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.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #14, 15, 16

Ok, here's the last round, all together since they are short. Thanks for reading!

c) The Practice of Ministry:

4) Are you willing to minister with all persons without regard to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition, or disabilities?
Yes! Indeed, I covet the opportunities to be in ministries to all of God’s creation. To me, the church can not be the true church if there are person who we exclude from our life together. I hope to see our communities of faith become more diverse, to see the body of Christ be a body that breaks down barriers between people. I will gladly share in my responsibility to work toward this end, and to minister to all.

5) Will you regard all pastoral conversations of a confessional nature as a trust between the person concerned and God?

Yes. I understand that in some circumstances, information I receive must be shared (i.e. in cases of suspected child abuse). I believe that it is important to be clear in communicating with parishioners and others that their conversations are private and protected, in order for them to feel more comfortable in sharing their true feelings and concerns in counseling settings.

6) Provide evidence of experience in peace and justice ministries.

In my congregation, we talk – in worship, in Bible studies, etc. – about what it means for peace and justice ministries to go hand in hand. We talk about how true peace can’t come about without justice for those who are oppressed, for whom justice has been denied.
Peace, ironically, seems to be such a dangerous and loaded word. Say you work for peace, and people want to know what party and what platform you are supporting. In the church, we are called to work for the peace of Christ, peace with justice, peace that God promises God’s people.
In my local congregation this fall, peace is one of the foci for our fall ministries. As I am writing this, we are preparing to celebrate “Peace Sunday” in honor of the second annual International Day of Peace. At the conference level, where I am part of the Church and Society team, I most recently coordinated the worship resources for Peace with Justice Sunday for local churches. I have been active with peace and justice ministries at the general church level in my work on the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), our advocacy body in the UMC. GBCS is involved with many justice ministries. My particular focus on the board is in the Economic and Environmental Justice Work Area, and I love my work there.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #13

c) The Practice of Ministry

3) Describe and evaluate your personal gifts for ministry. What would be your areas of strength and areas in which you need to be strengthened?

I have spent a lot of time examining myself and my gifts for ministry throughout school, candidacy, and the probationary period. Serving a congregation has tried, tested, and developed gifts in me in ways I had not expected. Some of my gifts do not seem to have as large a place in my ministry as I might have anticipated before I began pastoring. Other gifts that I saw as less strong have played a bigger role in my ministry. I still see areas in which I seek to develop my skills, and I see other areas where my perceived weaknesses have turned into strengths in my current setting.
Pastoral Care is an area of ministry where I continue to seek growth and strength. In part, I believe continued experience is the best source of strength – as I speak with couples preparing to marry, or counsel those who are grieving, I feel more confident in these roles. I am convinced that pastor care is a most important part of effective evangelism, and I have been focusing more of my time and attention on visitation, outreach, etc. this year. I continue to be amazed at how in need of and grateful for a listening ear or a gift of time shared people are. Knowing how precious a visit might be to someone inspires me to work to strengthen myself, despite the shyness that makes me struggle with pastoral care.
Following my in-parish interview in April this year, I’ve also realized that issues of time management and delegation of responsibilities are areas where I need to focus more attention. My congregation expressed a feeling that I don’t take enough vacation/personal time, and that I do not always delegate or share responsibility enough. They have been helping me change things! Our lives are so chaotic, and it is sometimes hard to step out of the race and slow down. Even as I write a first draft of this answer, on spiritual retreat, I feel half-panicked, disconnected from my laptop, from email. I am blessed that my congregation wants to help me take care of myself. I am also trying to share responsibilities, and to encourage my leaders to share their responsibilities on committees and projects. I need to practice what I preach to them, as something healthier for me and for the church.
I see worship leadership as a strength and give of mine. I enjoy preaching – I enjoy words and writing and the whole process of sermon preparation (most weeks). Worship is one of the places I am most visible, and I feel confident that I can be a communicator of the gospel, preaching in a way that is understood by people and that enables them to connect with God’s Word. Most recently, I have been challenging myself in our new Saturday evening worship, trying, for the first ‘real’ time, to preach without a manuscript. I have, so far, found this to be a rewarding, if nerve-wracking, challenge. I also have learned that my musical gifts are a great asset in ministry, even though I have been less personally appreciate of these gifts in the past. Being able to strongly and self-assuredly lead music at nursing homes, or small funerals, or Bible studies, or when no piano is available has proven repeatedly useful, and I’m thankful for the gift of music.
I continued to bring a passion for social justice ministries to my ministry. I am serving in my second quadrennium on the General Board of Church and Society, and I absolutely love my work there and the work of the agency as a whole. I find it so exciting to see United Methodists working for change, working for justice, working for those whose voice might not otherwise be heard. My particular passion is for environmental justice issues, especially issues of sustainable living. How do we live on this earth in a way that our marks on the earth are good ones, not harmful ones?
I continue to hold young people in a special place in my heart and in my ministry with the Conference Council on Youth Ministry. I am especially passionate about seeing young people in leadership roles in our church. My own call to ministry was something I struggled with from a very young age, and I want other youth to know they are not “too young” to think about how and where God is calling them.
Ecumenical and interfaith issues continue to be an interest for me as well. The events of the world today should leave us in no doubt of our need for dialogue and relationship building with people who are different from us.
Finally, I think a valuable gift I bring to the church is my willingness to learn and to try new things. I enjoy continuing education and take advantage of events when I am able. I’m also (mostly) not afraid to try something new in my congregation and have it not work out! I’ve had some of my visions at St. Paul’s turn into exciting ministries – others haven’t gone anywhere. Either way, I think the church must continue to be open to new avenues of sharing the gospel and being in ministry, and I want to put my gifts to use in this work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #12

Today, short and sweet.

c) Practice of Ministry:
2) Do you offer yourself without reserve to be appointed and to serve as the appointive authority may determine?

Yes, I do. I have had the luxury of being appointed very close to my hometown during my first years as pastor, and I appreciate my location in many ways. However, I am certainly willing to be appointed as the Bishop and Cabinet feel they find a community that is a match for me to serve. Truthfully, I have spent most of my life to this point with occasional transitions. Since junior high, I have never been in one setting for more than three years. Right now, I enjoy my mobility – I am always finding new interests and new passions, and God always seem to be finding new challenges, issuing new calls on my life. I want to always be ready to respond to God’s call.

Meanwhile: CNN.com - Aid group: Niger crisis getting worse - Sep 13, 2005

I found this article today on CNN.com -

"Aid group: Niger crisis getting worse - Sep 13, 2005

A survey last month in the eastern region of Zinder showed "alarming conditions" and a worsening situation, with one in five children suffering from malnutrition, MSF said.

Mortality rates in the Zinder region for children under the age of five have risen to 5.3 deaths per 10,000 per day -- more than double the internationally recognized emergency threshold of two deaths per 10,000 per day, according to an MSF statement."


With Katrina, we've got so much on our minds right now in the US - but to me this was a needed reminder that there were before Katrina hit and are still crises around the world that also call for our attention, prayers, action.

Request: International Day of Peace

This Sunday in my congregation we will be celebrating the International Day of Peace, which is technically September 21st. I am looking for stories, short vignettes about peace that would do for a segmented message on Sunday. Does any one know of some good stories, good 'peace resources'?

Monday, September 12, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #11

c) The Practice of Ministry:
How has the practice of ordained ministry affected your understanding of the expectations and obligations of the itinerant system?

A recent issue of Circuit Rider magazine focused almost wholly on the itinerant system and the issues surrounding itinerancy. The articles and the responses to the articles highlight just what an important issue itinerancy is and shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Itinerancy is certainly a challenging issue for many pastors, and I understand the complexities that leave some wishing for a different system. However, I believe that the itinerant system still best serves our church and our pastors.
I believe that the itinerant system helps us use the gifts of a diverse leadership – men and women, younger and older clergy, clergy of all colors and nationalities, clergy in first, second, or third careers. Churches are often slow to change! Even today, many congregations are still hesitant at least about a first experience with a “woman pastor,” for example. The itinerant system reminds us and helps us focus on gifts and graces of clergy, rather than surface details of clergy. I think this gives us a great diversity in our leadership, across the connection, and opens congregations to new experiences of which they might not themselves choose to take advantage.
The itinerant system also enables us to respond to changing congregations. Over time, our churches do (God willing!) experience change. A church may grow. A church may merge with another. A congregation may need to take on a building project. A congregation may need to respond to a new factor in the community: a business closing, a new population emerging. Sometimes this may mean that new leadership could help a congregation make a transition. Sometimes, a church is just in a comfortable place, and not reaching outside of its comfortable boundaries.
The same thing can be said of clergy. We change and grow and need to be challenged, to break barriers. We also get too comfortable in our places. We develop new gifts, new talent, and new skills. We hear God’s calling for us in a new way. Itinerancy lets us respond to and grow into change.
Because the church is alive, a living body of Christ, the itinerant system helps us respond effectively in ministry. I think we do our best work when decisions are made with these factors in mind, rather than in an arbitrary way. I trust that, even as we struggle with it, our itinerant system will continue serve the church well.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #10

b) Vocation:
a) How do you conceive your vocation as an ordained minister?

I, like many others coming through ‘the process’, working toward ordination, have struggled with exactly what ordination means and why we practice it. We believe in the priesthood of all believers – we encourage people to embrace their gifts and be in ministry as God leads them, all sorts of ministries. What, then, is special about ordained ministry? Why is it set apart, and in what way is it set apart? I feel that the probationary period has enabled me to struggle with these questions, as I seek to be ordained for the practice of Service, Word, Sacrament, and Order.
Ordained ministry has a place in the story of the church as an office set apart in the community of faith. Throughout the scriptures, the role of priest has been set aside, with the community charged to raise up from within itself those who have been called to fill such a role. God, as a gift to the church, provides leadership for the church. Bishop William Willimon writes, “It is theologically impossible for there to be a shortage of priests or a paucity of vocations in the church, because of the conviction, so apparent in places like Acts, that God graciously and sometimes quite surprisingly, provides the leadership needed by the church.”[1] So, God calls leaders. We are asked to respond to God’s call and present ourselves to the community to be examined, confirmed, and validated in our calling. As ordination is a gift from God, it also, then, belongs to the church, the community of faith, who acts as its steward, caretakers of this gift. A calling to ordained ministry seeks confirmation and support from the Church.
Ordained ministry is a specialized ministry, and a representational ministry. Ordained ministers act as representatives of Christ both to the body of Christ and on behalf of the body of Christ. Ordained ministers are also representatives in the work and mission which they carry out. They represent to the whole Church the ministry that the Church needs to be about. Ordained ministers are also representatives of the gospel, carrying out the good news through proclaiming the Word and administering the sacraments. In these ways, ordained ministers are representative in their work not as “substitute[s] or displacement[s]of the ministry to which all Christians are called, but rather for the sake of focusing and ordering the ministry of the whole people of God . . . a primary representation of God’s love.”[2]
Ordained ministry is particularly tied up in the general ministry of the whole church because those who are called to ordained ministry come out of the community of believers and then work to serve the community of believers as well. In most Christian traditions, including in the United Methodist Church, persons do not ordain themselves. People are ordained within a context of a faith community that has examined the individual’s gifts and grace and affirmed the individual in her or his calling. Ordained ministry is a unique kind of ministry to which God calls people, as a part of the ministry of all Christian. Ordained ministry always works within the context of the ministry of all God’s people, serving as a special resource, a representation ministry that links people more deeply into their own ministry in the world. It is this ordained ministry, this vocation to which I feel called for service.
[1] Willimon, William. Pastor: A Theology for Ordained Ministry, 34.
[2] Discipline, page number??

Saturday, September 10, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #9

a) Theology
9) What is your understanding of (a) the Kingdom of God; (b) the Resurrection; (c) Eternal life?

a) “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”[1] These words greet us in the first chapter of Mark, reminding us that the good news of the gospel is all about God’s reign, here, at hand. In Jesus, we experience a kingdom that is made present right now, even as we experience it as approaching, drawing near, with anticipation. In Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus reading the scriptures in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Today,” Jesus said, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[2] The Kingdom of heaven that Jesus proclaimed and that the Church proclaims today is twofold – God’s kingdom now and God’s kingdom to be fulfilled. As the Church, we both seek to live into the Reign of God in proclaiming the gospel and seek to prepare for the future when God’s reign will come into fullness.
b) Resurrection is closely tied with an understanding of God’s reign. Like the kingdom of God, the resurrection also has a double meaning, a present and future reality. As Easter people, we are bound up in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We followed and follow him to the cross, and we saw and see him resurrected, with us still and in new ways.
In John’s gospel, we find Jesus talking about himself as the resurrection. He says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answers that she believes her brother will rise again on the last day. But Jesus shows her a different meaning, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha, understanding, responds, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”[3] Jesus identifies himself as the resurrection and the life. Here, Jesus alludes to the actual events of his future in some ways, certainly. But primarily, Jesus speaks about a resurrection in another way. Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and life now, he has power over death and life now. Jesus reorients our understanding of resurrection. Jesus saves, heals, and resurrects us now. As Martha says, Jesus is the one “coming into the world.” Jesus dwelling among us here in the world means that Jesus can change our lives, resurrect us, here, in the world. I understand resurrection to mean that which the disciples witnessed on the first Easter, but also to mean what Jesus promises for us – resurrection and new life where it seemed only death was possible. Jesus has the power to bring new life in us now, to resurrect us out of death and sin now.
c) Our understanding of what eternal life means is naturally bound up with the kingdom of God and the resurrection. Jesus was asked what must be done to gain eternal life. Jesus’ answer was to follow Jesus, give up everything, follow God’s commands, and most particularly to love God and neighbor. From the Discipline we read, “we pray and work for the coming of God’s realm and reign to the world and rejoice in the promise of everlasting life that overcomes death and the forces of evil.” The promise of eternal life is the promise that God is always with us and that Christ indeed has power over death.
[1] Mark 1:15
[2] Luke 4:18-19, 21
[3] John 11:23-27, emphasis added.

Friday, September 09, 2005

from IMDB - FEMA and charities

From imdb.com's Studio Briefing:

FEMA Promotes Robertson Charity; Ignores Secular Ones

"Televangelist Pat Robertson's controversial charity group Operation Blessing stands to gain millions of dollars after being prominently included on a list of organizations accepting donations for hurricane relief, according to an article posted on the website of The Nation magazine. In fact, only two non-faith-based organizations were included in the FEMA list, one of which is the American Red Cross, which has been at odds with the Department of Homeland Security after being barred from attending to New Orleans holdouts who have refused to evacuate. The Nation pointed out that Operation USA, a prominent secular disaster-relief group, was omitted from the FEMA list. It described Operation Blessing as 'a front for [Robertson's] shadowy financial schemes' and cited, among other things, an expose in the Virginia Pilot alleging that Operation Blessing's planes had been used to transport diamond-mining equipment for a Robertson-owned venture in Zaire. "

ordination paperwork: question #8

a) Theology
8) Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks today?

“The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful [persons] in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”[1] Such is the nature of the church according to the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church. This statement highlights the communal nature of the church, which Wesley himself described with the strongest words, saying “Christianity is essentially a social religion, and . . . to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it.” He continues, “When I say, This is essentially a social religion, I mean not only that it cannot subsist so well, but that it cannot subsist at all, without society, -- without living and conversing with other[s].”[2] The essential oneness of the Church, the identity of the Church as the Body of Christ, church universal is a critical and defining aspect of the Church’s nature. Despite the many denominations and traditions of Church that exist today, most Christian communities affirm that Christ’s body, the Church, is in essence one. The Church is a community of faith, a community of worshippers, a community of disciples and disciple-makers.
The primary task and mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. From our Discipline we read, we “proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ.” It is the task of the Church today to share the message of God’s love with all people, and invite others into the community of faith. We “lead [people] to commit their lives to God through baptism and profession of faith in Jesus Christ.” Our task is disciple-making. The Church does this by the care of those who are already part of the community of faith, and by seeking to draw others into this community. Discipleship is a life-long task, and in community as church is where we can draw our strength for our journey. So often, we get distracted in the Church from our mission. We get so busy “doing Church things” that we forget to ask the question – “is the purpose of what we are doing making disciples?” If our ministries and missions, events and programs are not tied to disciple-making, we are in danger of being off-course and without our direction.
The United Methodist Church has a proud heritage of mission and outreach to those who are oppressed. From Wesley’s General Rules, which encourage doing all the good we can, to the Social Principles in today’s Discipline, which outline our priorities in the social issues we confront today, we seek to live lovingly and justly. How can people be made disciples if they have nothing, or if they are excluded from society, or if they are otherwise kept separate from the community? Our social justice focus in the church is another way we seek to make disciples, as we work in service.
The Church proclaims the gospel, and hopes to share God’s love through the gospel message. We invite people to join the community of faith, and together we share in worship and sacraments. We seek to live humbly, kindly, and justly together, employing the means of grace, acting out in support of peace and justice as we are able. These are the tasks of the Church, and we seek to be faithful to these tasks as we are accountable to one another and to God.
[1] Article of Religion of the Methodist Church, Article XIII.
[2] Wesley, John. “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse IV.”

Thursday, September 08, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #7

One more today...
a) Theology
7) What is the meaning and significance of the Sacraments?

The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are at the heart of our expression of our identity as God’s children and members of the body of Christ. In the gospels, Jesus calls us to baptize as a sign of repentance, a sign of God’s grace, a sign of new life. He calls us to remember him, to be his body, to share in him as we partake of the bread and cup.
The sacraments are significant as expressions and vehicles of God’s grace. Through baptism, we witness God’s prevenient grace, already at work in us, before we even know what it is or how to articulate it. When adults are baptized, or reaffirm their baptismal vows in confirmation, we see God’s grace at work and received with faith. Holy Communion is also a means by which we experience God’s grace. The word Eucharist, used more commonly for Communion in some traditions, means literally “good gift,” thanksgiving,” and “good grace.” This holy meal is a good gift in which we can experience Christ’s love, shared with us in a most tangible way. Participation in baptism and communion are ways we participate in the ongoing work of salvation and the constant presence of grace in our own lives and the lives of our brothers and sister in Christ.
The sacraments are significant as practices that bind us together as a community of faith. Both baptism and communion are acts of corporate worship, celebrated in the context of community, present, or, when necessary, extended in spirit. During baptism, the gathered church is asked to do its part, to play an active role in helping the new member live into the vows taken. We take responsibility for one another, for walking the faith journey together. In communion, as we gather at the table, we share in and are part of the body of Christ. We are bound together by the meal, as we feast together, and as we go out to be the body of Christ in the world. The sacraments, celebrated by the Church universal, also bind us together by the knowledge that the ecumenical community, even when separated by specific practices and doctrines, comes together in celebration of these ordinance of Christ.
The sacraments are a living, embodied proclamation of the gospel. The good news of the gospels is that God’s kingdom has drawn near, here to earth, present and active among us. The good news is the word become flesh, dwelling among us. In baptism, we proclaim the gospel message of God’s grace, the inclusiveness of the church, the new birth that opens us to the kingdom of heaven. We proclaim a message of repentance and rebirth by water and the spirit. In communion, we proclaim a message of sacrificial love, shared with those who partake. In the bread and cup, the message of Jesus as Word made flesh, Christ as God’s love outpoured for us is proclaimed. The sacraments share the good news in a visible way, the outward expression of the inner workings of the grace of God.

ordination paperwork: question #6

oops. Missed a day. Back to the questions...

a) Theology

6) For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of your influence as an ordained minister, are you willing to make a complete dedication of yourself to the highest ideals of the Christian life; and to this end will you agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to physical health, intentional intellectual development, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God?

Yes, I am willing. I believe this description of “the highest ideals of Christian life” is a model for ordained ministers, and a way of life to be modeled in turn for others, for communities being served. I see this agreement as a call to commitment and accountability, not unlike the standards John Wesley tried to uphold for himself and for those in his societies.
The words of this commitment signify time, effort, and care over one’s self as a leader, as a disciple. These words describe the kind of service into which we are all called to take part. The question closes with the phrase “growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God.” Growing in grace and in the knowledge of and love of God is the lifelong journey which is the desire of my heart, as it was for John Wesley, and as we seek to make it for the people we serve.
The ideals listed above urge us to live into effective leadership. Beyond that, the call to social responsibility, to emotional maturity, to growth in grace – these call us to ideals that contribute to our own wholeness, to help us become more Christ like, to help us enjoy more fully our relationship with God.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Whatever: Being Poor

found via my brother's blog is this most excellent post: Whatever: Being Poor

Please go read it!

Bread for the World: The Blog

Bread for the World has a blog, here, called Campus Bread. Check it out!

Things Hagrid the Half-Giant Would Say If He Served Jesus Instead of Harry Potter.

For Harry Potter fans, found via Mugglenet, is McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Things Hagrid the Half-Giant Would Say If He Served Jesus Instead of Harry Potter.

Excerpt:
"Ah, go boil yer spleen, Pilate! Yeh stink-handed prune! Yeh've done me savior wrong, an' now yeh've gots ter pay!"

ordination paperwork: question #5

a) Theology:
5) How do you understand the following traditional evangelical doctrines: (a) repentance; (b) justification; (c) regeneration; (d) sanctification? What are the marks of the Christian life?

a) God’s grace is always extended to us, and working in us. Before we can name it, God’s grace is calling us to respond to God’s outpouring of love, and to be in relationship with God. God calls us to repentance, a response to God’s grace. From the opening of the gospels, with John’s voice crying in the wilderness, we are called to repent and prepare. Repent, from the Greek metanoeo^, is one of my favorite words! It means literally to “have a change of direction of the mind,” to do a 180° turn and head down a different path than the one which we were traveling before. It means admitting that our own path has gotten us lost, led us in the wrong direction, and that instead, we will choose now to take God’s path, re-order our life by God’s plan. Repentance is hard work, because, as cliché as it seems, we don’t like admitting that we are lost! We don’t like admitting that we’ve been wrong and that we need help from a source who knows more than we do. But repentance is necessary, if we want to walk with God, so that our direction is God’s direction for us.
b) Justification is our saving from the guilt of our sins, and our restoration to a right relationship with God. Our sins distance us from God – but through God’s grace, God closes the distance we’ve put between us, and frees us from the debt of our sins. Because of God’s love for us, God forgives us, and works in us to restore us to wholeness. Justification comes by God’s grace, and not by our own efforts, not as something we can earn. But when we experience justification and know that God loves us, then our faith helps us to bear fruit of justification, marks of repentance.
c) Regeneration means being reborn and recreated. It is the beginning of our journey of sanctifying grace. Regeneration is new growth, new life where it seemed new life was not possible. Repentance and justification bear fruit born out of God’s grace and our faith in God’s loving grace. When we take our life in a new direction, God’s direction, we feel the transformation of regeneration. Wesley wrote that new birth is “that great change which God works in the soul when [God] brings it into life,” where we are “renewed after the image of God.”[1] The work of God’s grace within one’s self is recognized. We are assured that we can trust in God’s love for us. With this faith, we are born anew. It is this regeneration or new birth of which Jesus speaks when he meets with Nicodemus in John’s gospel. We must have this new birth, he says, to experience God’s kingdom. John Wesley described regeneration as the “threshold of sanctification,” saying that it is like how a person is “born at once,” as opposed to the ongoing process of sanctification, where a person “grows larger and stronger by degrees.” Regeneration is our starting point in our new life – our new birth.
d) Sanctification is our ongoing story, as we continue to live into and grow into God’s grace. Even as forgiven, justified persons, assured of God’s grace, we are not finished products. We still long to live more fully into God’s purposes for us. We still stumble and struggle. We still seek purpose, strive for a deeper relationship with God. How do we live as children of grace from day to day? Sanctification is the process, the journey of Christian discipleship that takes us from our awareness and acceptance of God’s grace through the rest of our days as we are made perfect in God’s love, “entire sanctification.” As we let ourselves be open to our continued need and God’s continued working of grace in our lives, we can be filled with the love of God and neighbor, and work toward the Christian perfection – the perfect love which is our goal. Repentance, justification, regeneration, and sanctification. These are the marks of the Christian life.

[1] Wesley, John. “The New Birth.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #4

a) Theology
4) The United Methodist Church holds that Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are sources and norms for belief and practice but that the Bible is primary among them. What is your understanding of this theological position of the Church?

The Bible is the primary source for our Christian beliefs and practices. In its books, we find our own story, the narrative of humanity. We read of God creating; we read of people seeking and hiding and running from and to God; we encounter Jesus, hear him teaching, and witness his love for least, lost, and last. In the scriptures, we are challenged to be disciples, challenged to be Christ-followers. In God’s Word, we find our Christian identity.
The scriptures are tied, inextricably, to tradition, reason, and experience. Indeed, I don’t believe we could or should try to separate them or take one without the others. How can we hear God’s word and not take into consideration the early church tradition, or our Wesleyan heritage? Tradition shapes us, even when we are not aware of its doing so. How could we read God’s Word, and not bring with us to our reading our reason – the gifts of our mind and logic and rationale with which God has created us, and why would we not bring our reason with us? It would be equally impossible for us not to bring to our study of scripture our individual and collective experience. Who we are shapes how we read and hear God’s word.
Our tradition, our reason, our experience – these are gifts that are permanently tied to our interaction with the Bible. Without these tools, or lenses, the words of scripture are in danger of remaining on the page. With these tools, the Bible is the Living Word of God, as who we are informs our reading, and our reading informs who we are. We need all – Bible, tradition, reason, experience – and are blessed by all as we make decisions, seek to live morally and ethically informed lives, and discern God’s presence and God’s call for us.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

my mom on prayer

I think this story from my mom would make a great sermon illustration, but I can't wait - it's too cute.

She and I were talking at lunch today about how busy people are and how hard it is to take intentional time to spend with God, devotional time. We were saying that we can incorporate God into everything we do, of course, but intentional just-me-and-God time is also a part of a healthy and growing faith life.

My mom told me a story: when she was little, she and a friend got caught outside in a thunder storm and were running home. They were quite scared. My mom's friend was Catholic, and she wanted to stop on the way, kneel down, and say a "Hail Mary" to make it through the storm. My mom's response? "I'm Methodist. I can pray while I run." They ran.

ordination paperwork: question #3

a) Theology
3) What changes has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of (a) the Lordship of Jesus Christ? and (b) the work of the Holy Spirit?

a) Who do we say that Jesus is? In the Synoptics, we read that Jesus wants the disciples to fill him in on the gossip about himself. Who do people say that I am? The disciples give the answers, from far-fetched to hopefully speculative. But then Jesus gets to the point: Who do you say I am? It is a question that shoots from the page to our ears, demanding of us our own answer. Ultimately, Jesus was most interested in what the disciples would answer themselves, not if they could repeat the responses of others.
Who do we say Jesus is? I think we are each called to respond, and like the disciples heard, we too hear many responses today. In a recent issue of Relevant Magazine, Jason Boyett asked, “O Jesus, Who Art Thou?” He talked about our “Jesuses” - Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, Republican Jesus, Christ Hippified, Romanticized Boyfriend Jesus, The Wild-Hearted Jesus, and, most recently, Jesus Is My Homeboy.[1] His descriptions are meant to be humorous, but also to be a sort of warning, pointing out how we have crafted Jesus into who we want him to be, instead of being shaped by Jesus.
In the practice of ministry, I’ve become more focused on my own response to Jesus’ question and on helping my congregation articulate a response for themselves. Jesus asks us to be disciples, which, from the Greek mathe^te^s, means more than ‘followers.’ It means students. Students study. Students practice and make mistakes and sometimes fail. Students know who the teacher is, and that the teach is the one with authority. Students seek to imitate the teacher. The practice of ministry has deepened my understanding of who Jesus is – our teachers, our savior, God with us, and who Jesus call us to be – his followers, his students, his disciples.


b) The Church and the Holy Spirit have a unique relationship, taking shape from the first Pentecost after the resurrection, when the promised Advocate moved among the gathered believers and enabled them to get to work.
It is this same spirit, this same Holy Breath that gives life to the church today, when we let it. In some ways, I would say that my practice of ministry has made the Holy Spirit less foreign, less strange. As much as we’ve tried our best to box God in, I also think we Christians have known less about what to ‘do’ with the Holy Spirit. But, in practicing ministry, I feel more aware of how the Spirit can and does work in our midst.
For the disciples, the Holy Spirit’s presence was what enabled them to begin the work of sharing the gospel. After Jesus was no longer physically among them, the disciples were afraid and hesitant. Would they step up and begin the work for which Jesus had been preparing them? The Holy Spirit filling them gives them the courage, the comfort, the voice to speak up and share the gospel.
I see that it is the same spirit that enables the church today. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells the church that there are many gifts, but one spirit that activates these gifts within us. Many gifts, but one body of Christ of which we are part. How can we do the work that Christ has called us to? By God’s grace, and by the presence of the Spirit within us, we are able.
I see the Spirit as calling the church, calling us beyond our comfort zones, and enabling us to do, as the body, what we wouldn’t have believed possible. I see the spirit, dwelling within us, each one, reminding us that we are God’s and that God is within us. In this way, the Spirit truly is Comforter and Advocate, enabling us to be the Church in the world.
[1] Boyett, Jason. “O Jesus, Who Art Thou?” Relevant Magazine. July/August 2005. pg.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #2

a) Theology:
2) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?

One of my favorite scripture passages is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he speaks of the ‘inner conflict’: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7, selected verses) I think Paul hits on the dilemma of human nature: We think we know what is good. We think we know what God wants. And the gap between what we want to do and what we actually do is so great that we don’t know how to respond to our own humanity.
The practice of ministry has put a spotlight on the ‘human condition’ for me – this struggle, this tension in which we are caught. On the one hand, we consider ourselves such hopeless, worthless creatures. We’re overcome with a belief that we are without much value, without importance. We hate ourselves, hate our actions. In this sense, our need for grace is complete – we need to be given value, and that value comes in our very existence, our beingness, creations of God. But on the other hand, we are content – smug – ruling the world, in charge, unstoppable. Humanity feels so full of itself that we can’t give anymore. We whine, “we’ve done enough, God, we have no more to give.” In this way, our need for grace is complete – we need to be challenged, prodded, transformed, made new. So I find myself preaching two themes in my practice of ministry: one, where I say, “just being a ‘good person’ isn’t enough. God wants more! God wants all of you!” And the other says, “You are so loved! You are so valued! God’s grace is free – you don’t have to and can’t earn it.” We live in that tension, grace and responsibility.
I came to my first appointment with concerns about my age – would people still be willing to come to me with their problems and see me as a pastor, even though I was young? The ‘age question’, 95% of the time, has been a non-issue, and I believe it is because people are simply desperate to share, to be heard, to have someone listen, to know someone cares about what happens to them. I’ve been overcome with how grateful people are for a visit that takes 20 minutes of my time, or a phone call, or note, or email. So little effort, so much thanks. I read this as a sign of our humanity – our need to be worth something, to mean something, to have purpose. People seem so lost and empty. I believe God’s grace is meant to fill that void, until the fullness has to be shared again.

Friday, September 02, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #1

a) Theology:
1) How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God?

Augustine once wrote, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.” I’ve always been a questioner, an examiner of the world, myself, and my faith, since I was very young. I’ve wanted to know the answers, and to know God, inside and out. During seminary, though, just when I though I had things all worked out, I went through a time of understanding in a different, more authentic – if scarier – way: I didn’t know God; God was beyond my comprehension and labels. This time of growth shook me up, but ultimately prepared me for an openness to God, to experiencing and learning to know God in ways that are shaping and shaped by the practice of ministry.
As I am writing this, we’ve just passed the text in the lectionary cycle from Exodus 3, where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. The passage has really resonated with me – God’s desire to get our attention results in God bursting into our lives, breaking into the scene in amazing ways. In the life of my congregation and community, I’ve experienced God in such ‘burning bush’ ways: God speaking through my clergy colleague, as she preached in soul-touching ways at our ecumenical Good Friday service, or at CCYM events where youth you would swear weren’t listening stood up and shared how something an adult said helped them see God, or at church meetings where finally people seem to have caught hold of something like a vision. And in practicing ministry, I have experienced God in the breaking of communion bread at our small Lenten soup supper services, in witnessing the outpouring of love that happens when a member of the church family dies, or in baptizing a child with such hope and promise in her eyes.
I love theology – I love thinking about God and asking those questions still, even if I expect less answers today! Is God omnipotent? Does God have foreknowledge? Does God change? Does God feel? I’ll never grow tired of seeking to better understand God. But the practice of ministry has also taught me how much people (me too!) need to hear the same things about God over and over again. God created us. God loves us, loves us, loves us, unconditionally. God has a gift for us – grace. Grace for you. Grace for your neighbors. Grace for those you’d like to pretend don’t count as your neighbors. And God wants you to help share this love and grace. That’s the simplest stuff we can know about God, and it is also the most challenging to instill in our hearts and practice in our world. The journey of trying is the practice of ministry.

ordination: the paperwork

Hey blogging friends! I just came back from a few days of 'spiritual retreat' at Watson Homestead. I spent the time working on my ordination paperwork, as I hope to be ordained this coming June, and my paperwork is due on November 1st - less than two months now! I got a lot done, and I would like to post my responses to the disciplinary questions here on my blog - maybe one a day. I invite you to share your feedback and suggestions.

A couple of words about my papers:
I am always honest and up front with my thoughts and beliefs. I don't put things in there that I don't really believe. Sometimes I'd like to be more blunt and more direct, but I'm not sure what purpose this would serve other than setting myself up for a harder time at interviews!

Our conference asks for responses of about 1/2-1 page each.

Also, these source have shaped my responses - I quote sometimes directly, but these are my general 'bibliography':
Grace and Responsibility - by John Cobb
The New Creation - by Theodore Runyon
Pastor - by William Willimon
God - Christ - Church - by Marjorie Suchocki
and of course, the writings of John Wesley.

I look forward to your feedback...

confession

I've been out of town and out of communication for a couple of days. I haven't seen the news since the initial reports of destruction from Hurricane Katrina. Arriving home today, I've been reading about the looting, the shootings (I just cannot comprehend this), the slow response, etc., the countless people, stranded, homeless, not to mention questions about things like: when and where will children go to school?

My confession: how worried about gas prices I was on the way home today. Granted, there are some who will be seriously affected by gas prices rising, but those who will really feel the jump are not middle-class pastors like me. I feel embarassed. I think I can swing the extra 10 or 20 bucks a week it might cost me to drive, and be thankful I'm not boating around my city, wondering where my children are.