Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ever since the Roman Catholic Priest Sexual Abuse scandal broke a few years ago the topic of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy has been front and center. It has been the topic of books, articles, lectures, conversation, and jokes. We have speculated why sexual abuse at the hands of clergy happens and have come up with more questions than answers. The recent news of a well-known, well respected cleric being under investigation for sexual abuse and taking his own life and a Youth Minister from Lewiston, Maine sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy proves, once again:

1.Clergy sexual misconduct is not simply a problem for our Roman Catholic brothers and sister. At one point research was reporting that Protestant clergy sexual misconduct was as prevalent.

2. Clergy must take care of themselves by maintaining well-established boundaries.

Clergy sexual misconduct transcends denominational affiliation. We know very little about why people abuse other people except to say that there’s a high proportion of perpetrators who have been victims themselves. We know that sexual predators abuse over and over again. Abusers, more often than not, do not simply give up offending like someone might give up smoking or drinking. If I learned anything from my days spent working at a Rape Crisis Center, perpetrators don’t stop offending, they just get good at not getting caught again. There is room for redemption if the perpetrator takes proper steps, but that’s another blog for another time. For every victim that boldly comes forward there are countless others who suffer in silence because of the stigmas associated with being a victim of sexual misconduct.

Another important lesson that still rings true every time I read or hear a story of sexual abuse is that when that abuse is at the hands of clergy the issues are compounded. That the abuse is not merely at the hands of a trusted family member or friend but that the abuse is intimately connected to God. As clergy we represent something much larger than we are and much larger than the institutional church is. Often times when we walk into a room we walk in as a representative of the Divine, or as my friend KBW puts it, as an “Agent of God.” The collar, pulpit, and other symbols of the office give us, in some situations, especially with vulnerable people who are suffering, ultimate authority.

Authority like the kind yielded to us comes with ultimate responsibility. When we yield that responsibility we do more harm than good, thus violating founder of the Methodist movement, brother John Wesley’s first rule, “Do no harm.”

Clergy Sexual Misconduct happens for a lot of reasons, just like misconduct at the hands of anybody. That said, in large part, Clergy Sexual Misconduct happens because of a violation of boundaries. As leaders, charged with the care of God’s people, it is our job to set boundaries and uphold those boundaries. Innocently bending the rules, over time, can lead to misconduct of all kinds. Please read, it does not always lead to misconduct, but it can. Not taking time for one’s family, friends, and hobbies--life outside of “Rev. Soandso” or “Pastor Whatshisname.” It is easy to turn the work of the clergy into a way of life, never turning off the identity you claim as a member of the clergy with the rest of you. Disaster strikes when everything you are is interconnected with the people you are called to serve among.

I do not pretend to make excuses for clergy who violate the sacred covenant that God has made with all of creation and of which we are called to point to day in and day out as a sign that God loves the world so much that he sent His own son to live and work among us and who, in His death and resurrection delivered us from death to eternal life. I do acknowledge, however, that we are all human and as humans sin, we mar the covenant which God has made with us. We, though, hold out hope that we can turn back to God in repentance.

I believe we also have to look at the covenant which we all enter into as clergy, as well. In my denomination there is a covenant we agree to when we are licensed, commissioned, and/or ordained. This covenant includes a lot of things but the most basic message is that we will take care of one another, support one another, pray for one another, and hold each other accountable. Perhaps I am an eternal optimist or perhaps I put to much faith in ecumenism but I believe this covenant with one another transcends boundaries that have been drawn in generations past. So, part of me has to ask myself, “what could I have done differently to bear the light of Christ to these brothers who have violated the clergy covenant?”

Our response to these two cases and the plethora of other sexual misconduct cases perpetrated at the hands of clergy-people, should not be the easy one of simply writing them off, admonishing the good they have done, and turning our backs on them as if they no longer exist. Our response should be one of loving accountability. We cannot forget what they have done and need to speak the truth around the pain they have caused. We, their colleagues, need to be the first to remember they are human beings who have committed a sin, albeit a very large sin, but a sin nonetheless. I would be the last to give them the keys to another church or allow them to continue to hold the title “Reverend” but our covenant with each other and with God reminds us that God loves them and we are called to speak truth and hope to their pain and brokenness.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Why are you a Minister?" "The same reason I put pants on, seemed like a good idea."

I’m just back from the 2011 edition of the New England School of Congregational Development. I was reminded of a few things, learned a lot, and was inspired to put a lot of both into practice. Two of the most important things I was reminded of was: 1. Telling the story is important. 2. Consistency matters. As I sit to write this I find that the two are inextricably linked.

As a clergy-person, I’m often asked, “what was your call to ministry like?” Or, my favorite, “why did you decide to become a pastor?” The last person that asked me this was my doctor. My answer to her was, “the same reason I put pants on this seemed like a good idea.” Of course, the answer is a little more involved than that; and, it’s a story that I would be happy to share with you, if you’re willing to tell me why you serve God’s people in the way that you serve. Friday afternoon I was reminded of what my Evangelism professor used to tell us was the more important question, “why are you a Christian?” Margaret Feinberg, though I struggled with some of the content of her presentation, reminded me that the more important to question to answer is, ‘why are you a Christian?’ “Why do you follow Christ?”

I don’t believe this question deserves as flippant an answer and is, and should be, a key way we can call people into a deeper relationship with God. It’s true that people are drawn into a community because of something interesting or what they hear about that community but that surface introduction soon wears off and unless there is a purpose for that person to fulfill, they quickly loose interest and move on to the next group. Unless there’s a good reason why you and I are part of our congregations, or more importantly, why we are Christ-followers, the reason why someone should have a relationship with Christ goes out the window soon after flying in through the window.

I grew up in a home that it was expected that we attend worship, Sunday School, and Youth Fellowship every Sunday. We didn’t have much choice in the worship service we attended, either. This night owl was expected to be in the car by 7:30am, ready for the 30 minute drive from our home to the neighboring town, where the closest United Methodist Church was located. To deny any bribery on the part of my parents would be a lie. It would also be a lie if I didn’t admit to several loud protests on my part and on my sister’s part.

When I was old enough I was sent to summer camp. I hated it. If they gave such awards, I would have gotten the homesick award for sure. If it wasn’t for a certain Gary Marsh, I would have probably gone home early in the week. If Gary and my mother hadn’t schemed I would have gone home, but they sneakily schemed Sunday night and Gary vowed to get me through the week. The next year was fun and by the time I was in middle-school, a riveting rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and a few new friends later, I was hooked. Looking back, Mechuwana was the most influential part of my faith development and today I tell people that I believe in God and am a follower of Christ because of my experiences while I was a camper, staff person and volunteer. I learned what it meant to live with and love the unloveable. Those people who live hell-like lives but for a few days or a week they could be kids.

I remember about 8 years ago there was a camper who was from somewhere north of Augusta, Maine. He was prone to violence. Sunday night, while playing basketball, someone stole the ball from him. Instead of taking it back within the rules of the game, he popped the kid that stole the ball from him between the eyes and took the ball back. If this wasn’t enough, the next day he hit someone else, if memory serves me right it was one of his youth leaders. The point that my heart broke was when, after calling his mother, Norm informed me that “...his mother didn’t want him...”

After about an hour long car-ride we arrived in a dilapidated trailer park. I couldn’t believe, pulling into the drive way of the trailer in the back corner, that someone could live in the structure standing before us. The front steps were falling apart, but the floor of the mobile home made the front steps look like they were in great shape. I don’t know what has happened to that kid. I hope that the 48 hours he spent at Mechuwana changed his life in a positive way. He taught me some important lessons. He especially taught me that not everyone has what I had, something that I knew, intellectually, but until that moment never believed.

It wasn’t the experience itself, or the countless other experiences that inspired within me a deeper yearning for a relationship with God, but the relationships with people that already had those relationships and in turn encouraged me to ask the tough questions and wrestle with those hard issues of faith. Those issues that I still wrestle with and usually walk away with more questions than answers. The only thing that is for sure, that I still hold onto, is a lesson taught by a certain “Big Jullio,” that is God loves you, no matter what...A lesson that I try to impress upon the youth groups, widows groups, and other church groups that I get to work with today.

So, I’m a Christian because God loves you and God loves me and the way that I experience that love is through a Protestant Christian lens.

Take away number 2: Consistency matters. This lesson made it clear that I need to be better about updating my blog...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering a Saint, in His Own Right...

My grandfather died, unexpectedly on Thursday afternoon. I had both the honor and the awesome difficulty of co-officiating his funeral. What follows is the manuscript I have prepared over the past few days...

Ecclesiastes famous words, as Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania points out that “Calamity is the human’s true touchstone...” “Calamity, in other words,” Chittister writes, “lets loose the fire that tries the gold, the wind that tests the tree, the water that sweeps away everything in life that is not anchored, not grounded, not imbedded in the firmament of souls. Without calamity what shall we ever be and how shall we ever know it?”

There is no doubt that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. For Grampy, life was a party looking for a place to happen. Life was meant to be lived and experienced and wasn’t meant to be idly wasted. He managed to laugh about everything and celebrate the smallest of accomplishments, whether it was spotting an extra can along the side of the road, while coasting from the home he affectionately called the ‘little house on the praire’ to ‘the camp’ located on Monson Pond--a place he thought was heaven. Or whether it was a graduation of one of his grandchildren. When I graduated from high school, as each name was called, there were cheers. After my name was called there was this loud baritone voice bellowing from the third row calling, “YAAAAY Bubba!” a nickname assigned by my youngest sister, Alexandria, when she was learning to talk and couldn’t say ‘Jordan.’ A stunt that he was very proud of, and that caused the crowd to begin to laugh--and, I have to admit one that made an exciting event even more exciting. It was an event that highlights, in reflection, how important each day, no matter what came, each day was, in his death we are reminded once again how important each day is.

Whether you knew him well or not, you know Grampy loved to laugh. In every situation there was something to find that was humorous. He lived as though he was the most important person in the world, and indeed he was, at certain times, the most important person in the world to each of us. And, it was at those moments that we were all convinced that we were queens, princes, and princesses. That we were on top of the world. It wasn’t so much in the events and situations but the perspective on the situation. Grampy liked to tell stories, and still we are not sure exactly how true some of the stories were, but he enjoyed telling them and no matter how many times we heard them, we would continually be captivated by them. He would be wearing a piece of his costume jewelry, or at least I think it was costume--it could have easily been real, after all Grampy insisted that one of the diamonds would buy the maroon buick that he and grammy had or his pick up. When we were children, Grammy wanted a convertible to cruise around town in. In true Grampy fashion he bought a bright red convertible. Years passed and eventually they got busy with other things and the car was stored for a year or two. When I began undergraduate, I began at University of Maine at Presque Isle and would spend a lot of time with both grammy and grampy. I needed a car and got a job working at the video store and arcade that was in the mall in Presque Isle and set a goal to buy a car. He decided that he would sell the convertible to me-- for a fair price. I bought a bright red Dodge Shadow Convertible for one sales tax, of course. It was such a good deal that the seller, Grampy, registered and inspected it, too. Now, the purchase of this, my first car, lead to a few challenges. Not the least of which was that I learned to drive on an automatic and the convertible was a five speed. So, Grampy decided he was also going to enroll me in “Gordon Glew’s Driving Academy.” He had two lessons. 1) feel the rhythm of the engine and shift when it feels right. 2) when at the bottom of a very steep hill with a traffic light, under no circumstance are you to stop...even if the light is red. To teach me how to drive, he took me out to the end of the Sam Everett Road hopped out of the car and said, “see you at home!” and proceeded to walk home. Looking at the situation I had two choices...1) walk home, abandoning my ‘new car’ or 2) learn how to drive the car, without injuring myself or anyone else in the process. I still have a little whip lash...but I learned how to drive what Grampy affectionately referred to as the ‘limosine.’ 'A true testament to how he viewed life.

When I was even younger, Grampy decided that he and Larry McKinney, were going to take Dad and me on a fishing trip on Fish River. Dad and I were in one canoe and Larry and Grampy were in the other, both with small outboard motors. Grampy was seated in the bow of the boat, in a chair, legs stretched out and about a half of an inch of skin showing. Later that day the strip of skin that had been exposed to the hot sun and thick mosquitos proved to be bitten and burned. On top of the misfortune which seemed to cause him to need to milk the situation for all it's worth, it was hot...really, really hot. I had my bathing suit, so I decided I was going swimming and hopped in the river. Not long after, Grampy, who never swam--I’m pretty sure he didn’t know how to swim, dove in as well. I rushed out to snap a picture and he assured me, up until the last time I spoke with him that no body would believe that, that was him...because he thought it looked to much like a stump.

One, perhaps little known bit of information about Grampy, was that he LOVED to cook breakfast. When we would come to visit he would rise at 5:30am, make coffee and immediately begin cooking breakfast: pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and his infamous baked potato hash; a concoction only he knew how to prepare. The problem in this situation was two-fold. 1) you had to be up early. If you weren’t up by 6:30am, he’d open the door to the stairwell leading upstairs and start bellowing “rise and shine!” “It’s time to get up!” 2) you HAD to eat it.

There is certainly a time for everything. What I think Grampy would disagree with is that there is a certain time to love. Regardless of time and place it was always a time to love and to share that love by being generous. As is witnessed by his gift--or generous sale, if you work for the IRS, of the convertible.

We grieve...we have grieved as if there is no hope and as if there is much hope. The man, the myth, the legend, Gordon Glew has passed from this life to the next. On my 5 hour drive from Boothbay Harbor I talked with friends on the phone. The first friend I talked with, after telling her some stories, there was an extended silence. Then she said, “well, it sounds like your grandfather was upset that the world didn’t end on May 21st and so he had to go give Jesus a hard time.” Still, we grieve. We hold onto the good times, the times of collecting bottles, or buying red hot dogs at Irving, or even taking his grandchildren to buy a Sam’s Club cola for 35 cents and then going to McDonald’s for a hamburger...because it was cheaper. A couple of us thought we were criminals as we smuggled our contraband into the restaurant and quietly sat at the table.

We have been bruised and battered, the long road of declining health and the sudden death of Grampy have left us bruised and battered on the inside, some of us developing a hard calloused exterior--the last couple of days have been tough, very, very tough. There have been tears shed, arguments had, there has been uproarous laughter as we, as a family, have remembered “Brother, Husband, Dad, and Grampy.” Now is the time to grieve, to grieve ‘the man, the myth, the legend.’ In our grieving, we remember--we tell stories and speak of the great gift that we had in Grampy and the legacy he set in motion on March 1, 1930.
God did a good thing in the life of Grampy. As Alfred Lord Tennyson so eloquently wrote, “God touched him, and he slept.” After a lifetime of long, hard work, seldom complaining about the tasks which were set before him, he sleeps a well deserved sleep. Verse 15 of Ecclesiastes says, “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.” There is hope in the promise of everlasting life, of comfort, of rejoicing in the gift of the life of Grampy. A life that was well lived. On my drive north I saw a bumper stickers--there is a lot of truth in bumper stickers, so I tend to try to pay attention to them, when I can. It said, “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy Crap, what a ride!” I can guarantee that Grampy entered his eternal life skidding sideways, totally worn out, and shouting “YEEEEHAWWW, What a ride!”

The Obituary is here:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Movin' on up...

The proverbial wheels have begun turning and in exactly one month from today I will preach my final sermon as a clergy person of the Boothbay Region United Methodist Cooperative Parish, in the pulpit of First United Methodist Church of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. As I am preparing for this final Sunday, which happens to be Pentecost, I am simultaneously turning my thoughts to my new congregation, Sudbury United Methodist Church.

Moving is an occupational expectation as a United Methodist Minister. In fact, settled ministry, or the one church/one preacher model that we have become so comfortable with is a relatively new invention in the United Methodist system. In the early days of American Methodism circuit riders would be responsible for dozens of Methodist Societies and would ride from town to town preaching, supplementing the work of the laity and administering the sacraments.

I can’t say that I would like to move back to circuit riding, as much as I enjoy traveling and staying busy with 3 churches and having to share them with another pastor by swapping off each week I have found it difficult to create and maintain that deep relationship that a congregation and a pastor develops with every congregation.

This year has offered a lot of really great opportunities for learning both about myself and about the inter-workings of churches in a traditional fishing village on the coast of Maine. I’ve learned that congregations rarely care if you’ve carefully exegeted a particular passage of scripture, mostly because the word outside of the Academy is a strange, foreign one that needs careful explanation. They care if you’ve prepared well for Sunday morning, yes, but more importantly they care about whether God loves them and they really need to hear, from their preacher’s lips, that God does love them.

I’ve learned that it is easy to get bogged down with budgets and financial issues and that those things can scare even the greatest of people. We live in a time that is not friendly to the local church. People are leaving in droves, the majority of churches in Maine are facing hard decisions about who they employ and what ministries they continue to support. When we focus solely on our budget and the amount that is being put in the offering plate on Sunday morning, we forget why we exist. We forget that the church exists to glorify God and proclaim that Christ is risen! Yet, that is difficult to do when a congregation is worried about whether they are going to be able to pay their pastor, organist, or secretary that week. Further, it is difficult to ‘deny [ourselves], take up [our crosses] and follow [Christ]’ when we focus on our money problems by holding on tight to what little we do have instead of giving it away so that others may share in the abundance of God’s blessings. If, instead of wallowing in our own problems of not enough we as the question, ‘what is it that this community needs that God is calling us to provide?’ we begin to share the good news and in ways that not only feeds those who have not heard the Word before but also feeds the disciples who are serving.

Finally, I’ve learned the important words of the prophet Micah, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God...” (Micah 6:8) The prophetic vision of justice is one that can’t be laid aside if we are to be actively engaged in the ministry which God is calling us to. Instead the church must be on the front lines of justice and in the face of injustice proclaiming God’s love for everyone--that all people, no matter what, are the recipients of God’s love. That unless we are willing to march with union workers, fight for just healthcare coverage, and stand up and protect migrant workers we are not doing our job. What’s more, I have learned that to do so is to take a risk. That risk will make your heart pound, will make your body shake, and if the weather is cold enough threaten frost bite; but, it is the church’s calling to stand in solidarity with the oppressed when rights are threatened. It is the pastor’s responsibility to connect the church to the front lines in a way that does not push aside those who disagrees with the cause, but invites them into the conversation and makes the church a wellspring of conversation and debate, allowing people to speak their mind lovingly, to worship and pray together, and then take to the world their theologically sound interpretation of the issues and causes.

As I pack boxes and separate out stuff that will go to the thrift shop and stuff that will move with me the Sudbury, I can’t help but thank God for, what Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver describe as, ‘this odd and wondrous calling.’

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Where we've been and where we're headed...

Every morning when I sit behind my desk, hunching over my laptop computer, behind a stack of books and paper which undoubtedly includes a sheet of paper with a long to-do list, I thank God that I can do what I love, though it is often overwhelming. Every time the phone rings and at the other end is someone that needs to talk, needs help with something, or needs to reconfirm a meeting I thank God for the opportunity to serve them in that manner. And late Saturday night, as I am putting the finishing touches on Sunday morning’s sermon, I am glad to say that I love my job.
There are many other reasons I love my job--I get to meet really incredible people, I get to hold a dying persons hand and five minutes later hold a new born baby. The road to get here was not easy. As a child I was diagnosed with a learning disability and if it was not for good, dedicated teachers, a school psychologist, and two dedicated parents I would not have graduated from high school. When I got to high school, if it had not been for dedicated teachers I would not have had the opportunity to explore areas of interest, like Maine politics, music, and geography; among the plethora of other mandatory courses like Algebra, Chemistry, and Biology. If it was not for hardworking, dedicated, unionized teachers I would not have had the opportunity to receive a Bachelor of Arts from one of our state’s fine public universities. Further, if it was not for the hard working, dedicated professors at that public university I would not of have the opportunity to sit where I do today, working in a profession I love.
There is more to the story, though. I am the son of a man who grew up in a potato farming family in Aroostook county and a woman who grew up the daughter of a unionized railroad engineer. My mother and father instilled the value of hard work at a young age. When my father’s potato house burned to the ground in the mid-1980’s we moved from the tiny northern Maine town to southern Maine, where my father was able to procure a union job at a local company. I remember, as a child, watching him work long, arduous hours. To say he loved every position he held at that institution would be exaggerating. I am sure if I were to ask him he would not waist anytime identifying at least one position he disliked in the 20 years he worked for that company.
Today, both of my parents work in a factory. Both of them, like many of the people of the state of Maine, work hard and depend on certain rights that were won after long, hard fights throughout history. The story of how those rights came to be is a powerful one and one that is as important as the story of the woman at the well in the Gospel of John or the story of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke; because, the story is ours. It is a story of strikes, marches, and people willing to risk everything to gain very little. It is a story of women’s right to vote, to work, to be paid a wage equal to their male counterparts. It is a story of Franco-American factory workers finding solidarity and standing up for better working conditions in the mills of Lewiston-Auburn. It is the story of a woman, who became the first woman to hold a senior cabinet position in the United States, another woman who later became the first woman to serve in the United States Congress.
The recent removal of the mural that once hung in the Department of Labor offices is more than a Governor over reaching the power of his office to exploit Maine people, or offering ill-taste in redecorating a public office, it is an attempt to erase our story--the story of teachers, steel-workers, fire-people, police officers, and so many other public servants on whose back this great state has grown. It is an attempt to erase the story of so many students who have struggled and of good teachers who were there to encourage, give tools to succeed, and to open doorways that some never knew existed.
My forth grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, showed me that I could do anything if I set my mind to it, which was often a difficult lesson learned. Her strict manner left little room to waste time. She also taught me, whether she realized it or not, to recognize the urgency in some matters, that hard work is a blessing, and that you should never give up. The people of the state of Maine are at a cross-road: we either compromise our scruples and unconcernedly accept a tyrannical erasing of our story and exploitation of all we have, or we stand up for what is good and right, holding on to our story as hard-working, independent Mainers.
It would not be appropriate for me to jump on my soapbox without, of course, offering some sort of biblical citation with which to arm all readers of this, my humble opinion. If you attend a church or make a habit of reading the revised common lectionary the readings for the last two weeks and the next few weeks highlight the importance of looking at where we have come from to determine where it is God is calling us to go. The Samaritan Woman at the well, in John 4:5-42, not only is asked to analyze where she had come from, but to go back to where she came from before following Jesus’ teachings. If we are to effectively progress, we must be reminded of where we came from, from time to time. The mural that once hung in the office of the Department of Labor was, no is, a reminder of our past and in being so, is a celebration of what we can once again accomplish.