Here are a few “random” thoughts from things in the news that have captured my attention.
One story comes out of Black Rock, Nevada about “The Burning Man” festival. Tens of thousands descended on this small town to explore various forms of artistic self-expression. Think Bonnaroo without the music, but with art. It is also a sort of “community experiment” because “Burning Man” celebrates cultural and racial diversity and it is the largest “leave no trace” gathering of its kind. The cleanup after the festival, accomplished by all the festival-goers, leaves no trace that they were ever there. That’s pretty impressive. Once all the attendees have left, organizers scour the 7 square-mile site for ANY items left behind—feathers, glitter, or flowers that shouldn’t be in the desert. They call this foreign debris “MOOP”—matter out of place.
I admire their desire and determination to leave their place as they found it. Our planet would be much better off if we all took that seriously. Have you ever considered how much “MOOP” inhabits your world?
We are getting ready for our annual Stewardship Campaign in support of our annual operating budget. I’m always on the lookout for stories or items that might be instructive and helpful to me in leading this effort. I’m a big fan of the comic strip “Dilbert”. I think it’s a very smart, biting kind of strip aimed at the business world and shining a light on some of the wacky things we do in our office environments. In one recent strip, the “pointy-headed boss” approaches one of his workers to say, “You’ll be sorry when the world economy collapses. But I’ll be OK because I hoarded gold at my house”. His employee replies, “On Day Two, you’ll trade all that gold for a sandwich.” To which he says, deadpan, “Only if I’m hungry.”
Our misguided attempts to “hoard” so that we will protect ourselves from all calamity is sometimes as comical as Dilbert. The only way we thrive as people is to thrive together—in community with each other—with everyone having “enough”—not loads of stuff stockpiled somewhere. Stewardship is always about having enough.
Maybe stockpiles of stuff is another kind of MOOP.
Finally, my friend sent me a Franciscan Blessing this week:
“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work of justice, freedom and peace.
. . .And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”
I have thought long and hard about Kim Davis. I have mixed emotions about her situation and about the entire issue that surrounds her. I feel like this is an important issue for any citizen—and especially any Christian citizen—to think about.
Kim Davis is a professing Christian. I don’t know what church she attends and that doesn’t really matter. She took a stand against the United States Supreme Court’s decision to remove the ban against same-sex marriages in this country. Mrs. Davis, in her role as County Court Clerk, and her office are responsible for issuing marriage licenses. She decided to exercise what she believed to be her right to refuse to issue these licenses to same sex couples because of her religious beliefs. Mrs. Davis believes that she has a higher calling than her role as a county official and decided that she could not, in good conscience, violate the tenets of her faith.
I admire anyone whose passion for their faith brings them to such a momentous crossroads and decision-point, and I whole-heartedly respect her decision to disagree with the Supreme Court decision. I am aware that a large number of thoughtful Christians also disagree with that decision.
One of the issues that presents itself in this case is whether or not Mrs. Davis has the right to use her elected position as a platform for disobedience. I am struck by the fact that her title says County Court “CLERK”—as I understand it, clerks are not policy makers, they are policy enforcers. Mrs. Davis has every right to disagree with the Supreme Court. What I don’t believe she has the right to do is to use her elected position—a position that has a clear mandate to observe the law of the land—to simply refuse to adhere to those laws. Christians in this country agree to live by these laws like everyone else. And we have opportunity to change laws like everyone else.
Should we consider the number of wacky turns Mrs. Davis’ idea could launch? How about the person who believes that the speed limit shouldn’t apply to Christians because we are such wonderful drivers? Or maybe Christians should be allowed to skip paying their taxes because we don’t think the government is a good steward? Maybe Christians shouldn’t have to attend school because everything we need to know is in the Bible? Perhaps Christian business owners could refuse to pay a minimum wage because God told them they didn’t have to. This game could go on and on.
I am most troubled by the “hoopla” surrounding Mrs. Davis because she has become the public face of Christianity. Because this is what Kim Davis believes, this must also be what all Christians believe. What if Kim Davis just happens to be a bigot who holds public office (not the first one, I imagine). Does this mean that all Christians are bigots?
The Supreme Court decision was a “5 to 4” decision and the fact of the matter is, you and I live largely in a 5 to 4 world. There is not one, monolithic understanding of Christianity. There is all manner of grey between the black and white and Christians inhabit the whole scale.
I personally believe Mrs. Davis should either allow others in her office to issue licenses to these same-sex couples—others who do not hold to her views of this issue—or else she should simply resign her post and continue her crusade as a private citizen, which is her right. I applaud her passion—I simply believe her platform is misguided. And I worry that, once again, the media has chosen the wrong “champion” to represent the Christian faith.
Tari and I celebrated our anniversary by spending a few days in Washington D.C. It had been twenty years since I had spent time in the city and had forgotten how impressive a national capital it truly is. We spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian—you could easily spend a month there and not come close to seeing it all. The museums of American History, Natural History, and the Air and Space Museums were all amazing. I won’t bore you with all the details.
On our last day, I read the editorial pages of the Washington Post. On the cover was a story about a new museum that is being built just off the National Mall: The Museum of the Bible. It appears that Steve Green, the President of Hobby Lobby and a well-known Christian activist (you may recall it was Green who fought and won the battle over contraceptives being a mandatory option for his employees under the Affordable Care Act) has decided this museum should be built. I also assume that he, and perhaps others, are personally funding this new museum.
The Post article raised some interesting thoughts. It reminded us that there was a deliberate plan on the part of the early government leaders NOT to include a national church along the mall. In fact, it would be another 100 years before we actually DID build a National Cathedral in Washington and it is NOT particularly close to the mall. That decision was a deliberate effort to remind everyone that the government would be a secular government of laws by the people, with the people, and for the people.
The article also reminded that Washington is now a city of such diversity that there are any number of religions that practice faith in the city.
I understand those concerns. I have no way of knowing whether or not Mr. Green has sinister, ulterior motives for building his museum or not. I have no reason to believe he does. And as a lover of the Bible--its history and literature and story—I support efforts to make it available and expose it to those who may not know what’s in it. (Just a couple of years ago I was in the J.P. Morgan Library in New York where there are not one, but two Gutenberg Bibles. That was pretty thrilling for me. I also saw a copy of the earliest biblical papyrus fragment. Those kinds of artifacts and items have their value).
But allow me to share the thought that hit me immediately when I read this story—a thought I should think would be sobering for all Christians: Erecting a museum for the Bible makes me wonder if it has—or is fast becoming—obsolete. Most of the time, museums serve to remind us of something that happened a long, long time ago—something valuable to remember, but long-since faded to memory. In some of those other museums we saw the first flying machines and homages to those who fought in long ago wars, we saw furniture built 200 years ago, we saw machines and contraptions built in the 50s that now only make us smile at how simplistic they were—and no longer of any practical use.
I would hate to think a Museum of the Bible would serve a similar purpose—nice to look at, interesting to remember, but having no real practical value any longer. I hope this new museum can serve as a catalyst for a new generation to fall in love with this story. For now, I can only remind each of us, who are believers, to fall in the love with the book all over again. Read it regularly, study it, make notes, talk about it with others. Raise questions and doubts about certain parts of it. But please take it seriously. The Bible is a record of how the faith has found us and changed us over the course of thousands of years. It serves as one of the foundations of our faith even still.
There are new studies launching at the church in the next weeks. And every Sunday our Sunday School classes allow us a chance to fall in love with the Book, yet again. Come and learn. “Seek and Ye shall find—knock and the door shall be opened”—That’s a great quote I once heard from somewhere.
This week, "Jim's Place" is brought to you by Chris and Joanna Cummings. Read on as they discuss the discipleship focus and areas of ministry in which you can be involved at Forest Hills.
It seems like BIGGER is always better these days: bigger TVS, bigger cars, even bigger cell phones. The idea of bigger has even infiltrated the church. There are giant churches everywhere boasting huge numbers. While bigger can have some advantages, bigger doesn’t always win out over small.
Jesus, while he talked to larger crowds, walked with a small group of disciples in his daily life. These disciples knew Jesus personally, spent time with him daily, and developed stronger relationships with him and with each other as a result of their time together. Our faith is one based on relationships: relationship with God, relationship with others. Deep, meaningful relationships can only really exist in a smaller setting where people can truly take time to listen, share stories, and grow together.
When we look at deepening our faith through discipleship, small is the answer.
Here are Forest Hills UMC, we see ourselves as a specialty coffee shop in the world of Walmart’s. We do small really well. Making disciples is the call of the church, and there are many ways you can get involved in one of the small groups found at Forest Hills.
We have always had a deep foundation of discipleship through our Sunday School classes which meet weekly on Sunday from 8:45-9:45am. These groups truly share life together, studying scripture, having deep discussions, and praying for each other.
Another place you can jump into a small group is through one of the Bible studies being offered. On Sunday nights, a study of the book of Matthew is being taught by Rev. Jim Hughes from 5:00-6:00 p.m. On Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m., Condit Steil is leading a Covenant Bible Study that will go through the whole story of the Bible. There is also a Women’s Bible Study on Tuesday mornings from 9:30-11:30 a.m.
We have a meditations small group that gathers to pray the scriptures. They meet on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. and are led by Rhonda Steil. This is a great option if you feel you can't commit to coming every week - if you miss a week here or there, you won't fall behind.
There is a new study option being offered this fall called Brown Bag Bible Studies. These will be small groups of people who get together once a week on their lunch break for a short term study and prayer. We are gauging interest and getting feedback on these studies, so if this interests you, fill out this survey to help us develop these studies to be the most beneficial.
We are also excited to be starting other small groups this year. We have begun a young families small group for families with 0-5 year old children. They meet for play dates and cookouts and truly understand one another as they are all in the same stage of life. We also have a young women’s small group that meets on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. They will be engaging in a study of Mark led by Joanna Cummings.
Finally, our children and teens have many opportunities for discipleship as well. There are age-based Sunday School classes each Sunday from 8:45-9:45 a.m. The teens also have the opportunity to be a part of Youth Group on Sunday nights from 5:00-7:00 and small groups that meet on Wednesdays.
Small matters because it here where you can truly know and be known. We hope that if you are not already in a small group or are looking for something more you will plug in somewhere to deepen your faith and build relationships with others.
Small matters, and at Forest Hills UMC we believe we do small really well. Come and See!
Chris and Joanna
We are now getting deep into elections. The Nashville mayoral runoff is very near and the Presidential sweepstakes is really starting to gear up.
Relax, I am not about to make an impassioned plea for you to vote this way or that. It really doesn’t seem fitting for clergy to use their position or pulpit for such bare political means.
I’m more interested in standing from a distance and observing the whole enterprise as it unfolds. In the mayoral AND even more so in the Presidential, we seem unable to avoid the rush to divide all of us into two camps. Make no mistake, the founders envisioned a two party system and the genius of it was to provide checks and balances. So-called “super majorities”—whether republican or democrat—stunt the political process the founders imagined.
Of course, all that depended on “statesmen and stateswomen”—people who were capable of rising above their own self-interest in order to do the things that were in the best interest of the entire country. The seemingly lost art of compromise. Special interest groups have now hijacked that process. Unlimited campaign finances have skewed the conversation.
Here’s what I’m wondering: Will the “Center” push back? Most of us are aware of the bell-shaped curve. This was a type of statistical tool designed to remind us that the vast majority of people reside somewhere in the center of most opinions. The 5% on either side of that bell represent the fringe opinion. The fringe opinion is important. It is frequently where the fresh, new idea can be found. Unfortunately, in our current culture, it is also where a lot of wacky stuff can be found.
What is most distressing to me, personally, is that we who occupy the center have allowed the fringe to dominate the conversation. I suppose you can blame the 24 hour news cycle for some of this—we appear to love nothing better than to put a “screamer” in front of a microphone and then sit back to watch the fun. That might be strangely entertaining for some, sort of like watching a train wreck, but it has now reached frightening proportions.
I don’t blame the fringe talkers. They are taking advantage of what has been made available to them. I blame mostly the rest of us for allowing them to dictate the terms of our discourse. Until and unless we in the center stand up to these folks, their piercing noise will continue unabated. And we will get what we deserve in the end.
So please be involved. Be heard. If you occupy the center—as probably 80% do—you must also make your voice heard. We have serious problems that need serious solutions. We are a centrist nation and always have been. The center needs to stand and be heard.
It is vital that people of faith engage in this process. A nation whose political process is held accountable by people of integrity will always be a stronger nation. Integrity is what we have to bring to the table. Please don’t leave it “under a bushel.”
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.