Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Glad Handing?

Tonight I am going to an event where I will need to practice the old ritual of people in my position called "glad handing." I am going to a meet and greet with prospective donors and people who have recently helped the Army in one of our communities with a very large project. "Glad handing" is basically the practice of saying thank you in a public way. It is almost politician-like. I will be "pressing the flesh" and smiling and extolling the virtues of our organization.

I don't mind talking about The Army. I love it, warts and all. I think the mission is vital and valuable to the Kingdom. In fact, I think it lines up with verses such as Isaiah 61:4 and Isaiah 1:17. It also fits some of what Jeremiah talks about in his writings. I pray that our work continues to merit the favor of those with whom I will be talking.

I am not always comfortable though in these settings. Those of you who know me might be surprised at this statement. I think the reason behind my feeling is that At times, I have seen people who are not genuine in their practice of "glad handing." They almost put on a different persona. It gets to be almost like the used car salesman you see portrayed in movies - you know sort of slimy. You know the type. They are full of fake laughs and stupid jokes, not a great deal of substance.

Then I think to myself, "Why do I need to 'glad hand'?" Is it necessary to put on a persona? I really think that we don't need that.

In fact, I really think that instead of glad handing, I should be doing more than that. Is really right for us to glad hand? Is it right for us to "brand"? Shouldn't it be enough for us to witness, tell our story and say, "Here we are and this is who we are?"

I struggle with this at times. We need support from others. Where is our balance? How do we make this happen and still be genuine? Some actually think that kettles and fundraising are sinful acts. I would not go that far. I do think that these types of issues can become all-consuming at the expense of mission, when they should support mission.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Today is one of my favorite days. Thanksgiving conjurs up so many memories from my sub-concious that it is hard to describe all of the emotions I feel. Most of those memories center around the "kids' table" at my grandmother's home, where my cousins and I would laugh and cause mayhem during the meal with our pranks.

Today, I will be sitting down to a meal with my sons, daughter-in-law, and our adopted British son, Matt (everyone needs a pet ;0 ) Janet and I have been longing for this day since our move to the midwest. We miss our family. Thanksgiving brings us together today to really give thanks for the grace of God and the blessing of family.

As with all holidays, I continue to be amazed by the return to spiritual principles that a day like this brings. Our nation does, at least for a moment, seems to think about giving and sharing and being thankful. Tomorrow will be a different story. People will be pushing, shoving and grabbing as the stores open for the busy shopping season. That part of the season bothers me, especially as we deal with the poor and cast-offs of society. With the giving of gifts often comes the throwing away of the homeless, except for the occassional soup kitchen meal or toyshop.

My thoughts also turn to Iraq and Afghanistan today. We have lost over 3000 soldiers and Marines in the war. Unfortunately, there have been by some estimations nearly 100,000 civilians killed in this "campaign for freedom" as our President calls it. No matter your political persuasion, war is bloody, senseless and painful. Elections are not enough for the Iraqis and the people of Afghanistan, eventually, there must be infrastructure and services from a government free from corruption for them to have something for which they can be thankful.

So as you sit around a table today and eat leftovers tomorrow, what will you be thankful for? I would love to hear. We should be a grateful people today. What are you thanking God for today?

Is this really a day of thanksgiving?

What do you think?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Poverty and Points?

This comes under the heading of "You cannot make this stuff up." Janet and I received a credit card offer yesterday. In the US that is not an uncommon experience. We get several of those in the mail every week. Our sons started getting credit card offers when they were as young as 10.

This offer was different. It was offered by a corporation that supports the nation of Israel. The Mastercard offer used the Abrahamic covenant from Genesis 12:3 "I will bless those who bless you." as their pitch line. The deal was that if you used this credit card, not only would a portion of the proceeds go to help "poverty in Israel," but you could also earn points toward vacations, airfare, hotels and a myriad of other things, while you felt good about helping the poor. I wonder what poor people in Israel they are helping? I wondered if this included Palestinian Christians, who are oppressed both by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

No matter what your political take on the situation in Israel, there is a larger issue here. This offer was specifically aimed at Christians. It was an offer to help us all feel less pain, while alleviating our guilt for not being generous and championing the cause of the oppressed. Hey, charge $200 and you can give 20 cents to some poor starving kid or old person. By the way, enjoy your new boots from Aldo that you just charged.

Materialism once again lifts its ugly head and infiltrates what should be a case of almsgiving for the poor, which is above our tithing. It is also a manipulation of scripture. When did "blessing" come to mean just monetary or material gain? Isn't being a child of God the greatest blessing of all? I guess the Palestinian or Iraqi Christians just aren't as good as us. They would be blessed with the stuff we in the West have. Oh by the way, what about those poor Christians in Darfur who are being starved, raped and murdered by thugs backed by the government? They must have had some real disobedience somewhere.

I am not saying that having stuff is bad, but as we head toward Thanksgiving how much stuff is enough? Is it really a sign of blessing? Al Capone and John Gotti must have been really good Christians. They had a lot of stuff. I fear the evangelical movement in particular has latched onto this theology of materialism being the sign of the true blessing of God. It may have turned us into a people who live well beyond our means to show how blessed we are. Have we come to the point where we need to get something, for taking care of the poor, which is a mandate in scripture?

As we head to this season of giving, I am not about being Scrooge and saying we should not give gifts to each other. I think what I am saying is are we really scripturally balanced in our giving. Tomorrow and Tuesday I will have a great blessing, my boys and my daughter-in-law are coming home on those days for Thanksgiving. We will eat a great deal (which as I write this post, I am beginning to struggle with), but we will also take time to remember the poor and oppressed.

I guess I have a few questions. When did our theology go wrong and our need to be rewarded by material things replace the spirit of altruism? What is the real blessing of God? What is the most effective way to share our blessing with the world? Will God judge those of us who are affluent Western Christians more harshly because of our stingy spirits? Do we just live too well, with no regard for the oppressed?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Am I a pastor?

This is an argument that has gone on as long as our movement has associated itself with the main-line of Christianity. As a Salvation Army officer, I know I have a pastoral role. According to scripture, there are some who have the gift of being pastors. I am not sure that ordination makes one a pastor.

I think therein lies the rub. I have the sinking feeling that the church has become so efficient in setting up its systems that the role of pastor has not only become a spiritual gifting and calling, but a career move. Pastors are often appointed in the church. For historical reasons probably having to do with the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church began to set up the hierarchy of pastor/parishioner. This is now our standard system. This may not be completely biblical.

Many will point to apostolic appointments by Jesus and then the apostles appointing leaders (elders)in the church to alleviate some of the day to day operation of the church as the reason for this set up. In the scheme of things there may be some validity to this. I would submit, however, this was done to facilitate service and not set up a hierarchy.

Today, the connotation of pastor is often one who knows more than those under their care. There could be some truth to that fact given some advanced degree or certificate work, but let's face it, it is not always true. In fact, how many times have those of us in the clergy been taught some great scriptural truths by some little grandma, who has no degree, but has read and prayed her way through the scripture? For that matter, how many times have we been taught by a teenager, with a fresh commitment to Christ, who is ravenous in their appetite for that things of God?

In fact, to think that the ordination of one makes them better is theologically weak. I have recently had this discussion with some officer friends of mine, who feel they cannot "be vulnerable or honest" in settings where lay people who are in ministry are in attendance. It may well be that our whole rank system is theologically indefensible.

I love my calling to be an officer and serve the poor. I wonder, though, what makes a pastor? Is it an ordination or a relationship? Is it a gift or a certificate that makes one a pastor? Are we really better or just different than those who are also in ministry? What really makes a leader or pastor? Am I a pastor? I am struggling with that.

What do you think?