Saturday, June 04, 2005

the ministry is never boring

A weekend in June, this time of year, brings with it a number of thoughts, plans, activities for me and for our family. Our older daughter is spending seven weeks in Singapore, in a summer immersion experience through Chapel Hill. You can learn more about it by clicking the UNC Study Abroad Singapore link to the right, under "important places". That Rumsfeld is there now, speaking about China, is not a comfortable thought to me. I am not a fan of Donald Rumsfeld. But that is a matter that it is not helpful for me to pursue. I place it under the category of the "Serenity Prayer", and "the things I cannot change".

Anyway, our daughter is in Singapore, and the National University of Singapore, and she loves it, wants to go back already, sometime later, although she is still there, now. She has quite a facility with asian languages, and a keen interest in those wife and I cannot figure where this all came from in the gene pool, as we both grew up in medium size cities in the deep south, where a multi-cultural experience was ordering spaghetti at Shoney's.

Our daughter tells me that it is really, really hot there, in Singapore. She mentions this every time we speak.

The weekend really started on Friday morning, for me, trying to finish a sermon on the absolutely amazing verse of scripture, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9). It so happened that I had a conversation with a woman who is taking a break from our church because she is exploring some questions about her faith, and she had been led to believe, by someone, that even asking the questions was not a Christian thing to do. That conversation has shaped some of what will be in the sermon, and the sermon will be on the PUMC website sometime next week.

Then I drove to the Islamic Center of Charlotte. It is a very plain campus, was once some kind of church, you enter it through gates at the end of street over Central Avenue. I had been invited to be there by a leader of the Islamic Center, to appear at a press conference related to a couple of acts of intolerance that have occurred in our community over the past few months. There were maybe eight of us on the panel, including Rabbi Murray (whom I had not met-- I have met Rabbi Judy). Rabbi Murray knows my good friend Rabbi Mel, who i got to know in the Princeton Seminary Doctor of Ministry program. Rabbi Mel must be one of the two most interesting clergy I have ever known (the other being my friend Skip in Jacksonville). Anyway, Rabbi Mel is now somewhere near Miami. Maybe they all end up in Florida, but that's is beside the point.

Several reporters and camera operators were there, which always makes me nervous, as I have a stereotype that media are only interested in religion if there is some sexual angle to it---homosexual unions, priest abuse of children, televangelist affairs---you get the point. But no, they seemed to be there to cover this press conference. My remarks were focused on a few areas: Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, calls his disciples to be peacemakers (Matthew 5); in the same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us to treat others as we wish to be treated (Matthew 7). For example, in the US Christians are a majority and Muslims are a minority (less than 1%). But there are countries in the world where Muslims are the majority and Christians the minority (such as Indonesia or the Sudan). I would hope that the Christians in those countries would be treated with respect, and that the Bible would be revered. Should we not do the same for our Muslim friends here?

I also remarked that none of the three traditions---Christianity, Judaism, Islam---would want to be judged by the actions of our worst representatives. And I spoke about the unfortunate link between each of our traditions and violence.

Rabbi Murray spoke, the two Muslim speakers did as well, Leighton Ford did, quoting my favorite Will Campbell story from Brother To a Dragonfly.

Then on to lunch with a number of our senior adult members; then an important planning meeting related to a capital campaign we are about to embark upon; then a wedding rehearsal; then a party for a wonderful family whose son is graduating from high school.

That was yesterday. Today began with
breakfast, a group coming together to seek common ground about a matter in our local church. My wife went yard-sailing this morning, which she must have thoroughly enjoyed. Then more work on the sermon, which is coming together, slowly. My wife, daughter and I then had lunch at a middle-eastern restaurant that serves one of the best salads I have tasted. The wedding and reception await. My younger daughter is an acolyte in the wedding, which is a delight. I will probably look at the sermon later today, and then probably even again early in the morning.

The more I look at the sermon, the more stuff I am inclined to cut. Members of the church appreciate this, they tell me. I realize some things just don't need to be said, or they don't strengthen the point, or they can wait for another day. Sundays come along, one preacher has noted, with amazing regularity.

Parish ministry is not often so interesting as it is just about now, the activities not always so diverse, but more often than not it is. It is never boring.


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