Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Letter to the Editor of the Kitsap Sun

I submitted this Letter to the Editor of the Kitsap Sun and it was published July 27, 2016.

To the Editor:

Rutted trails. Crumbling buildings. Washed-out bridges that aren't replaced. Leaning signposts. When I hike into the wilderness at Olympic National Park, I' m dismayed to witness the continual deterioration of the trail system. Although trail crews cut out most of the logs that have blown down on the trails, little more is done to repair the ravages of nature. Trails need maintenance!

These trails were built long ago when there was a vision for every American to have access to the renewing power of wilderness, but lack of funding by Congress has left our National Park system starved for ordinary maintenance and upkeep. The National Parks are truly our national treasure, the crown jewels of our bountiful environment, and the remaining islands of our legacy of wilderness.

So I was relieved to read in the Kitsap Sun that REI and Mike and Sue Raney have combined to donate $3 million to help restore the trail system in Olympic and Rainier National Parks (Link to article). Not only will the donations help rebuild washed-out trails, the work will be done by young people working in a service corps. As one who worked on trail crews many years ago, I can testify to the character-building effects of this kind of work.

The crews in Olympic National Park will help restore damage to the trail to Enchanted Valley, one of the premier destinations for hikers in the park. Thanks, REI and the Raneys. May our trails never end!

Bill Fulton

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Coach Joe Kennedy and prayer on the football field

Lately, Bremerton High School Coach Joe Kennedy has been in the news because of his insistence on praying on the football field after a game. The controversy over his actions has gone beyond the local newspaper, blogs, and columns all the way to tweets by Presidential nominees.

Coach Kennedy, a part-time assistant coach for the Bremerton High School football team, has had a practice of coming to midfield after a game, kneeling on one knee and praying a prayer of thanks for the game and for the young men who played. He's never invited the athletes to join him, but many do anyway. It's recently become public, and the School Board has been trying to discourage him from doing this because he is openly defying their policy on public prayer.

I'm very skeptical of his efforts, but I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. I can imagine that he might feel so strongly about witnessing for his faith that he sees his public prayers as a bold witness for Christ. This is his way of doing evangelism.

Beyond that, he might feel that our country has gone too far by banning public prayer in the schools and other public venues. Possibly he feels that our moral values depend upon public recognition that we are a Christian nation. Perhaps he is sincere in this.

But I am skeptical. First of all, as an employee of the school district, he has agreed to abide by their policies. It looks like he's using his position as a coach to advance his own agenda. His function as a coach is to help young people become better athletes. That doesn't include prayer after games.

One of the reasons school prayer is banned is because young people are so easily swayed by peer pressure. Although it might seem that the athletes who join him are of the same mind, very likely some athletes feel they have to join with their teammates or risk being ostracised. It's pressuring young people in the name of religion.

For a second thing, I don't believe he's actually praying. What he's doing amounts to a public performance. He may be saying the words of a prayer, aloud or silently, but his actions speak so loudly the prayer is obscured. He's making a public show of his prayer. Jesus said something about this:
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)
So thirdly it seems to me that Coach Kennedy is just using this forum as a way to make a political point. He has brought in the Liberty Institute, a conservative advocacy group that defends religious liberty cases, to push his case into the courts.

Coach Kennedy works full-time at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and he's only a part-time coach. It seems like he's imported his concerns from outside the school.

Members of the School Board have been struggling to keep this from going to court, but he seems determined to have his way. His efforts make a mockery of his job as a coach. The amount of money the school district will have to spend on legal costs will hurt the school district and the very athletes he is supposed to be serving. It doesn't seem that he really cares about the athletes or about prayer. What he cares about is making a political statement.

Prayer is opening ourselves to God. It means humbling ourselves so we can listen and respond to God. Prayer is not a forum for lecturing, grandstanding, or making a political point. No wonder Jesus urged us to go into our room and shut the door when we pray.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Going home again

Last Saturday I attended an 80th birthday party for one of my former parishioners at my church in Florence, Oregon. It was a lovely event, with many family members and friends gathering to celebrate this lovely lady.

I went because I wanted to give Judy my love and gratitude but also to see some of my former parishioners who I was sure would be there. Sure enough, I received hugs and high-fives from a dozen of my good friends.

It's been seven years since I left Florence, and I wasn't sure what it would be like to see people again. Would they be changed? Would they remember me? Would they be glad to see me?

As it turns out, they did remember me and were very glad to see me. It was as if seven years hadn't passed at all. It was wonderful to reconnect, catch up on our lives, and just enjoy each other. It made me realize what good years of ministry we had there, and how rich it was.

They say you can't go home again, and I guess that's true. But you can get close, and I think I did.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mark Driscoll: How not to be a pastor

There's been a lot in the news about the resignation of Mark Driscoll, the head pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll, well-known for his abrasive, masculine, in-your-face style of Evangelical Christianity, built the mega-church of Mars Hill by the power of his media-savvy personality. At its peak, Mars Hill claimed 14,000 people in attendance on Sundays at 15 locations in five states.

Driscoll resigned as pastor after the elders of his church asked him to take a six-week sabbatical following charges of bullying, manipulation, plagiarism, and false representation were made public by some of his former staff and parishioners.

It's hard for me to feel sympathetic to Driscoll. He created his own problems because of his inflated ego and authoritarian leadership style, on top of his misogynistic, either/or, burn-in-hell theology.

But, in a way, he's just a very public example of what any pastor could become. The temptation to grandiosity is a temptation all pastors face. After all, haven't we been given the authority in God's church? Haven't we been appointed and anointed as the leaders of the church? We're all tempted to take more and more power, and make more and more excuses for ourselves.

The Mark Driscoll debacle simply reinforces what we already know  -- that pastoral leadership requires collaboration, courage, and compassion. Arrogance and lone-ranger leadership styles have no place in ministry. All you have to do is read the Gospel and listen to the words of Jesus to see how far Mark Driscoll went astray.

It's a good lesson for all of us to remember -- that leadership with humility and compassion will always trump swagger, bluster, and charisma.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Exciting times

These are exciting times for St. Antony's. We've had a number of new initiatives come up recently, and we're beginning to see a lot of activity. What I find energizing is that many people are involved in making things happen.

1. Last Sunday, we began sharing our church building with the members of New Fellowship Church. New Fellowship is associated with the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination with predominantly black congregations. During the month of July, we're having a trial period of sharing the building to see how it goes. At 10 am on Sundays, New Fellowship will use the basement room while we worship in the nave. At 11:30 am, we'll move to the parish hall and they'll start setting up their equipment in the nave so they can begin worship around 12:00 pm. On our first Sunday, everything seemed to go well.

2. Our Capital Campaign Sub-Committee has interviewed three consulting firms to choose a consultant to help us do our capital campaign. The Sub-Committee has done a very thorough job in researching firms, compiling questions, and conducting the interviews. We'll soon hear which firm was chosen.

3. The Transition Sub-Committee has met to start making a plan for how we light move out of our current facility into an interim facility or into our new church building. They're creating a set of alternatives so that when the move comes up, we'll know what we want to do. Great work by a very competent team.

4. The Design Committee has been selecting architecture firms to whom we'll send a Request For Proposal (RFP). The team has researched architects, visited other churches, asked for Letters of Intent from architects, and drawn up an RFP, which will go out by the end of the month. The goal is to select an architect by early fall.

5. We've been preparing for the Barn Sale which will be held August 1-2. We've cleaned the barn and the modular, set up tables, and begun to sort and price merchandise. In the next few weeks, we'll collect more good stuff, do our publicity, and prepare for the opening day.

With all these things happening, it doesn't seem like the usual sleepy summer time. We've got lots of activity, and it's wonderful to see.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Day 23

Advent is a threshold time, an in-between time as we wait for God to come. I chose these lines from a poem by R.S. Thomas and the image of opening a door to illustrate how Advent opens us to a new reality.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Day 21

According to Isaiah and Matthew, pregnancy is the sign that God is with us.