Friday, October 31, 2014

The Death of Grace?



     We are witnessing the end of grace in the church that was built on a foundation of grace.

    If you are a United Methodist, you have almost certainly heard of Rev. Frank Schaefer.  An ordained elder in The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church, in 2007 he chose to officiate at his son’s same-sex wedding in Massachusetts.  As a result, charges were brought against him, a trial was held and he was suspended for 30 days so that he could consider whether or not he could promise to uphold the “entire” Discipline of the church (essentially a promise never to do this again).  After 30 days he returned and said that he could not promise to do so and the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) voted to remove his credentials (the newspapers call this being “defrocked”).

    What follows is a weird sort of legal maneuvering.  Rev. Schaefer appealed the decision of the BOM essentially on the grounds that he was punished twice for the same offense, first a 30 day suspension, and then the removal of his credentials.  He won that appeal, and then this week, that appeal was upheld by the Judicial Council, the church’s highest “court.”  The basis of their decision is not really a cause for celebration or concern on either side.  It really does hinge on a technicality and does nothing at all to change church law.  The Judicial Council upheld Rev. Schaefer’s reinstatement on the grounds that the original ruling (by the BOM) was poorly written.  It did not clearly state that Rev. Schaefer would lose his credential permanently after the 30 day suspension even though it was apparent from the beginning that this was their intention. 

    And so, Rev. Schaefer will have his credentials returned to him, he will receive his back pay, church law is unchanged, and everything is the same as before.

Except it isn’t.

Rev. Schaefer might have won, but everyone else lost.

    It is reasonably obvious that the Board of Ministry never intended for the 30 day suspension to be the only punishment.  The 30 day suspension was intended as an act of grace, a second chance, a recognition that we do things for our children that might be unwise or against the rules, and a chance for Rev. Schaefer to walk away with his integrity (and his credentials) by admitting that he loved his son enough to break the rules. 

Perhaps it was poorly written, but now it appears that an act of grace is being punished.

An act of grace is now responsible for undoing the entire trial.

And so now, even though the poorly written decision was “technically” responsible, grace will suffer.

    In future trials (and I have no doubt that there will be more) those who make similar rulings will remember the trials and the appeals of Rev. Schaefer.  They will want to avoid being misinterpreted.  They will want to avoid mistakes.  They will want to avoid being overturned on a technicality. 

There will be no recognition that sometimes people make unwise decisions.

There will be no understanding or sympathy because we love our children.

There will be no second chances.

We are watching the death of grace.

No matter which side you think is right, 

                  ...when we lose grace, 

                                   ...we all lose.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reprogramming My Head



    A week or so ago, I returned to my audiologist, John, who programs my cochlear implant.  It’s a little confusing when I describe it, because I still see Walt, the audiologist who takes care of the hearing aid in my other ear.  Anyway, we started out the way that the last couple sessions started.  John connected my implant to his computer and ran through a series of tones to see how my brain was adapting to the electrical impulses from my implant. 

    But before we got very far, he took me down the hall to the soundproof booths that are used for hearing tests.  There, he re-ran the test that was required to be approved for surgery.  In that test, a voice reads random sentences and you have to repeat back any words (or whole sentences) that you can understand.  This test is run one ear at a time, so I took off my hearing aid and listened only with my implant.  I thought I did well, but John seemed excited.  We laughed because one of the sentences said something about the gecko that is on television commercials.  For some reason, John was very pleased that I had understood the word “gecko.” 

    After he did the math and calculated the results of my test, I understood why he was so pleased.  In the same test, prior to my surgery, I had understood 7 percent of the words.  Now, four months post-implant, I understood 70 percent of the words.  No wonder people keep telling me that my hearing is noticeably better.

    After the testing, John tried some more programming.  Whatever he did was too much made everything sound like my head was inside a garbage can, so he tried some other things.  Along the way, we discovered that of the 12 electrodes that were inserted into my cochlea, two of them don’t seem to be doing much.  Ten of them I can “hear” but the last two, while I can “feel” them, I don’t really “hear” anything with them.  For each electrode, John turns up the volume until I say that it is “uncomfortably loud.”  But for those two electrodes, there really isn’t a “loud” and a “soft.”  I sort of hear something, but it doesn’t really get louder as he turns up the input.  What I notice, is that in one ear, instead of getting loud, I can feel the volume pounding in my head much like you can feel a loud bass thump from a big speaker at a rock concert.  I feel it more than hear it.  The other electrode is similar, I don’t hear it or feel it, but instead, at high “volumes” I can feel my head hurt.  It’s like I have a bad headache that pules with the beat, on, off, on, off, on, off. 

    In the end, John turned off those two electrodes.  His thinking is that if these electrodes aren’t working by now, they aren’t going to.  Most likely, they are in a part of the cochlea that has more nerve damage and isn’t really “talking” to my brain anymore.  In any case, my implant can function with only four electrodes, so I should be just fine with ten.  Before I left, John finished reprogramming everything using the ten working electrodes, as well as some additional changes and enhancements that I now have to get used to.  It wasn’t as much as he had hoped to do, but we’re still moving forward.  John said that for being only four months after my surgery, he felt I was doing very well.

And so the adventure continues.   Not with giant leaps forward, but with baby steps.

But forward is still forward.

Onward.



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Earlier posts about my hearing adventure can be found here: My Hearing Journey.
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Friday, October 3, 2014

Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two part series answering two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”

Part one can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

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    Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 

The bishop refused.

    Eventually, John Wesley took it upon himself to ordain Thomas Coke as a bishop (even though he technically did not have that authority), who then travelled to the colonies and ordained Francis Asbury.  In this way, the Methodist Church was born.  No one intended for the Methodist movement to become a church, but it did.  As a result, the Methodist Church structure, belief and doctrine are similar to the Church of England (which today is known as the Episcopal Church in the United States).  We are not a congregational organization, but an ecclesiastical one, which means we have a hierarchy where pastors answer to a bishop. 

    Because of the way that our church has separated from the Catholic Church, our structures and beliefs, although quite different, are also sometimes strikingly similar.  Even so, there was a lot of bad blood between the reformers (like Martin Luther) and the Popes.  Remember that in that era, the Pope controlled the Holy Roman Emperor who, in turn, controlled the Army. 

    In those days, there was no separation of church and state.  For generations, anyone who even hinted at problems within the church could be arrested, their property seized, they could be tortured or even put to death for believing anything different than what they were told.  Nations who chose (actually their kings chose) to become Protestant, were attacked by the Empire’s Army.  For hundreds of years, wears were fought between Catholics and Protestants.  In the 30 Years War (1618-1648), part of Germany fought against other parts of Germany with support thrown in from the kings of France and Spain, as well as from the Empire.  During that time, 25-40% of the entire German population was killed.

    There was also much bloodshed in England.  Although Catholics and Protestants often got along with one another, their rulers were not so kind.  As England’s Kings and Queens changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again, everyone, including the priests, were forced to convert.  Those who did not, were forced from their homes or worse.  There was much bloodshed on all sides.

    In any case, by the time of John Wesley, there were bad feelings between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.  This is evident in John Wesley’s writings as well as Catholic writings of the time.  But today, 200 years later, those bad feelings have faded and Catholics and Protestants get along quite well (particularly here in the United States).  Technically, according to some Catholic doctrine, anyone who is not a part of the “official” church of Saint Peter is going to hell.  For our part, we deny several key Catholic doctrines and emphasize that salvation if through grace alone where the Catholic Church believes that both grace and works are required.

    Despite our differences, we there are a great many similarities.  We have a similar structure (although we do not have any “rank” higher than bishop and we do not have a Pope).  We have bishops who are in charge of particular geographical areas, and we have one set of rules that govern all of our churches. 

    Today the “bad blood’ that once existed isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us have both Catholics and Protestants mixed among our families and our friends and many Catholics and Protestants are married to one another.  I had a professor in seminary that did his doctoral studies in a Catholic University.  There have even been times that modern theologians, now having the benefit of being a few hundred years distant, suggest that Protestants might reconsider some of the Catholic teachings that were thrown out during the Reformation.  Recently, the Pope has invited evangelical leaders to be his guests in Rome to discuss how we might work together. 

    During my last pastorate, I became friends with Monsignor Mark Froelich who was the local parish priest.  He and I were the only people in town who were members of both the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs and so we had lunch together twice each week (and it didn’t hurt that he was a Cleveland Indians fan).  I think we are finding that our differences may now be less than they were when our churches split during the Reformation.

    In the end when we consider what the differences are between the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, the answer is both, “A lot” and, “Not much.”


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Part One of this series can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.


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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Methodists vs. Catholics?



Question: Methodists vs. Catholics?

    Today’s question actually grew out of two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”  In order to answer either question we need to go back several hundred years.  Once we understand how we got to where we are, our differences and any tension can be more easily understood.

    Let’s go back to the early 1500’s.  At that time, no one would have referred to the “Catholic” church but just “the church” because there really was only one church.  But that was about to change.  In 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther wrote 95 complaints about the way that the church was doing business.  Among these complaints was the way that funds were being raised to build what is known as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  It is a fantastic achievement of art and engineering but it was incredibly expensive.  The man who was tasked with raising the money, John Tetzel, was an unscrupulous man who would do anything for a buck.  In order to raise money, he sold “indulgences” which were forgiveness of sins.  For a price, you could buy forgiveness for relatives who were already dead, or even for sins that had not yet been committed.  If you had enough money, you could buy forgiveness for having a mistress (and keep her), or you could, quite literally, get away with murder. 

    Martin Luther probably did not intend to cause the uproar that he did.  His intent was to post his list of complaints and start a dialog that would reform the abuses of the church.  But as fate would have it, the printing press had recently been invented and instead of merely posting his complaints on the church door, they were printed, translated, and distributed all over Europe.  Eventually, the one church began to splinter into the Catholic Church and various groups of protestors, known as Protest-ants.

    Now jump ahead to 1534.  King Henry VIII is married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the former King and Queen of Spain.  But Catherine was not giving Henry a male heir and, since England had recently had a civil war over who would succeed the king, having an heir was a big deal.  Originally, Catherine was married to Henry’s brother who had died young and she then married Henry in order to keep Spain happy.  Marrying your brother’s widow required the Pope’s permission but for Kings and Queens, this sort of thing could be managed.  So when Catherine wasn’t having any male children, Henry thought that his marriage ought to be annulled so he could marry someone else.  An annulment required the permission of the Pope but again, this sort of thing was not entirely uncommon for royalty. 

Except for one thing. 

    Catherine of Aragon’s nephew was Charles V, the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles commanded an army which was just short distance from Rome.  Charles told the Pope that he would be (hint, hint) very unhappy if Henry received an annulment.  Since the Pope couldn’t keep both Henry and Charles happy, he stalled. 

For several years. 

    Finally, Henry decided to break off from the Catholic Church and create the Church of England, whose head was no longer the Pope, but the King of England.  And so although the Church of England became a Protestant church, it retained many similarities to the Catholic Church.
Skip ahead another two hundred years, and we meet John and Charles Wesley, priests of the Church of England who felt that the church could do better.  In an effort to renew the church, they began a movement that became known as Methodism (because of their ‘method’ of holiness).  The Methodist movement took the church beyond the walls of the church into the countryside and the inner-city.  The Wesleys and the Methodists were concerned that the poor did not have access to the church and the church didn’t care.  That movement grew and spread all over England and into the American colonies. 

But then came the American war for independence in 1776.

    Although the Church of England was the largest in the colonies, nearly all of the priests were British citizens.  When the war broke out, they left their churches and went home.  This left a great many people without access to a priest, or to communion, or to baptism, or a proper burial.  At that time, it was believed that not having access to regular communion, or baptism, was enough to damn you to hell.  Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 

The bishop refused.

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 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.


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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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