Thursday, September 30, 2010

Manicures and Ministry

For the last several months I've been looking for an affordable and enjoyable nail experience. I used to go to a lovely place that felt like a spa, with sounds of waterfalls and wind chimes in the air. No blaring TV, no dozen young women chattering loudly in a language I don't understand. Just occasional quiet conversation as the employees engage in pampering me. It was paradise, really. The atmosphere was so calming that I felt compelled to leave my silenced iPhone in my purse so I could focus on the experience. Ommm. . .

Sadly, I can no longer afford that place so I've been looking for a new place to go. Last week I went to a salon that I heard about while enjoying a spa gift I'd received for my birthday. When I mentioned who referred me to her shop the owner served me personally. I guess I should have realized I was in trouble when she filed my nails to all different lengths. She then cut my cuticles until they bled, applied bright red polish directly to the nail without any base coat, and refused to use the colors I requested for the design. Ever the optimist, I had my eyebrows waxed by another woman in the shop, who apologized when one brow ended up much shorter than the other. I won't be going back.

I did check for the licenses hanging on the wall when I walked in to the salon. Somehow I thought that having a license meant that I would be treated with some degree of expertise and professionalism. I don't know why I thought that. I watch in amazement as Mike Holmes of HGTV's Holmes on Homes tears apart the work of licensed but greedy or lazy electricians, plumbers, and other building professionals. The news is filled with stories about unethical builders, bankers, doctors, moving companies and so on ad nauseum. Even ministers. *Sigh*

When I was ordained to the ministry of Jesus Christ I received a certificate of ordination, a robe, some stoles and a Bible. I also received a suitable for framing copy of the Ministerial Code of Ethics. I did frame it and placed it right next to the door of my office so that I see it whenever I leave the room. This code of ethics is intended to help me live as God would have me live while serving as a healthy shepherd of the flock with which I have been entrusted. It states how I am expected to deal with my financial responsibilities as well as my physical and mental health, care for those who depend on me and maintain healthy boundaries. Sometimes I get up from my desk and walk over to read it again just for a reminder.

I realize that owning a copy of that Ministerial Code of Ethics can't make me an ethical person any more than owning a copy of the Greek Testament can make someone a Christian. But it can and does serve as a reminder of the vows I took before God and a congregation to serve and love with all my being. It reminds me that good intentions aren't enough. Even innocence of actual wrong-doing is not enough. If I would be a faithful servant and good shepherd, I must also avoid even the appearance of improper behavior. I must do my best to avoid situations that can be misconstrued or misinterpreted. Not just because I want to protect myself and my own reputation but because I am responsible for safeguarding the reputation of the Church.

Yes, I am referring to the current news story about accusations against a particular Christian minister in a long string of stories about well known ministers who have fallen short of what they preached. Here we see the media presenting yet another sensational story of a wolf in shepherd's clothing, a preacher who says "Do what I say, not what I do." Whether or not he is actually guilty of the charges being brought against him isn't that important to me. What is important to me is that even the accusation is bad for the Church as a whole. Even though I strongly disagree with much of what he preaches and stands for, I cannot rejoice that he is brought low for he is my brother in Christ. We are reminded repeatedly in the Gospels that we are to love all of our brothers and sisters, even caring for our [political and theological] enemies as the Samaritan cared for the man on the side of the road.

So I pray for those who are damaged by this situation and all the others like it. I pray for the accusers and the accused, the sheep and the shepherd. Most of all, I pray for the seekers who may turn away and wander in another direction because of what they are being led to believe about the Church and her servants.

BTW - Because the bright red polish started to chip off the very next day I re-did my nails myself even though I have had no professional training in the field. They are now all one length and the color has stayed put for a week. However, I'm still looking for that affordable and enjoyable nail experience.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11: A Day for Peace

It's 9/11 again. Every year as this day comes around the country takes a deep breath and remembers. As a nation we remember where we were and what we were doing, just like we have remembered where we were when Kennedy was shot and when the attack came on Pearl Harbor.

When we think of the Kennedy assassination we know that it was accomplished by one person (or maybe a group acting as part of a conspiracy). But we don't blame everyone who ever lived in Russia as the assassin did, or everyone who ever belonged to the communist party as the assassin did. True, at the time we really didn't trust Russia or Communists, but we didn't blame them all for the killing of our President. We put the blame for that act squarely on Lee Harvey Oswald (and maybe some co-conspirators).

The attack on Pearl Harbor, on the other hand, was immediately and rightly blamed on the government of Japan and called a deliberate act of war between nations. Sadly, we also blamed all Japanese and persons of Japanese descent, rounding them up and placing them in internment camps. Today we realize that was a bad thing, but at the time people were afraid and not thinking right. So we treated innocent American citizens as enemies of the State. To a slightly lesser degree, we are repeating that bad behavior toward our fellow Americans today.

In the wake of 9/11 it became absolutely clear that the attacks were the work of a particular group of terrorists who used a most radical and distorted version of Islam to justify their actions. We realized very quickly that there was no nation behind the terrorism, but that small groups of these radicals had sworn to destroy America and her allies. They chose targets that were exemplars of her power as a financial and military world leader. They didn't choose particularly Christian targets. Indeed, if Christianity had been the target they would have chosen one of the internationally famous mega-churches and killed many more people. Instead they chose targets filled with people of all races, nations, religions and ages - a cross section of America.

Somehow, however, that knowledge has become fuzzy. Somehow we have begun to think that Islam is the enemy, or that this particular view of Islam is mainstream. That makes no more sense than for the rest of the world to think that Pastor Terry Jones is a shining example of mainstream American and/or Christian thought. Terrorists are people who choose to use or threaten to use violence to bring attention to themselves or their cause. Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. In my opinion, so is Pastor Terry Jones.

Somehow our fear of that which is different has caused otherwise intelligent people to believe that Islam is dangerous, that the main thrust of the religion is the violent takeover of the world. Just yesterday an otherwise well informed person told me that Moslems are required to kill people if they can't convert them. Like so many other things people believe about Islam, this just is not true. Yes, the Qur'an can be used to justify just about any kind of behavior, but so can our Bible. The vast majority of Moslems in America and worldwide are ordinary peace-loving people trying to live the best they can. They are not terrorists. They are not trying to take over the world. Meanwhile my Moslem friends are more afraid of their neighbors today than they were right after 9/11.

Today, September 11, 2010, has been designated "Read the Qur'an Day" by many Christian leaders. I invite you to do that. If you don't have a copy you can find one online. If you have an iPhone, there's an app for that. Join one of the groups gathering to read the Qur'an today. Find a peace march or an interfaith gathering to be part of. At the very least, take some time today to pray for those you don't understand.

Peace - Shalom - Salaam