Bugs, Windshields, and World Communion

The Bug Pit with John

Mary Chapin Carpenter is one of my favorite songwriters and performers. She has great lyrics and is a superb musician. One of her songs, and, of course, one I can’t remember right now, says that we all have days when we feel either like the bug or the windshield. Yesterday was one of those days for me. Every now and then I feel like checking my teeth to see if there’s a bug stuck in there. I have brushed them over and over again so I’m pretty sure I’m safe, but I’ve thought about what happened yesterday a lot.

Word of caution: This isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. We had a meeting yesterday and several of us afterwards went to a local restaurant for fellowship and a nice meal. Well, all was fine until I had finished half my salad and there it was: a living crawling fly underneath a bit of salad dressing. That has never ever happened to me in a restaurant. They brought me another salad and with more than a little trepidation I ate it. Then our entrees were brought out. Guess what? One of our group got a steak and there were two hairs mixed in the au jus. Two different people at the same table with two horrible incidents was enough to finish off our appetites and get all 4 of us a free meal. The manager said in his 30 years this had never happened. Lucky us!

We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I thought to myself and said it out loud, too, “It will be a long time, if ever, before I come back to this place!” Then as I have pondered this over the course of this day I have become grateful. We did have food to eat and there are those right now who have nothing. In Nicaragua a few weeks ago I didn’t get freaked out as we ministered in the trash dump or when the bugs attacked us like fresh meat while we were digging the medical incinerator at the clinic. How fortunate I’ve been to live in a country that is so blessed, and to have a job that gives me the resources to even eat in a restaurant. When you’re hungry and thirsty your cleanliness standards don’t much matter. It’s called survival.

For many in the world the US is the windshield upon which everybody else has gone splat! Most Americans consume so much more than anyone else on the planet. We are gluttons of natural resources. I know we have our own poverty-stricken people right here at home, and we must do something in the name of Christ to help! I’m going to keep doing my part and I’m going to pray for forgiveness for getting freaked out by a fly and a couple of hairs. I should be more freaked out by the millions who are hungry and would have gladly eaten every morsel last night. I guess I’m saying I would rather be the bug than the windshield when it comes to being victim or victimizer. I’m not trying to bash America, and I’m going to be more vigilant about checking out restaurant’s ratings when I walk in the door. Better yet I’m going to think and pray about and give to those people here and abroad who don’t have government regs about sanitation or don’t even have a choice about where or what they eat. World Communion Sunday isn’t the same everywhere, and I’m convicted to do something about it.

Radical Love

Little Boy at Clinic

I’ve been reading David Platt’s book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. In the context of having just gotten back from impoverished Nicaragua, this book has me really thinking about the US, our hedonism, and maybe, just maybe, the obsession with metrics in United Methodism.  How much does our desire to be big in numbers align with Jesus?

 Jesus was a small church pastor not a mega-church one! He pushed people into radical discipleship by making it difficult to be a follower, not easy. Remember Jesus’ words about “Foxes have holes… but the Son of Man has no place…” or “Take up a cross and follow me.” Church history tells us that for the first 400 years of the Church, an average of 1,000 Christians died every day for the faith. That is staggering!

 Jesus, no doubt, ran off a few more people when he said things like “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor,” or “Eat my body and drink my blood.” Wow! Think how these phrases translate in our modern US context. Sell what you have and give it away, and Bite Me! It’s like what David Platt heard from his preaching professor, “Tonight my goal is to talk you out of following Jesus.” It is a scary thing to actually follow Jesus Christ. It is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart.

 Think about this event from John Wesley’s life: “He had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she only had a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: “Will Thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?’”

 What did Wesley do? He figured out how much he could live on without extravagance. When his income passed that level he gave the rest away. At one point Wesley was making over $160,000 a year in today’s dollars but he was living off the equivalent of $20,000. Amazing! How different would the world be if we did the same thing? How different would Nicaragua be? How different would the US be? Sounds radical and sounds like Jesus to me!

A History Lesson on Love

Taking a Bite Out of the Crime of Poverty

It’s been 5 days since I came back to the US after a mission trip in Nicaragua. We stayed in Ciudad Sandino outside of Managua. We dug trenches, medical incinerator holes, made pavers, laid pavers, worked with children at the trash dump, worked in a clinic at Nuevo Vida and on top of a mountain named El Porvenir. I am still sore from swinging a pickaxe and keep waking up at night thinking I’m still in Nica! What a trip! I’ve been on mission and church trips to Bulgaria, the West End of Grand Bahama, the Philippines, and Mozambique, but Nica’s poverty is the worst and it’s so close to the US.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in the western hemisphere with neighboring Honduras a close second. The sad thing is how the US caused and perpetuated some of the poverty. US Marines occupied the country from 1909 to 1933 and about the only good thing they brought with them was baseball, the national sport. Gen. Sandino led an insurrection against the US that was successful but then he was assassinated by a right-winger that the US supported, Samoza, who took over and his rule was continued by his son and grandson for nearly 50 years. His downfall was sealed after the 1972 earthquake that destroyed 90% of Managua. Not only were the poor neglected but Samoza also neglected to prop up his fat cat friends with immediate action to restore infrastructure needs for big business.

Then Daniel Ortega and the FSLN came on the scene. FSLN stands for the Sandinista Front for National Liberation. Revolution gripped the country and the good old USA supported right wingers or “Contra’s” with weapons and mercenaries. Reagan said if Nicaragua went communist they could be in Texas in 48 hours. Lots of luck. The roads aren’t that good! Remember the movie “Red Dawn” with Patrick Swayze? Nothing but propaganda. Iran-Contra ring a bell? What’s with the USA casting aside our own revolutionary beginnings to prop up right wingers and try to control people outside the US as a way of protecting people within the US? I know one problem and it’s popping up right now in Nicaragua. When you trade in one set of fat cats, you usually get another set. The Sandinista’s, named for Sandino of the 1930’s, brought great reform to the country, but now Ortega and the FSLN want to change the constitution with upcoming elections to allow Daniel Ortega to run for more terms than are allowed. Sound familiar? Power begets power and the love of power once again seeks to trump the power of love.

Someone once asked another person what is the difference between capitalism and communism. The other person answered by saying, “In capitalism, man exploits man; in communism, it’s the other way around.” I want to laugh, but it’s not funny. The message to me is that no matter what you call the party or group in power, there’s going to be corruption and too often we just end up trading one set of power brokers for another, and who does it hurt the most? The poor!

So we went to Nicaragua to build, help the sick, to witness in Jesus’ name, dig, make brick, and maybe do a little penance for the Spanish and the US. I have the blisters and disturbing images of poverty to prove I/we need to do more. We have to prove that the power of love is greater than the love of power.

Campus Ministry is Where the UMC Began!


As I begin Charge Conferences I have just come back from a Cabinet Meeting where we talked about the terrible situation we face in connectional giving in our annual conference. I know times are tough and money is tight, but I am very upset that all of our SC Campus Ministries were told 2 days before school started that they would not receive any program money for the rest of 2010 or 2011. My daughter, Narcie, is a Campus Minister and the UMC is the only denomination that was founded in a university. John Wesley was a campus minister. Right now, I know of at least 4 seminary students, future ministers, who have come out of SC’s campus ministries. Our future clergy are being sold short because of poor giving and that will show up in the kind of preacher some of you will get.

I’m upset on two levels. One is that Narcie has her first post-brain tumor op MRI this coming Tuesday and she already has enough stress on her than to have the ministry money plug pulled out. On the second level I am appalled at how this economy has made us more selfish than giving. Instead of pulling together in prayer, shared giving, common causes – I sense we’re in an “every man for himself” phase. That’s not good. We need each other now more than ever.

The late Paul Harvey reported that a woman called up the Butterball Turkey Company’s consumer hot line and asked about the advisability of cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years. The customer service representative told her that it might be okay to eat it if the freezer had maintained a below-zero temperature the entire time, but even so, the flavor would have deteriorated so much that it wouldn’t be very tasty. Said the caller, “Oh, that’s what we thought. We’ll just donate it to the church.” The church has received more than her share of “old turkeys.” Parsonages are too often filled with cast-off furniture from people who upgraded in their own homes. People aren’t tithing or even coming close. Churches have become self preserving silos and don’t give a rip about “the least of these.”

I recently saw the movie “Lost in Woonsocket” and would recommend it to anyone who is trying to figure out how to help those who are struggling, and the frustration that goes along with it. But, even if we fail sometimes, sometimes we succeed. Gone are the days of easy employment searches, and name-your-price job opportunities. Reaching the end of a job interview, the human resources person asked a young engineer fresh out of MIT, “And what starting salary were you looking for?” The engineer said, “In the neighborhood of $135,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.” The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of five-weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50 percent of salary, and a company car leased every two years — say, a red Corvette?” The engineer sat straight up and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?” And the interviewer replied, “Yeah, but you started it.”

All kidding aside, what are we going to do about this economic melt-down – hunker down in selfishness or believe Jesus that we should give it all away? I say let’s get together and get real, helping everyone that we can. Here’s a thought, go to http://winthropwesley.com and make a donation to help campus ministry. Check out the sites for all the other campus ministries in SC and do your part. Find a way to donate time if you don’t have the money. I know that I’m trying to do my part and not just because two of my kids are ministers because of campus ministry. What are we going to do? Do it!