Friday, June 29, 2007

RevGals Friday Five

Playing this week's RevGals Friday Five:

1. Personality tests; love them or hate them?
Love them if they're just for me, hate them if someone else is using them to find out about me, like, say, the Board of Ordained Ministry. When I took my psychological assessment for the ordination process, my results showed that I had a very high degree of defensiveness toward psychological testing. Of course, I could have told them that without the test - except, I wouldn't, because of my high degree of defensiveness! ;)

2. Would you describe yourself as practical, creative, intellectual or a mixture ?
Intellectual primarily, then practical, and occasionally creative. I have some close friends who always amaze me with their creativity - in worship, in visual arts, whatever. I think I can be creative, but I really admire people who just ooze creativity.

3. It is said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame; have you had yours yet? If so what was it, if not dream away what would you like it to be?
Not yet, though walking into a room full of Methobloggers who said "It's Beth Quick!" did make me feel pretty famous. I keep telling my actor brother Todd that when he makes it big I want to be the spiritual advisor to the stars....

4. If you were given a 2 year sabbatical (oh the dream of it) to create something would it be music, literature, art.....something completely different...share your dream with us...
To create something? I think I would take lots of dance classes and try to create myself into a dancer!

5. Describe a talent you would like to develop, but that seems completely beyond you.
See #4. I'm getting better at tap dancing, at least, though being in a cast puts a serious damper on my progress.

Bonus question: Back to the church- what does every member ministry mean to you? Is it truly possible to encourage/ implement?
I think it is completely possible and necessary to implement every member ministry. My mother instilled in all of us a strong sense that each one is called by God, and we just have to figure out what that calling in. And I always believe what my mother tells me!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Month of Sundays

Found via peaceable kin-dom is this interesting article from a Seattle newspaper, The Stranger, where a group of atheist/agnostic writers visit thirty faith communities (mostly churches) in Seattle and give short, funny, irreverent, eye-opening, sometimes thoughtful reflections on their experiences. Most of them don't seem open to finding meaning in the services, which isn't surprising given the nature of the assignment, but some of the reflections show that the experiences were at least thought provoking.

What would someone who was an atheist or agnostic write about attending worship at your church? I'm sure they would find some things to be quirky at St. Paul's, but hopefully they'd also find people to be genuine and friendly. The reflections are particularly harsh on 'contemporary Christian music' in worship, which may or may not surprise you, and generally the responses reflect a great fear of being singled out as a visitor - something to think about. (Have you ever been singled out as a visitor in worship before? I've had this happen, and usually am extremely embarrassed. I may stand up in front a lot, but I'm an introvert!) Anyway, interesting reading.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Review: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder, a collection of essays she put together somewhat as a response to September 11. I've mentioned before that Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. I've read almost everything by her, and she's just fantastic. She writes non-fiction in such a narrative, story-telling style that I think she could make any topic interesting.

I've been working on this book for a while. Since it contains short essays, I've been able to read one and put the book down for a while, then come back and read the next. But given my current less-mobile condition, I've been catching up on my reading time, and flew threw the last few essays.

  • The first essay is "Small Wonder," and Kingsolver tells the (true) story of a toddler that wandered off from his home in a small village in Iran and was found later, safe, in a bear's den, with the bear curled protectively around the child. Apparently, the bear had actually been nursing the baby. She calls it "an impossible act of grace." (5) She writes about hoping/insisting that the world is more complicated than a simple divide of good and evil, where we decide that everything has to be one or the other. "The changes we dread most may contain our salvation." (9) - A good line for the church, right? She writes, "It used to be, on many days, that I could close my eyes and sense myself to be perfectly happy. I have wondered lately if that feeling will ever come back . . . However much I've lost, what remains to me is that I can still speak to name the things I love." (19)
  • In "Saying Grace" Kingsolver writes, "In this moment . . . our country [is demanding] that we dedicate ourselves and our resources, again and again, to what we call the defense of our way of life: How greedy can one person be? How much do we need to feel blessed, sated, and permanently safe?"
  • In "A Fist in the Eye of God," she writes about watching a hummingbird building her nest, the intricate process of such a tiny, beautiful bird. Reflecting on this, she talks about evolution, saying that looking at creation changing over time is "a church service to end all." She continues, "I have never understood how anyone could have the slightest trouble blending religious awe with a full comprehension of the workings of life's creation." (95) Indeed. In this essay she also talks about seed banks and genetically modified organism and why they're a bad idea. I found this essay extremely helpful - I've never really understood the issue (or really tried to understand it) and she is clear, concise, and convincing in her reasoning.
  • In "Lily's Chickens," Kingsolver writes a lot about food and where we get our food and how where we get our food can be so harmful to our earth, being one area where US citizens use huge amounts of resources beyond our fair share. Being a vegetarian, this is an area where I am certainly already in agreement with Kingsolver, but she challenges me (even though she isn't a vegetarian). She stresses the importance of eating locally grown food, pointing out the costs of transporting food around the world for our convenience ("Transporting 5 calories' worth of strawberry from California to New York costs 435 calories of fossil fuel." (114) and "The average food item set before a U.S. consumer traveled 1,300 miles to get there." (123)), and makes me want to pay more attention (and plant a garden next summer.)
  • "The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don't Let Him In" talks about TV and how it effects what we think. She talks about how powerful images are, and how much they sway us over our other senses. "[I] wonder why things are televised at all. If our aim is to elect candidates on the basis of their stature, clothing, and facial expressiveness, then fine, we should look at them. But if our intention is to evaluate their ideas, we should probably just listen and not look. Give us one good gander and we'll end up electing cheerleaders instead of careful thinkers. In a modern election, Franklin D. Roosevelt in his wheelchair wouldn't have a prayer - not to mention the homely but honest Abe Lincoln." (139)
  • She includes a fabulous pair of essays - "Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen" and "Letter to My Mother," both of which had me in tears. (I can only imagine Kingsolver's mother reading this essay, and feeling quite the gamut of emotions - a full heart in response to such a talented daughter!)
  • "Household Words" is about homelessness and the ridiculous problem of homelessness in a country that has so, so much. "How does the rest of the world keep a straight face when we go riding into it on our latest white horse of Operation-this-or-that-kind-of-Justice, and everyone can see perfectly well how we behave at home? Home is where all justice begins." (201)
  • She writes about writing, writing poetry (and how we don't really read poetry anymore, or appreciate it) and how hard it is for writers to get started in a day when independent bookstores have no place anymore. And about how hard and strange it was for her to include a full-fledged sex scene in one of her novels.
  • "God's Wife's Measuring Spoons" is the closing essay. She writes, "Every time I read an argument justifying further oil drilling in sensitive places, I notice that it begins with the caveat, 'Unless Americans are willing to accept a drastic lifestyle change.' As if that were the one thing that could never happen." (262) We do live like that, don't we? And talk like that - like we can't possibly change.

A fabulous book. Fabulous author. Other essays included too, but I don't want to keep you from reading the book by making this a never-ending post!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Extreme Church: Extreme Expectations

When I was elected to General and Jurisdictional Conference, one of the things I received even before I left Annual Conference was a handout on delegate reflection/preparation, which I thought was a nice idea.

Apparently, the theme of the 2008 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference is Extreme Church: Extreme Expectations. The scripture focus is Ephesians 3:17-20, from Eugene Peterson's The Message version:

"Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."

The handout gives some questions for reflection:

How have you experience God in the extreme - for yourself? In your church?

What might it mean for the UMC to "reach out and experience the breadth," "test the length," "plumb the depths," "rise to the heights" of Christ's love?

What might it mean for individuals and for the Church to believe fully that God can indeed do anything? What would we entrust to God if that were true? How might our listening for God and to God change?

How will we as delegates be open to the Spirit working "deeply and gently within us?" How in particular will we invite God's Spirit to be at work in our preparation and in our Conferencing?

What will we do, both before Conference and during Conference, to "plant our feet firmly on love?"

I like that the worship team (creators of the document) are really trying to encourage some reflection and deep thinking before the event. Of course, too often, General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference is completely wrapped up in taking sides, winning, and making sure your point wins in every issue, and that your candidate gets through for everything - Judicial Council, boards and agencies, Bishop, you name it. Even still, and even though I am typically skeptical and sarcastic about so many things in life, I refuse to throw in the towel and give up hope for these major conferencing events in the denomination. I was certainly wide-eyed and innocent to how bad it could be when I went to General Conference 2000 - I certainly don't have that ignorance anymore. But I'm still hopeful for the church. If we don't have any hope for the church than we really might as well just throw in the towel and not bother pretending.

Can the church change? Or perhaps we're asking can the church still be/start being the church again? Can the church survive? Is there hope? I don't think these questions are over-dramatic. I think the church is having an identity crisis, because lots of people are trying to define what the church is and what the church is about. Is the church about the same good news that Jesus was trying to share in the first century? I hope so. I wish so. I hear these questions for reflection asking about risk-taking. We've stopped being willing to take risks as a church. We can still "plant our feet firmly on love" while taking risks as the body of Christ.

Do you have hope for the church? What is your hope?


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Earmarking

I just read this article: "Interns Chase Congressional Pork" on Cnn.com's Anderson Cooper 360° blog - about congressional earmarks and transparency of requests for earmarked funds. The article talks about the difficulty in getting members of Congress to own up to what they are requesting, and includes a link so that you can see if your representatives were willing to share their requests or not. (Mine (Arcuri, D-NY and McHugh, R-NY) have not responded.)

The results so far?
  • 45 have turned over their requests.
  • 68 flat out refused.
  • 6 told us they did not request any earmarks.
  • But the majority, 316, never responded.

Has your representative responded? What did they request?

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Cast: Day 5 of 42ish...hopefully...

Things I've learned in the first five days of being in my lovely bright orange cast:

- Using crutches is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be.
- My cat is scared of my crutches, but only when they are in use by me.
- Capri pants are my friend.
- I can still hold my nephew and my godson even with my cast, only it is trickier with my godson, since he just turned one, and moves, now, a lot faster than me.
- My church's hallways are longer than I thought they were.
- I have a whole new perspective on what it means to call something 'handicap accessible'. My church is accessible on each floor, though we have no elevator. But there is access from outside to each level, accessible bathrooms, etc. However, I've borrowed a wheelchair to use for getting around at church, and discovered glitches already - for example, our front doors don't unlock from the outside. You have to unlock the door by the office, and then unlock the main sanctuary doors from the inside. Problem: the door by the office is not accessible - it is two steps up. Hm. Also, the side aisles in the sanctuary are wide enough for a wheelchair, but just. How you get down the aisle without scraping your knuckles is a mystery to me. And this is something I will only be forced to think about for a very few weeks. Eye-opening.
- My mom is a life-saver. She's stayed at my house for the first few days. I hate having to be waited on, especially by my mom, since she's already racked up enough of waiting on her four kids her whole life, and it should now be her turn to be waited on, but I would have been in deep trouble without her here for these first few days. How does one pour a bowl of cereal and eat it in a different room from the kitchen with crutches? Answer: ask Mom for a bowl of cereal. She'll bring it to you. She went back home tonight for the first night and within 30 minutes of her leaving, I fell. I was trying to move from the crutches to the wheelchair so I could have my hands free, and before I even tried to sit down in the chair, I lost my balance and fell right over. Ouch! I think everything is OK, but of course, I called my mom for her advice. (Besides being a mom, she's a nurse, which is also handy.)
- My colleague Betsye Mowry, who is pastor at the other UMC in Oneida, called on me today. I think it was my first experience of being on the other side of a pastoral call. (I've had surgery twice before, at ages 12 and 17, but I wouldn't even let my mom but my name on the prayer list either of those times. Ironically, I'm very private usually about all that. A pastor's nightmare parishioner, right?) It was nice. Betsye is a neat person, and she's remembered exactly when my surgery was going to be since I told her about a month and a half ago.
- I promise not to blog *solely* about my cast for the rest of the summer ;)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Celebrating Graduates...

Next Sunday, like many churches will sometime this month, we are celebrating our graduates at St. Paul's. Since I am down and out with my cast, I am suddenly looking for ways to include the graduates more in the service than we might usually - as in include them in more hands-on ways.

In my church growing up, we gave out scholarships, and had a special breakfast, and gave graduates a chance to say what their future plans were during worship. The sermon usually was specially-focused as a message to the graduates that applied to the whole congregation too. There, and at St. Paul's, graduates have been included as readers of scripture, or ushers, etc., on the day of celebration.

How do you celebrate graduates at your church? How do the graduates participate? Do you have any ideas to include graduates more fully in the service? Any resources I might check out?

Friday, June 15, 2007

RevGals Friday Five

Just for fun today, I'm playing the RevGals Friday Five, this week on books:


1. Fiction what kind, detective novels, historical stuff, thrillers, romance????
I love the classics - Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, plus I love C.S. Lewis' Chronicle of Narnia, Barbara Kingsolver's books, and of course, Harry Potter.


2. When you get a really good book do you read it all in one chunk or savour it slowly?
For really really good books, I tend to get through them as fast as I can. But some books, even good, are just too dense. I don't usually intentionally savor them, it just happens sometimes!


3. Is there a book you keep returning to and why?
Oh, I have quite a few I regularly reread (which my brother doesn't understand). Louisa May Alcott books - they always inspire me for a simpler way of life, and they remind me of the holidays, so I usually read them around Christmas. I reread Jane Austen novels because of the good romance - who couldn't use a little more Mr. Darcy? Ditto Bridget Jones' Diary and Mark Darcy. I reread The Chronicles of Narnia fairly regularly - for fun. And Harry Potter - to remember what happened in preparation for the next book in the series!


4. Apart from the Bible which non-fiction book has influenced you the most?
Maybe The Working Poor by David Shipley. But I'm not sure.


5. Describe a perfect place to read. ( could be anywhere!!!)
In bed on a cold and rainy day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What I'm Doing on My Summer Vacation...

You might remember me writing a while back about discovering I had broken my ankle months before. Today was the big day - surgery to re-break the bones and get screws in, etc., technically, an osteotomy and something with the word 'drilling' in the description.

The surgeon chose a lovely florescent orange cast for me. Why? I don't know. It doesn't really match my stylish red toenail polish, does it?

My mother is staying with me for a couple days, pampering me ridiculously. I'm very spoiled! She even made me homemade Mac & Cheese.

Anyway, the surgery went really well, and I'm feeling pretty good, although still rather groggy. I'm not looking forward to spending a hot July in the cast, but what can you do? Thankfully, this Sunday is children's Sunday at church, so I have minimal responsibilities....

In the meantime, I'm checking out reviews of this waterproof cast cover. (I'm in denial about not being able to get in the pool all summer.) Anyone ever tried one?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Grace Imathiu, Sweet Honey in the Rock

The last preacher at the Festival of Homiletics was Rev. Grace Imathiu, who, in my opinion, was the best preacher with the most moving message of the entire event. She didn't get a standing ovation, like many of the other preachers, and I'm not sure why, except that perhaps she had too many people in tears to be ready to stand up. Or maybe we were more moved by the content of her sermon, as opposed to being moved by the persona of the preacher, which is as it should be, right? Anyway, I can count on my hands the number of times I've been moved to tears by preaching, and this was one of them. (The other that immediately comes to mind is a time in seminary when a woman preached as part a chapel service sponsored by the Drew Hispanic Caucus - I can't remember her name. But I still remember exactly the image she was conveying and when I remember, it still makes me tear up. That is powerful preaching.)

Imathiu preached on Ezekiel 37:1-4, the passage about the Valley of the Dry Bones. I didn't take as many notes as with other preachers, but I remember more! Imathiu is a storyteller, and she immediately draws you in. She began with an African tale that she said was unrelated to her sermon - just a story she wanted to tell. Of course, by the end, the story tied right in after all. The story was about a monster whose name you could never speak. Eventually the monster swallows up everyone and everything except one child, who seeks to kill the monster. He finds many other animals, but never the monster. Finally, when he finds the monster, and kills it, everyone and everything is set free again. (That's missing a lot of details, but it is the gist.)

Imathiu asked, "How does a priest function when they are stripped of traditions, robes, when being a priest is more than just keeping the status quo?" talking about Ezekil. "A priest in exile is a priest without safety of liturgy, office, family, class. That priest is Ezekiel. Whenever there is a crisis in the life of a priest, there is the opportunity for God to break in and the priest to be transformed into a prophet. A prophet is one who is able to see life with the eyes of God, who can see further than the horizon right through to life eternal, one who puts on God’s eyes."

“Prophet school.” – for us that is a difficult appointment, an unsupportive family, etc.

"Can these bones live?" God asks. Ezekiel's response: I have no hopes for these bones. God asks us. We ask God. God says “Prophesy to these bones.” Ezekiel/We are armed only with words.

She old us the story about Helen Keller learning from Anne Sullivan - the breakthrough moment in her learning when Sullivan ran water from the pump over Helen's hand while fingerspelling w-a-t-e-r onto her palm. Suddenly, everything in the world had a name, and there was a world for her. Helen immediately exhausted Ann, asking for names for everything. Without language in her first six years, she could not order her experience.

Imathiu connected this to say it is like writing b-a-p-t-i-s-m over and over again until someone gets it. And getting, they ask relentless questions: What is this? What is this? Bread. Cup of salvation. Brother. Sister.

That’s what prophetic preaching is, she said. Being like Anne Sullivan to Helen Keller.

One day, the monster is brought down, and the world is let loose. Martin Luther King – it seemed he was preaching to a dead-end, but he made an opening.

"Do we speak words aloud? Or are we afraid of being swallowed up?" she concluded.

Ah, this summary doesn't do justice to this awesome preaching experience.

***

I also wanted to mention that on Wednesday at the Festival, we got to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock. I'd never heard them before - missed them when they came to OWU. They were fabulous - the music, the styles, the range, the content of the songs. Spectacular. Standout: Ysaye Barnwell. Actually, others too, had particularly excellent solos, but Barnwell's awesome range was so noticeable. I feel like I should write more about them, but the best thing I can say is: buy their music, or better yet, go here them live!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Can't Be Helped: More Pictures of My Nephew



OK - I can't help it. I have more pictures of my nephew, Sam, that just have to be shared because he's too cute.

(His onesie is from the Farm Sanctuary that my brother loves. And, by the way, my brother has an excellent post up with his initial thoughts on fatherhood. Makes me a little teary.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Bishop William Willimon

Next up on the busy Friday morning at the Festival was Bishop William Willimon – dubbing himself (jokingly) “our slice of red velvet cake.”

I read in preparation for ordination Willimon's Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry and Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry, and found them to be extremely helpful for clarifying my understanding of ordination.

When Willimon opened early with the statement, “The United Nations is one of the most boring organizations in the world," I thought we probably weren't going to get along. But things got better...

Here are some fairly unedited notes:
You ask God at the opening of worship to descend among us, and every now and then, God answers.

Prophetic speech comes with the descent of the Holy Spirit. Preaching can be transformational because God is. That's why we have the chairs bolted down in worship.

Sabbath – important during exile, keeping Israel fixed as Israel. By NT, Sabbath is an issue – Jesus is not keeping Sabbath holy. “It’s another Sabbath with Jesus.” Breaking commandment against it.

It is the nature of the Trinity to protrude, move, disrupt, dislodge, create friction between our ways and God’s ways. As clergy, we sometimes think it is our role to negotiate this space. “'I’m a pastor, I’m a reconciler of troubled waters.' Well great, try nursing or something. We’re working with a living God.”

Difference between a true God and a false God is that a true God can still shock you. An idol is just a projection of your own wants/needs/desires. Pastors lessen conflict? God provokes conflict.

God moving on from a place. I don’t know why God moves on from places. Painful. But God can’t be leased into our pet projects.

Trinity is a renewable resource for energy.

Proverbs – “like being on a long trip with your mother.” Proverbs – “this way is a better life than that life.” A lot of preaching today is in the wisdom mode – basically what you get is principles that are allegedly derived from scriptures to help you make it through the world. Just helpful principles. “Power-point preaching.” “3/4/5 Biblical principles to help you at work/in your marriage/etc.” “We don’t have any happy marriages in the Bible!” “I wish being a Christian were that easy . . .” I come to the Bible with my life projects and look for help with what I’m doing. Scripture may not be happy with my life as presently constituted. The gutsy willingness to let Jesus walk among the people. Not an encounter with principles, but with a person. A person who calls your name, calls you out, intrudes.

“Methodists aren’t going to do homework!”

Purpose Driven Life: “There. That’s easier than the Trinity.” “I have discovered the way that will help you keep Jesus white.”

We think preaching is about lessening the cognitive dissonance that exists between us and the gospel. That we’re to make the gospel receivable. That we can make people think “Huh, Jesus makes sense. I can use Jesus to get what I wanted before I confronted the gospel.” Jesus says to preachers, “would you get out of the way?”

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Bishop Vashti McKenzie

OK, back to the Festival reflections. I promise, only three or four more to go. I thought about combining posts, but these preachers were just too good not to get their own post in most cases! So hang in there with me.

Bishop Vashti Murphey McKenzie
preached on Friday morning. As an aside, let me just mention that I love the name Vashti. To me, naming your child Vashti means that you know she is going to stand up for who she is and what she believes.

The Bishop preached on Psalm 51, Hebrews (the 'by faith' text), in particular 11:7 – “By Faith Known.” She talked about the miners that had been trapped in PA. The rescuers were tapping on the pipes to communicate with those trapped. Those trapped were tapping – “Is their any hope?”

What is the answer tapped? The answer tapped to us is “What are you willing to believe God for?” “When [some hard situation occurs], what are you willing to believe God for?” “[Name a bible figure] wanted to believe God for [name a promise of God.]” “And God did it.” God deals with us on a need to know basis. We need faith to know how we’ll answer the question. You think you have it hard? I have a story for you. By faith [God did ______ for Bible figure].

Noah – they wanted to hear something different than what he was preaching. What do we do when God gives us something to preach and the people refuse to listen? God gave Noah a word to preach, and Noah believed it. Noah believed that things could get better, that God could really save them. Practice what you preach, not preach what people practice. Which are we doing? Do you believe [________]? Then leave here and preach it, by faith.

Take God at God’s word. Your natural eye will tell you it is really bad, but your spiritual eye will tell you God is working it out. Human participation of divine intervention.

Boat cometh after work cometh. One thing to build a boat, another thing to build a boat on dry land with no mist, no water, no clouds, etc. For 120 years! We're to be living on God’s timetable and not on ours, working until God works it out.

We need a “I’m ____, They’re _____, but God is ______” mentality. (Ok, that made a lot of sense in the context of her sermon, but less clear just reading this part of the notes. Hope you get an idea!)

The Bishop was an excellent and energetic preacher. To come: William Willimon, Grace Imathiu, and Sweet Honey in the Rock...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Annual Conference Reflections

I'm back from Annual Conference. I still have more Festival of Homiletics reflections to write, but I'll pause from those to talk about Annual Conference. Showing my United Methodist-nerdiness, I have to confess that I love Annual Conference. I have ever since I first attended as an equalization member when I was a junior in high school. I love seeing my colleagues in ministry, lay and clergy, and I love our crazy United Methodist ways, at least most of the time. North Central New York is somewhat unique, in my experience, compared to other annual conferences. I think we are relatively a-political. Of course, all church bodies are political to an extent, but when I look at other conferences and the legislation and resolutions they deal with at Annual Conference sessions, I'm struck by how rare such resolutions are in NCNY. Occasionally we have something controversial, but not usually. Occasionally we have a candidate for the episcopacy, like Bishop Devhadar, but not usually. And when it comes to General Conference, we do things differently than many too. We don't campaign. Laity can fill out an application and give a brief speech at the Laity Session over lunch, but otherwise cannot campaign. And clergy - we just get a giant list of the approximately 400 eligible clergy and start voting. Most of the time, these are things I like about NCNY and make Annual Conference fun.


OK - Last Wednesday was clergy session. It was fun to be on the "other side" of ordination and listen to and vote on candidates for ordination and commissioning. Thom White Wolf Fassett, outgoing dean of the Cabinet, preached on Mark 8:27-29, "We are the Faith Keepers." He said that we participate in the hallowing of each other's lives. He said that "the church is so pre-occupied with its own struggle that it does not accommodate the vision of Christ." The next generations are/will watch us closely - what do they see? Will our own personal stories hold up to those looking for truth. He said that the early church understood itself as a spiritual way and not a religion. Who do you say that Christ is?

Kathy Turnbole, chair of BOOM, shared in her report about a church where they couldn't get people to stop parking in the pastor's parking spot. So they posted a sign that read, "If you park here, you preach here." She challenged us to "Preach where you are parked."

At the opening of the regular session on Friday, Bishop Neil Irons preached on our theme from Micah 6:6-8 (and Luke 18:9-14,) "Walking Humbly: A Point of View." He said that a biblical text is like mechanical drawing where you look at something from different sides and put them together to get an idea of the whole picture. He said, "Extreme wealth beside extreme poverty always makes the poverty worse." He talked about the worship patterns of extremely wealthy communities. They [the wealthy] wanted everyone, including God, to be in their debt. God is obligated to do something for them. God on a string. He talked about the man praying in thanks that he wasn't the tax collector - "He is so glad for who he is, and he’s sure the rest of the world is glad for who he is," and added, "How we are with others is how we are with God."

On the UMC not being a 'creedal' church he said, "We always leave room for God to do something more than we have anticipated." "We have turned this [magnificent, wonderful, etc.] God into a great enabler of our misdeeds." He concluded, "It takes a lot of courage to walk humbly because sometimes it means walking dangerously."

On Saturday, Bishop Violet Fisher gave her episcopal address, focusing on Jeremiah 29:4 and the theme of General Conference 2008, "A Future with Hope."

She asked us, "Have we come to a place where we are promoting our own dreams instead of listening for God’s leading? We will be brought back from captivity when we begin listening to God. Letting go of our own agendas. Do we wait for God to give us hope and a future? Do we trust that God has a plan for this Annual Conference? . . . We shape hope when we say _____, when we decide _______, when we open the door to the stranger, when lives are transformed . . . , when we walk the walk and talk the talk."

"Vision alone is not enough," she said. "There must be a plan. We’ve got to risk. To hope for means more than just saying it. We’ve got to work to make it happen. We’ve got to be willing to let loose, let go, of some of our stuff . . . What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answer was 'Let it go.' But People are afraid to let go. They are afraid of the future."

Challenges for NCNY:

Developing spiritual transformational leadership – expectation in congregations that all this leadership comes from the pastor. We pay the pastor, etc. Some laity recognize their gifts, but lack direction to use them, and others have direction, but lack recognition of their gifts.

The only credential for ministry is your baptism.

A ministry of calling, empowering people within your congregation. Be willing to help put manure around trees when they need it.

Average age of clergy in UMC is 57.

Ineffective clergy. Clergy not willing to be retooled, revived, resuscitated. Advised us to read Joseph Arnold article, “Have They Fruit?”

Small membership church. Making disciples? Or a social club?

Urban Ministry – Average age in this region is 37. Where are they?

Strengthen Our Global Witness – Ministry in Africa, HIV/AIDs, Nothing But Nets

We must be "Manufacturers of hope."

Finances. Pastors responsible for financial health of congregations.

Sunday was the Memorial Service, which I always find to be a moving highlight of our time together. My District Superintendent, Rev. Carl Johnson, preached. (On a side note, I can now (and am delighted) to share with you that Rev. Johnson, who retires on July 1st, is following me here at St. Paul's. He will become interim pastor here on October 1st. I'm thrilled for St. Paul's - Carl is an excellent pastor.) He shared with us from Matthew 10:38-42, Matthew 25:31-40 - "God Entrusted You!" - Carl talked about how we don't take the time to really share what is going on in our lives most times. But when we are given the opportunity, we erupt into conversation. Do we ask each other, wonder about each other, "Where did God first encounter you?"

Carl talked about remembering, and that we don't just remember mentally but viscerally. When we share in communion, we remember viscerally. It is a re-memberance.

"Where did God find you?" he asked. If we truly want to honor those we memorialize, we do that in our own flesh and blood.

He shared with us this beautiful reading - not sure of the source - online it is just listed as "Come Walk Among the Stars":

**Update: Source is Winston O. Abbott, grandfather of one of the commenters on this post! Thanks for letting me know!**

My Gift of life is a thing of transient beauty -- a thing of mystery --
and above all else a miracle -- it is a thing of beauty because
of the soul-- a mystery because it stretches between the invisible
yesterday and the unknown tomorrow -- a miracle because it is a
composite of countless other lives --
And as my life has been gently touched by other lives -- it follows
that I have touched theirs too -- one cannot always know the time
of greatest need -- perhaps this is as it should be -- perhaps it is
only for me to light one darkened corner of the path -- to place a
hand upon your shoulder as a symbol of my kinship and
my love -- perhaps I came this way -- as did you -- to fill some
special need -- but this is not always given to us to know --
Sometimes a single word will lift the spirit --
sometimes words are so inadequate ---
and sometimes it is destined that one must only listen --
sometimes a smile will bridge the empty darkness --
sometimes just the nearness is the answer --
From many lives I have gathered courage and strength --
I have learned humility and gentleness -- I am grateful --
And so you must understand that your life is not
of your own -- it has become a part of mine -- and so it
follows that my life does not belong to me
-- it is yours --

Other things at conference:

  • I am the conference youth coordinator, and every year we lead a worship service. (Ok - actually, the youth lead a worship service.) The service was awesome this year. Kurt Karandy, a youth who was elected first alternate to General Conference, preached a sermon that had the people shouting and clapping. He even quoted John Wesley and the Discipline, which is a sure sign he's doomed for the ordained ministry. CCYM chair, a young woman named Erica, shared a message and gave a gift to the bishop, all with hair done for the prom, which she had to leave for before worship was even quite over. I'm always amazed at the commitment level of the youth - that they will go back and forth multiple times during the weekend, just to balance other commitments with a commitment to being at Annual Conference.
  • What we do fight about at Annual Conference? Money. The thing I noticed is that when we debated (and we rarely debate in much detail about anything - we're generally on the same page about things), it was always about money. It is amazing that the thing Jesus talks most about can be the thing we have the most different ideas about. Or maybe that makes perfect sense. I don't know. It is just frustrating to let money - the lack of it, how we spend it, who gets what, etc. - be the thing that takes up so much of our time.
  • Elected to General Conference were clergy - Darryl Barrow (Director of Spiritual Development for the conference), me (Elizabeth Quick), Bruce Webster (my pastor and mentor growing up), Bill Gottshalk-Fielding (fellow vegetarian) and laity - Greg Forrester (NEJVIM coordinator), Stephanie Deckard (youth!), Chuck Forbes (conference lay leader), and Ron Bretsch (a delegate with me in 2000.)
  • Jurisdictional clergy - Marti Swords-Horrell, Deborah O'Connor-Slater, Tom Wolfe, Sung Ho Lee, and alternates Thom White Wolf Fassett and Inell Claypool. Laity - Kurt Karandy (youth!!), Shirley Verity, Ed Enstine, Sharon Fulmer, and alternates Jennifer Stewart and Mike Huber.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Brian McLaren

Thursday at the Festival we heard Brian McLaren. I was very excited to hear McLaren, having read some of his books and particularly having led a (pretty successful) book study in my church on The Secret Message of Jesus. I’ve read elsewhere in the blogosphere from at least one who didn’t find McLaren’s worship and lecture very – inspiring? – but I would have to disagree. McLaren isn’t a dynamic preacher in the same way of Barbara Brown Taylor or Fred Craddock – he just doesn’t have the same style, and the same way of presenting himself. But personally, I found the content to be excellent and on target and dynamic in its own right.

Worship was first. I missed the opening part of the worship because I was standing in a ridiculously long line in the parking lot waiting to put my money in the “Pay Here” machine. But I did indeed get to see Jonathan, Jay, and Gavin (dressed very like Neo in the Matrix) leading worship for a few minutes before the message.

Brian McLaren took Colossians 1:13-20 as his focus. He talked about Kings, and that places with kings have constant display of images, like Iraq and images of Saddam Hussein - and compared this with the image of Jesus Christ - the head of the body, in contrast to Caesar, known as the head of the body in Jesus' day and time.

McLaren talked about making peace. Those who challenged the empire would be crucified in Jesus' day, but Paul says that through the cross is authority. McLaren said, "Empires today have unprecedented ability to convey their images to us, mold us into citizens. We are formed by this system. It is a matter of life and death to convey other images."

In his lecture after worship, McLaren asked, "Can preaching transform the world?" Right now, too many pastors preach "safe, nice, harmless, insignificant, intramural, trivial-pursuit sermons . . . sermons that increase greed, fear, alienation, resentment, scapegoating, escapist thinking, fatalism, and abandonment." But, McLaren reminded, "the gospel is actually about saving the world, not just my personal soul."

In a hilarious and eye-opening experiment, McLaren showed us a video clip, and asked us to focus on one part of the video, counting. After, he asked us for a number. People answered different conflicting numbers. And then he said, "How many of you saw the gorilla?" Only about 5 in the room of 1000+ raised their hands. The rest of us were so focused on counting that we didn't notice a man in a gorilla suit clearly, slowly, walk across the center of the screen, pause, and walk off. McLaren said, "What you focus on determines what you miss. Being part of a religious traditions teaches you to focus on certain things, which makes you miss some big gorillas." What are "Gorilla bible passages" that we miss?

The rest of my notes, which are most lengthy at McLaren's lecture, I'm pasting here unedited - sorry! I don't have the energy to put them into narrative form. Hope they make at least some sense to you!

Notes:
What are the top global problems? What does the message of Jesus say to those problems?

Sustainable development, clean water, population growth, WMD, status of women, rich/poor gap, etc., Millennial Development Goals, Copenhagen Consensus.

Societal Machine: Prosperity System, Security System, Equity System. All exists within the Ecosystem. Solar energy in. Heat out. Resources into societal system, waste out into the ecosystem. Our societal system used to be small, but now is very large, like a goldfish getting too big for the bowl. Our bowl is finite. Did we reach this point in the 70s, taking more resources than available, and expending more waste than manageable?

McLaren’s four global crises:

  • Planetary Crisis: Our prosperity system can’t stop growing. Has no brakes. Goes too fast and too hard to respect limits to growth, creating environmental crisis.
  • Poverty Crisis: Our equity system is depressed, and can’t keep pace with gap between rich and poor, the rate of growth of the gap is growing. Results: Crime. Immigration. War. Terrorism. The rich become afraid, and spend more and more money on bigger and stronger weapons, borders, police and prisons, diverting funds from helping the poor to defending themselves from the poor.
  • Peace-making Crisis: Our security system (see above)
  • Framing story – the story that tells the civilization what is and how we seek prosperity, security, and equity, usually supplied by religion. The failure of the world religions to provide a framing story capable of change. Sometimes are contributing to the problem. “God’s will.” Scapegoating. Distractions. How: Denominations/Empire (Sadducees/Herodians), Revolution/Warrior (Zealots), Revenge/Scapegoating (Pharisees), Isolation/Withdrawal (await our evacuation) (Essenes). Remarkable similar to the situation in Jesus’ day.

Jesus has a radically different framing story – the Kingdom of God. Not a new religion – a new kingdom. More dangerous. This gets him killed. Kingdom of God message is revolutionary and transforming. World changing. Kingdom of God does not mean going to heaven after you die.

Should we edit the Lord’s prayer? “May we come to your kingdom when we die. May we all got o heaven where, unlike earth, your will is done.” Emperor is the one who has ultimate authority on earth. Caesar’s framing system vs. Jesus’ framing system. Good News framing story is at center of the intersecting circles of systems.

How can we do it? “I don’t know.”

  • Don’t assume it will be easy. Many of our ‘Christians’ have been converted into consumers of religious goods and services. Not interested in being disciples, agents of the Kingdom of God. Breaking our unwritten contract – we pay you money and you make us feel good, or bad then good which feels good. There’s a lot working against you. Radio/TV-orthodoxy – Partisan, colonial, consumerist. Preaches what gets donations to fund it. Institutional maintenance – parochial, intramural, self-absorbed. Institutional maintenance is idolatry.
  • Stop teaching Bible verse or passages, and teach episodes or stories within the context of the Biblical narrative. Stop quoting as if it was a section of the constitution, but instead is a narrative. Primacy of bible is God being involved in messed up human world. Themes like land/water, fertility/children, freedom/dominion of empire, obedience/justice, warnings/promises.
  • Emphasize integral reconciliation – with God, self, creation, others, enemies. Can’t be separated out. Fused together.
  • Contextualize the language of ‘kingdom’. Personal kingdom. Cultural/national/economic kingdom/kingdom of this world. Dream of God, Global Love Economy of God, Sacred Ecosystem of God, God’s revolution of Hope
  • Realize that preaching isn’t everything – liturgy, prayers, testimonies, songs of transformation.
  • Work personal-global and global-personal (bias toward later, where Bible starts), bottom-up and top-down, or small-big and big-small
  • Realizing Who is working with and for you – Spirit.
  • [Insert your idea here]
What if we got rid of all the signs in front of our churches? Instead, “School of Transformation.”

Friday, June 01, 2007

Heading to Dallas in '08 ...

A brief hiatus from my Festival of Homiletics blogging to share my good news - today at our Annual Conference, I was elected as a clergy delegate to General Conference 2008! I'm very excited. I'm a United Methodist nerd, and although General Conference 2000 was one of the most gut-wrenchingly hard times of my life, it was also strangely one of the best and certainly most - memorable? life-changing? moving? - experiences of my life. So thank you to my clergy colleagues who are sending me to General Conference next year. Lots more to say about the Festival, and then lots more to say about Annual Conference, but that's all I have in me tonight. Oh, and also: being ordained last year was awesome, but not being ordained this year - and instead getting to cheer for friends being ordained without the weight of pending ordination on my shoulders - that's a pretty awesome feeling too.