Tuesday, July 31, 2007
First - "Solar Power Makes Tiny Village Beam" - This is story about a village in India that previously without electricity - until just two years ago. Then, a man named Ram, who doesn't have a high school degree, attended a nearby program called "Barefoot College" - an institution started to help rural Indians help themselves to learn to solve their own problems. Ram was selected by the elders of his village to attend the College, and he learned about solar engineering. Now, most of the homes have solar panels on their roofs.
Second - "Growing Front-Yard Food Can Rile Neighbors" - This article talks about the growing group of people trying to grow at least part of their own food in their own yards. Apparently, some neighbors in some communities find this offensive - apparently fresh food growing is an eyesore? But people are working hard to grow at least some of their own food, and even working with city boards to grow crops that look good and taste good! The article sites several sources if you are interested in trying this yourself. My older brother is a good role model for me in this - this August, he has vowed to eat only locally grown food for the month. I'm impressed. I tease him about how this will cramp my style - we won't be able to eat out together this coming month - but truthfully, I'm impressed. I'm not sure I'd last a day eating only locally grown foods. But he's been working hard in preparation - growing some food in his own little garden, hitting all the local farmers' markets, and researching options for local flour, soy, etc. I enjoy seeing these kinds of news stories making CNN's front page. Very hopeful!
Monday, July 30, 2007
Packing is a different story. My parsonage is huge - both here, actually, and in Franklin Lakes, and I'm just one person. And one cat. Ok, and one brother. My actor brother Todd is moving with me to New Jersey - he's thrilled he'll be so close to NYC. But he's also technically lived with me here in Oneida. It's just hard to count him because he's on tour or working in another state so often that usually it is more accurate to say Todd stores his stuff with me than that Todd lives with me. I had to accumulate stuff when I moved here just to have something to put in this five bedroom parsonage. I moved here straight from seminary, where I basically had a dorm-room amount of possessions. But, I accumulated.
Like many people moving, I suspect, I'm trying to be careful in my packing to decide what I really want. Do I need all this stuff? This coming Sunday the lectionary is my favorite gospel lesson - the first text I ever preached on - the one where the man decides to build bigger barns to store all his grain (Luke 12:13-21) God says to the man, "These things you have - whose will they be?" How many knick-knacks do I need to be happy with my home? How many DVDs that I never watch? How many place settings do I need for two people and a cat? How many pots and pans does someone who hates cooking really need?
Tell me about your moving/packing experiences, please. Any great pearls of wisdom?
Friday, July 27, 2007
I have to admit, the cover, the title, the subtitle (six marks of discipleship for a changing church) - none of these are things that would make me likely to pick up this book if I wasn't directed to it as I was. It reminds me (both before and after reading it) of Adam Hamilton's Leading Beyond the Walls - another book that I enjoyed and learned from but started reading with a great deal of hesitancy. Foss' approach is like Hamilton's: he offers up his own successful model of ministry and his reflections on why he's chosen this model of ministry, what's worked and what hasn't. It is very practical in that sense, with concrete and specific ideas, which Foss reflects on in more general, broad-reaching ways.
I think Foss' strongest point is with his emphasis on the changing role of the pastor. He talks a lot about what pastors expect of themselves and what roles congregations expect them to fill, and he describes changes to this role over time, and changes that should happen for authentic, effective ministry. He talks about the stress of trying to be a "personal pastor" - "The reason many church don't grow - or stop growing - is that the pastoral staff reaches its limit for personal care and then, consciously or unconsciously, creates a climate and systems that discourage growth." (12) Pastors, he says, are leaders, not chaplains. Leaders, not managers. (Ouch. How much of the time do I spend being a chaplain? Manager?) He says that discipleship as a ministry model "raises the bar - not to the level of perfection, but to the level of passionate followership." (31)
As I've mentioned in another post, Foss talks about burnout, and boredom too, not just in clergy but also in congregants. He says that burnout and boredom are the two most common reasons people leave churches, and that these days, people consider themselves active in a congregation even when they worship only once or twice a month. (5) He talks about the membership model that most churches have, and recounts asking people about joining the church only to have them respond, "What do I get as a member that I don't get now?" (20)
Foss has helpful sections on mission and vision and how to figure these out as a congregation in a useful, usable way. Some ideas are a little too cutsie for me - Power Surge is actually an acronym used in his congregation for spiritual disciplines congregants can commit to practicing - Pray, Worship, Read the Bible, Serve, be in Relationship, Give - but, I guess if it works, then it's worth it, right? He also talks about teams vs. committees and things of that nature that are not new and so perhaps less helpful.
Each chapter concludes with some discussion/reflection questions. I can see how well this book would lend itself to a congregational study, especially among a group of people particularly interested in being visionary. The book is accessible and interesting, practical enough to make Foss' ideas seem doable, and convince you that change might really be possible in your congregation, at least pointing you in the right direction.
Anyone else read this? Thoughts?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Evan Almighty - We went to see this as a group from my church for part of our summer movie study. It was cute. Not as good as Bruce Almighty. As I've read in reviews, this movie did indeed seem to dumb things down. The theological/faith questions that were raised in Bruce Almighty just weren't there in this one. But still, a few good points of discussion and of course Steve Carrell is always great.
Evening - Disappointing. I thought it would have to be good with such a cast. But it was just bad.
Knocked Up - So vulgar, of course, but also very sweet, and hilarious. I can't remember laughing so hard at a movie in a long, long time.
Hairspray - So much fun! A movie where you just have a big grin plastered on your face from watching it. The music will get stuck in your head.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The struggle with the HP movies is getting all of the richness of the book onto the screen. I thought the movie left too much out, as always, but visually the movie was excellent, and Imelda Staunton as Delores Umbridge is so perfectly infuriating.
Fluke, Practical Demonkeeping and You Suck, by Christopher Moore - Moore's Lamb, which I read last year, was one of the best books I've ever read. I wanted to see if his other works were as good. Of course, the subject matter of Lamb is more interesting to me than his other books, so it isn't a totally fair comparison. Fluke was OK, but not great. Practical Demonkeeping was better, and Love Sucks was my favorite of these three. Moore has a funny sense of humor and an easy-to-read style of writing. Even though I haven't enjoyed these as much as Lamb, I've enjoyed them enough to keep reading more of his work.
I'm not ready to write my Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows review yet, but here is a good review along the lines of what I'm thinking.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I don't usually have nightmares. I didn't even while I was a child have nightmares often. I had nightmares about being eaten by alligators after visiting Okie Fanokie Swamp when I was five. We had taken a boat ride in the swamp during the day, getting up close to alligators, and I thought the whole thing was, well, terrifying.
I also regularly have nightmares about flying. Not about something going wrong while I'm on a flight, just nightmares about being on a plane. Yeah, I don't like flying. I will do it if I have to, and while I'm on the flight I will be (hopefully silently and unobserved) having an internal panic attack. So I have regular nightmares where I am on airplanes.
But I also have a separate category of nightmares. Pastor nightmares. One nightmare is where I oversleep for worship. I'm not a morning person. Not at all. And on Sundays, the only day I have to get up particularly early, I usually set about three alarms, just to be sure. Well, one day I had a 9am funeral. I optimistically thought I would go running before the funeral, and set an early alarm. When it went off in the morning, I decided that running in the morning was a silly idea, and went back to sleep. My secretary called me at 8:58 to see where the bulletins were. I was sleeping. I got up, ran to the church, and had started the funeral by ten after 9, completely mortified with myself. But after that, I stopped having oversleeping nightmares.
I also have "forgot my sermon" nightmares. These involve variations of showing up somewhere to preach and not having my sermon, not having it prepared, not having my manuscript, etc. I used to have this nightmare weekly, like clockwork, unless I finished my sermon by Tuesday or so. As I settled into being a pastor, the nightmare went mostly away, and I started finishing my sermons on Saturday like a normal pastor.
This weekend, I've been serving as the worship leader for NCNY's School of Christian Mission. I'm still in a cast and on crutches (for 57 more hours!!), and so I had to have someone meet me at my car with a wheelchair to wheel me across campus - the building we were meeting in was not very close to the parking lot. While I was waiting for direction, I got out of my car and sat on the steps of one of the buildings, with my Bible and manuscript for my message. When I got a call directing me to park in a different parking lot, I got back in my car...and left my Bible and manuscript on the steps of the building. I realized this almost right away. Someone went back to the steps for me within five minutes to retrieve my Bible and message. It was gone.
Ah, nightmare come true. I'm a manuscript preacher. I know pastors who don't use manuscripts who tell great stories about how they used to be manuscript preachers and then 'grew' out of it, yada, yada, yada. Well, I've preached with and without manuscripts - always without at our Sunday evening services because it fits better with that service - but it isn't my thing. It isn't my best preaching. I like preaching. And I like my manuscripts. But, the service must go on, right?
Fortunately, this was a message I knew well. I had been over it in detail actually trying to shorten it, so I knew it well. And this message had a more basic, straightforward structure than many of my sermons, so I knew how it flowed. I gave the message from memory, and it went very well. No, I wasn't converted to manuscript-free preaching. I don't see that happening. But it was nice to know that I could manage without if I had to, that I could respond to the need of a situation and lead worship even if I felt unprepared.
Maybe now I won't have this pastor nightmare anymore. I've faced the thing I dreaded, and now I know I can handle it, and I can move on.
Do you have any pastor nightmares?
Thursday, July 19, 2007
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 high), how would you rate your theological knowledge and breadth/depth of reading?
Oh boy. Probably a 4 or 5. I feel pretty comfortable with my understanding of theological concepts, but when it comes to knowing which historical theologian thought what exactly, I'm not very well read. I have some areas of strength, but not, probably, a good overarching grasp on the major thinkers. Alas - systematic theology class seems so long ago!
2. What thoughts and feelings come to your mind when you hear the word "theology"?
I was a 'pre-theology' major in undergrad, and my little brothers always used to tease that it was "before the study of God." That's the first thought, honestly!
3. Who is your favorite theologian, and why?
Process theologian John Cobb is my very favorite. I instantly fell in love with process theology when we first studied it in systematic theology at Drew. I felt like I was reading a theology that combined everything I thought about into one system, and asked (and tried to answer) exactly the questions that have always most troubled me. John Cobb in particular is my favorite because his United Methodist background and Wesleyan theology combined with process theology is a dream combination for this United Methodist nerd.
4. Who is your least favorite theologian, and why? Oh, a tie between Martin Luther and St. Augustine. Both of them seem to have had a fantastic way of looking at the scriptures and coming up with the exact opposite interpretation than I would. Not to say that they both haven't (obviously) made hugely important contributions to theology/Christianity/the church. Of course they have. But I don't think we'd be buddies.
5. Which theologians have you been meaning to read, but have not gotten to yet?
No one in particular - I've been meaning to read a lot of the 'classics'. I've been meaning to read a great many things!
6. If you are Catholic, can you name a favorite Protestant theologian, and if Protestant, Catholic? Like PoC, I'd have to say Thomas Merton. My older brother hooked me into Merton's writings.
7. What theologies do you love like a rescue dog that saved your life?
John Wesley's understanding of salvation, sanctification, social holiness, and perfection.
Process theology - complexity, answering the "why bad things happen" questions, eschatology
Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be and Cobb and Griffin's Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition probably come closest to actually "saving my life" during my first year seminary mini-life crisis.
8. What theologies do you see commonly abused and wish people would stop it?
I think John Wesley's theology is often abused/misconstrued. His understanding and interpretation of scripture and his understanding of salvation particularly come to mind. Prosperity gospel/theology.
9. What theologies do you think are from the pit of hell, inspired by demonic powers?
The theology of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, for starters.
10. What theological concept is most needed but ignored in contemporary Christianity?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
11. What other intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals should blog this meme?
Anybody - everybody!
Monday, July 16, 2007
So far, of course, I've found my transition into Franklin Lakes to be very different from my transition into Oneida. So many factors make that the case, from the pastors I'm following to the transition policies and practices of the conferences, and certainly, because I'm not doing a typical July 1st move this time around. (Franklin Lakes is graciously spending two months without a pastor this summer while I heal from broken-ankle-repair-surgery - later, Oneida will have one month between my departure and my successor's arrival.)
Yesterday, I met with my successor for the first time - and for not the first time. Coming to Oneida as interim pastor is Rev. Carl Johnson, who just finished his term as (my) District Superintendent! So this transition is unusual too because he already knows a lot about St. Paul's from being their District Superintendent for seven years. How strange an experience! What do you tell the pastor following you about the congregation?
I've talked with lots of pastors about this - what do you tell? What do you leave out? What must the pastor coming in know up front, and what is better for her/him to learn when they arrive? Is it "less is more" or just "more is more"? I can see the benefits of both approaches or approaches in between. I believe you can never know a congregation really fully until you know a congregation - through relationship, through time spent working together. But you can get some ideas about a congregation, some clues, some starting points maybe.
I think as a pastor preparing to leave a congregation, I want my successor to know how precious St. Paul's is - how special they are. And I'm lucky, because he already knows that! I know that I was appointed to St. Paul's in part because of their warm reputation. They would be nurturing to a new, inexperienced pastor, my DS knew, and they would let me grow and let me be their pastor at the same time, a neat trick. And I have certainly heard from my predecessor in Franklin Lakes about what a special congregation I will find there. In his conversations with me, that's the underlying tone: "This is a special group of people that I cherish." I guess perhaps that is the best message to pass along through all transition experiences.
What have your transition experiences been like? As a lay person? A pastor? Outgoing? Incoming?
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Something I wanted to use this week - this "parable about a parable" that Markquart shares:
A parable about a parable. One day a priest went to visit the Jericho Road. He was a very religious man, and he saw somebody who had been hurt on the Jericho Road, and he was mortified. He came and gave that person the last rites, and he quickly ran back to his parish as fast as he could. The following Sunday, he gave a sterling sermon about the Jericho Road, and he felt so much better. ... Then there was a pastor who went down to the Jericho Road and he was appalled by what he saw. It was awful on the Jericho Road, and so he came back to his church, and do you know what he did? He taught a course called, “The Biblical Understanding and Perspective of Poverty.” They showed films of people who were being beaten up on the Jericho Road, and everybody felt rotten, but they all felt so good that they had finally done something for the people on the Jericho Road. ... There was still another person. He was a revivalist. Now, he didn’t go to the Jericho Road, but he saw it on television. He then gathered 65,000 people together in the Jerusalem Dome, and they sang songs about the Jericho Road. You should have seen them, with their microphones and all the spotlights. How they sang and prayed so beautifully about the Jericho Road. ... Then, there was this left wing activist who went to the Jericho Road, and he was incensed. He was angry by what he saw. He was an angry man, and he came back and he organized demonstrations in the cities. He got all the young people out of the high schools, colleges and graduate schools; they shut down the universities and they marched on the Jerusalem Monument of the capitol city. Yes, they were very active for the people on the Jericho Road. ... But then there was a person on the political right, and he went down to the Jericho Road and did he see that we had moral decay in this country of ours. He thought, “We’ve got to solve this problem; we’ve got to raise employment and change the economy so there won’t be so much violence on the Jericho Road.” So what did he do? He lessened taxes for the rich, so the rich would have more money to make investments so there would be more jobs for the poor, and he increased the sales tax on the poor, so all people could help pay for the costs of maintaining the Jericho Road. ... While the priest and the pastor and the revivalist and the left wing activist and the right wing moralist were all busy, the man on the Jericho Road died.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Option 1: Accio Friday Five!
1. Which Harry Potter book is your favorite and why? I think they keep getting better and better. As the characters age, we see more depth of emotion, intense action, etc, and more unfolding of Rowling's carefully, complexly crafted world. Four, five, and six are especially excellent.
2. Which character do you most resemble? Which character would you most like to get to know?
Oh, Hermione for sure. I'm afraid I was always a bit of teacher's pet in school. To get to know? Harry, of course!
3. How careful are you about spoilers?
a) bring 'em on--even if I know the destination, the journey's still good - I am generally a reader of spoilers, which drive my older brother crazy. Here's something else - I usually read the last page of books first! I can't help myself. I still read the whole book, of course, but I can't help peeking ahead.
b) eh, I'd rather not know what happens, but I'm not going to commit Avada Kedavra if someone makes a slip
c) I will sequester myself in a geodesic dome to avoid finding anything out
4. Make one prediction/share one hope about book 7.
I hope Snape turns out to be on the 'good' side - I will be awfully disappointed if he's really with the Deatheaters.
5. Rowling has said she's not planning any prequels or sequels, but are there characters or storylines (past or future) that you would like to see pursued?
I think more about the early days of Voldemort would be interesting, and about Albus Dumbledore as a young wizard.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
He writes, "We no longer ask for annual pledges. We have come to believe that the Holy Spirit will guide the giving of those who have heard of God's generosity and are open to the teaching of God's Word. So we encourage people to prepare a giving plan - one that only they and God know about. When the plan is completed, we ask them to seal it in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. On a given Sunday, the people process to the altar and leave their giving plans there, in sealed envelopes, before God and the congregation. In a few weeks, we send them back, unopened, to our worshipers. We have no idea what will be giving in the coming year." (pg 104) Foss' church has found this practice to increase giving.
I really like this idea of sending the pledges back to the worshipers, and I'm very intrigued by this idea. But what do you think of the not-asking for pledges? I understand that Franklin Lakes UMC, where I will begin as pastor September 1st, has been having conversations around these very issues. Does pledging help or hinder financial stewardship in congregations? What's the practice in your congregation? Is your giving between only you and God? What models of pledging have you tried? What would encourage you to give more?
Sunday, July 08, 2007
But, I've been thinking about burnout. Clergy burnout in particular is something we hear a lot about in the church. New clergy burnout quickly. Young clergy burnout quickly. Female clergy, struggling through a still male-dominated field, have high rates of burnout. I don't have a figure handy, but I remember hearing, for example, that female clergy have an average local church ministry of just eight years. Burnout, and preventing burnout, is serious church business.
I'm thinking of it because of a book I'm reading now (which I'll eventually review). In it, the author talks a lot about burnout, and how to help pastors and parishioners avoid burnout. He talks about traditional expectations of clergy (by parishioners and clergy themselves) that practically guarantee burnout. And I can relate to what he's writing.
But then I was thinking . . . does anyone in the Bible get burnout? Maybe it is a silly question, but I was trying to think of a biblical figure who throws in the towel because of burnout and stress. Maybe Moses comes closest - he seems burnt out sometimes. But burnout seems to be a very modern problem. How can we experience burnout if we are being disciples? I suspect - I fear - that our way of trying to be disciples has gotten so disconnected from Jesus' teaching about discipleship that it makes it possible for us to experience burnout. We're spinning our wheels, and somehow, still, with all our work and busy-ness, we're still missing the mark when it comes to discipleship, still living lives that are very disconnected from what Jesus had in mind for us when he talked about "abundant life."
What do you think?
*Image source: http://www.slowleadership.org/2006/12/understanding-burnout-part-1.html
Friday, July 06, 2007
If you read this blog regularly you know I'm a huge fan of Jesus Christ Superstar. Here's a YouTube clip of my brother's friend Robert Tucker singing Gethsemane. I don't really like the orchestration on this a lot, and it is too loud (in the video - maybe it will sound better mixed on the CD) but Robert's vocals are excellent! He's the friend of my youngest brother, and so I've seen Robert sing in school plays since he was pretty young - he's come a long way and has an excellent voice!
Thursday, July 05, 2007
You should read this interesting post/article, emergingumc: Megachurch... or Megaconsumers...
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Shane's book is a sort of autobiography, and a call to discipleship (and revolution?!). The style is very readable - it is a story, narrative. A quick read (although I managed to drag it out over a few months - but that's because I wasn't reading it, not because it took a long time to read!)
What's frustrating about this book:
- I find Shane's logic sometimes over-simplistic. He tends to simplify the viewpoints of people he's referring to, identifying liberals and conservatives in ways I don't think do service to liberals or conservatives.
- Shane uses the words "giggle," "bubbles," and "sidewalk chalk" more than I can bear. A lot more. I'm a cynic. I'm sarcastic. I can't take it. It's too much!
- Shane writes of his journeying in much the same way that the apostle Paul writes of his. That's all I want to say about that.
- Shane talks about and is part of the new monasticism movement. You can read about the principles of new monasticism here.
- Primarily, and most importantly/overshadowing-any-flaws, Shane is clearly getting it done. Whatever else I think about the book, or how it is written, or his style, etc., what Shane is doing, so far as I can tell, is being an authentic disciple. He's actually doing that stuff Jesus talks about, and that's not something I feel I can claim for myself most days, from the comfort of my pastor's life and pretty parsonage. Shane's example is a challenge to me, and I like a good challenge.
I think the book is worth a read, because it certainly requires asking yourself how you actually are (or are not) responding to the call of discipleship of Jesus. And especially keep Shane and community in your thoughts as they work to recover from the fire.
Monday, July 02, 2007
I've been thinking about how the start of this appointment in Franklin Lakes will be very different from the start of my appointment in Oneida. I'm not a brand new pastor anymore. When I started at St. Paul's, I had been a youth pastor, a ministry intern, and worked at a United Methodist Agency. I had guest-preached a lot. I had been a CPE chaplain. But I'd never been a pastor. I'd never really led a church committee meeting, or filled out statistical tables. I'd never had a staff who primarily reported to me (and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, of course), I'd never celebrated a baptism and tried to figure out how to hold the baby and the hymnal at the same time. I'd never gotten to bless the communion elements. I'd never had my own office! So many firsts at St. Paul's.
Now, moving to Franklin Lakes, I will have to learn many things, of course. I will learn about the people, and who they are, and how they live and work as disciples. I will learn about their strengths and weaknesses, and I will undoubtedly discover new strengths and weaknesses in myself as I encounter a new, unique setting. But I am already a pastor. I know how to be a pastor, at least on my good days! I am ordained. I have no more probationary covenant group meetings to attend, and Franklin Lakes UMC won't watch me go through the ordination process.
The day before I started at St. Paul's I was overcome with panic - what was I thinking? I didn't know how to be a pastor! How could I go from being just 'me' one day, to being a pastor of a congregation the next? The thought blew my mind. But the next day came, and my extremely gracious and welcoming congregation gave me time and encouragement and let me be their pastor, even if I didn't really know what I was doing.
I'm excited about heading to Franklin Lakes, even though making this move has me anxious and nervous in different ways. But I'm excited, and in part, I'm excited because I will start this appointment with more knowledge and experience than before, and I'm hoping that experience will serve me well.
Four years. I find it hard to believe. Seminary seems like just yesterday to me. But now I've been out of seminary longer than I was in seminary. I can't imagine what it feels like for pastors who have been at congregations ten, fifteen, or twenty years. But as I look around at the people at St. Paul's, I can't believe the changes that have taken place in four years. Children who have been born since I began, or who have gone from teen to adult, or who have gotten married. Parishioners who have died. New families who have joined, and families who have moved away. It has been a full four years.