Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hymn for Groundhog’s Day

Last night I came across a tweet posted by The Rev. Dean McIntyre of The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship  which said simply

 “The Woodchuck Hymn,” a hymn  for Groundhog Day (Feb 2) by Dick Garland

I was intrigued, and clicked on the attached link; and to my delight, I discovered that this charming new lyric was inspired by my friend, and former parishioner, The Rev. Anne Robertson.  The story related on Anne’s website about her humorously prophetic action at a meeting of the St. John’s United Methodist Board of Trustees is guaranteed to make you laugh.  Effective prophetic actions are often tinged with a dose of mean-spirited anger. Anne proves that does not always need to be the case.

I don’t know the author of this hymn, but I like the lyrics. The lyrics convey a sense of delight that is all too rare in worship. If I were still involved in worship planning, I would find a way to use it.  This hymn and it’s backstory could be the basis for an entire worship experience in the right situation–perhaps at a retreat, on Earth Day,  a Service for a Blessing of the Animals, or Creation Sunday. Let me know if  YOU use it. I think this hymn deserves to become known.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Christianity, Creation, Earth Day, General Board of Discipleship, Humor, hymn, Praise the Lord for the Woodland Creatures, Prophecy, The Rev. Anne Robertson, Twitter, United Methodist, worship

Coretta Scott King Was My Teacher

Coretta Scott King  was my teacher.  In 1980, when I was a student at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Mrs. King and Dr. Noel Erksine co-taught a course on the Theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. It was an extraordinary opportunity, and it turned out to be a class that continues to influence my life.

The class was rigorous academically. We read all of Dr.King’s published work, Mrs. King’s autobiography, My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr. , and David Lewis’ biography, King. In addition, we were required to write a major term paper. (I earned a “C” on my paper which attempted to describe the influence of Gandhi on Dr. King.)  Mrs. King was able to schedule presentations by some notable associates of her husband. Particularly, I remember presentations by Dr. Harold DeWolf (Dr. King’s dissertation professor from Boston University), and The Rev. Ralph Abernathy. We were disappointed when Ambassador Andrew Young cancelled his presentation to a combined class from the law school and the theology school due to an African president’s funeral that President Carter asked him to attend. Mrs. King was gracious, elegant, and personable as she offered us her personal perspective and memories of her life as a civil rights leader.  We were well-instructed in the principles of non-violent direct action; and we were repeatedly told that non-violent direct action is NOT the same thing as pacifism. (I was dismayed to see a section in Wikipedia describing Mrs. King as a pacifist when I looked it up just now.)   The entire class was remarkable, and I will not forget our last class session when we stood in a circle, crossed our arms, held hands, and sang “We Shall Overcome.”  Mrs. King was a trained soprano (The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston) and her beautiful voice rang out clearly above the entire class as we sang.

In my work as a United Methodist pastor, and as a public school teacher, I have continued to look for ways to work for justice, peace, and racial equality.  In the church, I served on the Florida Conference Commission on Religion and Race, the conference Ethnic Local Church Committee, and the work area on Church and Society.  Each of these groups gave me an avenue to express my quest for justice, equality, and peace. Through the years I made conscious attempts to step over  racial boundaries in whatever community I happened to be living.  I became acquainted with the neighboring pastors of African American churches, and I attended worship in these churches when it was possible. I routinely attended the local observance of Dr. King’s birthday even when  I was the only white face.  On one occasion I was even asked to give a spontaneous speech at such a community gathering.  Eventually, I was appointed to be the pastor of a small African American congregation as part of a two point charge in Ft. Myers, Florida. I served that congregation for three years, and I felt honored to get to know that community on an intimate level as only a pastor is privileged to do. I was pleased to find occasions to connect the congregations. When the African American Church held a barbecue, some of my white congregation would attend, and when the white congregation held a rummage sale, the favor was reciprocated.  The women from the two churches would carpool together to district UMW meetings, and several times we were able to hold Bible studies together.

It wasn’t always easy, though. I paid a price for my quiet activism.  In one congregation I served, some of the leaders were disturbed by several of my “unseemly” actions.  I scandalized some in the congregation by officiating at the large wedding of an African American couple in “our” sanctuary. And a number of folks stayed home in protest on the night I invited the AME choir to sing at our annual revival meeting. Even though I seldom preached on the topic of racial justice, I stirred up the issue through my actions. I didn’t stay long in that church; and I was grateful for the guaranteed appointment that The United Methodist Church offers ordained elders in full connection.

As a teacher, I have also found ways to honor Dr. and Mrs. King. It has actually been fairly easy to incorporate something about Dr. King into each class I taught.  As a reading teacher, I taught two groups of Kreyol-speaking Haitian kids how to sing “We Shall Overcome.” We discussed the importance of the song, and I introduced Dr. King to them as an important figure in American history.  As an eleventh grade English teacher, I expanded our study of  King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.  We searched the letter for examples of rhetorical devices as our curriculum required; but we also discussed the historical context of the letter. I brought in my signed copy of Dr. King’s book The Trumpet of Conscience, and showed my students Mrs. King’s personalized inscription.  To my dismay, I am now discovering that my students no longer know the history.  Today most students know rather vaguely that Martin Luther King, Jr. once gave a great speech, and that we commemorate his birthday with a national holiday; but beyond that even African American students know little.

I was excited about a month ago when I learned that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three African women who used the strategy of non-violent direct action to bring peace to their countries. Dr. King’s legacy continues to live today, and his method for addressing injustice is still useful. These ideas still need to be passed on to future generations so that injustice may be dealt with in a productive. effective manner.  So I would like to challenge YOU to honor Dr. King this year as we celebrate his life. And I’d like to offer you the space in the comments on this blog to tell others how you plan to recognize his accomplishments.

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Filed under Christianity, Education, Public Schools, Racism, Reading, Uncategorized, United Methodist

Human Trafficking Month Resources

Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in a campaign initiated by Vicki Davis (an award winning education blogger aka @coolcatteacher on Twitter) to raise awareness about the issue of modern slavery. Vicki asked educators to blog or tweet once each day during the winter break from school to help end modern slavery.

I enthusastically joined her campaign, and in the process I have learned a great deal.  In this post, I would like to offer some resources that may be helpful to you as you address the issue of human trafficking.

Recently three organizations working to abolish slavery received an 11.5 million dollars from Google to aid their efforts. Each organization takes a slightly different approach to the fight. The International Justice Mission is a Washington DC based human rights agency that  works to rescue victims of slavery and sexual exploitation in about 12 different countries. The Polaris Project and The Slavery Footprint work together in the US Human Trafficking Initiative. the Polaris offers a Human Trafficking Resource hotline, and the Slavery Footprint offers a great interactive website so people can learn how their lifestyle depends on slave labor.

Educator Larry Ferlazzo has compiled a great list of resources that will be useful to anyone interested in learning more about modern slavery. The CNN Freedom Project is an anti-slavery campaign that was launched in March 2011. They report that 2000 people have been freed so far through their efforts.  Their website has many useful resources. ABC also reported extensively on child slavery  in the summer of 2008. Their news reports inspired my initial interest in abolition, and  although some of the links on this page are no longer active there are still some that might be helpful to you.

My book suggestions to learn more about modern slavery include the following:

A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner–This book by a journalist was published in 2008 and is really a foundational book for anyone who wants to learn more about modern slavery. Many rave reviews.

Be the Change:Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World  by Zach Hunter — The author of this book is a college student and a well known public speaker on the topic of abolition. He has been an abolitionist since age 12 and wrote this book as a teenager.

Sold by Patricia Mc Cormick- This novel about a 13 year old girl from Nepal sold into prostitution by her step-father was a finalist for the National Book Award. It is recommended for grade 9 and up.

The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church has some church specific resources posted on their website. These include bulletin inserts, official church resolutions, small group study resources, current legislative actions, and links to other Christian abolition resources.

President Obama has declared January to be Human Trafficking month; and the United Methodist Church designates January 11th as Human Trafficking Day.  Although I am posting this information on January 6th,  human trafficking education, advocacy, and preaching is appropriate on many different occasions. It can be easily integrated into the curriculum of a high school English class (see this great unit plan for a high school English class and my post on “Teens Stand Up Against Slavery”) and into preaching (there are  many scripture passages that could be useful for this) at various times of the year.

It is my prayer and my hope that educators and pastors will work together to bring awareness to this continuing human tragedy. Together we are a powerful force.

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Filed under Abolition, Education, United Methodist

“A More Equitable Salary” Petition to General Conference

Here is a petition I have submitted to the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  

           A More Equitable Salary 5 (2) LINK HERE

If this petition is adopted, I believe it will transform the culture of our denomination dramatically.  I believe it will do the following:

1) Change the way our bishops and cabinets appoint clergy to local congregations by removing money from consideration in appointment making

2)  Allow the appointment of new clergy to healthy, thriving churches and the appointment of experienced clergy to struggling congregations

3) Allow all clergy to provide adequately for their family needs and protect clergy from the danger of riches (as Wesley would say)

4) Eliminate the “ladder of success” mentality that currently afflicts the spiritual health and integrity of our community.

5) Restore a sense of community among clergy who are now forced to be competitive with one another

7) Support salaries of pastors in areas where the church serves the poor such as in our central conferences

8) Serve as a CHRISTIAN witness to corporate America and

MOST importantly the adoption of this petition will BRING OUR CHURCH INTO CONFORMITY WITH THE SCRIPTURE (1 Timothy 5:17-18) with regard to our use of money.

Since I have submitted this petition as an individual to the General Conference, I am concerned that it might quietly become lost in the Finance/Administrative Committee. I am hoping that social media will help to bring this petition to a wider audience and will aid it’s passage. I consulted with my bishop as I drafted this petition in order to assure it’s constitutionality, and the petition DOES have some significant support from bishops in Africa, who assure me they will promote it among their delegates. Since MORE than 40% of 2012 delegates will be from central conferences, I believe that this proposal may be adopted if some delegates in the United States choose to support it as well.

So, I am inviting your discussion here. Please offer your concerns, and questions in the comments on this blog; and share this post with others (especially delegates), so this idea will receive the attention I believe it deserves.

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Filed under Bible, Christianity, CTA, General Conference, United Methodist