...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Visual Violence Reflection

After seeing two current films, I'd have to say, wow, I'm impressed with the level, intensity, and regularity of violence and killing and gore. Most of us are rightly concerned as parents when it comes to exposing our kids to needless violence, regardless of the media, but here, I'm wondering about the harm it may cause adults!

I expected a heavy dose of it when I went to see The Punisher with my college-aged son- it was his choice. And , of course, the title is a warning. While the plot was comic book quality, the actual violence exceeded the war epic, The 300. Is it because the technology can do so many more things or just that we are immune -or addicted- to so much destruction and killing and harm? A reflection of real life? I don't think so!

I'm not judging anyone because I was the one who suggested that my wife and I see "Quantum of Solace," remembering how we had enjoyed James Bond movies of yesteryear. With James Bond as our control, current movies are on steroids in terms of visual violence and glory gory killing. Enjoy the race scenes as always, but learn how and when to close your eyes!

I think video games have, in part, gotten us to where we are. Is it the price of progress? Better special effects and the "wow" or rush value traded off for something that is killed inside of us, like living with less violence and spiritual sensitivities like compassion?

Maybe this is all just a taste issue, or some olders like me being a little too serious. As The Godfather or The Matrix or Star Wars are some of my favorites, I admit that they are far from harmless. But is this what I really want my spirit and my world to absorb??

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tribute to a Friend

Thanks to Sr. Mary Dennison, the Founder and Director of the Spiritual Direction Institute at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston.
  • Who, on the threshold of a sabbatical, has shared her wonderful gift of listening and empathy, of clarity and intellect to everyone she encounters
  • Who, in welcoming and accepting others, frees their gifts for joyful service and love
  • Who first told me that my love of reading and study was not weird but a valid spiritual discipline and tool for prayer and growth
  • Whose dedication and joy in her ministry these many years is not only beautiful but smart and contagious
  • Whose Midwestern spunk, good humor, and patience always brings fresh air to the seriousness and judgment of our Bible belt religion
  • Whose permission-giving, thought-provoking, and authority questioning gave me the freedom to rethink, discern, and repent
  • Who tells the stories of saints and martyrs with reverence as well as friendliness
  • You have embodied in the classroom and beyond the ideals of my spiritual heritage: "First do no harm, practice doing all the good you can, and stay in love with God."
  • Thank you, friend and sister in the Lord, for all you have done for me and for the church we share in Jesus.
  • Thank you for inviting me into this safe and healing place, and for all your encouragement in the SDI, in spiritual direction, and as a pastor!
We in the SDI third year are deeply grateful for your bringing us together! What a wonderful gift you have given the church and our city! May your sabbatical be filled with hope and rest and light and life.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beyond Walmart Hospitality

Reading Amy Oden's God's Welcome: Hospitality for a Gospel-Hungry World has led me to classify hospitality as a legitimate spiritual discipline for Christians and their communities. This volume offers a seasoned biblical, theological, and very readable reflection on the ancient and counter-cultural practice of opening our lives and our churches to strangers not because "radical hospitality" is the current gimmick for retooling stale churches, but because of who God is for us in Jesus Christ. Everyone yearns for God's welcome, and the need to belong and to to be "at home" is one of the most powerful of human hungers.

If we're not careful, we'll adopt what the author calls the "Walmart" brand of hospitality, the kind that only looks good. So the persistent theme of the book is a challenge to go beyond the easy, feel good hospitality of our retail culture. Even though most people probably appreciate the smiles and waves of greeters, good appearances alone don't endure in the pain and difficulty of life. God's hospitality in Jesus, is now and always connected to life in all of its fullness, its beauty and ugliness. Because God in Jesus gets in the mess of our lives with us, our hospitality is not just about being a pleasant person, but speaks to the depth and duration of our compassion. It's about welcoming people to a shared life and a common journey, not just to a building on a church campus.

Gospel welcome is not just another method, it's a life and a spirituality that transforms. Offering God's welcome is therefore a justice issue. Christians are responsible for fleshing out the welcome we have received. We too were once strangers and sojourners. At one time we were lost and unknown! Authentic hospitality often comes from those who have had a recent experience of being lost. These are the people who are new, strange, or unknown to a community. These are the folks who understand how important it is to create a space that is safe and free and welcoming.

Accordingly, one of the book's strengths is the excellent reflections on a variety of practices that foster a spirituality of hospitality. Some like "Saying Yes and Saying No: The Limits of Hospitality" focus on God's hospitality rather than on getting people to like us. Also included are study questions on each chapter for groups, teams, individuals, preachers and teachers.

Another example of a spiritual practice is "Getting Lost." Many churches are finding "mystery guests" to attend their church and give honest feedback of their experience of welcome. The better way, one which Oden suggests, is for church people to put themselves in situations where they are "lost." For example, go to a church for the first time sight unseen, experience being the guest, the one who is not in the know. Let it be a different denomination in a different locale or neighborhood. Let that experience teach you what guests appreciate as well as what they don't like. If hospitality teams practiced this regularly, perhaps the quality of our welcome would be deeper, wider, longer, and higher than that of Sam's Club! And more like God's welcome in Jesus.

The book is itself a welcome invitation to think more deeply about what makes Christian hospitality different. One of those characteristics is the quality of openness, acceptance, and welcome we practice with everyone, not just other Christians. That Christians are increasingly seen as intolerant, judgmental, and closed-minded provoked Oden, in part, to write this book. The church has made hospitality a buzz word of effectiveness, so Oden, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, has offered a timely piece challenging us to practice a spirituality of hospitality, informed by the Word made flesh.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Time Between and Revelation

Our 2008 Thanksgiving Day lands in the middle of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Christian year, and the first Sunday in Advent. I had the privilege of leading an adult study of Revelation to Chapelwood's Cornerstone Class these past seven weeks. The study was based on an actual reading and commentary on most of the book by chapter. The best study I know of is James Efird's book, Revelation for Today. It's both very readable, stays doggedly with the actual text and the community context of the Apocalypse. It's also a thorough debunking of Darby's fantastic interpretations which seems to reappear with every new generation.

I've enjoyed teaching this class and, along the way, have learned:
  • Revelation is a natural segway into Advent/Christmas, because it can foster a meaningful discussion of what God's coming among us looks like now and in the future, especially in a world racked by economic misfortune, trauma, war, violence, natural and human disasters.
  • Revelation is not as hard as we can make it out to be; but the metaphorical and picture language is challenging to church folks who equate the Darby chronology with Christian orthodoxy. It is interesting that western Christians read it this way- more metaphorically- for 1800 years, or until after the industrial revolution.
  • The core to me seems to be about worship of the one and only God who alone lives forever. That connects well with the commandments and defines what true faithfulness is.
  • A non-linear approach to the book is possible by staying with the genre. If you stay with the genre of apocalypse, the book reveals the origin, direction, and operation of evil, as well as the alternate reality of the Lamb and those who worship the Lamb. Again, the non-linear approach will raise the eyebrows of believism.
  • The Beast seems to be all about peace through war and violence, while the Lamb and his followers are told to endure (and not fight). The Jesus followers were not trusted by Jewish brothers since those following the way of Jesus refused to fight alongside them in the Jewish Revolts of 66-70 A.D.
  • The second coming of Jesus (rider called Faithful and True) is one (and not the only) image of the end; others are: the New heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem, the Judgment, the Wedding Feast, the fruit of the Tree of Life, etc.
  • John is and was right! Domitian died not long after the Revelation was written. Evil had its limited day, and the persecution lifted. Indeed, John was correct about what was "soon to happen, " with Christians living in a time without threat of persecution.
  • Then there's the stuff not found in the text of the Revelation: rapture and battle of Armageddon are good for starters. The antichrist is also absent from the text.
Questions:
  1. If you believe that fear works, why do we have to be threatened in order to believe or repent?
  2. I've noticed how the word apocalypse is so negative and destructive in today's culture. How does Revelation speak to our world in the darkness of violence, chaos, and hopelessness?
  3. We say we believe that Christ will come again in the Prayer of Thanksgiving. What does that look like for you??

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Essence of Spirituality

When John Wesley wanted what the Moravians had, he identified perhaps the most basic element in human spirituality: the yearning for something more. The peace of Moravian faith Wesley witnessed for himself amidst the trauma of a terrifying storm at sea. While he was panic-stricken, the Moravians were singing hymns. St. Teresa of Avila was known to have prayed, "O God, I don't love you. I don't even want to love you. But I want to want to love you."

There are often moments when we are confronted with the true spiritual reality of our lives: we want for ourselves what we see in others. A friend and colleague seems tremendously in the zone every time I see her. So centered, focused, prophetic, possessed by a mission that is undeniably authentic and obvious. What can I do but admire that!

There is no silver bullet of spiritual health. No matter where we are or where we've been, I believe all we've got to work with is our longing for more of God. And the honesty, like St. Teresa, not to call it love. The willingness to be a beginner is the enduring foundation of the Christian spiritual life, and in the end, our wanting to learn, not how far we've come, is what's most important.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanks!

Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons is a masterpiece for anyone interested in their own spiritual health. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Emmons in a 2007 lecture in Houston. If you ever doubted the role of gratitude in healthy spirituality and human wholeness, then this book is for you. Actually, this volume is a must read for our own well being, especially as we offer spiritual care to others.

Emmons maintains that gratitude not only is good for those who practice it, but also, motivates us to do good. It seems that gratitude is "in season" right now; however, within everyone is what the author believes is a "set point" for happiness. Practicing gratitude can increase a person's capacity for happiness significantly. The paradigm of the book is that gratitude and happiness fulfill and complete each other. The happiness/gratitude cycle includes both enjoying and recognizing good gifts, good intentions. "Everything looks better when it is seen as a gift," Chesterton stated. So if we can see life and the constituent parts of life as a gift, we are well on the way to living at a deeper, more fulfilling, level.

Because the psychology of gratitude has impressive research behind it, it is not a new happy-ology, or the latest in the power of positive thinking. The counting of blessings counters the adaptation humans have to whatever is good in our lives. Like guinea pigs on a treadmill, we adapt to life as we have it and even life as we want it sometimes. It's true that some of us are naturally more grateful. What the disciplines (psychologists will call them interventions) of gratitude do is to raise our set point for gratitude and happiness, while also dealing with real barriers to gratitude, such as daily hassles, entitlement, or trauma.

The researchers never maintain that a gratitude practice is magical, nor is it easy. It is simply a powerful tool and resource for health, and in my opinion, spirituality. The keeping of a daily gratitude journal for 30 days, for example, impacts depressive symptoms for six months! A one-time "gratitude visit" can have the same impact for 30 days!

I recommend this book, or even Emmons' Words of Gratitude, a lighter read. Or check out the latest from myauthentichappiness.com.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

You Make Me Want to be a Better Person!

We hear too much about being accountable, which seems always to address the letter of the law. A variety of covenant groups meet to report on the presence or absence of specifically Christian practices of the members. Church hierarchies ask clergy to self report an inventory of bodies and bucks that will be used in assessing the effectiveness of the self-same clergy. Sort of a built-in conflict of interest there, don't ya think?

Whereas the behaviors, practices, fruits, or numbers can be used as a measure, accountability's style of relationship is more transactional, and it runs on power over to define what success is. Everything depends on who decides what constitutes accountability. The bare minimum is neatly laid out. Those always touting accountability are what Charles Dickens would call the "grad grinds;" they inhabit a place in the food chain and status quo of institutions.

Loyalty, or being counted on, is much different. It deals with the relational aspects of motivation and why I would want to change in the first place. Being counted on addresses the whole person and not just a slot on an organizational ladder. The core of loyalty is transformational.

The best leaders are transformational, and free others- a separate universe from those whose only real authority is title or organizational control. When we are loyal, we want to do our best, not just because of institutional goals, but because we have the backs of those with whom we're serving. We become more than servants- we become friends! We want to do our best. We become our own best person, not because we have to, but because we will it.

"You make me want to be a better person," Jack Nicholson told Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets. And that, I believe, IS as good as it gets!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clergy Wind-Up Toys

Do you remember the era of wind-up toys? Every June, our family would gather at my grandfather's home for his birthday. He would share his collection of wind-up toys for the adults and children to enjoy. I think my Dad, who also collected these things reveled in this time as much as we kids did. As we matured, we made fun of company yes men who went to work with their brief cases and had, we imagined, a huge key in their back that, when wound-up, made them all look and act the same way.

Bureaucracies like church structures live in a bubble and see only a part of the world. For the sake of self-preservation, we block out what we don't want to see, feel, and engage. The effect is to numb any pain with the addictions or the drugs of choice the organization offers: recognition, promotion, rewards, status, reputation, success. The theme becomes clergy heroics 101 or minister show-and-tell.

And so, well intentioned folks say things like "These numbers reflect souls, and that's why numbers are so important." No, numbers are important. Period. The system likes numbers. Period. But number reporting is only one small measure of accountability, if that. Call it what it is: reporting numbers.

More reflective self awareness and honesty would admit that we regularly censor ourselves and others for the sake of the institution. We wonder why young adults are not interested in joining their allegiance to such an order? They see reality- they took the other pill, Neo. They see us very differently than we see ourselves. Maybe they see the great disconnect between what we say is important (people's pain, mission in the world) and what we really value (looking good and organizational maintenance).

A sabbath from year-end reports? A one time Jubilee?? That would be too easy, make far too much sense. It could only be done if you truly value something above those reports. I guess we haven't found what that something is. Or just don't see the disconnect.

Addictive organizations and those that serve them are not generally reflective, do not see the disconnects between corporate speak and what or whom is really valued, thrive on control, and lurch from crisis to crisis. They heroically jump to do good without first applying the check of first doing no harm.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another Lousy Night for Atheism?

When reliever Brad Lidge declared his gratitude to God and Jesus Christ for his game saving performance in the final game of the 2008 World Series, I thought, "Here we go again!"

Bringing a Championship glow to the hard living city of Philadelphia, he was just being sincere. The right hander is all the way back from that fateful blast off the bat of Albert Puholz in the post season of a few years ago. But this victory was about this city and this team, he said. Still, it's a remarkable story of recovery.

I am happy for Brad, former Astro, and also to Charlie Manuel, former Indians manager and the one who taught Manny and Thome alot about hitting. Anyway, it's great to see that both Brad and Charlie made good on the opportunities and the second chances the Phillies gave them. Both men had the courage to face their fears. Good for them and the Phillies!

Transcendence, or the ability to see the big picture, is one of the virtues listed by Seligman in the article on "The State of Positive Psychology" on this blog. I recommend it whatever your persuasion. Under "transcendence," there are several character traits: among them are hope, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, meaning or purpose (religiousness), and humor.

My thought is that Brad's expression of gratitude is beautiful; if he had been ungrateful, it would have been ugly. Having no one to thank is a terribly lonely stance toward life. Which is why I think that for every Atheist, there is a story. Often it's not at first about cogent logic as much as being wounded or abused by others, among them Christians.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Long Live the Browns

I know the Cubs haven't won a World Series for a long time, but at least Chicago has had several Championship teams over the last 44 years, including the Bears and the Bulls. The last championship in any sport for Clevelanders was the 1964 Browns, and then owner Art Modell had the game blacked out locally in order to make a few more bucks.

So when the Browns beat the Giants on Monday night football it was sort of like winning a championship since the Giants are the current champions.

But if there was a team that ever lifted or sunk its home, it's the Browns. My own theory is that if Modell (again the culprit) had kept his team in the old NFL instead of moving it into the AFC with the merger, they would have have had a better shot of at least getting to the Super Bowl, which they never have done. They weren't close until the late 80's. Though Modell made out quite well his team did not.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Dip for Clergy

Nurturing the Old vs. Birthing the New is a great topic for ministry because no matter what you are doing, there are always some things that need to die so that you can give your energy to birthing something worthy of your time and energy.

I like the idea of the Dip as set forth by Seth Godin. When to quit and when to stick is the book's theme. Sometimes clergy mistake rigidity for faithfulness. I've seen some folks have a success or two and figure that those successes can be transplanted to every other church they will ever serve. Many pastors stay too long, waiting out the last few years until retirement and very content to ride whatever wave is left.

But whether you stay with it and work through the dip or decide to quit at the right time, dips do exist. Learning how to face them honestly and ask the right questions is probably most important. It's in the long term where most of the rewards are.

Here are some questions on which to reflect regarding the dip:

1. Are you currently approaching, in, or beyond the dip in your setting? Why or why not? For Godin, the dip just starts shortly after what we would call the honeymoon as pastors.
2. What currently sets you apart from others in your field?
3. How can you narrow your focus instead of widening it?
4. How can you become, or are you already, one of a few instead of one of many?

Godin suggests that the smaller supply favors the one who has greater focus. The dip is an interesting concept for second half clergy and makes one wonder if the learning and experiences for them are in part, the uniqueness they have to offer. After all, wisdom always seems to be in short supply.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last Campaign - a Great Read!

Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days that Inspired America is a riveting account of the 1968 Democratic Primary campaign of Senator Bobby Kennedy. For many reasons, this book is a worthy read regardless of your persuasion.

One, for anyone attracted to idealism, it's a lesson in the costs of those ideals. This is the story of how, in the national turbulence that was 1968, R.F.K. became more and more his own man. In a very short time, an 82 day campaign, the national soul was touched and lifted. Most would say to this day that Kennedy's life and mission was left unfinished- so much died with him the night he was shot in June, 1968. At the same time, one cannot help but appreciate what was accomplished in the space of a few days. Clarke attempts to answer how Robert Kennedy touched our national character by beginning his narrative with the funeral train route, and the crowds that gathered along those tracks to say good-bye. The rest of the book is the story of how our nation's politics were changed in this campaign- and WHY those crowds gathered around that funeral train route.

The book's relevance is unmistakable. Was Kennedy's campaign also the last campaign to inspire and lift us with what we share, what connects us as Americans and as citizens of the world? Was this the last campaign to call us to unite rather than divide? The year, 1968, was one of inner-city violence, assassinations of leaders, war protests, and ugliness of domestic poverty. Kennedy's dual message was consistent and clear: violence is not the answer (respect others and obey the law) and justice was needed. In the cauldron of 1968, both were urgently needed, and RFK was the lone voice in the primaries holding white and black America to the same standard.

Kennedy, according to Clarke, was an authentic witness for non-violence AND law and order because of his personal experience with violence, his older brother's assassination in 1963. He could also stand for social justice because of the time he spent with the sharecroppers of the Mississippi Delta, native Americans in South Dakota, farm workers in California, and his own work with a New York anti-poverty foundation. The time he spent with the poorest Americans was of course questioned by some staffers because, of course, there's no political advantage in being with people who don't vote.

In reading The Last Campaign, I learned more about my country and a hero that I had only idealized since I was ten years old. Although the end of this story is always depressing, the gift of time continues to clarify Kennedy's contribution. In a way, he accomplished more in the space of those 82 days than some of us do over the course of our lives. His campaign touched our national soul and psyche in a way that was and continues to be irrefutable. We can do amazing things with the gift of our lives in a short amount of time, and we can make our significant contribution in whatever time we have left. That's a great learning from this book. And that's inspiring!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Good Christian Death

Is as much about how we have lived than how we die. The main ingredient in dying well is having lived well.

Jeremy Taylor, in the 17th century, noted several components to the “good” death: hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a good Christian life. Our picture may include being at peace without discomfort, at home (natural setting) and surrounded by those we love.

An early version of the Anglican Prayer Book (1552) advises for the dying person to be in charity with the world, seeking forgiveness and offering it, thoughtfully disposing of wealth, making a will, and putting all affairs in order.

I hate the word closure because it always seems to be used without appreciation of the power of grief; grief is more like an open, rather than a closed book. Sense of completion and coalescing, rather than closure, is more important for those who are in the stages of grief and death.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Beginnings @ Chapelwood!

Greetings from Post-Ike Chapelwood. We hope you are well and among the powered in Houston!

You’re invited to preview Beginnings: An Introduction to Christian Faith on Wednesday, October 1, 6:30-8:00 p.m. @ The Moveable Feast 9341 Katy Freeway.

Enjoy sharing a simple meal, hear a talk, and discuss the basics of Christian faith. Seven continuing gatherings will meet at the same time and place each week. At other times, we will visit one or two Christian communities and see what we can learn from their life together.

Some questions Beginnings explores: Can I give God or the church another chance? What kind of God do Christians believe in? Why is Jesus so important for Christians? How do I start an intentional spiritual life? How can I see my life in a larger frame? What can I learn to trust God?

The meal is free for our guests! Consider previewing Beginnings this Wednesday, October 1, and feel free to reply at sendress@chapelwood.org or call 713-354-4470 if you have any questions!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Texting Can Kill You

What about the dangers of texting while doing other simple tasks, like walking? One ER Dr. has issued AWTTW (a word to the wise). Texters who walk into traffic or drivers who hit someone while texting have at least a very bad habit. (From an unpublished paper by Adlard, "Multitasking is Becoming a Bad Habit for Many")

Human brains do not multitask, but instead refocus each time a new task is presented. There is also research that suggests that the hippocampus, a memory function of the brain, does not work during multitasking. This results in poor concentration, and compromised work quality due to memory failure. In addition, multitasking many hours each day understandably stresses the brain, and this stress can lead to breakdowns in our health and maladies such as high blood pressure.

Balance is the key to texting as tool and not a bad or worse, a dangerous habit. So, yes, while texting can kill you, doing many things without thought or reason can also become harmful.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ipod Idolatry

Although there is probably something good to be said for the availability of music, sermons, information, and studies on our Ipods, we will still receive less from them if we are trying to engage in another activity. And the other activities will probably suffer as well.

For example, a recent article on Ipod Spirituality in the September '08 Presence magazine, suggested that "continuous partial attention" can seriously hinder, not assist, with prayer. If prayer is about attending to God, then music as background can easily make concentrating too difficult. Seriously, it's hard enough for me to pray because I bring too many of my own inner and physical distractions to prayer.

I never thought something so helpful could become such a hindrance. Come to think of it, isn't that the way of most gifts? They are wonderful tools but can easily be misused or cause harm.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Multitasking and the New Cultural ADD

Can we put texting in the rear view mirror?
I can save an easy ten minutes in the morning by shaving with my Norelco triple Header while driving to work. I can save a few more minutes by having a snack breakfast during drive time. I usually don't use my cell while driving and I don't own a Blackberry, but I am still considered a multitasker according to Allstate Insurance.

What's the deal with multitasking if it saves time, and helps you to be more productive? A certain amount of it is inevitable and probably helpful. It's just discovering what works for you that can be difficult. With the plethora of new gadgets streaming out to American consumers, multitasking is not only here to stay, but also, there will be more and more opportunities to be a member of the club!

If multitasking is hurting you or at least compromising your safety, quality of work, stress management, or health, then it's probably time for some re-assessment.

Whatever happened to concentrating on one thing at a time? We may learn to see deeper connections only by single-tasking. Rather than skimming the surface of life, by focusing on one thing, we can actually live at a deeper level.

But think of the creative and strategic benefits of seeing new connections that single-tasking allows! The time and brain energy saved because life is no longer a constant doing over and refocusing. The appreciation people will have when those before you have your undivided pastoral attention and spiritual care as a valued child of God.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hurricane Ike- Yikes! A Comment on the Illusion of Control

Fresh from the despair of Hurricane Ike is my first post on the unpredictability of life. Spiritually, adults prefer something they can count on and so certainty really sells, especially in religion. Certainty is a long way from faith though and that's a problem. In biblical terms, as the ancient Israelites journeyed into the land of Canaan, so they created for themselves a more settled, stable, and predictable existence. Sane and reasonable beats unplanned and happenstance every time, right?

Israel's spiritual life mirrored their travels. Prophets like Hosea would look on the Exodus and wanderings as a time when Israel and Yahweh were alone, as if bride and groom on their honeymoon. Oh well, before one golden calf. It was only as Israel moved from nomadic to agrarian culture that Yahweh began to have more rivals, and idolatry become an issue. Predictability, comfort, convenience, stability, required more and more gods insure the fertility of the land, the foundation of economic life.

Henotheism is the worship one God among many others, and that is probably the best description of ancient Israel's rise and fall. Does that shoe fit the church? While we say we worship the One and Only, there is attention paid and energy given to other pursuits that will guarantee a sense of security and certainty as well as protection of our comforts and conveniences.

Choosing Exodus and not Settlement as your spiritual model means you are probably closer to the spirit of Jesus since he spoke of his great work as his departure or "exodus." In preparation for the hurricane, we were told to "hunker down" and wait it out. In the spiritual life, hunkering down can be deadening. It's all about being free to choose God, and receive and follow the movement of God in your life. Sometimes that means letting go of the idolatry of certainty and the illusion of control.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Email and Prayer Ettiquette

A visit with a friend reminded me of the garbage we forward to address lists without thought or regard. Is this practice generally welcome or just plain stupid? We've all received and forwarded bad messages, some with an extreme political view and otherwise. We wouldn't share some of this stuff if we really stopped and thought about it, and if sending it wasn't a click away. Forward unto others as you would have them forward unto you. That would cause less harm, especially in these political days.

Similarly, when it comes to natural disasters such as Hurricanes, how can we pray for God to send it anywhere accept to a place that will cause the less harm? edensong.blogspot.com Shouldn't we also pray for humanity to get our act together, as our contribution to global warming raises the strength and frequency of extreme weather? Shouldn't we also pray for the rescuers and the responders, wherever the destruction appears?

When it comes to terrorism, how can we pray for just our security and not also the safety and peace and well being of the whole world, for it all, with all of us, belong to the Lord, Our Father.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Codependent Pastor

"It is none of your business what other people think of you."

This recently heard quote from a friend in ministry really sums up what many of us pastoral types need to hear, but are afraid to own for ourselves. It is a freeing moment to realize that trusting our reputation to a faithful Creator is a gift we can give ourselves and those we serve. (cf. I Peter 4: 19)

Of course we don't want people to hate us. There is pastoral risk in saying no to the wrong person as well as in our aversion to conflict and disagreement. Instead of being outer directed, which most pastors are, it may be time to look at our core, our center, our true self, not as servant, but as beloved child of God, the lover of our soul. Our identity in Christ is the origin and source of good in our lives. Which makes me want to protect the reputation of others, to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Being more liked or less liked is not the goal; being real is. Pleasing others is not the goal of the Christian life; pleasing God, learning to be true to God's own image within are worthy of our best efforts and devotion.

Fixing People Leads to Burnout

Reasons for burnout are varied. Here are some I have observed.

1. Poor boundaries; pleasing others. I heard a great question today in a supervisory group for interns. What, if anything, truly offends you? Become more aware of yourself. Most pastors want to be so liked that they don't think any behavior will offend them. But even Jesus got ticked in a righteous sort of way. Denial of who we are only leads to bad self care.

2. Poor time management. Wasting time only leads to more stress in dealing with deadlines. Because crisis situations requiring our quality presence happen at any time, maintaining and honoring a schedule is a time stewardship issue. We have to manage what is in our power to control. Time is a gift.

3. Comparison thinking, ingratitude. Alot of times, we may feel that we don't fit the needs of the setting. We are unfair to ourselves and others when we engage in comparison thinking. It drains on our energy, keeping us from enjoying and using the gifts we do have.

4. Unprocessed grief- in ourselves and congregations. Think of the volume of grief we encounter. It's incredible. If we don't take time to grieve our losses, personal and congregational, the symptoms will appear down the line. We will eventually pay the cost of not attending to this most powerful human emotion.

5. Lack of peer support. They never told us within the hallowed halls of Duke Divinity School that we cannot make it alone in ministry. If they did, I didn't hear it. Nouwen's book, The Wounded Healer shattered the idea that our lives are somehow untouched by pain and suffering of others. We need others with whom we can be vulnerable.

Peace!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Non -Texting Phrases that Irritate

7. Not a problem: If it truly is not a problem, then why say it?
6. I'm good: Only for those who are unable to say "no thanks"
5. My bad: using this is your bad
4. We're hard wired: so what would soft wired be?
3. Faith-based: Another ill-defined gem that is now entrenched in churches.
2. Safe and secure interrogation: a.k.a. torture.
1. Climate change: I'm sorry, did you mean global warming?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday's Daily Morvian Text: John 21:6

I've found the Daily Moravian Texts a great help in my spiritual practice. The daily e-version of it is available below, and here at www.moravian.org. I was introduced to the Daily Texts by Fredrick Herzog, my professor at Duke Divinity School. He would open each class with the reading and his own personal reflection.

Today's New Testament text:
Jesus said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

If the first half adulthood is about establishing ourselves in the world, then what's the second half all about? Maybe it's more about our inner world, our spirit, then it is about mastery and control over our environment. It seems that we work very hard at maintaining ourselves, our safety, security, comfort, and convenience and if there is any time, energy, and motivation, then we will look at the state of our own spirit.

For clergy this rings true when it comes to the typical standards for measuring "success": buildings, butts in pews, budgets. It was about five years ago that "standards for measuring clergy effectiveness" included a person's spiritual well-being, not just outer accomplishments.

At any age, we cannot lead others to a place we where have not been. For clergy, to try the right side of the boat means to become aware of what has been left undeveloped or underdeveloped within. It means attending to the living Spirit of God, the Risen Christ, the source and origin of our ministry. It means to go where we haven't been fishing to find the basic resources that were there all along.

The risen Christ be with you!

Friday, August 22, 2008

HALT for Clergy

One of my colleagues shared a learning from the 12-Step community. It is a reminder to stop and reassess situations and make better decisions. It requires us to be aware of self-needs so that we don't act out of our worst selves.

HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. When I am too hungry, angry, lonely, tired, I should hold off making decisions and taking actions while caring for the need that presents itself.

We all have our limits. The clergy and church professional trap is that we should be like Jesus and empty ourselves regardless of cost. That idea comes from a poor reading of Philippians 2:7: "He emptied himself and became a slave when he became one of us." (CEV) What Jesus was emptying himself of was his divinity, his God-ness, in order to become one of us, to take on a physical body.

A more helpful reading might suggest that the flow of our life together may be one that takes us beyond just self-concern in mind and spirit and action. We need emptying of ego. We need deliverance from our ourselves. The verses that proceed the hymn (Philippians 2: 1-5) seem to bear this out.

The choice is often between playing the role of superman/superwoman OR ordinary human being, albeit filled with the Spirit and fully alive in Jesus. The super-clergyperson does not HALT; the one who is growing in awareness of themselves sees the wisdom of doing so.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where Are Your Pieces of Flair?

"I don't like talking about my flair." That's a great line spoken by Peter's girl friend in the movie, Office Space. While waiting tables, her manager required her to wear at least "15 pieces of flair" (nonsensical buttons and badges like the folks do at TGI Fridays). Once she started wearing her "flair," she was again singled out by the nit- picky manager, this time because she was only wearing the "bare minimum."

Here are some suggestions for coexisting with demanding personalities. One, have compassion and pray for him or her. Two, get an accountability group of a couple of others who can keep confidentiality. Three, seek the care of a trained or skilled listener, counselor, or spiritual friend. Four, physically care for yourself with appropriate sleep, diet and exercise. Five, do your job better than anyone else!

PLEASE note: If you are in the caring professions, you do not have the option to not care for yourself. The question, "Who cares for you and who listens to you?" is not rhetorical. You cannot afford to be offering to others what you have not sought out for yourself. And neither can those who depend on your care.

These folks who nag about our flair are usually unhappy with themselves, not just with your fewer buttons. And those who always demand that we try to be something that we are not can never be pleased because they are not pleased with themselves. Go with the "flair" God has given you within, the gifts with which you are uniquely equipped. Remember who you are in waters of your baptism, a beloved child of God. And do not be put to shame.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Membership Vow? Five and Counting...

In a perfect example of the top down style that is the United Methodist Church, our primary governing body, General Conference, "voted in" a new membership vow this year. "Witness" is now added to our other vows to grow in our presence, praying, giving, and serving as disciples of Jesus.

I have no doubt that witness is a great choice (I don't know what the other ones were). However, I am not confident that adding another vow will transform us into something we are not. Surely a plethora of materials will help us interpret this new vow to congregations and to individuals.

But adding witness is not going to help us if we have failed to teach the full breadth of what the other vows mean. Prayers, presence, gifts, and service, all witness to who we are and to whom we belong to as Christ's people. So my suggestion is not to look at it as a fifth vow, even though that is what may be intended. Instead, look at faithful witness as the natural outcome of growth in each of the other four areas of growth as a disciple: presence, prayers, gifts, and service.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bittersweet Monday

Late this morning, I took my youngest child and only son to college for the first time and left him there with my blessings and prayers. The short drive back to Houston by myself from Texas A & M (TAMU) was not especially fun. But I am glad I did it and he was of course appreciative. This week is the week before classes start and we had already moved a car load of stuff Saturday.

Today, however, was different. From now on, he will be a college student and we will be visiting him there. He is out of the house and becoming more and more his own person. Not that he hasn't been becoming his own person for the last 18 years.

Alex William, get some decent sleep tonight. Remember that you are all we hoped for in a son and in a person. You have taught me how to be a better dad and Christian and person. You have your own horizon now, one to which God is calling only you. We'll always be here for you. And love you. Your Mom and I are overjoyed that you are kind of person you are!

Have a great week and we'll see you Sunday for Convocation!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Adult Baptism? In the UMC?

"Nothing speaks more convincingly to the world than the habits, disciplines, patterns, and processes by which our lives are lived and ordered together." Bryan Stone, Evangelism after Christendom, p. 182

It seems that in the UMC, we have overlooked seasoned reflection on adult baptism. It used to be that Boards of Ordained Ministry would challenge candidates on their theology of infant baptism, especially if the candidate had some background in the Baptist or a believer's baptism church. RED flags would go up and you would be mired in a spiraling downward discussion if you were not prepared! Those who wanted to talk about believer’s baptism were instead faced with defending whether or not they believed in infant baptism. Once out in the parish, we were reluctant to talk about adult baptism for fear of rebaptizing someone, even if by honest mistake. To show how big a worry that is for clergy, rebaptism is a chargeable offense and proof of clergy malpractice in the UMC.

So the UMC (probably not by design)is traditionally weak on the practice of adult baptism. Among early Christians, the baptized were given new names. It was an inclusion into a new people. However, once church and state became friendly, baptism became more and more a tool of assimilation into the dominant culture and the nation-state's civil religion. Once the revolutionary aspects of the community (reconciliation of races, religions, classes, genders, and love of enemy, forgiveness of enemy, refusal to fight in wars of Rome) were left, baptism became more and more a “meaningless ritual.” (Stone, p.184)

Words matter because they shape reality and in Protestant sacramental theology, the word combined with the element distinguishes a sacrament from preaching or other acts of witness in the church. I’ve begun using the UMC baptismal words for youth and adults. They ask questions that are not simple or to be answered lightly:

• Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
• Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
• Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
• According to the grace given you, will you remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world?

Then the community of sponsors and witnesses and gathered congregation is asked: Will you who sponsor these candidates support and encourage them in their Christian life? Note that the above vows cannot be done alone; they are meant to be practiced in community. To me, this means that the community that is knowingly assuming responsibility for these vows is present if it is not the whole church. It is pastoral responsibility to identify the supportive community already living out their baptismal vows, from which the newly baptized can be mentored, and discipled. Where I think it is congruent to personalize or individualize, I hate the words, “private ceremony” because Christian baptism is neither.

My model is the story of the seeking Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. The story asks the question, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Phillip the Apostle’s word of preaching and teaching along with the water was the occasion for the Eunuch’s coming to faith and baptism. Gender, race, nationality and not-like-me-ness, even lack of community witnesses, did not prevent Phillip from baptizing. Accessibility to baptism is central in the question "What prevents me?" and I would rather err on the side of that openness.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Staff Ministry for You?

When a decision was made to be a career associate pastor, a mentor helped me to discern the direction by helping me list the advantages and disadvantages. Here's a list based on 22 years as a staff pastor, and 3 years in extension ministry. It bears a little resemblance to the list I started with in the 1980's.

Consolations:

Generally a saner schedule; family time can be a higher priority
Urban areas may allow better job opportunities for spouse
Often more choice in ministry settings (churches)
Ministry roles can offer greater specialization; expertise
Closer working connection to other clergy than solo pastors

Desolations:

Much of depends on the quality of working relationship with supervisor(s)
The level of compensation is usually less if moving from a staff to a solo pastorate
In specializing, you will sometimes miss doing other parts of the pastoral ministry
Learning to handle triangulation, such as between parishioners and supervisors
Lack of equipping across denomination in healthy staff dynamics for associates

Most of our seminary training assumes solo pastoring, so the bias still seems to be against career associate ministry. They see themselves as serving the areas of their locality or region. For example, Duke Divinity in the 1980's served primarily the rural parish of the south. Look also at the church in which you were formed. I have tended to look favorably on the associate role because my home church was larger and had many associates in my formative years. Some became close friends and mentors. So it might be helpful to look at your faith pilgrimage and size of the church that shaped your calling.

I've observed a trend of some faster growing churches to hire more part time staff than full time clergy. In general, it takes a very long time for churches to make decisions about adding new clergy, so there's usually not much change in the market for staff associates. In at least the last 15 years, it seems that that larger churches have looked more for associates with specialties in administrative and executive skills or preaching ability. Maybe more congregations are following Lyle Shaller's advise in his book The Very Large Church. This is an excellent book for those already in or now considering career staff ministry.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Creating an Intentional Ministry in the UMC Matrix

In the hybrid of hierarchy and 18Th century democracy that is the UMC, creating an intentional ministry is a must for your own growth as a pastor. Those who serve in a call system seem take a much more assertive, and in my opinion, healthy approach. Their scheme requires self-definition whereas hierarchical churches encourage more passivity in the face of appointments that are largely out of one's control. The machinations are done by a group of mostly older "cabinet" members absent from those who are being relocated. Usually totally in the dark, the pastor waits days or weeks by the phone to hear what assignment is being considered for him or her.

We have changed a little since 1784. But the appointment system, like a holdover from King George himself, has not gone away, at least for the medium and smaller sized churches. Funny the appointment system in the Anglican Church in the 1700's was not favorable to John Wesley or his father Samuel. Both priests in the church, they did not ascend the ladder, and in fact John, Methodism's founder, was eventually prevented from preaching in most English churches. The same church often refused the Sacraments to those who followed him, people called "methodist." Being pushed out is sort of the way the church grows sometimes (see Acts 8). So if you are creating an intentional ministry as a UM pastor, you are walking in our founder's pathway at least and maybe in the footsteps the apostles!

Why the history lesson? Because getting back to your center in ministry is imperative in your being alive in ministry. Define your core, your center, your mission statement in ministry. That will help you to say no and also to say yes to your gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you. And I think you will be more exhilarated, more alive!

Perhaps you won't get much help creating an intentional ministry based on your gifts. My experience is that seminaries still judge their performance based on how many of their graduates supply churches. We harp on "call" in ordination processes and then the word goes away in reference to being "called" to serve a concrete setting. It is all about becoming a pastor, a generalist, becoming well rounded and balanced.

Making peace with the system is important. And so is creating intentionality. That's why we have chaplains, associate pastors, and many extension ministry assignments. And, those who "feel called" to birth new churches. Those words actually come from the hierarchy itself, one of the few times we hear the word "called" regarding an actual appointment. A sign of hope and health I believe.

Peace!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Overfunctioning Minister: Live Well , Do Good

"Struggle is not a good strategy for the new world. Joy is the strategy," Donna Schaper writes in her book, Living Well While Doing Good. While I enjoyed reading this short volume by the UCC Clergywoman, I appreciate more the theme of how clergy can discover balance in their lives, personally, socially, spiritually, and professionally: "The success of the intervention depends on the inner quality of the person doing the intervention. In other words, if I am not well. I probably won't do good." (p.89).

Since most clergy I know still think they are going to save the world, or want to make a visible difference, Schaper's writing seems to be somewhat reactive and corrective: she is coming to terms with her own over functioning as social activist pastor. Building smaller fires, keeping a good light, using the Leave It Alone Committee as much as the Let's Do It Committee are all metaphors she uses to preach and teach simplicity and discern the best use of the gifts and time.

Her personal examples are excellent in teaching the concrete steps of simplifying life. I found the best chapters to be on simplifying: control (her weekly schedule is shared), conflict, size, and joy. One of the things I appreciate about the book is the fact that Schaper can talk about both gardening and global warming, "What is impractical is spring in winter, not banning cars." (p. 111). She can speak about the American cocoon as well as finding the courage to cross the threshold from vegging out in front of the TV room to the home and to the community.

Friday, August 1, 2008

There's No Such Thing As 'Political Capital'

This term is a misnomer, because as soon as you use it, you lose it. Power only increases when it's use is restrained. You might remember the unfortunate use of this term in a not too distant State of the Union speech. People now think that somehow power is a commodity sort of like anything else; it's just all up to us when and how to use it.

But as soon as you use it, it's gone and so are you. That kind of use of power sees others as pawns to move around, over, or through. To be distanced. The only thing it serves is transactional leadership, pro quid quot, this for that. But not transformational.

This gives new meaning to the "renewing and restraining" work of the Holy Spirit, words from many a baptismal prayer. It may have been prayed over you at your own baptism. Know restraint, know power. No restraint, no power.

Peace!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hall of Fame Weekend: Phony and Real Leaders

Some who call themselves the leader are, in fact, not. For example, in family systems theory, often the true leader is not the one who has the overt, official title or role. For example, many women were actually the leaders and the "quarterbacks" of their families, even though males may have had the higher status culturally.

In systems like churches, it is interesting to see who the real leaders are. They are not always the ones who tout it and shout it. In fact, these folks may be more insecure than really confident in their own sense of leadership.

My gold standard of leadership is very similar to what Marty Shottenhiemer said when he was coaching his first NFL team, the Cleveland Browns. He said the greatest of all coaches are the ones who are, first of all, able to see a future Hall of Famer and then, to assume the responsibility for this potential to be realized. If the player is supposed to make it to Canton, Ohio, then the greatest coaches make sure that destiny is fulfilled.

Leaders are true developers and know how to maximize the folks around them. They encourage, not coerce. Their love for people shows because they respect others. More than their idea of leadership. You are blessed if you get to be in ministry with such a leader. They are truly rare indeed.

John Maxwell can write fifty more books on leadership, I don't care! If I could choose to be the kind of leader that Marty described, I would, by God's grace and gift.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Death, Hammer Chords, Amazing Endings and Such

I know death is not really in vogue. That's part of the reason we have "Celebration of Life" services instead of memorials or funerals. But like the hammer chords in a symphony, death is the finale from this life. And death can be for life what hammer chords are to great symphonies.

This morning one of the first things I did was to air Beethoven's 8th, the symphony with 20+ hammer chords. It sort of sets the record for such in music history. Thanks to Bob Dugan, former music teacher, band director at Horace Mann Middle School in Lakewood, Ohio, I first heard this amazing ending in 7th grade and have loved it ever since.

As a Christian pastor, one gets way above average exposure to death and grief. The story of each ending is punctuated by hammer chords which speak of life, not always just painful, often helpful and healing, consummating the parts of the symphony which may have not made sense, tying the whole together in a way that transcends our judgments and labeling. Or reasoning it out: "It was such a blessing" or "It was God's will."

Maybe this gift can only be seen and received by those closest to, most intimate with the departed. I think of the story of Jesus and Mary in the garden. In the Gospels, most all of Jesus' appearances after Easter were to those closest to him. Our discomfort or fear, as well as our distancing from death easily deafens our ears to the hammer chords sounded by the end of life.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Spirituality of Shattered Dreams

The pain of disillusionment is equal to the level of false expectations we allow. If the spiritual life was presented as a one-size-fits-all formula for success, then, everything that requires effort and presents a challenge could be an occasion to throw in the towel. Whether we are talking about marriage, church membership, or Christian discipleship, pain is relative to the extent that our expectations are connected to reality.

Hebrews 11 helps us to see the Old Testament story through the colors of death and resurrection, not in terms of promise and fulfillment. That's because God's promises can always be twisted to address whatever I want. Taken together, Moses, who didn't enter the land (see Deut. 34), and David, who didn't build the Temple (2 Sam. 7:1-7), and Jesus, who wasn't delivered from his fate (Luke 22: 39 ff.) represent a strong biblical theme missing in the shallow faith of name it and claim it churchianity. It is the forgotten message God offering resurrection in the ashes of our dreams, our disillusionment.

When I entered full time ministry twenty five years ago, I had hoped that my prior student pastorates "would count" in future appointments. That somehow, I could skip the "Plum Run" or "Turkey Switch" churches because I had already pastored an isolated, isolating rural parish.
I quickly learned that the system doesn't look at such considerations. Instead it needs folks who will take what is offered the first time, or perhaps suffer the consequences later. Or folks who make a decision fairly early on what their ministry is going to be about. That is intentionality.

You can't change the system but you can define and re-define yourself with the gifts God has given you. There is a great need in the church for truth telling instead of false build-ups, whether it's a church appointment or the Christian way of life being sold. Do ya think we could save some pain, do less harm, if we just told folks the truth about suffering the death of our dreams, and through those tears, seeing the resurrected One? The One who alone offers new life beyond our wants and wishes?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Amazing Faiths Dialogues- Nov. 13 in Houston

The Dinner Dialogues provide an opportunity for people to meet people of other faith traditions, to share their experiences and listen to the sharing of others, and to converse about matters of faith and spirituality in a safe, controlled environment.

I participated in this project for the first time last year. I really enjoyed meeting and sharing with men and women from beyond my United States- Christian- Protestant faith tradition. More than that, I enjoyed wonderful hospitality, great food, a genuine, respectful conversation with other Houstonians. It was a great experience!

If you are interested in finding out about the closest Amazing Faiths project in your area of the country, click title of this post. See also the book, The Amazing Faiths of Texas.

Shalom!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Too Can Be Called 'Reverend'! by Jim Jackson

I’ve got good news for those of you who would like to become clergy. You can now be ordained online for little effort or money.

Chapelwood’s clergy did it the hard way. They endured a minimum of three and one-half years of graduate education – then at least two years of ministry under supervision before they could be ordained. Along the way there were years of psychological exams to be passed, papers to be written, questions to be answered, approvals to be gained. It’s not easy to be ordained in the United Methodist Church.

And it is expensive. The average candidate for ordination in the Texas Annual Conference has accumulated from $40,000-$90,000 in school debt. And their starting salaries are about $30,000. It is hard to make those numbers work.

How foolish these young clergy are. They could have been ordained by a church like “Church of the Latter Day Dude” (www.dudeism.com), or the “Universal Life Church Monastery” (www.themonastery.org) , or the “Church of Spiritual Humanism” (www.spiritualhumanism.org), or the “American Fellowship Church” (www.amfellow.org), or the “First Nation Church” (www.acwo.net) for little or nothing.

Think of it: you can do weddings and funerals – you can even start your own church and be the pastor. What a neat way to earn some extra cash. This gives new meaning to Paul’s reference to “the church in your house.” (Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2)

And what a unique Christmas gift it would be for your family and Friends. Rather than getting them sox, or a book, or a purse, you can wrap up a certificate of ordination and put it under the tree. What a terrific idea for folks who have nearly everything.

But come to think of it, you are already a minister. The New Testament makes this abundantly clear. Your baptism is your ordination. Next time you come to church look closely at the name tag we ask you to wear. It says, “Yes, I Am a Minister

By the way, if you want to be called “Reverend,” I’d be happy to accommodate you. All it requires is acting reverent.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Clean Coal- It's Radical

Words lose all meaning sometimes.

My favorite oxymoron of late is "clean coal." Having had my childhood years in Ohio, where coal based electricity was common, I'm flabbergasted by this term. Would anyone care to inhale your daily supplement of mercury laced ash, courtesy of the local, coal-burning power plant?

The fresh water supply in Appalachia effects much of the country's water. Efforts to "clean up" coal rely on disposing what's left of the clean up (a variety of sludges) and this stuff trashes fresh water supplies, ground water, with high levels of toxins like lead and arsenic. It takes land and then ruins it for generations. Sort of the strip mining of the new century.

Makes you think about the way we use words in church, and how some may hear them as self-contradictory. Yet we go ahead and use them. Although most in the church don't hear it this way, virgin birth is by definition a paradox. How about "radical" used in almost everything the church does today? Which leads to the church of the extreme middle!

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's Simple about Being Christian?

That's what Tom Wright addresses in his 237 page volume, Simply Christian.

What I appreciated about the book:
  • The metaphors used and explained, i.e., baptism (pp. 212 and following).
  • The positive view of the Old Testament/Israel as informing our reading of the New Testament/Jesus, not the other way around.
  • The centering of Christian faith on gratitude as response for what God has done. (p. 209)
  • The discussion on the New Creation was excellent. **
What I did not appreciate:
  • Started slowly; length. You would expect a book with simple in the title to be briefer and "simpler."
  • Written by clergyperson for church persons?
  • No Index was provided, this aspect took away from the reading.
**"Resurrection doesn't mean going to heaven when you die." (p.218) and "...God did for Jesus at Easter what he is going to do for the whole creation." (p.236). At death, there is an interim period when we are with Christ (call it heaven), but after that interim, a new bodily life is given within God's new creation, the new heaven and earth.

Simply Christian lends it self to a group study/discussion of 6-8 weeks and could be used with a variety of audiences, probably more with groups of seasoned believers.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting Off the Ride!

Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio...I remember trying in vane to shout to a ride attendant, "Stop this ride, or I'm gonna heave!!" The pace we live sometimes gives us a feeling of denying instead giving life. My mother, the 85 year old R.N. who has taught childbirth and grandparent classes for the last 25 years, has the right prescription.

If we are currently doing nothing to really to care for ourselves in terms of diet and exercise, take thirty minutes a day out to do some that engages you and that you enjoy. This doesn't include vegging out in front of the T.V.The other thing we can do is to do something that relaxes us before going to bed. Something that prepares us simply and easily.

These are two practices that almost anyone can begin with ease. You can start it right where you are!

Peace.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Lousy Night to Be An Atheist Indeed

While last night might have a bad night for atheists who happened to be watching the Home Run Derby, I found Josh Hamilton's record first round of homers incredible. His references to God's grace in the interviews which followed (which I didn't hear about until earlier today) is something I hope we can all claim for ourselves.

If the atheist has trouble explaining the grace operative in human life and all of creation, then Christians are those who should be shouting it from the rooftops. If the atheist is challenged to see life as gift instead of chance, then Christians could be world leaders in gratitude.

It's sad that we often impose limits when speaking of the vast and inexhaustible grace of God. Our words betray this whenever we say, "There but the grace of God go I." Does that mean that, due to whatever calamity or hardship that has happened to someone else, they are therefore outside of God's grace? And we who are in God's grace are quite fine, thank you. Instead we might more honestly say, "Better them and not me!" Really, why bring God into it? It would also allow grace to be bigger than we are.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Using and Misusing the Name

It is about more than ugly, angry, hateful language. That's bad enough. One of the many things I like about the CEV* is its translation of Commandment #3: Do not misuse my name." (Exodus 20: 7) While taking the name Christian, #3 is also about the way we use the name of God, especially the ways we "bear false witness," or misrepresent God, Jesus, and Christian faith by our actions and our attitudes.

It is here that I often turn to I Peter 4:17 and the sense that God's judgment begins with God's own people, with those who claim God's name. I find that especially helpful when the question about who's in and who's out are inevitably raised (usually by those who think they are inside).

So claiming the name is tied to covenant keeping, and responsibility. Otherwise, we tend to be very flippant with God's name, using it to bless actions both individual and corporate that may be in disharmony with our words.

*The CEV (1995) usually keeps me from misusing the Bible, which is why I like it. For example, in John's Gospel, "Jewish leaders" is used where most other translations use "the Jews." (John 20:19) To me, The CEV's translation seems to make more sense when reading the New Testament narrative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Marx, Micah, and Drugs of Choice

Is it religion that is is the opiate of the people or are opiates the religion of people (Micah 2:11)? Either one is not a very high view of religion.

When religion becomes an opiate, we call it by its right name, "feel good faith." If that is the main purpose of my spiritual practice, then it is probably true that my religion, for me, is an opiate, something which helps me to feel good in my pain. Or to ignore, deny, or run away from it. Love of God and neighbor? That would come after the primary goal of feeling good.

In a similar way, Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah (6: 14) and Micah were critical of the kind of religion that only smooths over, doesn't rock the boat, and deals lightly with human wounds of spirit. The problem is that such leadership offers to heal wounds "lightly," while our brokenness is anything but an abbreviated experience. We want to forget about it and not have to think about it anymore. That's what "feel good" faith does for us.

Feeling good, however, is not necessarily the opposite of genuine faith- not at all. It is just not the aim of the Christian spiritual life. Growth toward loving God and others as ourselves might deliver us from confusing faith in Jesus with drugs of choice. There is a religion of glitter, a self deception of claiming the name of Christ only, as in "Christian." Spiritual well- being includes healthy self-awareness- and seeing what kind of impact your faith has on others.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Words We Don't Hear in Church

Did George Carlin go PC- or did he just get the last laugh? One fine day about 15 years ago, I was watching "Thomas the Tank Engine" with my young son. "Thomas the Tank Engine" was a wonderful program for young children but narrated by none other than Carlin himself! Carlin surely got off- at the "dazed and confused" generation's expense- on a really weird bit of irony! With my thanks to blogger Martha Hoverson over at www.ccblogs.org, what are some of the words you can't say in church? I am a child of the 60's and 70's and enjoyed Carlin's satire which often pointed out our own idiocy and hypocrisy. You can, of course, think of Carlin's original seven words as now being a little more acceptable in the general culture.

To twist it the other way, there are some words we regularly hear on the news and in general that we just don't hear much in church: torture (ironic that Jesus was a torture victim). Another is global warming (thank you P. Johns). While we drive to get another one at Starbucks, food vs. fuel would be a phrase that we could add. And thanks, in part to Starbucks, fair trade. Other phrases would be the adverb buying, with any number of nouns, such as buying humans (slavery). Closely linked to buying is war profits. Yet another is corporate greed. We could name more, but these are the start of a good seven.

Why are these words used everywhere but don't seem to be part of the general discourse of church settings? "What we have here is failure to communicate." (Cool Hand Luke)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Words that Really Don't Work in Church

There are a few words that I have heard that I would not use, under any circumstances, and this has nothing to do with being politically incorrect, and everything to do with basic human decency. I wouldn't use any word that ridicules, threatens, or dehumanizes others by their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or national origin, disability, or really, for any other reason. The joke I thought was cute wasn't worth telling because it was demeaning at least.

Again, I have heard different epithets used from a variety of American pulpits, and guess what? Even if the word was used to prove a point or as a confessional, the result of shock and regret did not really justify it. Words do harm and in these cases, more harm than any possible good. Even if it may be somehow cathartic for the speaker do it, there are other ways of confessing and for good reason. Most of them are not in front of the Sunday morning crowd.

I have also heard preachers tell all in such detail that they had lost me and surely others. I feel you do not have to subject others to this kind of pain. Doing so reflects a troubled spirit. You can be authentic without causing everyone else to freak. You can be honest by also being considerate, leaving enough space in your words for others to see and name their own darkness.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Who Defines Transformation?

Church nomenclature has transformation as one of the the latest and worn out expressions. Does anyone know what we mean by it?! Is there a possibility that anyone unconnected to church life knows what we are talking about? Transformation is term thrown around that has New Testament roots (Romans 12:1-2) and bears a close similarity to repentance or metanoia, a change of mind. If you are thinking in Hebrew, the word is more like a change in direction, a 180.

Not all "life-changing" experiences are favorable or positive, so transformation by itself could be seen as an empty expression. We need to ask what is being transformed, by whom, and for what purpose? If it is to be socialized for the dominant culture and church replete with the cultural idols of violence, nationalism, and affluence, then that is an entirely different meaning from the New Testament sense. Who defines transformation? If our way of measuring it is only the happy trinity of budgets, butts in pew, and buildings, then how is that transformational?

It seems that any honest use of this word should begin and probably end with repentance. It means a basic change from the normal human pattern of wanting to create gods in our image to serve us rather than to be shaped by the One and Only. At the least, transformation in Jesus is surrender to the One who is not boxed by our gimmicks. Much more, God challenges the folks who constantly use the Name for their own ends.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Southern (Methodist) University: Where's the Accountability?

If Chick-a-Fillet wants the foul poles at Minute Maid ballpark to be named, they simply have to pay for it and then honor the contract. Is anyone deeply concerned about the Methodist name and the institution of SMU being attached to the proposed "think tank" Institute that will, independent of any church teaching, lift up the politics and policies we have endured for the last 8 years in this nation of ours?

Of course Bishops and University officials are not immune to big money and power, and I don't blame them for presenting this issue as one that concerns only the SMU Trustees and the South Central Jurisdiction's Executive Council. And perhaps Dean of Perkins, William Lawrence, has made a good point, that having the institute on the SMU campus does not equate agreement with its politics, but rather, invites debate, learning, and discussion. Keeping your opponents closer to you than your friends is an interesting rationale.

However, questions should be asked at the upcoming Jurisdictional Conference (July 15-July 19 in Dallas). Why? Because there doesn't seem to be any accountability (to the Jurisdiction, the UMC or University) built into the entity being created. Power usually does not want questions asked, but by simply asking questions, South Central delegates can be faithful to a church that has always lifted up the importance of equal representation, transparency, and accountability. Those should be the norm not the exception in the way we do church. And Jurisdictional officials should allow those questions to be asked, freely and openly.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New Site for Clergy Self Care

Click on the post! This a great little site featuring short articles for busy clergy.

VBS @ Chapelwood: A Wonderful Blessing!

Where else can you go to engage and be lifted by the energy of hundreds of children and youth than in the Jerusalem marketplace?

This was an awesome week! Thanks to all who made this happen. The adults are the ones who are blessed to have participated.

I want to thank my fellow upper-roomers and youth, Mark Cotham and Steve Moen for their great assistance all week. They were a delight to work with. Thanks to them, dozens of kids made some great looking plaques featuring a Psalm or a masonry nail cross.

And the kids will be singing about VBS this Sunday, June 15 at the 8:25 service at Chapelwood. Come and hear them!

Shalom!

Home Repairs

With the abundance of major home repairs that have cascaded over us this month, we are faced with the choices of what to put on the back burner and save for another day. Seems like last year was the year to replace existing autos, while this year, we are down to have-to jobs: new AC coils, extensive new drain lines, replacing rusted doors, and a new apron for the drive, something put on hold for years.

So it will feel good to have this stuff completed, with always more that could be done for the future. If you think this is parabolic of the spiritual life, just remember the times you have heard "makeover" over the last year or two. The fact is, we find the idea enticing.

The church talks a great deal about transformation. I wonder how much of that word is more about makeovers that we can see than about the realm of God's reign, which we often cannot or do not see. Jesus' seed parables in Mark 4 point to our reactions and resistance with wanting God's rule (4:1-20), how it happens apart from our own control and recognition (4:26-29), and that in its beginnings, size DOES NOT matter (4: 30-34).

The temptation in church life is to have the one answer that will fix everything, such as a new mission statement, strategic plan, or consultant. In the spiritual life, the lures work the same way- what is the one thing that will repair- renovate- my spirit?

The famous physician and endocrinologist Hans Selye, noted that nature loves diversity. And so it is in the spiritual life. There are many practices that will provide strength and hope for your journey. But it is a gradual transformation more than a makeover. The journey to God is also with God.

Selye's book, The Stress of Life is worth picking up. It's a classic in the physiology of stress reaction.

Shalom!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Servanthood or Friendship? Can You Have it Both Ways?

It would seem that servant-friendship is as much an oxymoron as servant-leadership, which is, in itself a creation of 70's corporate America. The UMC has really majored in this metaphor. Servanthood has dominated much of the denominational literature related to discerning and defining the call to ordained ministry. Of course, Jesus teaches his disciples- followers- to be servants of one another. But in a world that no longer recognizes slavery as it existed and functioned in the first century, we miss the the power of the image that Jesus used.

The gist of Jesus' teaching, as I see it in Luke 22:24 ff, is intended to diffuse power distinctions instead of reinforcing them. Ironically, we seem to use the word servanthhood to make more distinctions among us. In our ego-driven world, it is not long before we are at the game of determining who the best servant is.

Like alot of things in church and religion these days, the call to servanthood is often used on others. We bring the word out when we want. It is a very risky thing to surrender yourself to the Holy Spirit, because it means death and resurrection. And this is the missing piece: we cannot copy Jesus, but we can be obedient to the Christ in us and love the Christ in others.

That's why I am drawn to basic friendship as the healthiest model or metaphor for ordained ministry. If we had to describe what it could be or should be, I like friendship because it is much more personal. Friendship with each other and with Jesus seems to be the direction of the last Gospel, when Jesus calls his disciples friends, in direct contrast to being slaves. (John 15:15)

So if you can't have it both ways, here's my vote for FRIENDSHIP as the better way to describe what the pastoral role can be, perhaps is meant to be. Not that friendships with parishioners can or should ever take the place of friendships with peers. Remember, we are talking friendship as metaphor. The Celtic Christians, who talked about the soul friend (St. Bridget) and not the spiritual director, understood the importance of walking together (St. Aidan) humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) It's about mutuality.

So the point of the journey is not to repeat Jesus' own death, the laying down of his life, the emptying of his God-ness. We cannot copy Jesus. But we can live a Spirit formed life where others, because of our love for them, do not have to be sacrificed. We are FREE to act out of love, because we know what being a friend is. Which would be a transforming way to think about friendship and ministry, don't ya think?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Breaking through Storey's Cultural and Our Suburban"Bubble"

Preaching and teaching this week at the Texas Annual Conference, The Reverend Peter Storey, the long-time South African Pastor and former professor of Duke Divinity School, challenged clergy and laity alike to see anew what Jesus' friends look like. And, according to Storey, they are a somewhat different cast than many of the folks we have surrounding us in the UMC in America today.

In his Tuesday afternoon talk, Storey's remarks, by implication, drew stark parallels between white church life in South Africa before racial reconciliation and the current state of affairs in our own church. The more he described his location in South Africa, the more I saw similarities to our location in American suburban faith. For example, he mentioned that the current success of the prosperity gospel in Nigeria and elsewhere are actually transplants or copies from American preachers of weal.

Methodists should focus our concern on breaking out of the cultural bubble that keeps us from meeting the people that Jesus calls his friends: the poor, the untouchables, the unclean, the sick, the uneducated, the powerless, the oppressed. Instead of figuring out how to be "amateur politicians" in preparation for the next General Conference, we would better use our time by breaking out of the bubbled life that keeps us from encountering Jesus, who "always brings his friends with him!" WOW.

Well, there are some very concrete steps you can take to do this. It will refresh your spirit and your ministry but this growth also has to be a choice on a personal level. I offer some suggestions below, based on my personal experiences:

1. Volunteer for an activity at a long term care facility- they need you there! Many states have training for ombudsman (resident advocate) who visit nursing homes. And the training may be useful for anyone you already care for or about.

2. Participate in anything that gets you out of your comfortable faith community. The Amazing Faiths dialogues in Houston are done every fall and there are similar programs in Texas and New York. By the way, this program is based on the book, THE AMAZING FAITHS OF TEXAS.

3. Be a reading coach at a free and reduced meal school in your area. Help one or two students practice what they are learning.

You would be amazed at the friendships and connections that you will discover on the outside and a respect and appreciation for others that will be born on the inside. And you will meet some of Jesus' friends that have been missing from your life.

Peace to those who are near and to those who are far away! And thank you Peter!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Empty Nest- in Search of a Better Metaphor

Inspired by the graduation of my youngest child from high school, My wife and I are headed into the season when they are ready to be on their own but they can't yet be on their own. Their physical, emotional, and mental selves deign them ready, but their financial independence is still several years away.

For thirty years or so, the image for this transition in adolescence, when the kids first leave home for long periods (college) and finally move out and have their own place (career and possible family) has been described in a negative sense: empty nest. It assumes that everyone is just waiting around for the procession out of the house. Or that they are somehow pushed out of "the nest."

The more contemporary image of the launch is more positive. Its emphasis is on the adventure instead of a season of life coming to an end. We would rather think on the excitement of the journey than what is lost. Which brings up the idea of the journey as a spiritual quest.

The Celtic Christians of Europe's Dark Ages took on the journey as a spiritual call. Traveling long distances was apart of their cultural roots as Celts. As Christians, it became a dedication, a service to God. Columbanus taught that life is not a resting place, life is a road: “Let us concern ourselves with things divine, and as pilgrims ever sigh for and desire our homeland: let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of the roadway is our home.” Seeking solitude for contemplation, monks traveled farther and farther away from their home in Ireland; some were never heard from again. This practice was called peregrinatio or “traveling for God.”

The launching phase for families is holy work and a journey for everyone- very difficult, rewarding, exciting, a struggle. And from Abraham to Paul, the movement toward God has always been WITH God. For this journey, the words from Moses of the Exodus are very appropriate: "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms." Deuteronomy 33:27

Peace!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spotted Owl or Lemming?

Without commenting on the actual recruiting efforts or the various studies that have been touted regarding younger pastors, there is a sense in which every generation needs to be reached and who better than folks from their own generation? Remember the plethora of workshops on reaching baby boomers 20 years ago? There was a sense of urgency about reaching these folks then, many of which were baptized but never confirmed. But most clergy are now baby boomers. Second career, older clergy have been, in part, very functional in the system because they could be better equipped to pay their tuition, depending on their former employment. So for a long time, older, second career men and women seemed to be a very good fit for the system.

The x'ers as well as the millennials want and need a different church. In a few years, it will be all theirs! Too bad most churches are already comprised of many AARP-ers. Dwarfing the ordination process will help. If Annual Conferences really want control of clergy effectiveness, then why not sponsor the best blue chippers and pay for half (or more) of their seminary tuition? UM seminaries could offer more paid tuition for UM students, such as Brite Divinity does for its denominational students (Disciples of Christ). Is it unfair to expect young pastors from various income brackets to shoulder the expense solo for such a community endeavor?

It comes down to being the kind of church that values and respects others for who they are, not their sense of entitlement. Entitlement is one of the deadliest, costliest, and most pervasive forms of spiritual dis-ease we have today. It blights spiritual health and its harbingers, gratitude and appreciation. It ruins harmony and peace in the community and destroys personal well-being, and happiness. Cedric the Entertainer says in Barbershop: "You've got to give it to get it." He is talking about respect. We don't get much of it until we learn to give it, genuinely, in community. Whether "spotted owl" or "lemming."

Welcome: Is Blogging a Spiritual Discipline?

If you are someone I have recently met at the Perkins Mentor Training or General Conference, welcome to this blog! In it, I try to address concerns which I face as a 50+ yr. clergy person marking 25 years under appointment in the UMC! Feel free to reply with your comments or suggestions!

And the question comes out of my own pursuit of a spiritual practice. Blogging is writing and so it can be form of spiritual discipline. A spiritual director seems to agree and encourages likewise.

As you are probably aware, the UMC wants (is desperate?) to recruit younger (under 35+) clergy for its aging leadership. Many judicatories are starting special "spotted owl" settings where these folks can meet to experience more community and support. When it comes to clergy over 35, it seems if you have survived that long, you have been thoroughly institutionalized in a sense, and that in itself can take a toll on spirituality, not to mention mind and body health. So can life!

To serve and to give from the full cup is only healthy. To want this is a yearning that I believe is given to us by the One Spirit who called and gifted us. There are many ways to pursue this- but it comes down to a change in self rather than a change in the church at large. Or anything outside of the self.

When I was five years out of Duke Divinity and in my second staff position, the pastoral counselor (who happened to be a Presbyterian clergy), compared the clergy ladder to an "iceberg"- very difficult to ascend with lots of slipping and sometimes sliding down. I think he was pretty accurate on many levels, as well as the spiritual level. The official line from the institution is all about effectiveness while being spiritual. For the benefit of all concerned, I guess. "Clergy need both (fruitfulness and spirituality) in order to be successful," words spoken by a seminary leader just last year (L. Weems). But the motivation for your own health, self- care, and wholeness, has to come from you for you are the one who will reap the most immediate consequences.

A guided retreat with a spiritual director is a good start. There you will have a chance to reflect on where you are, where you need to be, and how you can begin a new spiritual practice to foster a deeper experience of God's love wherever you are.

Peace!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Choose Something Like a Star: Dedicated to the 2008 Grads!

I love Randall Thompson's Frostiana, the poems of Robert Frost composed for choir and piano. In it I find something for graduates of all ages to consider, words from "Choose Something Like a Star," and the lines go like this:

So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

Peace!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Prayed for or Preyed on?

So many are turned off by hypocrites.

It may begin with realizing some who call themselves real Christians are not real people. There is the disappointment that comes with knowing that the ones who use all the right religious words can also be the ones who can cause the most harm and injury to others. That is more serious than just pretense or hypocrisy. I have heard lately about secular employers, as well as churches, letting their employees or staff go, and in an effort to soften the blow and to claim that they are somehow "christian," these same folks who are cutting a person's job will claim they have prayed about the decision, or that they are praying for the soon to be departed.

One word for those who would want to use religious words to sugar coat a painful situation or to cover guilt, or to look good. Please don't do it, even if you happen to be sincere! Don't bring God into the pain of that moment. If you do, you not only injure that person's sense of God, if there was one, but also you can make prayer an instrument of harm. God is not the cause of this action and your referencing God has no place in what may feel like, or may be in reality, being thrown out on the street.

In my opinion, much of what we do in taking God's name in vain is not just ugly or hurtful language (see Exodus 20:7), it is also using God's name to minimize, not to bless others. The CEV reads, "Do not misuse my name." If everytime I hear God and I am manipulated or lied to, then I begin to associate God with being manipulated, lied to, or even abused. So misusing God applies to people who take the name Christian and use it to degrade.

We would be healthier if we just owned it ourselves. Be healthy.

My Hero: Marvin Cropsey

Marvin Cropsey's title doesn't really fit on his business card anymore. Marvin, has been in ministry many years with the United Methodist Publishing House and is an amazing servant of the church. Currently, Marvin is General Editor over all our denomination's Quadrennial Resources (a fancy name the many, many volumes General Conference generates), plus other things like the Mature Years, etc, etc., etc. I recently saw him at our General Conference last week in Ft. Worth; we had a chance to renew our 30 year association dating back to when he was with Cokesbury in Ohio in the late 70's.

In the midst of General Conference, he was easily one of the busiest persons there. The Daily Christian Advocate, one of his responsibilities, covers every word of General Conference. The DCA had a large suite of makeshift offices where the large staff was working for two weeks. Marvin arrived very early each day; he retired each evening in the early morning hours. He was also the one of the first to arrive and the last to leave the city.

Most folks think his job is not fun, but Marvin disagrees. In fact, Marvin's energy remains constant. His stamina is due, in part, to the fact that he loves General Conference and his part in it. Passion really overcomes so much! After reflecting on all this, I wonder if it is not the better part of wisdom to return to our first love, our passion. It is easy to lag behind energy-wise when we forget why we do what we do- and what we loved about it all initially.

I have a sense that the famous do-gooder Ephesians of Rev. 2, the first of John's Seven Churches, would understand about losing the love and passion we once had. Maybe this had to do with "christian" phonies and they got tired of them. I do think it is consequential, not really punitive in Revelation. As love continues to grow cold, the lampstand will be taken away; just as the light we offer to the world will dim and go out when we forget our first love.

Marvin says everyone marvels at the joy and dedication he has for his work, his ministry. Indeed, his energy seemed boundless last week. In this week of recovery,I thank Marvin for reminding me of what it looks like to give from the full cup. And to be used by the Holy Spirit. We all need to see that for ourselves (rather than envy it in others) and to do it.

You fill my cup until it overflows. Psalm 23:5

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Why Clergyspirit?

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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If you want a formula for making the best of the less-than-perfect and making the most of what you have been given, then begin to compare your lot to what you were before you were born, and it will empower you with wonder every time. John Claypool

Making Good Decisions