Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Best of...My Favorite 2005 Posts

Last week Gavin asked bloggers about their favorite 5 posts of 2005, where he will nicely compile them for us here.

I spent a lot (read: way too much) of time reading through my blog posts today to finally get to this project. I've liked my posts more of late than when I first started blogging - feel like I'm getting into a rhythm, and have a better sense of reading. I'm glad Gavin suggested the project - I think it is always good to reflect on where we've come from. I've been keeping journals since I was in fifth grade, and looking back on them assures me that I do change over the years, and grow in maturity. Back when we were warring in Iraq the first time around, and I was in elementary school, I mentioned Hussein in one sentence and soccer practice in the next, and my latest crush in the next. Perspective...

So, best of 2005?

In chronological order -
* My survey on pastoral calling and the post with a summary of responses received.
* My thoughts on serving communion and the comments I received on this post. Since this post, I have started tearing the bread off the loaf for each person - I find it more meaningful, and I hope they do too.
* My post about my visit during the last GBCS meeting to talk with Roy Blunt's policy director, Neil Bradley, about the federal budget.
* My post following the judicial council decision regarding pastors' authority over receiving members about what 'we', progressive United Methodists, really want.
* My post, following some visits to old stomping grounds, about changing relationships and the sense of loss that comes from relationships that are no more.

There it is. My favorite five. Thanks for the challenge, Gavin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas: Reporting In

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I certainly did. Today we had our extended family gathering at my mother's house, and for the first time in a long time, managed to get most of the crew - aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmothers - there at the same time. I think we had 25 people at my mom's house. It was crazy, and tiring, but fun. Everyone stayed late. I'm lucky to have my extended family all living in New York State, and I feel blessed that our family, for the most part, is pretty close.

I'm pleased to report that we had a fairly decent crowd in church on Sunday morning. Not record-breaking, but about what we get on a holiday weekend like Labor Day. It was actually a nice, relaxing, but spirit-filled worship experience, at least from my perspective.

On Christmas Eve, we had two worship services. At our early service, the highlight was the lighting of the Christ Candle. A young couple was doing the reading, and their two-year-old wandered up from the back of the sanctuary with his children's bag, sat on the chancel, and looked through it. Then, as they were lighting the candles, he stood up, and spent the rest of the time trying to blow the candles out. Hilarious. Needless to say, I don't think anyone caught much of the candle liturgy.

For the message/children's time, I read a book - Mary's First Christmas. I don't think this went over very well (except that the adults did like looking at the pictures - I had some young adults walk up and down the aisles with extra copies of the book so the adults could see), and I was really stressed out and disappointed by the end of the service about how badly I thought this went. But I had to remind myself that feeling so upset about it was probably a sign that I thought I was the most important part of the Christmas Eve service. So, I'm trying to get over it!

At the late service, my actor-brother Todd performed two monoguges, adapted from these two sources. The late service is always my favorite. More contemplative, the "silent night" that we sing about.

Do you have any exciting/meaninful Christmas experiences to report?

Friday, December 23, 2005

What to do with Santa

Today I ran across this article on cnn.com about the TV show Everybody Hates Chris, the show about Chris Rock's childhood. Apparently, some folks are upset because on a recent episode, the Mom reveals to her daughter that Santa Claus is not real. "Come here," the mom says, "let me show you something. I'm taking you to the toys ... Santa doesn't come down the chimney. We don't even have a chimney. We have radiators."

The complaints - well - if you know anything about Chris Rock's style, then I'm not sure why you would let your child watch his show. But aside from that, I've been thinking -

What do you do with Santa as people of faith? My three brothers and I were raised on Santa, though I found out the truth from an older cousin when I was five. But my mom has said in recent years that if she had to do it again, she wouldn't teach us to 'believe in' Santa Claus. Her reasoning? Parents spend so much time trying to get their kids to believe in Santa - a more and more elaborate string of "white lies" has to be told to keep a child believing. But, eventually, the truth comes out. If we go through all this elaborate stuff, all of which, in today's incarnation, has little to with the birth of Christ, only to reveal later that it is all made up, what are young people to think of all that they hear about God, perhaps harder to learn about to begin with?

I guess some of Santa Claus can represent the "spirit of Christmas" - sharing gifts with loved ones? But I think that isn't how Santa is usually taught to kids. Santa is the one who brings toys to good boys and girls. (More and better toys to richer girls and boys.)

I don't have children yet, so right now it is easy for me to say that I won't teach my kids to "believe in" Santa Claus. I'm sure their classmates' parents will be thrilled with me. What about you out there? Thoughts? Does Santa come to your house?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Person of the Year

Time magazine announced its Person of the Year (people, actually) the other day, honoring Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates. Interesting combination, isn't it? (Ps - you have to watch an ad to read the whole article for free.) I guess I appreciate that the people making the cover at least are making it for trying to help others.

What do you think of the selection? Who would you have named as Person of the Year if you were in charge? Who is your favorite well-known person of the year? Who is your personal person of the year?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ringing the Bell

Today I spent some time with other church folks ringing the bell for Salvation Army at Wal-Mart. It was about 15 degrees out today in Central New York, and I ended up with a chill that was hard to get rid of for the rest of the day, and a sneaking suspicion that my throat is a bit sore, despite my attempt to bundle up today. (I'm usually not the coat-wearing type.)

Aside from the cold, I had a good time ringing the bell. The Salvation Army has a theology more conservative than my own, but I really admire the hands-on work they do. The other day I ran across the quote, ascribed both to Charles Dickens and Mahatma Gandhi - not sure which is correct - "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."

At least in my community, the Salvation Army is the group of people of faith who runs the soup kitchen, has a food pantry, provides emergency shelter, helps people connect with the right social service agencies, hands out thanksgiving baskets and christmas toys, gives out school supplies, and leads after-school programs. Not to say that they are the only group doing such outreach - but they are certainly the leaders. That's why our church, and most others in the community, are happy to help feed into and support their programs in the community. They're already doing what I wish we were doing more of in my congregation.

Today, ringing the bell, it was fun to watch how people approached (or didn't approach...) the red kettle. I appreciated especially the children who were thrilled to "get to" put money in the red kettle, and appreciated those parents who were already cultivating an attitude of joy of giving in their young kids. I noticed that those who seemed, by outward appearances at least, least able to give were the most likely to give. But people of all kinds would stop to give. I laughed at the little boy - maybe two - who found a quarter on the ground. His mother encouraged him to give the quarter to the kettle, but he said, "Nah!" A little girl waiting with her mother for a taxi for about 1/2 an hour got permission first to run over to me to say "Merry Christmas" and then to come put a dollar in.

Are the kettles out in your community? Wal-Mart is not my favorite place, but I'm glad that they continue to allow the Salvation Army to ring out front.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Convenience and Myself

Last week, I wrote about convenience and the church. Should the church try to be convenient for people in order to bring them the gospel?

Convenience. Convenience makes the world go round. Every week it seems you can find some new advertisement for a product that you should buy because you will have the ability to throw it away sooner than usual. Mops? Disposable. Digital cameras? Disposable. Cell phones? Disposable. Why buy one when you can buy them over and over again and create some garbage in the process?

I listen to books on tape all the time when I drive. I travel a lot, and books on tape help the time go by much faster. I typically listen to 'lighter' fare than I would read in printed form - John Grisham, Maeve Binchy, Mary Higgins Clark, Janet Evanovich. Most classics, most 'heavier' literature isn't quick-paced enough for keeping my attention while driving - with notable exceptions like the good-in-any-medium Barbara Kingsolver. My local library only has a limited collection of books on tape, so I'm always having to try new authors and hope I like them.

Recently, I listened to Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic. It's in the style Bridget Jones' Diary, which I thought was hilarious. In fact, it is so much in the style of BJD, that the parallels are ridiculously too many, with the exception that Kinsella's main character, Rebecca, is a shopaholic. Rebecca, as I was listening to the book, drives me crazy. Her spending habits - the focus of the book - are just ridiculous, indulgent, unbelievable. It was hard for me to be sympathetic for such a heroine, with so little self-control, so little thought about others, so little though even about how harmful her own actions were for herself. She spends hundreds of pounds a day (she's British, like Bridget.)

But, then I started thinking about my own spending habits. I can't afford, even in an over-spending way, the name-brand stylish spending sprees that Rebecca engages in in Shopaholic. But I'm just as bad, in my own way, and I'm not a fictitious character in a light novel. I remember back when I started as a pastor, after having been a financially struggling student for so many years. My new pastor salary, three times what I'd ever made in a year as a student, seemed huge to me. I'd never be broke again! I'd never be able to feel like I didn't have enough with this huge salary. Granted, I hadn't yet given a lot of thought to the whopping taxes I'd be paying as a so-called "self-employed" clergy person. But still, I knew I would be pretty well-off.

Two-and-a-half years later, I find that I often spend my money ridiculously. I make a budget, and then ignore it in favor of spending my money for convenience. For me, it's eating out. I hate cooking. I'd rather buy something ready-made. I take what I eat very seriously as a moral and ethical issue - that's why I've been a vegetarian for 8 years. But I can't seem to expand my scope to remember the moral/ethical issues of where I buy my food, how I spend my money, etc., in those same day-to-day choices.

When I see things happening like the US government continuing a failure to take global warming seriously if it means somebody's profits might go down, I think: how can we be so short-sighted? But when I buy a soda that comes in plastic cup that I will throw away instead of drinking some of the soda (or water!) that I have at home, choosing convenience over my small piece of the pollution pie...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Review: The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Yesterday I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my brother and sister-in-law. (You can read my brother's shorter, less flattering review here.)

I love the Chronicles of Narnia. I reread them every year or so - I always enjoy them. I know that they are children's books - more so than Harry Potter - these books are short, quick reads, and meant for children - younger children. But I find them fascinating to read as an adult - I love the way C.S. Lewis likes fiction. Lewis' theology isn't exactly my cup of tea all the time, but sometimes I think in his fiction he lets his theology run a little wilder, a little more free. So I love the imagination in the Chronicles.

The movie is - OK. I thought, as I was watching, that if you were an adult seeing the movie, you wouldn't like it unless a) you had kids with you or b) you were a big fan of the books. (Side note - so glad they appear to be doing the movies in the original publishing order of the books. I know C.S. Lewis mentioned that they could be better ordered chronologically according to Narnia time, but frankly, I don't think he thought it through. The make much more sense as published.) The movie doesn't stray too terribly from the book, and I think they do a good job putting into tangible images Lewis' words. Narnia looks like I have always imagined it looking.

The problem, I think, is that things that Lewis writes on the page seem plausible in words and imaginations. But putting them on the screen makes them seem awfully silly. It was hard to watch the battle scenes and not laugh. These children, fighting? Please. And Liam Neeson, who I like as an actor, I did not like as the voice of Aslan. I was expecting something deeper, and more powerful in sound. Also, as a side detail, I was shocked at the poor makeup jobs for some characters. I have some stage makeup background - nothing great, but enough to know that in a movie, you shouldn't be able to "see" the makeup so much. It was very distracting.

Still, I will probably go see any future editions of the Chronicles. Maybe, as Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter grow up, so will the movies.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Convenience and the Church

I've been thinking a lot about convenience lately. And I've been thinking about Church on Christmas Sunday this year. A lot of people have been posting about it - Ben Witherington and BroGreg are just two. Apparently, the idea of churches closing on Christmas of all days is such good news that it has made CNN.com's front page - story here. (thanks for the heads up Mom.)

The conversations about churches being open for services or not ask questions about convenience. Should the church try to be convenient for people? Or should the church push to be counter-cultural and sometimes, then, non-accommodating? Or something in the middle?

These questions don't just apply to Christmas services, but to the life of the Church as a whole. This Christmas, we've moved our Christmas Eve late-night service an hour earlier, and our Sunday morning service an hour later, in an effort to both give people some family time and get them to church on Sunday morning. But I admit, I'm highly skeptical about how many will show up. Who wants to go to church on Christmas? Can we expect people to be there?

At my church, we've added a Saturday evening worship service - a second service. I like the service - it is small, and somehow more contemplative - 'contemporary' yet quiet. Relaxed, and spiritual. But I'll admit, one of the major factors in starting a second service wasn't because our Sunday service was busting at the seams - we started the Saturday service to offer a convenient time for folks to come to worship. People kept telling me reason after reason of why it was inconvenient to show up for worship on Sunday morning. I wanted to eliminate at least that variation of excuse from the rotation of reasons for not coming to worship.

The church has such an image problem - so many people see it as not welcoming, as judgmental or hurtful or abusive. So, sometimes I think it doesn't hurt for the church to accommodate people's needs, to draw them in, to get them connected, and to keep them in a place where they can slowly but surely be challenged into a life of discipleship. But when do churches cross the line and try to make it too easy, too convenient to claim faith?

What do you think?

Words from Jim Winkler

GBCS has recently started a weekly "Faith in Action" e-mail update, which you can sign up for here. In this week's edition, Jim Winkler makes a statement in response to concerns about whether the views he expresses are meant to speak for the whole church, and about the tone of his response and opinions. I found it thoughtful. You might want to check it out.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Nutcracker

Every year for as long as I can remember, I make a trip near Christmas time to see a production of The Nutcracker, the ballet by Peter Ilich Tschaikovsky. These days, I actually usually make three trips to the show - once to see all the girls and boys from my church, once to go to the production I've always gone to, and once to another company's performance for good measure.

Today I saw the production that all my church members are in. Because of my schedule this weekend, I had to go see one of the "school performances" during the day, where children from the area come to see the ballet as a field trip. I've done this before, and it is risky - hundreds of elementary school kids on a field trip aren't always in the mood to see a ballet.

But, happily, I had a great experience. The kids were so well-behaved, and it was fascinating to sort-of watch the ballet through their eyes. I was thinking of the part in Finding Neverland where J. M. Barrie invites the children from the orphanage to his opening of Peter Pan. Stodgy audience members can't help but delight in the play when they see the delighted reactions of the children watching the characters flying around on stage.

When I was little, I always loved the beginning of The Nutcracker, with the party scene, the mice and the soldiers. And I thought the pas de deux between the prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy was terribly terribly long and boring. But as I grew up, I started to think the party scene moved too slowly, and I couldn't wait for the pas de deux and the 'grown-up' dancing.

Today, sitting next to a class of first-graders, I got to experience the show as a young person again. The kids were at first not impressed by the scenery, but eventually oohed and aahed when the snow fell from the sky, and when Mother Ginger came out with her bon-bons, and when the dancing dolls appeared like magic from the box, and when the Mouse King was defeated by the prince. They were literally sitting on the edge of their seats. It was a real joy - seeing it again as I did long ago...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

from Soup Questions - Questions from Inside the Actor's Studio

I've been meaning to comment on this post from Jason's Soup Questions for a while. He asks us to answer the questions that James Lipton asks each actor on Inside the Actor's Studio. So here's my responses:

What is your favorite word? Love.

What is your least favorite word? Any words that demean others.

What is your favorite sound? Really good a capella choir music.

What is your least favorite sound? Fingernails on chalk-boards.

What is your favorite curse word? I plead the fifth. When I'm driving and I'm by myself, I can get a little road-rage going. It's not pretty.

What turns you on? Social-justice activism.

What turns you off? Meanness.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Something in theatre. Make-up design maybe.

What profession would you not like to participate in? Anything medical. I have a great fear of being responsible for the physical well-being of others.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you reach the Pearly Gates? Welcome home, we've been waiting for you.


What about you?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

whatcha doin for christmas?

What are your plans for Christmas/Christmas Eve services at your place of worship?

I like to do something dramatic - a monologue or something - but I always have a tough time finding something that's - well, not cheezy. And I rarely feel competent and inspired enough to write something of my own.

We've also done lessons and carols, without a specific message, but sometimes this seems to work better than others.

Thoughts? Insights?

movie reviews: Rent and Walk the Line

I went to see two movies this weekend, Rent and Walk the Line. This time of year, when many Oscar-hopeful movies come out all it once, drives me crazy, because there are so many good movies out at once that I want to see.

First up, Rent. Rent debuted as a musical on Broadway when I was in high-school, and I remember the craze it was among my friends, the theatre-kids. I never saw the stage version, but I eventually came to know the music pretty well from listening to the soundtrack.

I'd read some reviews in advance of seeing the show which suggested that Rent, the movie, would have been better if it had come out ten years ago like the musical. The original Broadway cast is mostly intact for the movie, only now, all the twenty-somethings of the stage show are thirty-somethings. Also, one of the major themes of the play - people living with AIDs - has taken a different place in our culture than in the early nineties. I don't mean that AIDs is any less important or critical of an issue. But I mean the way it is dealt with in Rent represents a ten-years-ago mindset.

So, the movie. I think the music is excellent, and the actors did a great job. Each character was strong - no weak links. It was great to see Jesse Martin, who I've known only from Law & Order, singing and dancing!

What I don't like about the movie itself: I don't see any real growth in the characters. No one seems to me to go through any change, or transformation. I guess that's not always a requirement, but I didn't seen any development of characters, any maturing. I was confused, too, by the 'gang''s pushing Roger and Mimi together. Roger, a character who lost a woman he loved to AIDs, who watched her breakdown because of drug use, didn't want to be with Mimi because she also was a user, and he clearly wanted her to stop using, or he wouldn't be with her. But she and his friends act like he's being irrational. I don't get it.

I do appreciate that the group supports one another, is a family, but I thought the group also bordered on self-centered and selfish. Lyrics from Another Day: "There's Only Us/There's Only This/ Forget Regret/ Or Life Is Yours To Miss/ No Other Road/ No Other Way/ No Day But Today." I think the song shoots for a 'carpe diem' theme, but ends up with a 'anything goes if it seems good right now' feeling instead.

At one point, the character Mark, filming for his documentary, videotapes a homeless woman being shoved off by police officers. But she gets mad at Mark, asking what he's really doing about anything. He doesn't have an answer for her, and I don't think he gets one by the end of the movie either.

Still, it was an enjoyable movie. Just not - as profound or deep as it seems to want to be, I suppose.

As for Walk the Line - I thought it was superb. I didn't know much of anything of Johnny Cash in the early years. I became a fan of his, actually, from hearing him first on the U2 album Zooropa, singing "The Wanderer." His voice was so unique - a one of a kind voice. Eventually, I expanded my Johnny Cash knowledge during seminary, and especially love some of his covers on his last(?) album, American IV: The Man Comes Around.

The movie - it is a love story between Johnny and second wife June Carter-Cash. It's a story about becoming who you might be. Joaquin Phoenix, playing Cash, even seemed to become Cash more fully throughout the film. And Reese Witherspoon, who I always enjoy, seems mature beyond her years. I am also impressed, as many are who've seen the film, that the pair do all their own singing in the movie. No lip-syncing. They sound great. This movie doesn't try to be complex or confusing. And it succeeds in touching the heart in the process.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

from CNN.com - One man's trash is another's dinner - Nov 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!
My mom sent me this link from cnn.com, about "freegans," a story about people who find a different way to feast for Thanksgiving:

"They call themselves 'freegans,' a play on the words 'vegan'-- vegetarians who avoid all animal products -- and 'free.' In an ideological rejection of consumer waste, they only eat food that's been discarded. And in New York City, at least, they never go hungry.
'We find more food than we could ever possibly eat,' said Adam Weissman. Just 24 hours before the dinner party, he found a hefty stash outside a gourmet supermarket in Manhattan: bags of salad nearing the sell-by date, dozens of sandwiches, boxes of Ritz crackers, some nice looking squash and loaves of still-crisp baguettes.
Although not all freegans are vegan, they all eat for free. Weissman said that with few exceptions he has not eaten store-bought food, either at home, in a restaurant or as guest of a friend, in more than a decade.
Weissman and others say they have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving, which Weissman called 'basically a celebration of excess.'
Madeline Nelson, the host of the freegan dinner party who says she recently left a job in corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company, says she's concerned about holiday over-consumption.
'We are heading into wasting season,' said Nelson, who's serving a semi-freegan Thanksgiving dinner to her family, including her 83-year-old father.
A study suggests that freegans may have a point.
Timothy Jones, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, conducted a 10-year study that concluded the country wastes 40 percent to 50 percent of its food. A 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture study put the loss at 27 percent of total U.S. food production, or 96 billion pounds of grub.
'The number one problem is that Americans have lost touch with the processes that bring it to the table and we don't notice the inefficiency."


I'm not sure I'm ready to go freegan. But today, as I look at all the food sitting around post-feast that I know I won't ever eat, I can't help but think maybe they're on to something...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

jockeystreet: Going Through The Motions

My brother had a great post last week about his first visit to the Zen Center, which I've been meaning to link to. Go check it out!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

changing relationships

This weekend, I attended the wedding of a seminary friend in Virginia. A beautiful ceremony - the message, focusing on making sacred space, was extremely moving. (My apologies if I haven't responded to emails and comments you've left this past week - I'm getting there, eventually)

The wedding, along with a few other gatherings I've been part of recently, has me thinking about relationships and change in relationships. In Chicago this week, I had the change to gather with several friends from Ohio Wesleyan, and last month I also saw seminary friends at Drew.

I think that change in relationships is one of the hardest, most emotional things to go through. I suppose this is true, in a way, whether the change is ultimately viewed as a positive, desired change or not. I think back on my life about friendships or even acquaintances that I've had in my life, and I can't help but want to at least know what has happened to some of the people that just aren't a part of my life anymore, for one reason or another. Where is that kid who moved to Florida when I was in grade school? What happened to my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Laitres who moved away mid school-year? What became of my senior dance date? I wonder, often, despite generally disliking my CPE experience, what happened to all the babies who were in the NICU after I finished my summer as a chaplain. Are they all healthy and strong toddlers now?

I feel a sense of sadness, a sense of loss, when I realize that some friendships won't last for years and years beyond the season of life in which they were so important, so central to everyday life. Our lives are always changing, and some relationships don't survive change. This realization sometimes has the unfortunate effect of making the memories of the friendship somehow tainted to me. Maybe it shouldn't be so, I'm not sure. But changing relationships are certainly a reality of life.

I guess, then, the strongest relationships are the ones that are sustained wherever life seems to take both people involved. In Chicago, I get to see one of my best and longest friends, who I went to high school with, and college with, and will probably end up at school with again someday. And at Christmas, she'll be here, back in Central New York. Our friendship certainly hasn't been free of struggle. We've spent a good share of time mad at each other or driving each other crazy through the years. But I think we've transcended into a place where I know she'll always be in my life and I will always be in hers, whatever changes life brings.

So, I wish for my friend and his new wife, as they begin their marriage, that they experience the kind of love that sustains them and blesses them through all the twists and turns that life brings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

city life

I'm on vacation this week, so posting and/or responding to comments will probably be slow, and topics will be nice and non-theological, like this one!

Right now, I'm in Chicago visiting college friends. I've been thinking about cities. I've been to Chicago three times now, and I really like it. I feel like I'm getting to know my way around a bit. I feel like it is an "easy-going" sort of city. I grew up in a small city (think 30,000 people) and I now live in an even smaller city (think 10,000). When I was looking at colleges, even schools in mid-sized cities like Syracuse University seemed intimidating to me. When I went to seminary, I chose Drew over Boston in part to location. Drew would give me access to NYC without having to live right in a big city.

During seminary, I interned at the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns (say that five times fast), and got to do the whole commute-into-Manhattan-thing. I hated it (the commute, not the agency). Aside from the fact that I worked beginning in September 2001, and had to deal with the immediate change of atmosphere from 9/11, I just hated the stress of the commute. My job wasn't stressful, but getting to it was. Being near other stressed-out commuters rubbed off on me. And Manhattan - something about it just seemed life-draining to me. (Sorry to you NYC readers!) I felt like my thoughts about big cities had been confirmed - could never live in one.

Now, living in a small town, I very much miss the diversity of living in the NY metro area. I miss seeing people who don't look like me. I miss not having people of other faiths living in my community. I miss not having anything open after 10pm!

So, here in Chicago, I'm thinking about cities. When I go back to school someday for doctoral work, I'm thinking you might find me in a big city.

What's your favorite city? Why? What's your least favorite? Why? Do you prefer smaller-town life?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Everytime I Feel the Spirit

I've recently been emailing with Keith Taylor, an insightful and thoughtful commenter on this and other blogs, about the church, the Holy Spirit, and what we do now in light of everything that's been going on with judicial council decisions and the division in the church those decision represent.

Keith wrote to me, "When I read the journal of John Wesley, I see the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of the Spirit, the Power of God that appears to be missing in the modern UMC. As a UM pastor, why do you think that is so? . . . I wonder where is the Power of the Holy Spirit in the Methodist Renewal Movement of 200+ years ago?"

Good questions. I responded, in part (slightly edited), like this:

"I guess I think we don't see things because we don't (in general) expect to see them, if that makes sense. Sometimes people in my Bible study ask why we don't experience God in such ways as in a "burning bush" like they did in the scriptures. I say that I think it is because God tries to speak to us in ways we're likely to hear God. If we heard a bush talking to us today, we'd probably check ourselves into a hospital. We're not open to seeing God there. But people in biblical times were open to different things because of their knowledge of the natural world being different than ours - the natural world seemed more mysterious, and so perhaps (seemed) more of a place for God to be at work. So, I think maybe we just don't expect the movement of the Holy Spirit anymore, at least not in the same ways, which is often to our detriment. If the Holy Spirit did move among us in bold ways, I wonder if we (liberals, conservatives, whoever) would disagree with the Holy Spirit and try to quash it anyway. (that's my cynicism revealing itself) I, too, think the division in the church is pretty sad - we're all losing out here. I wish I knew how we could work through things."

I'm still struggling with how we can move forward as a church, a denomination together, if that's what we want to do. Can we really live together, and how do we do it?

I think relationship-building is really important. Revwilly commented on my previous post: "We have a major trust issue in the UMC. A relationship cannot survive wihout trust," and then, "Several years ago a study was done an about 1500 people. Each was given a test to determine he/she was a high trust or low trust person. The low trust people had a significantly higher rate of heart disease and died at a much young age. The heart of the UMC is diseased and unless something is done we will die before our time."

I think he is right - we've got some major trust issues. We've become a low trust church. How do we build trust? I think the first step is to decide whether or not we want to build trust with each other.

(PS - Thanks to all of you who've been signing my Map.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

two things

two things borrowed from Dylan's blog -

1) follow this link to put your pin on my google map, which lets me see where everyone is from who reads my blog or visits my site.

2) Try this fun meme - type your name into google and the word "needs," and blog the top ten hits that come up. According to google, this is what "Beth needs":

1- Beth needs a considerable raise in salary.
2- Beth needs it so it will be done.
3- Beth needs people.
4- Beth needs prayers.
5- Beth needs a job.
6- Beth needs a first-floor bedroom.
7- Beth need your vote
8- Beth needs to stop it already with the lies.
9- Beth needs to realize she has a problem.
10- Beth needs cash and agrees to go deep undercover.

What a great online life I'm leading...!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

finance training, day 2

I continue at this clergy finance training event in Binghamton.

Thoughts from today:
The leaders (from the United Methodist Frontier Foundation) strongly suggest that pastors, to be in ministry, need to know what their church members are giving. If you are a pastor, do you know what your parishioners give? If you are a lay member, what do you think about pastors knowing who gives what? I know the benefits, and I also understand why some would be uncomfortable with this.

We also spent a lot of time talking about stewardship campaigns. I posted questions about stewardship campaigns last year, but that was before anyone really read my blog. So, let me try again. What kind of stewardship campaigns do you do in your congregation? Your own program? Prepackaged? Have you seen growth in giving and pledging? Do you talk about tithing in your congregation?

Another 'hot' topics we talked about:
1) Do pastors share how much they give with the congregation? If yes, how?
2) Do pastors somehow recognize and thank those who are big givers or big givers in proportion to income (assuming pastors have this information)?

Thoughts and insights are welcome. We also learned about endowments, gift annuities, and other things I have never before thought about in my life today. Lots of figures and ideas floating around in my head tonight . . .

Monday, November 07, 2005

offertory prayer

I am spending a few days in Binghamton, NY at a clergy finance training, where we talk about fun things like personal finances, clergy tax law, stewardship programs, etc. Actually, it is very informative, and helpful to ask some questions that I had not yet found answers for, especially relating to wonderful clergy tax law.

Anyway, our first presenter today shared this quote from Hilbert Berger, an "offertory prayer" that we probably don't hear on Sundays: "O Lord, no matter what we say or what we do, here is what we think of you."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Know Your Bible?

Now, for something a little - different - take this 100 question Bible exam to see how well you know the Book.

(found via A Religious Liberal Blog)

My results:

ACTS AND PAULINE LETTERS 73%
GOSPELS 100%
HISTORICAL BOOKS 84%
PENTATEUCH 82%
PROPHETS 66%
PSALMS AND WISDOM LITERATURE 90%
REST OF NEW TESTAMENT 70%
TOTAL 81%

Ah, the propehts. I guess I know where I need to study up. That and that whole "rest of the new testament" category! I'm afraid I only did as well as I did on the prophet section though by some lucky guessing ;)!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What do we really want?

The recent judicial council decisions in the United Methodist Church have sent the blogosphere into a state of - energetic, if not friendly, blogging that I haven't experienced in a while. The decision over whether or not a pastor has the right to deny membership to practicing gay and lesbian persons has been particularly troubling, with the Council of Bishops already issuing a statement that leans toward (by my reading) clear disagreement with the Judicial Council on this issue.

What does this mean for the church? The United Methodist community?

Over at WesleyBlog, Shane Raynor has recently written a post titled, "The Left Gets Ridiculous," where he concludes, "The far left is losing its stranglehold on our denomination, so they're beginning to say and do ridiculous things in an attempt to hang on to power. Meanwhile, the UMC continues to move in a more conservative and more evangelical direction."

As a self-defined member of the "far left," I'm surprised ot hear we've had a stranglehold on the UMC. I guess that's a matter of perspective, because it has felt like an uphill struggle most of the time.

My concern: One of the things I've so appreciated about blogging is the chance to converse with people of widely divergent theological views. Connectionalism at its best in a new format. Folks like Shane and John have been a real blessing to me, and I feel like we have some blog-dialogue that we don't always get face to face. But the tone of Shane's comments, and comments from many others (and I don't want to put words into Shane's mouth, so I say tone) leaves me feeling like some are just holding out hope that eventually all people of divergent viewpoints will just go somewhere else, so that everybody in the church can agree and get on with things. I think folks on the right (and the left) sometimes express these thoughts, directly or indirectly.

John asked recently if we (on the left) are ready for amicable separation yet. Not many responded that they were. We don't like to talk about it, many of us. We've been a church with people of very divergent viewpoints for a long, long time. And we've lived together. But John raises a good question, I think.

What is it we really want? Do we want a church where everyone has the same viewpoint? Same understanding of scriptural authority and interpretation? If we want people of varied views, how varied can views be, before, to use a question from John, the line is drawn and crossed?

What are the benefits of staying together? What are the benefits of splitting up?
If we stay together, is our goal really stay together, or is it just to wipe each other out - to "win"?

I feel like there is a lot of winning and losing language floating around, a lot of power language, a lot of victory/defeat language. Is that what we're about?

Do conservatives really doubt the motives of those of us on the left? I hear a lot of talk about our "pro-homosexual agenda." Do conservatives doubt that my motives are based on something other than a sincere belief that God is calling for a fully inclusive church? Believe that if I interpret the Bible differntly, I must automatically hold it in a lower place in my life?

Do liberals doubt the motives of those on the right? Do we believe that conservatives are bigoted and close-minded?

I don't have answers to all of my own questions, just more questions. Where do we go from here? What do we really want?

Monday, October 31, 2005

mixed bag - judicial council, federal budget, ordination

I don't know quite what to blog about. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and under-motivated.

-Beth Stroud was defrocked (again) because she is a practicing lesbian. The Judicial Council determined that because non-practicing gay and lesbians are not prohibited from ordained ministry that her defrocking was not based on her status as a lesbian woman. I disagree, of course, with the decision because I hope to see gay and lesbian people welcomed fully into the life of the church without condition. But I also disagree with the logic of the argument that a "non-practicing" gay or lesbian person can be a pastor but a "practicing" gay or lesbian person cannot. What does it mean to practice your sexual orientation? Clearly, the logic here limits our whole sexual identity to who we have sex with. I'd like to think our sexual identity is more than that. After all, as a single heterosexual woman, if I am not in a relationship and not having sex, am I "non-practicing"? My sexuality is unchanged whether or not I'm actually having sex. So we've reduced sexuality to sexual activity. To me, that's very dualistic, very mind-body, flesh vs. spirit, in a way that seems contrary to the gospel message.

-Even more disturbing is the decision that the pastor who refused to let a gay man join his congregation was within his rights as a pastor to refuse him membership. I find it frightening, really, for the church and it's future. Where is the line drawn? If we as clergy can decide who can and can't join the church based on what we perceive to be their sins and what we perceive to be their repentance or lack thereof for particular sins - what sins should be bad enough to prohibit membership? What if we say we repent of certain sins, but don't really mean it? What if? I just feel like this is setting a terrible precedent enabling us to exclude anyone - not just from ordination, now, but from membership, based on who they are.

-On a more positive note, today I handed in my ordination paperwork. It felt good to turn over the big box full of copies for board members. Interviews are in February. Til then, time to relax.

-Also, previously I had posted about visiting Capitol Hill and talking about proposed food stamp cuts to pay for hurricane relief. Well, earlier in the week, the Senate Agriculture Committee proposed that no cuts be made for the 2006 fiscal year in the food stamps program. The proposed cuts had originally put 300,000 families at risk for losing food stamp eligibility. The other cuts I've heard proposed are still troublesome to me - student aid, money used to pursue child support payments, etc., but this at least is an area of relief.

A question for you all - where do you find hope? When you are bombarded with news that says that the issues that are close to your heart are far from where you want them to be, where do you continue to draw strength from, how do you continue to stay motivated? I find it difficult sometimes. Being in community with others who have a shared vision is renewing. Finding comfort in the Word of God in unexpected ways is another source. What about you? What keeps you on the path, keeps you full of hope?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Relevant Magazine: Time for a New Revolution

I just finished reading another issue of Relevant Magazine.

A particular article stood out to me this month: "Time for Another Revolution," by John Fisher (pg. 66, Nov/Dec 2005 issue)

Fisher talks about his experience in the 60s going to Wheaten College, where he was in the "worst" class (so-dubbed by the school's president years later), a class of "rowdy, nonconforming troublemakers." Fisher says his class was full of questions, not wanting to accept "easy answers." Some, for sure, lost their faith in school. But Fisher writes, "I consider this an improvement on whatever faith they brought there that was unable to hold up to the scrutiny of deeper questioning and intellectual curiousity."

Fisher worries that in the last two decades, he finds "rote acceptance of whatever those in places of authority hand down" to be more the norm. "Faith equals blind acceptance," he argues. "For too long, good Christian students have politely reflected the worldview and politics of their parents and rarely asked questions of their teachers . . . These students seem content to fill their notebooks with what they came to college for - answers that will lead to a high grade and result in a secure position in society or the church."

Fisher concludes by calling for revolution, encouraging us to ask questions, hard questions, about our faith and beliefs. "Jesus said that new wine can't be contained in old wineskins."

I didn't go to a "Christian" college, just a United Methodist one ;). But my brother went to a Christian college (yes, it's true!). He certainly is probably on some administrator's list of "rowdy, nonconforming troublemakers." But I think his spirituality is far deeper today for his journey then.

Thoughts about your own college experiences?

the good and the bad

Ah, being a clergy person brings such an interesting mix of joys and struggles, doesn't it?

Last night, my lament was: One of the most frustrating things for me in my ministry is not when things fail, but when people just don't respond to things offered to begin with. I had an event going on at church - something new we're trying - that literally not a single person showed up for. I left church feeling pretty blue. It's better sometimes to try and fail then to have no one try with you at all!

Today, my joy is: A clergy colleague died earlier this week - his spouse is also a clergy person. I attended the funeral this morning, joining together in procession, song, and worship with a packed sanctuary which included 100 or 150 of my clergy colleagues. We certainly aren't all on the same theological page as clergy in the conference. But today, when it really mattered, I was proud that we were there for our friend and co-worker in the ministry. To me, that is our connection at its best, and I hope we can draw strength from that support.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Book Review: Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich

I just finished reading Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich, her follow up to the excellent Nickel and Dimed, which I reviewed earlier this year.

Bait and Switch is similar in style to Nickel and Dimed. This time Ehrenreich undertakes to infiltrate corporate America. She wants to find out about people who "do everything right" according to societal standards - have college educations, work in white-collar positions, make good grades, etc. - but still end up unemployed, underemployed, and dangerously close to sinking into the poverty that Ehrenreich explored in Nickel and Dimed. So she sets aside ten months and $5000 for expenses and set her goal: search for a job for 4-6 months, and spend 3 months as an employee in a white-collar field, with some mid-range income goal. She would go anywhere, take any job offered that met her requirements and was not morally objectionable to her.

Ehrenreich's quest for a job is hilarious and frustrating. She spends a lot of money on job coaches, who give her personality tests (one has results that suggest Ehrenreich is "probably not a good writer"), help her re-write her resume with the proper 'lingo'. The coaches key into the job-searchers need to have a "winning attitude." One job-seekers website she comes across says, "studies have shown that the hiring process is 90% emotional . . . if I like you, I may hire you." (pg. 38)

After job coaches, the next key element of job-searching is networking - trying to make contacts for jobs with anyone and everyone you meet. Ehrenreich attends everything from church-sponsored networking events (Ehrenreich, an atheist, seems to have a strange hate-church-but-can't-stay-away-from-it relationship that I can't figure out. She does know her scriptures though!), to networking "boot camp," to select events that only job-hunters with real potential can attend.

It is during "boot camp" that Ehrenreich runs into a pervasive philosophy of job-seeking: "You must recognize that you alone are the source of all the conditions and situations in your life. You must recognize that whatever your world looks like right now, you alone have caused it to look that way." (pg. 81, as quoted from The Ultimate Secret to Getting Absolutely everything You Want) In other words, getting laid off, the state of the economy, poverty, etc. - anything else that factors into your employment situation is nothing - you've caused it to be how it is and have to take responsibility for it. Ehrenreich writes, "It explains the winners' success in the most flattering terms while invalidating the complaints of the losers . . . it's not the word that needs changing . . . it's you." (pg. 85)

Another big issue Ehrenreich experiences: invisibility. Not even rejection, which would require a response from prospective employers, but invisibility - no response or acknowledgement from most of the hundreds of companies to which she applied. No return calls. No rejections letters. No human contact. (pg. 171)

In the end, Ehrenreich, despite coaching and networking and even an image makeover, is offered two jobs: one at an insurance company, where she basically would sell insurance and recruit other salespeople, and one selling Mary Kay. After seven months searching, those are her offers.

Her last two chapters, tying everything together and making conclusions, are her strongest. She follows up with many others she met job-seeking, and finds that most of them are still unemployed or underemployed, taking "survival jobs." The number of people working in "survival jobs" - jobs that are low-paying, that have nothing to do with one's education and skills - is not a figure that is measured in any way. The Bureau of Labor Stats only measures underemployment by those working less than full time hours.

Ehrenreich talks about that Protestant American work ethic that says "hard work will be rewarded with material comfort and security," at least for middle-class folk. It is this guarantee that is fading away, she argues. Capitalism, Marx observed, "never promised stability." (pg. 217) She also notes the lack of organizing by white-collar laborers, the lack of conversation about why so many of them are experiencing job loss and unemployment. The victim-blaming ideology seems to keep people from looking for larger, societal reasons for job loss, keeping them also from working for change.

Ehrenreich also briefly address corporate greed, talking about the rising incomes of CEOs, a habit of "internal predation" of eliminating jobs of those below you so that you can earn more. (I wish she would have expanded more in this area.)

I enjoyed Nickel and Dimed more than Bait and Switch, because I think good looks into the life of the working poor are few and far between. And it's harder to feel sorry for middle-class people with lots of resources. But at the same time, it's easier to see my own (and my family's) struggles in Bait and Switch. And Ehrenreich really tries to push the reminder - poverty, "downward mobility" isn't so far away from most of us. How many bad events would have to take place in your life to push you from middle-class to lower-class? How many unexpected things could you handle before you had to take up a job you never imagined yourself doing?

Give it a read!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ezekiel 34:16

Sometimes, I stumble across a Bible verse that has somehow gone unnoticed after so many years of studying, that is just so moving.

Today, I noticed Ezekiel 34:16, which comes in the lectionary on Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday on November 20th.

It reads, "I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice."

Wow.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Alumni Lectures: Final Reflections, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Thursday was the last day of the Tipple-Vosburgh lectures at Drew, and Rev. Dr. Traci West, my favorite professor, gave the sermon at the closing worship, focusing on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8. This is a text that has a special place in my heart, since it was the text for my senior sermon there at Drew three years ago!

Dr. West focused in on the first verse, where Paul says, "we know our coming to you has not been in vain." She said she felt like Paul was trying, a little bit, to convince himself. She suspects, she said, that we all do that in our ministries - we wonder, we hope and pray that the work that we've done has not been in vain.

She also focused on Paul's proclamation: "For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery." She wondered why Paul would need to make this claim, unless others had been proclaiming to the Thessalonians with less than honest intentions.

Dr. West urged us to look for places in the world where the gospel is proclaimed with some "tricky discrimantory twist." And she urged us to see that as we prepared to gather at the communion table, that it was at that table that we could bring all the bad that we experience, but also ourselves, our very selves to the table. "This is the place, this is the table to bring your real selves to," she said.

I always feel inspired by Dr. West's preaching. One of my friends commented that Dr. West's preaching makes her feel "too inspired" - a good compliment!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Senator wins Powerball Lottery

Geez.

CNN.com - Sen. Gregg wins $853,000 in Powerball - Oct 20, 2005:

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Judd Gregg won $853,492 from the Powerball lottery after matching five of six numbers in Wednesday's drawing, adding to his already sizable wealth.
'Even senators can be lucky,' he told reporters outside the D.C. Lottery claims center, where he picked up his check.
The Republican from New Hampshire -- who chairs the Budget Committee and who has a reputation as a strict fiscal conservative -- said his wife is currently remodeling their home and already has plans for the new money.
'She's already told me, 'Don't spend it. I've already got plans.''
He said he bought about $20 of tickets on Monday at a D.C. Citgo gas station as he headed from Baltimore to Washington for a Senate vote.

"I don't plan to quit my job," he said with a smile.

He will owe 25 percent in federal taxes on the $853,492. New Hampshire doesn't have state income taxes and so he will get to keep the rest.

Gregg already is a millionaire, according to personal financial records that senators are required to file annually.

His latest filing, which documents his financial records for the calendar year of 2004, shows that Gregg has assets between $2,697,000 and $9,430,000, mostly in an extensive stock and real estate portfolio."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures - Reflections, part 1

I continue here in NJ at the Tipple-Vosburgh lectures at Drew.

This morning I attended a workshop with Dr. Virginia Burrus, professor of early church history. I took church history with Dr. Burrus when I was in the MDiv program here, and I found her to be an excellent professor, extremely intelligent. I've never been a big history buff, but she made the class compelling and enjoyable.

Today Dr. Burrus presented a workshop titled "Shame as a Source for Transformation: Early Christian Teachings" - all about shame and how it can be a tool for change. Some quotes from her lecture:

"George W. Bush is strikingly impervious to shame." Dr. Burrus noted that this shamelessness is both comforting to conservatives who are reassured by it and alarming to progressives who wish Bush would feel shame for his actions and positions.

Dr. Burrus also talked about vulnerability and shame - shame as a warning sign that we are "in a zone of possibility of intimacy."

Dr. Burrus related shame to the early church when she talked about martyrs in early Christianity taking shame placed on them by the Empire and subverting the shame. Shame can be most harmful when people are shamed not because of particular actions (ie being ashamed because you were caught in some compromising position) but because of who they are - because of identity (ie gay and lesbians being shamed for being gay and lesbian, or people of color being shamed for being a person of color) For Christians in the early church, just being a Christian meant being shamed by the Empire.

Dr. Burrus argued that early Christians could used their stigmatization/shame as an agent of transformation. They shamed their shamers, subverted the stigma placed on them, and reclaimed their stigmatized identities. Today just being a Christian does not have the same shame attached, but shame can still be transformative.

"What shame doesn't do when we don't repress it is let us stay the same."

Thought-provoking.

***

Later, Rev. Nibs Stroupe, a pastor in Decatur, Georgia, spoke on "Praying for Boldness: Transforming Leadership for the 21st Century."

Stroupe talked about "cheap community" - how we form 'clans' of people to ward off our fears and anxieties. In cheap community, we push outsiders away, so that we, in so doing, can have a deeper sense of belonging.

Stroupe also took to task the effort by liberals and conservatives to privitize God to suit agendas in different contexts. He rejected the idea of individual salvation as non-biblical, this idea that our only goal in salvation is "getting into heaven when we die." Such personalized ideas about salvation lead to justifying unjust behavior. He lifted up an example of minutes from a church meeting during times of struggle about segregation in worship. They read, "although we recognize that this is not what Jesus Christ would do, nevertheless..." (Always a bad way to start a sentence)

Stroupe reminded us that the scriptures are not primarily about how we should be living, but about how we are living.

Home-coming

As I mentioned yesterday, I am now in NJ at my seminary's annual alumni lectures.

This year, Seminary Hall is open with a new addition to the building that was at the center of my life for three years. The building is now accessible, has great new preaching labs, restrooms on all floors (formerly a BIG problem!) and generally looks sparkling and fresh while remaining the integrity and history of the original structure. I'm so glad for the school and the future of the seminary and what this building means for room for growth.

At the same time, I experienced walking through the building with a surreal sense of realization of how long, literally and more symbolically, it has been since this place was my home, my community. Each time I return for a visit, it is less and less the place that I went to seminary.

I'm reminded of the gospel accounts of Jesus saying that a prophet is not welcomed in his/her hometown. I experience not a feeling of unwelcome, but the sometimes surprising reminder that this place is no longer home. Who can be welcomed back home again if home is not home anymore?

I remember experiencing those same feelings when I first returned to my highschool, Rome Free Academy, after starting college. The first visit was great - seeing friends and teachers, sharing updates, and reminiscing. After that, follow-up visits felt more like I was a stranger - maybe not an intruder - but definitely like an outsider.

I think this is a good thing - how 'home' always changes for us - even if some transitions are harder than others. I'm reminded that home is not a place, but a state of being - the place where your community is, and where your heart is, cheesy as that perhaps sounds.

Lorna at see-through faith has been doing a series of posts on "fellowship." I think clergy sometimes have a hard time with finding "home." We serve in communities as part of the home of our parishioners, but our position also creates boundaries for us in our communities. So we have to be very intentional about creating our homes, with our family, friends, and colleagues in ministry. I'm sure lay people today experience some similar things. We live in such a crazed world with a crazed pace, that we, in the midst of crowds, are often very solitary creatures.

Where is your home? Where is your community? What are your best home-coming experiences?

GBCS board meeting: wrap-up

Just a quick wrap-up note about GBCS before I moved to where I am this week: Drew Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures.

On Saturday, we had a special dinner to honor Dr. Dorothy Height with a "Faith in Action" award. Dr. Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women for more than 40 years, and a longtime participant and leader in the civil rights movement. One of her special achievements: She established the Bethune Museum and Archives for Black Women, which is the first institution devoted to black women's history.

Dr. Height is 93 now, and still witty and clever, and quite a stylish dresser! We got to hear her speak at her dinner, and I found her quite inspiring. During my time in seminary, I got to take a couple of classes that centered on African-American History, and I became aware of just how much I don't know. My knowledge of the civil rights movement had previously been limited to MLK and some knowledge about Malcomn X, and that was it. What a rich history we have - learn it!

Another thing I wanted to mention was the gift of leadership from Bishop James Swanson. Bishop Swanson was on the board last quadrennium as a clergy member, and I didn't get to know him very well. I still don't know him well, but I've become more appreciate of his impact on the board. Somehow, when he speaks on the floor when we're not all in agreement on a certain issue, he has a very pastoral presence among us and helps us move forward with humor and grace (and a bit more speed). That is a real gift to have, and I'm thankful for his presence.

Friday, October 14, 2005

GBCS board meeting reflections: Friday

Today was another full day at our fall board meeting for the General Board of Church and Society.

Today, we spent time visiting our representatives on Capitol Hill. My work on the board is especially on the work area of Environmental and Economic Justice. One of our major priorities has been in addressing federal budget issues, and communicating our understanding of the budget as a moral document.

We had time as a small group to meet with Neil Bradley, policy director for Majority Whip Roy Blunt. This was my first meeting of this kind, and I was a bit nervous, but once the conversation started, I remembered the beliefs that ground me and found my voice.

I found Mr. Bradley to be, frankly, patronizing, and I felt like we were getting a lot of smooth talk around real issues. At one point, Mr. Bradley informed us, when we asked him about US borrowing money to meet our spending, that many are misinformed and think that we can just print more money at the treasury. And whenever he referred to an unpopular policy, he said, "a lot of people are going to yell at us for that."

When we asked about cuts to social services, and about additional cuts proposed in light of Katrina and Rita, his first response was that they were "not really making any cuts." That's right, that is a direct quote.

He later suggested that people who pay less or no taxes to the federal government don't care about the government because they are not financially "invested" in it. He compared this to church members who give less, knowing that we were all church folk who know about "church budgets." This is the issue that caused me to pipe up - people who don't pay as much don't care as much? How can he say that?

He concluded by saying that criticizing the budget as a whole isn't something helpful to him - that instead we should look for parts of proposal that we can support, and other parts we think need "tweaking." When another board member asked if there was somewhere such information was available to us for our input, of course, Mr. Bradley had to admit that it was not easily available to us and that they plan to proceed with "budget reconciliation" as outlined.

I certainly was enlightened by my experience, and I appreciate even more the work of GBCS staff like John Hill (Director for Economic and Environmental Justice) for going up against such an audience repeatedly. The one day was enough to last me for some time.

GBCS board meeting reflections: Thursday

I didn't get to posting thoughts from yesterday here at the Fall Board Meeting for the General Board of Church and Society, so here's some catch up.

Yesterday Jim Winkler gave his report. For me, this is always one of the highlights of our time together. Jim is a prophetic and bold voice in the church and to our board, and I appreciate his words. Jim talked about claims that his work or the work of the board is partisan in nature. His response? He's not partisan, but he is biased. We are biased. The Board is biased, because we proclaim Jesus' bias for the poor and marginalized. I liked his way of putting this. Sometimes our work on the board through our bias brings us shoulder to shoulder with one group or another. Not becuase it is partisan work, but because we happen to share common goals and purposes on common issues.

To this end, Jim also said that he suspected we might still be at war even if Kerry or Gore or someone other than Bush was in office right now, and that if we were at this war, no matter who was in office, he would oppose that war.

I don't have the printed version of his report yet - when I do I may share more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

agathokakological

Currently, I am in Washington, DC for a meeting of the General Boad of Church and Society. Today, we had a day of training on how to teach our United Methodist Social Principles, led by Neal Christie and Clayton Childers.

Clayton led us in a time of worship this morning, focused on James 3, concluding with verse 10, "from the same mouth come blessing and cursing." He talked about reading an articlue in the Arkansas Annual Conference's newspaper by Bishop Charles Crutchfield. In it, Crutchfield talks about a favorite word of his: agathokakological, a word with Greek origins which means "composed of both good and evil." Clayton suggested that this can be a great word to describe the human condition - are we not composed of or torn between both our good and evil selves/urgings?

From there, Clayton talked about Jurgen Moltmann, Moltmann's personal experiences in Germany in World War II, his guilt-feelings from his experiences in the war, and his embracing of what would develop into his Theology of Hope during his three years as a prisoner of war. Moltmann's hope was in the coming of the kingdom of God, God's reign.

Clayton talked about vision. What's the most famous speech in history? Probably MLK's I Have A Dream. Clayton reminded us that this speech was not a statement of how things were, but a statement of King's hope for how things might be - his vision for the future, his hope for God's reign on earth.

Our role as people of faith is to figure out how we want to get "there," to the fulfillment of our vision and God's vision, from where we are now.

What's your hope? How will you get there?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Topical Preaching

After reading Adam Hamilton's book Leading Beyond the Walls, another thing I've been thinking about is lectionary preaching and topical preaching. I mentioned in my review that I disagree with Hamilton's take on lectionary preaching.

I remember at General Conference 2000, I had my first experience of the using of the phrases "high view" and "low view of scripture" by the late Rev. Bill Hinson in my small group on the Faith and Order legislative committee. Rev. Hinson and other conservatives talked about having a "high view" of scripture, meaning a more literal interpretation of scripture and perhaps a (conceived) more central place given to scripture in theology. I had never thought of myself as having a "low view" of scripture, though this seem to be implied as a natural correlative of a liberal outlook.

What does this have to do with lectionary and topical preaching? What I find interesting is this: from my experience (no formal surveys here, no studies I've read, just folks I've talked to so chime in if you don't fit my suggestion!), liberal pastors are more likely to stick to the lectionary and more conservative pastors are more likely to choose another method for selecting scriptures for preaching.

Adam Hamilton talks in Leading Beyond the Walls about sermon series he has preached, including the "controversial issues" of the church. We've recently added a second service at my church, and we've been focusing on the Social Principles in the worship, and I've been trying something new: non-manuscript non-lectionary preaching. It's been challenging for me, and I can't say I've enjoyed it. Why?? The non-manuscript part makes me nervous - I'm not comfortable with it yet, and as a lover of writing I feel my strength is in the way I put a manuscript sermon together.

But that aside, I miss the discipline of the lectionary very much. To me, it seems very strange to have a topic, and then pick a scripture to go with it. It never seems as deep to me as to read the Word, and then try to understand, interpret, and preach it. To me, there is some irony in the fact that someone like me with a "low view" of scripture has such a hard time not starting with the scripture first in my preaching, and seeing where it and God leads me and my congregation.

This week, I am heading off to the General Board of Church and Society meeting in DC (expect reports from me on the good work of the agency some of you love to hate!) and will spend one day in training on teaching the Social Principles, which I hope will help me center my topical preaching.

'Til then, what are your thoughts? Do you preach the lectionary or not? Why? Do you think there is a correlation between theology and the choice to preach or not preach from the lectionary? How do you keep your preaching grounded?

Movie Review: In Her Shoes

I went to see In Her Shoes tonight, and was happily surprised. I expected a fluffy feel-good movie. I like fluffy feel-good movies sometimes. But this movie had a lot more depth to it, and was much more than a romantic comedy or romantic drama.

The movie was certainly about relationships, between siblings, in-laws, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren. But I think that it was especially about how we view and value ourselves. The two main characters, played by two different and talented actresses, Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette, are very opposite - one extrovert, one introvert, one seemingly boundless in confidence, the other self-doubting. But both seem to struggle with their own self-value, to doubt their worth as a person.

I guess it is that aspect of the human condition - how unconvinced we are of our own worth and value - that spoke to me the most. I look at people in my own life who are so gifted and talented and who I admire and wish I was more like - I look at them, and see them so full of bad things to say about themselves, so full of inner-conflict about who they are and what they should be doing and questioning how much they matter. I do the same thing about my own worth, of course. But this movie reminded me, if not explicitly intending to do so, of our personal worth. Are we made in God's image? We have great worth, immeasurable.

A poem is read at the end of the movie, which I'm sure many others like myself will be looking up, by e. e. cummings, "i carry your heart within me":

i carry your heart with me (i carry it inmy heart)
i am never without it (anywherei go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

CROPwalking again

I am walking in the CROPwalk again this year in our community, a program of Church World Service. With all of the natural disasters that have struck the globe this year, I know people are overextended financially. I'm certainly having a harder time raising funds this year than last. But if you have $10 to spare, please consider donating to this great ministry...

Click to donate:

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Calendar Girls: UMC Clergywomen?

Thanks to John for highlighting this great article. Apparently, UMC clergy women in the Rocky Mountain Conference have gotten together to pose for a calendar, in some serious and some more humorous poses. Perhaps this is an idea to pitch at my next finance committee meeting. Follow the link to order your own calendar for $15.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

congrats, brother

Huge congrats to my middle-little brother TJ (Ok, he really prefers Tim) - he got hired for a full time job today after many months of searching. I'm really proud of him. Go read his totally ranting, profane, and incoherent blog to make his day extra special.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Pastors and Leadership

My recent post on Adam Hamilton's Leading Beyond the Walls has garnered the most comments on any post I've done, replacing only my post on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in number of comments. This is thanks in large part to a conversation between RevWilly and David Allen Grady, and I feel almost as cool as Shane at WesleyBlog and Dean at Untied Methodist, who always have long comment threads on their posts.

Anyway, RevWilly and David started a conversation about what it means to be a leader, and what kind of leaders we are called to be as pastors. Forgive my short summary of their comments, but it started with David asking: do pastors enter ordained ministry because they want to be leaders? Is being a leader the focus of pastoral ministry? Revwilly responds to say that shepherding a flock requires great leadership, and that pastors with thriving churches have great leaders.

I think both have raised some interesting questions. What kind of leaders are pastors meant to be? What is our model of leadership?

A good place for us to start, of course, is with the example Jesus sets for us. But Jesus, rabble-rouser that he was, always was more challenging to the leadership of the religious community than anything else. I've been studying the upcoming lectionary text from Matthew 23:1-12, where Jesus has harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees, who in their leadership, lay great burdens upon others, while reveling in their titles of 'rabbi' and 'teacher', all the while not practicing what they preach. Pastors today are in that same position - we're the religious leaders of our communities. So we stand in leadership with many warnings from Jesus to be very careful about what kind of leaders we are.

What kind of leaders are pastors meant to be? We toss around words like "shepherd" or "servant-leader." What does that mean? I personally have a hard time connecting to the image of shepherd - I'll be honest. We see pretty paintings of Jesus carrying a lamb, but I suspect this isn't a good picture of a shepherd. Was a shepherd in biblical days considered a leader? Should we try to resemble CEOs? How much does leadership have to do with how and what we preach? How about our administrative skills? How much do we need to have those gifts and talents? What about how we dress or how we carry ourselves?

What do you think? What does it mean to be a leader as a pastor?

Who would you lift up as a great example of pastoral leadership?

Do you have a resource on pastor leadership to recommend?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An American Daughter

Tonight I had the privilege of seeing my little brother act in a production of An American Daughter, by Wendy Wasserstein. (Todd is a senior theatre major at SUNY Geneseo)

I was unfamiliar with this play prior to Todd's being cast in it, though as I was reading information about the play tonight, I discovered that it had once been made into a Lifetime movie.

Basic plot: A conservative Senator's liberal daughter is nominated for surgeon general. All goes well until the news is spilled by a well-meaning friend that the daughter once overlooked a jury summons, and by the media spin on some comments the daughter makes about her mother as a homemaker. Her popularity rapidly sinks, and she's under great pressure to withdraw from the nomination. Not a far stretch from reality for a storyline, eh? An American Daughter particularly deals with women's issues - feminist issues, women's power. I really enjoyed it.

One character, an African-American Jewish woman, gives a great monologue:
Judith: I went to the Festival of Regrets. I prayed by the banks of the Potomac. There were old men davening in prayer shawls and young lawyers in Brooks Brothers suits. I watched while the men tossed in their bread crumbs of secret sorrow. "Oh, Lord, my God, I cheated on my income tax." "Oh, Lord, King of the Universe, I lust after the Asian check out girl at Haney Farms Delicatessen." "Oh, Lord, my God, I have sinned, I dreamt about a strip of bacon."
At first, I remained silent. I stood there feeling my familiar distance and disdain. And then, almost involuntarily, I began shredding my low fat orange-cranberry muffin. I wanted this God, this Yaweh, to know me. So I tossed my first crumb into the water. "Oh, Lord, my God, King of the Universe, I have failed to honor my mother and my father" and that regret floats out to Maryland. "Oh, Lord, my God, I distrust most of the people I know, I feel no comfort in their happiness, no sympathy for their sorrow." A tiny cranberry sits on the water. "Oh, Lord, our God, who is like you on Earth or in Heaven, I regret the men I've been with, I regret the marriage I made, I regret never having children, I regret never having learned to be a woman." I pull off the entire top and a wad of muffin sails like a frigate toward the Washington Monument. "Oh, Lord, my God, Mighty of Mighty, Holy of Holy, I can't make life and I can't stop death. Oh, Lord, my God, the Lord is one, I've wasted my life."
And I jump in.
It seems I'm still a very good swimmer. There I am, bobbing up and down in my pearls and Liz Claiborne suit, when I notice a box of Dunkin' Donut holes floating along. And suddenly I remember the slogan from my mother's favorite doughnut shop, "As you ramble on through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole." And I began laughing and laughing. Now I had a purpose. Now I had a goal. I must rescue the doughnut holes and bring them here. These are the doughnut holes of my discontent!


I wish I could find online the text of the daughter's best monologue, but I can't seem to pin it down. But the gist of it: She finally argues that people are not satisfied unless there is a "reason" for a powerful woman to be powerful and a "reason" and way for her then to be brought down from power. Good stuff...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Book Review: Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton

Well, I finally took the plunge and read a type of book I do not normally read by an author I have not yet read - Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton. When I'm reading non-fiction, I tend toward the social justice/ethics oriented books that are my passion. But I also have been wanting to find some books that would address other concerns of ministry in my current setting - things like stewardship and pastoral care.

I've found most 'leadership' books I've read (we had a lot of them to read in some of my less-than-favorite classes in seminary) wanting in quality and content, offering a lot of fluff and not a lot of depth. I've also particularly not picked up any of the many Adam Hamilton books, because, frankly, they are so over-advertised by Cokesbury. Maybe that sounds like a silly reason, but there it is - I resist marketing strategies sometimes.

So, finally, I read Leading Beyond the Walls. Revwilly should be pleased, since he told me I should add "learn to lead" to the list of things I want to do before I die. For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. The book is certainly readable - straight through would hardly take a day to read, but I took chapters at a time, starting with those that were most interesting to me, and going back to pick up what I'd missed.

I think Hamilton does tend to set up a "this model I have is the best model" scenario. I realize that success prompts confidence in this, but I think sometimes what he says borders too much on a "if you do this, then you will have these results" concept. I'm sure that's not what is meant, but that's how it sometimes read to me.

I was also irked by his dismissal of lectionary preaching - he gives it a little attention, but brushes it off pretty thoroughly: "I am aware that many reading this book are excellent lectionary preachers . . . I am also aware that most of the churches that attract large crowds of nonreligious people and introduce them to Christ do not use the lectionary." (pg. 91) I don't think Hamilton adequately talks about this or why this is so. The debate over lectionary vs. non-lectionary preaching is a long one with passionate voices on both sides. Right now in my own worship services, I follow the lectionary in one and not in the other. I think both can work in the right context.

What I did like?

Hamilton's book is inspiring. It makes me believe that my church in suburban Central New York can become all sorts of things that I am sometimes skeptical to believe. His writing makes me want to see the church grow in ways I usually doubt are possible. He makes me want to start working to make that happen right now. This kind of inspiration is sometimes exactly what I need.

I like his emphasis and ideas on evangelism and pastoral care. He has some great, tangible, and fairly simple ideas about how to connect with visitors, how to draw people in, how to relate in pastoral care, premarital counseling, funerals, etc. His ideas about following up on new visitors will be some of the first I want to actually implement in my congregation.

I also love his ideas about "mountain climbing" (pg 62-63), where his church offers "trail maps" for novice and more experience Christians looking for a path of discipleship, with connections to appropriate ministries in the congregation.

I think his suggestion of visiting "next tier up in size or scope of ministry" churches is a great one, and I want to check out where I should look at going.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good mix of practical ideas with inspiring visions of where your congregation could be headed. It won't offer a sure-thing plan for you, but hopefully it will offer you some fresh ideas and fresh hope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Book Review: 1984

So, a while back I asked for your suggestions on what I should read. I'm starting to make my way through the list. First up: George Orwell's 1984. Nope, never read it in school. We did read Animal Farm in junior high. I liked 1984 a lot better. Thanks to Turbulent Cleric for the recommendation - he said he's not sure it counts as fiction anymore, and I see where he's coming from!

I thought the book was excellent in a depressing sort of way. Like Winston, always hoping somehow that the human spirit will win out against Big Brother, I was hoping Winston could hold out against O'Brien and the rest.

But I don't want to spend a lot of time on the details of a book (most) everyone has read. So here's what struck me most about it -

I was thinking about capitalism and socialism and economic systems. And I think what it all comes down to is: coveting. Has socialism worked well? Is capitalism, even if imperfect, always better? I think from our perspective, maybe, but capitalism's far reaching effect on others? I don't know. But I think either way, perhaps the breakdown of systems can be tracked to our covetous nature.

Socialism - We covet what others have, and we want to make sure no one else has anything more than we do, no matter the cost.
Capitalism - We covet what others have, and we want ot make sure that we can get more than they have, at any cost.

Ok, I know this is extremely simplistic, but it is what struck me most in reading. Thanks for the recommendation!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Getting to Know Me - A Blog Challenge

I got this 'blog challenge' of sorts from Lorna at see-through faith. Here goes!

Getting to Know Me...

5 things I plan to do before I die:
1. be ordained an elder in the UMC (hopefully a lot sooner than later)
2. pay of my student loans (probably a lot later than sooner)
3. get a ThD in Environmental Ethics
4. go on a date (Ok, I've done this already. But I mean another date. To that end, John at Locusts and Honey is trying to help me out. :) )
5. visit Australia


5 things I can do:
1. preach!
2. tap dance (not very well, but hey)
3. make vegan desserts
4. sing
5. worry

5 things I cannot do:
1. embrace confrontations and conflicts
2. give up Diet Coke for more than three days or so before I break down
3. play guitar, or play piano with enough skill to accompany, talents I covet
4. drive standard
5. beat Snood Puzzle in one run

5 things that attract me to members of the opposite sex
1. activism/social-justice orientation
2. sense of humor
3. artistic/musical in some way
4. listener
5. intelligent

5 things I say most often:
1. Please.
2. Thank you. (I was raised so well.)
3. Anyway...
4. What was I saying? I lost my train of thought.
5. Have you seen my keys?

5 celebrity crushes:
easier for me, apparently, than those who passed this to me. I don't mind confessing celebrity crushes!
1. Matthew McConaughey
2. Colin Firth
3. Taye Diggs
4. Heath Ledger
5. Paul Bettany

5 people I want to do this:
1. John (Locusts & Honey) because he is bound to have hilarious answers
2. Jim (jockeystreet) my big brother, because if you read his last post about candiru, you will know he needs something more constructive to do.
3. My friend Jason (JasonDMoore) because.
4. Sarah Dylan Breuer (grace notes) because I think she'd have fun with this!
5. Jay Voorhees (only wonder) since I've just started regularly reading his blog.