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, and the site feed address is (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.

Sermon, "In Denial," Mark 8:31-37

Sermon 2/20/24 Mark 8:31-37 In Denial My sermon title is both a reflection of our gospel text for today, and a reflection of how I felt abou...