Friday, February 29, 2008

Join the new League

This is the kind of competition I could get into. And it's time for spring training. Only plain M&M's allowed, or testing will commence for performance enhancing peanuts.

Laugh Lines: Survival of the Fittest M&M
By Laugh Lines Published: February 28, 2008

A post from a “Best of Craigslist” compilation:
Whenever I get a package of plain M&M’s, I make it my duty to continue the strength and robustness of the candy as a species. To this end, I hold M&M duels. Taking two candies between my thumb and forefinger, I apply pressure, squeezing them together until one of them cracks and splinters. That is the “loser,” and I eat the inferior one immediately. The winner gets to go another round [...]
Read more from The New York Times

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Personal Priviledge Request

I struggled with myself over whether to make this post or not for the past 24 hours. Basically it is a prayer request and I didn't intend this forum to become that. But I'm a Dad, and what can I say, but that I covet your prayers. My teenage daughter has been home from school all week with headaches, muscular pain and lethargy. She'll get up for a few minutes, then want to go back to bed. The doc on Monday got a negative on the mono test and said maybe it is lingering effects of the flu she had a week ago, but we're not convinced it's just that. So today we take her to an internist. Anyway, maybe it is just taking a long time to get over the flu, but wondering about the unknown is getting to me.

So, to paraphrase the Centurion of Capernaum, "Jesus, you don't even have to come to my house, just say the word, and I know my daughter will be healed..."
Thanks ahead of time for your prayers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Discovery from The Last Week

Have been reading Borg and Crossan's book, The Last Week, as part of my Lenten journey. It was published in 2006, primarily as their response to Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. The talk generated by the movie made them realize that many Christians have poor understandings of what actually took place the last week of Jesus' life. They follow the day by day outline of Mark's gospel, with their usual scriptural, sociological, and historical-critical method.

Borg and Crossan are usually labeled on the liberal side of the scale as Jesus scholars. So I was surprised to see a Brian McLaren (of the emerging church culture) endorsement on the book jacket. I don't know McLaren's way of reading them, but I know how I and a few others do: we love their analysis and the way they paint the full cultural picture of what's happening around Jesus, but then we don't draw the same conclusions about the nature of God's actions/interventions or the meaning in terms of Christian doctrine. To me, it seems Borg and Crossan shy away from any divine manifestations that call for a pure faith acceptance.

What this book does well is define the political/economic/religious domination system in which the temple was enmeshed. They show how Jesus stood with the poor and dispossessed against the exploitation by the powerful of that day - both Roman and Jewish power brokers. That must be the theme of Lent for me. I just finished John Grisham's novel, The Appeal, about a large chemical corporation "buying" a supreme court justice election in order to overturn a $41 million dollar damage verdict. Grisham's book is a well written reminder that a yearning for justice against corrupt systems is as vital today as it was when Jesus "cleared the temple."

What inspired this post, however, was a "gem" unearthed in The Last Week, that I'd never considered before. As they describe the dominance of the temple and tax system in Jesus' day, Borg and Crossan tell us that the opposition to the corrupt temple dominance is announced at the beginning of Mark's gospel. John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mk 1:4) The temple system, however, controlled the only legitimately sanctioned means of "forgiveness of sins." And that was through sacrifice, done only at the temple, of course.

John the baptizer, and Jesus (who thought it just as appropriate to "forgive sins" as to "heal infirmities" cf. Mk 2), subverted "the temple's essential role as the mediator of forgiveness and access to God." (p.21) I thought about all the times I've read Mark 1:4 and just considered it in individualistic terms, the way we interpret so much of the gospel. But John's ministry was a bold challenge to the system, to restore the access of grace to common, everyday people. No wonder John baptized in the wilderness at Bethany beyond the Jordan - he needed a good bit of distance between his activity and the contolling powers of the temple in Jerusalem.

Now the application of this has me wondering: in what ways is the Church perceived as "controlling" the access to grace/forgiveness in our day. What formulas, sinner's prayers, signs of repentence, etc. do we insist upon that keep the unchurched at bay. And in what ways are we breaking down barriers, to see and celebrate the grace of God in ordinary, daily lives?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The D.O.C.K Rocks!

Wow, Sunday went so well. The D.O.C.K. program went off without a hitch, and we had an excellent turnout of members and visitors to participate. The church was full for worship and the energy level was high. I am so proud for all those who have hustled over the past few weeks to get all the details taken care of. The first presentation of the DOCK was an event that obviously connected with the intended audience, elementary age children and their parents, meaning their ideas and work were on target.

I realize this could sound like I'm boasting about the church today, but I really mean it as celebration. There are enough times when we bemoan the fact that things don't go as we hoped, or people don't respond, or volunteers don't come through on commitments. So, when it all comes together so well, I think you should pause and say "thanks be to God!" There's more hard work to do, but for now I'll keep my dancing shoes on, and celebrate.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Brain Shuts Down

Have been fighting the cold crud this week, and I think it has clearly amassed more delegates than I have. So, while attending to basics of work, the rest of the time there was no mental energy for writing a post - kinda like a perpetual Sunday afternoon gray zone. And here on Friday, the pressure is on.

This coming Sunday is a BIG Sunday for our church. A new children's event has been in the works and promoted, called the D.O.C.K. We already have in place a pretty good rotation Sunday School program that has a different theme, or lesson, every five weeks. What's being added is a high-energy, song and character, stage event set to introduce the kids to the rotation theme.

So, there is a "dock," a lighthouse, a boat, and a puppet character called "Beacon" occupying the Sanctuary this week. D.O.C.K. will take place during the Sunday School time, but I told them to leave the props in place so I could preach from the dock, and let the rest of the church understand what's going on and why. Now the "why" question is, "Why did I set myself up for this?"

I've got several pages of notes, and a couple of good illustrations, but I still fluctuate over the direction of the sermon. Part of me wants to "sell" the new ministry to the older age congregation, and part of me resists using the sermon time in such a blatant way. I left the lectionary and am using Psalm 78:

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

I know I want to emphasize that teaching our children is as important or arguably, more important, today as is was when the psalm was written. I want to emphasize the crucial need for ministries that engage children and lead them to discipleship. And yet I don't want to pretend to be the "authority" on the dangers children face today or on the exact methods we need to use.

Well, maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole-hill. But still, it feels like a mountain here on a late Friday afternoon, and I just want a clear head and a few clear thoughts. What was it Jesus said about moving mountains? A little bit of faith? Hummm.....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Limiting laptop and cell phone use at Gen. Conf.

Here's an interesting issue raised for General Conference that caught my eye on the Methoblog. The Rules Committee for GC has called for no cell phone use and limited laptop use during the plenary and legislative sessions, as reported by UMReporter.

Of concern is the limited table space, 27", allotted to each delegate (a small area when you get all the books out that you need for following the legislation), the inequity between the techno "haves" and the techno "have-nots", and the potential for additional distractions from the business at hand.

Jay Voorhees raised an additional issue in his comment on the Methodblog:
The issue is ultimately one of the political structure that we have. The prohibition of electronic communication devices arises from the fear (and the reality) of someone controlling large voting blocks electronically. The fact remains that many delegates are driven as much by ideology and relationship as any sense of vision or discernment. We have a long history of delegates looking to delegation heads to inform their voting, and the fear exists that electronic communication could allow blocks to organize more efficiently and thus thwart the presence of the Holy Spirit. Of course some might suggest (probably correctly) that the blocks of votes have been so organized coming into the meeting that the Holy Spirit couldn't blow through anyway.

My initial reaction, which I put as a comment on Gavin's post on the Methoblog, was that the rules were impracticle, followed by an assertion that, regardless, I would use text messaging to keep up with my teenage daughter when we are busy in our different legislative sessions. But the discussion has me now thinking on another level.

Jay's comment saddens me. I know the ideological groups in our church are present at Gen. Conf., but I find it hard to believe the delegates would be looking to a "party boss" to tell them how to vote. Here in S.C., the rebel state, we dare anyone to tell us what to do, much less how to vote on an issue. I know such voting directions, or suggestions, occur ahead of time, when the caucases meet to discuss upcoming GC legislation. There's really no way to prevent that, nor I suppose, should there be. We are free to meet with like-minded persons in an effort share concerns and multiply influence. The Holy Spirit can work in that setting as much as by guiding the individual privately.

Rules of behavior must walk the line between "what is necessary to protect the common good" and the "need to respect and protect the freedom of the individual participant." And I approach that line with the belief that you have to expect mature behavior, and base your guidelines on that, not on the lowest expectation of behavior. For instance, instead of saying "no cellphone use" why not say: "Cell phone use should be limited to text messaging, with no audible alarm. Delegates should not allow such use to become a distraction for themselves or other delegates."

Anyone going to General Conference as a delegate knows they carry a responsibility to the Conference they represent, and to the whole church at large. Delegates should know for themselves what is a reasonable use of their time, their prayers and reflections, their relationships, and their support technology in order to do the best job they are able to do.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Board of Ministry Reflections

The majority of my week was spent working on the Conference Board of Ministry examining persons seeking to be commissioned as probationary elders and deacons. Our Conference divides the work into four subcommittees: Call and Disciplined Life, Bible Study, Proclamation, and, Theology and Doctrine. I serve on the last one. It really is an involved process and it always leaves me both rejoicing over the people responding to the call to ministry, and very frustrated.

I rejoice as I see bright young people excited engaging the questions. I rejoice as we interview second career persons who reveal good experience and maturity in thoughtful responses. And I rejoice when I learn how God is working in the candidates' lives as they give themselves to study and ministry.

But I get frustrated over those who seem to come before our committee without preparation. I get frustrated over seminary graduates who cannot teach a Confirmation level understanding of grace from a Wesleyan perspective, or cannot explain clearly why we baptize infants or ordain women. I worry when potential ministers cannot discuss the theological challenges the church faces today and name the mission of our church.

So, needless to say, we approved some, and continued some for another year, and prayed for all of them. I know it is a high-stress event for the candidates, but I don't think we can change that or should apologize for it. We certainly don't try to make it any more stressful than it naturally is. But being qualified for ministry calls for our very best.

Finally, one candidate who previously was continued and this year approved, told me afterwards, "It has been a good year. I've learned a lot that I probably wouldn't have learned if you'd approved me last year. I wasn't ready then, but now I am more confident in my theology."
And as they say in the Hokey-Pokey, "That's what it's all about."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

As you welcome others...

A relatively new member shared a story with me yesterday that made my heart sing. She told me about taking her sister to a United Methodist church, and she told me I could share the story.

Her sister, with family support, finally took her son (under 3 years old) and left an abusive situation. My friend flew out to support her sister and told her, "You're making a new start, and you're going to go to church." She knew her sister would resist, so she made her plans ahead. She looked up United Methodist Churches on the web and called a church in the town, also named Trinity. She called and got the worship times and told them they were going to visit on such and such a Sunday.

As expected, the sister resisted, wondering what those church people would think of her, and how they'd treat this single mom from not the best of situations. But they went to worship. The people so warmly welcomed them, they stayed and enjoyed the fellowship time afterwards.
The sister had to make her son leave - he was having such a good time there.

When they got in the car her sister looked at her and exclaimed with amazement, "What just happened? Those people didn't even know me and I already feel as if they are part of my family!" My friend said she tried to explain to her sister that that is what being part of a church is all about.

Anyway, that was a couple of months ago and her sister hasn't missed attending. In fact, this coming Sunday her sister is joining the church and having her son baptized! Thanks be to God.

I want to carry this story around with me. When we get to General Conference and deal with all those debates about such and such, I want to remember that what it really boils down to is whether the people called Methodists remember how to welcome others with the love of Christ. And I want to delight in people who do what it takes to get their sisters, brothers, friends, or whomever to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (and the Lord's people!).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Years Leads Ash Wednesday

In a recent poll, Ashy was lagging behind the long time front runner, Newbie, by 7 penance points. It's still too early to predict a winner in this race. Each candidate claims to be the time of a "fresh start," with only their strategies distinguishing them. Newbie claimed a hugh lead with its celebrity parties and worldwide media blitz. However, in the face of Newbie's failure to sustain change, Ashy has been gaining ground. The momentum has stalled recently with Ashy's public insistence on contrition and humilty, causing voter panic among the boomers. In spite of the rhetoric and fluxuations, voter apathy is apparent. Even those engaged in the process seem to looking over their shoulder, hoping for a new candidate with both vision and the ability to affect real change. Could such unrest be the opening for Easter to drafted into nomination?

In other news,
A season of Lent seems out of pace with the rest of life. Full article, A Seasoned Life posted on Checked Luggage blog.

"We need the Church and its non-conformist plodding through the year. We are designed for a Sabbath and for life to have its seasons. Frankly, a lot of people don’t understand this about the Church. For many, Sunday worship is just another thing to do, or “get done.” Time with friends worshipping our God just merges into the same ole’ blur as we move on to other things.

But the Church steadfastly issues Christ’s call: “Come unto me, all you who are heavy laden and weary and I will give you rest.”.” The Church says, “We will take time to sit in God’s presence (without a Game-boy or latte in hand to entertain us) and we will wait on one another for hymns, prayers, and communion.” The Church is governed not by the clock, but by eternity."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Perfect Love Casts out Fear

Got back from Israel and then is was off to Trinity At The Beach, our church's annual retreat. Enjoyed the time there with folks, the good weather, and the reflections brought by Rev. Lane Glaze. One aspect of the retreat that people always enjoy are the small group sharing times. Usually after every presentation we break up into small groups to discuss how the message applies to our lives.

In talking about the retreat experience with those who attend, usually they mention the sharing as a wonderful part of the retreat. I once thought we just needed to provide more time for that in church, but I think getting away to a new location, and with a different schedule, is an important part of the experience. We've tried to capture the experience by using small group reflection in our Mosaic worship. But that hasn't caught on as well. So we've yet to figure out what it is that connects with people's needs, helping them to engage the Word.

Rev. Glaze is the Campus Minister for the Clemson Wesley Foundation, and is associate pastor at Clemson UMC. He did a good job leading us on the theme: Life in the Spirit, It's Not Just Another Thing To Do. One of the things that stood out for me was his remark about the young ruler who came to Jesus at night wanting to know what to do to be saved. Jesus told him to sell all he had and come follow him, and the young man went away sorrowful. Lane said the reason the young man went away was not greed, but fear. He was afraid of what might lie ahead in the journey.

That kind of fear in following Christ is something that affects nearly everyone. Just what will God ask of me if I say yes? It's like a marriage. You don't know what's ahead, you just know you don't want to go forward without the other person. When you get to the point where you don't want to go forward in life without being with Christ, then you don't count the cost, you just give your all. Perfect (complete) love casts out fear.