Tuesday, May 26, 2009

They Have Crossed a Line

This came out from the Associated Press last week:  "A fiercely debated, nine-year investigation into Ireland's Roman
Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorized thousands of
boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades - and government
inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation."

I looked at parts of the 2,600 page report--mainly skimming the abstract and seeing how much detail went into the reports.  Although some students tried to bring to light was what happening during the worst of the abuse, the report concludes that "church officials always
shielded their orders' pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of
self-serving secrecy."

Tough reading.  Tougher on the victims.  And I'm filled with disgust at the perpetrators, probably mostly dead now, and their highly placed protectors.

A number of years ago, I read a business book by Lawrence Miller titled, Barbarians to Bureaucrats, which spoke of the life cycle of civilizations and of business institutions. The title of that book and some of the lessons within have stayed with me. The author contended that civilizations, businesses and institutions of all kinds go through predictable cycles, moving from the entrepreneurial, i.e., "barbarian" stage, through the building and vital growth and stabilization stages to what he calls the bureaucratic stage.  This is the time where the maintenance of the institution becomes far, far more important than anything else, including ethics, creativity, and moral responsibility for the decisions being made.  At all costs, the institution itself must survive.

I would say to you that when a church, be it the huge Roman Catholic church with its millions of members and masses of wealth, or the smallest independent church with no outside connections and barely able to pay bills, has reached the point where institutional survival is the primary goal, then it is time for it to die.

I say that because Jesus spoke so clearly to this one: those who seek to save their life in this world will surely lose it.  This type of bureaucracy that says, "We must protect our own no matter what the cost to others so we can stay alive," becomes a source of huge, huge evil. 

The Roman Catholic Church is the mother church to my own denomination, The United Methodist Church.  We've both got gigantic institutional problems.  But the all-male Roman Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals and ultimately the Pope hold considerably more power over their church members than do the male and female clergy of The United Methodist Church.  The powers that run the Roman Catholic Church have stepped over a line.  They have said, by action and deed, that it is far, far more important to protect evil within their midst than protect the innocent child under their care. 

Not long ago, a young girl in a South American country, nine years old, was raped by her stepfather and found to be pregnant with twins.  After agonizing consultation, her mother and her doctor decided that the 80 pound child could not possibly carry that pregnancy to term without extreme harm or possibly death, and an abortion was performed.  The Roman Catholic hierarchy promptly excommunicated the mother and the physician, while the rapacious and evil step-father was not condemned, for his sin was far less serious in the eyes of the so called holy men who make such decisions. 

A line has been crossed, and it is time for all to say, "This has gone too far."  Those who make such decisions will face far harsher judgment from God than my own censure, of that I am sure.  But any organization that declares itself in any way connected to a holy and righteous God and then systematically destroys the innocence of children while patting the perps on the back has lost its way. 

And we wonder why the church is losing its influence. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

To Remember Well

Last Monday was Memorial Day.  My husband, his sister who has been staying with us for a long overdue visit, and I drove to the National Cemetery south of Dallas to put flowers on the graves of their father and aunt, their father's sister, both of whom served in World War II.  We joined many others at that beautiful spot to honor those who have served their country.

The beautiful day blessed us as we stood at their gravesides and offered our own blessings and words of thanksgiving for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of so many others buried there. 

My husband and his sister had spent many hours during this visit discussing their upbringing in a clearly troubled household.  Although their parents stayed married for over 60 years, the marriage was turbulent and often violent, with that violence expressed from parent to parent and from parents to children.  A lovely exterior of an accomplished family masked some pretty awful interior scenes.

This is hardly an uncommon situation.  Domestic violence is rampant, hidden and rarely reported.  It's not new, or limited to only certain socio-economic classes or ethnicities.  It's everywhere.  People with power have abused that power from the beginning of human history, and power comes in many forms.  It can be physical, emotional, spiritual, financial.  Those with power can use it to empower others.  Or they can use it to trap others and beat them down.  There was much beating down in their household of origin.

The memories of such experiences stay, and the discussion of those memories can often lead to freedom and healing.  But that freedom can only come when those doing the remembering decide to stop blaming their own problems on those who have gone before.  Instead, they must make intentional choices to stop the cycle of blame and violence and find their own freedom from it before such evil is perpetuated to the next generation.

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and it shall set you free."  Part of knowing the truth is holding onto our memories and remembering well.  We must remember those who laid down their lives for us so that we are indeed free.  And we must also remember injustices, not to play the victim or lay blame, but so that we ourselves with act justly.  That kind of truth does indeed set us free.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just in Case

Our church is holding a yard sale at the end of May to raise a little extra money to finish out the furnishings of our new building.  As I've also got numerous house guests coming shortly and am motivated to clean before they come, I have grabbed the opportunity to sort out drawers, closets, cupboards and garage.

A yard sale is a form of barter.  It's out of the mainstream retail economy, and serves multiple purposes.  Those doing the selling clean out things and rearrange now more spacious storage areas and feel lighter in the process.  The buyers acquire needed items for a bargain.  Prices are flexible, what doesn't sell is donated to charity.  Generally everyone goes away happy.

But the questions!!!  As in, "why have I kept this?"  And "why on earth did I purchase this?"  Or, "what WAS he/she thinking when gifting me with this?"  Sorting and cleaning comes fairly easily to me.  I'm not much of a pack-rat and the only things I tend to accumulate in excess are books, gardening implements, and office supplies.  Nonetheless, certain things in my closet gave me pause as I debated whether to keep or sell.  The lovely shoes that are wildly uncomfortable--but perhaps they should stay, just in case.  The clothes that I paid way too much for, and never really liked--but perhaps they should stay, just in case.  The very nice outfits purchased several years ago which are classic in style but are just a little snug--but perhaps they should stay, just in case (and there is not a woman alive reading this column who doesn't understand that one). The decorative item that doesn't fit this house--but perhaps it should stay, just in case.  The kitchen appliance purchased in a moment of wild fantasy that I might actually cook someday but has never been used--but perhaps it should stay, just in case.

Just in case . . .the future brings something for which I am not prepared.  So I hold onto things I don't really need or even necessarily like just in case I might need it or like it or use it someday.  But in the meantime, it hangs or sits, gathering dust, when someone else could get wear, pleasure or use from it.

A number of years ago when I was serving at another church, a woman came into my office and asked for funds to rent several storage units.  If she didn't do something quickly, her house, inherited free and clear of any debt and worth quite a bit, would soon be sold for unpaid taxes. She wanted to get it in shape for a normal sale so she could get caught up financially.  I sent someone over there to assess the situation.  As I feared, her house was piled to the ceiling with only narrow pathways for navigation.  She had frittered a sizable inheritance by purchasing stuff from TV shopping channels.

We presented the option of getting some work crews over there, sorting it all out and selling as much as possible.  She declined.  She was unwilling to part with a single thing.  I declined to give her the funds for storage facilities.  I know that she suffers from a type of mental illness.  I also know that everything was there, "just in case" she might need it someday.  That "just in case" was destroying her.

It's time to live freely, enjoying the necessities, which all of us are abundantly blessed with, and savoring the luxuries, which all of us have in one form or another.  Get rid of the rest.  Remember that the Bible says to lay aside the sins that trap us and slow us down.  This way, we can run with endurance the race that is before us and reach the goal of perfection in faith.  We sin when our stuff traps us.  Time to get free.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cell Phones and Individual Freedoms

Last week in Boston, a trolley went ran a red light and hit another trolley. Forty nine people were injured. According to the report in the Boston Globe, the operator of the trolley that did not run the red light was text messaging at the time. He looked down at his phone to do so, and when he looked up and saw the other trolley in the intersection, he couldn't hit the brakes in time.

Now in response, all trolley operated are told that they may not even have a cell phone in their possession while operating these vehicles. There is more. The National Safety Council wants all cell phone use completely banned by those driving cars. Even hands-free units will be forbidden. According to some recent research, just talking on a phone brings about greater impairment of driving skills than driving while under the influence of alcohol. According to one report, "brain scans show the phone conversation sucking the driver's mind from one world into another."

I suppose they are right. Certainly, a phone conversation can be a major distraction. Of course, so are children. Especially when there are at least two of them and the two are siblings and each knows exactly how to punch the hot button of the other. Tell me that an adult with two screaming children in the back seat can drive with full attention on the road . . . and I'll tell you that you are dreaming.

I'm reading the pro and con arguments of cell phone use while operating a moving vehicle, and the children comparison always comes up. I'm hardly so original as to be able to think of that one by myself. So, do we ban children from the car? One person who did suggest this also said that it might be the solution to childhood obesity since the children would have to start walking everywhere. However, I suspect we will not find child passengers banned. But I bet more and more cell-phone use regulations will be coming our way.

Now, those who have been reading this column for a while will know that somehow, I believe there must be a response to this situation that reflects "God-with-us" living: that awareness that the kingdom of heaven is all about us. Our responsibility is to open our eyes and find it in the midst of cell phones and trolley accidents and injured people and screaming babies and the simple convenience of being able to be in touch with those important to us with great ease because of our cell phones.

So what WOULD Jesus say about all this? What kind of story might Jesus tell his followers as they face the complexities of modern life and realities? How would Jesus speak of our often long commutes and the time pressures and the ease of using the car time as a way to catch up on multiple conversations, both business and personal?

Should we, in the name of Jesus ban cell phone usage in order to stop a possibility of driver distraction? Do we limit our individual freedoms even more? It was certainly a good idea to bring about laws that impose more penalties on those caught driving under the influence of alcohol. That is a limitation of our freedom as well. I know that the Bible speaks often of the freedom offered to us in Christ--freedom from the laws of sin and death and the freedom to live with life-giving righteousness. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all exercise the freedom that self-control gives and voluntarily limit ourselves from cell phone use while driving instead of waiting for even more limiting legislation to be passed? I suppose I'm dreaming now, but I do know that a society guided by godly self-control is a lot more fun to live in than one girded by draconian laws.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Let's Shut the World Down

Fear has won.  We are shutting down.  All, just in case . . . just in case someone gets sick and dies, or, more likely, someone gets sick and sues the school district or the county or church or business or what ever organization was so irresponsible to actually hold an event where someone might, just might, pick up a virus and pass it on.

Yes, the swine flu is contagious, as are all types of influenza and lots of other illnesses as well.  And yes, there are concerns that the relatively mild version going around now may hit again next fall/winter with a vengeance.  But if that is the case, wouldn't it be far better to get the mild version now and have some immunities against a more virulent mutation that might, maybe, perhaps, show up next fall?  Or would that be too much common sense thrown in the mix here?

Frankly, I think we need to stop driving our automobiles.  Completely.  Because if we keep driving cars, there's a definite possibility that someone, somewhere might have an auto accident and get hurt or fatally injured. I also think we absolutely must stop eating in restaurants.  Because if we keep up with this habit of eating out, someone, somewhere is bound to get food poisoning.  I also think we should all stop cooking.  Because if we
insist on continuing to prepare our meals at home, there's a definite chance that
someone, somewhere is going to get hurt in the kitchen.  I also think we simply must stop getting medical care.  Because if we continue in this pernicious habit of going to physicians when we are ill, there is a definite chance that someone, somewhere is going to get misdiagnosed and will suffer horribly as a result.

In addition, we must, we simply must stop reading books, magazines, journals,  or newspapers that might stimulate our mental activity.  Because if we don't, it is possible that we will disagree with the author and might experience anger and say something unkind about someone else and then be liable for a slander lawsuit.  Or even worse, we might have to change our minds about something and discover that what we've been thinking is true for so long just isn't true at all.

Mostly, we must, we simply must ban the Bible.  No one must read this book.  Way too many people have read it for themselves and have discovered that the perfect love offered by God to all of creation is so freeing that fear is left behind.  What a terrible thing to know the power of freeing love in a world that says, "be scared of everything and live in terror of the possibility that someday, somewhere, you might have to suffer or even die."  Yes, too many people have read the words of hope in the Bible and said, "If Jesus could lay down his life for me, how can I do less for others?"

There are reasonable guessimates that at least 27,000 children die a day from starvation.  That's about one every 3.2 seconds.  At the time of the writing of this article, one person in the US has died of swine flu.  But in less time that it took you to read this sentence, another child just died the horrible death of not enough to eat to sustain life.  That's real.  That's not some bogeyman of "it might happen" out there.  Instead of letting fear shut us down, why don't we let the love of God free us to really follow Jesus? Those who focus on saving their own lives are doomed to lose them, because fear drives that need and makes it impossible to love others.  But love . . . real, perfect love given by God, will drive out all fear and give us the courage to embrace all of life and discover real joy as we willingly lay
down our lives for others so that the least, the littlest, the last and
the lost of the this world may experience the kingdom of heaven.