Archive | April, 2016

“I hate Trump. I hate Hillary. I hate I hate I hate.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

I don’t often give Facebook credit for very much, except stealing time that I could have used doing something else. But this week I read something my older daughter posted that I want to pass along to you.

One of my daughter’s friends is a teacher of young children – 9 year olds – and lately she has been listening to her children speak in harsh and angry terms, usually about politics. The children will talk about candidates as “scumbags,” “idiots,” and “dirty liars.”

“I have had to help many kids,” she writes, “find different words to use than ‘hate’ – oh, they are using that word so often. I hate Trump. I hate Hillary. I hate Democrats. I hate Republicans. I hate I hate I hate.”

This is primary season in the U.S., and people in Europe – or at least in the small part of Europe where I live – are paying attention, mostly because the political climate in the U.S. this year is so ugly, far uglier than usual, in my experience. A great deal of name-calling is taking place, some violence has broken out in a few places, and so no one, I suppose, should be surprised that this ugliness and nastiness is being heard and then learned by our children.

My daughter’s friend, the one who is a teacher, suddenly realized that she was as guilty as anyone. Her own language had become coarser, harsher, uglier, even filled at times with hatred. And so, she made a commitment to stop, to begin using different language, to model better language and behavior for her children, those in her class and of course those at her home.

I think the reason that this Facebook post affected me so much is that I saw myself in my daughter’s friend. I too have been frustrated this political season. More than once I have wanted to shout back at the television news (and, yes, have given in to the temptation). I even broke a personal rule about no politics on my blog and posted about a candidate with whom I am particularly concerned. I know better. As deeply as I care about my country and the direction it is taking, I know that my behavior affects others. I can’t do much to change things at home, except to send in my absentee ballot, but I can control myself. I can remember what I learned in Sunday school many years ago about other people being created (as I am) in the image and likeness of God. I may find their political views abhorrent – I often do – but I must make sure that my own behavior and my own language match what I profess to believe.

As a Christian, a great deal more is expected of me. I want to give evidence each day of the fruits of the Spirit, evidence that the Spirit is working in me and changing me and making a new creation out of me. I want to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I do exhibit those qualities, occasionally, but not often enough.

What about you? Have you noticed a change in the way you speak about others? Their political views, the ones with which you disagree so intensely, do not give you the right to belittle them or to treat them as something less than children of God.

I sometimes receive email forwards from church members who must think that I agree with their political point of view. I am included in lists of what must be their like-minded friends. And frankly I am surprised by what I read. The people who send these things always seem so saintly when they are singing the hymns during worship.

Somehow – and I don’t profess to know how to do this – we need to learn a way of speaking and acting that is honest about our beliefs and core values, but that also is fair-minded, loving, and hopes the best for all concerned.

I can do better at that. I hope you will join me in trying.

(Note: I wrote something like the above as the pastor’s letter for my church’s monthly newsletter.)

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“I want to be baptized”

Frantisek's church photo

After morning worship last Sunday, standing outside in the early Spring sunshine, an 18 year old man I did not know very well approached me and said, “I want to be baptized.”

This was no April Fool’s joke, I quickly realized, and not a prank, as I half-expected, this was the real thing. It was written all over his face – the fear and joy of saying those words aloud. Plus, there was a small group of people – family members? – standing maybe five or 10 feet behind him, watching the whole conversation.

I think my first words were, “So, you’ve never been baptized,” as though this were an administrative or scheduling problem that needed my full attention.

The young man and I talked for quite a long time and then agreed to meet in a couple of days so that I could hear more about this decision, but I still think about what happened there that day and what the situation reveals about me and my training and where I find myself at this point in my ministry.

Frankly, what the situation reveals is not good.

I was ordained on September 20, 1980 – as some of you know, since I insist on observing the anniversary each year – and the ordination occurred after lengthy training and evaluation and psychological testing and even the learning of biblical languages. No one was better trained and equipped for a life of service to the church than I was. That’s not bragging. That’s a statement about how people like me have been prepared for the work of ministry over the last generation or two. And now, thanks be to God, I have been doing this work – without interruption – for more than 36 years.

So, what exactly is the problem?

I’ll tell you. A young man approached me after worship, asked to be baptized, and I forgot for a moment that that is the purpose of my life’s work – to lead people like him to just that moment in their lives and then to nurture and grow their new faith. Over the years I have forgotten (or neglected) this calling. In most of the churches I served over the years I was expected to be the executive director or chief executive officer of a legal entity known as the church. I supervised staff, raised money, built endowments, maintained buildings (and parking lots), managed a board, and responded to customer complaints. I came to think of all of that as ministry.

Coming to this particular church at this particular point in my life has had the transforming effect of reminding me of the call that brought me to this work a long, long time ago. I think it’s been the greatest gift I could have received.

Here’s my job description in its entirety: “The Senior Pastor is in charge of the spiritual welfare [my emphasis] of the congregation, including, but not limited to, conducting worship and preaching the gospel, pastoral counseling and visits, education of adults, youth and children, and the administration of the Sacraments (Ordinances) of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

I think that’s what I’ve always wanted to do!

(Photo: That’s a photo of my church by František Janák who suggests that we call him “Frank.”)

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It is spring. The jogger is spitting insects.

DSC_0002 (2)

What do I write about today? My ongoing disgust with Donald Trump – or the progress I am making with learning German?

Writing about Trump – again – is more tempting than you know, because my last post, which was about him, received a few hundred page views in the first hour. That’s above average for my blog, and – well – yelling and screaming about stuff I don’t like always draws attention. Like most children, I learned that much in the crib.

But I read something reassuring this morning – namely, that while Trump tends to draw a plurality of Republican voters in the primary elections, his overall appeal is relatively low and not enough to win in November. Among women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and many other racial-ethnic groups, his popularity is quite low. Maybe now I can sleep better.

So, on to the more pressing issue in my life right now, which is learning to speak a new language.

For my North American readers, I should point out that German is one of four national languages in Switzerland. French, Italian, and Romansch are the others. What’s interesting about this – in addition to living in a country with not one, not two, but four national languages – is that most people I know prefer not to speak the language I am learning – namely, high German (Hochdeutsch). They prefer to speak English or Swiss German (especially Züridüütsch), neither one of which is a national language.

When, for example, I am on a train and listening to a rather animated conversation behind me (strictly for the purpose of language learning, I assure you), I expect to understand a little of what I am hearing. But no, most of the time I have no idea what is being said. And not because my German is so poor – it’s not great – but because these people are not speaking anything close to the language I am trying my best to learn, but a language they insist is not merely a dialect, but something better and more beautiful. (I respectfully disagree.)

Most people around me on the train, in the hair salon, and at the market, are not speaking the language I am required to learn for my work permit. When I respond in high German, they smile (as though learning that I have a serious illness), and they know immediately that I am ein Fremder, a foreigner.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I am making progress. That’s what my teacher, Frau Zopfi, writes on my report card. I even pick up the evening newspaper for the train ride home – Blick am Abend – and can make sense of most articles. My favorite item yesterday was the Tweet des Tages (tweet of the day): Es ist Frühling. Die Jogger spucken Insekten aus.

It is spring. The jogger is spitting insects.

(Photo: For those new to German, that means “welcome, please come in.” Just trying to be helpful!)

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