Tag Archives: values

Words Matter

A huge snowstorm struck New England this past week, dumping 18″ of snow on the already 2 feet we already had on the ground. My brother, Dave, was visiting from California and arrived Tuesday evening, just before the flurries started to fly. He had come for a couple of days to visit with my parents who live about 3 miles from us. Of course, he got snowed in with us, so their visit was delayed by a day. The night he arrived, the two of us did stop at my parents, where he picked up their car, knowing mine would not be good in the snow and drove back to our house.

We finally got plowed out on Wednesday night, so the plan was to pick them up on Thursday morning to go out to breakfast. However, along the way Dave got delayed en route. As he left our house in my dad’s 1990 Buick, he came upon a car that had spun out, struck an underpass and with steam pouring from the engine lay in the middle of the road. A woman was standing stunned next to the car – in the middle of the road. Dave pulled over and encouraged her to step off the road. She was shaken, but okay, and had called the police. Dave said he’d wait with her until the police came. He called my dad telling him he was going to be late . . . “There was a car accident. I’m waiting for the police to come. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Simple words. For those on the scene, it would make perfect sense. But for my 86-year-old father, whose son from Berkeley, California was driving his car on snowy streets, those words meant something very different. Dave was in a car accident. Was he okay?  His car was totaled. He couldn’t afford repairs. Now what? He sat for an hour in a panic, not knowing what to do or what to think except imagine the unimaginable.

Of course, that was not the story. And Dave showed up with the Buick about an hour later without a scratch to find a very upset and shaken man. How words are used to convey a story matter. It’s important that the speaker is clear to the listener. And with an older person, talking slow, allowing for questions, and full explanations with as many details as needed are important.

In our national news this week we also heard about how words matter. Terms such as ‘civility’, ‘discourse’, ‘tone’, and ‘rhetoric’ have been all over the internet, talk shows, and radio following the horrific shoots in Tucson, Arizona. Conversations, whether it be a simple phone call about a car accident or discussing our views on health care or immigration, need to be spoken with the listener in mind. And when opinions differ, we need to respect the thoughts of the other person. We CAN agree to disagree.

Teaching Tolerance, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, posted connections to their lesson plans for helping teach children and youth how to respect and listen to one another.

Even Jon Stewart, one who often seems to bait conversations and poke fun at others, used his platform and audience to tone things down. President Obama said as much in his speech at the Arizona memorial service, offering us some avenues to follow.

Share his speech with your youth, in print and on video. Talk with them about the crucial role that free and reasoned speech plays in self-government, and in helping us to bridge the barriers between us.  From Teaching Tolerance, here’s one idea about how to proceed. Take this excerpt from the speech:

“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized—at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do—it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

Words can heal or wound, Obama said. Words can shed light or generate heat. (Remember the car accident and my dad?) We can think of other comparisons—do we speak to convince others or to understand them? Do we want speeches that inspire hope or fear? When we are speaking to others, what are our words REALLY saying?

Ask your students to work together to come up with different pairs of contrasting outcomes. They can use any of these prompts.

  • Words can . . . or . . .
  • We speak to others to . . . or . . .
  • We can hear . . . or . . .

In what other ways could you use this speech in your congregation or Christian education program? And can you plan to encourage a conversation about civil discourse?

Changing Times – a Future Trend?

For my parent’s generation, Sunday was the day to go to church and visit family.

Blue Laws were in existence – stores were closed and folks basically took the day off. It was a day families headed to church together for worship, education, fellowship, youth group and the Sunday night potluck supper.

Times have changed. There are lots of choices. And time is a commodity not to be wasted. There is much to do on that “free day” of the week that has now taken precedence over what  Ozzie & Harriet and the kids would do on Sunday.

In today’s world, many of us work at home, at the office, at the store on Sunday. Or, shopping at the Mall, and sports – attending and participating in Soccer, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Cheerleading, and yes, even Marching Band is a sport.  And don’t forget those who just want to sleep in – it’s been an exhausting week.

So what’s a church to do? How can we provide Christian education classes when those who do come are only willing to give 60 minutes (2 hours tops) to the Sunday morning ritual.

Worship is important and is at the heart of Christian formation. So providing opportunities for families to worship together should be a priority. After all, education is formation and “praying shapes believing.” Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin loosely translatable as the law of prayer is the law of belief).

I’ve noticed a new trend (which may be not-so-new in the South). Having education for all ages during the week! What a radical idea! This one just came through the news service: Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida bridges the gap between Sunday services and teaching youth that faith fellowship should be constant. In many communities I visit (again, in the South and Midwest – i.e. the Bible Belt), Wednesday nights are traditionally saved for church events. Schools and sports are not scheduled on these nights.

Here are some examples:

  • First United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas A Wednesday evening program providing food for the body and soul, Mid-Week Manna is an all-church Christian education program which meets September through December and January through April. F.R.O.G. and Tadpole, children’s activities, and meal service begin at 5:00 pm. Adult Christian education classes start at 6:00. Classes offering and instructors vary by semester. Many of the music groups are scheduled to rehearse on Wednesday evenings as well. Come find your place! For more information contact any clergy or ministry director.
  • Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Elwood, Nebraska. Midweek Christian Education meets Wednesday of every week from 6:30-8:00pm. Children ages 3 through high school are welcome to attend!
  • First Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida has Wednesday Evening Fellowship that begins with a congregational dinner at 5:30pm. At 6:30pm, Ages 4 – 5th grade gather for a variety of activities centered around faith in practice, Youth Fellowship meets and a Bible Study is held for adults. Once a month, all gather for Pot-Luck and Praise in which all gather together for singing.
  • Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Saint Charles, Illinois offers a special mid-week program for children in grades K through 5 called Adventure Club which works in close cooperation with the children’s choirs and follows a rotational format that explores a Bible lesson through drama, arts & crafts, study and games. This program is growing into an alternative to regular Sunday School classes for families with busy schedules and as an enrichment opportunity for students enrolled in Sunday School. It also features low cost healthy meals for children and families and after the meal time an opportunity for prayer, meditation and worship under candlelight in the sanctuary.
  • St. John’s Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina offers Wednesday Night Suppers and Formation. The evening begins with a 4:30pm Holy Eucharist and children’s music and rhythm classes, followed by Christian formation classes for all ages. A family supper begins at 6:00pm, with additional adult formation and youth bible study at 6:30pm. Choir practice is a 7:pm.

How might these ideas prompt you to change your church’s pattern of offering education?

Bullies and Intolerance

August 2010 may go down in history as one of the hottest summers in our lifetime.

It may also be remembered as when American society ratcheted up the rhetoric, intolerance, and hatred. Many have predicted polarizing extremes as being a driving force in the future. The Institute for the Future is one, and we can see how what were once “fringe” groups and opinions have now taken front-and-center. According to IFTF, “strong opinions will meet strong social networks to create intense feedback loops. We can already find, connect with, and collaborate with anyone who shares your beliefs – no matter how extreme you are. Dark innovation will thrive.”

The news services and blogosphere are full of stories of such polarities. And they are bringing out the worst in people:

  • The building of an Islamic Center in New York City (Not a mosque, and not at Ground Zero, but in the vicinity). Bishop Mark Sisk of New York shares his thoughts.
  • Court ruling on whether same gendered couples may marry (All are equal and loved in God’s eyes)
  • President Obama is a Muslim (False)
  • Illegal immigration and whether everyone born in the United States has the rights to be a US citizen (Isn’t that what the 14th Amendment of the Constitution states?)

What is the root of all this? I believe it is the increase of the Rich/Poor Gap as well as the growing diversity of our country. This gap has always been with us, but we are able to see images of each other and the issues that affect us more visibly due to technology and 24/7 news feeds. While new media provides new opportunities to organize for giving (such as the grassroots responses to recent natural disasters), new media also publicize economic differences vividly.  This triggers violence – not only physically, but verbally. And that’s what I believe we are experiencing this summer.

Those who have “power” and were once the dominant force in politics, religion and business (aka – Anglo-European Protestant men) are now seeing themselves as a “minority” which is threatening to their underlying assumptions that God is on their side. I believe it comes down to that – power and authority. Making the other seem less than human, so that one’s self-identity remains intact and in control.

I don’t listen to Glenn Beck, Fox News, or Sarah Palin. And I don’t follow the other extreme on the ‘left.’ I’m an adult – I can weed out the fiction from fact if I do some research. But what about our children? Bullying is at an all-time high in our society – could it be children are learning from our “national leaders”? What kind of role models do they find in sports, entertainment, political and religious leaders today?

Enough of a rant. My body temperature is rising. I’m going to get an iced tea and read Isaiah 1:17: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” and my Baptismal Covenant: “Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself” and “Striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.”

Here are some articles and resources to help put things in perspective:

Lastly, resources ADULTS need to pay attention to from Teaching Tolerance:

Getting Rid of the Junk

Yes, we’re having a Tag Sale.

It’s been 30+ years in the making – 2 children out of the nest, 2 sets of parents’ homes that were downsized, and stuff we had before we decided we needed an upgrade or a remodel. For the past several weeks we’ve been gathering random items and cleaning the basement, attic and storage unit (and it would seem other people’s storage space too). Why did we need all this stuff? Did we ever really “need” it? By saving it, we’ve only accumulated dust, rust, chips and cracks.

Some were kept for sentimental reasons. My grandmother’s rose-colored glass lamps (John always hated them, so we never used them). Wooden dollhouses from John’s mom that I always wanted to decorate (never happened). Then there’s the accumulated stuff. How many placemats does one need? No, my kids don’t want my first set of stoneware. Remember when trolls were all the rage?

Of course, we are hoping to make some money by selling all this stuff. My parents could use the extra income. My daughter could too. And oh yeah, we’ve got this wedding to plan (and pay for)!

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or – worse! – stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Matthew 6:19-21) The Message

This particular passage is heard every Ash Wednesday in the lectionary. Its context is Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota shares “The true value of monetary wealth, therefore, lies not in its power to accumulate possessions in pursuit of power and comfort. Wealth enables generosity, and a generous heart has its sights set on God. Jesus’ statement in verse 21 works in two ways. First, our use of wealth displays where our hearts reside. The uses to which we put money identify what our innermost selves care for most deeply. Second, our hearts can be made to follow where our treasure goes. When we invest in certain charitable causes and people, our hearts will expand to care for them more deeply. This means that a person need not wait until she or he can muster enough heartfelt concern for the needy before writing a check. Giving a gift, putting money toward uses that promote God’s vision of righteousness, may help a heart receive a taste of what God desires for the world.”

John and I are committed to living more simply. Not accumulating stuff. Practicing what we preach – or at least try harder. One great resource for guiding such a lifestyle is Alternatives for Simpler Living. We’ve followed their suggestions at Christmas and I think our daughter’s upcoming nuptials will glean ideas too.

God asks us to give up all our junk and to focus on a life center in the Way of Christ. Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly. (Micah 6:8). I hope our tag sale helps us get rid of more than the stuff now tagged and waiting in my garage for the 7AM rush.

I’m sure we’ll be giving away lots of this stuff. It is said that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. Let’s hope so. And let’s focus on God’s treasure above all else.

Resolving Conflicts

We hear about conflicts everyday.

All around the world various countries are engaged in war, political disputes and persecution due to religious beliefs. We hear about emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse on the news – in governments, corporations, and religious institutions. All of us are touched in some way by anger, whether it is our own or directed at us or someone we love. The key to addressing conflict is learning how to resolve issues of disagreement through problem solving, listening, and patience. And to learn these skills early and practice, practice, practice them.

How are we teaching these kind of skills to our children? The Search Institute offers some suggestions in “Parent Further” a website resource for families. Resolving Conflicts: An Introduction | ParentFurther.

What resources do you recommend for conflict resolution – for families and church settings? Please share your thoughts!