Thursday, April 16, 2015

The blog is dead...long live the blog!

I'm launching a new blog so I'm officially ending any effort to update his one.  Still interested in my thoughts?  Come read!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The beginning of goodbye

(first appeared in The Southwest Spirit)

It is with both excitement and sadness that I announce my resignation as pastor of Southwest Baptist Church.  I have accepted a call to become the next pastor of the Stony Creek Congregational Church in Branford, Connecticut.  Tara, Isaiah, and I will be moving to Connecticut in the next month; Tara and Isaiah’s last Sunday with Southwest Baptist will be August 24, while my final Sunday as pastor at SWBC will be September 7.

We are very excited about this next step in the journey in which God is leading us.  Tara has already accepted a teaching position – which is why she is leaving early – and we both feel God’s hand in this very different type of challenge.  We will treasure your well-wishes and prayers.

We are also very sad.  We have served with Southwest Baptist Church for 8 ½ years, though we can hardly believe it has been that long.  Our SWBC family has been a part of our starting our family; we have loved Southwest Baptist Church and you have loved us back.  Over these next several weeks, we will have multiple occasions to say goodbye and to reflect on wonderful days.  These will be difficult, but important, moments.

Finally, I want to take the first of several opportunities to share how much I believe in Southwest Baptist Church.  You are a wonderful people and I believe God has a plan for this church right here in south St. Louis.  One of the reasons this decision has been so hard for me is that I do believe in what God is doing and can do through Southwest Baptist in this community.  I’m genuinely hopeful of exciting days still to come at SWBC and it is difficult to know we will not get to be a part of them.

Please feel free to contact me over this next month, by email or phone, with questions or to just visit.  I will be working with the ministry team chairs, staff, and deacons to help the church be as ready as she can be for this new chapter.  I ask for prayer for our family as we prepare to transition and move further geographically than we ever dreamed we would.  Where God leads can be both exciting and scary – but the Spirit-led life is never dull.

Grace and peace,
Pastor James

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Value in Memory

Though a huge baseball fan, I’ve never been much of an autograph seeker.  I’m actually unsure as to why this is.  Somehow, the idea of meeting the players I watch and admire for their skill and determination always seemed like more of a thrill than having an autograph.  I’ve picked up a signed ball or two over the years, but rarely have I sought an autographed piece of memorabilia.

Those who specialize in such things tell us autographs and other collectibles which are rare are far more valuable than those which are more common.  That rare misprinted baseball card or comic book with a limited print run?  Those are the most valuable.  The antique tea set with a one-of-a-kind stamp on it?  A prized possession to be sure.

Only a few weeks ago, St. Louis and Donora, Pennsylvania, treasure Stan Musial passed away.  In a strictly objective sense, Stan’s autograph on various pieces of baseball souvenirs, most notably baseballs and photographs, is much less valuable than for most other great players.  Sure, the street value of these items have increased following his death, but only slightly.  This is because Stan was so incredibly generous with his signature.  He gave to any who would ask, and to many without their even asking.  This was especially true of children.  I do not know if Stan realized he was flooding the market for his own signature, but regardless, I doubt he would have cared.

The true irony comes in the many stories which have been told, in both television and print media, of the family heirlooms many Stan Musial autographs have become. These items may have varying degrees of resalable value, but such an assessment truly misses the point; not one of these family members ever described wanting to make a financial profit from these items.  They are too valuable right where they are, attached to a story about a handshake, smile, or good deed.

Stan’s autograph may never be a hot item on eBay, but we could all do worse than to have our memory treasured.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2nd Amendment Talk

Once again, we are hearing more about the 2nd amendment in the current debate on gun control.  I’m not a scholar on such matters, but it seems even a basic understanding of history is lost by so many.  I do believe the original intent of the second amendment was to allow the people, i.e. the average person, the right to arm himself (and in their world, it was only “himself”) against a tyrannical government.  In this I agree with many gun-rights advocates.  However, there are several important points to consider:

1)      Our government is still “We the People…”  It has been my experience that people throw around the “tyrannical” label to describe the government passing laws they don’t like.  (Democrats:  “Republicans are tyrants!”  Republicans:  “Democrats are tyrants!”)  I’m no more naïve about this than Lincoln was when he described our government as “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  When we step back and look at our nation’s history, we usually get the government we deserve – good and bad.

2)      If I’m wrong about #1, do we believe for a second that our ability to own firearms, of any type, would protect us against a tyrannical government with fighter jets, stealth bombers, armed drones, guided missiles, and nuclear weapons?  Now who is being naïve?  “Red Dawn” is just a movie.  Really.  I would suggest protecting ourselves adequately from a potential tyrant means more, today, than stockpiling weapons (Education, perhaps?).

3)      Those who wrote (and passed) the 2nd amendment could never have imagined the automatic and semi-automatic firearms we have today and the sheer volume of killing power they grant to those so armed.  Of course, they likely also could not have imagined a world where some human beings could not own other human beings.  Or where woman are citizens, who can vote and stuff.  Perhaps we should recognize we live a different world (thankfully) than our founders could have imagined and consider how we might honor the best of their intentions for a new day.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not for a blanket banning of guns or even for blindly moving forward with regulation without adequate research and study.  As the article I posted yesterday on Facebook suggests, what we really need to do is adequately study the success, or lack of success, of current gun laws, both in our country and other countries.  Unfortunately, the powerful pro-gun lobby has blocked even research into these questions.

Increasing regulation on gun ownership and use will not solve all of our violence problems in our country.  At best they are only one part of a larger discussion we need to be having.  However, refusing to even have a discussion of our options regarding guns and hiding behind the 2nd amendment in doing so is ridiculous.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Pujols Effect

Since I live in St. Louis, I suppose I knew this was coming.  On the day Albert Pujols signed his new contract, wherever he signed, St. Louis was going to explode with emotion.  If he were to sign with the Cardinals, it would be a day of celebration.  If not, it would be a day of bitterness and anger.  Unfortunately, it has proven to be latter rather than the former.

As I have listened to, read, and flinched from the various emotional reactions many in our fair city have publicly shared today, one particular feeling has been surfacing most often -- betrayal.  This seems to me to be wholly unfair.  Albert Pujols did for St. Louis what is almost unthinkable:  he played the first 11 seasons of his career at an MVP caliber level.  Let me be clear; I'm  not saying he has played like a hall-of-famer over his first 11 seasons (he has).  I'm saying he has contributed 11 consecutive MVP caliber seasons.  As a life-long baseball fan, such a feat seems to me to be almost entirely unfathomable.  Had I not witnessed much of it, I'd have trouble believing it.  To put it in perspective, here are some numbers from Aaron Gleeman at Hardballtalk:
Pujols was paid around $104 million for his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, during which time Fan Graphs calculates his overall value as being approximately $330 million.
And that’s regular season only, so the $330 million in value doesn’t even include Pujols hitting .330 with 18 homers and a 1.046 OPS in 74 postseason games while winning two World Series titles.
Those figures are based on Wins Above Replacement and the typical cost of acquiring players on the open market, so there’s certainly some room to quibble one way or another, ...[but] the Cardinals, while paying him handsomely for most of that time, also paid dramatically below market rates for more than a decade of Hall of Fame production.
Albert led the Cardinals to three (3) NL penants and two (2) World Series championships and made the Cardinal organization FAR more money than they ever considered paying him.  Yet the general sentiment seems to be that Albert abandoned his fans for more money -- that he should have given a "home town discount" to the Cardinals and stayed for less years and less guaranteed money.  This despite the fact that Pujols clearly took less than market value in his last contract extension with the Cards in 2004.  Still, many fans are furious he did not take $40-$70 million less (depending who you believe) from the Cardinals to stay.  Why not the fury at a franchise which is worth more and made more last year than the Angels?  I'm not suggesting the Cardinals owned it to Pujols to match the Angels, or even come close.  They made a choice, and so did Albert.

As it turns out, Pujols signed with the Angels for $20-$40 million less than the Miami Marlins were offering (never, in my life, did I believe I would write that phrase), so money must not have been his only motivation.  And for what it's worth, I think the Cardinals made the right call in not signing him to a contract which would have been paying him over $20 million per season into his 40s.  10-year contracts for players about to turn 32 aren't likely to turn out well (ask the Yankees about their current deal with A-Rod), and I have a feeling the Angels will regret this one, eventually if not anytime soon.

But Cards fans should not waste their time being bitter or feeling betrayed.  St. Louis owed Albert nothing more or less than it gave him -- support for 11 years.  Likewise, Albert owes St. Louis nothing more or less than what he gave us.  Truthfully, we received among the greatest 11 consecutive seasons in the history of the game and we got them at about 1/3 of the cost.  This bitterness is not fair or becoming for the self-proclaimed "baseball heaven."  As one who is also a fan of a couple of other teams in MLB (in addition to the Cardinals), I'd rather see that Cards fans are grateful for what they had and justifiably sad for what they've lost.

I get the sadness.  I cried when Tom Glavine (my favorite player) left the Braves and signed with the Mets after the 2002 season.  Look at it this way:  at least Albert Pujols didn't sign with the Cubs.

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our State's Embarrassing Situation

This post originally appears in the September 1 issue of "The Southwest Spirit."

In recent days and weeks, many of us have noticed the added press a particular ballot initiative has been receiving all across our state.  This initiative concerns efforts to tighten the restrictions on payday lending in the state of Missouri.  “Payday” loans are short term loans with very high interest rates and fees marketed as potential emergency stop-gaps to allow a person or family to cover an unexpected, emergency cost until the next “payday.” 

The Post-Dispatch, as well as the Kansas City Star and the Columbia News Tribune, have run multiple articles presenting the maneuvering of various political action committees on both sides of a current ballot initiative aimed at curbing abusive lending practices.  As we observe these actions, it can be difficult to discern exactly what is going on.  We will all need to be particularly diligent as more information comes to light.

However, there are several truths which are a part of this debate and not in dispute.  By any measure, Missouri has the most lenient and permissive regulations on payday lending of any state in the nation.  No state has a higher maximum cap on APR (annual percentage rate) than Missouri; currently, lenders in Missouri are allowed to charge interest rates up to 1,950%, in addition to other fees.  The average interest charged on payday loans last year was 444.61%.  No other state in our country allows such high rates on these loans – in fact, many states have caps at less than half of what Missouri allows.

It is also estimated that over 95% of these loans are actually eventually paid back, even with high interest rates and fees.  These are not individuals and families abusing any system. It means our state is allowing the most vulnerable to be victimized by an industry which targets the poor.  This is not a Republican or Democrat issue.  This is a moral issue, and our state should be embarrassed.

As Christians, we can not justify building an industry entirely on the backs of the working poor who find themselves in desperate situations.  The argument some payday lenders are making against reforming our regulations is that it will cripple a thriving and growing Missouri industry.  While this argument may be debatable, what we must ask ourselves is do we want an industry to thrive only by preying on the less-fortunate?

I hope you will join me in paying close attention to this important debate, both at the local and state level.  It is impossible for me to believe the Old Testament prophets or Jesus, both of whom spoke at length about maintaining justice for the poor, would support predatory lending practices.  The time may be upon us for Christians of good will to stand together to oppose these practices today.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Funeral First

This morning I traveled to Salem, MO, to officiate a funeral for a wonderful gentleman in our congregation, Mr. Tom Brown. As it so happens, this is the second time I've traveled to Salem to officiate a funeral, even though I've never been a pastor nor lived near Salem. Seven or eight years ago a family in my last church made a similar request of me -- would I be willing to travel to Salem, maybe 25 miles or so from Rolla and not near our church, for their loved one's funeral? In both cases, I was glad to help.

Following the funeral and grave site, after I led in a final, closing prayer, the funeral home director came forward for what is usually a "this concludes our services," or some such comment. Instead, he surprised me by saying, "He done right by y'all, didn't he? I think I could listen to him." He was, of course, offering his reflection on my words at the funeral and grave site.

Leaving aside how much easier a long, well-lived life like Tom's makes it on his pastor, it just struck me as odd that the director felt comfortable granting a commentary. Do the local pastor's receive similar reviews? If so, how would one feel if he or she received none (I'm going to assume he would be polite enough not to offer a negative review -- out-loud anyway :) ).

Regardless, it did make me smile. Small-town life is certainly different than city life. However off-guard he may have caught me, I suppose every pastor hopes those complimentary words he spoke are true: We are given the privilege of trying to "do right" by our families. Or at least the closest we can.

Grace and peace,

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