Sunday, December 31, 2006

Switching to blogspot - NEW ADDRESS

Today I am making the switch to the new blogger, and since you can't use all the new features if you publish via FTP (which is a pain) I am switching to blogspot. So, my new address is http://bethquick.blogspot.com, and the site feed address is http://bethquick.blogspot.com/atom.xml. (Note, if you subscribe to my feed with the feedburner address, you shouldn't need to change anything.) This change will take place immediately (or about 5 minutes after this post goes up.) My main website will stay the same, only the blog address is changing. The old blogsite should stay up for a while until people make the switch.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

Last week, I went to see The Pursuit of Happyness. I've been meaning to write a review, but just couldn't get it together. Heads up: ***If you don't want to know anything about the plot, please don't read this post. I'll try not to get to specific, but I can't write much of what I want without some details.***

First, foremost - Will Smith is absolutely superb. He is really an excellent actor. Don't underestimate him because of his Fresh Prince days, or if you don't go for light movie like Hitch or I, Robot. He is a gifted actor. I first saw him in a serious role when I had to watch Six Degrees of Separation for a class in college (a movie that is a must-see in my mind). Smith communicates so clearly every emotion and feeling - by the climax of the film tears were streaming down my face - and I really hate to cry at movies.

Smith has a pretty uniquely solid track record at the box office - most of his films open in first place, and he is one of those rare actors that seems to appear across the board to audiences - men, women, young, old, black, white. Did you know that Will Smith has the highest opening weekend average of any actor? I think he must feel pretty awesome about how consistently well-received he is, about how well-liked he is, because actors of color certainly still have a long battle before they are as frequently cast, well-paid, universally received, etc., as white actors. Smith seems to be a barrier-breaker.

Other stand-outs in the film are Thandie Newton, as Smith's wife - I've only seen her in a couple of things, and not been very impressed - but she seemed to really live into this character. And of course, Jaden Smith, Will Smith's son, was adorable, and it was fun to watch real-life father and son interact on screen.

About the movie itself, the story. The film is based on the real life story of Chris Gardner, a man who struggled to raise his son and keep it together financially while trying to secure a lucrative (and stable) job as a stock broker. The story is very moving at points - the hardships, the struggles of someone trying to make ends meet - this part of the film was very realistic. You could just feel the hopelessness of the situation, and the impossibility of ever getting ahead when one little financial crisis would turn into a huge crisis. If you've ever really had financial trouble, really had trouble, you know how true some of these scenarios are - how miscalculating your budget by $5 or $10 can totally screw you up for weeks afterward. I thought this message communicated pretty clearly. Also, pay special attention to Gardner's monologue about the title - the pursuit of happiness. He ponders, takes note that Jefferson never said that happiness was a right, just pursuing happiness, as if knowing that we have trouble ever actually getting to a state of happiness. Is happiness something we can only chase after?

More problematic for me was where the story ultimately goes. I'm afraid the film might communicate a message of "if you just try hard enough, you can be rich instead of poor" message. Gardner's story surely is inspiring, but it is also a 1 in a million story. Gardner works and works and works to provide for his family, but he doesn't just end up a stable, caring parent, he ends up a millionaire. Is that the ultimate goal in our pursuit of happiness?

You can read an article about the real life Chris Gardner here. I was glad to learn that he does pay quite a bit of attention still to helping those who are where he once was.

Still, problems aside, the film is worth seeing just to see Will Smith.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Think-Tank Thoughts


This fall, my DS has been meeting with a small group of pastors and having us read together The Shaping of Things to Come, by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. We're only a few chapters in so far, so I will save a real review for later. But the book has been making me think a lot about the in-between/torn feelings I wrote about a while back.

We got to talking in our conversation about why it is that we can all say we agree with this book, and think things need to change dramatically, foundationally in the church in order for us to truly be about building the kingdom of God, and yet, still not have anything change, anything grow differently. My former pastor, now colleague, offered this excerpt from Kent Carlson's Soul Journey as an answer:

"I am convinced that personal ambition, and a pastoral ethic centered around productivity and success is brutal to our souls and destructive to the souls of the people we lead. I believe there is a better way. But it requires us to walk right into the messiness of our own ambitious hearts, ready to die to those ambitions. We must become skilled at detecting the odor of personal ambition, then flee from it as if the church's future depends on it. For I believe it does."

I've been thinking a lot about these words since Bruce shared them with us - personal ambitions. We don't like to talk about or admit a lot when it comes to our personal ambitions in the life of the church. I think we sense that we're not supposed to have them, unless our ambitions are more Christ-like (that whole first/last last/first thing he liked to talk about) than is probable, and yet I suspect that we all have personal ambitions about where we see ourselves in the church and world.

Let me speak more personally, and own my words. I certainly have personal ambitions about the church and my life in it. I always joke with people when they ask me about my 'goals' in ministry, and respond that I hope to be the first female Protestant Pope. (Unless John's dating service for me works out, I've apparently at least got the single thing down no problem.) I respond this way because people are constantly teasing me about becoming bishop or DS or General Secretary or something equally thrilling. But, truth be told, if I was asked by my bishop and the DS to take an appointment at a three-point charge like the itty-bitty one I grew up in, with average attendance of 25 or less, in a town that makes Oneida, NY look like a mega-city, I would have a very, very hard time getting excited about things. Do I think I'm actually called to something else than this scenario in my ministry? Yes. But also, my personal ambitions wouldn't fit well there either.

Jesus' deepest and harshest words of criticism were for the religious leaders of his day, and he was most critical of them for taking what God had given them and trying to smush it into a box that they could control and monitor and limit. He criticized them for taking what God had given them, and fighting over it, and ranking themselves within it, and fighting for power to talk about it, power to lead others to it, power to control those they shared it with. If we are ever to become what God calls us to be as individuals and as the Church, we must "walk right into the messiness of our own ambitious hearts, ready to die to those ambitions." Perhaps this is the hardest, but first work we need to do.

Recently, a pastor-friend of mine was lamenting a situation in the well-to-do, large church she serves. They have millions in savings, endowments, special funds. But they spent a church council meeting fighting about whether or not to pay their final apportionment payment of the year. Could they afford it? She wondered how big of a nest-egg they would need before they would truly feel 'safe' enough to do ministry. She expressed to a parishioner how much she hated spending so much energy fighting about money, fearing that building the kingdom of God was an activity that was only going on outside the walls of the church she was serving, giving her time and energy to. She's been reading Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution - my copy - since during Exploration. She was flying through the book during the event, but now is dragging to finish. Why? She says she's afraid to read more because reading something like this book makes her think she really needs to change some things to be working for the kingdom of God, and she's not sure she's ready to do that.

An honest answer for sure. I love the United Methodist Church. And I love the structure - I really value the connectionalism and collegiality that is the UMC at its best. And I value the ministry that our structure allows. I value the ministry of the general church, and I value the ministry and giftedness of our district superintendents and bishops. My DS is retiring in July, and I will truly miss his guidance for our district and his role in my ministry at its beginnings. But the structure also surely encourages us - or at least enables us - to be personally ambitious to the detriment of the kingdom of God.

I'm not sure where I'm going with these thoughts. Like my pastor-friend, mostly I want to stop them here, stop writing, for fear of where the thoughts naturally lead. But, I've always believed that God's calling on our lives is never a done, completed, one-time event. And so I am trying to listen for how God is calling me now. And this much I hear clearly: Pope-hood is not in my future.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sibling News

Thought I'd share a bit of the exciting things going on with the siblings...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Methoblogosphere Project: Heifer International

Revfife had a great idea - a challenge for all of us in the Methoblogosphere to work together to raise money for Heifer International:

"A challenge for all of you in Methoblog Land. This is truly the season for giving to others, and as I was buying a gift the other day from Heifer International (Geese), I found this thing for bloggers to support Heifer. I thought why not pool our wonderful Methodist Blogs and raise money for Heifer together. If you have never heard about Heifer they are a wonderful organization that has a simple and practical plan to reduce world hunger. Provide animals, water, farms, and teach people how to be self-sustaining. The challenge is simple. Put some code on your blog or myspace page and pool our money so we can reach the goal of $1000 dollars donated to Heifer. You can find the code here."

I think this is a great idea - so if you have some extra cash, a little or a lot, let's show our stuff and meet this goal. If you can repost this on your blog and/or add the thermometer (see left hand on my page) that would be fabulous too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Season of Giving


A few years back, my mother gave me The Five Languages of Love to read, a book by Gary Chapman. Chapman theorizes that there are five languages we use to communicate love to one another: Giving gifts, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. (All fairly self-explanatory, I think.) Chapman says that each of us has a primary way that we respond to love, a primary way that we understand that someone else is saying they love us. We also have a primary way we tend to communicate love to others, which is usually whatever way we most like to hear we are loved ourselves.

In my family, between my mother and three brothers, we figured that we had all five love languages covered. (Jockeystreet, he wants your quality time, if you were wondering. Todd, my actor brother, prefers words of affirmation. Tim craves physical touch - has loved having his back rubbed since he was very little. Mom - acts of service.) We run in to trouble when we try to communicate love, but aren't heard because the person we're telling it to hears better in a different love language. So, when he was younger, Todd could say to my mom that he loved her, but never do his chores, and my mom would have understood better if he'd done the dishes! In relationships that mean a lot to you, it's worth it to figure out what language you need to speak to communicate love.

My love-language is gift-giving. I like getting gifts! I like giving gifts! This is a good season for me! When I was little, celebrating Valentine's Day was a big deal - we'd have a family dinner with my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and exchange Valentine's. One year, I made probably a hundred Valentine's, enough for everybody at the gathering to get several. When we passed the Valentine's out, I had only a few, one from each of the other people - I had less than everyone else, since I had given most of them myself. I was devastated. I cried and cried. Finally, my uncle went in the other room and made up several Valentine's for me, and came back in and told me he had just forgotten them. I was young enough to be convinced.

I wonder why a certain way of communicating love becomes more meaningful to us? I'm not sure why gift-giving is my love-language. I certainly wouldn't describe myself as someone who loves having things, but I do love getting gifts. It doesn't have to be anything pricy - I love receiving Christmas cards or things like that - but I guess I love having the tangible thing. I guess to me, a gift represents a lasting proof of sorts that someone else was thinking of me. I can keep it, remember with it, show others. I'm a bit of a pack rat - I like to keep things and especially put them in my journal - I have notes that my mom used to (Ok, still) would sneak into my luggage when I was traveling somewhere, or programs from shows that friends picked up for me thinking I would like to see them, or things bought for me when other friends, parishioners, or youth I work with were off visiting someplace exciting. I have a beautiful collection of stoles, most of which were bought for me by friends and family, and they are very precious to me.

I've been thinking a lot about gift-giving this week. I am in the midst of sending out my Christmas cookie packages to friends, and I baked so many cookies this year, that I've also sent plates of cookies to work with my brother, to my mail carrier, directly to the post office, to Administrative Council, and on and on.... And it is so much fun to give, especially to the ones who weren't expecting the gift.

This year, in our family, we're trying to be a little better about buying Christmas gifts - buying less, buying different, buying more meaningfully. Given my love of gifts, I find it a bit difficult - I like buying things for people, especially those members of my family who don't get much for themselves. But I'm trying to think about what would be the most meaningful gift for my family - what would best communicate love to them? When you look in the stores and see massive piles of uniform, meaningless, mostly useless presents you can buy, when you see that even grocery stores carry huge amounts of gifts now that you can buy right when you're buying your milk and bread, you get the picture that gift giving has lost some of its good intentions. Do you give because you have to or are obligated to give?

In the Christian life, we celebrate Christmas because of a gift - the gift of God drawing close to us, close in a way that seemed impossible - as close as can be. The gift is meant to communicate love - not obligation. Not a gift without usefulness. Not a meaningless gesture. In fact, when i think about Jesus' ministry, I'm struck that he used all of the love-languages to communicate his message - he served, he touched, he spent time, he affirmed with his words, and he certainly gave gifts - maybe not gifts wrapped up with a bow, but gifts - the gift of himself fully and completely first among them.

I hope, this season, you try to invest in the gifts you give as much love as possible, and I hope you see the gifts you receive as expressions of love others have for you. And if gift-giving isn't your language, or if it isn't what others use to say they love you, search your life for those other love languages. Probably more people are trying to tell you something than you ever guessed.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Review: Stranger Than Fiction


I went to see Stranger Than Fiction last week. This time of year when there are so many 'awards season' movies out, contenders for the big prizes, I find it hard to pick what to see - too overwhelming. But my friend and I arrived at the theatre without a specific movie in mind, so we just picked what was playing next - Stranger Than Fiction. I was a little wary of the movie because I'm not a huge Will Farrell fan. Ok, I laughed all through Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, but I was doubtful that he could pull of a serious role like this one.

Well, he pulled it off. I really enjoyed the movie. If you've seen the previews, you've seen the basic premise: Will Farrell plays a straight-laced man who finds that his life is being narrated by some voice, and the voice says his death is just around the corner. He tries to find the author and persuade her not to write his death, and in the process of his quest, he tries to live differently - in a way that the voice doesn't predict. The narration of his life makes him realize how mundane and unsatisfying his life has been so far.

Farrell was really excellent in the role. The film has many absurd qualities, and he fit right in as a person who plays absurd so often - but his role was definitely a huge change from his typical. The other actors were also great - Emma Thompson, who I think is one of the best actresses around, plays the author. Dustin Hoffman is excellent as a quirky professor Farrell goes to for advice. Maggie Gyllenhaal, another favorite, plays a woman Farrell audits (he's an IRS guy.) Queen Latifah's talents are unfortunately mostly wasted in a small, underused role as Thompson's assistant.

The film has a basic message of 'carpe diem - seize the day.' It isn't necessarily profound, but I guess like all such life lessons, we need to keep hearing it until we're living it. I can't remember where I read it recently - I think maybe in an article in Relevant magazine - an article that asked, "what are you waiting for until you really start you life?" I didn't say that well. What excuse do you keep putting out to yourself or to others that goes like this: "I'll get around to [the thing I'm really called to be doing/meant to be doing/passionate about/convicted about doing] as soon as [this other life thing happens/falls into place/gets settled.]" I'm very guilty of this. I'm very guilty of saying to myself that I'll start doing things the way I think I really should be after I get my PhD, or after I'm ordained (that excuse is no longer valid!), or even just after the new year. The point is - what are you waiting for? This is it already - this is your life. It has already started, is already well underway, and if you keep waiting for the perfect time to act, your life will be well over before you get anywhere.

Anyway, I'm trying to take that message a bit to heart, and trying to think about what I've been putting off that I know I should be attending to now. But maybe I'll start in the morning... :)

Update: For Andy B.'s more profound Christological view of the movie, read here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

You Know...

You know you're a United Methodist nerd if you have a dream about being at some sort of General Church gathering, and consider it a pretty good dream.

You know you're a liberal UM, and also just kinda weird, if in your dream, John Stewart is the worship leader at said event, and he's doing a pretty good job.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Random

I pulled into the local grocery store parking lot at 11pm tonight. It's my favorite time to shop - there's really only one grocery store in town (besides Wal-Mart) and it is always packed all day - 11pm is usually a safe time to go. Tonight, I was in desperate need of cat food. I pulled in and immediately saw the pastor of the other United Methodist Church in town and the captain of the Salvation Army, standing in the parking lot, chatting. A mini impromptu gathering of the clergy women of Oneida. Random!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Confronting the Controversy

Regular readers of my blog will know that I generally try to avoid offending when I can - at least I like to think I avoid offending. I usually feel I can say what I need to say without tearing down people who think differently than me. But recently, I've been moved to make a more bold, declaratory statement.

Here goes....

White Christmas lights are boring. Multi-colored Christmas lights are fun. Possisble exception: if you have candles in your windows ONLY, then it is ok to use just white lights. Otherwise, people, go for the color! If you want an 'elegant' look, I've seen some very nice very pale multi-colored lights that are not too boring. Seriously.

Sorry. But it had to be said.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Too Close for Comfort

Found this great cartoon via Lake Neuron, post aptly titled, "Too Close for Comfort." Indeed!

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

(Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Reflections: Exploration 2006

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of leading a group of young people from my annual conference to Exploration 2006, in Jacksonville, Florida. We had 6 youth/young adults from our AC, and two other young clergy lead with me. I had the opportunity twice to go to Exploration ('96 and '98) in high-school and college, and I remember being the only one from my annual conference, or at least the only one I was aware of at the time. So, I wanted to give a more organized experience to young people from NCNY this time around. One of the frustrating parts of the process for me in pursuing ordination was feeling disconnected. I knew I wanted to be a pastor, and communicated that to adults early on and consistently in my journey, but it wasn't until I was back inside the AC bounds serving a church as a probation that I felt really connected again. I've heard many young people express a sense of call, and I always wonder - is anyone following up with them? Is anyone keeping in touch with them? Helping them figure out what to do next? So, I'm trying to answer my own critique at least in part, and make sure I help that connection process take place.

Attending as an adult certainly made me reflect on my two experiences as a participant. When I went in '96 (Dallas/Fort Worth) I was recovering from surgery, and was popping Tylenol with Codeine every four hours for the pain. I slept through most of the event. I remember focusing all of my energy/attention on staying awake, only to realize I had been nodding off mid-sermon. I also remember being pretty sure at that time that I was going into youth ministry, would never attend seminary, and certainly would never become a pastor. I went to Exploration because my own pastor encouraged it, and helped fund the trip. But I did enjoy my time, half-awake and all. It was the first time I ever traveled solo, which is still something I enjoy. And it was fun to be in the presence of so many other young people considering ministry.

In 1998, I had a much different experience. I attended with a handful of friends from Ohio Wesleyan. The event was in Los Angeles, and we flew over the Grand Canyon on the way out. It may sound silly, but I couldn't believe how big it was, even from way up in the plane. I mean, I guess it is the Grand Canyon and all, but it was *so* big and beautiful. (I'm hoping to actually get to Arizona this year to see it a little closer up!) I managed to dig up my participant book this weekend to look through. (Yes, I'm a pack rat.) The structure of the event, the schedule is mostly unchanged. But I was apparently less critical as a young person than as an adult! I made comments in my book about all the preachers and speakers and workshops. I attended two workshops - Women in Ministry and Discerning and Discovering God's Call. I went to the second because my friends were all going to that one, and it turned out to be surprisingly thought-provoking. I was struggling, at the time, with a decision about whether or not to graduate a year early from Ohio Wesleyan. I eventually chose to do so, and my decision in part was from that workshop. I had high praise for Bishop Woodie White, who preached at the commitment service, Bishop Roy Sano, host bishop, and then Rev. Minerva Carcano. Liked the music team. Like all of it, really.

Now, as an adult leader, I couldn't turn off my critical lens. Our leadership from NCNY was interesting - three of us ordained together this June - theologically at opposite ends of the spectrum. All of us under 40. We tend to disagree with each other on most things, but have somewhat of a common understanding about where the church is and where the church needs to be, which makes us interesting partners in ministry too. We talked to each other a lot about the language, the music, the preaching, the structure of the schedule, the seminary displays, etc., though I suspect that we had a lot more to say about this than the young people with us did. Bishop Carcano was supposed to preach the closing worship at this event, but was not able to attend, so I was disappointed there. All in all, though, I know the youth we took had a great time and each took at least something helpful away.

I was just glad to be in Jacksonville instead of Central New York in late November. Our hotel was gorgeous, and right on the river/boardwalk. It was beautiful all weekend, and I was glad to have no responsibilities at the event!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sites to Check Out

Just got home from Exploration (where I finally, if briefly, got to meet Natalie of Take My Hand - excellent!) and I'm not ready to recap yet, so in the meantime, here are a couple of sites I've been visiting a lot lately:

CoolPeopleCare.org - This site will email you a daily tip on something you can do ("5 Minutes of Caring") to re-focus your life on others, the environment, justice, etc. I like the tips so far, like today's, which focuses on an ongoing theme of theirs, "Christmas is not your birthday."

Another is Treehugger.com which is a blog/site that highlights eco-friendly products/inventions/innovations, like this water-powered clock, and lots of cool eco-friendly off-the-grid type pre-fab homes (sorry, big-bro, can't find the one I wanted to show you.)

Check 'em out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Review: How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

I finally finished reading (#19) How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins. I would describe this book as a theology of the emergent movement, a 'foundations' sort of book. Maybe Rollins wouldn't describe it that way, but I mean it as a compliment. The book describes an understanding of God - or a not-understanding of God - that is where I see a lot of people these days, where I see a lot of people who are looking for a spiritual life, a faith community.

Rollins writes two parts - the first is the 'heavy' stuff - the theology, and the second is outlines and explanations of twelve worship services that represent what he's talked about in the first part. The services aren't meant to be copied, though they can be, but they're meant to give more tangible examples of what he's talking about. I had a hard time getting into the book at first, so I went and read the services, part two, first, and then went back and read the 'heavy' stuff, which I found a helpful approach. I managed to finally finish it off (I have no excuse, really, it is a short book) when I was stuck in a doctor's office waiting room for 2+ hours.

Rollins talks a lot about how we often think we can talk about God in a knowledgeable way, but he stresses that what we don't know, and our realization of what we don't know, is often more significant. He talks about "conceptual idols" - making idols of our beliefs about God. "Like an aesthetic idol . . . the conceptual idol refers to any system of thought which the individual or community takes to be a visible rendering of God. The only significant different between the aesthetic idol and the conceptual idol lies in the fact that the former reduces God to a physical object while the latter reduces God to an intellectual object." (12) Revelation is "not to be though of either as that which makes God known or as that which leaves God unknown, but rather as the overpowering light that renders God known as unknown." (17)

Rollins talks a lot about our beliefs, our theology, as something that can potential get in our way of having actual encounters with God. He sees this is the problem of the Pharisees in the New Testament. "They held so closely to their interpretation of the Messiah that when the Messiah finally appeared in a form that was different to what they expected, they rejected the Messiah in order to retain the integrity of their interpretation." (21) It isn't, then, necessarily that what they Pharisees believe is so wrong or destructive. It is that what they believe and how committed they are to the rightness of what they believe leaves them unable to experience anything greater than their beliefs. He continues, "If theology comes to be understood as they place where God speaks, then we must seek, not to speak of God, but rather to be that place where God speaks." Compelling.

Some other highlights:
"God is not the object of our thought but rather the absolute subject before whom we are the object. This is confirmed in baptism when we say that we are 'baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' Here we do not name God but God's name names us." (23, bold is my emphasis.)
What Rollins calls an "a/theistic" approach to God: "a form of disbelieving what one believes, or rather, believing in God while remain in dubious concerning what one believes about God." (26)
The idea of God as "hypernomous" - not anonymous as in completely unknown. But hypernomous - so known to us that God is unknown. Overwhelming.
"It is only in the midst of undecidability that real decisions are made. For instance, take the example of two people getting married with the firm conviction that the union will last as long as they both live. In this state of obvious delusion no real decision needs to be made. The future is believed to be so certain that the decision to marry requires no decision at all. Yet if two people understand that their relationship will face various hardships, that the future is uncertain and that there are no guarantees, then, far from preventing a decision, this is the very point when a real decision needs to be made. The vows of marriage are not so much affirmations of what one believes will take place but rather promises that one will work towards ensuring that it will indeed happen." (34)
Rollins talks about Jesus not as one who gives us all the answers, but as one who makes us want more, ask more: "Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst." (37)
"A true spiritual seeking can be understood as the ultimate sign that one already has that which on seeks, or rather, that one is already grasped by that which one seeks to grasp. Consequently a genuine seeking after God is evidence of having found." (50)

All along while reading I had been thinking of Derrida and deconstruction, so I was glad Rollins mentioned him (45-46) too. I first encountered Derrida in my senior year of high-school English, and found it all a bit overwhelming and disagreeable. So, I took a whole course on Derrida in seminary, and found him a little bit more disagreeable (and thought-provoking.) But the context in which Rollins talks about Derrida and theology finally had me getting and appreciating a bit more.

Rollins' final section in part one transitions towards the more concrete, talking about love and ethics and what the previous chapters mean about how we live as disciples of Jesus Christ. This leads to the transition to the worship services, which are really quite unique.

An excellent read. And probably a short read, if you're a bit more determined than I've been about reading these last few months!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Heroes

Since I haven't been in the mood to write anything else, I thought I'd respond in a new post to John's question in the comments of my last post about All Saints Day: "So, who were your heroes?" Put the names out there into the blogosphere. He was referring to this part of my post:
"And yet, I'm not sure we can help but make heroes of those we admire. When I was in junior-high, I regularly kept a 'hero-list'. I will confess to you that I a bit(?!) arrogantly consider myself hard to impress, so the list was pretty hard to get onto. But I can remember today almost everyone whose name graced the list, and I remember how and why they got there. A couple teachers, a classmate or two, some family members, people in the arts, even an inspirational speaker that came to speak to us. I like to think they gave me something to work for, a model to be like, to try to be like at least."

Well, I admit I had to spend some time going through my old journals to find the complete list. Some people were added on through the years of course, and others dropped off when they become less a part of my current state of mind, though I don't think I ever mentally 'kicked someone off'!

Here's the list:
Al DeNeve - Mr. DeNeve was my ninth grade English teacher. A few of my classmates and I used to call him "the smartest man in the world." He seemed to know everything - both useful and silly things. He would share poetry with us, and loved to rewrite fairy tales using words that sounded like the right words when said quickly (like "cheeses priced" instead of "Jesus Christ"). He was the first teacher that I had that ever interpreted what we were reading in a deeper way. We read many, many short stories that year, and he would always talk to us about the metaphors in the stories and the subtexts and I'd never had anyone do that before. I felt like he was solving literature mysteries for us. I was fascinated. Plus, hey, he taught me grammar. Some of it I still use! A nice man, an excellent teacher.

James Wygant - Mr. Wygant I considered second only in intelligent teachers to Mr. DeNeve. He was my eighth grade science teacher - basic physics/chemistry stuff. I always hated science, so anyone who could make me enjoy it was already winning points. I liked Mr. Wygant because, as I wrote in my journal, he was "quiet, but always smiling on the inside." I felt like he was always laughing to himself about the silliness of junior high drama.

Frankie Scinta - Scinta came to my junior high school as a motivational speaker. Like people are with a good sermon, I don't remember the specifics - just that he was funny and direct and encouraging general goodness out of the students and managed to be cool while doing it. Apparently, he and his family now perform a family-friendly show in Las Vegas.

Carol Finn - Carol and I went to high school together (sometime toward the end of high school is when I stopped keeping the list) and I primarily knew her through orchestra. Carol was the concert mistress, which gave her a step in the right direction right there, and she was one who didn't seem to lord her principal chair status over others (a common problem!). But what I liked most about Carol was that she didn't seem to fit any particular mold, didn't seem to be part of any particular set clique, which is of course a miracle in high school. She had her own style, was very intelligent, never seemed to care what other people thought of her. She was funny, and adventurous (at least to my timid mind) without doing dumb things for adventure. I got to room with her on a trip to Austria with one of our string groups when I was a junior and she was a freshman in college. The trip would not have been nearly as much fun without her.

Kevin "Bull" Troy - When I was in between fifth and sixth grades, I went to "Adventure Camp" at our conference church camp, Camp Aldersgate. The 'dean' of the camp, a clergyperson, had to cancel last minute. Taking over for him were two counselors, Laura and Bull. My mom was not excited - Bull was huge - 6' 4" and muscular, pierced ears, bandana over a shaved head, and generally your stereotype of a tough-guy. He was great! The nicest guy, friendly and tender-hearted. He was on staff the next several years, and has since stayed connected with my uncle (a pastor appointed near Aldersgate), and I always looked forward to seeing him.
Meredith Niles - I met Meredith at Camp when I was going into ninth grade. (She has a twin that I never did get to know - Mindy - so Meredith was called "Mork" by many.) Like Carol, Meredith struck me as a non-conformist with her own style. She had a deep faith, and yet still struggled and was down on herself about so much. She was a couple years older than me - I thought she was very mature, and I really admired her, her creativity.

Robert Zazzara - He conducted the area all-state choir when I was in ninth grade. (He's faculty - retired? - at Ithaca College.) This was the first music event I was part of that was outside of my own school. I loved my junior high chorus teacher - she was great. But this was my first experience with someone of his level of training, singing with other singers who were more serious students, and singing songs that were at a higher level of difficulty. I loved it. I still remember a couple of the pieces we sang. And I thought he was an awesome conductor.

Henry Wilson - I've written about Henry before. Henry played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Salt City Playhouse for the first three seasons I went to see it there. Without ever speaking to him, I was totally infatuated with him in a way that only junior high kids can be. But because of my huge crush, I came to know and love the Lenten and Easter seasons better. I still love Jesus Christ Superstar. I am still intrigued by what propelled Judas Iscariot, still wonder what he was really like. Henry was an excellent actor and singer. These days, he (among other things, I'm sure) sings in a local band.

A few others here and there, but these were the 'main' members of my elite group.
Who are your heroes?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day. I don't ever remember celebrating All Saints Sunday when I was growing up. (I apologize to my former pastor for forgetting if we did!) But in seminary, we always had an All Saints-themed worship in chapel, and the church I served as youth pastor also had a day to remember those in the congregation who died during the previous year. When I started serving St. Paul's, I introduced an All Saints Sunday celebration. My first and second years were filled, it seemed, with deaths of long-time faithful members, and I think as a congregation we were grieving for the collective loss, and I hoped an All Saints celebration would be a way to give voice to our community grief.

This year, we have just a handful of folks who've passed away that are directly related to the congregation, though one loss is very recent and very difficult - a young mother, who died after a battle with ALS, which is just a horrific disease. But regardless of the numbers, I find it a meaningful time to reflect on who we've lost, why we loved them, and how we might wish to live in a way that we too could be so loved.

I think we, perhaps as an American society, perhaps just as human beings, do interesting things to history when people die. What one has been and how one lived and what one did during their days on earth don't always have a lot to do with how we remember them. This is essential, merciful, grace-full, forgiving, and sometimes troubling all at once. Human beings have a wonderful way of forgetting history, and sometimes this is extremely detrimental. On the other hand, things that seemed so important to remember, to hold grudges over, to tally up when someone was living can seem pretty trivial in light of our mortality. Perhaps, hoping that others won't hold all of our bad deeds, no doubt readily accessible to our own minds, against us when we're gone, we're anxious to forgive and forget when others pass.

My youngest brother and I got in a conversation about these sort of things the other day. By conversation, I mean argument. But it was ok - Todd and I have similar personalities in a lot of ways, and we're both stubborn, and we take some sort of strange pleasure out of arguing topics to the point of ridiculousness. Anyway, we were talking about Todd's plans for the future. As an actor, they are ever-changing. He was dreaming about opening an 'institute' for the performing arts, and thinking about naming buildings and things after all the people who influenced him. I, knowing some of these influencers, mentioned my surprise at some of his choices. So many flaws among some of those he named. Do you honor such a person? Where do you draw the line? I had in mind a particular person from the area who died in a way we consider 'heroic', but who I knew to be a not nice person in some significant ways - abusive to women, for example. Yet, he's memorialized around these parts - is that smart? What does that say?

Or, for another example: Martin Luther King, Jr. A man with flaws, serious flaws. A man who moved millions, continues to move people. But, he's held up so high as a cultural icon that we easily ignore the harder, challenging things he said, worked for. One of my favorite poems about MLK, by Carl Wendell Himes, Jr., says: "Now that he is safely dead / Let us praise him / build monuments to his glory / sing hosannas to his name. / Dead men make / such convenient heroes: They cannot rise / to challenge the images / we would fashion from their lives. / And besides, / it is easier to build monuments / than to make a better world."

There is something about making people into saints that takes away their power to really touch us, because as soon as we 'saint' them, we make them something we don't think we can become. We make MLK's dream unrealistic, because we know we're no MLK.

And yet, I'm not sure we can help but make heroes of those we admire. When I was in junior-high, I regularly kept a 'hero-list'. I will confess to you that I a bit(?!) arrogantly consider myself hard to impress, so the list was pretty hard to get onto. But I can remember today almost everyone whose name graced the list, and I remember how and why they got there. A couple teachers, a classmate or two, some family members, people in the arts, even an inspirational speaker that came to speak to us. I like to think they gave me something to work for, a model to be like, to try to be like at least.

Ah, the end of the post, and no clear conclusions. Somewhere between cynicism and hope...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bishop's Convocation: Deepening the Well

Last week I went to our annual Bishop's Convocation, a gathering for clergy in the New York West episcopal area. It was the first time I've attended. The Convocation is always the same time as Drew's (my alma mater) annual Tipple-Vosburgh lectures, which I've been in the habit of choosing over the Convocation. Let's face it - Drew can usually pull in 'bigger' speakers, I get to see friends that I don't often see otherwise, and going to New Jersey for away time is more exciting than going an hour and a half away to Rochester. But...that said, I decided very last minute to attend the Convocation instead of Tipple. I'd just come back from GBCS in DC, and didn't feel like traveling very far. Plus, I guess I think it is important to invest myself here in my hometown area more than I have been. It's been three and a half years now since I graduated from seminary. I loved it, and I loved the people. But I love here too, and need to be more intentional about forming relationships here. Anyway, the convocation...

The theme was Deepening the Well and was focused on issues of clergy wellness and renewal. I did indeed find the time apart to be relaxing and renewing. I enjoyed the speakers and preachers, and just spending time with my colleagues. I don't know how other pastors in the conference feel, but I feel that in general we have a strong sense of collegiality in NCNY. It is one of the reasons I came home to this conference after seminary.

Some highlights:
One of the preachers was Rev. Margaret Scott. She did a monologue-as-sermon, as Peter's wife. She said, "Where the presence of Jesus is felt, people show up." True words! She reminded us that Jesus was "not immediately accessible," focusing on a passage (where? I forget and am too lazy to look it up) where we read that the disciples and crowds are hunting for Jesus. She challenged us about our sense as pastors that we must be always immediately accessible. And, a good line that got a good laugh: "If there's one thing men hate, it's logic in the midst of panic."

One of our speakers was Kwasi Kena, who is Director of Evangelism Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship. He talked about knowing the difference between "what is urgent and what is important." He gave us a journaling prompt for 'spiritual writing' saying that when you write, you're supposed to "write what you know" - the usual motto anyway, but in spiritual writing, you're supposed to "write what you don't know." He urged us to "create a stop doing list." I liked that suggestion! He also talked about visions, and our tendency to "come up with" visions for churches, conferences, committees. He told us this is going about things the wrong way. "The vision is sent by God," he said, "it isn't just conjured up because we want to write something down on paper."

Rev. Marilyn Wolfe was another preacher, who gave a very moving sermon. She talked about loving the marriage blessing that is in our United Methodist Book of Worship that has the line: "So that those to whom love is a stranger will find in you generous friends" and challenged us and encouraged us, reminding us: "We are Jesus" to some people. We are the only experience of Jesus they may ever have had. So our hope is to be to others, to those to whom love is a stranger, a good representation of the love of Jesus.

Of course, my uncle, Bill Mudge, was also one of the preachers, and I heard great things about his sermon, but I managed too arrive too late for that one. Alas!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Movie Review: The Departed

Last weekend a friend and I went to see The Departed, the new Martin Scorsese film. It wasn't the top film on my list to see, but it seemed to be the available film to see at the right time at a theatre that was easy to get to, so off we went.

I really enjoyed the film, I think. It was one of those films where I just wasn't quite sure what to say when I left. What I did not like, however, was the audience who saw the film with me. I saw the film while I was in DC, so it was a bigger theatre with far more movie-viewing-companions than I'm used to for anything other than Harry Potter openings. The audience seemed to be laughing at totally inappropriate places, where the action just wasn't funny. I've got a good sense of humor, I think, but what I was seeing wasn't funny, wasn't meant to be funny, and if you thought some of it was funny - well, I worry about you. I also had to roll my eyes on the way out, when we were standing near a couple, one of whom kept asking questions about the plot while the other one explained what happened. The plot was *not* tricky. It was fast, but it wasn't tricky, and it was very direct. We also happened to be sitting next to a 'narrator', a person who felt compelled to describe the on-screen action to the person she was sitting with, who appeared capable of figuring that out himself. So, all that drove me a little crazy, but doesn't say much about the film, does it?

The film is not for those who are easily offended by swearing or violence. It is a violent movie, and many of the characters have potty-mouths. It didn't seem unwarranted given the storyline and context, but that's a warning for you.

The leads are played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Vera Farmiga. DiCaprio is the standout in the film. I've seen him in many things - I've always thought his baby-face makes him too young looking for the roles he plays, though his acting is always 'on'. Here, it seems his appearance has finally caught up, and he slips completely into his role as a cop working way undercover in Boston. Matt Damon is also good, and he's a completely unlikable character, which he pulls off well considering his usually likeable public persona. Jack Nicholson is - Jack Nicholson. He seems to be having a great time, as usual. Wahlberg and Sheen are fine in supporting roles and provide some of the (actual) comic relief. Farmiga, who I don't remember seeing before, holds her own in a movie that is otherwise entirely dominated by men. Really, she is virtually one of the only women you will see anywhere in the film.

Without wanting to give much away, I'm not sure what to do with the ending. It wasn't all-around gratifying, which I guess is OK, but I'm not sure I would have done it that way. In all, though, the plot was quick-paced and not predictable. I expect DiCaprio at least, and Scorsese, will be nominated for awards for this film. And if you like a thriller that has some brains to it, check out this movie.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Blogroll

I've just finally done some major updating of my blogroll. It was very very sadly out of date. If I've accidentally deleted you, please let me know. I removed blogs without posts in the last month or two, and tried to eliminate duplications between my own blogroll and the other blogrolls I support.

Online Studies

A while back I mentioned that we would be trying online studies this fall at St. Paul's. Well, they're both kicking off this week: a scripture study, usually following the lectionary, though occasionally using different passages if we are using different passages in worship, and a book study, currently on Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus. I'm not sure how these studies will go - I'm not sure St. Paul's will be 'into' blogging-studies, at least not right away, so if you feel like stopping by and joining in and setting a (friendly) blogging example, I'd welcome your input!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reflections: GBCS Fall Meeting, Part III

Another set of (rambling) thoughts about the fall GBCS meeting.

GBCS is blessed to have a really great set (and fairly sizeable set) of young board members. Currently, one youth and a few college students, and a few seminarians, and a couple of "old" young adults like myself. We had a handful of young people last quadrennium too, but no organized time together, and I don't think I knew more than one of the other young adults in any meaningful way. This quadrennium, we always set aside at least one meal time to eat together. Sometimes we're working toward a specific purpose - talking about the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly - sometimes just for time together. I really appreciate this group, this time.

It is at these gatherings, though, and in some other places in my ministry lately, that I feel most like I have a split personality when it comes to the Church - the UMC specifically, but the Church as a whole. I don't know where to fit myself. On the one hand, I feel tired. Tired, at 27, when I hear the energy and ideas that are coming from some of these young adults. Tired, because though I am young, though I am part of this missing demographic, though I am in the age group of those who usually stay away, who don't find meaning in the Church, I did stay, and I love, live, breathe the institution of the UMC. I love the hierarchy, the organization, the structure, I'll gladly admit. There is part of me that is totally satisfied with worship how I've known it most of my life - I enjoy learning new songs, but I love the old hymns. In fact, I don't usually enjoy praise bands or 'contemporary' music. I like hearing a good sermon. I like parts of the liturgy. I like a Sunday schedule of Sunday School, worship, coffee hour, or some combination like that.

But the other part of me finds voice with those who are increasingly critical of a church that seems to them completely irrelevant, even as they strive for spiritual meaning, spiritual lives. I wonder why we are unwilling to say "we need to start over and try again" if we really want to reach people with Jesus' message of the kingdom of God. I feel excited about the possibilities, the prospects, of doing a new thing, a new something a new way. I feel like there is something else I ought to be doing, and like sometimes I am even on the brink of going there. But...

How do these two parts go together, though? It takes some boldness, some bravery, to do these new things, to put these two parts together in a real way. And instead of bold, I often feel like I have to compromise one part for the other, compromise one part of me in order to speak with the other part. And that doesn't feel very bold to me. It feels like I'm not getting anywhere. Frustrated. Stalled. Unwilling to take the risky steps to move where I think I might need to move for fear that the other part of me won't come along too, and then maybe I'll end up with neither part. I feel a little stuck.

One of these young adults who just impresses me with her energy, her vision, her boldness, is Kristina Gebhard. She blogs, though not recently, here, and has written in particular about her experiences travelling to Kenya this summer. Kristina preached at our closing worship, and when we were preparing the service, she talked about her dislike of sermons. Sermons, preaching, she said, doesn't do much for her. She can't remember many sermons that really meant something to her, moved her. She doesn't find herself really challenged by them, and doesn't like being told what to do. Instead, she'd rather be challenged and pushed and moved by relationships - by people, and being with people, learning from and about people, and learning about herself and who she is from others, and because of relationships, be changed, challenged, moved. She's also technically an institutional UMCer, but she's asking more frequently: Can the church still be an agent of the kingdom? Or, to build the kingdom, must she be outside of the church?

At any rate, she still graciously prepared a sermon - a poem - a slam poem - that was fabulous. I was going to include just excerpts here, but it is just all too good, so I've included it, and part of her intro, whole. Of course, printed, you miss the cadence of the spoken performance aspect, and also the sung chorus (the 'na watoto je' part) but you get the idea. The irony - as we stood and applauded her message - is that her message is about us - we, the church, unable to get beyond ourselves to be ourselves and let others be part of us and us part of them. Here it is:

God’s kingdom in a child - by Kristina Gebhard

I wanted to share a poem with you. I wrote it when I was thinking about all the things in our lives we have commodified, all the things that we have allowed to come between us and kingdom building. Specifically I was reflecting on how poverty, especially in the developing world, has become an industry. I was thinking about how we throw around words like malnourished, and starving, because we have had to completely externalize their meaning in order to go on with our daily lives. The idea that we have plenty to eat while millions of children die lacking basic nutrition is too harsh to internalize. Why? Because if we internalized it, we’d be like that rich man—Jesus would be telling us to change. Jesus would be saying, kingdom building isn’t something you can do on your days off. Kingdom building is something you live. This poem is about the struggle to live in the process of kingdom building, amidst so much privilege.

God’s kingdom in a child

As I hold your malnourished head in my hand
And think about the malnourished souls in my land
I wonder how long we’ll keep telling you, you can do it, yes you can
Just buck up, there’s so much life to live
After all its not the greatest to receive, but to give
We say work, child, work,
If you put your mind to, we promise you can do it
Work, child, work
That’s what we did, we say,
We went to school, we earned our A’s,
We started small and climbed the corporate ladder
Who we stepped on, it doesn’t really matter
And now we’ve got our nine to fives,
And our long commuter drives
And our perfect happy families
Waiting oh so patiently
For a Disneyworld vacation
Or a Fourth of July celebration
Hoping they can cover up
Praying so to smother up
The penetrating mediocrity
And hibernating desire to be
A part of something greater than ourselves
But with our family portraits on our shelves
Our SUVs and boats and extra beds
It’s much easier to say we should see the hungry fed
And say privately, we’ve earned this and we deserve this
So work, child work

Na watoto je?
What about the children?

And I pay $40,000 in tuition,
To bring my goals to fruition
I learn to talk intellectual
My walk becomes ineffectual
As I insulate myself by criticizing theories
And joining clubs that motivate my liberal fury
So I can feel somehow my academia
Is connected to my life,
my life is disconnected from the mania
That is globalization’s new world order
My generation has the world on our shoulders
And it’s so damn heavy we’d rather lift chemistry books, ipods, a few shots of expresso
Sure, we’ll help to fix the broken levies
But we just don’t have the energy or the naivety
To see that this country acknowledges exposed poverty
As personal responsibility
Look, we feel for them, but we’ve got our problems too
My paper on global inequality is three days overdue
They say my maladjustment is extreme
and they’re not trying to be mean,
But how bad can it be to stand in the middle
I say
Will anything ever change if we don’t each change a little?

Na watoto je?
What about the children?

And as I hold your malnourished head in my hand
And think about the malnourished souls in my land
I’d like to hope or even chance to reason
That our leaders in the midst of their treason
Could learn so much by listening to your story for an hour
If politicians, with their political claims to a higher power
Might spend ten days with you and your likeness
Maybe they’d learn to see Christ in your faces
Or maybe they’re too full of their own Christ given graces
Jesus, here we are your children dying
And we talk about your saving and your sanctifying
Love falls so short of its destination
We go to church and praise this nation
We go to work and praise a God who’s saved us from the hell that we’re creating
But child, so beautiful, you just smile at my gyrating
Laugh at the anger I’m generating
And remind me I’m not better than those of us who did this to you
If I speak in liberal tongues of hate and from my place of “consciousness” spew
Pretentious rhymes about the state of the world that convict the complicit crew--
God there are some bastards out there, but you want them to be human too.
And as I hold your beautiful head in my hand
And think about the beauty in the souls in my land
I dare to dream, like the idealistic fool that I am,
That maybe, one day, we will bring forth God’s kingdom for every child
For now, I’ll glimpse God’s kingdom in your smile, and live my life to feed us both.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reflections: GBCS Fall Meeting, Part II

More reflections from my fall General Board of Church and Society meeting:

I mentioned in my last post that we have several new board members. One new member presided at our opening worship at communion celebrant. As she was giving the invitation she said something like "it's not the size of the meal that matters, it is the number of people you can gather around the table." Well said. The whole opening worship centered on the death penalty and our historic United Methodist opposition to the death penalty. We had a list in our bulletins of all the names of those who had been executed since the 1970s, and we prayed for them, their families, their victims' families, etc. It was pretty powerful.

Later Jim Winkler gave his General Secretary's report. A few excerpts:
Did you know that GBCS' roots come from 1) "the old Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals established by the 1912 General Conference to work for alcohol prohibition, the suppression of salacious literature, and against gambling and prize-fighting among other matters." I wonder what was considered "salacious literature"?! 2) "The 1908 Social Creed which highlighted justice for labor. The original Social Creed called for conciliation and arbitration in industrial disputes, a living wage, an end to child labor, and one day a week to observe the Lord's Sabbath. The 1952 General Conference established a Board of Social and Economic Relations" and 3) "The 1924 General Conference, reacting to the horrific slaughter of World War I in which 116,000 U.S. soldiers and some nine million Europeans perished, created the Commission on World Peace . . . "War is a horrid reproach to the Christian name - yea, to the name of man, to all reason and humanity," said Wesley. "So long as this monster stalks uncontrolled, where is reason, virtue, humanity? They are utterly excluded." - these three areas of consideration eventually all came together in the General Board of Church and Society. Today, you can see these streams in our four major work areas: Environmental and Economic Justice (which I serve on), Peace with Justice, Human Welfare, and Alcohol and Other Addictions.

Jim also talked about a variety of events sponsored in some way by GBCS, including and event in the Democratic Republic of Congo which helped train citizens preparing to participate in the first national elections since civil war. What to look for in a good candidate? "The president of the United Methodist Men, Stanislaus Kasongo Ka Swedi, highlighted the criteria and qualities that make a good candidate as one who shall bring blessing to the nation and who fears God."

Now that we are drawing closer to General Conference 2008, more of our work includes working on resolutions to General Conference - revising old resolutions, updating them, suggesting deletion for some that are no longer relevant or timely, and suggesting some new ones. Sometimes this shift in our work makes for a more tense atmosphere (at least I felt it did last quadrennium), but I was gladly surprised that we seemed to be working in a more collegial way this time around. Naturally, we disagreed still on some proposed resolutions. But I felt like the process moved quickly (We didn't even use up all of ourallottedd "for" and "against" speeches on some more controversial votes! That's saying something!) and that people seemed respectful and caring to one another when speaking. There is hope for us yet.

In my work area, I did jot down an interesting fact. Our legislative priority in the economic justice area this year is working to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn't increased since 1997. In that decade, Congress has voted for themselves $31,000 in pay increases. This increase would be about 2 years salary for a person working full time at the current federal minimum wage.

Mark your calendars: GBCS is holding a big event, "Living Faith, Seeking Justice," in Fort Worth, November 2007. A couple featured speakers of note: Adam Hamilton and Shane Claiborne. (Many others too.)

Alright - probably one more set of reflections to come. More on worship services, IRD/UMAction's strange absence from our meeting, etc...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reflections: General Board of Church and Society Fall Meeting

I’ve been away from blogging this week, spending time in Washington, DC at my biannual meeting of the General Board of Church and Society.

This gathering also marked the first meeting of the Task Force on the Book of Resolutions, which I chair, and which I asked for your input on last spring. I was pretty anxious going into the meeting. I’ve ‘run’ many meetings now, since becoming a pastor, and these usually don’t worry me. And I also chair the Communications Committee here at GBCS. But I’ve never had to set the entire agenda, collect all the advance content-information, and generally set the course for the work of the committee. On Communications, for instance, the agenda is pretty ‘regular’ and typical. We have a clear task. But with this Task Force, we’re addressing a pretty open-ended question:

Establish an interagency task force convened by the General Board of Church and Society to examine The Book of Resolutions with specific reference to its content, including but not limited to questions of form and length in order to provide a more creative and useful resource for the Church. The task force will report its recommendations to the next General Conference in 2008. Costs will be included in budgets of the participating agencies.

So, I was nervous. I was worried that my agenda, vague and non-specific, would only give us two hours worth of things to do instead of the schedule eight, or that my task force members would rebel against my proposed plans, or that they would brainstorm too fast or run out of ideas too quickly. Of course, being a gathering of good United Methodists, there was no such shortage of ideas or conversation. I felt a great sense of relief when the day was done.

We generated some good ideas about the Book of Resolutions. We moved our conversation to focus in on four areas: The Submission Process, Content, Publishing/Marketing/Education, and Versions/Format.

Some sub topics:
Submission Process – Who can submit resolutions? Should there be a length limit? Can agencies submitting resolutions collaborate together on proposals before submission? Is the submission deadline fair and workable?
Content – Are resolutions too US-centric? Are all resolutions the same? Can we develop resolutions that are “policies” and resolutions that support “policies”? Is there a third category of petitions – items for General Conference action that do not need to be published resolutions?
Publishing/Marketing/Education – What are copyright issues and concerns? How do seminaries teach the Book of Resolutions (do they teach it)? Should the Book be free in some formats? What is the current distribution of the BoR? (Answer: around 20,000 copies. Perspective: There are almost 40,000 clergy persons in the UMC. Hmmm.)
Versions/Format – How is the BoR currently available? How do we make it more available? What is online access like? How can the print version be made friendlier?
Just a start, and we worked on generating possible answers to these questions, but I’m glad to be started on this project and moving ahead. Still, your thoughts and input are welcome.

I’ll be writing more about the meeting in the next few days, but I also wanted to make note that we welcomed several new board members at this meeting, replacing members who had to resign for a variety of reasons – school commitments, moving out of conference boundaries, etc. The new members seemed to jump right into the thick of things and add to our group. I was particularly delighted to meet Rev. Tracy Smith Malone, who I roomed with this time. She’s an elder from Northern Illinois AC, an African-American woman, a young clergywoman serving as a senior pastor in a fairly large mostly white congregation. Dynamic preacher, but I’ll say more about that next post.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Church Websites

We're about to redesign our church website, and give it a major overhaul.

I know what makes a bad website, but what makes a good church website? What's your favorite one? What features do you look for? What features seem cool but never actually get used? I'd love your thoughts.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

from jockeystreet: God's Ego

My brother has an excellent post up, "God's Ego."

An excerpt:
"And so I've often wondered why, if I, a pretty flawed individual with a fragile self-esteem, can handle that sort of thing, so many believers insist that God can't. Why is it that we want to attribute to God an ego so fragile that it can't tolerate well-meaning believers getting a few facts wrong? Why is it that we believe that God's self-worth is so conditional that mixing up some of the biographical information is a sure way to earn his wrath?

Working on the assumption that God is smarter than us . . . and just all around better than us, I'd have to assume that, when it comes to the details, he'd be willing to let a few things slide . . .

Why, when it comes to God, do so many people want to convince me that what matters isn't the desire you have to grow closer, isn't the effort you make to conform to his will, isn't the openness you have to faith and love, isn't the compassion you feel for his people, but is, rather, your ability to call him by the proper name, your assent to certain historical details as fact and others as fiction.

I don't get it."

The rest is good too. My brother makes a pretty good theologian. Go read.

Churches and McMansions

Jay Voorhees at Only Wonder writes (of his recent trip to Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City): "I did get to make the pilgrimage to Church of the Resurrection (or as I like to call it, the MethoMall) to touch base on the schedule and figure out how far it was from the hotel. It would be interesting to do a doctoral thesis on which came first, the church or the high rent community that surrounds it. Don’t get me wrong, for I am not saying that COR is doing anything wrong — in fact they are doing a bunch of things right. But it does confirm my thesis that United Methodist church plants are much more likely to succeed if they are planted in booming bedroom communities filled with McMansions. What we’ve been unable to figure out is how to succeed at being missional in more working or lower income communities, and especially communities of transition."

I thought Jay raised an interesting concern. Do any of you know of growing ministries/missional communities that are thriving in working/lower income communities? I, like Jay, agree that COR is doing many cool things - this isn't an either/or question. But he's raising an intriguing question. My location in Central NY is an interesting blend of bedroom communities and rural/farming/worker communities all very close together and sharing worship spaces together.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Membership Books

Anyone have thoughts on how to get UMC membership books back into order from a state of general chaos? My secretary and I have been kinda sorta working on this for three years now, and I need a better strategy. There has been no chronological roll kept. If I want to start one, where do I start? Do I include in the chronological roll members who have died? We don't have family cards. We don't have a preparatory membership list. Chaos! Add to this the fact that our oldest membership book is in German (St. Paul's was an Evangelical United Brethren Church once upon a time, and was very German), and you get an idea of the mess we are in. Help appreciated!!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar - The Farewell Tour

Tuesday night I had the great pleasure of going to see Jesus Christ Superstar, the so-called "Farewell Tour," starring Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar. (Check out this youtube clip of Neeley singing his trademark "Gethsemane" on The Tonight Show)

Neeley is now in his early sixties - he's no longer the young 30 year old that starred in the 1973 movie. And he has aged since I saw him touring in the production in 1992 and 1996. But it was still just so awesome to see him perform - his age was very low on a list of concerns! I went to see the production with my little brother, a birthday present from me to him that was as much for me, and in the overture when Jesus first appears, I glanced excitedly over to Todd and leaned forward in my seat in anticipation. As soon as Neeley appeared, the audience went crazy with applause, before he ever even sung a note. And then again when he first sang. And then again with his "Gethsemane" - still hitting the high notes in rockin' style. And then of course for the curtain call, a standing ovation.

As I mentioned recently, I had the pleasure when I was in junior high of meeting Ted Neeley. This was in the height of my JCS obsession, when I would actually wear only Superstar t-shirts for about a month preceding my annual trip to see an area production. He was extremely warm and gracious and stayed to chat, meet, and sign autographs for everyone who was in line. (The cast in general had stayed around, all were very kind.) Check out these reviews here, which also paint a picture of Neeley as a generally nice guy and humble performer. My only disappointment was that Carl Anderson was supposed to perform as Judas, but his understudy was onstage when I saw it, and I never did get to see Anderson perform live in the role.

Anyway, back to the show. Corey Glover, lead singer of Living Colour, played Judas Iscariot. His voice was fabulous, and his final number, "Jesus Christ Superstar" was great. But the rest of the time I didn't really like the way the character portrayed. I thought the blocking was boring - all this fabulous energetic movement, and Judas seems wimpy, head hung, shoulders hunched, and isn't moving anywhere. I can only imagine this is how Glover was directed (at least in terms of where to move when) but I would have liked to see a bolder, stronger Judas. It was cool to see Larry Alan Coke, a Syracuse native, in the role of Caiaphas. I can't imagine hitting such low notes. (And cool that Coke signed my blog a while back!) The rest of the ensemble, the chorus - they were great. The chorus was clear, had great harmony, and sounded much bigger than their number.

The lighting and 'special effects' were also fabulous. Great use was made of hangings to change the scene in the center of stage. Most effective was the staging of "The Temple" - the second part of the number where Jesus is healing lepers. This production portrays the lepers as a mass of people all crying for Jesus to be healed - in his mind - as he is struggling with fatigue in his ministry and uncertainty/worry about the future. I thought this was the best staging of the scene I've encountered so far - made it stand out in a totally new way.

Also curious - a few lyric changes here and there. Not sure why/for what purpose, but for someone singing along (mostly silently!) in her seat, they stuck out.

Check out tour dates here - the show is traveling around the country for a year or so, and making stops in many locales!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Shocking study from cnn.com: Too much testosterone kills brain cells

I just couldn't help linking to this cnn.com article, "Too Much Testosterone Kills Brain Cells."

Excerpt:
"Too much testosterone can kill brain cells, researchers say, in a finding that may help explain why steroid abuse can cause behavior changes such as aggressiveness and suicidal tendencies.
Tests on brain cells in lab dishes showed that while a little of the male hormone is good, too much of it causes cells to self-destruct in a process similar to that seen in brain illnesses such as Alzheimer's.


[Barbara] Ehrlich's team [who led the Yale University study] tried the same thing with the "female" hormone estrogen, just to be fair.
"We were surprised, but it actually looks like estrogen is neuroprotective. If anything, there is less cell death in the presence of estrogen," she said.


"Next time a muscle-bound guy in a sports car cuts you off on the highway, don't get mad -- just take a deep breath and realize that it might not be his fault," Ehrlich said in a statement."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Points to Ponder

  • MyHeritage offers a fun tool - "Find the Celebrity in You" - upload a picture of yourself (or someone else) and it will match the image to celebrities with similar facial features. No doubt the only time I will ever be compared to Drew Barrymore in my life.
  • My brother pointed out a site/online community called Zaadz. Zaadz is a myspace-type community with a twist, aimed at progressive/spiritual/conscientious types. Zaadz, from the Dutch word 'seed' says their mission is to "change the world. Our math goes like this: you be the change + you follow your bliss + you give your greatest strengths to the world moment to moment to moment + we do everything in our power to help you succeed + you inspire and empower everyone you know to do the same + we team up with millions like us = we just affected billions = we (together) changed the world." Their purpose/method? "Ours involves Conscious Capitalism infused with Spirituality and a healthy dose of Enthusiasm, Love, Service, Inspiration, Passion, Humor and Teamwork. People CRAZY enough to think they can change the world, Courageous enough to do something about it, AND Committed enough to stick to it when they feel like giving up." Not sure what to think yet, but the idea seems intriguing and I'm trying it out, so if you decide to as well, look me up here.
  • I thought I lost one of my cats today. My two-year-old cat Ella was missing for six-plus hours today. I looked (I thought) everywhere for her, and was completely ready to blame/kill my youngest brother for letting her outside. I made flyers to hang, put food out front to lure her home, searched (with my brother) all over the house, and no luck. I checked cupboards and closets - she's small and likes to curl up in places, explore, hide, etc. Grayer, my three-year-old cat was agitated and confused, looking for Ella and meowing. I went to meetings at church tonight in a despondent mood, and begged sympathy (readily given) from my parishioners. When I came home, I opened my bedroom door (where I had searched many times earlier in the day) and out she came. I have no idea where in the room she could have been that I didn't look. Phew. Much ado about nothing I guess!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

State of the Church

Update: Chuck Niedringhaus from UMCom commented to say: "Please check the survey again. An age category for 12 to 17 year olds was added last week. Members of the Connectional Table noticed the error and authorized a change." Thanks, Chuck, for stopping by! Of course, Natalie also commented that she was confirmed at age 11 (I was confirmed before I was 12 as well.) But I'm glad the change was made to the survey.

Recently the UMC has been conducting a survey to establish the "State of the Church." I saw the link in a UMNS article. Natalie, who blogs at Take My Hand, found the link at umc.org. Natalie is a high-school student, and noted, in taking the survey,

"Here's the kicker, though. At the very end of the survey the question "What age group do you fall into?" was posed. The age group options only began at 18. So, apparently while I am being discussed in this survey I am not included in participating. And I thought I was a member of the UMC? Wasn't I confirmed as a "full and responsible member of Christ's Holy church"? Didn't I pledge to "be loyal to the United Methodist Church..."?
Those of us who are members of the UMC and under the age of 18 aren't included in our denomination's survey to gather 'State of the church' statistics. And folks wonder why we young people aren't "present" ... I think this sort of illustrates a larger point: Young people won't (always) be involved in the church if there isn't a place for them. They'll find that place somewhere else."


I think she's right on. I didn't find the questions particularly helpful myself. I didn't notice the lack of an under 18 box. I was just too busy worrying that the box I checked is getting farther down the list these days ;). But I did think that the questions in general weren't ones I would ask to help me determine the state of the church.

So...what would I ask? What would you ask? What would you generally want to know from folks to determine if the church is being the church? I'm not sure. I guess I would want to know something about how often folks actually attend their local church. I'd want to know if they felt the church impacted them outside of weekly worship, directly and/or indirectly. I'd want to know how the church nurtures disciples and makes disciples, and how the church serves members and the community. What is the presence of the church in the community? I'd want to know what kind of people attended the church - age, ethnicity, socio-economic class - and how this compared to the make-up of the place the church was. But all these things still seem superficial too. How do you really know the state of the church?

I'm reminded of the passage from Matthew 11 where John the Baptist asks if Jesus is the Messiah, or if he should be waiting for another:

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah the Christ was doing, he sent word by histwo of his disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers terms leper and leprosy can refer to several diseases are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

I guess we could say the state of the church is known by the fruit. But what fruit, exactly, are we looking for?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Metrospirituality?

I was going through a pile of papers the other day (one of many such piles around the house and office) and found a couple articles I'd torn out of the June 2006 issue of Health magazine.

The first is a short blurb titled "Read this . . . or the kitten dies." The article highlights a study reported in the Journal of Consumer Research which found that "an ad with a threat" or a message of guilt combined with a message of fear "inspires you to move from intending to act for your own good to actually doing something." So, the study found, an anti-drug message that says "Smoking pot may not kill you, but it will kill your mother" is more likely to deter drug use than one using "an educational or hopeful message." I thought that finding could have interesting correlations to what kind of messages we use in the life of the church. Guilt and fear are more persuasive than education and hope!! Ok, I'm not seriously advocating we use a guilt/fear tactic, but it helps me understand why people are motivated, I guess.

The other, longer article is about metrospirituality. You've no doubt heard the term metrosexual in the past few years. But what is a metrospiritual? Health quotes beliefnet.com as saying "metrospirituals blend hippie values with hipster chic. These trendy women and men combine respect for the environment and other cultures with savvy shopping skills and serious style . . . From charity walks to organic wine, metrospirituals have pure intentions - and deep pockets." James Twitchell, a Phd pop-culture expert from University of Florida, explains that "for metrospirituals, the sensation associated with buying for-a-cause goods can be similar to the feeling of rapture others seek at church." The article then includes, of course, a quick quiz to determine if you are a "maxi metro," a "midi metro," or a "mini metro."

The article may seem a little frivolous, but I think it actually says something interesting about where spirituality is today for many people. I think the article rightly indicates that people want, at least, to believe that they are spiritual, in whatever ways they can make that happen. I hate the often-used now phrase "spiritual but not religious," that many use to describe themselves, but even if I don't like it, many people really do feel that this phrase describes them. I dislike it because it just sounds wishy-washy to me. (Yes, even liberals think some things are wishy-washy sounding.) But I know that many people find the institution of the church so irrelevant to them, but yet desire a spiritual life.

The question, the challenge, is how does an institutional church respond? The answer, so far, is apparently: not very well.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Brushes with Greatness: RevGals Friday Five - on Saturday

From RevGals:

"In the coming days, I'll be meeting my creative/artistic role model--a singer-songwriter who has been a part of my spiritual journey for some 10 years now. I'm psyched!David Letterman used to have a feature on his show called "Brushes with Greatness." Members of the audience would share stories of encounters with famous people. And so..."

1. Tell us about a time you met someone famous.
Hmm. The best was meeting Ted Neeley (who I will be seeing again very soon!!) when I was in high-school and he was doing a touring production of my favorites, Jesus Christ Superstar. I actually waited at the stage door after the show with a small group of fans and we got to go into the theatre and meet and get autographs. He was very warm and friendly, I thought. In seminary, while I was fortunate enough to have work-study jobs at two professional theatres - The Playwright's Theatre of New Jersey and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, I got to 'meet' several, or at least serve them at the bar/concession stand/opening night party: Jay O. Sanders, Dana and Christopher Reeve, Peter Parros, Tamara Tunie, Robert Cuccioli, Jared Zeus. But this is hardly as cool as my little brother/actor Todd, who actually has acted in the same company with some of these people!

2. Tell us about a celebrity you'd like to meet.
No one in particular. Maybe musician Tracy Chapman.

3. Tell us about someone great who's *not* famous that you think everyone oughta have a chance to meet.
My mom, and my late grandfather, both people who everyone loves. My mom has always been the mom that other kids call mom too. I've never called anyone else's mom mom, so I assume it must be that my mom is extra cool. Ditto my grandpa.

4. Do you have any autographs of famous people?
See #1 - Ted Neeley.

5. If you were to become famous, what would you want to become famous for?
I've talked about this at length with my little brother, and told him when he gets famous I would like to be the spiritual guide for all the big stars ;). Either that, or a famous tap dancer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What I Remember

I thought about posting this yesterday, (ok, technically two days ago now), and just ran out of time. No real 'point' to it, but just a day when people share their stories about where they were, I guess.

In September 2001, I was a second-year student at Drew Theological School in Madison, NJ. I was just starting my supervised ministry position, which was working as an intern at the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns (GCCUIC). I had been there two days (I worked on Mondays and Fridays, so I was in on September 7th and September 10th), and my supervisors were out of town at a board meeting, so I didn't yet have a clue what I was doing. I remember feeling just proud that I had managed the commute to work - a Njtransit train to Manhattan, a subway uptown to the Columbia University area, and a walk from the station to the so-called "God Box."

On September 11th, I slept in past 9am for sure. After my first year of seminary, I never had classes before lunch - not even by design, just by how the courses were offered. I got up and went to the bookstore for something, and the radio was on, and I heard something about a plane crash, but frankly, didn't think a lot about it. I went to the library, and tried to logon to cnn.com and couldn't get to the page, but again, didn't think much about it. As I was checking a book out, I overheard a librarian tell a work-study student that it was ok if he didn't feel up to working that day.

I wandered over to Seminary Hall. And then people began to ask if others had heard the news. Chapel was at 11am. It was scheduled to be a certain kind of service, but changed into a prayer service. The secretary gave us reports of what she knew so far. Word, at that time, was still that other planes might be missing and heading for other targets. By the end of the service, she had let us know that both towers had crumbled.

After chapel, I called my mother at work and started sobbing. I posted an away message on my AIM letting folks know that it wasn't one of my work days, for which I'm still grateful. I can't imagine having been in Manhattan, even way up far away from the Towers, and not being able to get through to people who were worrying about me, and trying to figure out how to get back to New Jersey. It was just so overwhelming. In the afternoon their was a campus-wide vigil/service. I went, but couldn't quite bring my self to sing in the choir, as I usually would.

I skipped going to work on the following Friday. My bosses were still mostly out of town, and didn't mind giving me another day off. When I returned to work on the following Monday, all my previous confidence of working in the city was gone. I was totally stressed out on every trip to and from the city for most of the semester, I bet. (Especially later on when we sat on a train for over an hour waiting for bio-hazard people to come check out a suspicious powder in the midst of the anthrax scare days. It was powder sugar remnants from a doughnut.)

My work at GCCUIC ended up focusing very much on Christian-Muslim relations, for obvious reasons. I'll never know what I might have done all year there had circumstances been different. Drew, being just a 45 minute train ride from Manhattan, was tied in lots of ways to the tragedy. Lots of students commuting to and from the city for some reason or other, and faculty. And of course, eventually Tom Kean, then-president of Drew, ended up chairing the 9/11 commission.

Has 9/11 changed me? Josh Tinley wrote about how his life has changed in 5 years, but maybe not because of 9/11. For me, I think 9/11 and the world events that followed propelled me to get involved in social justice activism in a really hands on way for the first time. But I think I might have ended up in a similar place under different circumstances. I think it certainly added a layer of anxiety to my life that wasn't there before. More anxiety about the world in general. I was still in elementary school in 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the event didn't merit much more than a passing comment in my diary. It didn't touch me. So an event like this - I think it was maybe the first to touch me in a deeper way.