Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stunned by another Church Shooting

This afternoon, I am stunned by the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller at his church Reformation Lutheran here in Wichita. As a "preacher" I am supposed to have a "word" on everything. As a "pastor" I am supposed to know the right actions, the right ways to deal with whatever might occur. In this moment, I have no words, no actions.

I am shocked, horrified and saddened more than I can articulate. I did not know Dr. Tiller. I, know, he was a doctor that performed abortions in the city of Wichita. I know he has been harassed, belittled and vilified by many who disagree with the premise that abortion needs to be safe and available. As a pastor, I have listened to women who have been in untenable situations. I have held them as they wept and I have prayed with them as they struggled to make the right decision in the midst of pain and confusion. There are times when there are no good decisions, only difficult ones. For many women, Dr. Tiller walked with them through some of the most deepest and darkest valleys of their lives and provided hope and a place of compassion.

Regardless of where one stands on this controversial issue, walking into a church and shooting someone at point blank as he ushered for the morning worship service is beyond comprehension. It is immoral and it is evil. The violation of that sacred space will take a long time to heal. That congregation has stood up to the forces of hate and bigotry before. Now, they walk through grief and pain and shock and a sense that no place is secure.

My prayers are with Dr. Tiller's family, friends, patients, co-workers and with the Reformation Lutheran Church. I pray God's strength and comfort on the pastors at Reformation Lutheran, Rev. Lowell Michelson and Rev. Kristin Neitzel as they embody God's grace for their congregation. Mostly, I pray for a stand against senseless violence. I believe we need to find better ways to disagree on difficult topics. People of faith can and do often disagree on issues. Killing each other doesn't make things any better. In fact, it makes them worse. Learning to disagree deeply and faithfully does not include name calling, belittling, harassing or vilifying.

I am sure I will ponder and post more later.

In the meantime...

I remain

Graced to Serve

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On having a Root Canal

You know the sayings....when we don't want to do something we say, "I'd rather have a root canal"...or this meeting or situation is worse than a "root canal". Not a very nice thing to say about those dentists or endodontists do the work to prepare and actually perform a root canal.

I had my first many years ago, maybe 25 years ago. As a child, I had had horrific experiences at the dentist. I won't go into it more than to say that we were on a medical card because we were poor and my grandfather had an old dentist friend who didn't believe in deadening anything unless absolutely necessary. By the time I was in high school, they had to sedate me to have any procedures done.

Once I grew up...wanting to be an adult, I attempt to be as calm as I can be. I will admit, I still sometimes have nervous shakes in the dentist chair. It's not something I am proud of, but I do my best to remain calm and take deep breaths.

Anyway, I have been in excruiting pain for over two week. I had a tooth break, my dentist put a crown on it...and about four days later the pain began in earnest. I returned to the dentist, who says, it is going to need a root canal, not exactly what I wanted to hear. Of course, I couldn't get into the endodontist until June 2. High doses of antibotics and pain killers are supposed to help. And they did, for less than a week. The pain returned and I wondered how I was going to function. I laid off the narcotics in order to work...but Advil and Tylenol only knocked it back to a dull roar.

On Thursday, my phone rang early. Dr. Turner, the endodonist had an immediate opening. I took it! Who could imagine that having a root canal could be so exciting. When my face hurt from behind my eye down to to my collar bone...whatever it took to make it stop was a miracle to me.

Dr. Turner's hands were gentle and even with my occasional shakes, he did what he needed to do in an awkward position (it was the farthest back tooth in the upper part of my mouth.) He was efficient and the difference in the pain level was immediately apparent. Sure, there is some soreness from the injections and the position my mouth was in...but not the incredible throbbing pain I had been in.

Having a root canal, was truly a gift. Who would have thought that such a procedure would make such a difference. Not so long ago, or very far away, my tooth would have been pulled. And the instruments that were used were much different than the last root canal I had.

I believe there are many miracles in the world...not the least of which are the ongoing medical procedures that make our lives more comfortable. I forget how often I take things for granted. NOT being in pain is one of them. When I list the things I would rather not do....I do not believe a root canal will be one of them.

Grateful for a good dentist and endodontist...

I am

Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

lunch with Richard Cizik

I had an opportunity today to have a lunch at Interfaith Ministries with Reverend Richard Cizik. It was sponsored by Kansas Interfaith Power and Light. You may be familiar with the name Richard Cizik. He "is the former vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and its 30 million members. In that role, he had primary responsibility for shaping and articulating the organization's policy on major social issues and lobbying the White House and Congress on the association's behalf." (quote taken from the biographical information sent out by Interfaith Power and Light) You might also remember that he resigned in December of 2008 over remarks made on NPR on civil unions.

In 2002, in his own words, he had a conversion on global warming and climate change. He began working with scientists and evangelicals on the issues around climate change. It was not a popular issue with that constituency.

Richard is now working non stop with "young evangelicals" and others on what he believes is THE issue for Christians. While with the NAE he began working with churches on Creation Care. Citing Genesis 2:15, Richard claims that creation care is different than environmentalism because it rooted in scripture, not on politics or particular agendas.

All told, there were 12 of us around the table including Rev. Cizik. He is passionate about this subject and encouraged us to find places "at the table" for people to buy in at whatever level they will. If it means looking at lower utility costs instead of mentioning climate it.

Having attended a Cool Congregations training with Nancy Wilhite and Jane Criser, I agree with what he said. Whatever we can do to encourage people to look at what it means to use less energy, we leave a better and cleaner world for our children. Young people are passionate about this issues regardless of their religious affiliation or lack there of. They believe we need to be about the work of lowering our "carbon footprint" and creating sustainable energy.

Finding ways to proceed that crosses ideological lines, religious lines, political lines is the key. Perhaps Rev. Cizik is right, the young people will do it. They believe deeply that this is THE issue above all others. I am convinced that this issue is part of a bigger picture of justice, of peace and of living equitably with all.

Graced to Serve,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nominations, rejections and such

This morning, as I was driving to work, I flipped from KMUW to B98FM....on the morning show, Brett Harris and Tracy Cassidy were bantering about the Wichita man who was "booted off" the Bachelorette last night. A young man, who graduated from Andover high school was one of the Bachelors up for winning the affection of the current "Bachelorette".

Now you need to know that I automatically am offended by these shows. Who in their right mind sells themselves on national television. I could say, prostitute themselves, but am trying to be nice! Any way, this particular man was listening online for L.A. and heard whatever it was that Tracy said and will be on the radio station tomorrow.

Having heard all I wanted in about two minutes, I switched back to NPR on KMUW and President Obama was getting ready to nominate his choice for the Supreme Court. I had already heard earlier the name of Sonia Sotomayor. President Obama nominated the first Hispanic to the court. According to President Obama's speech, she comes with an impressive resume.

I sat in the parking lot at West Heights and pondered what I had heard in just a few minutes. Which would I rather have my name associated with? A reality show, that in my opinion, is nothing more than a national meat market, where men and women (depending on the show) are humiliated or rewarded on national television, or would I rather be considered for a higher calling.

Regardless of what the Senate does with the nomination of Judge Sotomayor, she has dedicated her life to a higher calling of law and justice. Regardless of where one may stand on any one of her opinions, out of a humble life in the Bronx, she pursued education and a way of making the world a better place. I am not sure that contestants on the Bachelorette, or the Bachelor, or Survivor or any number of reality shows can say the same.

Call me old, call me old fashioned, a stick in the mud, or just a preacher, but I want to live in way that means more than fifteen minutes of fame. Somehow, when I come to the end of my life, I want know in the words of Emerson, "that one life has breathed easier", that for a moment or a day, I made a real difference in the world. I want to live deeply and faithfully. The older I get, the less I care about whether I am remembered ten years after I am gone, if somehow in someway I find a way to change a life here, speak a word of grace there and know that some how in some way, my life has mattered.

I would rather be nominated for something truly great, and in the end not succeed than be rejected for some superficial reason. Life is too short and I think we sell ourselves too cheaply for things that do not matter.

I am content to be,

Graced to Serve,


Friday, May 22, 2009


I am home from Annual Conference. Tired, grateful and praying for a blessing as I begin my fourth year at West Heights.

The discussion around the constitutional amendments was tense, but civil. As always, it seems to me we get distracted by things that are part of the whole, but usually are minimally important. Which of course means, the deeper meanings of what is going on gets overlooked.

Each year, I know more and more of the names read of those who have died. I mourn some great pastors and saints. I also give a prayer of thanks for lives well lived.

I am glad that Bishop Jones has brought back the "reading" of the appointments. It affirms the ministry of the individual as well as the ministry of the local church. Each year as my name is read I am excited for next year and challenged to be the best pastor I can be in the place I am called to serve.

I will probably do some more reflections when my mind is not so befuddled with business and fatigue.

Pastor Christopher's Commissioning

The highlight of yesterday's annual conference was Christopher's commissioning. Bishop Robert Schnase was powerful and challenging. Bishop Jone's state of the conference address asked us to reach for excellence. The highlight of every annual conference, every year, for me is the ordination and commissioning service.

Thirty five years ago, at annual conference in Sam's Chapel at Kansas Wesleyan University I received my call. Each year, where ever ordination is held, I go and celebrate and remember. It was a delight to stand with Christopher and his family as a sponsor as he was commissioned as a provisional member of the conference. It was an honor to watch as the bishop blessed him and others as they continued the journey to full membership and ordination.

In his sermon, the bishop charged us as followers of Christ to bring people from darkness into light. To leave to the darkness our fears, our prejudices and those hateful violent impulses that we might live in love, in faith and in hope. Christopher and the other ordinands and commissioned were challenged to be bearers of the good news to all people.

We are challenged as well. We are invited to continue to lift Christopher up in prayer as he continues the journey. We are challenged to find others whom God is calling and we are called to also be the ones to invite others into a life changing relationship with God.

I am grateful to remember my call, but more importantly to live it out and to share with Christopher and others.

Will post more highlights from conference in the next day or two.

I am....

Graced to Serve.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FIrst Day of Annual Conference

Last night, the clergy session met to do the business surrounding the clergy of the annual conference. In that session, our student pastor, Christopher Eshelman was officially voted as a provisional/probationary member of the annual conference. We honored our retiring members and remembered those pastors who had died in the last year. In the midst of the business, we are really dealing with human beings and their call and their ministry and their lives.

Today began the official business of the Kansas West Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Reverend Amy Lippoldt, the pastor of Woodland United Methodist Church preached on “the HIP crowd.” HIP stands for the Hospitality Industry Personnel. These are the persons who wait on us in restaurants, in stores, at hotels and any person working in customer service. And yet, is not the church the original hospitality industry? She invited us to look at why we are hospitable. “Is it only to get more people in the pews or more money in the plate? If it is, our hospitality is a cheap charade. We should be the ones the world thinks of when they hear the word hospitality.”

As a person who believes that hospitality is at the heart of ministry and theology, I was challenged to ponder what it would look like if I lived a more hospitable life. What if I looked upon each person I meet as Christ. In the words of a grandmother, to say in my heart, “The Christ in me greets the Christ in thee.” From those powerful words, we moved to the sacrament of Holy Communion.

We finished the morning with some business. Particularly we looked at the new campaign, “RETHINK CHURCH”. I think this will be a wonderful tool for us at West Heights as we plan to reach out to our neighborhood and invite persons to experience God’s love and grace.

Annual Conference is always part worship, part education, part reports and business agenda, resolutions and family reunion. I have seen people from every church I have ever served and caught up with old friends and new ones. Tomorrow will be full with evening worship being ordination and commissioning. I look forward seeing some of you here to celebrate with Christopher as he is commissioned as a provisional member of the annual conference.

As always I am,
Graced to Serve.