Friday, February 22, 2013

Reflections on 20 years of ordained service

Right before I left the house yesterday morning my wife, Amy, gave me a card congratulating me on the 20th anniversary of my ordination.  I had actually forgotten the occasion.   But my forgetfulness is no sign of how much I value being a pastor, now called Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church.
Yesterday I was treated to many warm congratulations on my Facebook page and two cakes!!  I feel blessed that I received the care of so many.
The day of my ordination—February 21, 1993—turned out to be a snowstorm in Worthington, Minnesota.  The storm didn’t stop us from having a very moving ordination service at my home church, Westminster Presbyterian Church.  A few weeks ago I pulled out a cassette tape of the service and listened to some of it.
One meaningful part of the service was having Bob Burnett preach.  Bob was the pastor of the church in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  He was a social activist preacher—which didn’t sit well with the old guard of the church.   Our family was very close to his family.  I remember spending Friday nights at their farm and going to square dances at their barn.  His preaching made a significant impact on my parents and ultimately our family.
Bob was fired from the church after a congregational meeting where some in the congregation pleaded for him to stay and others pleaded for him to be fired.  We wouldn’t have that type of meeting today!  He left the ministry and the Presbyterian church missed receiving the many gifts he could have shared as a pastor.
I invited him back to preach at my ordination service—the first time he stepped into Westminster Presbyterian church in about 20 years.  Right before the ordination commission processed into the sanctuary, the Executive Presbyter asked someone else why Bob had been asked to preach at the service.  I guess someone on the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry instructed him to ask the question. 
Memories die hard in the church.  This is the church—it’s both deeply flawed and deeply powerful.  This church is the one I am called to serve as a pastor.  It’s the church that God desires to use to transform individual lives and the world.
One of my mentors shared that day that my work as a pastor would not always be fun but would always be glorious.  I can’t say that every moment of the last 20 has been glorious, but many have.  I cherish the experiences I had with the people at Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview.  I’m enjoying the challenge of building a large, vibrant Presbyterian church in the north Metro.  Glorious?  Not always, but almost always.
Twenty years is a just a pit stop on this journey of ordained service.  I look forward to many more years of ministry.  I believe the church is the hope for the world and will never stop believing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bravo, Pope Benedict!

I found out about the Pope’s resignation early yesterday morning as I was scrolling through my Facebook account on my I-Phone.  Minnesota Public Radio had a note that the Pope had resigned.  I would almost expect to find out about such an announcement from an angel blowing a trumpet from the sky—not reading a post in the dark on my phone.  But this is the age we live in.

Pope Benedict knew about the changes in our age.  Through his resignation he recognized that the head of the Catholic Church had to be in top physical form.  Even though no Pope had resigned in six centuries he was willing to break this tradition.  The mission of the church was too important.  Mission trumped precedent. 

I find this breaking of precedent a wonderful breath of fresh air.  Though I disagreed with Pope Benedict on many issues and was not supportive of his election to the Papal Office, his willingness to adapt wins my admiration.

I have deep respect for the Catholic Church.  My wife, Amy, is Administrator of St. Joseph of the Lakes Catholic Church in Lino Lakes; I frequently attend Mass there on Saturday evenings and even share my own vocal gifts.  I have a certificate of appreciation for volunteering my time from the church on my office wall.  I hope and pray that the Catholic Church will thrive under the next Pontiff.  

The stakes for the Catholic Church could not be higher.  Even though the church has lost its influence it still is the most important religious institution in the world.  The numbers bear this out—1.1 billion Catholics in the world, 60 million Catholics in the United States, 1.1 million Catholics in Minnesota, the St. Joseph of the Lakes has approximately 1,750 families.  Those are numbers that many of us Protestants can’t comprehend in their size. 

But the takeaway for me in the last 24 hours is not wondering who the next Pope will be—the media will have plenty of time to egg on speculation in the next six weeks.  The takeaway is that one man through a process of discernment believed that he wasn’t able to do his job because of his physical limitations.  So he resigned without letting people know in advance (and who wouldn’t have loved to break that story!); and he resigned in a breaking of long precedent.   

This one man needed to make a decision.  He was able to get out of himself and place himself before God in a process of spiritual discernment.  This is an example for all of us.

Bravo, Pope Benedict!  Bravo!



Monday, February 4, 2013

Reasonable Gun Control

I believe that one way to reduce the number of mass killings in our country is to 1) have reasonable gun control; 2) do a better job of treating mental illness; 3) reduce our culture of violence, particularly in the entertainment industry and the video game industry.  We need solutions to all three of these problems.   During the next two weeks I’m going to write a blog about each of these topics.
Today I’m writing about reasonable gun control.  I do this with some trepidation.  I have friends who strongly believe that gun-control is a waste of time.  I respect their views; however the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut were a tipping point.  If we can’t do something about gun control after such a horrific event, then I’m not sure what is going to prompt us to change.
Before I start let me say I don’t own a gun, I’ve never owned a gun, and have probably shot a gun less than five times in my life.  I believe that a person should have a constitutional right to bear arms.  I don’t believe in removing the 2nd Amendment.  I believe that hunters should be able to hunt.
I also think it was silly for President Obama to release a picture showing him skeet shooting last August.  Okay—now President Obama likes to skeet shoot.  He doesn’t become more intelligent about the issues surrounding gun violence because he knows how to point a gun and hit a clay pigeon.
Some statistics
According to ABC News 300 Americans die every day from gun violence.  Almost 23,000 people have been victims of gun violence in the last two years.
According to Christian Century 40 percent of all firearms purchased in the United States are sold without checking if the buyer has a record of crime, drug addiction, or mental illness.
The question that is driving my thoughts is, “what is reasonable when it comes to gun control?”
Is it reasonable to limit a gun clip to ten, or fifteen, or twenty bullets?  
The shooter who almost killed Gabbie Gifford did murder a young girl with the 12th clip in his gun.
Is it reasonable to have a background check for all firearms purchased in the country? 
Certainly this wouldn’t work all the time and wouldn’t stop the black-market of gun sales.  But we have procedures similar to background checks in other instances.  I can’t drive a car without passing a test and getting my license renewed every four or five years.  I’m not even proposing that gun owners have to have a license.  I’m just suggesting that a background check will stop guns from getting in the wrong hands in many situations.
Is it reasonable to ban semiautomatic rifles? 
I think so.   For discussion sake let’s say I need a semi-automatic weapon because I want to defend myself from a criminal.  How often will I need that gun?  Even if I was accosted by a criminal would my semi-automatic weapon help me in that situation?
If we passed reasonable gun control legislation the number of Americans who die every day from gun violence would decrease.  According to Christian Century after a 1996 mass shooting, Australia passed aggressive gun-control legislation which included the buyback of 600,000 semiautomatic weapons.  Gun homicides and suicides plummeted.  Australia hasn’t experienced a mass shooting since.
Polls show that Americans want something.  According to Christian Century 74% of NRA members and 84% of gun owners think submitting to a background check is a reasonable condition for gun ownership. 
I don’t think that reasonable gun control is the only solution to the issue of violence in America, but as Gabby Giffords eloquently said last week, “too many children are dying.” 
The next blog will be on the topic of doing a better job of treating mental illness