Tag Archive: Thinking Out Loud

Mar 01

Thinking Out Loud – March 2017

From Pastor Dave McMillan III

 

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were once foreigners in Egypt.
— Exodus 22:21

 

I’ve recently returned from a Winter Pastors’ School on the campus of Stetson University in Deland, Florida. One of our three speakers was Dr. Carol Newsom a Professor of Old Testament in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Her three day lecture was entitled “We are the Refugees: Our Biblical Ancestors as Displaced Persons, Refugees and Economic Migrants.”

Over three days, she reminded us of our biblical heritage as a people who have often lived as “strangers in a foreign land.” In the book of Genesis, God calls Abram to leave his country and father’s house to go to a land that God will show him. That land, of course, was Canaan, a land already long inhabited by other peoples. In the book of Exodus, due to a famine in the land, Jacob and his family migrate to Egypt where there is work and food enough to eat. In the book of Ruth, due to famine again, Elimelech, along with his wife Naomi and sons, “live for a while in the country of Moab” in hopes of finding work and food. In the book of II Kings, King Nebuchadnezzar tears down the walls of Jerusalem sending many of the inhabitants of Judah into exile in Babylon with some Jewish communities surviving there, in what is today modern day Iraq, for centuries. In Matthew’s gospel, afraid of King Herod’s decree for all male children under the age of two, living in Bethlehem, to be put to death, Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee as refugees into Egypt. The Holy Family remained there until they received word that Herod had died.

Dr. Newsom then helped to remind us of our own personal stories of dislocation. My story is part of the great Irish migration to the new world which lasted for close to a century, from 1830 to 1920. In the early 1820’s, lacking work at home, many Irish immigrated to the states to help build the Erie Canal and later the railroad going west. The largest wave of Irish immigrants came over during the Great Irish Potato Famine in 1845-1849. Many of these immigrants settled in New York City and would come to comprise a large percentage of New York’s northern regiments during the Civil War. There was another wave of Irish immigrants seeking employment opportunities and a better life for their families during the early part of the Industrial Revolution, 1880-1900. In the early twentieth century, Irish immigrants in large numbers continued to come to the new world for economic reasons and, for some, to find a husband. With many of the men in Ireland having immigrated to America for close to a century, available men at home were apparently hard to find!

My grandmother, Mary Inkster of Donegal, County Donegal, and grandfather, David McMillan of Ballymoney, County Antrim, arrived and settled separately in Philadelphia in search of work and a more hopeful future in 1916. My grandmother worked as a bank teller and grandfather in a grocery store. They met and married in Philadelphia in their late twenties and went on to have six children, including their only son, my father, David Junior.

While the descendants of most of us who were gathered at the Pastors’ School for three days had immigrated from Western Europe seeking economic opportunities, some could trace their passage to the new world back through slave ships from the Ivory Coast during the eighteenth century. Another Pastor, a Jewish convert to Christianity, could trace his passage to his grandparents who had emigrated during the Civil War in Russia in the early twentieth century to escape religious persecution. Not all of us could attest to the whereabouts of the legal documentation or the process of immigration that our forebears had followed. A few could trace their lineage through Ellis Island, while others were certain, their descendants had evaded immigration officials altogether.

Dr. Newsom’s stated purpose for her lecture was that of empathy. For various reasons there have been and always will be displaced persons: economic migrants and refugees. All of our families, at one time, have been one! Concerning the treatment of refugees and economic migrants, God through the prophets would often call Israel to remember that they too were once immigrants and refugees in a strange land. Empathy for others, especially the displaced, begins with remembering our own biblical heritage and story.

Image Credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nov 05

Thinking Out Loud – November 2016

From Pastor Dave McMillan

But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ for he is our peace. In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Pastor DaveOver 27 years ago, my sister and her husband spent many months and tens of thousands of dollars to become pregnant. In their mid–30’s (after numerous disappointments and heartbreaks) they decided to adopt a child. They explored several avenues and settled on adopting a child from Guatemala, where the waiting period and expenses were considerably less. They were able parents, ready to offer a child, any child, a loving home.

After a call from their lawyer that a young boy was available, they traveled to Guatemala City to receive their six-month-old package of joy. Though years have passed, I remember their excitement and our joy at welcoming my new nephew, Benjamin, home, into our extended family.

Over the years, we’ve remained close as a family, sharing birthday parties, weddings, holidays, and vacations. Ben has become as much a part of the family as any other member. Still, I’ve become aware — through things my sister has shared with me privately and from the rare occasions when Ben has willingly been forthcoming — that his life has been much more difficult than our own He’s had to live with feelings of rejection, alienation, and discrimination because of his physical features, dark black hair, and skin color.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been less than sympathetic towards Ben, at times inwardly questioning his stories of prejudice and discrimination, wanting to believe that most people are basically good and fair in their estimation and treatment of others. It couldn’t be as bad as he’s made it out to be. Is this his justification for not accepting the hard responsibilities of adulthood? Mm…How easy it was for me to judge — a white middle-aged male living in a predominantly white world, with all the privileges this affords me.

If there was ever a time in recent history when the Church could make a difference in the course of a nation, it is now.”

A few nights ago, my sister called me on her way home from work. She’d been on the phone with Ben, who has worked several years for an organic lawn service servicing wealthier neighborhoods. He’d pulled his truck to the side of the road and was unloading his spreader when a man drove up next to him. Lowering his window, he yelled that Ben’s truck was illegally parked; then looking at him, he said, “Just like you, an illegal immigrant.”

Something sticks in your gut when words like these are said to someone you love. First, you want to go and confront this person. At least, you think it. Then, all your own prejudices take the wind out of your sails. Who have I looked at and thought the same? Whose son, father or mother, whose nephew? How could we, white America, know what it’s like to be the object of such hatred and prejudice unless we’ve been on the receiving end ourselves?

There’s a lot of hate out there — and I’m afraid to say — a lot of hate in here, too…in our own hearts. In the past several months it seems to have been unleashed upon the world, even accepted and condoned. It’s more than the result of a presidential campaign; some call it the underbelly of America.

In my mind, it comes, in part, from economic uncertainties and a continued breakdown in community: in our homes and in the civic and religious institutions that have traditionally held us together. It comes as a result of the breakdown in human relationships, especially today, along the lines of race, which have been charged with renewed, deep-seated fears and mistrust. But, ultimately, it’s a spiritual problem arising from an insecurity born of feelings of being unacceptable or unaccepted. When a person feels fully loved and accepted in the eyes of God, he cannot help but love and accept all others.

If there was ever a time in recent history when the Church could make a difference in the course of a nation, it is now. By Church, I mean individual churches and Christians, each of us first looking honestly at ourselves in light of the life of Christ who confronted the social challenges of his day while also being a peacemaker and bridge builder.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to be a healing balm, reaching across existing hatreds to offer a way to relate to one another, to break down walls of hostility that separate us. We’re called to do this through acts of self-sacrifice, service, humility, and love…a love for all people, including those who do not look like ourselves.

Sep 01

Thinking Out Loud – “Who Am I?”

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”
James 1:23,24

Pastor Dave

Pastor Dave McMillan

From Pastor Dave McMillan

Some time ago, I watched an old documentary hosted by the late neurologist, Oliver Sacks.

He was was interviewing a middle aged man suffering from Korsakoff’s Syndrome who could remember nothing of his life since the end of World War II. The documentary made in the 1990’s, he still believed it was 1945 and behaved normally aside from his inability to remember most of his past and the events of his day-to-day life. As I watched, I remember feeling heartbroken as he struggled to find meaning in the midst of forgetting what he was doing from one moment to the next.

According to psychologist David Keirsey, who developed the popular personality assessment the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, I fall under the category of an “Idealist”. I imagine this isn’t a surprise!  According to Keirsey, as an Idealist, I am part of twelve percent of the world’s population who are forever concerned with seeking meaning and significance, obsessed with answering the question “Who am I?”.  While still possessing a fair memory, there are still some mornings when I look in the mirror, as if I have forgotten overnight, and ask “Who am I?” . . . ”What am I like?”

The question “Who am I?” may be especially concerning to Idealists, but I suspect it is a question we all ask from time to time. I also believe it was a question Jesus tried to answer for us.  He tried to answer this question for us by taking the ordinary lives of his disciples and showing us how extraordinary life can become.  He tried to answer this questions by revealing and confronting our religious pretensions appealing to the authenticity of love, justice, and mercy.  He tried to show us who we are in befriending and forgiving sinners like Zacchaeus, The Woman at the Well, and The Woman Caught in Adultery, revealing to us our better moral nature.  He revealed to us who we are in his crucifixion and death, the fearful part of ourselves that wills for power, that we would rather not admit to, but must always remember lest history tragically repeat itself again and again.

Jesus tried to show us who we are through calling us to follow him in Christian discipleship.  Pastor Eugene Peterson wrote that Christian discipleship is “a long obedience in the same direction.” Jesus knew that self-identity comes only after a life-time of fidelity to the spiritual practices of self-surrender, prayer, corporate worship, right relationships, and acts of compassion and service . . . until the faith we profess is harmonious with the faith we live, until we become more like our Master.  Only then when we look in a mirror and walk away, we won’t feel the need to run back having forgotten what we are like.

“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18

Jul 01

Thinking Out Loud: Eulogy (July 2016)

From Pastor David McMillan

 

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature . . .
— Genesis 2:17-19 (NRSV)

 

Pastor DaveSummer came into my life late one spring not long after I separated from my wife. My niece, who works for a veterinarian, called to say that a young family was looking to find their puppy a new home. With two small children and another on the way, they had more than they could handle in a six-month-old Labrador retriever!

I still remember picking up “Sunny,” which was her name at the time. The look of relief on the young couple’s face made me think twice, but, for the price of two quarts of fresh strawberries, this bundle of perpetual motion still seemed a bargain.

For almost 12 years, Summer, whom my daughter renamed, has been my four-footed companion. At first, it was like raising another child. She seemed stuck in the terrible twos: chewing on the rungs of my dining room chairs, baseboards, and shoes, refusing to come when called, and resisting every collar and leash made. There were days when she’d go missing, running off into the woods behind my parsonage. One afternoon, after searching everywhere, I came upon her eating the entrails of a deer left by hunters. She was sick (as a dog) for days!

But there have been moments and days of blissful friendship: walks and runs along the West Brandywine Creek, wrestling on the living room rug, long belly rubs, sitting quietly together, her cheerful disposition whenever seeing me, and her unconditional love when I left her alone for the day or scolded her for taking too long to do her business. A truer friend I could not have asked for.

Summer’s been slowing down for some time now. Her medical bills exceed my own. I’ve begun to accept that she is not long for this world.

Over the years, I have thought about what separates humans from other animals. Some say animals, unlike humans, have no soul, but even the Bible seems to suggest otherwise (Ecclesiastes 3:19-22). There have been times when I was sure that Summer read me like a book, giving me space when I’ve needed it, and prodding me to awareness with her nose or some wild antic when I’m lost within myself. I have no doubt that she is a sentient being although I believe she knows better than to let on. Over the years, I know this also to be true, she has given me far more than she has asked for, and because of her friendship I’ve been blessed.

May 01

Thinking Out Loud – May 2016

Pastor Davefrom Pastor Dave McMillan

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” – Fred Rogers

 

 

“The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

 

It will soon be five years ago that I moved into the parsonage on the corner of 50 East Court Boulevard in West Lawn. I’m very comfortable in my home. It’s more than I need, but I appreciate the two and half bathrooms and the door from the garage into the house, especially in the winter time.

This past fall, my neighbor across the street, whose name I can’t remember, remarked that he never sees me. I told him it was probably because I live mostly on the other side of the house away from his own. The truth is, entering through the garage, I rarely see any of my neighbors. On occasion, when I’m letting Summer outside or putting out the trash, I’ll see Mark or Chris, or their daughter Ruth, who back up against me. If I had to give myself a grade as a neighbor, I’d say “barely passing.”

I have become familiar with Dick and Jean, an elderly couple, who live across the street opposite my driveway, mostly because they like to sit out on their front porch in the summertime and we exchange waves when I’m pulling in and out. When the Spirit convicts me, I’ll walk across the street and sit and talk for awhile. A few years ago, Jean’s son died unexpectedly and she asked me to perform his funeral. As a result, we’ve become closer.

When I first arrived, a neighbor who lives catty-corner to the parsonage was the first to welcome me. But somewhere along the way, I clearly said or did something to offend him. He no longer returns my wave. And, over the winter, stopping for coffee at Wawa, when I saw and greeted him, he walked past without ever saying a word. My daughter tells me not to worry …that “he’s just weird. ” But, it’s unsettling. I don’t do well with the feeling of having wronged someone, or even more, with being disliked. The sad thing is, for now, I haven’t the courage to approach him.

This “loving our neighbor as ourselves” is not as easy as it sounds. It takes an investment. It requires getting out of our comfort zone, time, and sacrifice. Author Peter Block writes about a breakdown of neighborhoods in America… “the problem is,” he writes, “people don’t feel like they ‘belong’ to such places, resulting in ‘an age of isolation.’ …We may live in a particular location, but it’s hard to sense that our lives are with others.”

Being neighborly, “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” “doing unto our neighbor as we would have them do to unto us,” is sacred work. Diana Butler Bass writes that it is through our neighbors that we come to know God…that love of God and love of neighbor are closely connected. For this reason, if we want to join in on the spiritual revolution she is convinced is already taking place with young people across the country, we need to reconnect with our neighborhoods.

I’m personally in agreement with her on this one. I believe the moving of the Spirit is toward things local. It always has been. With modernity, in our pursuit of who knows what, we chose to look beyond our next door neighbor – who may or may not want to have anything to do with us! But that doesn’t change the point. We need neighbors and neighborhoods to become human.

So, what grade would you give yourself as a “neighbor”? What grade would you give our church? I find myself feeling more and more convinced of our need to reach out right here to our surrounding neighborhood here in Lincoln Park. I’m aware of its rich history of neighborliness and I would like us to become a part of its resurgence. “It’s a beautiful day for a neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.”

Mar 01

Thinking Out Loud – March 2016

Thinking Out Loud: “Sibling Rivalry”

 

“…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Genesis 12:3

 

Pastor Dave

Pastor Dave McMillan

Not too long after my father’s death in 2004, my sisters and I were sitting around one night reminiscing. I recalled how my father had attended all of my baseball and volleyball games. Even after I had graduated from college and was coaching at a local high school and college, he would come to cheer on my teams. When I was growing up, I recalled going into church early on one Sunday a month with him to set up tables and chairs for our monthly Methodist Men’s Breakfast. Together, during the summer months, we would work together around the house cutting the grass, edging the sidewalk, and painting shutters. When I was around thirteen, he began taking me to a little nine-hole golf course in Delaware to teach me to play. By the time I was in high school, he was taking me out on weekends to golf with his friends when they needed a fourth.

As I reminisced, I couldn’t remember my father not being a part of my life. I will never forget his words when I left the house for good to begin my ministry at Lincoln Park: “Just be yourself and you’ll do okay.” And, I will never forget the day I told him that my wife and I had separated. Having suffered from Lewy-body dementia for over six years at the time, in a rare lucid moment, he said to me that he was sorry, but that I would “be okay.” His “okays” have sustained me now for many years.

As I sat there with my sisters reminiscing, I began to feel guilty. I felt like, in some way, I had monopolized my father’s time. Had they felt slighted? When I shared my feelings, they all looked at me in disbelief. To a sister, each felt the way I had felt. They had never known a time when they felt apart from my father. Each of us had been a recipient of his blessing.

In his book Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed today in the name of God. He traces the roots of violence associated with the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity to, among a few other things, sibling rivalry. Beginning with Abraham, he traces the battle among sons for their father’s blessing: Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Each apparently vies for their father’s approval and birthright, leading to enmity and threats of violence.

Using the book of Genesis and rabbinical commentaries, Jonathan Sacks challenges this common “misunderstanding” of these biblical stories and offers a different interpretation on the questions of “choseness,” “birthright,” and “blessing.” In Sacks’ reading, all of the children of Abraham: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are recipients of blessing. No one religion has a monopoly on God’s favor. Abraham himself sought to be a blessing to all nations, thus should all of his descendants. “It is not our task to conquer or convert the world or enforce uniformity of belief. It is our task to be a blessing to the world. The use of religion for political ends is not righteousness, but idolatry . . . To invoke God to justify violence against the innocent is not an act of sanctity but of sacrilege.”

In Jonathan Sacks’ book, he calls for people of goodwill from all faiths and none to stand together, confront the religious extremism that threatens to destroy us, and declare: Not in God’s Name.

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