Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Twelve Reasons Why Jesus Would Make a Terrible Bishop

We were talking about a couple of issues at our most recent pastoral council meeting.  Someone mentioned a saying from Jesus, to enlighten all of us.  Without thinking, I blurted out, "That doesn't help.  Jesus never had to make a payroll or pay Parish Share.  Jesus would make a terrible pastor."  The group laughed, and another parishioner shot back, "That would make a great blog post."

So, upon further review and reflection, with tongue firmly in cheek, here are 12 reasons why Jesus would make a terrible bishop and pastor (with Gospel references).

+   Jesus never stayed in one place to minister.  He was always on the move.  (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:28-29)

+   Jesus angered the most devout members of his faith.  (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 14:1-24)

+   Jesus played favorites.  He had an inner circle of 12 men, he had three close friends (Peter, James and John) and he dearly loved the poor.  (12: Luke 6:12-16; 3: Mark 9:2-8, Mark 14:32-42; poor: Matthew 18:1-4)  

+   Jesus chose a bookkeeper who was a thief.  (John 12:16)

+   Jesus prayed.  (Luke 6:12; 11:1)

+   Jesus ate with sinners.  (Luke 5:30; 15:2; 19:1-10)

+   Jesus loved women.  (Luke 8:1-3; John 11:5)

+   The family of Jesus thought he was crazy.  (Mark 3:31-35)

+   Jesus brought forth division, not peace.  (Luke 12:49-53; John 6:66)

+   Jesus angered the Roman authorities.  (Luke 13:31-33)

+   Jesus said he was God.  (John 13:19; 18;5; 18;33-37)

And the final reason Jesus would have made a terrible bishop...

+   Jesus taught with authority.  (Matthew 7:28-29;  Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32)

Happy Birthday, Boss!

In 2009 at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, Barack Obama said, "I may be the president, but he's the Boss!"  Of course I'm referring to Bruce Springsteen, who celebrates birthday #65 today.

 Bruce on the set of his first directorial effort,
a short film, Hunter of Invisible Game.

What strikes me on this entrance of another rock 'n' roll crooner into the world of Social Security is how much Bruce has accomplished during years which are usually quasi-retirement.

What do I mean?  Go back to 1999, when Springsteen celebrated his 50th birthday.  He had just been inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In his career, dating to 1973, he had issued 12 path-breaking and record-smashing albums.  He appeared (approaching his 27th birthday) simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek.  He was a cultural figure--and at the same time many thought he was washed up.  He had gotten married (for the second time) in 1988, moved to the West Coast to have and raise three children, and in the 1990's was primarily known for his Academy Award-winning song "Streets of Philadelphia" in the 1995 movie Philadelphia with Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks.  But his last three albums had gotten tepid reviews, his touring was so-so, and many thought his best days were behind him.  For anyone else, it had been a great career--and it was mostly over.  Enjoy your wealth, enjoy your future grandkids, have them prepare your obit.

Or was it over?  I would say that between the ages of 50 and 65 (today) Bruce and his band of E Streeters have done as much, or more, than they did in their first quarter century.  In 15 years, he gave us seven studio albums, another collection of older and unpublished takes and several "Live in..." albums, world wide touring that just keeps getting better and better, and more honors than Rolling Stone can shake a list at.  In the first half of his career, he garnered seven Grammy awards.  Since 1999, since he turned 50, he's gotten 13.  His 2002 album The Rising captured with incredible poignancy the stew of American feelings over the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.  His energy on stage and covering of a wide variety of artists showed he was anything but creatively dead.

No doubt part of it was the re-assembling of the E Street Band, around 1999, as "his" band.  This culminated with the E Street Band being inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, a worthy and long overdue honor.  But part of it was Bruce's continued dedication to his craft.  Expanding his reach.  Stretching his vision.

One example is the "Seeger Sessions" album and songs.  Here he used unknown but skilled folk musicians known to his wife Patti and her best friend violinist Soozie Tyrell to reach deep into the history of American folk music.  These songs, and others in the same vein, link populist themes of one hundred years ago with similar themes today.

The other example is the expansion of the E Street Band.  Now it has "the horns" and "the choir" and friend Tom Morello which allow a wide variety of sounds for older Springsteen workhorse songs, as well as to be creative (such as using rap in "Rocky Ground" on the Wrecking Ball album) and expansive in his concert touring.  

Happy birthday, Bruce!  May we do half as much creative work after age 50 as you've given us.  May the next 15 years be just as creative.

Photos by Jo Lopez taken at the Consol Energy Center
in Pittsburgh PA on April 22, 2014.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Foolishly Picking Pigskin Winners IV

Another year, another NFL season to watch and enjoy.  256 regular season games, 10 playoff games, and The Big Game, Super Bowl XLVIIII or XLIX or IL or 49 or 2015.

Last year I got half of the Super Bowl combo right.  I picked the Aaron Rodgers's Green Bay Packers to beat Peyton Manning's Broncos.  Right loser, wrong winner.  The Seattle Seahawks roared out of the NFC (North)West and conquered the Broncos from the very first snap (over the head of a hapless Manning for a first-play safety), and went on to win 43-8.

As usual there are multiple story lines for the 2014 NFL season.  The one that intrigues me the most is that even though most people enjoyed the offensive fireworks of the 'Hawks (and Broncos, and 49ers, and Saints, and Patriots, etc.), the sneaky strength of Pete Carroll's team was its defense.   What team can put together a defense that can hold down some of the explosive offenses, quarterbacks, and receivers?

Of course, all pro football speculation is local.  What will our newer, younger, more immature Steelers do this year?  Last year I did not see them making the playoffs--and they didn't, despite a furious effort at the end.  Maybe five or six plays kept the Steelers from 12-4 or better.  That's the nature of the game today.  To quote a baseball manager, Clint Hurtle, and apply the same line to football, "There are no little plays."

I am down on the quality of the Steeler players this year.  Despite high caliber coaching, I just do not think that the Steelers have the quality and experience it takes to win their division.  I've seen predictions for the Steelers everywhere from 6-9-1 to 10-6.  I'm firmly in the 6-10 camp.  (And I hope I'm wrong.)

So, here goes for my predictions for the 2014 NFL season:

NFC EAST:  Eagles (4)

NFC NORTH:  Packers (1)

NFC SOUTH:  Saints (2) 

NFC WEST:  Seahawks (3)

Wild cards:  49ers (5) and Bears (6)

Seahawks over Bears
49ers over Eagles

Packers over 49ers
Saints over Seahawks

Saints over Packers

AFC EAST:  Patriots (1)

AFC NORTH:  Bengals (4)

AFC SOUTH:  Colts (2)

AFC WEST:  Broncos (3)

Wild cards:  Chargers (5) and Chiefs (6)

Broncos over Chiefs
Chargers over Bengals

Patriots over Chargers
Broncos over Colts

Patriots over Broncos

SUPER BOWL 49:  Patriots over Saints

And for our Steelers (and poor Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu), it's wait till next year.  

A couple of more predictions.  If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, as I predict, Tom Brady retires, having equaled Terry Bradshaw's four Super Bowl rings (albeit in six tries).  And win or lose, I'm guessing that Peyton Manning also retires at the end of the season, ending one of the great, great mano-a-mano competitions in league history.

The Washington Football Team Playing In Maryland will be forced by public opinion to change its nickname by the end of the season. Owner "Chainsaw Dan" Snyder will change his position, see the light (and the dollars) in a new name (same colors), and the fans in the nation's capital will have one less thing to encourage political gridlock.  

Several more passing records will be broken this season, amid calls for tweaking rules to bring more balance into the game.  

The NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will again try to increase the number of playoff teams to 14 for the 2015 season, and again will be beaten down by public opinion (and common sense).  But next year there will only be three pre-season (exhibition) games played.  

And the Oakland Raiders will try to move back to a stadium-to-be-built in the greater Los Angeles area.  But the league officials, and LA politicians, will reject the move.  Stay in Oakland, steal a real NFL team from some other city!

Enjoy the show!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Reflections, 2014

Through the kind invitation of Bishop David Zubik, and the usual gracious hospitality of presider Bishop Bill Winter and pastor Friar Rich Zelig, I offered the following sermon at this morning's annual diocesan Labor Day Mass in St. Benedict the Moor Church in the Hill District, prior to the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade.  

Readings:  Isaiah 32: 15-20; Philippians 2: 1-4; John 15: 18-21

Last week there was an article in the Washington Post.  The headline read, "The economy's doing great, except for the people in it."  The article detailed how the federal G.D.P. is up 4.2% this year, and up 11% since 2009.  Since that year corporate profits are up 45% and the New York stock market has doubled.  

On the other hand, wages are stagnant, even among the highly educated.  The median household income is down 3% over the past five years.  The only way hourly wage workers can increase their income is by working more, either taking a second job or doing overtime.

The Great Recession has led to the Great Divide, between the haves and the have nots.

I don't need to tell you these statistics.  Whether you are a labor leader, political leader, or union member, you see these statistics every day in the folks around you.  Underemployment grows, and even though unemployment figures are shrinking slightly, it's mostly because people are dropping out of the effort to find work.  In minority communities, and among young people under 30, the unemployment rate may be two or thre times the national rate.

Union membership unfortunately continues to decline.  When my dad returned from World War II and began working at the Jones & Laughlin Steel Mill in Hazelwood, and joined the U.S.W. local 1837, union membership in some industries was as high as one in three.  Even a generation ago one in five workers were in a union.  Today, maybe 11-12% of workers are unionized, depending on industry.

I am a pastor, not an economist.  So let's look at the scriptural readings the church gives us today.  Each of the three readings offer us vision and support.   

Isaiah was the prophet who brought hope in the face of fear.  In times probably more troubled than our own, he called for plowshares to be built out of the weapons of war; he called for kings to rule justly; he made the people obey laws, which benefited all the people, not just the few or the powerful.  Isaiah told us not to give up hope that a new day is coming:  not because of one politician, not with one political party, not with one slogan, but with the hard work of continually speaking the truth of concern for people to the power of unjust gods of men.

Paul's letter to the Philippians says in  the midst of our concern for the common good, each of us has to do the right thing before God.  Each person has dignity, and has the ability to contribute.  In this reading, humility is the watchword.  We are to reject that t-shirt slogan, "The one who dies with the most toys wins," and ever be concerned for the lowest worker, the immigrants, the weak, those on the margins.

Today's gospel acknowledges that sometimes the world rejects the good.  Jesus was rejected by the religious and political powers of his time.  His response was not violence or vengeance, but continued faithfulness to the mission given him by his Father.  This faithfulness helped him to see the robbed traveler, the lost sheep, and the hungry, thirsty, and naked people, and speak of these in some of his most famous parables.  We see his concern for the hurting both in his words and in his healing actions.

Where does all this lead us?

One place to go is to listen to Pope Francis, a new voice on the world stage who has caught the world's attention.  Although some critics say that Pope Francis is a communist or a radical leftist, you and I know that he is a traditionalist when it comes to social justice.  He speaks with knowledge and out of the wisdom of the 125 year old tradition of Catholic social teaching.  However, he speaks of this tradition in such a plain and clear way that he has captured the church's and world's imagination.  He speaks of this social justice tradition with his actions (rejecting moving into the Apostolic Palace and instead taking a two room suite in the St. Martha hotel, and rejecting the Mercedes limousine for a used Ford Focus with 125,000 kilometers on it) as well as his words.  

I took the liberty of inserting into your program today some quotations from Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation, "Evangeii Gaudium."  I urge you to read not just the news-making quotations, but the entire rich document.

You are on the front lines of social justice, and I am just a commentator from the cheap seats.  I could stop here, but following Pope Francis's urging for the church to be a valued contributor to public policy debate, in light of the church's vision, let me take two minutes to offer four practical comments of my own for today's Labor Day.

(1) Make the case for increasing the minimum wage. 

You all know that the minimum wage is not a living, family wage.  But it is a bridge to that wage, a step on the road to achieving a family wage.  Blessedly many municipalities, and a few states, have taken the initiative to increase the minimum wage.  I believe that the arguments against it are weak.  Any increase across the nation immediately helps 20 or 22 million people, and puts more money in their checking accounts and helps to feed their families.  At the same time, I believe that the best way to increase the minimum wage is to index it to inflation, or increases in household expenses, so we don't have to have those stupid political fights every ten years to increase it.

(2) Be the best union you can be.

Be a union full of integrity, open to cooperation with business and any and all political leaders.  Be transparent in your own workings, open to collaboration, a full democracy among the members.  Avoid petty political fights, and focus on your core strengths.

(3) Continue to reach out to the most oppressed groups of workers, in this country and around the world.

Remember that workers in other parts of the country, south of our border, or outside our borders anywhere, are not your enemies.  These workers are your brothers and sisters, and in need of your support.  Support workers who are immigrants in this country without proper documentation, so that they have pathways to citizenship, and are not exploited.  Support unions and worker associations throughout the country which are reaching out to the most needy workers, to minorities and to women.

(4)  Be joyful yet assertive messengers of the right to organize, to associate, of the right for all workers to receive a full living wage.

You know the church's teaching is behind you (even if not enough church leaders and bishops vocalize this support).

The modern human rights movement is behind you (even if some voices in the media or Congress or business don't get it).

You know that a world of workers who organize themselves in a democratic and free way builds up a better world, a world which supports the dignity of every human person.

The economy is about people, not money.  When we support people's dignity and work, we do God's work here on earth.

As usual, Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette understands "an economy which is great, except for the people in it."