Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sabbath Answers

I'm in a hurry to get things done,
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die
but I'm in a hurry and don't know why.

A couple years ago
, I included that refrain from one of my favorite Alabama songs in a blog post. It's been on my mind lately. I've been thinking a lot about Sabbath because Sabbath has been the theme of our early service at FLUMC. Or maybe, because I've been thinking about Rest/Sabbath, I decided to make it the theme of our early service this fall. Something like that. Everybody everywhere is busy. But sometimes the pace here in Franklin Lakes, in North Jersey, in these communities near NYC, is really just over-the-top. It's go, go, go. I'll never forget the children's sermon where I was asking the kids about how their parents spent their time. "Work," came the exhausted, stressed, tired-sounding response, from little ones ages 4 and 5 and 6. As I was thinking about my early service, I thought: there has to be a way we can talk about rest and sabbath in this community, and really encourage examining our time, how and why we spend it like we do.

When I posed my Sabbath Questions earlier this month, John, my lone respondent (this is what happens when you start blogging so rarely - people stop reading and responding!), asked me to respond to my own questions.

Keeping Sabbath has always been difficult for me. Or sometimes, frankly, not something I've made a priority. In my early service, I feel like I've chosen themes for the group that are actually things I'm just struggling with myself: rest and sabbath, now discernment. When I was going through my ordination process, both at my in-parish interview, and in my ordination interviews, rest, self-care, vacation, etc., came up as areas where I needed to pay more attention. So, I'm really trying.

I'm reading right now Justice in the Burbs, by Lisa and Will Samson, and really enjoying it. In one of the first chapters, they talk about our excuses for not working for justice.

"It seems as though we Americans do all we can to feel busy. In fact, the prevailing answer to the question, 'How are you?' is no longer, 'Fine, and you?' but 'Busy!' This allows us to feel like a player, a bootstrap puller, not a loafer or someone without goals or a to-do list a mile long, not like someone who isn't really going anywhere far. But does all this activity keep us from thinking about the bigger issues of life?" (58)

Honestly, I think clergy are particularly guilty of trying to out-busy one another, as if we'll get some sort of extra prize if we completely burn ourselves out and attend just one more meeting, lead one more study, make one more visit, until we have no time to nurture our spirits, and, God-forbid, relax and have a little fun, or take a nap. Compared to some of my colleagues, I've actually considered myself a lot more in-control of my time, not being "too busy." But at the same time, I can't deny that I'm also sometimes overwhelmed with a sense that I'm not doing enough, that I should be busier.

And so, I'm trying very hard these days to have Sabbath time, rest time. I'm actually taking two days off each week, and trying hard to be off on my days off, and not let church work keep in, which is pretty challenging. I've fallen back in love with my favorite North Jersey hiking spot, Campgaw Mountain. I can't entirely keep myself from mentally writing my sermon or planning for Advent while I'm on my hikes, but I come a lot closer, and enjoy the turkey, deer, ducks, squirrels, etc., and beautiful views. That time is definitely Sabbath time for me. As I've advised my little congregation at the early service, I'm trying to at least claim just little pieces, here and there. Reading. Online bible study from my Uncle. Spending time with friends, family, clergy colleagues. Little pieces.

Because, truly, busy-ness is not next to godliness. What is it that you and I are hoping to acheive by constantly thinking of what's next on our list of things to do? When James said that "faith without works is dead," I think he had a different idea of work in his mind. And while we're busy being busy, we seem to miss out on the kind of relationship-building risk-taking work that James did mean.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bishop's Convocation: David Lowes Watson

In mid-October, I attended the Bishop's Convocation in my home conference, North Central New York. Our speaker was David Lowes Watson, a retired clergy person, seminary professor, and a Wesley/Methodism scholar. I really enjoyed the event (I always enjoy time with my colleagues), and I particularly enjoyed Watson's presentation. He was funny (frequently using the words 'naughty' and 'twit' to describe people in his stories) and smart, and had all of us, I think, pondering the role of the pastor and how it has changed, and what it should be.

Watson talked about the contemporary heresy: We try to isolate God in the instant present. (Think of a digital watch - it gives you only the instant time, with no sense of time before and time after.) We've "so personalized our discipleship that we've made God something that depends on us," he said. We're anthropocentric, and consumeristic. And church in a consumeristic culture is "almost lethal." Democratizing of the church has resulted in people determining the gospel.

He talked a lot about salvation, starting with Oswald Chambers' statement that we are "condemend to be saved." Watson talked about not universal salvation, exactly, but the idea that salvation, who is and who isn't saved, just isn't our business. That's not our task. Our task is preaching the good news. End story. He described salvation as "giving up your resistance to God." Discipleship, though, can't be the "door to salvation" without resulting in keeping people out. "If there is one empty place at the heavenly table, there will be a terrible silence." He defined hell as "the place where mysteries (ie pain, evil, injustice) are currently on hold." "We are born into a world that is being saved whether we like it or not. So we must either accept or reject [being saved.] The real miracle is that God finds us even mildly interesting."

Speaking more specifically on the role of the pastor, he said that we have to be realistic: not everyone will become a disciple. Not everyone in our congregation will be a disciple not matter what we do. He urged pastors, then, to spend more time with those who will be disciples. This was a matter of some debate around our tables, but I think I understand his point. "Our task is not to bring in the kingdom, but to announce it," he said. We are "journalists of the gospel." Great image.

Disciple-making, he said, is really the work of the laity, which we (pastors) protect them from and take away from laity. He talked about circuit riders and class leaders in early Methodism, and noted that the clergy person preached the gospel and administered sacraments, while it was the class leaders and other lay leaders who were responsible for the day-to-day discipleship and pastoral care. We've mixed up our roles and put too much on the clergy, without respecting the laity enough to give them responsibility, and so everythings suffers as a result. Clergy: called to preach the gospel. Laity: called to lead church in discipleship. Pastors need to pastor. You don't go to the dentist to talk about the weather, but to have your teeth fixed. So people shouldn't expect pastors to talk to them about nothing - but to have them be pastors!


I really appreciated Watson's words about clergy and laity and their roles. What do you think? Do we expect anything of our lay people? Are we trying to be the disciple-makers as well as the gospel-preachers? Should we be, or does that role belong to the laity?

One of my favorite books in preparing for ordination was Pastor, by Bishop Willimon. It was extremely helpful to me in being able to articulate the meaning of ordination. But I remember that the titles of the chapters were all "Pastor as ________." Pastor as priest, interpreter of scripture, preacher, counselor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, leader, character, disciplined Christian.... Can we be all of those things? Should we be? Of course, to a degree, yes. But are their limits on what we're meant to do/be? Where are those boundaries?

I think these questions are so important because, let's face it: clergy are an unhealthy, burned out, and often ineffective lot. Why are there so many ineffective pastors? Why are we so unhealthy? Why do so few survive decades in the ministry? I wonder if part of the problem is that we've lost sight of what we're called to do: preach the good news. Maybe when we start to make that too complicated, we're really just creating a big mess. Thoughts?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Link Love

My apologies, again, for my continued lack of blogging-desire.

In the meantime, some links to check out:

from cnn: Obama's face on food stamps? - racism in the campaigns
from jockeystreet: My brother reviews The Secret.
from Dan Dick's GBOD blog: blasphemediocrity and a post about megachurches.
from slaktivist: a really excellent post called "They Need Help"

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 09, 2008


So, I realize the template I'm using is now not showing up. The creator has a tutorial to fix the problem, but I'm having a hard time getting it to work. So bear with me for a bit!

Update: I think I have it all fixed! Yay! Now if I could just get that hour back....

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sabbath Questions

How do you keep the/a Sabbath? How did you start your Sabbath practices? What were your Sabbath practices growing up? When/why did they change? If you had total control over your schedule and ample time, what would be your ideal way of spending Sabbath?