Monday, May 31, 2010

Encounter with Bruce

Last week I attended the Anchorage Assembly as they dealt with the issue of homeless camps. Rev. Michael Burke, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage, is a good friend and articulate spokesperson for the homeless. He has the credibility of 20 years of visiting homeless persons around Anchorage. Several of his members do not have a place they call home.

At a recent forum on homelessness the leaders at St. Mary’s taught me that it is very important to be in relationship with the poor, to look them in the eye and speak their name.

Recently I was coming out of Fred Meyer with my lunch in hand, headed back to the office. A man approached me in the parking lot and asked me if I had 20 cents. I had become used to projecting my steel side that protected my wallet and I really did not have 20 cents in change and told him so. I was surprised that he did not follow up with another request. As I was securing my lunch in my motorcycle bags he was admiring my bike. I asked his name. “Bruce,” he said. “Hi Bruce. I’m Dave.” We chatted for a bit and then parted.

Okay, before I pat myself on the back for this response, let’s fast forward to later that night. I’m lying in bed trying to sleep when I heard God speak. “Why didn’t you ask Bruce if he was hungry? You could have given him your lunch.” I pounded the bed! Why didn’t I think of this?

I share this with you because I have much to learn about the poor. I have so many layers of white middle-class privilege that need to be peeled away. Being a Christ follower does not always make me comfortable. But facing up to the ways I have been shaped by my culture can help me see the humanity in another child of God.

So what barriers do you automatically erect in such circumstances? Friends, we really need to be in authentic relationship with all of God’s children. This is especially true for the poor.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Motorcycling to Moose Pass

I had the opportunity last weekend to preach at Moose Pass and Seward while Peter Perry was leading a family wedding in Nevada.  The sun was shining on Saturday afternoon in Anchorage and although it was cool (50 degrees) I decided to venture forth on my trusty Suzuki motorcycle.

I've driven the Seward highway hundreds of times over the past 18 years but never with the view afforded by a motorcycle.  It was spectacular and exhilerating!  Motorcyclists have created an award for those hardy souls who can ride long distances.  It's called the Iron Butt award.  I'm here to tell you that there is no iron in my butt.  I had to stop frequently along the way which was fine with me and my stiff body.  I tried to find Jim and Kay Shock's cabin near Moose Pass but couldn't find it and ended up on an ATV trail.  All part of the adventure!

In Seward John Dodson, interim pastor of St. John, was there to speak to a large group of Boy Scouts.  So he and I enjoyed dinner and hanging out together at the Seward parsonage.

Riding to Moose Pass early Sunday morning was quite the chilling experience.  It was great to see Rev. Chuck Young and the congregation there.  Back on my bike and I walked into the Seward church 2 minutes before 11.  People are not happy that Peter and Karen are leaving them but they understand our system and are looking forward to welcoming Paul and Patty Caseman.  Life is full of transitions.  One woman told me that she will look forward to visiting St. John when she travels to Anchorage.  I told her she could see if Peter was preaching any Seward sermon reruns!

Life and ministry in the Alaska conference continues to be full of adventure and joy because of our Pentecost God who fills us with Holy Spirit love!

May the Fire burn in your heart!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Worship at Turnagain UMC

I wanted to see the new energy and enthusiasm at Turnagain UMC for myself last Sunday. Pastor Dale Kelley came out of retirement last summer to Turnagain. She wasn't there very long having recently completed a year of interim pastoring at First Christian Church. Her interim period at TUMC is being extended for a second year as the congregation works to reestablish a stronger base to afford a full time pastor.

Since arriving last summer Turnagain's worship attendance has doubled. Nine new members were received since Christmas and many upgrades have happened to their building.

Some churches think that having a young pastor with a family is key to growing their church. Well, Pastor Dale is not (Sorry, Dale) young, nor does she bring a family other than dear friend and fellow church servant, Joan Flowers. So why is Turnagain UMC turning around? I encourage you to ask Dale. My answer in part has to do with the one question she asked when she arrived. When confronted with all the reasons why they could not do this or that ministry due to outside groups using their building she heard, "They've been here for a long time. We don't want to hurt their feelings." To this Dale asked over and over, "Is it the mission of this church to be in the landlord business or the disciple-making business?" It was this question that sparked a conversation in that church that eventually led them to gracefully exit a group or two that was part of the renewal at Turnagain.

Lay and clergy leaders. What ministries or events are you doing that may be taking energy away from our primary mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ?  Ask Dale to tell the story of Turnagain's turnaround. There just might be something in it that could be reproduced in your church.

Grace and peace,

Monday, May 10, 2010

Meeting with the Governor

Last Friday an ecumenical group of church leaders were invited to meet with the governor about the high rate of domestic violence offenses in Alaska. He wanted to hear from us about ways to address this serious problem. It was noted that this issue is present in both our rural villages, small towns, and big cities. He told us that if you were ride in an Anchorage police car for an evening that 60% of the calls would be related to domestic violence.

Our ecumenical group had met before and had created a religion map of Alaska which we presented to Governor Parnell. Truth be told it was my idea and Crystal's work. It lists every town or village in Alaska in table format with the number of denominations present. You can check it out by clicking on this link to our web site.

We agreed to do what we could apart from what state government is doing. We plan on creating a simple statement that reflects our scriptural principles about the dignity and respect of all people. We are in strong agreement with recent TV ads with the message that "Real Alaskans Choose Respect."

So I encourage pastors to consider preaching a sermon on this subject. You might post a help line number in your restrooms. Include those hurt by domestic violence in pastoral prayers. The sad truth is that there are people in our churches who are afraid to talk about this family secret. We feel that awareness is an important step in bringing the healing love of God to families in need.

Grace and peace,

Monday, May 3, 2010

Immigration Reform Rally

Last Saturday Kim and I participated in a rally in Anchorage designed to draw attention to the need for changes to our nation's immigration laws. It has been a long time, probably since high school, since I was cursed verbally and with hand gestures. I was taken aback by the anger of some passing drivers and wondered if they truly understood why we were there. Did they assume that we were advocating that we open our borders to let everyone into our country?

This event was sponsored by the nonprofit group, Reform Immigration for America, who believes that our immigration laws are broken and need fixing. All three of Alaska's federal legislators agree. Despite the naysayers it was encouraging to see the people who drove by honking and giving their thumbs up. To see more of what this group's principles go to

How do these principles match with our United Methodist Social Principles? Here's what our church says: ¶ 162 H) Rights of Immigrants — We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.

So I encourage all Alaska United Methodists to become aware of the issue and to let our legislators know that we need this to be our next national discussion. Please take some time to hear some of the stories of those who live in the shadows. Listening is one of the first things we learn about Jesus' ministry. It should be a primary component of our common ministry.

Grace and peace,