Friday, January 30, 2009

Only Human

News recently surfaced of another previously-undisclosed inappropriate sexual encounter between Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church (an Evangelical church in Colorado), and a young male volunteer. If memory serves, Haggard, who was also previously the president of a nationwide Evangelical association, resigned a year or so ago after a separate sexual indiscretion was brought to light.

This kind of news hearkens back to the infamous escapades of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and others. Revelations of this sort used to shock me, but not anymore.

My lack of surprise stems not from the fact that this type of revelation seems to pop up with some regularity, nor from any belief that Haggard is a phony, money-grabbing rascal. He may or may not be; that’s not for me to decide. He (nor those of his ilk who have gone before him) is not the type of minister to which I am drawn or attracted, but I would never presume to know his spiritual foundation or depth.

I no longer am surprised at such news because I reached a place some time ago where I realized that men such as this – like all of us – are (get ready for this) HUMAN. All of us, regardless of our occupation or station in life, are subject to temptation. And when we succumb, there are usually consequences. The severity of the consequences usually depends on the severity of the action.

Those of us who subscribe to traditional Christian theology are of the belief that man has a basic depravity problem (sin) for which there is only one remedy (Jesus Christ). I believe that when we trust in Christ, He can help us overcome the basic problem, but I do not know many (if any) Christians who do not struggle with temptation and, from time to time, give in. This is not to excuse or in any way diminish the impact of actions such as Haggard's.

On the contrary, it is indeed tragic when something like this happens in a church and especially when it involves someone in a position of leadership. I do not know anything about Haggard, other than what I have learned through the media, nor do I know anything about his church. But I would guess there are people in this particular church body who are hurt and dismayed, and rightfully so. One wonders what kind of accountability Haggard had. Was he a “senior” pastor and was he so vested with power and insulated from others that he was able to hide these actions while continuing in his pastoral role?

Or, was he was just so good and so smooth that, despite any kind of authority he might have been subject to, he was able to carry on until he was eventually found out? Or perhaps he was particularly good at denial (something with which a lot of us also have some experience). I do not know the answer. Whatever the case, it is incredibly sad.

I guess it all comes down to being accountable. Just as governments and businesses have processes and procedures in place to assure that one person does not exert too much power and authority, most churches have (or should have) structures in place to assure the same.

I have belonged to three churches in my life – a United Methodist church where I grew up, and two non-denominational churches, the present one being an offshoot of the one of which I was a part in Arkansas.

Methodist churches are not autonomous. Rather, they all “report up,” if you will, to some governing body of the denomination, which assigns their pastors and probably supports them in other ways (it has been a long time so I am not up on how they do everything, but I think that is the general idea).

Some churches are “congregational” in nature, i.e. the church members actually have a vote on matters of importance. Having never been a part of such a church, I am not sure how that works. I would guess communication between leadership/staff and parishioners would be crucial.

My current church, like the one I attended in Arkansas, is completely autonomous, not part of any denominational affiliation and is governed by a body of “elders” who become qualified according to New Testament principles. We do not have one senior pastor, but, rather, several teaching pastors who share various duties including preaching/teaching at services.

All of these systems I just mentioned seem to have built-in accountability and some semblance of checks and balances. In my own church, I particularly like having more than one pastor and not having one with seniority over the others.

One matter with which I disagree with my current church is that all of the elders and teaching pastors are men. I used to agree with this but, after meeting some wonderful female pastors and studying the subject more carefully, I am now fully supportive of and believe in women having leadership and pastoral positions in the church. In fact, I believe this is one way that systems of accountability can be stronger. With their God-given distinctives, women contribute their own unique perspective as well as wisdom and discernment that are extremely beneficial when problems arise (I know this first-hand from being married to a very wise female).

This, however, is not a deal breaker for me. Obviously, a church is a private, voluntary organization. I am free to go elsewhere if I so choose. Even though I disagree with the position of my church’s leadership on this subject, I understand that it comes from their sincere belief in the interpretation of certain Scriptures. Our leadership in no ways believes women and men are not equal; they just believe in differing roles. I happen to take a different view but for now I can, in a civil manner, agree to disagree.

Hearing news such as this about Ted Haggard is no surprise, but it certainly underscores the human nature of all leaders and the importance of accountability, whatever that might look like in a particular church body. No system is fool-proof and Haggard’s church might have had all the right pieces in place, only to have him circumvent the process.

Those of us who follow Christ have to remember that those in positions of leadership in our churches are human, just as we are. We support them and we pray for them, but our ultimate hope should not be in them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New President

I wrote a comment on Debby's blog today and vented a bit. I realize now I should not have chosen that forum but, rather, should have made it a post on my own turf. Sorry, Debby, I did not mean to hijack your comment board for my own personal feelings. I should do that here.

Today President Obama was inaugurated. I awoke this morning and prayed for him and his family. I really do wish him the best and am hoping against hope that he can guide this country into better times.

Anyone who has read my stuff here knows I did not vote for the man. And I wish today that John McCain had been inaugurated instead of Barack Obama. But I have to live with the election results.

What is frustrating me is all this talk about "uniting the country" as if Barack Obama had thought this up on his own. Please. It's a wonderful thought and I am in favor of it, but this concept is not original with Barack Obama.

At 51 years old, I have lived through a few presidential elections and a few inaugurations. I do not remember one that did not include something about "coming together," "putting aside our differences" and "uniting." Every new President includes those sentiments in his inaugural address and, depending on his oratorical skills (think Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton; not so much Nixon, Carter or either of the Bushes), many of us believe for a while that it might actually happen.

A lot of the "uniting" happens due to circumstances. When Richard Nixon finally left office disgracefully in 1974, the country seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief.

Under the President who left office today, we became united on Sept. 11, 2001 after we were attacked on our own soil. That unification lasted for a while but it did not last. And most of his detractors won't even admit that he had a hand in not only uniting us (for a time) but also in helping to keep us safe -- beyond what most of us can even fathom.

Did we become united after Clinton disgraced the office of President by his little extracurricular relationship just outside the Oval Office? I don't think so. He was so angry about the whole thing that he, with his extraordinary persuasive skills, managed to marshall his forces and finish his second term with some amount of dignity still intact. But those who were sickened by his antics still remained and that, I believe, is what helped George W. Bush defeat Al Gore (at least in the electoral college) in 2000.

So today Barack Obama takes office and, cheered on by the adoring media and many celebrities, the perception is that we are coming together. I do not object to that, but I do not think Barack Obama should get credit for a concept that did not originate with him or for rhetoric as old as elections themselves.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Baby it's cold outside!

Debby writes on her blog this morning that it's 6 degrees in Pennsylvania! Well my heart just bleeds for ya, because it's 7 here in Middle Tennessee and us southern wusses aren't used to this kind of thing! Ralph the Dog and I stepped out for our walk about 6 a.m. and I can tell you he got his affairs taken care of in short order and we were back inside rapidly!

It's so cold they closed school! Yes, that is not a misprint. Now that's a little much but all the schools in our area are shut for the day. Guess there was concern about the little ones who stand out waiting for the bus. There are several "snow days" built into the calendar but "cold days?!" Like I said, we're pretty much pansies down here when it comes to this kind of cold.

Younger Son is enjoying the beginning of a 4-day weekend since Monday's the MLK holiday. This is one of my telecommuting days so I don't have to get out much. Actually, we're due a heat wave by 5 p.m. when it's supposed to climb up to about 19.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Sweetie

I got a funny text message from my college daughter tonight, good-naturedly taking me to task for not mentioning her in the previous blog post, especially the fact that, even though she's back at school and not with us now, she watched the Titans game too.

"In case any blogger friends ask," she wrote, "I watched (the game) alone in my dorm wearing my jersey proudly."

If my sweet daughter is kind enough to read her dad's blog, well, it's worth amending the previous post to make sure she gets her shout-out.

Consider it done. ;-)

Early 2009

We're already 11 days into 2009. I used to experience the post-holiday letdown but now I rather enjoy getting all the Christmas stuff put away and having a fresh start. Wife is fortunate in that she is married to a mild anal-retentive who likes order. Therefore, since I usually take off the week between Christmas and New Year's, I pick a day, usually around Dec. 31, and get it all done. I take the tree down, pack up all the decorations and get everything stored until next year. And I kind of clean the house as I go along. When it's all done, everything looks fresh and clean and I like that.

Everyone else in the house seems to mysteriously disappear on that day (go figure) but that's OK. I can usually shame one of the boys into helping me take the boxes back down to the basement and then I can spend the evening just casually mentioning in conversation how everyone enjoys getting all the stuff out, putting up the tree and decorating it, but I seem to be the only one around when it's time to put it away. I get great mileage out of that.

Other miscellenous thoughts this cold Sunday in January:

-- We're all bummed because the Tennessee Titans, after a spectacular season, blew it yesterday in their first playoff game. They turned the ball over at key times and were penalized a gazillion yards and guess what, that loses football games. The boys went in person and stood out in the rain and cold, while Wife and I each took one end of the sectional sofa and a blanket apiece and watched from the comfort of home.

Frankly, although I'm sick over the loss, I need the break from football. From Younger Son playing and starting in August, to making as many Auburn games as we can and following the Titans, we expend a lot of energy on football at this house. And I'm worn out. I'll look in on the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, but with the Titans out of it I won't get nearly as stressed over it. A good thing.

-- After the game Wife and I quickly got dressed and headed downtown for the Symphony last night. Although Nashville is known mainly for country music, we have a superb symphony orchestra here and a take-your-breath-away symphony hall just a couple of years old. When it opened and they began soliciting new patrons, Wife and I decided we are not getting any younger and we would treat ourselves to season tickets to one of the classical series. This is our second season. Our subscription is for seven performances and if for some reason we can't make it, we can exchange them for a pops or another classical concert that might have available seats. We love it.

I was thinking last night as I listened to the gorgeous music of Haydn and Mahler that I wish I knew more about classical muscic. I started taking piano when I started school, and I sang in choirs both at church and school when I was growing up. Even though I lived in a relatively small town, I was exposed to some great music and had some wonderful teachers. But I didn't bother to learn much about the various master artists and their styles and I feel like I still don't really know much about classical music, other than I know I love it.

So, when I am finally able to retire, probably in my 70s if I live that long, and after I have gone back to school and gotten a master's degree in Literature, I am going to go get one in Classical Music. I know those advanced degrees will do me a lot of good at that stage of life.

And all of this thinking has confirmed the old adage that youth is indeed wasted on the young. When I was in school (especially law school) I just wanted to get out so I could get on with life. I got on with life a long time ago and now I want to go back to school. Sad thing is, it doesn't pay very well.

-- Older Son is beginning to talk about moving out. Why, I keep asking Wife, would someone want to move out of a place where he pays no rent, gets free food and can put his clothes outside his bedroom door where the laundry fairies will pick them up and they will magically reappear cleaned and folded? Not to mention having unlimited fellowship with his father?!

Wife tells me it's a normal thing. He will be 23 in a couple of weeks and there is a natural yearning to be more independent.

I guess. But I don't do well with goodbyes, milestones and passages. I know when he moves out this time, he very likely won't be back. It will just be across town and we'll still see him all the time and, I suspect, he will show up for more than an occasional meal. But I can tell he intends to make this separation permanent and I already don't care for the idea.

-- Several hours have passed since I started this and during that time I took Younger Son to a local sporting goods store to buy him some shoes. We walked into the shoe department and sitting right there buying shoes was Keith Urban, with wife Nicole Kidman sitting right there with him. It is not uncommon in this area to occasionally run into the country music stars but (a) I often do not recognize them and (b) I have never seen these two before. I maintained composure and did not bother them but will admit that Younger Son and I lingered a bit over his shoe selection. I also had to give Wife a call, and my old college roommate whose wife is a big Keith Urban fan. He got her on the phone and made me tell her myself.