Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflecting on MLK Day

On days like today, on Facebook and many other outlets, we are reminded of the wisdom shared in the wonderful teaching of our country's greatest modern day prophet. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great theologian and advocate for the world's oppressed. It is easy to be captured by his charisma and powerful speaking ability; we shouldn't forget how brilliant and insightful he was as well. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from his writing and I learned another quotation I had not previously known.

"There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think." (MLK from "Strength to Love")

A former professor of mine from seminary reminded me of this quotation today. These words are an accurate, stinging indictment. I think the church culture can be particularly guilty of promoting an attitude of "easy answers" which don't actually mean anything. Empty platitudes, cliche riddled perspectives, and cute aphorisms rarely do much but reinforce a status quote of either injustice or apathy. Nothing replaces thoughtful examination and reflection.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." MLK

I wish I would have had this quotation available to me as I prepared yesterday's sermon. Among other illustrations, I used a portion of Dr. King's most famous speech as I chose the question "Why can't we dream?" as a driving force for my sermon. How can we look at the life of such a man and live with a pessimism or indifference which chokes our ability to dream?

I have truly enjoyed reading through the comments on Facebook and other blogs on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. His life continues to make a profound difference in the world.

Grace and peace,
James

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Pastors and Congregations, Part II

This post is a bit later than I had hoped - I've been pretty sick the last couple of days. Last week I commented on Bill Wilson's article 7 Things Your Pastor Wishes You Knew, But is Afraid to Tell You. Today I'll turn the tables and comment on Dr. Wilson's article Seven Things Church Members Wish Their Pastors Knew, But Are Afraid to Tell Them. (See last week's post for my introduction to this topic).

These are Dr. Wilson's "Seven Things," from Church members to their pastors:
  • My life is not easy. I need hope, help and healing most days. The idea that everyone you meet is leading a life of quiet desperation applies to the people in your pews more than you seem to know. Some days it is all I can do to show up and appear semi-coherent. When you ask me to serve on the reception committee without even bothering to ask about my troubled son, don't be surprised when I come up with a dozen excuses for declining. It's not because I'm not committed or don't love God. I just need you to see me and notice me and my pain.
  • Challenge me. Despite an over-full life, I crave being part of something bigger than I am. Some days it seems like you are more interested in playing it safe and drawing a paycheck than speaking boldly on behalf of the God of the universe. Please don't make the life of faith sound so trivial. By the way, please stop trying to make us all happy. It can't be done and it runs counter to the gospel. Besides, it will kill you and stunt my spiritual growth. Invite me to get out of my comfort zone and discover the abundance that Jesus talks about in John 10. Push me but always remember point No. 1.
  • Lighten up. The world will not end if we try something new and different. Your inflexibility is not congruent with what you tell us about God and his imagination and creativity. We'd like to get out of some of our ruts, and we need your leadership to help us think and act differently.
  • If I get to church, please do your part and see to it that things are done well. If I get out of bed on Sunday morning, dress the kids, pass up some quiet time with my spouse or come out on a rainy Monday night for a committee meeting, please see to it that you have done your part to be prepared, professional and organized. Nothing is as discouraging or frustrating as the feeling that ministers take for granted that people will just show up, no matter the quality of the program or event. Not true.
  • I'm less and less interested in rote faith. I'm more and more interested in dynamic, world-changing faith. Have you noticed that my eyes glaze over when you drone on about budgets, but light up when I have a chance to actually touch a life and impact the world? You should pay attention to that. Tell me more about the God who transforms life.
  • Get some therapy or coaching or something. This is not said out of pettiness, but out of genuine love for you. You have some blind spots and you are not perfect, so why not ask for help and guidance? You would do yourself, family and our church a huge favor by discovering or admitting your flaws and working on them. We see them but don't really know how to help you with them. Your authenticity is your walking testimony. Thank you for trying to narrow the gap between who you are in the pulpit and who you are in the aisle at the grocery.
  • I wish you listened more and talked less. Please, if you hear nothing else, hear this one.
I think everyone of these 7 are important words for pastors to hear, and it troubles me to think there are pastors serving congregations who are unaware of the first item. Being a pastor should first and foremost mean truly caring. However, each and every one of these are words I hear ringing true. What do you think? Does your pastor challenge you enough? Does your pastor listen enough?