...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

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


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.


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.


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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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