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Church Penalties

In a sermon, I once suggested that harsh “rulemaking” does not maturity make, either religiously or psychologically.  Nowhere do we see this more than in rigid religion in a person.  All or nothing thinking—and in this regard, dogmatic atheism and fundamentalism look very similar in spirit–makes the building of community with others quite difficult. It requires a spirit of “it’s this and nothing else” in life. This is not to say that there are no absolute truths–merely that to trust that such things are true is not exactly identical with my absolute knowledge of them.

My friend D.r. Travis Collins is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. His hobby, remarkably, is being a referee for high school football. When I heard him speak on this, I thought, “What a nice idea for churches.” Here are some possible penalties. Read the rest of this entry

Lessons in Politics from a Baptist Preacher

I don’t know many people who aren’t generally disgusted with the political process right now.  Left to right, top to bottom, it’s a mess.  I thought I’d put a little advice together for would-be leaders.

Further, Baptist preachers are about the most able politicians around.  They are more like small-town sheriffs, who have to lock you up AND get your vote.  Since Baptist churches are about the purest form of democracy around, where even the least of these can topple the most of those with enough work, a Baptist preacher learns to hone the skills of

We are one in the spirit

diplomacy, bridge-building and persuasion.  We have to run for election every year.  It’s called “the budget.”  A lot of high-handed Baptist preachers take over churches, of course, with dictatorial ways, but it doesn’t last long.  Turns out that once you deceive people they decide, for some unknown reason, to stop funding your foolishness.

So here are some lessons from a 33 year veteran who has survived some titanic battles over camellia bushes, building programs, and even got a church to vote for a letter of apology to an offended church member once who got mad when his name wasn’t read at the centennial celebration thirty years before.  He wobbled back into church on his walker a few months before he died, looked up and said, “Preacher, you reckon the building will fall down if I come in?”  And a good old deacon said, “Well, if it does we’ll build it back.”

A little unsolicited advice:

  1. You have to learn how to build consensus.  Winning 51-49 is not winning.  You don’t need unanimity, but until you accomplish good for all, you haven’t won.
  2. You will learn humility willingly or eventually.  Willingly is much less painful.
  3. Since politicians seem to evidence almost no persuasive ability in the current moment—I add this one:  “Learn to tell a story.  Keep it simple.  Tell the truth.  Truth doesn’t need help.”
  4. The same people you defeat will have to help pay for it in the end.  They are not enemies, so unless you can regain their support, you lose in the long run.
  5. It’s dangerous to claim God is on your side and never leave room for disagreement.  Even if you and your mother think so.  God is not too keen on preachers as court jesters and God is intolerant of people misusing the divine name, so you’ve been warned.
  6. Preaching that doesn’t turn into good deeds doesn’t amount to anything.
  7. You have to trust others to make real changes.  Nobody does it by themselves.
  8. Those who live by demonization die by demonization.
  9. Forgive and move on.  It’s just that simple.  Holding grudges is a waste of valuable energy.
  10. Sometimes you just do what is right and let the chips fall.  There are worse things than losing your job.
  11. Believe in Someone or Something larger than you.  Without a real vision, not only do the people perish, but nothing really happens.
  12. It’s not your church.  It’s not their church.  It’s God’s church.  Seems to me this applies to countries, property, power and prosperity.
  13. If there isn’t any money, you can’t spend it.  It’s not rocket science.
  14. Doesn’t hurt to let someone else take credit now and then, even if it’s your idea.
  15. A good staff makes a poor preacher look great.
  16. Principles matter the most when they are most inconvenient and unpopular.  Lose ‘em and you might as well quit anyway.
  17. No matter how high and mighty you get, the Almighty gets the last word.
  18. Don’t do the Devil’s work for him.
  19. Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  Even a great idea ahead of its time will lose to anxiety and fear and misinformation.
  20. As a friend of mine put it, “Everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and you make bad decisions.”
  21. Love really is the great truth of life.  Politics, even with the noble concept of “justice” will degenerate into darkness without the temper of love.

RETREAT!

It is the day after Memorial Day.  I get way too many emails, but I’m 57.  I’m trying to withdraw from the world without getting fired or retired (sometimes you retire.  Other times you GET retired.  See “getting fired.”

Anyway, I find myself, more and more, saying to a television screen, “That’s the wrong question” and “neither of the above.”  Since we’ve quit reading anything longer than a few sentences, ah, I won’t go there today.

Few weeks ago I went on a retreat to Cullman, Alabama.  I stayed with a dozen pastor buddies at the St. Bernard Retreat Center.  It was a lovely setting.  The last time I “retreated” at St. Bernard’s I stayed actually in the monastery with the brothers, who treated me well, but it was not air-conditioned, and it was August in Alabama.  I had a small window, a box fan to blow hot air, and the last vestiges of a stomach virus.  Didn’t make it through the night and drove off in the Great Silence searching for a Waffle House or a Cracker Barrel.

Over the past few weeks, I have watched Ken Burns’ “Civil War,” all the way through.  Something I always wanted to do, but never had before.  So I did it.  Glorious, insightful, even after all these years.  And “retreat” came to be more meaningful.  You retreat when your forces are being obliterated.  A “strategic retreat” is one you do to preserve yourself for another fight (“He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.”)  But sometimes you just run for your life.  Cannons to the left of you, cannons to the right of you, manure under your feet and bayonets coming at you.  No strategic about it, just run, dummy.

Spiritual retreats, honestly, are a little like that.  Living in this world is too much like Antietam and Gettysburg, to tell you the truth.  There’s foolishness and then there’s what we have now.  What can you do?  Burns says desertion, draft-dodging by the rich, protests, all of that happened then.  Lincoln was trying to get re-elected while the Confederate army kept coming into Maryland to kill him.  It’s hard to run a campaign in such times.

RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

So maybe I shouldn’t complain.  But this is a crazy time, too.  Just yesterday on the news, a man ate another man’s face, and it was reported that a Southern Baptist Leader announced a new coalition in which “Catholics and Southern Baptists have joined forces with Orthodox Jews and Mormons to oppose a ‘secular theocracy driven by a full-blown pagan understanding of human sexuality.’”  I don’t even know how you can HAVE a secular theocracy with no Theo.  And let’s not talk about the independent preacher in North Carolina and his electrified wall.   A school system in New York can’t fire a teacher who couldn’t get hired to pick up road kill for the county if she didn’t have tenure.  We don’t have civil war, but we don’t exactly have civil conversation either.

So, all in all, retreating is not so bad.  I still know too many people looking for work.  I want my grandbaby to have a decent job someday.  I want homeless people to sleep out of the rain, and I want everyone to pitch in and help make things better.  No one is asking me to sacrifice and telling me how.  No one is saying, “Even if I don’t get re-elected, let’s fix this deficit now.  Elections can wait.”  No one is saying, “that’s not news.  It’s stupid.  Get that off there and put something better on for us to talk about.”

Sound the retreat!

As I drove into lovely Cullman, Alabama for my “retreat,” I saw the most wonderful signs here and there.  They’re having an election, too, and a Judge Lust is running for re-election.  Try running a campaign against lust and see how it goes.  Another sign said, Unity Baptist Church.  Oxymoron?

One church had one of those changeable signs that must come with a book of clever clichés for preachers.  You know, PRAYER: WIRELESS ACCESS TO GOT WITH NO ROAMING FEE and THE FAMILY THAT PRAYS TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER and WALMART IS NOT THE ONLY SAVING PLACE. This one was pretty good.  It said, COME AS YOU ARE BUT BE PREPARED TO CHANGE EVERYTHING.  Yeah, I thought, I like that.

Then the best of all—obviously, I was lost by this time, having driven past my turnoff and into the country.  But it was worth it.  A glorious sign that said, “NORTH ALABAMA BULL EVALUATION CENTER.”  Hallelujah!  At last!

Alas, to my disappointment, it was about cattle.  I turned around and headed the other way. The next morning, I was sitting in the Abbey Church listening to monks chanting and praying for the world.  Not so bad.

RETREAT!  RUN AWAY!