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As I write this on June 8, I’m witnessing the Senate Intelligence Committee questioning James Comey, and thinking about the importance of leadership without intimidation or coercion, with mutual trust and respect for differences. Presidents can abuse their authority, and so can pastors. We can abuse our position: rank or title, our resumé, our uniquely defined roles. We can abuse our personal characteristics: size, gender and personality traits. We can use these positional or personal realities to get our way even when it’s wrong, illegal, evil. And we can do damage.

Even in the United States, with its government of the people, by the people, and for the people, presidents can seek to become autocrats. Even in the Church, which exists for God’s glory and the development of disciples of Jesus Christ, pastors and laity can abuse the authority God and church give them.

Jesus said to them, “The rulers of the nations lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. … I am among you as one who serves.”   — (Luke 22:25-27 NRSV, alt.)

I, and most pastors and laity I know, desire to lead like Jesus, without domination or manipulation. But now and then, in our denomination and in our congregations, we “throw our weight around.” (Isn’t it interesting that this common saying portrays aggressive use of physical size as a metaphor for inappropriate coercion using positional authority!) Now and then we seek to get our own way using force or emotional manipulation: we threaten; we use anger, we take offense, we withdraw, we use financial pressure, and more. Instead, we should work together as partners who seek to understand and collaborate, appreciate, and come to a shared way that’s better than our own.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with this prayer:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
           — source: Book of Common Prayer

May this be our prayer as we work with each other, especially if we are called to lead, in church and in nation.

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Incredible find!

Rare Wesley Hymn Fragment
Found in Farmhouse

Charles WesleyA manuscript fragment found in a Cotswold farmhouse under restoration appears to be the first draft of an unpublished hymn by Charles Wesley (1707-1788).

The draft, in Wesley’s own hand, includes several edits, with whole lines crossed out and re-written. Only the first verse is relatively intact. The refrain, however, is un-altered. Cambridge hymnologist Edmund Wren, who authenticated the manuscript, writes, “It’s quite clear that the refrain is the inspiration for the hymn. The verses are only an afterthought.”

Wesley was a prolific hymnodist, with over 6,000 hymns published in his lifetime. With his brother John (1703-1791) he is considered a co-founder of the Methodist movement. Charles Wesley is known to have visited the Methodist Societies of the Cotswolds several times in the mid-1700s, spending several weeks there with his wife Sally in the summer of 1754 after her devastating battle with smallpox. “The refrain’s profession of steadfast faithfulness to God mirrors Wesley’s steadfast devotion to Sally,” Wren notes.


Lord, Thy Prevenient Grace we Know

        88 88 88   (refrain 77 74 77 74)
Lord, Thy prevenient grace we know,
Both love and law within our heart.
A full commitment we would show;
Our sole Redeemer Friend Thou art!
Thy faithfulness to us we feel,
And ours to Thee, O such a deal!
refrain
Never shall we give you up,
Never shall we let you down,
Never shall we run around and desert you.
Never shall we make you cry,
Never shall we say goodbye,
Never shall we tell a lie and hurt you
CW
First day of April, A.D. 1754
Down Astley, Glouc.

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For me, the past weekend was a time of family celebrations and road-tripping across Washington. Thus, I was only briefly aware of the murders in Orlando, and haven’t had time to sit with the reality of it until today.

Because I was away, I was didn’t have the responsibility in worship yesterday morning to put it all together, do instant theology, make quick sense. I didn’t have opportunity to write post a statement on Facebook, or to read more than a very few. I watched very little news. I’m blessed to have been prevented from rushing to righteous anger and self-righteous posturing. (My anger and posturing are mellowed 36 hours to perfection?)

But more than ever, I am feeling the emptiness of those pat statements we make, things like “Our thoughts and prayers are with … .” Especially the statements by politicians, but also by preachers, and other partners in faith communities. (more…)

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After Easter

“After Easter.”

That’s my response, all the way through Lent, to almost any request that I do, or even think about doing, something new.

Anna Smith Children's Park - Beach Path

Lent and Holy Week and Easter are stressful, for pastors.* The ongoing administrative and programmatic events of a church don’t usually shut down for Lent, but additional elements are added. It all culminates in Holy Week, when the number of worship services to prepare trebles or quadruples, without trebling or quadrupling the amount of available preparation time. To make matters worse, of course, Easter is a high-expectations Sunday: expecting maximum attendance, maximum quality, all while participating in not simply the two usual services, but a Sunrise service, a between-services brunch, and something to do with children, eggs, and candy.

And it’s not easy preaching Easter. It’s a challenge to proclaim the Resurrection to a congregation who, for the most part, skipped the crucifixion. (Not to mention that many of those also skipped every other gospel proclamation since “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.”)

So, with these seasonal tasks on short deadline … and of course, the normal but random assortment of pastoral & personal crises, memorial services, marriages, and beyond-the-church events as well … whenever an idea comes up for doing something really, utterly wonderful, creative, transformative, I’m liable to say, with all earnestness and honesty, “After Easter.” When I say it, I mean it.

You do NOT want to know how many reminders I’ve set on my smartphone, for the Tuesday after Easter. And you really don’t want to know how many times I’ve said, to others or to myself, “After Easter,” but not written it down. Or not written it down anywhere I can find. Or I’ve written it so cryptically that I can’t possibly figure it out (“DP. ord. smtlr” on a post-it is not really useful by the time After Easter rolls around!).

If you’re one of the people to whom I said, “After Easter,” … please be good enough to touch base with me, to remind me (compassionately, patiently!) that I said I’d get to it.

But please, do it after Easter.

Love,

Wes


 

* A clergy version of the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory pegs Lent/Easter as twice as stressful as Christmas, and more stressful than moving to a new home.

 

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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

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