Monday, April 23, 2007

Location, Location, Location....

Since when did a ghetto become a "gated community?" Just heard a report on NPR's Morning Edition about a 12 foot high concrete wall that the US military is constructing around a Sunni enclave in Baghdad. And something snapped in my the last straw that broke the camel's back. Just like that. We've lost this war in Iraq...actually lost it years ago, on the day that looters ransacked the National Museum of Antiquities, but if attempting to wall in an entire ethnic/religious neighborhood in a futile effort to control the insurgency doesn't somehow represent a "tipping point..." well, to quote Mr. Lincoln "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just."

I've never been a supporter of this war. Felt right from the get-go that it was a bad idea, both strategically and on general principles. Suspected even before the shooting started that all this talk about WMDs was simply a smoke screen to justify pursuing Dubya's personal vendetta against Saddam. But like any patriotic American, once our soldiers were in harm's way I wanted to support them as best I could, even if I didn't agree with the mission they'd been asked to perform. And I also felt the moral obligation of Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn rule" -- that once we'd broken it we were responsible for fixing it.

But this is just too much. After Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. After legalized torture (which we're told isn't really torture) and the creation of "special military tribunals" beyond the jurisdiction of normal judicial review. After the Patriot Act, and Blackwater,'s just too much... We can't win the War on Terror by becoming more terrible than the terrorists. It's a losing proposition, no matter which way you look at it. And more to the point, it's EXACTLY what bin Laden and his cronies have been counting on all along. We'd be better off simply stashing Bush at the bottom of a "hidey hole" in Baghdad, armed with Saddam's captured pistol and a big bag of cash. Or sending Dick Cheney and his shotgun to Afghanistan.

Our current strategy for defeating "terrorism of global reach" is failing. Has failed. We need to come up with a better plan, and quickly. Not to mention better leaders to carry it out....

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is There Any Future to a Virtual Church?

I've been a bit remiss about posting here regularly, mostly because my life has suddenly gotten a lot busier now that I'm getting ready to be the Candidate in Portland, and it will probably stay busy for awhile longer still. But in her blog "Faith and Web", Anne Belle asks "How long will Analog Churches Survive the Digital Age?" Here's the comment I posted there, now slightly revised and cross-posted here.

Historically, Churches have been rivaled only by pornographers among the "early adapters" of new communications technologies, going right back to the days of the printing press and movable type. But the Essential Experience of Religion (like that of its rival) remains essentially unchanged. In my own era I've seen the mimeograph replaced by the high speed photocopier, and electric typewriters (and white out) erased by the personal computer, which likewise transformed "Rolodex" from a brand into a metaphor, and replaced all those morning finger-walks through the Yellow Pages with "Googling." Activities like podcasting, and sites like You Tube, My Space, and Second Life may well represent the new frontier in this colonization of cyberspace, but Church itself is still ultimately all about worship, fellowship, education, social action and pastoral care. It's a face-to-face, real-time experience of community, a "congregation" of souls, gathered together at a specific place and time, to seek wisdom and inspiration, to ask the assistance of powers larger than ourseleves, and express our gratitude for the many blessings we have received. And it has been from time immemorial. THAT part never changes. Nor should it....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's Now Official!

Last week I was delighted to learn that both the Search Committee and the Governing Board had officially designated me as the Candidate for the open pulpit at the First Parish in Portland Maine. Monday night I notified the Parish Committee here in Carlisle of my decision to accept that invitation, and this morning we formally shared the news with the entire congregation.

Naturally, I am very excited about this next chapter in my eclectic ministerial career. Portland is a magnificant small city, and I am so looking forward to once more living within sight, sound and smell of the ocean...despite its reputation, Walden Pond simply wasn't getting it done for me. Judging at least from the number of applicants, First Parish was the most sought-after pulpit in the denomination this past year, which leaves me feeling both honored to have been selected in preference to so many other wise and talented colleagues, and also humbled by the demanding challenges and expectations I know await me there.

I also feel a little sad about leaving my ministry in Carlisle, just as I felt like my efforts here were finally beginning to bear fruit. I'm particularly disappointed that I will not be around to celebrate this congregation's 250th anniversary next summer, or to help explore and implement the many exciting new inititives we identified at our all-church "Visioning" retreat last February. I was also looking forward to a five month sabbatical in the spring of 2009, and there were even rumours of an impending kitchen remodel at the parsonage. It's hard to walk away from all that, even to move on to something that feels even better.

The lives and work of parish ministers are often wrapped in moments of transition. The transition from single individual to couple represented by a wedding, or from couple to family when a child is dedicated. And, of course, the ultimate transition from life to death. Every year more new people join the congregation, while others step back, or move on to other places, other priorities. Like the communities we serve, ministry is ultimately little more than a network of constantly evolving relationships: a long series of joyful hellos and sad goodbyes, each one a small birth, or a little death. This transition is no different. It just seems a little more intense, because it means saying so many goodbyes all at once.

There are lots of things I am going to miss about Carlisle, just as I have missed some things about every congregation I have ever served. Mostly, though, I’m going to miss the many friends I have made in this community, and our vision of the revitalized church I believe we would have created together had we simply continued to dream big dreams and to embrace our shared sense of mission, then rolled up our sleeves and done the good, hard work of generous hospitality and selfless service I’ve seen so often here. Yet I also know that if these dreams are indeed destined to become true, they truly need to be THEIR dreams, and that they are perfectly capable of achieving them without me.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the past four years serving as the minister here at FRS -- longer than my "restless soul" has ever allowed me to settle anywhere else before. And I hope in the few months I have remaining in this role, to be able to take the time to celebrate the important and necessary work we have undertaken together during my tenure here, and to say our fond farewells before diverging on the separate paths before us.