Tuesday, November 22, 2016

ANOTHER ELECTION STORY

Ya know, Hillary is not the only United Methodist to lose a big election recently.  I, too, came up short in an important ballot count not long ago.  Granted, the office I sought wasn’t President of the United States - but it was Bishop of the United Methodist Church, so it was kind of a big deal. 

Anyway, here’s what happened…

On the day before this summer’s episcopal election, all of the other nominees and I were interviewed by 8 different teams of 20-30 voting delegates. As a way of ensuring that oranges were compared only to oranges, each of the 8 groups was told to ask the exact same questions of each of the dozen or so nominees. 

However, in order to mix things up a bit, each interview group was given the prerogative to ask any additional questions  to which they might want answers.

These extra queries were in the general neighborhood of “As a bishop, how would you dismantle racism, how would you reverse the decades-long numerical decline in mainline Protestant churches in America, and how would you achieve peace in the Middle East?”.  Believe it or not, that was all part of a single question!

And yet, that was not the most difficult question posed to me that day.  That came as I was on my way out of one of the interview rooms, when a woman asked in front of everyone, “Ken, how would you Tweet your legacy?

I didn't share this at the time, of course, but I have never Tweeted anything in my whole life.  Nor have I ever followed anyone on Twitter.  In fact, until right now, I have never typed the phrase "hash tag".

That said, I DO know enough about the Twitosphere to know that a Tweet cannot exceed 140 characters (I guess 144 characters would be gross).  So essentially, the question before me was this: “Ken, would you please sum up your entire 30-year ministerial career in 20 words or less?  Right now.”

What would YOU have said - off the top of your head, in front of several dozen strangers holding clipboards (and your future!) in their hands, with your dream job at stake?  How would YOU have summed up or boiled down more than a thousand sermons, tens of thousands of prayers, and a whole lifetime of discipleship? 

I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and prayed for God to instantaneously fly in front of my mind’s eye a single-engine plane with a banner in tow that bore something profound in 140 characters or less. 

As is so often the case, the Divine delivered.
I looked at the inquiring woman, and then proudly proclaimed to all within earshot that my legacy Tweet would be this: “Keeping the rumor of God alive. 

Unfortunately, neither that answer, nor any of the other thirtysomething answers that I offered that day were enough to garner the requisite votes to be elected.  So I’m not going to be a bishop.  And since I am currently in the last year of my superintendency, I’m not going to be a DS for much longer either.

So what’s next for me?   

Well, starting July 1, 2017, Bishop Bickerton will appoint me to serve as the pastor of a local church in our Conference, where I will spend the rest of my days and years in ministry… keeping the rumor of God alive.

So what’s next for my blog?

Well, starting with my very next posting, the name of my blog will be changed to “KeepingTheRumorOfGodAlive”. 


























Sunday, October 30, 2016

FRIGHT NIGHT!

Because I live too far from White Plains, N.Y. to commute back and forth during our two and three-day Cabinet meetings, I typically stay overnight in a hotel near the NYAC  conference center. I’ve been doing this for years without incident.  

Until recently.

Following a long day in Cabinet, I drove to my hotel nearby and checked in at the reception desk.  In exchange for an imprint of my credit card, I was handed a tiny envelope with my card key inside and my room number on the outside.

On the way to my room, I tried to decide how I might treat myself on this hard day’s night. Should I do some laps in the swimming pool?  Should I sweat it out in the steam room, or chill out in the hot tub?  Or should I just put on my PJs and watch what was left of the Monday Night Football game?

After I reached the place where the number on the room matched the number on my tiny envelope, I slid the plastic card into the slot and entered the room. Imagine my surprise when I found several lights already on, the television blaring, and a shirtless man in my bed!

Yikes!  

While stammering something about it being “MY ROOM”, I did an about-face that would’ve made Oliver North proud.  Keeping with the Marine theme, I then marched down to the hotel lobby to tell the receptionist that there was a strange guy in my hotel room. 

Believe or not, here’s where things got really weird!

When I told her what had just happened, she acted as if this sort of stuff took place all the time - like I had just complained that the television remote didn’t work, or the shower dripped, or the last sheet of toilet paper wasn’t fanned out to look like the tail of a proud peacock.  Without so much as an apology or an upgrade, she handed me another key card for another room. 

This second room was dark and vacant when I entered, thank God, but the damage was already done.  I realized that if the unreceptive receptionist gave me a key to someone else’s room, she could easily give someone else a key to MY room.

Immediately, I looked through the peep hole to make sure no one was standing there, triple-locked the door 10 or 20 times, and then closed the drapes extra tight.  Before getting into bed, I grabbed the letter opener from my computer bag so that would have a weapon within reach while I slept (fyi, I didn't sleep).


As I tossed and turned all night, I wondered…is this how my wife feels whenever she travels alone?  Afraid.  Vulnerable.  At risk.  Open to attack. 

Is this how my diminutive daughter feels when she walks home from the campus library after dark?  Is this how my sister feels when she leaves the mall at closing? 

Is this how innocent civilians feel when ISIS or the Taliban takes over their village, city or province?  Is this how political refugees feel when they leave their war-torn homeland with their worldly possessions on their backs? 

Is this how my black brothers and sisters feel whenever they encounter a cop? Is this how homeless folks feel whenever they sleep on the streets or in shelters? Is this how my friends in the LGBT community feel whenever they go to school, or a club, or a church? 

Last question – have I done all that I can to assuage the fears of these beloved children of God? 

I’m afraid…not. 



Unhappy Halloween.  












  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

DISTRACTED DRIVING

I wasn’t texting when it happened.   And I wasn’t checking emails on my cell phone.  And I wasn’t changing radio stations, munching on a McMuffin, or punching in an address on my GPS.  I was just driving my car.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

“Swear to God, Officer.”

That said, I WILL admit that my mind wasn’t exactly on the road.  Truth is, I was thinking of my father. 

You see, it was exactly 13 years ago that my dad was killed.  I’ll spare you the details, except to say that his death was sudden, tragic, and at the hands of another.  

Maybe I was thinking about his autopsy for the kjillionth time, and its myriad medical inconsistencies.  Maybe I was thinking about all the holes in the police investigation, if you can call it that.  Maybe I was thinking about those who came to my father’s funeral, and thanking God for each of them.

Whatever it was that I was thinking about, I was NOT thinking that a scrawny gray squirrel, doing an impression of Usain Bolt, would suddenly bolt across the street on which I was driving.  Immediately, I swerved to avoid the little guy, but as fate would have it, I hit him with my left front tire.

I felt it.  I heard it.  And when I looked back anxiously in my rear view mirror, I saw  it.  For the first time in my life, I had run over a squirrel. 

Coincidentally, my father was not a fan of squirrels. Watching them dig up his flawless lawn in search of last year’s nuts drove HIM nuts!  As did the fact that they would climb up and eventually empty his so-called “squirrel-proof” bird feeder of all the seeds that were intended for other, more Disneyesque, creatures.  

To him, squirrels were hairy rats that were destructive, disgusting, and a big ole pain in his...

“…but Dad, they are living and breathing evidences of God.  Learned it in church.”

In my last parish, I was leading a Bible study one evening.  As was my custom, the class began with me asking that wonderful Wesleyan question: “How are things with your soul?”

George T., the elder statesman of the class, quickly answered, “I have just seen undeniable and incontrovertible proof that God exists!”

A hush fell over the room, as we waited to hear how George, during his one-block walk to church, had witnessed something that all of humankind has been searching for since time immemorial. 

He shared how he was considering crossing Church Street when a squirrel scurried into the middle of the road - but then froze when it noticed a vehicle bearing down on it.   As soon as the driver saw the squirrel, said George, the car swerved. 

“The car swerved!”, he repeated.  

  When it became painfully clear to him that no one else in the room came to his conclusion, George explained slowly that deep down, at our very core, human beings are good.  That’s our nature.  That’s our instinct.  We have all been wired (by God) to instinctively have high regard for life – even the life of a lowly squirrel.  

I’ve never forgotten that.  As a result, every time I see a squirrel, living or otherwise, I am reminded that we have an amazing and loving Creator who created us all to be good – to squirrels, to refugees, to people in the other political party, to folks who don’t look like us - to EVERYONE!

If only the person who took my father’s life had squirreled that one away.   

Thursday, September 29, 2016

If Jesus Worked @ Expedia.com

Last spring, my daughter, Olivea, was accepted into Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  She wisely accepted their acceptance, resulting in my wife and me dropping her off at college in the middle of August in the middle of nowhere for freshman orientation. 

         
        Sigh.

I haven’t seen my little girl in 6 weeks. Thankfully, that’s about to change.  Her school is hosting its annual “Family Weekend” this weekend, so we’ll finally get to spend a couple of days with Olivea.  It should be a great time.

But therein lies the problem.  We hear that these events are such a great time that EVERYONE is going. Not only will the parents of all the freshmen be there, but the parents of all the sophomores, juniors, and seniors will be there as well! 

Now, do you remember a few paragraphs ago, when I told you that Bucknell is in the middle of nowhere?  Well, when you put EVERYONE in the same place at the same time and that place is in the middle of nowhere, that causes a hotel shortage of biblical proportions (see little town of Bethlehem). 

We were alerted to this logistical nightmare fairly early in the admission process, so we expeditiously made hotel reservations through Expedia.com.  Or at least, we tried to.

 It turned out that all of the lodgings in Lewisburg were sold-out a year ago, as were all of the hotels and motels within a thirty-mile radius of the school.  My wife, not one to quit, persevered until she eventually found a room at a reasonable rate about forty miles away.  Not terribly convenient, I’ll admit, but at that point we were thrilled to have a place anywhere in Pennsylvania to lay our heads at night.  
 
We gave Expedia our credit card number and they in turn gave us reservations.  According to our Discover card statement, this transaction was completed in June.  Yesterday, however, just days before our big “family reunion”, we received an unsettling email from Expedia saying that we no longer had a room.  

Evidently, we had broken the law - the law of supply and demand, that is.  

My guess is that when Expedia “Discovered” that they had many more customers than rooms, they cancelled all the cheaper reservations they had on the books and then released those now-available rooms to the moneyed masses at a premium price.  Sound$ right, right? 

Well, that’s wrong! 

What’s the point of making reservations if they don’t actually reserve the room?  Isn’t that why they’re called RESERVATIONS? 

Can you imagine if Jesus worked at Expedia?  If he did, the poor fella would surely have to change the course of his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel.  Instead of saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…”, they’d make him water it down a bit by proclaiming, “In my father’s house are a couple of rooms, one of which may or may not be available to you when you need it.  It all depends on how much money you’re willing to pay.”

Thankfully, Jesus’ offer of eternal life is UNconditional.  In his Father’s house, there are no blackout periods, or secret codes to enter, or disclaimers printed in  really tiny fonts.  In my Father’s house are many rooms…”, he says. 

That’s our reservation for salvation!  And our salvation reservation is confirmed in the very next sentence when Jesus assures us, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Thanks to Expedia, I may not have any place to sleep this weekend.  But thanks to Jesus, I will sleep very well.