Monday, March 26, 2012

High Pressure Culture of Giving

Kim and I are receiving more and more phone calls from call centers asking for more of our money.  What is it about hearing in the background dozens of other conversations that immediately makes me want to zip tight my wallet?  And what is it about making a single donation to a charity that forever puts you on an email or call list?

We donated money last fall to a charity helping with the African famine because my brother in Ohio who is a pastor had asked.  Since then we receive weekly emails and some phone calls.  Last week after I listened to their pitch I explained the reason why we were on their list.  I stated that we give regularly to church and charities and do not want to give anymore to them.  I was calm and invited the woman to pass this feedback to the proper person in their organization.  What is irksome is that often people do not accept my response.  They are trained to keep us on the line and ask if we will give a lesser amount.

So why can’t I just interrupt such pitches so they can go on to the next person?  I cannot bring myself to hang up but I often feel like doing so.  Is this anything close to your experience?  How do you handle such calls? 

Finally, it makes me wonder how new people view our passing of the offering plates.  In this kind of high pressure giving culture how do we approach giving in church?  Some churches make a point of saying that new people are not asked to give.  What are your thoughts on this?

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Adventure in the Mountains

I started to title this piece "Misadventure" but changed my mind.  Last week my adult son, Jeremy, and I drove to Trapper Creek, north of Talkeetna, for some spring snowmachining.  The day was absolutely spectacular!  Sunny and warm with perfect snow conditions with Denali and Foraker summits highly visible.

We were 17 miles into the backcountry when Jeremy's steering shaft snapped.  There was no way he could drive the sled back to the truck.  So we faced our reality as best we could.  With a tow rope we worked together to manuever up and down the hills, across creeks, and through alders.  Jeremy had to constantly use his brake and throttle to keep the tow line taut.  I had to shift my body to counteract the forces when he would slide to the side.

We didn't panic.  We talked about and scouted the best route.  And after several hours we made it back to the truck...and ran out of gas!

The preacher in me is tempted to make some spiritual connection to God with this story.  But I leave that to you.  All I know is that a father and son shared the bond of a risky adventure in the amazing beauty of God's creation.

God really is good all the time!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Asking Good Questions

Perhaps I am becoming obsessed with the notion of asking really good questions.  But as I engage with pastors and lay leaders in our 29 churches and fellowships across Alaska I see over and over again the wisdom in this simple practice.

Questions arise in a myriad of places in my life, but one of the most fertile soils where they bloom is scripture and spiritual reading.  I am part of the two-year Academy for Missional Wisdom along with 6 other Alaskan lay and clergy persons.  In my reading for this week I was motivated to ask this question.  What if we as Church did not define ourselves as Church?  Rather, what would the implications be if we allowed those in our mission field to tell us whether or not we are being Church?

Wow!  Talk about giving up ourselves!  I am not certain that we should allow our identity to be totally determined by what others outside the church think of us.  But it is an intriguing question because it can shake up our view of who we are and our mission in the world.  One of the gifts of my not being part of a single congregation is the ability to see a bigger picture.  It can become easy for us to view the world through the lens of the Church.  Would our vision be any different if we viewed the world through the lens of God?

I believe that our work is God's work, not ours.  The grace of God is surely active in and through Church.  But it is also active in the lives of people apart from the Church.

So what answers would you be willing to hear if you asked people in your community to define your church?

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Equality for All People

​Whenever a human community faces a difficult decision we, as a United Methodist faith community, can look to our Social Principles for guidance.  The citizens of Anchorage are facing one of these decisions in the April election.  A grassroots group collected signatures to have this initiative placed on the ballot.  The  “One Anchorage Initiative” asks Anchorage voters “shall the current Municipal Code sections providing legal protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, physical disability, and mental disability be amended to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity?” 
​This is what our United Methodist Social Principles say about this issue under the section, Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation.
Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the
rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically
attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
Regardless of our personal views our church is clear that discrimination is unacceptable as people of faith.  

Grace and peace,