Monday, July 28, 2008

Avoiding Tragedies like Knoxville

Two are dead and 5 critically injured after a man fired on the UU's of Knoxville yesterday. One of the dead apparently heroically stepped in front of the shooter. Two brave congregants tackled him while he was re-loading his gun. The Presbyterians across the street took in the shocked apparently during their own worship service and has opened their building to the congregation for a de-briefing/vigil this evening.

The perpetrator apparently planned and practiced this attack for reasons not yet made public. How anybody can be so evil as to shoot innocent people in a church is one question of the day. How people can risk their lives for others and offer their love and their building to grieving victims is the questions of goodness.

There's another question that is not being asked, which is, why we are putting up with all this gun violence in our society. As the minister of a Knoxville Baptist church mused in his blog, "The last place you'd expect gun violence is in the peace-loving Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church." There's no escape.

Of all the comments I read in news blogs yesterday, 98% were offering prayer and sympathy, 1% had been deleted as crass and hateful, and one...exactly one, suggested we ought to do something about guns. One minute later someone flashed back, "no law would ever prevent a man like this from getting a gun." In other words, all control is completely hopeless.

I don't think so. It would take time and effort to buy back guns in our society, but if a person had to go underground to get a gun, fewer people would do it...fewer and fewer with passing years. Just as there are far more people who use (legal) alcohol to get high than there are who use illegal drugs, so, as guns got harder and harder to find, maintain, and but annumition for, fewer and fewer people would shoot their fellow human beings.

The TVUUC perpetrator was observed by his neighbors in target practice. If that was an unusual enough and fraught enough activity that someone had alerted the police, this tragedy might have been averted. Or at least, without practice, his aim wouldn't have been so good.

This is the 5th church shooting in the past year or so; there have been more shootings like that in schools. Churches and Schools are the open places of our society. If we must close them down, disallow backpacks and guitar cases, be suspicious of the stranger or the angry...we will all lose far more than if we just start cracking down on guns.

Praying for the People of Knoxville, and for us all....

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Multi-Minister Staffs and the Lone Ranger

There's a lot of pain in our ministry about the issues of multi-minister staffs. We're a denomination of small churches, and most ministers never experience this situation, and the ones who do are in a spotlight. This is not something we've done well as UU's, and this is an impediment to our growth. We're going to stay a denomination of small churches unless we can figure out appropriate, workable structures and mindsets for two ministers to work together. So here is my morning's thought on this subject.

If you've never tried to work with another minister on a staff, let me tell's a learning curve, a spiritual discipline, and a Damed Growth Experience all wrapped up in of those ministerial tasks that nobody in their right mind would try unless they were deeply called to a specialized ministry or the church they served couldn't progress any other way. (A different sort of call.) Worse than a building program. Worse than a Sexual Offender, just to name two ministerial experiences that more of us are familiar with.

Whether you talk to people who have served as Senior ministers in such pairs or Associate/Assistant ministers, you scratch the surface and find pain and blame. Sometimes it seems as if our conversation assumes that anybody ought to be able to step into these roles and if things don't instantly go well, they just have bad intentions or a character disorder. A little charity for those who have chosen or found themselves in this very tough learning curve is in order, I think, especially from those who have not stood in those shoes.

All of us learned to be lone rangers in ministry. Even if we've been lone rangers with lots of volunteer rangers, part time rangers, or even a few sheriffs to work with, we have a major shift if we find ourselves one of Two Rangers Working Together, especially when the situation calls for (and in my opinion most of them should) one of the two to have some authority over the other.

Onlookers to these rather public relationships cluck and shake their heads when they don't work out well. (Most of them probably do work out well, often for many years, but we don't hear so much about those.) Mostly they cluck at the senior ministers who are accused of being jealous, protective of their place in the congregational sun, and unwilling to share the perks of ministry. There is, of course, another side of the story, which is the story of Associate/Assistant ministers who couldn't learn to work on a team, couldn't take direction, couldn't NOT be in the spotlight and generally continued to be Lone Rangers when the situation called for working with someone else.

Most UU Ministers, I think, wouldn't want to serve in multi-minister situations. We like being in charge...and whether you serve as a Senior or Associate/Assistant, you give up a good deal of 'being in charge.' For those called to serve in churches which are just too big for one minister and those called to specialized ministries...we just gotta work this out.

Grocery Matters

I'm ecstatic, 'cause I just discovered that Sunflower Market is moving to my neck of the woods (corner of Montgomery and Juan Tabo)! Yes! Ever since my beloved corner grocery store closed a year ago, I've been a grocery shopper adrift, and what used to be my favorite family chore turned into a ...well...a chore. The chain grocery stores cater more and more to people who don't cook, they just nuke and eat. Aside from the fact that even the produce sections are more and more taken over by expensive, ready-to-eat items, the check-out lanes more and more use those "scan-it-yourself" machines which may work well for people who never buy produce...I wouldn't know...but I do know that they are torture for people who do buy produce. So we who eat fresh food stand in ever longer lines for old fashioned checkers.

Sunflower Markets specialize in produce and meat and sell at wonderful prices. For instance, you can by a big bunch of Collards for .99 a Sunflower, while they're $1.99 at Smiths and at Whole Foods/Whole Paycheck a small bunch is 1.99. (Collards, you ask? Collards are the staple diet of green Iguanas, and a 10 lb Green Iguana eats a lot of collards.) That's just an example. Many produce items cost half what they do in the chain stores.

Sunflower is not perfect. They sell only minimal canned/boxed/household goods. But I'm so glad they are moving to my part of town and even...this is too good to be true...on my bus line!

Thanks, Sunflower, you made my week!