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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Have a merry green Christmas!

The signs are out for Black Friday shopping which always sounds a little ominous to me. But obviously it's to announce a day when the stores hope to jump into the black and out of the red ink in their financial pages. It will take some concerted shopping on all our parts for them to go from red to black.

And probably even more to go green!

Maybe you've had a chance to read my column at www.minnesotaumc.org on having a merry green Christmas. A green Christmas usually means that there's no snow but in these days of concern about the environment--God's creation--we need to develop a new holiday greeting: have a green Christmas!

How will you make changes in the ways in which you celebrate Jesus' birthday so that you are kind and caring toward the Earth upon which he walked?

I come from a long history of paperbag wrappings so there's not too much more I can do in that department. I was thinking that maybe I could recycle ALL the gift bags we have, using colors and symbols that aren't necessarily Christmas or even winter! So someone might get a gift bag that looks more like a sunny day in the Caribbean . . . maybe not so bad!

We have an artificial tree although for years we had no tree whatsoever. We would wrap a stool with Christmas lights and put a nativity set on top. I guess you can tell we're not traditionalists.

We look like we're the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. People have been out already on the warmer November days putting up lights. There will be no lights on our house. It's an energy-saving move but the energy-saving that comes from not going out there and putting them up, not the amount of electricity used! At least we'll have a tree and you can see it from the outside. But for those who put up light, the more energy efficient, the better.

We'll probably spend less this year which won't make for a black Friday or December for anyone, except maybe us! We'll be more careful about what we give instead of the shot-gun approach that we sometimes use, hoping we hit the mark for the ones who have everything!

We enjoy giving money away at this time of the year and the rest of the year for that matter. The givingMN.org website and its Give-to-the Max day was wonderful! How can we help our churches, church-related institutions and organizations, and the denomination itself provide for this means of giving?

So tell us, how will you have a merry green(er) Christmas this year? Share your ideas and hopes to care for Earth as you celebrate Jesus' birth and maybe you'll inspire me to do more and others with new ideas!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What in the World Happened?

I'm reading a very disturbing, but powerful--and I'd even say, life changing--book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Nicholas writes a regular column for the New York Times and travels the world, usually to developing countries. Often he reports on women's lives and certainly the lives of those who are burdened by abject poverty. I've learned more from him about the world around me than I ever do in church. Yet it was in church as a child that I learned about a wider world, not some of the problems described in book, at least that there is a world in need out there.

Nicholas and Sheryl tell the stories (you have to have a strong stomach for it all) about women throughout the developing countries and the ways in which they suffer and die from means that could be alleviated. They write about the overwhelming statistics (which I won't give you here) on modern slavery in sex trafficking for girls, the high and growing maternal mortality rates in developing countries, the lack of education for girls which influences poverty and even the number of pregnancies that the girl will experience in her lifetime, the violence inflicted upon women and girls in war-torn countries and the list goes on. Millions and millions of women and girls are suffering and dying...and we almost don't hear about it.

The thing is that as the women go, so goes the village. Do we care about all of these precious lives, children of God?

I actually believe that our outreach through the Women's Division and Global Ministries has ministries and missionaries that reach out to many of these women and girls in their villages, but we rarely hear about them in our churches.

What in the world happened? Or maybe I should ask, What in the church happened? When did we stop caring about the world?

If you read my last blog, you saw that 52 times someone posted a comment. Lots of activity, the most I've had on my blog! The topic of homosexuality is of great interest to many people, and as you can read for yourself, it usually invokes great emotion. Certainly it's a reality that we have to deal with in our society as well as church.

But I feel a bit like Nicholas and Sheryl when they describe how they reported on a dissident in China and it made front-page news, but "when 100,000 girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news...we slip at covering events that happen every day--such as the quotidian cruelities inflicted on women and girls." (p. xiv) "Quotidian cruelities" were what the prophets warned the people about and Jesus came to heal.

Do we care? Can be generate as much emotion over the existence of such poverty and neglect of the most vulnerable in our world? Do we care enough to hear about it? Pray about it? Do something about it?

I was cleaning a book shelf this summer and saw an old copy of Walter Rauschenbusch's, A Theology for the Social Gospel (copyrighted 1917). I opened it and came to a story he told about a Mennonite farmer whose milk was flagged because it had contaminates in it due to careless practices on his part. The farmer swore, which is a no-no in the Mennonite community, and was publicly chastised for swearing by the faith community. But they made no mention of his carelessness in potentially causing children who drank milk to get sick from his contaminated milk.

Rauschenbusch suggested that the faith community should tell the farmer to settle his sin of swearing before God but that he be excluded from the voting community until he gets his practices in producing milk back into a healthy and ethical level. The social impact of his milking practices far exceeded his personal problem with swearing and yet the faith community didn't care about the greater problem of children getting sick.

It seems like we become so emotional and focused on certain things without noticing the huge ethical infractions that our own living creates.

Do we care? Why don't we care?

WDYT?

(I'm betting I don't have 52 comments!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How About Those Lutherans?

In Cleveland no matter how the Indians were playing, a conversation could always be opened by asking, "So, how about those Indians?"





How about those Lutherans (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)? On Thursday, August 20, 2009, they voted overwhelmingly for full communion with the United Methodist Church! This will provide more opportunities for working together in communities. I'm particularly hopeful about some of our rural communities where we could share clergy (UMC has had ELCA clergy but not the other way around). It was a great and celebratory event!

But you may not have heard about it on the news because on Friday, August 21, 2009, they voted that gay clergy could be placed on the roster for pastoral leadership in churches. The vote passed with the support of 68 percent of about 1,000 delegates at the ELCA's national assembly here in Minneapolis. It makes the group, with about 4.7 million members in the U.S., one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance.



While I was in attendance at the ELCA Assembly for their hearings and vote (and ultimately celebration) on being in full communion with the United Methodist Church, I heard some of their debate and marveled at their impassioned but not nasty discourse around homosexuality (at least what I heard). Their manner of being together didn't suggest to me that they will quickly or easily split or leave. They are also far more identified individually as Lutherans than we usually are as United Methodists. I wonder what that will mean for their way forward together as one.




I think that it's significant that the ELCA made this decision because they're the church of the "fly-over states." Lutherans are so mid-America, and not just geographically. What does this say about the American, Christian viewpoint on homosexuality, if anything?


Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson writes, following the vote, that "we meet one another finally--not in our agreements or our disagreements--but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ." He affirmed the way in which the Assembly made the decision rather than the decision, but asked that those who "lament" and those who "rejoice" at it will continue to be in conversation and relationship with each other "for together we have been called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and engage in God's mission for the life of the world."


As United Methodist, we state that we will not ordain or appoint self-avowed, practicing homosexuals in our Church. We have people who have left because of this stance and also those who agree with the stance.




I had recently resolved to try to write a new blog entry for peoples' reflections and conversations on a more regular basis and it was time to write one. I wasn't going to write about the Lutherans, but then I read that good leadership doesn't allow an elephant to sit in the room! How could I ask a provoking question for people to reflect on when this decision has just happened?



I'm wondering how this decision should or could shape our own discussions on homosexuality. What can we learn from both their decision and how they made their decision? How does this decision impact us and our churches?



WDYT?

(Please remember the rules of engagement for civil discourse and I urge you to post your thoughts for others as opposed to writing me privately.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

WWJWS?

What would John Wesley say about our present debate about health care (WWJWS)? Our own, Steve Manskar, reminds us on his Facebook page what John Wesley said and did about health care in his own time. If you're on Facebook, you can find his quotes from "A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists" on this subject matter at http://www.facebook.com/n/?note.php&note_id=115822479323&mid=ee6c1bG1ee3e4a1G28f49fcGa.

Suffice it to say, John Wesley spent a good share of his time, personal finances, and Christian commitment in providing health care for the poor in England.

I've heard economists and those knowledgeable about health care remark that there hasn't been enough dialogue about what the changes should be made in health care. The Mayo and Cleveland Clinics have been raised as exemplary places to provide a more wholistic approach to health care; less individual providers with less than 20 minutes to work in their silo of medicine on our complicated and interconnected bodies. Could health care be more wholistic for all of us?

The town hall meetings that we are hearing about in the news with legislators and the President of the United States going out into the country don't exactly sound like a dialogue to me. Why the anger? What are we afraid of?

Why the misinformation? My own mother admits to getting many emails a day (her harddrive crashed so not so many right now!) about "pulling the plug on grandma," etc. Whose fueling that? Could it be the health insurance companies themselves? Could it be those who stand to make a lot of money off of us if we don't make changes?

How's your health insurance working for you now? Even those on Medicare (a government-run health provider). I'm sure it's not perfect, but something must be done in order to reduce costs but also to provide better care.

Do we have to link employment with health insurance? The history of that is that benefits were given instead of salary increases. That appears to be the case again today, at least for clergy! And of course the disaster is that when one is no longer employed, one is also off health insurance. Several members of my own family don't have health insurance right now because they don't have jobs. This isn't about someone else. This is about us and if it's not affecting us directly now, it affects us indirectly. Presently it's causing some local churches to really struggle in providing benefits for clergy. The issue isn't that clergy shouldn't have benefits, but that benefits shouldn't be so exorbitant.

Now you probably think that I'm "playing politics," but let me direct you to the Social Principles in our Book of Discipline which state in part: "Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril..health care is best funded through the government's ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities...We believe it is a governmental responsiblity to provide all citizens with health care." (Par. 162.V, 2008 Book of Discipline).

So why aren't we more adamant about health care for all as United Methodists? What can we do? WWJWS?

Please feel free to express your opinions but I expect that you will respond differently from "the world," and I hope we can have a conversation based on our faith and not just our politics!

WDYT?

Sally Dyck

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is It a Teachable Moment?

Four characters living out the drama of racism in America in the headlines.



Professor Henry Louis Gates, a prominent Harvard professor, returns home from a long trip and can't get the door of his house open. Enlisting the aid of his cab driver, he tries to push the door open. He identified himself as the owner and yet seems to have lost his temper. Would you if someone was still questioning you in your own house?



A neighbor, Lucia Whalen, responds to the request of an elderly neighbor who saw the men tryiing to get into the house by calling the police. Is she being a good neighbor to the elderly woman or her community when someone sees something unusual?



A well-respected police officer, Sargent James Crowley, responds to a 911 call. He is a trainer for helping prevent racial profiling. What overrode his own training in the heat of the moment?



The President of the United States hears about the incident and comments in such a way that ratchets the conversation. Later he reflects a little on what it's like to be a black man in America and calls it a "teachable moment."



Later today they are all, except the woman who called 911, expected to have a beer together in Washington. I think it's good modeling that they will sit down together and I hope we'll have enough of a window on the conversation to allow it to truly be a "teachable moment" in how to talk about racism.



In a predominantly Euro-American state with our diversity in many different ethnic and racial groups, it's easy for us as Minnesotans to ignore the realities of racism. And yet every day there are incidents in our own state with our neighbors who are Native Americans, Hmong, Hispanic, African, African American and the rest of our emerging diversity of peoples. Our neighbors are literally next door to us in all of our neighborhoods as individuals and as churches. Many of our churches are located in neighborhoods filled with people who don't look like those of us worshiping in the buildings.



How are we making this headline news item a "teachable moment?" What do we have to learn from this incident? And what do we have to teach from it as Christians and in the context of gathering as people of faith for worship, Bible study and prayer? What are we saying? How are we praying?



Is it a teachable moment?



WDYT?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Where's Your Shack?

I'm baaaaaaaack! I just needed a little hiatus there for a bit and now I'm back wanting to hear from you on all sorts of things.



I recently read (on my iPod) the popular fiction entitled, The Shack, by William Paul Young. The reason I read it was because I saw all these people in the airport and on airplanes reading it and I thought I might have an interesting conversation about it if I had actually read it. I didn't expect to like it...



But I did! I was also reading the book of Job at the same time and so I like to say that the story line is really "Job meets the Triune God"! A man suffers a terrible tragedy and then finds himself going to the place where the tragedy occurred: a shack. In many respects the season of Lent is about going to our shack, wherever that is that is hardest for us to believe in the living God.



At the shack, he has an encounter with God that doesn't meet his expectations about just who God is and how God relates to humanity. Finally God says to him, "This weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes!" There couldn't be better advice about what will help us relate to God differently than to let go of our "religious stereotypes" at time. Isn't that the story of Easter morning? There's nothing in John 20 with Mary Magdalene encountering the living Christ that was reinforcing her religious stereotypes!

However, I know that the way in which God is revealed to the man at the shack is disturbing to some. I found it rather refreshing! I have always believed that our images of God are what draw us closer or farther away. How can we know God's love if the image of God that we have is less than loving to us?



I also find myself adopting a few phrases from the book. I like the way God is forever saying, "I'm especially fond of you" or whoever God is talking about at the time. Remniscent of "you are my beloved child," this phrase reminds us that God is especially fond of us...and everyone else for that matter! (Honestly, it becomes a catchy phrase!)



The images of life after death or heaven--whatever that was with rainbow like auras--didn't do so much for me but I think we're all challenged to think about what life beyond this life is...for the purpose of living this life. The man in the story had to confront his relationships with others who had already died so that he could truly live. It's a story of transformation.



Not bad theology overall but like "Jesus movies" that pop up every now and again, when we read or see our images of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit a little differently, it makes us think...and rethink just who God is in our lives. Not a bad thing...



So, have you read the book? WDYT?