Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Best and the Worst of Us

Dr. Mehmet Oz is one of the most famous doctors in the country. He became famous on Oprah and now has his own show. He appears to be an incredibly kind and caring many and demonstrates a very gentle style in teaching people health. He has become very popular because he seems to be very likeable, approachable, and smart.

Today, September 26, 2009 he is in Houston, Texas in Reliant Stadium where a massive free clinic will be held in Houston on Saturday, Sept. 27, offered by the "The Dr. Oz Show" and the National Association of Free Clinics.

Hundreds of volunteers, including 160 doctors and 200 nurses, will be on hand to provide care. The clinic will be at the Reliant Center, One Reliant Park.

Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz will participate in the event, which will be taped for an upcoming show devoted to families living without health insurance and the medical volunteers who help them.

Texas has a population where 24% of the people have no health insurance, and Houston was targeted as a place with great needs. Lot of volunteers are there today, doing good work.

Dr. Oz made the observation that this clinic demonstrates the best and worst of America.

Those words have been sticking with me because, I think, he’s right.

On one level, it demonstrates our worse. We do have a healthcare crisis. We do and I hope most people realize this. How we solve it can be up for discussion and debate and I wish the discussion was actually taken more serious by leaders who try to score points rather than solve problems. For a nation as wealth as our nation is, to have the number of people we have without adequate medical coverage, is wrong on so many levels. If for no other reason, many people with no money and no insurance do get cared for in hospitals and we all foot the bill providing health care at its most expensive.

It is interesting to note that these clinics were started by people providing aid for the people in third world countries. They have found that the United States has health care for many citizens akin to that of the folks in a third world country. This is us at our worst.

It is also us at our best.

The medical professionals at this event are volunteering their time. Many doctors, in many specialities do volunteer their time. We have all seen physicians, dentists, eye doctors, etc., provide care for people in need, people who have no money and no way of paying for their care. Many in the medical community have been exceedingly generous with their time, their talent, and their resources to care for people less fortunate than they do. There are also many doctors who work in poor area, who are often paid less than many of their colleagues, but have committed themselves to caring for people in difficult urban situations or in the most rural, remote portions of the country. There is much good that takes place and we’d all be remiss if we did not recognize this and honor this.

Today let us celebrate those who do the good work they do and enable them to inspire all of us to do better.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Random Musings

Former Giants superstar Plaxico Burress broke into tears Tuesday as a judge sentenced him to two years prison for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh last year at a Manhattan nightclub. I can’t blame him. Facing two years in jail has to be a dreadful thing to look forward to. Here is an incredibly talented young man who was in a downward spiral and it all came to this. Very sad.

In 1st Corinthians chapter three, St. Paul writes about feeding the people ‘milk’ instead of solid food because they are still babies in the faith. Interesting to note, that his main contention that the people were still infants in the faith was because of the divisions they had amongst themselves. He saw this kind of conflict, among Christians, as a sign of great spiritual immaturity. This is an interesting, troubling, and compelling point that really does need to be reflected on by all of us.

For people who live in the Louisville metro area, the issue of health care and health care rationing has become an issue because of the festering conflict between Norton Healthcare and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Those of us who have Blue Cross/Blue Shield from a different, out of state, company, are still impacted and are most directly impacted when our primary care physicians are part of Norton. Norton, having moved us out of network, by breaking the contract with Anthem, has resulted, essentially, in the rationing of health care and prompting many people to change their primary care providers. Additionally, the new rulings, by Norton, concerning, Kosair, have raised the stakes considerably.

The people of Anthem and Norton who are in the key leadership positions,, no matter what else they say, ought to bow their heads in shame for their not negotiating during this time period. Their lack of negotiations have put the entire area in a majorly difficult and painful situation.

The people it impacts are patients and their care, and the primary care physicians and the average people working for Norton. To be perfectly blunt, how the CEO of Anthem and Norton still have their jobs is a slam against the Board of Directors of both companies. This entire debate has been disgraceful.

Perhaps health care reform can begin when the people in charge of some of the health care and some insurance corporations learn to grow up and behave like responsible adults.

I wouldn’t make any long term real estate deals if I was Wade Phillips, Jack Del Rio, Jim Zorn, or Norv Turner....

Mackenzie Phillips, new autobiography, High on Arrival, sounds like it has a very appropriate title. If what she is saying about her father, John Phillips, I cannot even fathom how she is even alive today. Very sad story about her life.

ACORN's leaders must have missed a major lesson in life. To point a finger at powerful interests one needs clean hands. To attack someone on the issue of character, one must actually have good character. Newt Gingrich learned this lesson when he helped lead the impeachment charges against Bill Clinton while having an affair himself. ACORN has pointed fingers at major power interests while themselves having dirty hands. Character does matter.

It is interesting to note that Jesus preached, consistently, about not judging others. It is probably one of the most consistently ignored teachings of Jesus and the validity of his warning keeps showing itself time and time again...

My recommendation is that Moammar Gadhafi' make his trip to the United Nations a day trip and not stay overnight in the United States. His welcoming of the bomber released from a Scottish prison disturbs me greatly and I don’t feel like a welcome mat needs to be laid out for him.

Speaking of such things, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can stay if he brings three lost hikers with him...

My new found losing of sarcasm and focusing on politics is causing me physical pain, but I am being diligent about it. I’m tired of hate talk and I refuse to engage in it any longer.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday's Football Musings

Monday’s Football Musings.

Okay, first the Giants game.

The new stadium for the Cowboys is really big. Really big. Pardon me if I say this, but having scantily clad go-go dancers in a football stadium is repulsive. The Cowboys have them.

The game was a great game because, as so often happens in the NFL, it was not as predicted.

The Giants were going to run the ball at will because the Cowboys couldn’t stop the run, and Eli Manning would not be able to pass because he’d be harassed by a huge pass rush and didn’t have any receivers. The Giants couldn’t run and the Cowboys couldn’t stop the pass.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, weren’t going to be able to run because of the Giants front seven but could pass because the Giants have so many injuries in their secondary. Of course, the Cowboys ran wild and couldn’t pass to save their lives.

Jerry Jones left, gray faced and angry because the Giants won. And every Giants fan will tell you that just having that experience made them happy. It was, a great game, however, and one heck of a way to open a stadium.

The Ravens and Chargers game was a good game. Whoever called that draw play at the end of the game, on 4th day, should be tarred and feathered. Bad, bad play call.

Jay Cutler played a really fine game against the Steelers. The Steelers could not run again which bodes poorly for them. It is hard to say about the Bears. Cutler does not have the same supporting cast on offense that he had in Denver, but he made the plays he needed to make.

The Bills look like they are for real. The AFC East is going to be competitive. I’m not sure about the Patriots. They have not looked great this season, but they have a lot of talent. The Jets looked good and Sanchez has had a great two game career thus far. The Jets defense, however, is their best weapon. The Dolphins, which won the division last year, look like the weakest team.

The Saints look great. Really great. They shredded the Eagles defense. Shredded them. The Eagles have a really fine defense and, wow. Drew Brees might be the best quarterback in the game right now, and that is saying something.

The Vikings have looked good. But. Here’s the problem right now for the Vikings. They have not had tough opponents. They had two opponents, the Browns and the Lions, who played them tough, but they are not really good teams. We won’t know about the Vikings until they play someone tough.

Random observations:

Brady Quinn, I don’t think, has the ‘stuff’ to be a great NFL quarterback. I’m not sure he’s the answer for the Browns.

Eli Manning is a really good player. I’m not sure where he ranks in this league, but he knows how to win and comes up with good drives at critical times. His big contract does not seem to faze him a whole lot. The Manning are class people.

John Fox in North Carolina seems to have hooked his future to the Jake Delhomme star. A star that is aged and falling. Rapidly...

Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay has one heck of an arm and can fire a pass on the line as well as anyone. He looks like he’ll be a great quarterback for a long time. The Packers, however, need to learn to protect him. No one can survive the pounding he’s taking.

Adrian Peterson is amazing. He was stopped on a play and he turned and went in a different direction. Very impressive player.

The Giants showed the NFL on how to deal with Tom Brady. Blitz the daylights out of the Patriots. Brady, with time, is awesome and has great down field receivers. If he doesn’t have the time to get the ball down field to Moss, he becomes a lot more average. The Jets followed that plan and won. I’m not a Jets fan, but that was impressive.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Civility in Disagreement

Right now, every night, people sit down and watch their new version of reality television. People can turn on Fox News and watch them bash the people at MSNBC and the dreaded ‘liberals.’ Or people can turn on MSNBC and watch them bash the people at Fox News and the dreaded ‘conservatives.’ People who are interested in politics, if we are remotely honest, have all done it and have gotten a charge out of the statements made on both sides. It is one part news, two part commentary, and three parts entertainment. And we eat it all up.

At our peril.

Every day, while driving to and from work, or on road trips, people listen to ‘hate radio,’ my new term for what used to be called ‘talk radio.’ We can listen to people from the right or the left haul off and blast people who disagree with them.

Any such concept as ‘middle ground’ has been shattered by the screaming, the yelling, the venom, and, sadly, hate that is rapidly growing in our nation. There is an increasing loss of civility and respect in the interaction of people with one another.

This is not particular new to right now. It has been growing and growing and growing. It is ugly and incredibly sad.

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

The words ‘love’ used in this passage is a Greek word, agape, which is often translated as charity or as respectfulness. Paul was not referencing people ‘in love’ or even as friends, those were other words in Greek. These words are used in reference to how we treat people each and every day.

The complete and utter lack of respect that we see and the lack of civility in the exchanges of people, wherever they are taking place is, in a word, repugnant. It has, quite frankly, shaken me to my core and has abruptly put much of my rather quick ability to use sarcastic humor on hold in many instances. It is no longer funny. There are several things that feed into this:

First, when we choose to lack civility towards others, we feed this new wave of cruelty. When our words and our deeds are angry and disrespectful towards others, when we shout others down, etc., our very behavior feeds this mean spiritedness.

Secondly, when we support those who lack civility, we feed it as well. I have stopped watching, stopped listening, and stopped reading the vitriol. As soon as I see a person bashed on television I have been changing the channel. I’ve been watching a lot of the NFL Network and the Food Channel as well as reruns of NCIS of late. (In fairness, this is not painful for me!) I look at headlines through the day on the Internet and read well crafted stories from all different perspectives. Until they get mean, then I stop. There is that old cliche that says that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The more we watch and listen to the hate, the more part of the problem we are.

Thirdly, let’s make sure we encourage people around us to be positive and not negative. It is funny because when people are mean-spirited and they get called on it, they stop because they are embarrassed.

There are positive things we can do.

First, follow the advice of St. Paul. Be patient. Be kind. Don’t be boastful, or arrogant, or rude.

Secondly, we all need to learn a lesson in humility. There is something to this that goes greater than might meet the eye. We often get boastful, arrogant, and rude in discussions and turn them into arguments because of our rudeness. This often takes place because we are sure that we are right and the other person or people happen to be wrong. But they might not be. No matter how convinced we are that we are correct about something, we might not be correct. Most of us, if we are remotely honest, can attest to times we have been wrong. In our conversations with others, it’s important to have the humility to recognize this.

Thirdly be honest and demand honesty. One thing that I have found incredibly disturbing with the healthcare debate is that the truth and the facts are very elusive things. We are in the midst of a public relations effort with people attempting to terrify us if we do reform healthcare or if we don’t reform healthcare. There is a great deal of misinformation being spread and many of the allegedly ‘neutral’ sources are not neutral. We need to demand honesty from ourselves as well as others.

And lastly, let us never forget to be kind.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mother Janet Stuart's Well Known Prayer

Keep us, O God, from all pettiness.
Let us be large in thought, in word, in
Let us be done with fault-finding and
leave off all self-seeking.
May we put away all pretense and meet
each other face-to-face,
Without self pity and without
May we never be hasty in judgment,
always generous.
Let us take time for all things, and
make us grow calm, serene, and Gentle.
Teach us to put into action our better
impulses, to be straight-forward and
Grant that we may realize that it is
the little things of life that create
That in the big things of life we are
And, Lord, God, let us not forget to be
Kind. Amen.

Philip Yancey---Article

I really like Philip Yancey. He is one of the most incredibly decent writers (and I think people ) out there. He is one of those people who seem to successfully straddle the right and the left in Christianity by focusing on things that truly do matter. Here is a recent article that he wrote that is just amazing:

Monday, September 14, 2009

This Weekend in the NFL----Manzo’s Musings

No theological insights or political comments are coming in this edition. All football, NFL style.

First, I love watching the NFL. It is easily my favorite sport.

First and foremost, the Giants. They played well. Eli passed well against the Redskins who have a formidable defense. The young receivers showed up and played effectively against a good time. The Giants defense was very good except for that one drive near the end of the game. Their special teams unit missed a fake field goal and people all looked a tad out of synch. But ‘out of synch’ was the order of the day for most teams. Teams do not play starters in the pre-season so the first couple of games of the season are there to work out kinks. I was pleased and the Giants came away with a big W!

Miami’s fear wildcat formation turned out to be not very feared and well defensed in Atlanta. Actually, whenever the wildcat showed up this weekend, it was stuffed. Methinks defensive coordinators have figured this one out.

The Bengals and the Broncos. It was too bad someone had to actually win that game. Awful. Awful.

I thought that the Browns did a credible job against the Vikings. The Vikings running game, however, finally did overpower the less talented Browns. The Browns did show up, however, and played tough. I am not sure, however, about Brady Quinn. He doesn’t strike me as NFL caliber, but I could be wrong.

The Colts and Jaguars game was a good, defensive struggle. The Colts came up when they had to. The Jets beat the Texans very nicely. Sanchez enjoyed a relatively easy first game. Things will get harder for him, however.

The Bears and Packers game was sloppy and the Bears lost their best defensive player for the season----and he was finally healthy. Cutler looked bad, but he had no protection and his receivers seemed to be playing for some other team. He never knew where they were. Packers defenders, however, were wide open all night and Cutler hit them quite effectively...

Steve Spagnuolo was a great defensive coach for the Giants and I wish him well. Good guy and good coach. I can’t imagine he enjoyed his debut as the Rams’ head coach a great deal.

The Chiefs gave the more talented Ravens a run for their money. The Ravens pulled ahead and pulled away late, but the Chiefs played one tough game----with a back up quarterback. They are young and building, but I think they are moving in the right direction. I just hope they aren’t moving in a good direction the first Sunday in October, however, when they play the G-Men.

Next weekend’s big game is in Dallas when the Giants visit. Romo is allegedly hurt. The pre-game games, begin.

Wow. The NFL’s first weekend. I love it!

Sunday's Sermon

The Unvarnished Jesus
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 13, 2009

One of the ways we preserve wood an make it look better is to put varnish on it. And when it starts to look a little worn, we varnish it again. And then again. And then again. After a while, the wood is covered with varnish and we discover that we can no longer make out very much about what the wood is supposed to look like. And so we strip the wood to see what we were working with in the first place.

Jesus often gets varnished. This is not devious or evil, or deceptive. It’s just that, sometimes we like to put some varnish on Jesus to make Jesus a bit more appealing than the Gospels portray him.

Jesus is always kind and loving and gentle and wonderful in music, testimony, and sermons. Jesus is portrayed in a variety of ways in film and is usually always a picture of calm in the midst of chaos swirling around him. Popular portrayals of Jesus in the movies often makes it appear as if Jesus is just this smiling guy doing nice things for people.

The Gospels portrait of Jesus is a more unvarnished Jesus, however. Jesus isn’t always a very easy character in the Gospels. He is not always gentle, does not always appear to be very kind and nice. Mark’s portrait of Jesus here is actually rather interesting and not all together particularly delightful in this passage.

Jesus asks who people say that he is and Peter gives the right answer. The Messiah. Jesus goes on to speak about suffering, sacrifice, and rejection and Peter rebukes Jesus. Take note of this. Peter rebukes Jesus. This is not the typical thing we see, Peter rebuking Jesus.

We begin, however, to have an unvarnished look at Jesus and the first thing we take note of is Jesus’ honesty.

Jesus was totally honest.

We all profess that we want honesty. We demand honesty. If asked, most of us would say that we want one hundred percent honesty one hundred percent of the time. We all say it, but I am not sure we always mean it.

The other night the President gave a speech. I suspect many of us watched it with varying opinions that are not relevant to this sermon.

After the speech, I suspect, most of us listened to commentary from people we like explaining to us what we heard. Many used the fine art of ‘spin,’ spin we perhaps adapted.

‘Spin,’ is taking a piece of truth and adjusting it to a different perspective. It changes the facts a bit, and is, by its very nature, not truthful. But we love ‘spin,’ and listen to it and accept it despite the fact that it’s often not truthful.

We also have other issues with truth. Ponder these expressions.

We say that people lack tact.

We say that people lack diplomacy.

Generally, when we say these things we are saying that these people are too blunt or too honest for our tastes.

When I was growing up we moved and lived in an apartment while our house was being built. Our next door neighbors were really nice people and the woman loved to cook and was a wonderful cook and said that she loved to share food with her neighbors.

Her husband was a really skinny guy and that should have served as a warning to us...

She did cook and she did like to share food with us. She often time made and sent over dishes to our family. Some of them were okay, but some of her dishes were pretty awful. One night she made something and it was dreadful. The dog wouldn’t even eat it. If you’ve ever had a dog and the dog refused the food, you know how bad that food is.

After we disposed to the food and did the dishes, my Dad told me to take the dish next door and thank her for the delicious meal. I was about 12 and perplexed and told my Dad that telling her the food was delicious would be a lie. He said, “Well, it’s a good lie. Sometimes you have to use good lies to people.”

So I brought the dish over and lied through my teeth.

Here is the thing about Jesus, however. Jesus always told the truth. There was no tact, no diplomacy, no ‘good lies.’ He was flat out honest all the time. It made the apostles uncomfortable and drove the civil and religious authorities to want to kill him in the worst way.

To embrace Jesus is to embrace the honesty of Jesus and it’s not always easy to do that.

A second thing that stands out in this is this. Jesus delineates what discipleship is and is not. Jesus makes a point that discipleship is not about enhancing our lives in, in his words, “this adulterous and sinful generation.” Discipleship, Jesus is making a point, is not about personal gain, status, or anything else like that.

And here is where Peter enters the picture. Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes Peter back. Often it seems like Peter does not understand what Jesus is saying. This is not the case. One of the great myths of the New Testament is that Peter was dumb and clueless and lacking in understanding to what Jesus is saying. But he is not dumb, he is not clueless, and the problem Peter has is that he does understand what Jesus is saying.

The theologian John Shea observes that people have a fantasy about Jesus and that Jesus spends a lot of time disappointing our fantasy by being real and unvarnished.

Peter, we have learned, was not a poor fisherman. He owned the boats. He was a smart and successful businessman and following Jesus was a position of status.

Jesus was a popular preacher and Peter liked to be standing right there, feeling the love of the crowd.

Jesus was a popular miracle worker and Peter liked to be standing right there, feeling the love.

Jesus was a celebrity and Peter was his close associate and friend. Peter thought of all the great things coming there way. Fame, fortune, status, and popularity were all there right in front of him.

And Jesus is talking about how faithfulness comes from sacrifice, suffering, and rejection. Jesus is not living up to Peter’s fantasy of what he wants Jesus to be.

Let’s be honest. We all have our fantasies of what Jesus will do for us.

Here is what I’d like from Jesus. An appearance on television stating that the United Church of Christ was the one true church and that people were going to hell unless they attended a United Church of Christ congregation and tithed.

I’d like Jesus to make it so that brussels sprouts were bad for you and chocolate chip cookies with milk were the healthiest things in the world to eat.

And, of course, I’d want Jesus to be a Giants’ fan....

Like most, I’d like Jesus to be a Messiah who fulfills what I want instead of having expectations of me.

But Jesus is not a Messiah who is here to fulfill our fantasies of how life can be great and what we can attain. Jesus instead speaks to us of service to God and to one another.

But there is one more thing.

This past Friday we recalled the 8th Anniversary of that terrible day, September 11th; a day that wounded our national psyche. The recent funeral of Ted Kennedy and the return to the grave of President John Kennedy reminded me of that day in Dallas, in 1963 as a day that wounded our national psyche. One event happened while I was an adult; the other as a child. I remember both vividly and both events cut into the heart of people in the nation in profound ways.
To me, part of the devastation of the tragedy of September 11th was that vivid reminder to us on how incredibly fragile human life is. People were speaking to loved ones on cell phones, and through the terrible all consuming fire and the collapse of the building, were never seen or heard of again. They were gone without a trace. So many people that day simply vanished never to be seen or heard from again.

These are events that remind us that there is more to life than what we see here around us. They remind us that there has to be one beyond our senses, a God who loves people and welcomes those, even gone from our sight, into another life with Him.

And it is this profound lesson, this profound truth, that Jesus is calling us to.

The unvarnished Jesus is not a Messiah of human fulfillment or status, or wealth or even popularity. The unvarnished Jesus is one who is totally honest in all things and who teaches us that discipleship is about sacrifice and service of others. It is not about us, but about others. It is not about us, it is about God. Ultimately the unvarnished Jesus reminds us that our hope is in what we might not really comprehend, but can only trust in God for our care.

The unvarnished Jesus is not always the Jesus we fantasize about; the unvarnished Jesus is the one, however, who is real and good and who provides us the hope we so need.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I feel badly for Congressman Joe Wilson

I feel badly for Congressman Joe Wilson. Seriously. This is not a joke and I am not being sarcastic in the least.

It was obvious, in watching a short interview with him this morning that Mr. Wilson is very shaken up and obviously distressed at his outburst by saying, “You lie!,” during President Obama’s speech. It was a spontaneous outburst and an unfortunate outburst and, in so many ways and on so many levels, reflects the lack of courtesy we have for one another and, frankly, the lack of respect we have for the Office of the President, no matter who it happens to be.

In the midst of a week of swirling controversy, during a major speech on a controversial issue on which 1001 people have weighed in, and in the midst of rancor shared by people on every side of the debate, how can we be surprised that one person lost his cool at a bad moment.

Congressman Wilson was wrong to do so. People from both parties have said that from the start and he has apologized for his outburst. Here’s the thing. He is a frail human being caught up in human emotion like the rest of us. His outburst, to his dismay, was at a really bad and public time. Many of us have lost our cool and said dumb things in much safer and quieter settings them him. His outburst was both unfortunate and unlucky.

I hope that the health care debate, which I do believe is an important debate, does not hinge on his outburst. Actually, I hope that everyone learns that people’s tempers have blown out of proportion and that it is time for everyone to sit down, talk, and solve the problems like grownups. Often one person’s failure, even briefly, is a wake up call to everyone. But the debate should not hinge on one outburst----it just be taken for what it is. One man’s emotional mistake.

As for Congressman Joe Wilson. He has apologized in an appropriate manner. The White House accepted his apology in an appropriate manner. Everyone needs, from this point forward, to let the issue go and move on to more important concerns.

And finally, let’s stop piling hate on Congressman Joe Wilson. I doubt he slept last night and I strongly suspect he’s highly embarrassed. As a society, I’d say simply forgive him his ‘moment’ and allow him and everyone else to move on.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Random Musings

Jon Gosselin thinks everyone hates him. I doubt it. People are just tired of him. If he goes away and we never have to hear from him again, that would be fine.

Oh, yes, and Kate. Don’t hate her either. But if she was off the national scene, that would be fine too.

The reality is that I think that most people are very weary of watching their never ending soap opera play out on television night after night.

Speaking of reality television: I do love the show Top Chef. Amazing. The things these people do never fails to amaze me. It’s a reminder that top flight chefs are truly artists in their own right. They are incredibly talented. When you eat the food of a top flight chef, you know it. Slam dunk.

I have lost all interest in Major League Baseball. I don’t even know who is in first place at the moment and I don’t care. Maybe it’s because the Mets are terrible or maybe I’m just tired of watching these overpaid prima donnas play night after night.

I am, however, still gung ho about the NFL season. The Giants played their 3rd string and hot dog vendors through most of the pre-season so it’s impossible to tell what they have going for them. I’m hoping a lot.

I suspect Raiders fans would like Al Davis to join Jon and Kate on a deserted island somewhere.

Is there a health care debate going on or competing commercial commentary. If there is a real debate, I seem to have missed it...

Emma Watson is finding it difficult ‘blending in’ at Brown University. Being a major movie star in what of the hottest series in movie history tends to have that effect. Speaking of this, the final Harry Potter book is brilliant. Brilliant. All the hype it received made it sure to not meet expectations and it surpassed them. I can’t wait for the movies on book 7.

I’m glad the President steered clear of politics in his speech to school children. I hope that the kids do stay in school, work hard, and realize that it’s on them----they are responsible for their own education. It is amazing when parents and students think teachers ‘fail’ them. Teachers don’t fail students; students fail the class. Frankly, most teachers live for students to take an interest in their subjects and do their studies, and learn. In the recent interview of our regional school’s theater directors, the passion of these teachers and their students was very evident and wonderful on so many levels. These teachers touched lives of young people and changed them. That’s something all good teachers strive for.

And lastly, a random comment. The metro Louisville area is a great area for restaurants. It truly is.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sunday's Sermon---No Matter Who We Are...

No Matter Who We Are....
Text: James 2:1-17
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 6, 2009

No matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are always welcome here. We always, of course, announce that in terms of ‘you,’ but it implies that all of us sitting here today are welcome here.

The Letter of James is a very brief letter in the New Testament placed between the Letter to the Hebrews, usually credited as being written by a follower of St. Paul, and 1 Peter that is often credited either to Peter or one of Peter’s close associates. We really do not know who wrote James other than what he called himself, that he was a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But he did write a letter and his letter is provocative.

It has been said, on more than one occasion, that the Letter of James contradicts the writings of St. Paul, and most especially when Paul speaks in Romans that we are not justified by our works and actions, but by our faith in God. James writes, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

It has also been said that Romans is a ‘Protestant’ letter because it speaks about faith and grace where as the Letter of James is a Roman Catholic letter because it speaks about works as Roman Catholic doctrine seems to lean in the direction of words and deeds we do to achieve salvation whereas Martin Luther indicated if is only an issue of faith. This denominational competition, however, is not particularly valid, however, as Romans is read and believed in Roman Catholic congregations and the Letter of James is read and believed in Protestant congregations.

The reality is that they do not contradict each other in the least.

Paul makes an argument that good works without faith are simply good works. It does not require an act of faith in God to be charitable to each other. There are many people who believe in the power of humanity alone who do good works. Their good deeds to not require faith. Paul’s argument is that just because a person does good things does not mean they are a person of faith. Without the faith, he argues, the person has nothing.

The words of James are not contrary to these, they merely take Paul’s words to the next level. The argument of James would be that if a person sincerely is a person of faith then they would do good deeds. A person of real faith would not sit idly by while there was suffering in the world. Simply put, Paul would say to us to make sure we talk the talk and James would remind us that while we are talking the talk, we also need to walk the walk. They go hand in hand.

But does not end there. James, in fact, is disconcertingly aggressive in making some points in this letter.

The first point is that God’s people the Christian Church, need to be radically inclusive. Words we say, No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here need not just be said, but be said and radically lived out. And he uses an uncomfortably stunning example.

Imagine, if you will, someone named Oprah moves her show to Louisville and builds a house in the Knobs and, because she has United Church of Christ background, visits St. Marks and is seriously interested in our church and is very up-front with discussing how she believes that tithing to one’s church is very important.

And that day a family who just moved into town, also with a United Church of Christ background, also very interested in our church, and who live in the projects and are happy to be a part of a church where they can go to the Soup Kitchen to eat and get clothing for their family from our Clothes Closet.

Who do we get excited about? Which one of these visitors is going to get a lot of energy from us to assure that everything in their experience at St. Marks is wonderful?

You know the answer. I know the answer. James knew the answer too. He would seem to indicate that we ought to be at least equal in our welcome to both, and if we were going to expend our best energy, give it to the impoverished family because they would need the church more. That is radical inclusion. And, if we say the words, No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here, we really need to mean them.

The second thing about this letter is that it is a lesson in imparting the Good News and the good feelings and hope to others, and not just think it’s about ourselves. Faith James is reminding us, is not for us to feel good, but it’s to make others feel good. The challenge, he seems to indicate, is getting the focus off of ourselves and our wants and needs, and focusing it upon other people.

Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church just outside of Grand Rapids. Several of our Sunday School classes, youth and adult, have used his Nooma video series on class. He’s an incredibly interesting man, to say the least.

He has this notion, a brilliant notion in my opinion, that says that God loves everyone so much that he welcomes them into church no matter how they are. But Bell goes on to say, “But God loves them too much to allow them to stay that way.” In short, God calls us into church to live lives of ongoing conversion and growth.

James, however, continues to not make this easy because he is speaking about mercy over judgment. He is reminding us that people break commandments all the time but are usually pretty good about proclaiming how good they are because while they did this sin they didn’t do the other.

God loves them too much to allow them to stay that way.

The first inclination we have, if we are remotely honest about what our first inclination is, is that we think about the people in our midst who we might not approve of for some reason and say, “That means they have to change.” But here is the brilliance of James’ letter. Whereas we live and serve for others, when it comes to conversion we focus not on others, but on ourselves. It is not up to any of us to indicate that anyone ought to change other than ourselves. As how we relate to others, James says it very clearly, mercy triumphs over judgment.

The Letter of James is short, but packs a potent punch of lesson to us. James reminds us that our welcome to others ought to be radically inclusive, and growth in faith begins in serving others while growing ourselves in the love of Christ and others.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

We Ought to Be Ashamed of Ourselves

Please take note of something as I write this. I am using the words ‘we’ and ‘ourselves’ including myself in those who ought to be ashamed. As I reflect on what I am writing about, I take responsibility for the times I have ventured into this.

We appear, as a nation, and as a people to have sunk to some new lows in how we interact with each other and we truly ought to be ashamed.

In Red Bank, New Jersey, at a town hall meeting to discuss health care, a woman in a wheelchair, who is disabled, was speaking about her plight. All the while the woman spoke, she was heckled. Congressman Frank Pallone said that the meeting was pretty much like that the entire time. No matter who spoke and no matter what they said, they were heckled. The hecklers were pro and con. Offensive behavior knew no boundaries. The one thing, however, that stuck out was one of the men who heckled this woman mercilessly fumed afterwards wondering why some woman in a wheelchair had more rights than he. My thought was simple. She didn’t have more rights than he. She had a right to speak and not be heckled, as did he. Simple. The really sad thing in this scenario, however, was that we as a people used to care, in special ways, for people who are disabled, in wheelchairs, or ill. Now we heckle.

Senator John McCain was at a town hall meeting about three weeks ago. Whether one likes or agrees with John McCain is not the point here. He is entitled to respect. He is a United States Senator and has been one a long time. He was the Presidential candidate of a major party. He served in Vietnam and paid the price of being in a prison camp for many years. John McCain has spent a lifetime serving his country. Whether you agree with him or not, he is entitled to respect. He was heckled by a person making accusations of him being on the ‘take’ from health insurance companies. He was not asked politely. He was heckled. It was disgraceful.

President Obama is addressing school children on Tuesday. Advanced reports are that he is going to use this time to tell them to stay in school, study hard, and work to achieve their goals. These are all, I hope, good things to most parents, teachers, and kids. If he uses the time to promote his political agenda with the children by telling them to talk to their parents about health care of whatever, shame on him. If he is simply saying that the kids should work hard, shame on people who are attacking him. Whether people agree with the President or not, we owe the Office of the President respect. I did not like President Bush a great deal, but I stood on a New Albany street to see if I could get a glimpse of him. Whether I liked him or agreed with him in any way, he was my President. When we treat the President of the United States with disrespect by refusing to listen to him or allow our children to listen to him, regardless of who the President is, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Sadly, we teach our children a dreadful lesson by our shameful behavior. Ideology trumps respect.

Several point on this.

We owe others respect for a variety of reasons.

Recently Representative Baron Hill met with people at local retirement housing facility. He had something of a town hall meeting with the folks, all elderly. I was speaking with one of the residents, an amazingly wonderful and gracious lady, I might add, and I asked her how it went and if people heckled Rep. Hill. She smiled and said, “No, we were raised to be respectful.”

We were raised to be respectful. These are words to live by. Let others speak. St. Paul wrote these words in Romans 12:

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
£ 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;£ do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;£ for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I love those words, ‘live in harmony with one another.’ They are words that I seek, personally, to take to heart every day.

Secondly, one of the great Biblical virtues is humility. I do try to live by an adage that I might not be right about something. I might not be right. It allows me the opportunity to listen to others who just may be right. It does not mean we don’t have opinions, even strong opinions, but if we always have open hearts and minds to the wisdom of others, we might learn that we are not right about everything, all the time.

For me, a lover of sarcasm and wit, often at the expense of people I don’t like or approve of, this has been a wake up call as well. I am not a cruel person and I enjoy a good laugh and I enjoy making others laugh. For me, this is a soul-searching journey to assure that I, personally, always choose the words of Paul first, to love others with mutual affection and seek to show honor first, and to live in harmony with others.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Do Not Be Afraid (Sunday's Sermon)

Do Not Be Afraid
Texts: Luke 12:1-9
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
August 30, 2009
Do not be afraid.
Considering the events of last weekend, whenever people heard that my sermon title, one I had already planned, was "Do not be afraid,' the title was met with a lot of laughter. All things considered, it's a good thing that I have a sense of humor.
Do not be afraid.
In the passage we read today we read about Jesus responding to some Pharisees who are afraid for him. The Pharisees in today's story were not enemies of Jesus.
Let me say something about the Pharisees. For the most part, when we hear about the Pharisees we think bad thoughts about them. The Pharisees were merely a sect in Judaism like any other group. Some liked Jesus and some did not.
This group approached him with a warning that King Herod was keeping an eye on Jesus. This was the same King Herod who had recently had John the Baptist beheaded, and they were concerned for Jesus' safety.
Jesus, pretty much dismisses their concerns. He is basically unafraid to die. He is willing to meet whatever fate has in store for him.
So what do we say about fear and courage? Sometimes fear and courage is not really a big deal.
One of my favorite recent movies was the movie Julie and Julia and Meryl Streep played Julia Child to perfection. She redid a scene that Julia Child once did de-boning a duck and Julia Child's opening statement on de-boning the duck was this:
Do not be afraid. But this was not a mortal type of fear. Perhaps cut fingers or a messed up duck, but there was not danger involved.
But sometimes fear is real. There is something very real to be afraid of. It might be major surgery, or jobs are being cut, or illness, or danger. Not being afraid, having courage, is first off confronting fear.
First off, fear, when left to its own devices, has a way of immobilizing us. When we allow fear to rule our lives, we fine it difficult to take steps forward.
Sometimes fear can immobilize us.
One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking his corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked:
"How's your cotton coming?"
"Ain't got none," was the answer. "Didn't plant none. 'Fraid of the boll weevil." "Well, how's your corn?"
"Didn't plant none. 'Fraid o' drouth."
"How about your potatoes?"
"Ain't got none. Scairt o' tater bugs."
The stranger finally asked, "Well, what did you plant?"
"Nothin'," answered the farmer. "I just played it safe."
On occasion fear can immobilize us that we do nothing in response to it.
The way we move from being immobilized is through courage. Courage mobilizes us away from inertia.
Many people mistakenly presume that courage is an absence of fear; that courage and fearlessness go hand in hand.
A lot of times this thing we call fearlessness isn't very healthy.
Would one expect soldiers in the middle of an intense battle to be fearless? One would expect there to be a great deal of fear.
Fear is a pretty normal reaction to things.
Courage isn't so much an absence of fear as it is moving forward despite having fear. Brave people do brave things not because they are fearless, but because they are able to do brave things despite the fact that they are afraid. Having courage can come from several different routes.
One route many people take is attempting to make the situation manageable for themselves.
It seems that years ago the great golfer, Arnold Palmer, was invited to come to a convention of blind golfers. He asked the golfers how they were able to know what direction to hit the ball. One blind golfer explained that the caddy went out ahead of him with a little bell which he would ring as he stood near the hole. The blind golfer would then hit the ball toward the sound of the bell. Arnold asked how well it worked, and the blind golfer said that it worked so well he was willing to take on Arnold Palmer for a round of golf; and just to make it interesting, was willing to bet Palmer ten thousand dollars he could beat him.
Well, this just blew Palmer's mind. He pressed him, but the man insisted he was willing to bet that amount on his ability to beat Palmer. So, the deal was struck. Palmer said, "OK. What time do we tee off?" And the blind man said, "Midnight!"
We can achieve courage when we can create scenarios that we can deal with.
However, very often in life, things go out of control and we do not have the ability to control the situation--so we need to depend on more than our ability to control a situation--we need to find faith and confidence in more than ourselves.
Sometimes people find faith and confidence in the wrong stuff.
Many people who have had problems with alcohol and drugs have used them to give them courage---and they were betrayed by their drug use.
In reality our only true hope can come from God and, perhaps, as important as God, the Worship of God.
Fear paralyzes us, courage mobilizes us, and the worship of God encourages us. The Worship of God is with way we em-body our faith.
The Worship of God is with way we en-courage our faith.
The Worship of God gives us grounding in something other than ourselves, and something greater than ourselves.
And the Worship of God need not be perfect to embody our faith or even to encourage us.
One of my favorite stories was about a Rabbi many years ago. A crisis had hit his village and so he went to a certain place in the woods, lit the fire a certain way, and said the prayers a certain way to God. And God heard the Rabbi and rescued the village. A generation later a crisis had hit the same village and the Rabbi of the that era went to the certain place in the woods, lit the fire a certain way, but had forgotten the prayer. And God heard the Rabbi and rescued the village.
Another generation had passed and a crisis hit the same village and the Rabbi of that era went to the certain spot in the woods, but did not know how to light the fire and did not know the prayer. But it was enough. God saw the Rabbi and rescued the village.
Yet another generation had passed and the crisis hit the same village. The Rabbi of that era did not know the spot in the woods, did not know how to light the fire and did not know the prayer. But he told the story, and that was enough and God rescued the village.
When we Worship God we retell a story that has been told over and over again. We sing hymns which are old; we read stories from the Bible which are old and we say prayers which are old. We carry on an old ritual because we tell and old, old story.
Why do we do it--because the Worship of God is the only thing which can truly move us from fear to encourage.
It is what gave Jesus the strength and the courage to confront Herod and his culture; it is what empowers us to live as Christians even when it is difficult.