Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Amazing Grace VS Fake Grace

The term is thrown around a lot in the church but exactly what is GRACE?

We say grace. We know people named Grace. We call certain clerics “Your Grace.” My sisters were always trying to be graceful. What is grace? We are talking about unmerited love from God that motivates Him to forgive us and reestablish our broken relationship.

Grace shows us that God is NOT fair. Grace is not about getting what we deserve. It is about getting what we don’t deserve. We with children have often heard the cry, “That’s not fair.” The Bible speaks clearly and powerfully about God’s unfairness. Thank God He is not fair.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The story is told that during a British conference on comparative religions, experts from all over the world debated on what is unique about Christianity? The story goes that C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and asked what the rumpus was about. When told, he said, “That’s easy. Grace.” The notion of God’s love coming free of charge, no strings attached is uniquely Christian. A widespread misconception is that all religions are all the same which is simply untrue.

Sad to say, the church of Jesus Christ is not known for being Grace-Filled. We tend to be graceless; especially when it comes to how we view and treat those outside of the church. What a terrible condemnation of the church. But it is true that grace is difficult to practice because in practice, it is hard enough to understand grace when it applies to me, but it becomes impossible to grasp when applied to others. I can understand and give a rationalization for my sins, but not yours. We all tend to see ourselves better than others do. I saw this dynamic practiced to perfection by the inmates I talked to while working a prison.

Jesus knew people did and would STRUGGLE with this concept. So, he told some stories to make it understandable. He told the story we call: The story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate’”. (Luke 15:11-24)

This story is lived out every day around the world. I read this story several years ago. A girl from Traverse City, Michigan, became disillusioned by the restrictive life at home and ran away to Detroit to seek the good life. Soon she met an older man with big car, lots of money and pills living in Penthouse. She moved in with him and soon found herself hooked on drugs and working as a prostitute. It wasn’t long before he looks changed. She became a blonde, lost weight, became sick and soon lost her good looks. Within a year she was on street, sleeping under newspapers on metal grates and getting sicker every day. She was lost, cold, hungry, afraid and needed a fix. Waking up one cold morning under a pile of newspapers, she came to herself. “My dog eats better than I do,” she thought. 

Out of desperation she calls home leaves a message. She tells her parents she is taking the bus to Canada and will be coming through her hometown about midnight. If no one is there to see her, she will go on to Canada. With 7 hours on bus she had lots of time to think. Perhaps no one had picked up her message. Perhaps no one cared. She practiced her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry, I was wrong.” The closer she came the more frightened she became. It was only a 15-minute stop. When the bus pulled in what she saw was not what she expected. There was much more than concrete walls and plastic chairs. There was a crowd of over 40 people – brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, cousins, a grandmother and a great grandmother in party hats and horns. The banner on wall proclaimed, WELCOME HOME. Her Dad stepped out of the crowd and she began her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry…” “No time for that,” he said, “We have a party to go to.”

To further make His point about grace, Jesus told the The Story of the HIRED Workers
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:1-15)

The question must be asked, “Doesn’t God REQUIRE anything of us?”
Of course… God requires you and me to be honest and real… to come to myself and face the truth about me. He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Make you free. Make you. That is the truth you must start with before you can come to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Coming to God is a MARVELOUS thing. In God’s presence we experience: Absolute Love; Freeing Forgiveness; Complete Healing; Amazing Grace

But coming to YOURSELF is no fun at all. Before you can come to God you must come to yourself. Finding the way to God requires knowing where you are – it is the starting point. One must face reality and most of us avoid reality like the plague. When faced with reality one suddenly realizes that one looks bad, is acting badly and may even smell badly.
No wonder so few people can do it.

In his wonderful book, THE GREAT DIVORCE, C. S. Lewis tells the story of a group of people, who he calls Ghosts, on an excursion from Hell to Heaven. Residents of heaven, called the Solid People, who knew the Ghosts when they were on earth, come out from Heaven and try to lure them in. None of them decide to stay. Here is his description of one woman who had not yet come to herself: “I think the most pitiable was a female Ghost… This one seemed quite unaware of her phantasmal appearance. More than one of the Solid People tried to talk to her, and at first I was quite at a loss to understand her behavior to them. She appeared to be contorting her all but invisible face and writhing her smoke-like body in a quite meaningless fashion. At last I came to the conclusion – incredible as it seemed – that she supposed herself still capable of attracting them and was trying to do so… If a corpse already liquid with decay had arisen from the coffin, smeared its gums with lipstick, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not have been more appalling. In the end she muttered, “Stupid creatures,” and turned back to the bus.”

This “coming to ourselves” is so unappealing that often we attempt to bypass it. This is what I call FAKE GRACE. Fake grace is all about attempting to embrace God’s grace, His unmerited favor, without facing our sinfulness… without confessing our sins… without repenting… without seeking forgiveness and turning away from sin and facing God. It is about believing God trashes His standards (holiness and righteousness) to accept us as we are. What we fail to understand is that God accepts us as we are but loves us much too much to leave us like that. The way this covenant works is: We repent (Come to ourselves) and God forgives us. Leave out our part, as uncomfortable as it might be, and all we have is fake grace.

What’s so amazing about Grace? God offers it to people like you and me. Will you accept it? Do you have the courage to come to yourself? Do you have the good sense to come to God?

Copyright © 2017, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

We Could Use Some Grownups

As I am observing the response to the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, I find I have watched and listened to about as much of this whine-a-thon as I can stand. I am wondering where all the grownups have gone.

Like two-year-old’s throwing temper tantrums, people have taken to the streets to “protest” his election… like that will change anything. I’m not picking on the Democrats as a party… no doubt the Republicans would have reacted just as poorly if their candidate had been defeated. Though it must be noted that they reacted to the election of Barrack Obama with a bit more class than we are seeing displayed following the recent election.

In all honesty, I must admit that I don’t have any skin in the game. I couldn’t stand either candidate. I find it disconcerting that I, as a person who as a young man aspired to a career in politics, have come to the point that I am completely disillusioned with what the political system has become and have lost all respect for politicians doing their self-serving business as usual. I feel that any person who invests any hope in the government solving our social ills is ignorant, ill-informed or pathetically naive.

My concerns are not about who was elected, because I seriously doubt it will make any difference. What concerns me is, instead, the whiny, immature reaction to whomever was elected? We have had: Demonstrations in the streets that would ultimately change nothing; Letters, cards, e-mails and even threats to the members of the Electoral College demanding they not vote as they were obligated; Demands that we do away with the Electoral College; College students requiring time off from tests and classes because of the emotional upheaval caused by the defeat of their candidate. Some campuses even provided counseling, safe zones and therapy for the poor traumatized students. Pathetic. We could use some grownups around here.
It seems that for the past few decades we have been in the process of producing a mass of immature “grownups.” They are large… well fed… are generally well educated… some of them have jobs… pretty good with technology… spend lots of money and have the emotional maturity of twelve years old’s. This does not include all younger people, but it would seem to describe a noteworthy chunk of the population.

There are significant shifts in child rearing that have occurred over my lifetime that have brought the outcome we are experiencing. The first I noticed was when my generation hit our twenties. When we were growing up, a person over the age of 21 was addressed as Sir or Ma’am or as Mr. or Mrs. Soandso. In our quest to be forever young, we, instead, insisted that children call us by our first names; something usually reserved for close friends… the first step on a slippery slope. Then when we started having children we decided that instead of respecting us we wanted our children to like us. I still remember the day my father, whom I adore, told me, “I don’t care if you like me. I am not your friend. I am your father. You will have many friends. I am the only father you will ever have.”

Then we made the brilliant decision that our children were precious little darlings that we parents were tasked with delivering through childhood with nary a scratch nor a dent. We became “Helicopter Parents”, hovering over our children making sure no harm could come to them. Parents today who allow their children to walk down the street to play in the local park are in danger of being charged with child neglect. It has become poor parenting to let a child outside of the parent’s view. We have lost our collective mind and are raising a generation of adult children.

Being and old person I remember leaving the house shortly after breakfast, on a fine summer day, and returning at sunset not having any meaningful interactions with an adult all day. It was heavenly. It was fun. The best times I had as a kid did not happen in the view of an adult. It was a part of the process of growing up. Were their dangerous and freaky people out there? Absolutely. And we sometimes ran into them. But me and my friends were the most dangerous people we had to deal with. We were kids… we made bad decisions and did stupid things. But we survived. We got into tense and sometimes dangerous situations and we learned how to deal with them. We ran into some odd and off center people and we learned how to deal with them. Sometimes we got hurt and we learned how to deal with it. Sometimes we got our feelings hurt, were occasionally bullied, had arguments and fights, didn’t get chosen for the team, got lost, got scared, got scarred, got mad and we learned how to deal with it. It is called maturing. Something we are stealing from our children.

Then someone came up with the amazingly insightful idea of giving everyone who was involved in a sport or an activity a Participant’s Trophy. Brilliant! No one ever had to suffer the agony of defeat. We are all winners. Just like in real life. NOT! Proof again that just because one went to college does not mean that one is necessarily intelligent. Perhaps we should have provided participant trophies for those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 or the problem would have been solved by giving both candidates participant trophies and declared them “Co-winners.”

I still remember standing in line to pay my bill at a local restaurant chain and reading the posted help wanted sign. It said, “Help wanted. Apply to the manager. Good pay. If you come to work each day you are scheduled the first 30 days, you will receive a $50 bonus.” I read it a couple of times, thinking something sounds wrong. Then it occurred to me that when I showed up for work as scheduled for 30 days they let me keep my job. What were these people thinking? They were thinking “We are about to hire people who have the work ethic of a goat.”

I sense that most adults, in our saner moments, can attest to the fact that it was the difficult experiences we faced growing up that gave us the opportunities to mature. Losing instead of winning, failing instead of succeeding, getting hurt and getting over it, dealing with disappointment, falling flat, losing the girl… the ballgame… the tournament… the election… the job, all were important learning and maturing experiences. How do we expect our children to ever really grow up if we wrap them bubble wrap, hide them away in our perpetual shadows and keep them from all harm and alarm? Did I enjoy seeing my children go through hurtful and challenging times? Of course not. But I loved them enough to let them deal with the tough stuff because my desire was for them to grow up into mature, functioning adults. And they have.

My hope is that we, as a culture, soon come to our senses and begin again the difficult, challenging, arduous, sometimes painful task of growing up some real adults. It seems we could use some.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Was This Election About Race?

I have read that some people are writing Trump's election off to "White Backlash." That strikes me as an arrogant, ignorant and borderline racist comment. Perhaps we should spend more time listening to others rather than judging them with largely uninformed judgements. I submit the following article to expand our thinking. It certainly impacted my thinking.

What a Gay Muslim Pakistani-American Immigrant Learned Traveling to Rural Alaska The Week Before the Election
by Riaz Patel


Dear 59,668,724 Disappointed Americans, I know this is a devastating day. Considering the toxic levels of hatred and division unleashed over the past few years of campaigning, either outcome was going to be a bitter pill for HALF of our nation to swallow.

Like all forms of mourning, it will take time to heal as we mourn the loss of our version of the next four years. But notice I said OUR version. Because there is another one. And that one not only has a lot of supporters, but has legally and definitively asserted it’s right to be heard. It’s a perspective I didn’t know a lot about until recently.

A few months ago I sat down with Glenn Beck for an intense chat about hate in America. At some point he questioned why I lumped all “White Americans” together when expressing a particular point of view. I thought about that a lot. So, the next day I decided I needed to understand the election from a perspective other than my own. On my drive to work I found a Conservative radio station. The morning after, I found another. And ever since, thanks to the power of satellite radio, I’ve been crisscrossing the country, popping in to listen to local call-in shows. Here’s what I learned by listening. Listening. Not waiting to speak. Not waiting to disagree or refute. There exists a HUGE population in America who are desperately struggling to feed their families. They feel their needs are not authentically represented within this huge government. They feel their concerns are not being voiced by any major news outlet. They are tired of being called “dumb,” “bigoted” and “racist.” And, based on the shocked expressions of every anchor last night that all their polling data was off, apparently, they aren’t even really counted.

I was feeling such a groundswell of their frustration and unhappiness – and even the strong possibility of a Trump victory – that I decided last-minute to travel with my husband and our six-month old daughter to Ketchikan, Alaska the weekend before the election. Why? Because I wanted to meet these people. And I wanted them to meet me. Before we had a “Winner.” How else would we understand each other beyond the “black” and “white” which we BOTH have been painted, non-stop, in this vicious election cycle.

So, I went to breakfast at The Landing on Tongass Avenue and discussed the stakes of the election with third-generation fisherman and learned that their whole life’s work was at stake based on potential Clinton fishing regulations. I talked somewhat fervently about the cancer that is radical Islam with Nicole & Jim, who ran the Black Bear Inn and discussed how we all feel unsafe these days. And I chatted with Paula, the 30-year bar manager, who explained that almost all of Alaska is owned by the federal government so each vote in this community is REALLY about their ability to support their families. Over the course of two days, I met lovely people. Some I agreed with and some I didn’t. Some of them had met a Muslim before and others hadn’t. But all asked me earnest questions about my background, and I asked about theirs. No question was offensive because the intention was non-judgmental.

On my flight back, I realized that for many of us supporting Hillary, this election was about incredibly important social issues. It was a moral election for us. To most of the people I met on my trip, it was about survival. Literally. So when I read Facebook/Twitter posts this morning vilifying 50% of the country for being dumb or racist, I remember Nicole, Jim & Paula and I know that’s not true. But how would I know that if I didn’t meet them and talk to them with an open mind? Only by pulling up a few chairs to PERSONIFY the people we think we hate, will we move beyond “black” and “white” to the way the world really is: grey. Grey is the only way.

As I walk around my office today, people are in shock. It’s no surprise people are surprised by the results when they refused to let an opposing viewpoint in. What did most of my Hillary supporting friends do when someone disagreed with their politics on Facebook? They “Unfriended” them. And when even Jake Tapper on CNN makes the mistake of saying “we” instead of “she” as he refers to winning Connecticut, we have to realize we are in one giant echo chamber that extends to almost everyone we speak to and almost every place we get information. This morning, I am not surprised by the result. But I am slightly impressed by the notion that all the celebrity power and campaign money in the nation was not enough to continue to mute these Americans. They simply went to the polls and voted for what was best for their family. Just as we all do. And they won.

Fairly. Now, before the chat threads blow up below this article, I am not denying that some Trump supporters are racist. Of course. But some Muslims are terrorists. The point is NOT ALL. I’ve seen the clips of bigoted slurs being thrown out at Trump rallies. But, as a TV producer, when I watch the footage aired, there aren’t a tons of incidents. It’s a couple each time, played many, many times over. But if a group of twenty idiotic Trump supporters yell ethnic slurs, is the entire stadium “racist” by association? No. If a Black Lives Matters supporter says it’s “open season on whites” is that a true representation of the movement? No. Should I be viewed with suspicion because I am a Muslim and some are terrorists? No.

The worst outcome of the election is that we have each been reduced to a series of broad labels that no longer reflect who we are. Mexican. White. Republican. Immigrant. Muslim. We may try to look at people as “labels” but we’ll never truly see them because THEY do not look at their own lives & families as labels. If, in the misery of this morning’s election hangover, we choose to continue to refer to Trump supporters as one collective “Them” I think that is as offensive as anything else I’ve heard in this election cycle and as ungracious as anything we feared from Trump supporters in the defeat we assumed would be theirs. I think a key part of beginning to heal is realizing Trump is not his supporters. Who he is and how he campaigned are truly distasteful to me. But his supporters are not him. They voted for a variety of reasons that are important and personal to them. And when I was with them this past weekend, everyone I came across showed me kindness & humanity.

I hope, for their sake, the quality of their life improves. And that they are able to continue to work and provide their families with a safe and loving home. A home into which I hope to be invited.

Think about it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Change

For those of us who attempt to bring change to failing institutions, like the church, with as much resistance that is encountered, one might think that change is a very unpopular thing. It seems that no matter how serious, even desperate, the situation, the people involved fight tooth and toenail to keep everything as it is. The church may be barely surviving on a respirator, but most people seem to prefer the death of the institution to making the changes that may bring life and health. We humans don’t like change.

Let me clarify that: we don’t like change to happen to us or around us. We like change in others. We spend huge amounts of time and energy in seeking to implement change in others. Many married couples spend long, frustrating, infuriating years trying to bring about changes in their spouses. “If I could only get her to quit… she wouldn’t drive me nuts.“ “If he would just be more… I would be happy.” Often the things that attracted couples in the first place become their main pain. “I just love her bubbly personality,” turns into “She’s driving me nuts; she talks all the time.” “He is the strong quiet type,” becomes “I hate that he never talks to me and holds everything in.” It would be humorous if it weren’t so sad.

It has been said that men marry hoping their wives never change and women marry counting on their husbands changing. During pre-marriage counseling I put the couple through an exercise. I have them turn and face each other and tell them to take a long and careful look. I then tell them; this is the best he or she is ever going to look, behave, or smell. You both are doing the best you can now to get the other to marry you. After marriage, it is all downhill. Cynical you say? Nay, nay I say. Just an observation over many years.

Our last President ran on a platform of Hope and Change. Of course, not much changed and I have just about lost all hope. Donald Trump claimed he would bring change to America. I have been observing U. S. politics for several decades and it seems that the only real change that happens is for the worst. I wonder how long; how many experiences we will endure before we finally realize that the answers to our problems do not lie in the politicians we elect. Every election is touted as “The most important election ever.” I’m not sure how important the elections are but they seem to consistently produce the same results – the same old crap.

Changing administrations may make the Kool aid drinkers of the party in power feel better but it has little positive effect on the rest of us. It is the same old rhetoric, the same old playing the blame game, the same old lots of talk and little action.

We try many other things to bring change that have, either little effect or help block the change. For example, we religious types, upon discovering some injustice or something someone does that doesn’t fit our moral code, just love to call our gang together for a candle light vigil. I can’t think of a less effective thing to do. First of all, most people ignore such empty gestures. The people it is supposed to impact remain pleasantly unaware that the gathering happened.

One of the other things we religious change agents are prone to do is have a rally/march/sit in. Often these good ideas take a turn for the worse and become riots with brutal results. Nobody’s mind is changed. The results of such activities just serve to more deeply entrench those on both sides of the issue in their preconceived beliefs. The only result for those taking part in the march is they are deepened in their sense of self-righteousness. For those not participating in the march/rally, it is either an inconvenience or just accentuates their belief that the marchers are stupid.

I realize that what I am going to propose runs contrary to some of the most cherished beliefs of my fellow clergy and socially active church members. The morass of societal chaos and confusion; the racial strife and tension; the inequities and poverty we face will not be changed through the political process or marches and candle light vigils. The much needed and greatly desired change we seek will only come when people are changed. And to change people calls for a substantial investment of time in significant relationships. It is impossible to change people at a distance.

The decades of the War on Poverty have been an unmitigated failure because it was attempted by the government. The government is incapable of nurturing the deep relationships needed to turn around systemic poverty. Standing back at an arm’s length and hurling money at those in poverty has proven to be ineffective. Money isn’t the answer; it is just one of the tools needed. It is only through relationships that core values, ineffective and negative thought patterns, and a lifetime of poor teaching and modeling can be overcome. We all wish it were simpler and easier than that, but it is not.

The Christian community has the answer to many of our social ills. We have the spiritually, emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle that Christ calls us to. If we truly understand the Gospel, we know that it is the way to a full and meaningful life. Christians must make a commitment of time, energy and resources in meaningful ministry (Relationships) if we want to see things (People) turn around. It is a huge commitment that would dynamically impact our lives and lifestyles. We probably, on some level of consciousness, realize how profound and difficult making such a commitment would be and have opted for the easier way of investing a bit of time in shouting and writing about our unhappiness with situations we perceive as wrong and by expecting the government to fulfill our responsibility to change our world.

It is interesting, in reading the New Testament stories of the life of Jesus, just how little time and effort he spent in attempting to impact the governing powers and how much time he, instead, invested in people. The Jews of that time were ruled by the Romans and not by a government of their choosing. And the Romans were neither just nor kind. But Jesus had almost nothing to say about it. He was involved in making disciples (Changing lives.) who, in turn, could make disciples who could make disciples. Where he saw unfairness, he sought to correct it. Where he saw hungry people, he fed them. He healed the sick. He made things better. He met needs. And his mission statement is still valid and in effect. But mainly he made disciples. Perhaps we, the church, would do well to follow his example.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

For Whom is a Christian to Vote

This has been an interesting presidential campaign. Except for a few “true believers” on each end of the political spectrum, very few people are the least bit pleased by the candidates put forth by the two major political parties. As is quite common, those who are enthusiastic backers of the candidates are pretty irrational with a bad case of “selecta-hearing” and a willingness to believe the unbelievable. I understand that. Been there; done that.

The responses to the first debate held no surprises. The left leaning major networks (Please don’t bother denying that obvious fact.) all declared Hilary the obvious winner of the debate. The right wing news media (Can you say FOX news?) gave it to Donald. The opinion from an observer who doesn’t care for either of them (That would be me.) is that Hilary was the hands down winner. A calm delivery and the command of many facts gave her my nod.

I have been intrigued reading several Facebook posts and blogs written by Christians enumerating the many reasons why a Christian should not (could not) vote for Donald Trump. I have also noted that nothing much has been written about the possibilities of Christians voting for Hilary Clinton. Since many of the posts and blogs were written by respected Christians, I am guessing that their unspoken point is that it is okay for a Christian to vote for Hilary.

My take on the whole deal is that no Christian could comfortably vote for either candidate. There are several reasons why I feel this way. I am going to share some concerns I have, not as an expert but as an observer.

1.      Neither candidate shows any signs of being a practicing follower of Christ. Before you bother to call me judgmental: I am neither judgmental nor stupid. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruits.” I am not listening to their words, I am looking at the fruit of their lives – how they have treated people and it is ugly. The Donald is rude and mean to people in public. Hillary is rude and mean to people behind the scenes. (Many books have been written by those who have worked closely with the Clintons that point this out.)
2.      Both candidates are amoral, if not immoral. They lie without flinching. After listening to Hilary reply to questions about the reports of FBI Director James Comey of the many falsehoods contained in her testimony in her interview with the FBI, she seems to show herself to be a pathological liar. She lies when the truth sounds better. Even when directly confronted with what Comey said, her take is we must have misunderstood what he meant. Without flinching, Donald has shown a strong inclination to just run over people and if anyone disagrees with him he is more than willing to attempt to verbally destroy them. I have little knowledge of the laws involved, but many very intelligent and informed people have made the point that if they had done some of the things Hillary has done, they would be, if not in prison, would have lost their jobs and security clearance. She seems to assume she is above the law. And there is little doubt that many of Donald’s “successful” business deals have been destructive to others, and yet, he points to those deals with pride.
3.      For many years it has been my opinion that if anyone desires to be the President of the United States, they are suffering from severe psychological problems. I continue to believe that and am completely serious about it.
4.      Both show obvious signs of megalomania. Trump by what he says: Clinton by what she does.
5.      Both are sexists. Again Trump shows his sexism by what he says and Hillary by how she treats women.
6.      Both are racists. This I know because I have been to classes and learned that if you are white, you are racist.

To say I am disappointed by the choices we have is an understatement. I am downright angry at the Democrats. I would love to be a part of the electorate that elects American’s first woman President. That would be awesome. But vote for Hillary? I just can’t do that. What a bummer.

These are both seriously flawed candidates. I certainly wouldn’t vote for either one of them because I am a Christian. The question I must ask myself is; can I vote for either one of them in spite of being a Christian? So far my answer is no. They are both frightening, self-seeking, possibly dangerous, untruthful and showing no discernible relationship with God. Unfortunately, America is up the proverbial creek and someone has misplaced the paddle.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Perfect Record

Keeping records is often at the core of some people’s lives. Accountants keep meticulous records. That’s why I am not one. Our court systems keep and store volumes of records. Police departments and emergency medical squads I have served on carefully record all that we do. The FBI, like all law enforcement entities, keeps records on people. Since I attended college in the 1960’s and was involved in student politics, I assume the FBI has a file on me somewhere in a dusty old file cabinet in Washington.

Do you remember your “Permanent Record”? Every time I got into trouble in school, which was often, some austere school official would announce to me that my misbehavior would be recorded on my permanent record. I had some questions then and have them now. What permanent record? Who has the authority to make notes on my record? Where is my permanent record kept? When I die does is it forwarded to God for our conversation about my life? Can I see my permanent record so I can prepare my defense?

I am amazed at the detailed records kept by the powers that be in baseball. While watching my Cincinnati Reds play on television, the announcers come up with an alphabet soup of statistic. Years ago they displayed the player’s batting average. That was it. Now we are made aware of his OBP (On Base Percentage), RBIs (Runs Batted In), SP (Slugging Percentage (percentage of extra base hits)), home runs hit, batting average before the All Star break, batting average in each month of the season, his hometown, family history and on and on. Good Lord, TMI.

And then a relief pitcher is put in and here come the statistics again: Innings pitched, won-loss record, batting average of opponents, ERA (Earned Run Average), Opponent On-base Plus Slugging (OOPS), Innings Pitched (IP) Strikeouts per nine innings (K/9IP), Strikeouts per walk 9K/BB), Home runs per nine innings (HR/9), walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) and more I can’t think of at the moment. It is just a severe case of overkill.

In baseball there are batting statistics; pitching statistics; base running statistics; fielding statistics; overall player value and general statistics. I found over 100 different baseball statistics. Though I had not heard of it before I was doing research for this blog, my new favorite baseball statistic is: pNERD – Pitcher's NERD: expected aesthetic pleasure of watching an individual pitcher. What is that? A cute pitcher index?

In light of my problematic Permanent Record, I am pleased to announce that somewhere I have a perfect record. In the 1956 St. Matthews, Kentucky, National League Little League record books I have a perfect 1-0 won-loss pitching record. One win and no losses. Perfect.

As I mentioned previously, the first team that picked me to play for them was the Kiwanis Club. After one practice they un-picked me and I was crushed. Soon I was picked up by Lincoln Income and played first base for them. Since my older brother, Bob, was a more than outstanding pitcher, everyone assumed I, too, would be a great pitcher. They were wrong; I wasn’t. Like Bob, I was left handed. Like Bob, I had a large, intimidating windup. Like Bob, I had three pitches I could throw. His were a blazing fastball, a wicked curveball and a slider. Mine were a slow fastball, a slower fastball and a slowest fastball. Besides throwing fluff balls to the plate, I had absolutely no control. If I happened to somehow throw a strike they might stop the game and present me with the ball.

In the context of the preceding information, picture this. It was the third or fourth game of the season and we were sporting a perfect record. Next team on the schedule was Kiwanis Club… the team that had cut me… had devastated me. As the team gathered to warm up and for some infield practice, I walked out to first base. I was surprised when Mr. Weatherby called me back to the dugout. I was guessing he thought it would be too emotionally taxing to face the team that rejected me so early in the season. Instead, he put his arm around my shoulder, walked me out toward the outfield and said, “I want you to pitch today and want you to beat these bastards.” (He was not politically correct.) And then he smiled the biggest, warmest smile I had ever seen on his face and said, “Go warm up.” That was it. As he walked back to home plate to begin infield practice I just stood there thinking. Had he lost his mind? What was he thinking? We all knew I couldn’t pitch. It was a sure loss. As I stood there I finally understood what he was doing. He was giving me the chance to make the coach of Kiwanis Club regret cutting. Up until that point in our relationship I respected Mr. Weatherby and appreciated his coaching skills. But in that moment of understanding what he was up to, I loved Mr. Weatherby.

In Little League we played six inning games. Things went well the first two innings because the other team members came to the plate thinking they were facing my brother’s screaming fastball. The swung way ahead of my “fastball”; sometimes before it had left my hand. I had a windup that looked just like brother Bob’s, but that is where the similarity ended. After they figured out how bad I really was, the game became controlled chaos. They beat the living hell out of everything I threw up to the plate. Fortunately, nobody was able to hit the ball over the fence. But they hit the ball all over the field. But my teammates were on fire. They chased down fly balls, dove for grounders, threw runners out trying to take extra bases. Late in the game came the play of the game. That was when one of their biggest, most experienced players stepped into one of my ever slowing fastballs and hit a bullet to third base. Our third baseman, Rusty Holtzhimer, hardly had time to move a muscle. The ball, traveling approximately 10,000 miles per hour, screamed directly at his head. In a move I still remember, his gloved hand speared the ball less than an inch from his face. It was a play that resulted in ending the inning and saving Rusty’s life.

It was like that the entire game. One amazing play on top of another. If I believed God cared about games, I would have thought God rigged the game. It was amazing. We won six to nothing. The worst pitcher in the league not only won that game, but I threw a shutout. It was a miracle.

As I said, Mr. Weatherby was a great coach. Thus, he never asked me to pitch again. So, there you have it – a perfect record. Take that, you permanent record keepers.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Locked Up

It is interesting to think about the things we lock up. We lock up the things we care about… the things we consider precious. And we lock up the things, and people, we don’t approve of or are afraid of. We put locks on things when we want to keep them in or keep them out. If there is a lock on it, it is probably considered important by someone.

I remember my first day at work at the church in Harrison, Ohio. Locks were the first thing I noticed and the things locked and unlocked told me much about the church. First I discovered that the pastor’s office was both unlocked and unlockable. Nothing important there. I soon discovered in the culture of the church, the pastor was unimportant. In every meeting I attended it was obviously assumed that the pastor was the dumbest person in the room. The pastor was the hired Christian that existed to do the “Christian” things the church members were much too busy and important to do. The pastor was generally disrespected and his office, and its contents, certainly weren’t worth locking and protecting.

The pastor’s office was unlocked but the kitchen was securely locked. I discovered that when I started looking for a cup of coffee. The kitchen was locked and I didn’t have a key. I soon discovered that it was the most important room in the building and, I not only didn’t have a key, I was not going to get a key. The kitchen contained things much too valuable to be entrusted to the idiot pastor.

The kitchen had an interesting history. It was in the kitchen that many wars had been fought and huge emotional investments made. Every year, the local baker, Byron Rupp, had come early on Easter Sunday and made donuts for everyone in attendance that day. They say that as the sweet smell of his amazing donuts cooking in the kitchen wafted up from the basement into the sanctuary, the whole congregation began stirring in their seats and many an Easter sermon was shortened because the preacher’s mouth was watering so badly the sermon could not be continued. After worship everyone gathered in the fellowship hall and ate donuts and drank coffee until it felt like Jesus had returned and brought the food. Many felt that communion would be much more meaningful if it were celebrated with Byron’s donuts and coffee. There were some great memories made in that kitchen.

The kitchen was also the sight of some almost bloody battles. The church was “famous” for its chicken dinners. Thousands of dollars were made by these dinners and several friendships were strained by these dinners. Anyone observant of human nature could have predicted these “chicken wars”. When you get a bunch of women in a shared kitchen something dangerous is going to happen. Before you call me sexist, I am only making an astute observation of the obvious. Most cooks, male or female, tend to be just a bit territorial when it comes to the kitchen. Add to that the fact that nobody can fry chicken like I can. I’m serious… I fry the best fried chicken in the world. And most chicken fryers feel the same way. Stuff us all into one kitchen and watch the fur fly. We can’t help but tell each other how it should be done, critique each other’s work and be pretty vocal about it and warfare breaks out.

Thank God they had stopped doing the chicken dinners before I showed up. I am a great believer that churches should never sell anything to the public. My thoughts are: why should people who don’t give a hoot about the church be expected to help finance the church and selling things to the public just reinforces their perception that the church is only interested in their money. If you are going to prepare a dinner, invite the public and make it free. Stopping the dinners would have just been another change to the church for the old timers to hate me for. Fortunately, before I left the church some of the lay leadership started cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for those in the community alone or in need and served hundreds of free meals every Thanksgiving day for years.

Every church I have served has had a kitchen police force of one. In the church I grew up in it was Mary Lou Henry. Every time I see Dana Carvey do his “Church Lady” bit, I think of Mary Lou. She locked the kitchen and oversaw it every moment the doors were open. She counted the silverware. I know because one Monday morning when I was working at the church as an Associate Minister, she showed up in the office, highly agitated, with a note for the weekly newsletter. It read: “Someone has taken a slotted spatula from the church kitchen. You must return it immediately.” The note sounded just a bit hostile and unkind to me, so I suggested another solution to resolve this horrible situation. I would invest the $1.25 and go buy a new slotted spatula for the kitchen. I’m thinking she didn’t like my idea since she slapped her note on the counter and stomped out the door in a major huff.

The Church Lady (kitchen police chief) at the Harrison church was Edna Ohler. Edna carried a key chain with more keys than the jailers the prison where I had worked and ruled the kitchen (and the church) with an iron hand. Everyone chuckled at her antics but nobody crossed her. Everybody knew you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Edna. So, of course, I did. Somehow we worked out our differences and became great friends. But I remained locked out of the kitchen until the day Edna died. They gave me a key but then just quit locking the door. With Edna gone it just wasn’t as much fun anymore.

Copyright © 2016, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ bill45053@gmail.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon