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A while back, I received several emailed copies of a chain-letter from several friends, church members, even pastors.

I’ve been in pastoral ministry for thirty-five years. From the very beginning, chain-letters have been a serious problem to the effectiveness of the Church’s witness in the world. They used to be on paper. Now they’re email, or on FaceBook, or … who knows what’s next?

In the old days, it was the repeatedly received mimeographed, xeroxed, copy-of-a-copy letter on paper, bearing an urgent concern about saving religious broadcasting from Madalyn Murry O’Hair’s non-existent attempt to ban it. It spread at the speed of snail-mail. It did damage. Even in the pre-WWW days, the Federal Communications Commission had to hire staff members simply to respond to the counter-petitions and irate phone calls from concerned, gullible Christians. And it made Christians as a whole seem stupid. (And I received that very chain-letter, updated slightly, within the past 10 years, in email.)

With the growth of the internet, the speed of the spread of chain-letters has simply exploded. No more postage costs, no time delay between send and re-send. Whoosh! “See how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” was James’ exclamation about the spread of gossip and rumors by word-of-mouth. James had no idea how bad it could become, once we got the internet!

The recent email was partly true, partly lies, and a decade old (so that even the true parts were seriously misleading). It is still out there doing harm. Well-meaning people forward things without reading them fully and checking the factuality of the whole thing.

I believe this: if we wish to be effective Christian witnesses in the world, we will need to be “wise as serpents,” not just “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In the “World Wild Web,” this means we should have a healthy caution. We should check out what we read before we even begin to believe it, and we definitely should investigate it before we forward it to others.

It can be harmful to spread stories that are false – or (sometimes more damaging) partly false. It can make people angry (as this email was designed to do by its original compiler, back in 2006).

It can be harmful to others, and to those of us who spread the stories.

It can be harmful to Christ’s church. Like the kid who cried “Wolf!” too often, Christians will be ignored when we tell the truth, if we get a reputation for passing untrustworthy information. When Christians spread falsehood, we damage not only our own Christian witness, but that of all Christians.

I have three simple requests for you who are my church members and my friends (those of you who don’t know me, and especially if I’m not in your email list, you can take it or leave it as you see fit):

  1. Please, please, when you receive an email that suggests you pass it on, check it out before you believe it. Asking you to pass an email on to your email list or your friends is a BIG RED FLAG, whether it’s about news or religion or the supposedly latest computer virus. CHECK IT OUT BEFORE YOU BELIEVE IT. EVERY TIME. How do you check it out? My first source is often the http://www.snopes.com website. (By the way, if the chain-mail says “It’s true: I checked it out on Snopes.com,” that’s also a big red flag. CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF.) If it’s about a supposed computer virus, I check it out at my anti-virus software’s website, too. I can also do a Bing or Google search for a couple key terms in the questionable chain letter. Sometimes a check of the news will help. It does damage to you, to automatically believe what is not true.
  2. ESPECIALLY, please, please, please, CHECK IT OUT BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO PASS A CHAIN-EMAIL ON, EVERY TIME. Even if you choose to believe without checking, you do not want to harm your effectiveness and public trustworthiness, and you have a responsibility not to harm the effectiveness & public trustworthiness of the rest of the Church. It does damage to your friends, and to your relationship to them, to pass on to them what is not true.
  3. It’s a good idea to learn to use “BCC” to send bulk emails. That way, your recipients’ email addresses aren’t forwarded all over the internet to people they don’t know. It keeps them safer from spammers and hackers, and the accidental responder to the email who hits “reply to all.” You harm your friends, if your email to them – and to all – spreads their email address to people with whom they did not choose to share it.

These are common sense, common courtesy, and grounded in the Gospel.

In peace,

Wes

Frederick Buechner said that your vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.

Vocation – with the same root as “voice” – is about a person’s calling, and the concept that God, the mystery at the heart of all creation, calls and invites you to take on some of God’s mission for the world.

It’s not always about hearing voices.

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Wow, I’ve been away from this blog for a year. Ever since I was appointed last summer to Tracyton, in fact!

So, here’s the next Bird’s Eye View, snipped from Bing Maps, for your contest.

It’s a United Methodist location in the Pacific Northwest Conference. I knew nothing about it until today, so maybe it’s news to you, too. It’s good news, though!

What's the UM connection?

What’s the UM connection?

To find the view, open Bing Maps, go to the area you want to look at, and  click “Bird’s Eye” on the menu bar just above the map. When you find the right location, zoomed-in, you should see this image on the big screen. Now, click the Envelope icon in the upper right corner of the page (“Share”) to get the address of the view, and put the link in a comment below, in this blog, along with the name of what we’re looking at, and you’ll gain immortality, at least for a while, in cyberspace.

Wes

Can you find this United Methodist location in the northwestern US? It’s a snip of a Bird’s Eye view at the Bing Maps website.

This one should be easy, given my current events.

To find the view, open Bing Maps, go to the area you want to look at, click “Bird’s Eye” on the menu bar just above the map. If you zoom in on this location, you should see this image on the big screen. Now, click the Envelope icon in the upper right corner of the page (“Share”) to get the address of the view, and put the link in a comment (below, in this blog), along with the name of what we’re looking at, and you’ll gain immortality, at least for a while, in cyberspace.

(By the way, you get extra points if you name the park across from the church as well.)

[Note: This would have become the script surrounding my Rules Committee report to the session of Annual Conference last Sunday — but we were running late, so I just posted this — a not-quite-finished draft — and announced that anybody interested could read it here.]

Bishop, following Diana Butler Bass’s teaching Friday, on the shift from conceiving of what we do in the Religious category of Rules, to the Spiritual category of Practices, we may want to be looking at re-naming and re-tasking the Conference Rules Committee as the Conference Practices Group.

Words & Names matter. But as a friend reminded me the other day, sometimes we change the name of something, or craft a statement – or a rule – and think we’ve accomplished something. No, the best we do by renaming is to point toward an accomplishment that may come to be.

Yesterday the sixty-some clergywomen honored Bishop Mary Ann Swenson with the Ruth Award, and spoke of its history, an award given to women “standing before us, making us strong, lending their wisdom to help us along,” an award named after the first recipient, Ruth Steach. She stood before us as a Conference in so many ways, but I remember her best as the chairperson of the Rules Committee, delivering the committee’s work with clarity and grace, and trusting the body to do with it what it thought best.

So yesterday afternoon I gave Ruth a call. She lives right here, in Kennewick, and doesn’t get out much, but was interested to hear that Annual Conference was meeting here, and that we were thinking of her, holding her still as a model of faithful service and witness.

The Rules are a skeletal part of the body, which exist to give language & clarity to our expectations of our common life of this community over time. The rules should not be the limiting factor of our life, the lines outside which we must never color, so much as the frame on which the vitality can grow.

Sometimes our skeletons get too rigid: flexibility and motion are impeded instead of enhanced. It ought to be easier to fix stiff, worn-out or calcified rules than it is to treat stiff, worn-out or calcified joints.

So we have several items to work through, that describe practices we may decide to keep, together, over the unforeseeable future. This year, none of them are radical changes, some are tweaks, some are clarifications. It’s our intention that these enable the Conference to live and move and have lively being.

[DO REPORT]

The changes we have worked on today are relatively minor; we are just off of GC, and were expecting that drastic changes at the denominationwide level might have made tweaks irrelevant, and undone any deep change we might have attempted.

Our rules are long. Our structure has become byzantine. We are not a Simple Church. One of these times, it might be good to do a complete Rules Audit, ask how each element serves the mission, and how each element distracts from the mission. I expect it won’t be this year; the work of the Committee this year is likely to be about continuing to clarify what’s unclear, to repair the worn-out, and … this year’s complication … to respond to whatever General Conference DID do, so that our rules are in conformity with the 2012 Discipline. But one of these times … I think we’ll be ready to make profound change, more than tweaks and patches and trendy names.

Pure Praise

I’m beginning to work my way through Laurence Hull Stookey’s book, Let the Whole Church Say Amen! a Guide for Those Who Pray in Public. It’s a basic text for anybody who leads worship — whether pastor or lay speaker or liturgist or small-group leader —  well, when you get right down to it, anybody who prays aloud in a group, especially as a leader of a group’s prayer.

It’s a workbook; most chapters have exercises. I’m leaving it blank, though, so that I can loan it out to whoever wants to borrow it. (Let me know if you want to borrow it.)

I’ll be using this blog to share what I’ve written as I go along, both prayer and reflections. If it’s useful to you, either directly, or as food-for-thought that leads you in different directions from my own, I’m thankful.

The first chapter is “Pure Praise.”

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