support.

C. Given a globally-charged political climate and, especially in light of what appeared an immanent invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, our church engaged in a partnership with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, which is housed in Wedgewood Baptist Church. Comprised of Baptist congregations from Canada, Central America, and the United States who are interested in Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers,” the PBFNA is a vital resource for congregations who take such a challenge as a corporate calling. Because our relationship with the BPFNA is new, and because the political climate is still highly charged, we recommend pursuing this relationship through:
* Encouraging church members, especially church leadership, to subscribe to the Peace Fellowship newsletter, Peaceworks, for information concerning the PBFNA;
* Encouraging congregational awareness of issues relating to peace and justice;
* Encouraging financial support for the BPFNA.

2. That Park Road Baptist Church maintain its relationship with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Our congregation has used continues to use the CBF as a valuable ministry partner and resource. In this regard, we recognize the validity of continuing to partner with the CBF, making use of their resources, and contributing resources to the CBF. Our evaluation, however, also revealed significant differences with the CBF, made evident especially by their recent funding policy which denies the funding of universities and divinity schools which admit homosexual students, and which prohibits the hiring of homosexuals. As a congregation which is welcoming and affirming of all persons, we recognize the inherent contradiction of values within our organizations. The policy decision is of concern not solely due to the issue of homosexuality, but due to the implication for future decisions. Recognizing the theological tensions that exists, then, maintaining a relationship might include, but not be limited to:
* Encouraging church members, especially church leadership, to subscribe to the CBF newsletter, fellowship! for information concerning the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship;
    * Encouraging congregational participation at state and national meetings;
    * Encouraging some financial support for the CBF;
* Recognizing that one of our congregation’s valid offerings to the CBF is to model inclusion and to present a dissenting voice on issues that discriminate against the recognition of the infinite worth of all persons as the children of God.

NOTE: The North Carolina state CBF does not maintain the policies concerning homosexuality, which the national organization adopted, nor are they pressured to follow the national organization in any such decisions. Though the study committee is not recommending an increasing level of participation with the state organization, we recognize that at some point in the future, NC CBF may replace the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as the best entity through which our congregation can partner with other like-minded NC Baptist churches, and most effectively support our long-standing relationships with Baptist institutions and agencies such as Baptist children’s and retirement homes, Baptist hospitals, and Baptist colleges, universities, and divinity schools.

3. That Park Road Baptist Church acknowledge its historic relationship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. 
Park Road Baptist Church was established as a Southern Baptist Church, and, though the congregation severed ties with the SBC many years ago, we have maintained a relationship with the Baptist State Convention for 53 years. Through the state convention the church receives its status as an IRS 501-c3 (charitable) organization, utilizes the resources of the Annuity Board for retirement contributions for auxiliary staff, and continues to benefit from convention resources, such as Caswell Conference Center for retreats and camps. Though the state convention is not directly tied to the SBC, the obvious and implicit connection of these organizations will, rightly, pose similar tensions for our congregation, as concerning the CBF, above. There may come a time when Park Road Baptist Church chooses to actively disassociate with the state convention on theological grounds (see note, above, concerning NC CBF), but there will be legal and procedural ramifications if that decision is made. It is not our recommendation to officially disassociate at this time, though we recognize that there are more theological differences than commonalities between our congregation and the state convention, and that these differences will render our effective partnering minimal. Acknowledging our historic relationship might include, but not be limited to:
* Encouraging church members, especially church leadership, to subscribe to The Biblical Recorder for information concerning the Baptist State Convention;
* Encouraging the requisite level of financial support for the Convention, which will allow for our participation in the annuity program for our auxiliary staff;
* Recognizing that one of our congregation’s valid offerings to the BSCNC is to model inclusion and to present in appropriate ways a dissenting voice on issues that discriminate against the recognition of the infinite worth of all persons as the children of God.

NOTE: The subcommittee recommends that we establish our church’s own 501-c3 status, and that the Personnel Committee review our current retirement options for staff and strongly consider redirecting Annuity Board contributions, in the event that a dissolution of relationship becomes necessary, this procedural matter would not hinder such a decision.

*****

On January 31, 2007, in a unanimous vote of the church in conference, the almost fifty-seven year relationship with the North Carolina Baptist State Convention was severed. The following document was sent to the Executive Director of the convention, explaining our actions:

To Whom It May Concern:

For many years Park Road Baptist Church has been frustrated and disappointed by the continuously narrowing stance of the Southern Baptist Convention, and many of its state entities. Though founded as a Southern Baptist church, and having served as an active participant for many years, it has been quite some time since this congregation supported the SBC. Our support of our historically moderate state convention has also diminished over the last decade, though as recently as four years ago Park Road Baptist Church chose (despite many voices to the contrary) to continue to affirm our nominal, but important, historic relationship to the state convention. We still affirm much of the work of Baptist agencies and institutions, and know we have kinship with many North Carolina Baptists, even many with whom we may disagree theologically.

The unfortunate action of the November 2006 convention, however, has caused us to reverse our stance in relation to the convention.

In good faith and conscience we can no longer continue to be affiliated with an organization that officially sponsors the condemnation and alienation of individuals and churches who dare to offer a full welcome to every child of God. Park Road Baptist Church welcomes as full participants in our congregation all who wish to join in our convictions and fellowship. We wish not to wait until we are reported to the convention to be sanctioned for our action, which we believe in all faith and earnestness is in keeping with the mind of Christ. Such action as was embraced by the convention is embarrassing to us, and serves as yet one more indication to much of the world that the Church is often out of touch with the reality of humanity and many of its deepest needs. 

After a unanimous vote from our Diaconate, the recommendation to officially separate from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina was unanimously affirmed by our congregation in our most recent church conference, January 31, 2007. 

Though it is often difficult for us to do so, we continue to bear the Baptist name, recognizing and relying on our historic principles of individual freedom and corporate autonomy for which many our forebears died. We will continue to strive to be “Baptist,” in the best sense of the word, and will continue to offer the welcome and embrace of a God of unconditional love, which we understand through the person of Jesus Christ.

Sincerely,


The Members of Park Road Baptist Church

Progressives and Politics

Progressives and Politics

How did we get to such a sad state of affairs? How did we arrive at such a divided understanding? Is there any repair in this breach?

A Conversation About Guns

Guns.
 
I just needed to get that out there, in case you’re one of those who hears the word and automatically turns the page. If you think everyone who owns one is the spawn of Satan, go ahead, turn the page. And if you think anyone who can actually pronounce the word “control” is a worthless, bleeding heart nutcase, go ahead, turn the page.
 
For the rest of you, could we have a conversation?
 
If so, we will at least be ahead of the Florida state legislature who voted overwhelmingly this week not even to allow a conversation. Not even a conversation – because you know how dangerous it is for grown adults, elected to serve the common good, to have conversations. That courageous and visionary decision was made as the rest of the world was being inspired by the young people from Parkland, who had just survived the latest round of our homegrown, signature terror.
 
Heart-broken, outraged, chests pounding in breathless fear from their lucky or fateful escape, the sound of that brutal, battlefield machine still ringing in their ears, these students spoke with eloquence and power.  And one teenager’s protest sign spoke for all: “Why are we being the adults?”
 
If you’re still reading, for their sakes let’s be the adults: this was not mental illness.
 
Recently mental health experts have been borrowing the phrase, shouted repeatedly at one of those high school rallies: “We call BS on this!” Studies show that only a small minority of mentally ill patients are violent. While many of our now-infamous mass killers were undoubtedly distressed, depressed, unstable, unhinged, most were not actually “mentally ill” when they started shooting.
 
If you’re still reading, for their sakes let’s be the adults: this was not a failure of protocol.
 
Yes, the FBI admitted they missed some signals, but the local authorities had already visited that teenager multiple times, and he still became a crazed gunman. Yes, on a YouTube post he claimed, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” but the first amendment is as constitutional as the second. Are we really going to arrest everyone who says something stupid on social media?
 
If you’re still reading, for their sakes let’s be the adults: this was not about background checks or assault weapons bans.
 
Yes, it hardly seems unreasonable to do a simple background check on anyone who buys any kind of gun, anywhere, anytime. It only makes sense to improve that system. One would think it would be at least as difficult to buy a military-grade weapon as a handgun – but the opposite is the case. Some avid gun owners even agree that if you want an AR15, you ought to “sign up and serve your country” – but even with a complete ban on assault weapons, anyone who wants one badly enough will find a way.
 
If you’re still reading, for their sakes let’s be the adults: surely we cannot believe that arming our teachers is the answer.
 
Yes, if every teacher in Parkland had owned a gun, Nikolas Cruz might be dead today – but he would not be the only one. If a crazed gunman knows teachers are armed, you can imagine who has the first target on her head when he starts unloading a magazine in her classroom. I heard an “expert” say recently that the most important thing we can do is concentrate on the first five minutes AFTER the gunman starts killing our kids. Really? Are we that powerless? Are we that ready to admit defeat, to concede that the best thing we can do is kill the lunatic before he kills too many of our children?
 
If you’re still reading, for their sakes let’s be the adults. 

After so many of these tragedies it ought to be obvious that the problem we have is not a mental health problem, not a gun control problem, not a policy problem, not a response problem. But if we are talking like adults, we owe it to ourselves to be honest: we just have too many guns.
 
So, please, don’t just turn the page.
 
I didn’t say I don’t believe in the Second Amendment. I didn’t say you can’t own a gun. I didn’t say policies aren’t necessary. I didn’t say I hate the police or the military. I didn’t say laws aren’t important or can’t make some difference. I just said when there are 300 million guns in the country, anyone who wants a gun, of any kind, to be owned for any reason, will have one – no matter who they are, no matter the laws, no matter our preparedness for response.
 
Until we can admit the obvious, nothing will change. But when we have the courage to admit the obvious, adults acting like adults will be able to have a conversation about what we can do to let reasonable people own reasonable guns for reasons that make sense. That conversation will allow us to slowly change the mentality of violence, that has always only led to more violence. Until we can be honest, and act like the adults our kids need us to be, there will be no end to our madness. We’ll just have more…
 
Guns.
 

Russia is Winning

Russia is Winning

I grew up in the simmering tide of the cold war. While I don’t remember bomb shelters and never practiced “duck and cover” under my school desk, tensions with the world’s other superpower were just below the surface. All the time.

That was clear to me because I also grew up in the fire of evangelical apocalypticism.  While my pastor/father didn’t preach about the “end times,” it was just in the air – so I understood that we might be living in the “last days” and that Armageddon, when it came, was going to have something to do with the great Russian bear.

The word “Russia” still echoes with dimly fearful tones, and it doesn’t just connote national enmity; there’s a spiritual darkness that faintly hovers near. So, if there was ever a rival to beat, there was all the reason in this world and the next for it to be Russia. So it’s still a bitter pill to swallow to have to admit the truth…

Russia is winning.

And their plan is brilliant. They don’t need nuclear weapons. Words are weapons of even greater mass destruction. They don’t have to pull a single trigger. They know they could count on us to do all the sniping. Maybe worst of all, they beat us at our own game, on our own turf, using our own most coveted possession against us. 

Don’t you know it brings a devilish smile of sadistic pride to the face of the entire Kremlin to know that democracy and free speech itself was the Achilles heel they used to bring us to the brink of destruction?

Russia is winning. The war is not conventional, but it is just as destructive, because it proves to us that the greatest enemy isn’t communist propaganda – just our own blinding affluence, because it is the success (and the great failures) afforded by our affluence that are the source of our division.

The recent indictment by the Mueller Investigation, charging 13 Russian nationals for interfering with the 2016 election, proved the depth of Russian knowledge about our weakness – in all its powerful pettiness. The only weapons the “Red Menace” needed in order to have their way in our “free election” was access to our own social media feeds and enough understanding of our penchant for self-destruction to bait us into caricaturing and demonizing and despising each other – almost to death. 

It’s sad that you don’t even have to live here to see how much we have come to disdain each other. Russia employed human-created tweets and automated “bots” to ply our racial hatreds, our religious poisons, our cultural distinctions, and our ideological madnesses with methodical precision – enticing us into a war of words that has left us more fractured than we’ve been since we were Union and Confederate enemies.

Unfortunately, even our President cannot see that he is still a pawn in this simple, brilliant, demonic game of war. He insists there was “no collusion,” and indeed there is no need for collusion, as far as they are concerned, as long as we keep playing perfectly by their strategy: divide and conquer.

The opening act of creation has often been cited to note the power of words: “And God said, ‘Let there be…’”  Words have always had world-changing power, and if we cannot learn a little respect and generosity for everyone, learn to bridle our tongues and silence our social media rages, God will have had the first word, but the Russians will get the last laugh.

--

Photo Credit: Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

 

A Prayer for Parkland

A Prayer for Parkland

The following is the Prayer of Intercession given by Amy Jacks Dean during worship services at Park Road Baptist Church on Sunday February 18th.

Gracious God, we pray this day for the 17 who have died. We pray for their mothers and fathers and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins and spouses and children and friends and teachers - may they know your comfort and care.

May they know your presence to hold them close.

We pray for the one who carried a gun into a school and started shooting and who now sits in jail.

We pray for the SWAT team who charged in risking their very own lives to save others.

We pray for first responders who jumped into action to save the lives of those wounded.

We pray for the eye witnesses who have seen things they cannot ever unsee.

We pray for the almost 3000 students at that high school in Florida who were and are terrified AND for all of the students and parents and teachers across our land in every school who are afraid. May they hear your constant call: Fear Not. Though it seems impossible.

We pray for teenagers who are finding their voice and speaking their anger in protest. May their tribe increase.

Do we dare pray for our politicians who will largely be charged to DO SOMETHING! Yes. We. Do. Dare. Give them your Wisdom and Guidance and Strength and Compassion to DO SOMETHING.

Gracious God, help us to stop speaking and posting in extremes. Help us to stop thinking in "all or nothing" categories. You have made us with more creativity than that. When we hunker down in the extremes we get no where. And we need to get somewhere. Please, O God, help us function out of your Love, your Grace, and your Mercy.

May our "thoughts and prayers" lead us to action, may our "thoughts and prayers" call us to change; may our "thoughts and prayers" lead us to creativity; may our "thoughts and prayers" call us to listen; may our "thoughts and prayers" lead us to speak out; may our "thoughts and prayers" lead us to Remember.

Amen.

-----

(Photo by Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Stole Around My Neck

Stole Around My Neck

It’s becoming much too normal to stand alongside other clergy, stole around my neck, and join many others standing behind people speaking the Truth in Love, speaking Truth to Power.

Afraid to speak. Afraid to be silent.

Afraid to speak. Afraid to be silent.

Since that disturbing Oval Office pronouncement there have been thousands of opinions written across the political spectrum, endless hours dedicated to punditocracy in the marketplace, countless words of pulpiteering offered by the Church.

And I’ve been afraid to speak.

 Merry Christmas Versus the Real Christmas

Merry Christmas Versus the Real Christmas

As a Christian pastor, I believe we ought to think carefully about what it means to require all Americans, Christian and non-Christian, to adopt “Merry Christmas” as a mandatory greeting this time of the year. While it may sound like “putting Christ back into Christmas,” I have serious doubts about that.