Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

Ministry’s Paradox and Risk

It’s appointment season again in the United Methodist Church.  (Cabinet members and bishops likely think that appointment season never ends.)  UM pastors are appointed on a year-by-year basis and, though they can serve long, extended years in one location, they also know that every year a move is at least a theoretical possibility.

I probably should not write about this topic, since, as a university chaplain I’m not nearly as effected by appointment season as pastors of congregations, even though I am under appointment.  But I’m prompted to think about it for three reasons: (1) I requested to move my conference membership, “leaving” longtime relationships and beloved friends and colleagues in Kansas, (2) a friend spoke with me yesterday about the anxiety and powerlessness he feels in the appointment process and (3) reading Luke’s gospel in my morning prayer time.

Luke 9 is packed with significance (what passage isn’t?).  Jesus calls and sends out the Twelve to do the work he has been doing – preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing the diseased and liberating the demon-possessed.  He feeds the five thousand.  He asks the disciples about how people identify him.  He tells them that he’s going to suffer and die (he tells them twice in the same chapter).  He is transfigured.  He heals a demon-possessed boy whom the disciples could not heal.  He listens to his disciples argue about who is the greatest in the Kingdom (showing decisively that they don’t understand Jesus’ destiny).  And we haven’t even covered the whole chapter.

Paradox: Luke indicates how deeply this sense of destiny, this calling to suffer and die, lies within Jesus.  There’s a Plan.  He’s going to live it.  It is set.  Is it determined?  Yet, the developing situation is filled with contingency.  Jesus is spiritually heading one way while his disciples think he’s heading another (they’re going to Jerusalem, Jesus to die, but the disciples think they’re going to take over and set up the Kingdom).  He warns his disciples, in effect, not to misunderstand his Messiahship, but they seem to do exactly that.  Jesus tries to control the “fame factor” that is working in Galilee all around him.  Lots of unpredictability and human agency.  Not determined?

Risk: It makes me reflect on my experiences “under appointment.”  I’m a preacher’s kid.  I spent my entire childhood waiting to learn if we were moving or staying.  We lived in some of the most remote places one can find in rural heartland America.  I was always “the new kid” in school.

As a UM pastor, I did the same, waiting for the call to come.  There has been, at times, deep confusion, worry and frustration, yes even out and out heartache and anger.  Yet, those experiences are not the ones that stand out.  Even in the most difficult of situations, God made himself (pardon the gender reference) known.  And in every case, God provided growth – in me – growth that I desperately needed.

Only hindsight works here and no other kind.  Every aspect of my life heretofore has prepared me for the ministry in which I am now engaged.  I can’t say in a brief blog entry how, but I’m not kidding, every part, every place, every segment of time…

I am praying for United Methodist pastors waiting by the phone – literally or figuratively – to find out where they will be sent.  May the Triune God who in Christ knows it all, who knows exactly the paradox and the risk of ministry, bless and keep your heart strong.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Ministry, Religion, The Church, United Methodism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Doing It the Right Way

So, am I the last guy in the United States to learn that Drew Brees is a real Christian?  I add the term “real” because stardom and celebrity seem to breed a shallow, made-for-TV faith that often ultimately disappoints.  Remember Jessica Simpson?

Although I love sports and enjoy pro football, I’ve grown weary of the hype surrounding the Super Bowl.  My goodness, the build-up on Sunday alone is literally longer than the game.  But this year, I sat down about an hour or so before the kick-off, turned on the tube and was treated to the feature on Drew Brees.

In the interest of full disclosure, I still hold it against Brees for picking apart my K-State Wildcats in the 1998 Alamo Bowl.  But after watching that Super Bowl pre-game story, I’ve become a new fan.  I knew he was a great quarterback, but I absolutely love what he has done in New Orleans – not on the football field.

Generally, I don’t believe the over-hyped baloney about what pro sports do for a city.  The gaudiness of pro sports generally sickens me, though I keep watching the games.  For goodness’ sake, the NFL tried to control the use of “Who ‘Dat!”  How silly.  I live in Dallas now, and I’m still waiting for a new generation of Tom Landrys and Roger Staubachs.

But Drews Brees’ story, it’s a classic.  At least what I have seen I would say that he is being a Christian in the right way. And I’m ready to acknowledge that the Saints have helped New Orleans rebound from the awful hurricane, that the team has given this city new life and some hope.  And Drew Brees is in the big middle of it.

In case you don’t know his story, Brees had a serious shoulder injury a few years ago that could have ended his pro career.  He left the San Diego Chargers and wound up with the Saints, who decided to take a chance on a guy with lots of talent and a winner’s heart, but with a damaged passing arm.  Brees and his wife made a choice to live in the city rather than the suburbs.  If the Super Bowl pre-game segment told the truth (please, Lord, let it be so), they live in a neighborhood and are known as real neighbors.  He likewise has a foundation that pours money and resources into the community.  From appearances, then, it really looks like Drew Brees gets his responsibility as a highly-paid and high-profile athlete in a high-stakes game.  If God put him on this platform, then he’d better take this responsibility seriously.  To whom much is given, much is required.

As much as I love athletes who share their faith openly, I’m kind of tired of people sticking their fingers in the air when they score a touchdown.  I kinda’ like it that Brees does not wear his faith superficially on his sleeve (even though I do like it that Tim Tebow wears his on his cheekbones, because I think Mr. Tebow is the real deal, too).  I watched a video clip on STV (“Sharing the Victory”) and Brees talked about letting his actions speak louder than his words.  I love it.  May his tribe increase.

Which goads me.  I am a man who makes his living with words.  I’d better watch myself.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | Pop Culture, Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bigotry and Power

So, from bigotry to power politics and back: I got worked up this morning watching Headline News.  Gloria Allred is alleging that the Tebows are not telling the whole story about Pam’s decision not to abort Tim.  Allred’s allegation is based, so far as I can tell, merely on the fact that abortion is illegal in the Philippines and, since there is a serious penalty for doing so, no doctor in the Philippines would give such advice.

My mind reeled with the sheer audacity of this claim.  Questions began to pop: What doctors gave the advice?  American doctors abroad?  Philippino doctors?  Someone else?  Was she actually in the Philippines when she got this advice?  (Missionaries often have medical care in places besides where they serve.)  One article I found – a Baptist homeschooling blog, of all places – said that it was an American-trained doctor in the Philippines.  That’s the only place I found any reference to the doctor in question.

More questions: Did that American-trained doctor tell Mrs. Tebow he/she would do the abortion?   What exactly did he/she say to her?

In other words, what does Allred actually know to ground such a headline-grabbing allegation?  All these questions need a certain kind of answer for her allegations to begin to have any merit.  I heard absolutely nothing in the news clip to ease my qualms.

No one outside of Focus on the Family and, I suppose, the Tebows, has seen the ad.  On what basis, therefore, can Allred allege both that the story is false and that the Tebows are actually distorting their own story in order (apparently) to play politics?  It’s a staggering suggestion she has made when you think of how careful, how determined Tim Tebow has been to present a transparent, consistent Christian witness.  Does Allred realize that she is actually accusing them of going against everything they say they stand for?  Are we really that cynical?

I want to make clear, my post is not about abortion.  I also don’t care if the ad does not run.  I care that people like Gloria Allred can spout off with complete impunity on television, essentially to engage in character assassination while giving the impression that her legal knowledge gives her the license so to do.  And don’t bring up Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.  They don’t pretend to be lawyers and at least they fulminate on their own TV shows.  Allred got 30 seconds on Headline News.

If you remember that AskOxford.com definition of bigotry, it includes the word “prejudice.”  If Gloria Allred has not made sure that she stands on firm ground with the circumstances of the Tebow story, then she clearly has prejudged, in the most glaring, daring way.  Is she a bigot like Huffington?  Google for yourself and read.  If it walks like a duck…

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Pop Culture, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Being a Bigot

I have sat on this post for several days, trying to scrutinize my own sentiments.  In my post about Ariana Huffington and Pat Robertson, I referred to Huffington as a bigot.  It’s a harsh word and I’ve been thinking about whether it appropriately fits.  I think it does, but I feel the need to explain myself.

In today’s climate, we don’t like extreme-sounding language on certain sensitive topics.  It seems extreme to use a word like “bigot” for someone like Huffington.  It seems reactionary.  I want to be a peaceable person, so I shy away from harsh language.  Furthermore, the word often is used with regard to white prejudice on questions of race, so maybe it doesn’t translate very well.

Dictionary.com defines “bigot” as “a person who is intolerant of any differing creed, belief or opinion.”  Hmm.  Too strong.  This makes us all bigots virtually all the time.  A word that covers everything covers nothing.  Even bigots tolerate some “other opinions” at least some of the time, I would think.  “Intolerant” is too vague anyway and has become kind of a buzzword.    “AskOxford.com” (I’m doing this blog at home and don’t have acccess to OED) says of “bigot:” “a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others.”  “Prejudiced” helps.  “Intolerant” of the views of others sometimes has real merit.  “Prejudice,” on the other hand, is pre-judging before the case is permitted to be made.  Prejudice means jumping to conclusions on probably some sort of ad hominem basis.

I work in academia.  Anyone familiar with this environment knows that bigots can and sometimes do have Ph.Ds.  I wince to write those words.  It’s ironic, because a big part of our job is to expose bigotry.  And here’s the danger: if you think you (or someone else) cannot be a bigot because well-educated, think again.  We should not be fooled by our own sophistication.

I am not interested in propping up Pat Robertson’s sagging image.  Whether he is still regarded as a nationally powerful Christian leader is a debatable point.  I hang around a lot of young people who barely recognize his name, if at all.  We have much more serious problems in the Christian community than Pat Robertson.  Maybe that’s why I’m not as bothered by Robertson’s comments as some people are.

Huffington is no less a bigot simply because she is more articule and sophisticated.  We’d better start paying attention to and recognizing bigotry of all flavors, especially by people who help to shape public opinion.

I have deeply conflicted feelings about public opinion these days.  I like that blogging and other media allow for more people to share opinions in an accessible format.  I worry that we don’t distinguish very well thoughtful, careful opinions from fear-mongering and demagoguery, particularly when it comes in such articulate packages.

I’m sufficiently bothered that I have another post coming immediately on another topic.  Stay tuned.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Religion | 1 Comment