Holy Week and Defining Moments

Some things just aren’t forgotten. Certain events, situations, or circumstances have such an impact on us that they are cosmic in scope. They become defining moments for us as individuals and as societies. These events are HUGE! These events become defining moments precisely because they hit each of us in personal visceral way. They may have affected everybody, but we know exactly where we were when they happened. Some of these events would have to include: Black Tuesday when the stock market crashed and started the Great Depression; the attack on Pearl Harbor that awakened the US to WWII; the bombing of Nagasaki that ended WWII but started nuclear anxiety; the assassination of JFK; the Shuttle explosions; Columbine; and, of course, 9/11.

Personal reaction is certainly a factor in measuring the scope of a disaster, but what makes the difference between a national crisis and something that isn’t is in the way the crisis transcends ethnicity and personal agendas. Crimes against humanity affect everyone. It should bother us all that the Holocaust happened and that racism still hounds people of color. Shouldn’t MLK’s death be included in the list of defining moments? Sensitivity to an event’s ripple effect makes one painfully aware that some things have not been taken as seriously as others.

For instance, Columbus Day celebrations for Italians mean something quite different to Native Americans. Defining moments for Native peoples might include the Trail of Tears, Chief Joseph’s capture, The Battle of the Little Big Horn, and the massacres at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 and February 28, 1973. The most infamous atrocity against Native Americans for United Methodists is the Sand Creek Massacre led by former Methodist minister, Col. John Chivington, on November 29, 1864.

So how do defining moments for Native Americans and others take on a larger cosmic dimension? There are some things that seem to affect only a few people but nonetheless are a crime against all of us. Is this awareness what separates a mere tragedy from a national or world tragedy? What makes for a defining moment is wrapped up in the extent of the event’s shock waves. In other words, if enough people feel the pain, we all feel it to a certain degree. Everybody, regardless of race, religion, or nationality, feels gut-punched when something like this happens. The broad emotional scope of certain events typically cuts across societal boundaries.

You may have seen the videotape done by the two brothers from France as the World Trade Center attack was unfolding. As the camera was moving down the street toward the tower complex did you notice the kaleidoscope of humanity? Different languages, different races, and different nationalities were united in fear and confusion. The war on terrorism reminds me of the movie, “Independence Day,” a patriotic sci-fi flick about all humanity, led, of course, by the USA, to seek common survival against extraterrestrial foes. It is chock full of the personal and cosmic dimensions of both pain and heroism.

True defining moments are both personal and cosmic. They dictate a personal and a common response. If individuals shirked their duty there would be no national or international resolve. Defining moments begin with individuals before they become group-think. If there were no brave individuals like Clarke Bynum fighting off a would-be hijacker, New York firefighters, or Flight 93 heroes willing to say, “Let’s roll!” then the world wouldn’t be as galvanized as it is against terrorism. Individuals cement common resolve that hopefully will expand last year’s Arab Spring to Syria, etc.

Palm Sunday was a solemn defining moment for fickle crowds that erupted into terrible cosmic consequences and the second most cosmic-impacting event happened on Good Friday, a day that was good for everyone but Jesus. The foremost defining moment, of course, is Easter! The disciples had to individually believe that Jesus was alive before Christianity had a chance to become a cosmos changing movement. Each of their individual defining moments snowballed into a salvific plan for the universe. My hope for Holy Week is that we will be so changed personally by Christ that the cosmos will yet feel its powerful impact. May this week be the defining moment for one and all!

Native American Ministries Sunday

This coming Saturday I will be attending our South Carolina Committee on Native American Ministries. I do have some good news to share: GCFA and the Connectional Funding Committee have agreed not to do away with all the Special Sundays with offerings. Why does this matter? First, we all know that the more local the ministry the better the connection to people’s hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. Second, there are only two Special Sunday offerings (Peace with Justice Sunday and Native American Ministries Sunday) where local church funds explicitly remain in the annual conference. Fifty percent of the funds raised provide for these valuable ministries on the local level.

This means that the offering for Native American Ministries should receive ample funding, right? Unfortunately, the answer is “wrong.” In South Carolina, for instance, 114 churches out of 1024 contributed to Native American Ministries Sunday. That amounts to 11.13% of the churches. That’s not good. The whole Southeastern Jurisdiction does poorly. Largest in percentage in descending order are Red Bird Missionary Conference, 76%; North Carolina, 26.96%; Florida, 11.78%; South Carolina, 11.13%; North Georgia, 10.26%; Virginia, 10.23%; South Georgia, 8.84%; Holston, 8.47%; Tennessee, 7.28%; Kentucky, 5.95%; Memphis, 4.94%; North Alabama, 1.86%; Western North Carolina, figures not available; Mississippi, figures not available; and Alabama-West Florida, figures not available.

The percentage of churches contributing only tells half the story. The South Carolina Annual Conference  only raised $6,892. The entire Southeastern Jurisdiction raised $64,156. The Northeastern Jurisdiction raised $69,655. The North Central Jurisdiction raised $95,920. The South Central Jurisdiction raised $69,655. The Western Jurisdiction raised $45,568. No matter how you add the numbers it strikes me that the places where the UMC is largest in numbers give proportionally less.

This is so sad. The reason we have Native American Ministries Sunday is so we can help those who need it. I have great fear that this year’s numbers will be worse because Native American Ministries Sunday fell on Mother’s Day. Of course, any Sunday is appropriate and we encourage churches to pick any Sunday during the year for Native American Ministries Sunday, but any time you have to pick an alternate date it can sometimes be like a “Snow Sunday.” The emphasis can lose traction and the money falls short.

Thankfully, I can vouch for the Native American Representatives in the Columbia District. They do a good job of interpreting the ministry of our C.O.N.A.M.  (Committee on Native American Ministries). Each year we have a wonderful training for Native American Representatives. It is excellent! I have promoted among our Cabinet the often overlooked paragraph in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Par. 654, which says every year at charge conference someone is to be elected to serve as a representative for Native American Ministries. The paragraph really should be in the 200 pars., which are all about the local church, but it is instead located in the 600’s which are all about the annual conference. Maybe we can get it right at General Conference 2012. People should know, without having to look all over the place in the Book of Discipline, that one of the officers required to be elected at charge conference is a Native American Representative.

No matter what we do, I sincerely hope that we will be advocates for American Indians. The statistics are staggering in terms of poverty, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism. The motto for the South Carolina Committee on Native American Ministries says it all about what we are called to do: “Making the Invisible Visible.”