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For me, the past weekend was a time of family celebrations and road-tripping across Washington. Thus, I was only briefly aware of the murders in Orlando, and haven’t had time to sit with the reality of it until today.

Because I was away, I was didn’t have the responsibility in worship yesterday morning to put it all together, do instant theology, make quick sense. I didn’t have opportunity to write post a statement on Facebook, or to read more than a very few. I watched very little news. I’m blessed to have been prevented from rushing to righteous anger and self-righteous posturing. (My anger and posturing are mellowed 36 hours to perfection?)

But more than ever, I am feeling the emptiness of those pat statements we make, things like “Our thoughts and prayers are with … .” Especially the statements by politicians, but also by preachers, and other partners in faith communities. (more…)

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After Easter

“After Easter.”

That’s my response, all the way through Lent, to almost any request that I do, or even think about doing, something new.

Anna Smith Children's Park - Beach Path

Lent and Holy Week and Easter are stressful, for pastors.* The ongoing administrative and programmatic events of a church don’t usually shut down for Lent, but additional elements are added. It all culminates in Holy Week, when the number of worship services to prepare trebles or quadruples, without trebling or quadrupling the amount of available preparation time. To make matters worse, of course, Easter is a high-expectations Sunday: expecting maximum attendance, maximum quality, all while participating in not simply the two usual services, but a Sunrise service, a between-services brunch, and something to do with children, eggs, and candy.

And it’s not easy preaching Easter. It’s a challenge to proclaim the Resurrection to a congregation who, for the most part, skipped the crucifixion. (Not to mention that many of those also skipped every other gospel proclamation since “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.”)

So, with these seasonal tasks on short deadline … and of course, the normal but random assortment of pastoral & personal crises, memorial services, marriages, and beyond-the-church events as well … whenever an idea comes up for doing something really, utterly wonderful, creative, transformative, I’m liable to say, with all earnestness and honesty, “After Easter.” When I say it, I mean it.

You do NOT want to know how many reminders I’ve set on my smartphone, for the Tuesday after Easter. And you really don’t want to know how many times I’ve said, to others or to myself, “After Easter,” but not written it down. Or not written it down anywhere I can find. Or I’ve written it so cryptically that I can’t possibly figure it out (“DP. ord. smtlr” on a post-it is not really useful by the time After Easter rolls around!).

If you’re one of the people to whom I said, “After Easter,” … please be good enough to touch base with me, to remind me (compassionately, patiently!) that I said I’d get to it.

But please, do it after Easter.

Love,

Wes


 

* A clergy version of the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory pegs Lent/Easter as twice as stressful as Christmas, and more stressful than moving to a new home.

 

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A while back, I received several emailed copies of a chain-letter from several friends, church members, even pastors.

I’ve been in pastoral ministry for thirty-five years. From the very beginning, chain-letters have been a serious problem to the effectiveness of the Church’s witness in the world. They used to be on paper. Now they’re email, or on FaceBook, or … who knows what’s next?

In the old days, it was the repeatedly received mimeographed, xeroxed, copy-of-a-copy letter on paper, bearing an urgent concern about saving religious broadcasting from Madalyn Murry O’Hair’s non-existent attempt to ban it. It spread at the speed of snail-mail. It did damage. Even in the pre-WWW days, the Federal Communications Commission had to hire staff members simply to respond to the counter-petitions and irate phone calls from concerned, gullible Christians. And it made Christians as a whole seem stupid. (And I received that very chain-letter, updated slightly, within the past 10 years, in email.)

With the growth of the internet, the speed of the spread of chain-letters has simply exploded. No more postage costs, no time delay between send and re-send. Whoosh! “See how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” was James’ exclamation about the spread of gossip and rumors by word-of-mouth. James had no idea how bad it could become, once we got the internet!

The recent email was partly true, partly lies, and a decade old (so that even the true parts were seriously misleading). It is still out there doing harm. Well-meaning people forward things without reading them fully and checking the factuality of the whole thing.

I believe this: if we wish to be effective Christian witnesses in the world, we will need to be “wise as serpents,” not just “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In the “World Wild Web,” this means we should have a healthy caution. We should check out what we read before we even begin to believe it, and we definitely should investigate it before we forward it to others.

It can be harmful to spread stories that are false – or (sometimes more damaging) partly false. It can make people angry (as this email was designed to do by its original compiler, back in 2006).

It can be harmful to others, and to those of us who spread the stories.

It can be harmful to Christ’s church. Like the kid who cried “Wolf!” too often, Christians will be ignored when we tell the truth, if we get a reputation for passing untrustworthy information. When Christians spread falsehood, we damage not only our own Christian witness, but that of all Christians.

I have three simple requests for you who are my church members and my friends (those of you who don’t know me, and especially if I’m not in your email list, you can take it or leave it as you see fit):

  1. Please, please, when you receive an email that suggests you pass it on, check it out before you believe it. Asking you to pass an email on to your email list or your friends is a BIG RED FLAG, whether it’s about news or religion or the supposedly latest computer virus. CHECK IT OUT BEFORE YOU BELIEVE IT. EVERY TIME. How do you check it out? My first source is often the http://www.snopes.com website. (By the way, if the chain-mail says “It’s true: I checked it out on Snopes.com,” that’s also a big red flag. CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF.) If it’s about a supposed computer virus, I check it out at my anti-virus software’s website, too. I can also do a Bing or Google search for a couple key terms in the questionable chain letter. Sometimes a check of the news will help. It does damage to you, to automatically believe what is not true.
  2. ESPECIALLY, please, please, please, CHECK IT OUT BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO PASS A CHAIN-EMAIL ON, EVERY TIME. Even if you choose to believe without checking, you do not want to harm your effectiveness and public trustworthiness, and you have a responsibility not to harm the effectiveness & public trustworthiness of the rest of the Church. It does damage to your friends, and to your relationship to them, to pass on to them what is not true.
  3. It’s a good idea to learn to use “BCC” to send bulk emails. That way, your recipients’ email addresses aren’t forwarded all over the internet to people they don’t know. It keeps them safer from spammers and hackers, and the accidental responder to the email who hits “reply to all.” You harm your friends, if your email to them – and to all – spreads their email address to people with whom they did not choose to share it.

These are common sense, common courtesy, and grounded in the Gospel.

In peace,

Wes

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Frederick Buechner said that your vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.

Vocation – with the same root as “voice” – is about a person’s calling, and the concept that God, the mystery at the heart of all creation, calls and invites you to take on some of God’s mission for the world.

It’s not always about hearing voices.

(more…)

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Dear sisters and brothers!

The controversy spurred by Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins, is continuing, in some Christian circles. I haven’t read it yet, but the argument it started is less about the book than about the simple question of whether a Christian (and especially a pastor) is required to believe in hell, or not.


The flap has spun out into United Methodist circles as seminarian & student pastor Chad Holtz was removed from the pastorate of his North Carolina parish after writing that he doesn’t believe in hell. I don’t know Chad’s future with the United Methodist Church, but I know he has a pastor’s heart and a keen mind; in my opinion, he’d be a better pastor than most of us of any denomination.

About believing in hell: “believe in” is a funny phrase, isn’t it?

  • Sometimes “I believe in” means “I believe that something exists.” I believe in the rubber-band on my desk. I believe it exists. That is a very, very trivial belief. Some people “believe in” God that way: they believe that God exists, but this belief doesn’t make any significant difference in their lives. That is also a relatively trivial belief. (The Epistle of James says even devils believe that God exists!)
  • And sometimes, “I believe in” means “I trust my life to.” This kind of believing has a more familiar name, Faith. This is Christian belief. It’s not about believing a doctrine, it’s not about believing that something exists or doesn’t exist, it’s about trusting in the object of your belief – for Christians, trusting God – with your life.

“So, pastor Wes, do you believe in hell?”

No. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Church. I believe in the indwelling spirit and image of God in every person living. I believe in you.

Love,

Wes

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