Unfortunately, in the Methodist church these days, much conversation revolves around the current debates and maneuverings regarding the issue of homosexuality especially as it pertains to church leaders. This thoughtful and honest article by Gary Ingraham brings the voice that needs to be heard in this acrimonious debate. There is no rancor or crusading, just compassion and simple testimony to Christian hope, daily Christian living, and God’s power to change lives day by day. This is the voice that is neglected in this debate. The conservative side has sometimes been lacking in compassion and is often hesitant to get into the larger issue of other sexual temptations such as pornography and adultery. By so doing they in effect pejoratively brand homosexuality as something apart. The pro-gay side does not want to admit that some gay people can successfully and happily become straight in their practice partly by interpreting their feelings as temptation.
Many of you have been watching the construction of my 2018 Christmas train village as I have posted some progress reports on Facebook. You have been patiently waiting for the “finished product.” Here it is, though tweaks continue. Pictures are in the gallery below. It’s really about interacting with people. That’s one reason why my picture of Sam is the featured picture. Already the grandchildren have run the trains. JoAnne has hosted some ladies of the church who surveyed the set before it was quite finished. Sarah Oliver sat Jake down next to the tracks and his eyes followed the engines as they moved! Then Tuesday, Mike and Karen Ahijevych stopped in to help with the preparation of the church’s Every Door Direct mailing and took a moment to see the trains too. In the next two weeks we will also host three open houses, two for our church family and one for our neighborhood. JoAnne bakes special treats for these occasions.
A question that I am asked every year is: “What is new this year?” There always seems to be something. Last year, one big new thing was changing all the track over to FasTrack. Another was a new Lion Chief Patriot engine. Also last year I bought a Snowy Village Dept 56 church, and was given a Dickens Village Dept 56 church by Ken and Carolyn D’Annolfo. In addition a small country meeting-house type church showed up at our church tag sale, perfect for a pastor whose church meets in an old-style New England Methodist meeting house. So I gained three beautiful churches last year. This year the new items are “Polar Express.” I have a new North Pole station and a Polar Express train complete with the recorded “All aboard” announcement from the movie.
I was thinking about how this came to be. Everyone asks how long I have been doing this. Each year for about 25 years I have had trains around the tree. But each year the project has evolved. It all began when friends in my second church, Bill and Jackie Quick, gave me a classic O-Gauge Lionel set just like the one my brothers and I shared as children. I found three ceramic houses on sale at the local drugstore in East Syracuse and the Christmas hobby began. I couldn’t remember when it started, but Stacey Totoritis Rogan remembered seeing it near its primitive beginning in 1993 on a visit to Kirkville with her parents. It took a big step when the Kirkville parsonage was remodeled around 2001. The display moved upstairs and began to acquire additional houses, accessory wiring, and more than one level. It gained the large front-and-center train station. By then we made no attempt to put presents under the tree. We started inviting children of the church over to run the trains at open house events. In 2013, when we moved to the West Granby parsonage, I had more space so the set grew. But as it has grown more complex, so the time it takes to assemble and dissemble it has increased. However, this year, I was able to assemble it a little quicker, taking only 10 days instead of the usual two weeks.
That is a crucial spiritual question in our everyday struggle with temptation of all kinds. Will we take the long view of what leads to long term wholeness for ourselves and those close to us according to the gathered wisdom of our human race or will we choose what we currently crave? It is also a question that is at the heart of current medical and political debates about issues such as transgender surgeries. Should counselors, doctors, psychologists, pastors, etc just serve as hired or volunteer facilitators to help a person get what they currently want, or should they serve the acquired wisdom of humankind in promoting healing and wholeness, personal growth and maturity? This article focuses on that choice as it applies to the issue of gender reassignment surgeries. The article by Ryan T. Anderson is enlightening and gives valuable perspective for this debate. The question raised by this article is much broader than transgender issues. But as regards gender dysphoria, the standpoint of health and wholeness makes a much better starting point for the discussion of transgender than do moral codes. Ethics then enters into the picture as wholeness is defined as a moral good.
Alcohol abuse is a problem no one wants to talk about. But it is an increasing problem in the US. And more and younger people are losing their lives because of it as this recent news article in USA Today reports. While the Bible does not prohibit alcohol use, there are several warnings about it. For example, Solomon wrote, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise”(Prov 20:1 NIV). Today the church can encourage those who are trapped by addiction by offering space for AA, by sponsoring Celebrate Recovery Groups, and through pastoral counsel. We can also help by countering the popular narrative that alcohol is needed for a good time. And we can help provide hope for those who are discouraged and, seemingly lacking options, often turn to alcohol to cope.