Friday, October 23, 2009

Parents Who Yell

The NYTimes has an article today about today's parents who don't spank; instead they yell:

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” said Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills in classes, individual coaching sessions and an online course. “This is so the issue right now. As parents understand that it’s not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior. In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”
Been there; done that. Although there is an apocryphal story that my son Ryan loves to tell about me once chasing him around the house with a wooden spoon, we weren't spankers when our kids were little. There were a few pops on the butt when they were toddlers (and apparently, according to this article, we stunted our kids emotional development when we did that - sorry kids) we mostly used time outs and loss of privileges and tried to teach about natural consequences.

But there a few times - maybe more than a few - when I yelled. I will only speak for myself here. I can still remember what it felt like to be at my wits end and lose it with the yelling, and then feel absolutely mortified afterwards. I can remember Meagan especially bursting into tears once after I yelled at her because she so rarely pushed my buttons. Ryan was a little better at knowing where they were.

There comes a point when your kids get old enough and they begin telling you about what a bad parent you are, and you just say "you can take it up with your therapist." And then they go off to college and you look back fondly on helping with homework and the lunches and reading to them and all the hugs and kisses that so often made things better. There are a few things, though, that I would just as soon forget about. It's funny how those are the things that come up around the dinner table now when we are all together.

Leadership Conversations

Sometimes it takes 15 years to get it right.

We have never done much in the way of formal leadership training at Open Circle. We are a relatively small congregation and our structure has been pretty fluid through the years. Leaders have just stepped up and into many positions; for certain positions we have a congregational call process where we ask the congregation to identify the people who best represent the values of our community. Mostly we have been blessed with hard-working, gifted people who have stepped up to get the work done. But not too long ago we had a bad "match" that ended badly and we realized that it would be helpful to have a structure in place to have intentional conversations about leadership with current and prospective leaders in order to get to know prospective leaders and to better match gifts with needs.

Two books we found very helpful in this regard are Bruce Sanguin's The Emerging Church and Anna Christie's Evoking Change. Both talk about the importance of paying attention to the emotional and spiritual health of leaders and both have suggestions for how to better equip leaders.

So we are 5 weeks into a 7 week session on the spiritual and emotional foundations of leadership. It has been a great experience with the group we have. Each week we begin with a meditation; each meditation is led by a member of the group. That person is also responsible that week to share something of their creativity. We have had baking, crafts, writing and journaling thus far. Then there is the information part that includes: spiritual practice, meta-narratives of scripture, faith sharing, self-definition, boundaries, and staying connected across differences. We will close with a session on group dynamics. We have had great conversations about our roles as leaders at church, in families, at work. The benefit of this kind of gathering for getting to know leaders, learning from each other, and better matching gifts with needs is readily apparent.

Two weeks ago we had a very interesting session on faith sharing. Faith sharing is something we don't do much of in progressive churches. We know what we don't believe, and many of us are fairly uncomfortable in settings where people are sharing their faith. But it seems fairly important for leaders in a progressive church to have moved beyond "I don't believe this anymore" to be able to comfortably talk about what they do believe. So the group had a week to do their homework and everyone came with a written statement of faith. None of them sounded anything like the Nicene Creek - Thank God! We are learning something here - but each was well-thought out and articulated a positive statement of that person's faith. It was a great exercise.

It's never to late to learn from your mistakes and change the way you do things.

The Perfect Church

Posted today on a COB listserve:
It strikes me as reasonable that none of us can ever really know exactly what a church is like, until we enter it ourselves, until we become a part of it. And then, of course, that church is "like" what it is like, at least in part, because we have joined it!!

Its kind of the ecclesiastical "Uncertainty Principle." You cannot both know "the perfect church" and be a part of that church, yourself. By joining the church, we make it imperfect! All of us. . . . . .

Running in the Snow

My favorite time of year to be out running is in the fall when the air is cool and the leaves are in color (at least the colors I can see!). But my second favorite time of year to be running is when snow is falling. Today was one of those wet, snowy days - no ice yet - that was perfect for running. I try very hard to avoid being "preachy" about the benefits of exercise, but it is one of the simplest ways I know to feel better immediately with that endorphin high, and long term from being in shape. Why everyone doesn't get that I don't understand.

Headlines That Make Me Laugh

Limits on exec pay cause worries of brain drain

That's the headline from an MSNBC article. Would these be the same brains that led these banking and auto giants into the mess they, and we, are in right now?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Spong's Done Arguing About Homosexuality

I haven't read anything by John Shelby Spong recently not because I find him disagreeable but because I don't really think he has said anything knew in a while. But a friend sent me Spong's recent email posting and I found it interesting:
I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy...

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church...
Spong deserves enormous credit for the pioneering leadership he provided on this issue. Long before mainstream Christianity had joined the battle for glbt equality Spong was up to his keisters in the struggle. So it is good to hear him say that the battle has been won.

Is he right? Is the battle over? I think it is. I stopped arguing with conservatives about this issue several years ago for the same reason. The final outcome is no longer in doubt and I see no purpose in arguing with the "flat-earthers" who can't seem to see that they are making the same kind of arguments once made by Christians who defended slavery. Whatever the Bible may say about homosexuality, followers of Jesus should be welcoming homosexuals with open arms and celebrating their out, open, and married presence in the church.

It's one of the (but not the only) reasons I don't do denomination stuff anymore. We are still fighting the battle there and all the while the denomination dies. And the conservatives don't care; they are going to take the ship down. So be it. I have more than enough to do welcoming those wounded by these church wars and figuring out together how we move forward and live into a new and liberating vision of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

So bully for Spong!

Witches in Africa

Apparently it has become something of a competition between some Christian groups in Africa to identify and punish witches:
The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.

...Sam Itauma of the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network said it is the most vulnerable children — the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor — who are most often denounced...

"Even churches who didn't use to 'find' child witches are being forced into it by the competition," said Itauma. "They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism."
I hear evangelicals in my denomination and others speak glowingly about the growth of Christianity in Africa and how this is the hope for the future of the church, and a haven for those in this country wanting to find a more comfortable adjudicatory fit.

We stopped burning witches in this country hundreds of years ago and have made continual , if slow and hard-fought, progress in human rights for minorities, women, and gays. And this is the Christianity they want to take us back to. (And no I am not saying any one I know endorses this kind of behavior, but this is the spirit of much of the celebrated African Christianity - ant-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-woman, anti-witch.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hummers Still Around

For the last couple of days I have been watching a hummingbird at the feeder. On Friday morning we had our first hard freeze and I woke up early in the morning thinking about the glass feeder I still had outside, worrying that it might be frozen and cracked. So I got up and brought it inside; the contents were frozen but the feeder hadn't cracked.

As it was getting light I watched outside and saw the hummer buzzing around where the feeder was supposed to be. I took the feeder back outside and shortly thereafter the hummer was feeding.

I shared this on Sunday morning with a woman at church whose spouse is an avid birder. He called me up in the afternoon and wondered if he might come and watch for the bird. He was at the house for about half an hour when it showed up. He identified it as a female Ruby-throated hummingbird; I thought I had been seeing some red on the neck but his picture and his better eye than mine didn't see any. In any case he said this was the latest confirmed report of a hummingbird in MN. (Update: On reflection I wonder if he said that if it had been a male it would have been the latest... I will have to find out.)

This morning we woke up to another fresh snowfall of several inches. I went out and cleaned off the feeder posts before light but then didn't watch the feeder until later in the morning. It didn't take long for the bird to show up and it has been in and out of the feeder every half hour or so.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama Wins Peace Price

President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, he hasn't done anything yet to deserve it. And I am an Obama supporter. It isn't his fault that he won, of course. In fact, if I am correct nominations were closed for the prize shortly after he took office. So the Nobel Committee was really awarding the American people the prize for moving the country in a different direction.

It will be interesting to see how Obama responds. I hope he either declines it or accepts it on behalf of the American people. If he accepts it he has big shoes to fill to live into its meaning. If we get mired down even further in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Middle East blows up, or we get hit with a big terrorist strike, this prize will be prime material for political commercials in the next election cycle.

Evangelical Christian Changes Mind on Homosexuality

Evangelical Christian Brent Childers explains in Newsweek how he changed his mind on homosexuality:

So what it is that would bring someone from a place where he once declared himself a "Jesse Helms Republican," a man who condemned homosexuality as a threat to children and society, told his own son that being gay is a ticket to hell, to travel from Hickory, N.C., to the West Lawn of the Capitol building on Oct. 11, 2009? How can one travel from the seemingly impossible road of bigotry to one of acceptance and love for our LGBT brothers and sisters? The answer is one that I hope religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson (and most importantly, their followers) will hear.

It's because something deep inside told me that I needed to step out in faith onto a bridge of knowledge and understanding. I didn't know where this bridge would take me but something was telling me it was a path I needed to walk. My own mother challenged me in 2003 to look at my beliefs and the true intent behind the teachings I held in blind faith. "Do you think your views are Christ-like?" she asked me. Her question was dead on: once I walked away from the Church's teachings of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God transcended to a higher spiritual plateau. I realized an unparalleled sense of spiritual clarity when I opened my heart and mind to a genuine expression of love, compassion, and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

This new voice—Christ's voice—became the core principles of my faith: love, compassion, and respect. That voice I now realize was desperately wanting to be heard, a voice no longer comfortable with the place in which I had chose to confine it for so long—a place of bigotry, prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding.

Childers has left the SBC and is now worshiping with Pentecostals and at a non-denominational church.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Everyday Miracles

My newsletter article this week:

I don't often make note of the feast days of Catholic Saints, but September 25 was the feast day of Saint Finbar, an Irish monk who lived as a hermit on a small island at Lough Eiroe, off southern Ireland. According to Catholic tradition, many miracles were attributed to St. Finbar upon his death in 633, among them the sun not setting for two weeks. Finbar's hermitage locale remains a pilgrimage destination to this day.

Finbar's own Christianity, though, was apparently rooted as much in local druidic tradition as Catholic teaching, and was likely grounded not in supernatural miracle but in the everyday miracles of the natural world: "the early Irish texts suggest a God who is immanent in every part of creation -- in Sun, Moon, stars, wind and wave -- indeed , inseparable from the creation, even as the unutterable mystery of the universe confounds our understanding and perception."

I have recently been re-reading Elaine Pagels' book Beyond Belief. Pagels is one of several scholars who think that the Gospel of John was written in conversation with the Gospel of Thomas, or perhaps to correct and combat the teachings of the community of Thomas. Whether Pagels is right about this is a matter of much dispute among scholars and is as we are fond of saying these days "above my pay grade" to know.

What is indisputable, though, is that the message of the Gospel of John that Jesus is God, and that Jesus came to save us, and that we are in need of salvation, and that this salvation is not possible apart from believing in Jesus became the orthodox position within Christianity and was eventually incorporated into the creeds and remains an essential element of Christian teaching to this day. Pagel's book tells the story of how this came to be.

The notion that God is within us, that we don't need salvation so much as illumination, as taught by the Jesus found in the Gospel of Thomas, isn't orthodox. The orthodox position holds that we can't save ourselves or help ourselves because all vestiges of the immanence of God within us were obliterated by original sin and now we need divine help from the outside.

I don't agree with this for a moment. Neither did Finbar, and neither did a host of Christian mystics who would follow through the centuries and keep alive within Christianity the notion that the divine spark is present in each of us and in every tree, flower, wisp of wind, and ray of the sun.

We don't need Jesus to save us. We do need to be reminded from time to time, though, that the divine spark is there within us and around us. If we listen. If we are attentive. What we can learn from Jesus is that there is a way of living that puts us in touch with the God within and around us.

For many Christians, of course, it is the miracles of Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection that make the difference, just as it was the miracles attributed to Finbar that made him worthy of being a Catholic saint. But I will settle for the everyday miracles of friends and community and the beauty that is everywhere we look, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Jesus and the Constitution

I missed this the other day when Andrew Sullivan first posted the link, but this interactive "print" of Jesus holding the constitution surrounded by famous God-fearing American leaders is entertaining. Mouse around and you will find Reagan and Kennedy but no Carter and Clinton, among modern presidents. Down in the right hand corner under the influence of Satan, who is present in the picture, you will find a politician, a lawyer, a professor tightly grasping a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species, and a Supreme Court justice covering his face in shame as he realizes the damage he has done to the country. Thankfully the minister is on the opposite - and blessed - side holding his Bible.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Inside Baseball

In a few minutes the hometown Minnesota Twins play their final regular season game in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Next year they get their own brand-spanking-new outdoor ballpark. The way baseball should be played.

It is worth noting, though, that right now it is 44 degrees outside and raining hard. As it has been for most of the past week. Snow is forecast for the weekend, when, should the Twins win today they will be hosting the Yankees. But with global warming on the way by next year I am sure it will be warm here in April and October.

Update: What a game. On to New York to play the evil Yankees. The Twins have yet to beat them this season. But there is at least one more game to be played in the Dome.