While accompanying the seminary choir on bass (guitar) during worship one Wednesday, things were going well for the first two and a half measures.  The choir sounded musical, passionate without melodrama, and articulate, and I was playing with smoothness and subtlety so that the bass became another voice in the choir.  And then I hit a B. The Asbury Seminary chapel range like a large bell. It sounded like I had replaced my modest combo bass amp with a big Ampeg stack and turned it up to 11.  It was ridiculously loud . . . but only when I played B.  I made it through the choir anthem by consciously playing that note very lightly.  As I explained to the choir director (who already knew what the problem was), the brash and bold B was at the resonant frequency of the chapel’s interior, its only architectural design flaw. My bass guitar’s B was at just the right wavelength to bounce around the room in a way that made it sound a lot louder than any other note.

I had a psychological experience of such resonance while at the School for Pastoral Ministry this over the last few days.  Listening to one of the two excellent keynote speakers, Nadia Bolz-Weber, talk about her calling in ministry, something she said—probably several things—rang like that bass B through the cognitive and emotional mess that is my consciousness. The resonance was with my own calling into ministry—my religious raison d’etre, the “why I got into this ministry mess in the first place”.

I have been struggling for a while with a sense of direction in my ministry, which has led to a bit of paralysis and a lot of frustration as I feel pushed to get the church I serve to grow in numbers and figure out something a somewhat elderly church can do to fulfill the United Methodist Church’s slogan (part 2): “transformation of the world.”  I’ve tried blending contemporary music into worship and preaching about social justice and changing the world. The problem is that I am just not called to, or capable enough at, either engineering church growth or prophetic preaching.  Some pastors, such as Adam Hamilton, are greatly adept at providing a worship and discipleship environment that attracts a lot of people of all ages.  Others do a lot of social justice work, preaching about the issues of society and leading mission work. These are all great things and important, but they are not why I entered ministry.

My calling to preach the Gospel (Good News of Jesus Christ), offer the sacraments, and help sinners realize God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness. It’s these things that I am here to do and mean to return to doing with focused intent.  I don’t need to engineer church growth or figure out how to transform the world.  If I help people deepen find their home in the house of God’s grace, embrace God’s forgiveness, and discover for themselves what Christ crucified means for them, then the other stuff will just happen.  Forgiven and grace-filled people who “get it” about what God was doing suffering on the cross and dying for us will go out and transform their world as well as bring others in to experience that God can do for them as well. I need to simply do what matters most and get out of God’s way.

What will this mean for my work as a pastor?  Past changing the direction of my preaching and how I approach the sacraments, I haven’t a clue. But I’m sure God knows. . .

Grouse-Free Blogging

Posted: 2016/08/16 in Odds & Ends

In this age of internet trolls, partisan vitriol, and just plain bad manners, I no_grouseam trying something different—no crabbing, grousing, complaining, trolling, trashing, piqued commentary, or outright bitching.  Since I’ve always had a cynical streak, this may be as difficult as [nasty criticism deleted].  However, I’m getting tired of venting my spleen and sniping at stuff that bugs me.  Besides, this give me more space to wonder about the world a little, entertain interesting ideas, and appreciation the good stuff that’s always around us. So . . . it begins . . .

While on the road frMMAF(low rez)om a gig with my Celebrate Recovery praise band, the Voice In the Wilderness, in Bronson, MI, I was musing about the classic science fiction trope, Parallel Universes.  Current cosmology and theoretical physics has several conceptualizations of the Multiverse, but these need not involve any parallelism. Sci-fi, on the other hand, has a number of well-worn parallel universe schemes, and they almost all have the following characteristics:

  1. All universes contain the same people, if not the also the same places and things. Thus you and I have parallel you’s and I’s just like everyone else.  However, the you and I in other universes are likely doing very different things.  While being a pastor here, I may be a urologist in another universe, and a hairdresser in yet another.
  2. Physical laws may or may not be the same for all universes. Thus you and I could be juggling suspension bridges in one universe while walking a backward timeline in another.
  3. There are infinite parallel universes.
  4. If you meet yourself from a parallel universe, it is likely you will go insane for no particularly good reason.

I suspect that if there is such a thing as infinite parallel universes then they are parallel only because you and I are exactly the same and doing the same things in all universes. If, in fact, I am functioning as a urologist prescribing Viagra in another universe, then it cannot really be a parallel universe.  If my reasoning is sound, then there are infinite instances of me writing this blog and infinite instances of you reading it, all at the same time and in the same place.

This sounds almost infinitely dull.  I am quite content with just one universe.

If you’re still reading, then congratulations on your waste of time, and a waste of time is something we all need once in a while.

More Mental Meanderings, Appreciations, & Fabulations to come . . .

 

 

Suckered into a brief, but unnecessary waste of time?  Maybe.  But I’ve been provoked by a specific use of the word “interpretation.”

Tuesday, 8 August 2016, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, was in the midst of throwing red meat to gun-rights supporters by warning that the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, was committed to abolishing the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. He said the following:
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

To many, this became a “What the . . . ?!?” moment as Clinton supporters, Trump haters, and many others, including a number of sitting congressional Republicans either criticized or wondered if Trump had inferred that Clinton ought to be assassinated should she be elected.
Trump has responded, dismissively, that he has been misinterpreted, saying, “This is a political movement [referring to ‘Second Amendment people’]. This is a strong powerful movement, the Second Amendment. Hillary wants to take your guns away. She wants to leave you unprotected in your home. And there can be no other interpretation. I mean, give me a break.”

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump said. “But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if Hillary gets to put her judges in, right now we’re tied.”

The phrase that gives me pause is, “there can be no other interpretation,” as if “nothing you can do folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is,” is crystal clear in its meaning. Really?!?  Is his statement so obvious about his intention?

As a pastor who specializes in Biblical theology, I spend a great deal of time interpreting things said and written.  So, if I may offer an interpretation of Trump’s statement, “nothing you can do folks, although the Second Ammendment people, maybe there is” . . .

(1)  I tend to always begin with the larger context, which in this case is a part of Trump’s speech in which the topic was gun rights per the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. He was seeking to characterize his opponent, Clinton, as someone whose intention is to abolish the right to bear arms.

(2)  “If she gets to pick her judges . . . ” — The only way Clinton could set the composition of the judiciary is as the President of the United States.  Thus, we may reasonably begin to interpret the clause in question to set the scene for his upcoming main point by asking us to consider the possibility of a Clinton presidency.  However, “pick her judges” is less obvious. Let us, for now, take this to refer to the appointment and successful approval of judicial appointees.  Furthermore, given the context, we might also reasonably infer that Trump is referring to the appointment of Supreme Court justices and the Supreme Court’s future potential to change the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment.

(3)  “. . . nothing you can do folks” —  Should the Supreme Court take on a case that challenges the current legal interpretation of the Second Amendment, then whatever ruling they make would be the law of the land.  The inflection of this phrase, along with its context, implies that, should a future Supreme Court ruling change the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment to become more restrictive of the rights of gun ownership, then there would be no recourse but to live with that change.  Less clear, but hinted at, is a stoking of anxiety about such a change.

(4)  “although” — This word implies an upcoming statement of an alternative to a prior description of a state of affairs.

(5)  “the Second Amendment people” — Ironically, this is ambiguous enough that it could refer to scholars of the Second Amendment, people committed to preserving the current legal interpretation of the Second Amendment, people who have committed themselves to changing the legal interpretation, the NRA, or, most likely, gun owners with who support the extant legal interpretation of the Second Amendment. This latter group is concerned with maintaining and possibly expanding gun ownership rights.  In other words, gun owners who will not give up their firearms unless pried from their cold-dead fingers.

(6)  “maybe there is” — “Maybe there is” . . . what?  This ambiguous phrase is the interpretive trouble-maker.  Syntactically it is unconnected to the rest of the sentence.  It could be the beginning of the next thought (“although the Second Ammendment people; Maybe there is a fly in my coffee”), or a clause attached to the previous in an awkward way. The most likely interpretation involves associating “maybe there is” with “nothing you can do folks” as the thought seems to be “nothing you can do folks [but] maybe there is [something that can be done]”.  Furthermore that something would be done by “the Second Amendment people”.

(7)  If “the Second Amendment people” could do something to preserve or enhance gun ownership rights that those whom Trump was addressing could not, what is that something?  Trump’s audience and “Second Amendment people” can both vote, so the something must be other. If “Second Amendment people” are the NRA then we might reasonably infer that they could lobby lawmakers, something the NRA has been quite successful at doing.  However, if “the Second Amendment people” are simply gun owners who resist any notion of further gun control, then a more sinister possibility arises.  “Maybe there is” something they could do with their guns: threaten, maim, or kill.

Having observed the ambiguity and dark possibilities of “nothing you can do folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is”, we should look again at Trump’s rebuttal, vis
“This is a political movement. This is a strong powerful movement, the Second Amendment. Hillary wants to take your guns away. She wants to leave you unprotected in your home. And there can be no other interpretation. I mean, give me a break.”

“This” is ambiguous.  The Second Amendment is not actually a “strong powerful movement” but a clause in the Bill of Rights.  He changes subject to an opinion about Clinton’s intentions.  Then he says “there can be no other interpretation”, which, in this context, is ambiguous as he has not delineated the interpretation to which he refers.

This interpreters conclusion is that Trump has said something that is dangerously ambiguous and open-ended.  There are indeed several possible interpretations that can be made.  If he wanted to be clear about what he meant and that what he meant was that action should be taken in the voting booth or in lobbying visits with lawmakers, then he should have spoken with such clarity.  As it is, he has left dangling an ambiguous call to action that could also be taken as a call to arms and even assassination.

What then did he really mean?

Trump Decoded

Posted: 2016/03/04 in Politics

Mystery solved???

Like many a politics gawker, and like those who delusionally believe they control the Republican Party, I have been mystified, befuddled, and alarmed by the rise of Donald Trump, who appears poised to become the GOP’s candidate for the U.S. presidency. Much of the analysis in the news media focuses on the angry disillusionment of the Republican “base” with dysfunction in our federal government. People are mad and they are acting on their anger to protest against the so-called “establishment.” While this is a factor, it does not explain how a badly behaved, prejudice rich, policy poor, fact-challenged braggard has become as popular as he is.

I have a different theory, which may help to illuminate this bizarre and murky situation. Put briefly, Donald Trump behaves as the sexy beast, the enfant terrible, we keep buried within, yet secretly wish we could let out. And many find this enormously attractive.

A frequent reason given by Trump’s supporters for their support is that “he speaks what’s on his mind,” and “says what needs saying but no one else is saying it.” In other words, his supporters are turned on by his unfiltered candor, or put another way, he boldly says what we may want to blurt out at our most emotional moments but do not for fear of violating long-established social conventions. He regularly speaks in ways the rest of us only fantasize about. For many, this is very sexy indeed!

If Trump were simply attractive because he plays a middle-aged version of the ultra-cool bad boy from high school, then his abrasiveness and detail bereft big-promises might soon grow tiresome. What is cool today will be replaced with the new cool of tomorrow. But Trump is not growing tiresome to his supporters.

I believe that Trump’s continuing attraction to his growing crowd of supporters is down to two factors:

(1) He is hugely self-confident, giving no hint that there is anything he cannot do or that anything can get in his way. And, for everyone who is not a male between the ages of 12-34 (and for many who are), confidence is the most sexy attribute a person can have.

(2) His outrageous speech and behavior affirm and legitimize the speech and behavior many of us secretly wish we could indulge in but do not dare. His behavior gives us permission to indulge our frustrations, anger, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and anxieties in ways that most of us have always believed to be immature, inappropriate, and sometimes reprehensible. This is seriously sexy (in a forbidden fruit way)!

We can blame anger born of dysfunction in Washington D.C for the continuing rise of Donald Trump, but until we begin to look inward and honestly confess and own and deal with the badly behaved schoolyard bully within each of us that he taps into and gives us permission to let out, his provocations will continue unchallenged.

Lord, have mercy!

Questions for the Candidates

Posted: 2016/02/22 in Politics

Talk is cheap, and campaign talk is the cheapest of all.  Large, abstract, nebulous promises (such as Trump’s “Make America Great Again”).  Vows to do things that have not political or practical possibility (such as Sander’s vow to have the Citizens United ruling overturned and then banned by a constitutional amendment, or Trump’s ban on Muslims entry into the U.S.).

I very much want to ask this year’s candidates for president the following questions:

  • What will you do following the next successful terrorist attack on American soil?
  • How will you lead our nation though the next economic crisis?
  • How will you deal with the complex and potentially explosive Middle-East?
  • What will you do the next time a mass shooting occurs in America?
  • What will you do to deal with poverty in America?
  • Can and will you be the president for all Americans, not just for those who reflect your ideology and demographic?

Why do I ask?  Because I do not want to base my vote on soundbites and the warning that the world will end if the other person is elected.

By the way:  If you choose not to vote when given the opportunity, then you deserve the government you let others pick for you.

Leading by Loud (a Fable)

Posted: 2016/01/29 in Politics
Tags:

Imagine for a moment. . .

North Korea has just annihilated Seoul, South Korea with a nuclear weapon.  Led by Germany, Europe, still struggling with a tidal wave of Syrian refugees, throws up its collective hands and demands the United States do something.  China, paralyzed, is silent.  Russia’s Vladamir Putin wags a finger at North Korea while blaming the U.S. for driving North Korea to desperate violence.  As the radioactive dust begins to clear, the world can now see that a large section of Seoul is in ruins and 500,000 people are dead or dying.

Across the United States, all eyes turn to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC for a word of encouragement and leadership from the “leader of the free world.”  President Donald Trump, perfectly coiffed, steps behind the podium and without hesitation begins a bellicose address —

“Can you believe it?!?  Now those Koreans are killing each other!  But don’t worry, that’s over there and we’re over here. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, though, make them pay for the cleanup of any fallout the drifts this way.”

A hand is raised within the mass of reporters gathered in the White House press room.

Trump:  “Okay… where are you from?”

Reporter:  “National Public Radio.  What is . . . ”

Trump:  “Oh, no!  I don’t take questions from your kind of so-called journalist. You liberals twist everything I say.  Next!. . .”

Another reporter:  “Clearly, this attack on South Korea is a challenge to America by North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jung-un, who . . . ”

Trump (interrupting): “No it’s not! They can’t touch us. hat Kim-guy is just a fat, funny-looking, moron. I won’t talk to him. I won’t talk about him. Next . . . What’s your question?”

Third reporter: “What will be the United State’s strategic response to North Korea’s unprecedented use of nuclear arms against our long-time ally, South Korea?”

Trump: “We don’t need to respond—Not our problem! They’d just better keep it over there and not mess with us or I’ll fire them permanently! Besides, this is good for us. Those Koreans are no longer economic competition. This ought to make the tree-huggers happy, too. No Korean factory production—no pollution. Next. . . ”

In the War Room, a hastily convened Joint Chiefs of Staff are mostly silent exrept for a murmur at one end of the room—“Well . . . He speaks his mind.”

The ones I am speaking of are those enshrined by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. These are the same that are apparently fungible for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

As CNN reported today about an incident at a Trump campaign rally in Rock Hill, SC —

“Rose Hamid [a Muslim wearing a hijab], a 56-year-old flight attendant sitting in the stands directly behind Trump, stood up Friday during Trump’s speech when the Republican front-runner suggested that Syrian refugees fleeing war in Syria were affiliated with ISIS.”

Her protest was silent. No yelling. No insults. Just silence.

She was then escorted out of the building; forced to leave by local law enforcement.

“Major Steven Thompson of the Rock Hill Police Department told CNN Hamid was kicked out of the event because the campaign told him beforehand that “anybody who made any kind of disturbance” should be escorted out.”

Really?!? Standing silently was a disturbance?!? According to the report, the ruckus that arose after Hamid took to her feet were Trump supporters behaving badly. In contrast to the silent Hamid, they remained welcome.

While I understand that a candidate’s campaign rally is not a place a candidate and his/her supporters want to face opposition or protest, but this incident makes we wonder how Trump would deal with dissent if elected president. Would he contrive some executive action silencing such dissent in direct violation of the 1st Amendment? Would the most strident critics find themselves accused of sedition or treason?

Just as concerning, because I believe character matters in leadership, is the implication that Trump has no tolerance for dissenting opinion. Instead of engaging with the politely protesting Hamid, he had her removed, in effect saying, “I will not listen to you; I cannot be your president!”

I suspect that five minutes into a discussion about the ethics and social conscience of Jesus Christ, he would have me thrown out too.

By the way, why were local police complicit in abetting his 1st Amendment violation? . . . hmm . . . (another rabbit hole to explore another time)