...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 31, 2009

The December 31 Moravian

Let all those rejoice who put their trust in you. Psalm 5:11 (NKJV)

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. John 20:29

Why is it that, in struggling for a word of hope, we fall into the trap of choosing the better over the best? Of worshiping the effect or result of God's transforming grace instead of fixing ourselves on The One and Only? Something works well one time and we codify it into a regular tradition. This is about our preferring the penultimate instead of the Ultimate.

The words for the new portal of time called 2010 are about us, God's people, trusting in God's goodness and grace even though we do not see what's ahead. We are free to rejoice in the not-yet-certain because God in Jesus is ahead of us.

Today is a foggy day in South Texas. Living by faith is similar to driving in the fog with real fog lights. We can see better, maybe not any farther, because the reflection of the brights against the fog is gone. The distractions are not as annoying and difficult to screen. We can see God's love best with the eyes of faith. And it's about trust not certainty.

God, deliver us from the temptation of doubting your love for us. Regardless of what we can or can't see ahead, free our spirits to hear Your words of love and power reclaiming and recreating us in this moment of new time. We surrender to Your will and way in Christ's name.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

UM Questions and Answers 2009-2010

  1. If it works in Kansas does it work in No Trees? Yes, if it's the UMC Publishing House.
  2. What's the obsession with discipleship? It's measurable and safe. And our version stops short of getting into trouble like Jesus did.
  3. Why are there so many church consultants? See #1 above.
  4. Are younger clergy just more fodder for the pension system? Not all all. How cynical.
  5. Why are clergy pensions being re-evaluated? Pensions?
  6. Why the glass ceiling for women mega- church senior pastors but not for women bishops? The UMC wants to look more progressive than it actually is.
  7. How can UMC's be for the civil rights of GLBT persons and against holy unions? See number #6.
  8. How much does the name "Methodist" cost? Ask the trustees of Southern [methodist] University.
  9. What is fruitless? Probably lecturing on fruitfulness. Or hearing a lecture on it.
  10. What's a mission-based appointment? Too early to tell; maybe it's new code for a "challenge."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Nullifying God's Grace

Week of 12/27/09 watchword:

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:13

The New Testament for 12/28/09:

I do not nullify the grace of God. Galatians 2:21

Part of the doctrinal heritage of the Reformation is "irresistible grace." Who are we, it goes, to resist God's sovereign will, to block the movement of God's grace? It's about God getting God's way; not our will be done, but God's.

When Paul speaks of "nullifying" God's grace, could he be suggesting that we create ways to void God's offer of love and grace? We do so by not believing the best about God and ourselves, that we are made in God's image and created in love. We choose to use our precious time in a way that does not lead to life. We do it as a species, to each other- and to earth, our home.

So Paul's personal statement about not nullifying the grace of God is not about God's grace, but rather our pugnacious spirit of denying, resisting, rejecting the movement of God's grace in and beyond us. If you want a community based on merit, then join the Boy Scouts or Rotary. Or the Optimists (my favorite civic club). Many churches, in their own way, resist the movement of God's grace in their shared life. Many clergy too.

In this last week of 2009, the confession proves helpful:

God, your life is within us, but our selfishness has hindered you. We have not lived by faith. We have resisted your Spirit. We have neglected your inspirations. Deliver us, loving God, from nullifying your grace this day, this moment. Amen.

Christ's peace to you and yours!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An After-Christmas Prayer, 12/27/09

Lord, if we were to sum it all up, we are filled with so many good things but today it's enough to appreciate the gift of life itself! And the gift of a morning so clean and crisp and beautiful that we can see blue sky everywhere! We offer our worship, our gifts, ourselves. You alone are God, you alone are the Lord. You alone are holy.

Forgive us for the words spoken in anger, for our actions that have hurt or harmed another. And we pray for those who hurt us, in the name of the one who said from the cross, "Forgive them- they don't know what they're doing." Free us, we pray, to make it easier for others to believe in you because they have known us. Help us to lighten the load that others are carrying, to cut some slack for others, knowing how we appreciate it when someone is patient and understanding with us.

We praise and glory and delight in your loving presence. The glow of that Holy Night still lingers...the simplicity and surrender of people giving themselves to each other and ultimately to you... Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, all making their unplanned journeys. So teach us to walk with you in the happenstance. That if you are anywhere, you are where we are afraid and uncertain. Teach us anew that courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of love- your love and grace. Teach us what it means to be loved unconditionally, and to trust in you even though we don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Help us to hear in Jesus our invitation to live and to be fully alive! That surrendering to you is an invitation to know joy and peace and gentleness deep within and where we live. It's our gain and we're so grateful. Renew and restrain us and our world in your love. Renew our hope and adventure and willingness to risk and serve. Deliver those who are in pain or who suffer from the violence of others. Heal us and hold us all, Lord. And equip us not only to know what our ministry is, but to do it! In the name of the One who saves us and loves, Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day Moravian

Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day)

Today's Watchword:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the
glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14


Send the memory of your child Jesus, that we may know the joy of being loved
without condition. As you took human form and walked among us, may we let the
light of you shine through our lives.
In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Monday Moravian, 12/21/09

Watchword for the Week of December 20:
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
Luke 1:52

Monday's New Testament text:
Christ says, "If you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you."
John 16:23

This season's expectations may include that we will be sweeter and kinder than usual. Will this be the year of the perfect Christmas? Because of the unusually high expectations, the disappointments are just as extreme. Frustration, anger, impatience are all symptoms of being overbooked and trying too hard.
Which is why Mary's words in Luke from the Magnificat are so helpful and healing. Because God comes to us when we are low, with the weight of our own schemes and imagination. The Walter Mitty syndrome is the temptation of each and every Christian, especially now. It goes that somehow we can be totally different people just because it's December.

But we're not different just because we're busier, or it's Christmas. The archetypes tapped into by the Grinch and Christmas ghost stories, or even the biblical massacre of children at the hands of Ceasar's Herod teach us about the shadow side of this season, and ourselves. Especially on December 21, the darkest period of the year, the first day of winter.

Being lifted up at the hands of a loving God is the last thing we think we need. We don't want to meet God here on the ground. But God is especially where we are the most desolate. In the Incarnation, God is saying the totality of our human condition is redeemed and loved.

It's in the name of One who became flesh that we pray. Not formulaic, the teaching is about seeking God and God's will in love. It's not about using the Jesus word as a magician would. Here St. Julian's word's are instructive:
The purpose of God’s revelation to me was to teach our soul the wisdom of cleaving to the goodness of God. And so our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition. For in his goodness is included all one can want, without exception…to know the goodness of God is the highest prayer of all, and it is a prayer that accommodates itself to our most lowly needs.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent Affirmations in a Time of Grief

Receiving the Light of Christ in a Season of Exile

December, 2004

  • I am letting the Light of Christ shine on me by choosing to care for my body, my spirit, my mind. Psalm 30:2
  • Even though we are changed forever by our loss; we are choosing not to die with our loved one. John 1:5
  • Through the chaos and paralysis, Christ’s Light reminds me of what I have left, not just what I have lost. Philippians 4:8
  • Even as many of our Christian friends journey to Bethlehem to behold the birth of our Savior; we may need to meet the adult Jesus at Bethany with Mary and Martha, at the tomb of their beloved brother and his dear friend, Lazarus. (John 11)
  • When I am running on empty, feel like I have nothing left to give, that’s when the grace and power of God helps me the most. I am not useless. (II Corinthians 12:9)
  • Christ’s peace is a gift that is there for the taking, “My peace I give to you.” John 14:27
  • When it is too difficult to pray, I know that the Holy Spirit is praying for me with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26

  • Though it may feel like God is far away, Christmas affirms that God in Jesus Christ lives among us, has “pitched his tent among us” and shoulders our pain and grief. John 1:14

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Giving Others a Break

December is a perfect time to cut everyone in your life some slack, because much of what fuels our struggle with the season is GUILT. How else can you explain the unreasonable amount of effort and money and time that goes into our preparation with buying, decorating, sending, and cooking? Why are we surprised when we find our Christmas has been stolen? We did it to ourselves.

Are we bums if we leave our perfect Christmas behind? If I don't feel happy or even joyful, and I am not overflowing with kindness, does that mean that I might as well expect a visit from Marley's ghost or sojourn in the cave on Mt. Crumpet with the Grinch himself?

Classes on managing holiday stress go a long way toward helping us set realistic goals for the season. Once these are written down, it's easier to stay true to them, to be intentional and not just well-intentioned. If we don't do something like this, we tend to measure everything by how we happen to be feeling at that moment. It's easy to lose focus of how we're implementing the small changes of reducing guilt and anxiety.

Talk of hating Christmas is more about hating the guilt and heroic expectations that come with not giving ourselves and others a break. If we need anything, it's first to be released so that we can let others go. Allow yourself and others NOT to be perfect. And if somehow, you don't measure up to your own ideals, then be gentle with yourself.

Allow for some breaks for rest and recovery. That is what Advent is supposed to be: a time to wait, to listen to God, to cease from doing and obsessing about doing. It's supposed to be a respite from the guilt that each December, we're not magically transformed into an ideal version of ourselves.

How can I make it easier for one other person today? That, to me, is the better way to prepare for Jesus' coming.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Weddings and Clergy: Lines in the Sand

Is there a wedding that you as clergyperson will not perform?

This is not about performing same sex unions, or the UMC's ban on clergy officiating them. Neither am I talking about divorced couples who seek to be remarried after having been in a previous marriage, or even monogamous couples who are sexually active before marriage, basically a huge demographic.

What about weddings of "self-admitted and practicing" adulterers? Those who, after having had an affair that effectively ended their marriage, now seek to bless that affair via a church wedding. John the Baptizer has your answer. (Matthew 14:4) Cheating can happen between otherwise "good" church members and in some cases, on church- sponsored trips. I've been asked about performing such weddings even though I've never been asked to officiate at a same-sex union.

Be careful, some will be quick to say, we're about grace. Really? Is that the kind of grace we teach? Does God's grace require us to first do real harm to others so that we can be about forgiveness? Can't we still be full of mercy and compassion and refrain from adding to the harm?

When asked if we will perform the wedding, can't we direct them to the JP and not confuse God's forgiveness with the attempting to clean-up toxic left overs? The pain caused by such dysfunction severs more than marital relationship; it also wreaks havoc in adult children's lives via addictions of all kinds.

Must the recitation of God's grace be the occasion to inflict deeper spiritual wounding?

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Monday Moravian 12/14/09

This Week's Watchword
Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
Luke 3:8

Monday's N.T. Text

It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

The inclusive meaning of repentance has to do with a turning around (Hebrew) as well as a change in thinking leading to a change in action (Greek). Throughout the Bible, it also can describe regret or sorrow that doesn't lead anywhere. When a public figure's private misdeeds (Tiger Woods, for example) are exposed, the image consultants will say that sincere contriteness must be expressed at some point if their public persona is to be repaired.

But the New Testament knows at least as much about how the word was used in its every day Roman context. Repeated repentance and renunciation of Christianity was required of accused Christians in many parts of the empire. Evidence suggests that those who persisted or who endured in their faith, could have been executed for their stubbornness, or, if they were a Roman citizen, shipped off to Rome. The story of Paul follows this second scenario. Announcing the imperative, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand," as Jesus does in Mark 1:15 or "Bear fruits worthy of repentance" as John Baptizer does in Luke 3:8 would have certainly been a subversive thing to hear and then do. It also might have brought a knowing smile.

Faithful repentance is not about feeling sorry; gospel repentance upends our world and our life as we love it. We fashion a comfortable, safe, stable, and convenient existence. Successful adults are well adjusted, balanced, and know how to find their place. But those attributes are hard to capture or control. They exist more in the imagination of "wouldn't it be nice?"

Faithful repentance turns toward the movement of a loving God within. The change in thinking may be that God is indeed at work within us, of all people. Holy Spirit love is claiming, calming, and calling us, cheering us on to the end that we will want more of God's love for ourselves and our world. And God's end is delight in us. There is no hidden agenda or neediness in God's "good pleasure." It's about God's abundance and overflow of joy in us!

It was once said that the Wesleyan view of perfection is not moral, but rather, loving intention. Can everything be done out of a loving heart, one first loved by God? It's from this holy encounter that the "good fruits" naturally and inevitably flow.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Priceless "Cold Delight"

Ecclesiastes 7:8 states that patience is better than pride. Last night Browns fans' patience paid off!

They had a rare opportunity to see a Cleveland win over the Steelers. Cleveland fans who showed up in the sub-zero wind chill also had the priceless gift of telling the many Pittsburgh guests present at Browns Stadium to enjoy the late-night trip home. And they can carry the news that this year, Pittsburgh's season will end at exactly the same time Cleveland's will.

Living out of town for many years, I saw it courtesy of the NFL Network. It looked like a typical, pre-2000 game with plenty of emotion from the home team, defensive muscle-flexing, and the Browns finally taking advantage of their home cooking with only their second win in 2009, still assuring them of very high draft choices in 2010.

In the what-have-you-done-for- me- lately world of American sports, and just about everything else, I'm not sure there's anything of learning value here. Or is there? Last year's Champion has been dethroned by a 2-11 team, and knocking them off has made the Browns' season better in a way that beating any other team could not.

No love lost with Pittsboigg. As a team, city, and fan-dom, they refused to honor Cleveland's 1995 going- away- black- arm- band- party that dark year. So much for the special place we think we have in our rival's heart. More recently some Steelers have whined about Cleveland-Pittsburgh not really being a rivalry, with games being lopsided in their favor since 2000.

But it was never about the last few years only. It is about shared history, which has shown eras of dominance from either team and many, many close finishes. And it's in the long view that last night's brawl is priceless. Some things only patience can appreciate.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

God and Brain Researcher Comes to Houston

Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania will present the 2010 Bowles Lecture series. The date is Thursday, January 21 at the Memorial Hermann Southwest Campus in the Wilson Turner Auditorium. Newberg's latest book was released in March, 2009.

Call 713-222-CARE to register.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grinch Therapy & Functional Atheism

Similar to the Grinch's heart being three sizes too small, would it help those who live in grinchy isolation to speak with a therapist? The problem is, we and the Grinch like where we are.

"Atheist" is a crowded word. It could include all who reject any form of theism on philosophical grounds and/or those who reject religion because of the bad behavior of its adherents. When it comes to what people believe or don't, frankly only God knows if what we say and what we really think are remotely similar. Many Americans subscribe to what I would call functional atheism, that is, there has been and continues to be a gap between what we say we believe (78% belief in God) and actual religious participation and practice (54% say religion very important in life). For Americans, especially UMC's, we know the "right" (read: popular or majority) answers so the presence of the cheat scale is real.

But I wonder if the gap is explained away just by fudging the questions. In one video our kids enjoyed years ago, the Grinch is psychoanalyzed by none other than the Cat in the Hat. What prompts him to do and persist in doing such mean things? In a similar fashion, it might be helpful to assume that absolutely everyone who walks into our lives is a wounded individual, with or without church affiliation. And the wounded wound.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Monday Moravian 12/07/09

This Week's Watchword
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and
redeemed them.
Luke 1:68

Monday's Text, December 7
Clothe yourselves with the new self,
created according to the likeness of God in
true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:24

Everything looks better when seen as a gift. Starting a daily examen with how we have received God's grace always seems more promising because perceiving life as gift, is apart, if not a requisite, of actually receiving God's love for ourselves and embodying grace to others. Most do not see their lives as a gift or a blessing. And that's why the therapeutic is so popular these days in and out of churches. We need healing to be able to see our life as gift, especially in the places where we feel cursed.

The Song of Zechariah, or the Benedictus in Luke 1:68ff., is a song declaring the dawn of God's tender mercy (1:78). This dawn of light is God's gift of mother-womb-love, a compassion from the gut not the head or even the heart. Does anatomy matter here? Those who are too heady and purpose- conscious, and those who are tossed by the shades of emotion and passion are taught by the faith of John the Baptizer's father, Zechariah. He's not talking about God's too big plan- he's taking about God's "daddy-ness."

We do not, finally surrender to an idea, a divine mover. The fire of our will rises and falls because we will always be filled with unfulfilled good intentions. But to throw yourself into the arms of God's tender mercy? Mom's arms? Like being clothed after the birthing of our baptism, the imperative in Ephesians 4 is to grow the new species, God's very image in us, first begun in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The work of God's righteousness (right relationship) and holiness (set-apartness) begun by God in us, deepens with our full agreement and surrender to God's love in Jesus.

Call Greed Freedum- Works for Him

What's the Christmas season without a weekly mass mailing opposing any health care reform for the benefit of the millions of men, women, and children without a family doctor? To update you on a continuing saga, I received this last weekend a thick envelop asking me, ME, to help pay for Congressman's crusade against health care reform.

I know he's just doing his job, and representing all the good folks who already have had the blessing of a physician all or most their lives. All the people who've had their lawn cut and fertilized lately. Heck, I know him and he's a fine guy. Likable too. John Culbertson, R-Texas.

But his arguments lead to the black hole of adding more uninsured and raising my premiums. All so that I can make a pledge of my dollars to those who engineered the mess? And logically, economically, and morally, he's saying that when it comes to war- questionable ones like Iraq- and hand-outs for multi billion dollar criminal men, we'll do it. We will fork it over, Congressman, won't we? But getting better health care for an American citizenry without a doctor, how is THAT supposed to be the line in your freedum's sand?!

Please, just once have a thought not generated by your corporate sponsors. Do something that is even closer to the country as a whole. But don't ask me to pay for their propaganda.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Mystic Way of Evangelism

I thoroughly enjoyed Elaine Heath's The Mystic Way of Evangelism. If you're looking for something to do in a prepackaged, programmatic sort of way, you'll need to look elsewhere. Those supersaturated with fads, trends and gimmicks, I recommend it! Heath's narrative style invites a lingering read.

From the beautifully told biographies of the saints Heath, I think accurately, describes the present state of the church (in the U.S. I presume) as one of the dark night of the mystics. The way negativa- or the steps of purgation, illumination, and union, is the way through the night. You might find it interesting that Heath applies a basically personal spiritual category to the corporate church, and so several pages in the Appendix well explain her metaphor. Pointing to the loss of fruitfulness, dearth of desire, and true longing for more of God among our denominations, her description, however, is right on target.

In purgation, we can choose to learn in the dark night or just continue on the same deadening path we've grown accustomed to. Seminaries do not, according to Heath, teach us to pray contemplatively, so our ministry is seen as a production of the false self and whatever feeds ego needs, not something that grows out of what we receive from God's love and gift in prayer. In ministry, we hit the wall, literally running out of new stuff to do, fall exhausted staying on the merry-go-round, or a little of both.

The kenotic, or self- emptying and life-giving love of God is our true coming home, our illumination. And this story in the lives of the saints is what Heath brings to life so well. Our healing is from the three- fold wound of sexism, class-ism, and racism. St. Julian's own vision tells the story of our original wounding and how God looks on us with pity, not blame. The choice of these three particular wounds is effectively argued, using not only the ugly statistics of sexual abuse (1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are survivors of childhood sexual abuse), but also in sharing the struggles of saints like Phoebe Palmer and Henri Nouwen, John Woolman and Thomas Kelly.

In keeping with a narrative form, Heath tells how an imagined community, as it grounds itself in the spirituality of the mystics, will also be attractive to those not present, because love will be genuine. There will be an egalitarian sense of shared ministry with bi-vocational pastors leading the way. Ministry will come out of what people receive from God's love in prayer, not from what they score on gift inventories. Earth care will be practiced alongside of, not in back of, financial stewardship.

Heath's book is more than just an accounting of our current spiritual malaise. She also is apart of New Day, a monastic-like community in Dallas, where she also teaches evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. So I'm pretty sure she telling us a little of her own journey too. Her book is a rare one on the practice of evangelism, so needed to be relished contemplatively, prayerfully. What else would you expect?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Does Applause Worship God?

“…if worship is a gift, then it is absolutely not what I am looking to get out of it, but what I am looking to give.”

Brewin, Signs of Emergence, p. 149.

My home church, Lakewood UMC (Ohio) has a magnificent organ and sanctuary. In my youth, appreciative postlude fans would gather just to hear the artistry of John Christian as he lit up the organ each Sunday. Dr. Joseph Albright, the Senior Pastor in those days, would cajole us during the worship service to, yes, enjoy the postludes, but please no applause because this was John's private worship.
Applause interfered with something that was between John and God alone.

I always wondered how applause could interfere with worship. Wasn't this brilliant organist playing for us, for our adulation and response? If it makes you feel good, then why not show it? But if his music was an act of worship, what would happen if he measured his offering not by his own sense of giving to God, but by the decibels of applause? What about human fickleness? What if John played something we didn't like- or he played something in a way that turned us off? Would the crowd begin to shrink or the applause stop altogether?

The pastor was reminding us of the essence of worship- it's about giving something- to God. It's about becoming God's own and being formed in the Holy One's image. And so, the questions about what the crowd will like and if they will clap loudly are moot.

I realize that clapping during worship may be the only way we have of expressing our joy and is highly relative to faith and cultural heritage. I think some Anglo congregations use it to prove that we can be spontaneous. However, in the general culture, applause still means approval for a performance or a TOUCHDOWN! And the louder and longer the better!

When it becomes all about my feeling good about myself, applause or no applause, my actions have ceased to be worship of God. To the degree that we want whatever pleases us as worship consumers, we take up the idolatrous, exhausting, and hopeless chore of being made in our own image.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Follow the $ to a Deepening Health Care Crisis

Last week, I received in the U.S Post (warning: socialized delivery system) a lovely glossy fold-out from my Congressman, John Culberson of Texas (R), explaining to me the evils of the current health care reform bill as well as regurgitating the favorite hang-dog of corporately owned politicians like Culberson, law suit "abuse."

The American Nurses Association estimates that $1.8 million has been and continues to be spent per day to defeat any public choice in health care reform. I wonder who pays the price for mass mailings like Culbertson's? I live in an hysterically red district, why is it necessary to oversell the faithful? Is it because all the resources marshaled to stall reform have created a nasty image problem of being the force for obstruction in the face of the 40+ million without a physician?

I don't know who pays for the behemoths' propaganda. But when your premiums rise to about 40% of your income in a little while, as we have been told they will, you can thank the magnates for passing on to paying customers any hidden costs, which would include lobbyists and marketing, and a few more million of uninsured Americans.

Who really cares, just as long as you and I have what we need, right?

AHEM, well the update just this last weekend, I just received a very thick envelop asking me, ME, to help pay for Congressman's crusade against health care reform. What's the Christmas season without a weekly mass mailing opposing any health care reform for the benefit of the millions of men, women, and children without one?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kester Brewin's "Signs of Emergence"

The words attributed to Einstein, "The same consciousness that created a problem cannot solve it" provides the mission of Signs of Emergence. (2007) Bringing together Fowler's stages of faith with a prophetic critique of hierarchical church, the author's intent is one of raising consciousness for the "Conjunctive church," or Fowler's Stage 5. This stage follows the arrogance of Stage 3 and Stage 4's "dark night." Stage 5 is where doubt is not extinguished but tensions are accepted, and mystery truly appreciated.

Brewin is not talking about stages in an adult's faith, but rather, what the corresponding emergence looks like in faith communities. He has more success is describing what it's not: "So we feed the ecclesiastic furnaces our burned-out wrecks: tired leaders, disillusioned ministers, fatigued congregations- marshaling them to dance longer, march faster, pray harder, cry louder in earnest for God to come...We must be brave enough to stop if we are to see change... Our structures must serve us, not us serve them."

The church needs to be adaptive, an open system, rather than prepackaged and ready-made. The sole purpose is incarnating the life of Christ in the host culture. The process is not revolution, but evolution through small scale, incremental improvement: "Revolution is characterized by speed and violence...it tries to impose change from without. It is top down and heavily dependent on hierarchies and centralized power. Evolution refuses to rush ahead and thus avoids shearing and fissures. It tries to bring about change from within." Revolution demands instant results, evolution takes time.

So, we need to learn and live out of a new vocabulary. We're the body of Christ, not the machine of Christ. To reestablish the body of Christ, we need to lose the modern, industrial matrix of words like machine, structure, drive, steering, breaking down, and mechanism in favor of the organic words like heart, nourish, sustain, grow, nurture, cultivate, and adapt. The body of Christ is a self-organized complexity (like our human bodies) despite our attempts at over control.

One of the more helpful chapters (6) was on the church as a "hub for gift exchange and all the relational enrichment that goes with it." Because the essence of who we are cannot be bought or sold, acts of worship come from the "economy of gift." Worship itself is a gift exchange, where we learn to offer gifts that are uniquely our own, and only marginally see ourselves as recipients, as takers. The book's concluding Chapter 7, on the emergence of Christ, has a coupke of great insights. About Holy Communion, Christ becomes broken, shared, and decentralized, and virally apart of his people and their culture. About Holy Spirit, in the Spirit's Pentecost, those infected can speak of God in a language people can understand.

I appreciate the attempt to describe what the Conjunctive church looks like, because there are places where that church is breaking out. What about clergy leaders? That's a topic Brewin doesn't address and it's a shortcoming of the book. I imagine Stage 3 churches rely on good Stage 3 leaders. Denominational success is seen in results, numbers, homeostasis, and equilibrium and so the Stage 3 leader is rewarded in like terms; that's who they are.

How relevant that, given the UMC's annual statistical reporting, which is now every week, we find surviving in ministry the mission, and not where Christ is emerging in it. Perhaps if we asked that question more often, even in resistance, we could be delivered - and free others- from being just more fuel for the furnace.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hearing George Barna: Why Houston Christians Don't Go to Church

"Why Houston Christians Don't Go To Church" was the topic of the conference sponsored by Chapelwood and area churches yesterday at First Baptist Church, Houston. With many churches represented and about 250 present, the event was a project of the Houston Coalition of Church Communicators. The Barna Group surveyed self-defined Christians who had not attended church in the last six months, nor do they have plans to so in the next six months. The area studied was generally the Katy Freeway corridor of West Houston. "We know them," Barna quipped, "because they're just like us." Barna described these folks as "self-absorbed." Success, health, family, and maintaining a comfortable life rank highest among values.

Barna presented conclusions from both the Houston study and his national research on unchurched adults over 18. He was passionate about treating this audience with respect. Marketing obviously only goes so far, but phone calls and home visits (with or without gifts) are invasive and manipulative. The best chance of reaching this group is through a friend who not only invites them, but also, offers to take them. And the research shows that multiple invitations, when done with patience and openness, eventually do work. Once there, anonymity is preferred. In fact, new attenders want to observe to see if the people there are kind and non-judgmental. At every point- before, after, and during a return to church, how the people of a congregation treat each other is the most important factor in reaching this audience, according to Barna.

Barna clearly communicated that there's no silver bullet here. Churches need to segment and offer many doors, many options. For example, over 50% see worship as the one thing churches offer of value; the problem is, there's such a gap between worship and anything else seen of value. Barna said "Congratulations, we got at least one thing right." But to make advances, we could also be perceived as offering value other than worship.

Many of the non-attending Christians have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important today. (78%) And their habit of not going to church is one of many years, not just a few months. A tough habit to break! Barna is confident that when and if there is something of value given and received, then the habit of church absence can be challenged. He said that he could do a whole day on why children's ministry is key. This audience does not automatically trust strangers with their children (who should, really?), so at least for the first few visits, they would much prefer to have their children stay with them.

Barna criticized our reliance on numbers alone to show "transformation." More does not prove transformation. And since that's what it's about, we need to look at other ways to measure fruitfulness- not just numbers. To say we therefore need more churches is to beg the question. It's about transformation, not more. I would have liked to ask Barna about emerging, but this conference was clearly focused on the conventional church and by the looks of the data, we have much work ahead of us among all age groups!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Questions for Leave Taking

  1. What is the personal and congregational cost/benefit analysis of taking- and not taking a leave?
  2. How do I plan a leave? Planning a leave two years out is not unreasonable. Writing a proposal that's specific and realistic is the first step.
  3. What do you want to call the leave? The "sabbatical" is academic in nature, where one takes a leave to study, work and write. Most D.Min. programs are academic and concurrent with full time ministry.
  4. What will be the main focus? Use "clergy renewal" when the focus on study or reading is combined with deepening prayer life, spiritual formation, rest, travel, family. It's an extended break from full time ministry.
  5. How can the time away be managed financially? Be creative; requesting to save or carry over vacation or continuing education time could provide you with a block of several weeks.
A great resource is Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Making Room for Others

I'm convinced that we cannot welcome new people into our lives until we make room. The same is true of churches. Having space is an attitude which allows others access without an appointment. We can build bigger and bigger buildings; if we don't create open spaces in our lives then size matters not.

The other extreme is making our acceptance conditional, our welcome driven by a hidden agenda. A very popular book on evangelism called The Contagious Christian explained how we can "leverage" our conversations for Christ. Terrible word. That's exactly the kind of thing that stereotypes Christians as manipulative, and takers, rather than givers.

David Burchett in When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, lists an "Unbeliever's Bill of Rights." The memorable title is mentioned in Beginnings: Around the Fire by Langford, Rawls, and Weber in the chapter, "How Do We Share What We Have Discovered?"
  • I have the right to never have faith forced on me.
  • I have the right to never be treated in a condescending manner.
  • I have the right to always hear the truth.
  • I have the right for you to patiently hear my concerns and doubts.
  • I have the right to seek answers to those questions and doubts that you can’t answer.
  • I have the right to be steered to resources for my own study and investigation.
  • I have the right to be loved no matter how I respond to the Gospel message.
While many things can reinforce our witness, it's hospitality and generosity of spirit that softens and attracts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Guarantee Guarantees Nothing

The so-called guarantee to an appointment as a UMC clergyperson is a straw dog. If it means that UM clergy have a guaranteed right to serve the parish of East Gehenna, then you can have it. I have never known the guarantee to function in a positive way for clergy or churches. Current nay-sayers talk about what a barrier this right is for church movement and growth. Maybe they're right, I don't know. I'm just not convinced that either having or removing the guaranteed appointment is the panacea.

The problem with mediocrity is spiritual, it's about clergy morale and renewal. Vocational zest isn't going to come via a new set of evaluation tools devised by denominational gradgrinds. So I propose a trade. We let go of the guaranteed right to go to Chitlin' Switch UMC for a meaningful clergy renewal leave for all full time clergy in the UMC?

We'll soon be living in 2010, but the UMC still doesn't require of clergy and churches the one thing that would truly help pastoral effectiveness. No, not three days in the Duke Divinity School Library but a mandatory, compensated, renewal leave of several months every seven years in full time ministry.

The two or three sentences in the Discipline about sabbatical planning are about as helpful as asking clergy if they've read any good magazines lately. I would hate to think that the quest for effectiveness and saving money leads us to discard clergy who lack energy and focus just because we were aware of the need for renewal and did nothing except offer a two day gathering once in a while. That, in the end, will be an enormous waste of time, talent, and money.

The thing that concerns me most is the logic that conferences can somehow ensure clergy effectiveness mostly by purging the poor performers. If you get rid of all the worn out people, wouldn't it be possible that some who remain may not have reached that place of running on empty- yet? We're told that in doing away with guaranteed appointments the system will magically transform into one that is not crisis driven but rather, focused on the mission field and gift exchange. It follows that every bishop and cabinet will finally be able to make only wise appointments too.

But we're not there yet. Thinking and mouthing it often enough doesn't make it so. Changing the structure of the clergy life with a required, supported, and extended renewal leave would signal that we're serious about clergy effectiveness, whether or not the "guaranteed appointment" survives at all or in part.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Choosing Forgiveness as an Adult Child

Reading the latest email from Tyler Perry celebrating the movie Precious and his 40th birthday (man he's young!) reminds me of the blessing of being alive at any age. To survive a childhood filled with trauma and abuse is reason for gratitude. And yet in adulthood, survival is more about our choosing spiritual health.

Attributing his childhood survival to God, that voice within of comfort and strength amidst the worst dished out to him, Perry states:

To know that the little boy that I was went through all that-- he went through and made it. Then me, as a man...I have to take on the responsibility of forgiving all those people. I owe it to the little boy that I was and, more than that, I owe it to the man that I am. Think about it, as a child we have no recourse. We have nowhere to go. We have to endure it. But as adults, we have choices. I choose to forgive with all my might. Forgiveness has been my weapon of choice. It has helped to free me.

As Perry notes, choosing forgiveness is very much about self-preservation as well as healing. Instead of doing harm to ourselves or wanting to see others suffer, we're the ones released and set free. We give up the terribly draining chore of playing official score keeper in the personal court of retributive justice! But the thirst for vengeance runs deep. It's physically fueled by the angry fight response which saps our energy. That's why regularly praying for those who do us harm is so important. It's how "choosing life" is practiced, on the ground.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad.."

Whenever I have the pleasure of seeing one of Tyler Perry's latest films, I feel a spiritual energy at least as authentic and as powerful as can be known at real church! I also sense that his films are for Christians who just do not or cannot see how they affect others for better or worse.

Perry's most entertaining character, Madea, is typical of many Christians who just aren't in church. Her cussing, Bible illiteracy, troubles with the police (po-po), and all her other problems like living in her house with an eternally obnoxious brother, don't keep her from being there and being strong for others who need a Madea in their life. Madea has backbone if nothing else- but she has much, much more.

In most of Perry's movies, the theme of self-preservation through forgiveness runs very deep. In the latest film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, you hear great music by Mary J. Blige and Gladys Knight, you witness great preaching by Pastor Marvin Winans, and you experience the drive of the gathered church- all of it electrifying the entire story line.

As Blige performed the soul- full title song, I couldn't help to think about Job's friends and the church. How often do we, without even thinking, pile on someone- anyone- who is doing bad, who has made a mistake, made a poor choice? Why do we assume the worst and form judgments that are neither just nor helpful? Why?

To begin with, nobody asked us. We don't have to have an opinion on everyone and everything. And like Job, people aren't looking for advice or fake reassurances that you've been where they are when you both know you haven't. Doing that is not only uncalled for, but also, it just contributes to the sense of isolation.

So the genuine love of real Christians, displayed throughout the film, is finally received as it was meant to be given: as a gift, as grace. Love- knowing it as gift and not as tool of manipulation or power over- and choosing to receive it as gift- is why the main character played by Tarji P. Hensen can begin to love herself and those closest to her for the first time. In the end, this mysterious love and healing grace is our only way out of doing bad all by ourselves.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Serenity, I Mean, Senility Prayer

Before teaching Jim Jackson's Bible study groups on Matthew 5:1-11 this morning (the Beatitudes), the Senility Prayer came to mind. While I meant to share it, you guessed it, I FORGOT IT! So here it is, courtesy of Connie Bielecki, in the Fall, 2009 Desert Call:

Grant me the senility
to forget the
people I never liked anyway,
the good fortune
to run into the ones I do,

and the eyesight
to tell the difference.

Feel free to share this, folks, during your next "joke time!"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thanks Rebecca Patton, ANA President

I had the blessing of visiting family in Ohio last weekend. Attending church and Sunday School with mom. I had no idea that Rebecca Patton, President of the American Nurses Association, was one of Lakewood United Methodist Church's own, much less that she would be teaching mom's class that I attended with her. What an opportunity to hear this articulate spokeswomen for nurses and the nursing profession!

Stuff I learned:
  • in the typical, average 8 hour shift, the nurse will push, pull, lift and move about 1.8 TONS of weight
  • it follows that many nurses drop out of the profession due to back injury
  • visits to the nurse practitioner will be as common- or more- as visits to the doctor
  • generally, nurses aren't in it for the money -less stressful jobs for comparable pay can be found
  • nursing school is not cheap and loans and scholarships are not easy to find either
  • understaffed nursing departments are a result of profit seeking, decided by business, not health care people, and certainly not nurses.
  • the big insurance players are spending about 1.8 million PER DAY to defeat a not for profit public option plan not run by the private insurers
  • like most of us, many have had to stall retirements until their savings recover; the current glut of nurses will not last more than a few years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Healing in a Toxic System

With negativity in the workplace on the rise (according to the authors of Toxic Workplace!) it’s helpful to explore how faithful Christian can manage to survive, and even learn from, these experiences. How do I sometimes exhibit unhealthy and yes, toxic behaviors? How does my community of faith tolerate or enable it? How can we overcome disharmony in relationships, and help others to do the same?

¨ Daily praying for others (such as your enemies) helps you in two ways. First, it will help you see the other as a human being with struggles of their own. Second, it will deepen your compassion.
¨ Using a daily examen, can help guide you to spiritual health. Simply ask yourself what part of your day is most draining and what part was most life-giving?
¨ Another practice that has improved overall mental outlook and specifically attitudes toward work and home life is the practice of a daily gratitude journal. For this, briefly record 3 or more experiences for which you are grateful, including why you are grateful.
¨ Either the examen or the gratitude journal could be combined with a weekly meeting of one or two others who are engaging the same practice.
¨ Seek the regular counsel of a wise and trusted spiritual director who can offer individualized prayer practices.
- Try using one of your God given talents- your own unique signature strengths- in a way that feeds your spirit.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Managing Toxic Personalities

From movies to Office Space to shows like The Office, we have learned to laugh at toxic behaviors at work. However, in Toxic Workplace: Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power, authors Mitchell Kusy and Elizabeth Holloway report on the devastating effects of toxicity on individuals and organizations and argue for a plan to restore respect .

The authors’ research contains leader surveys and interviews from about 400 leaders from profit and non-profit companies.The kind of behavior they target is more subtle than fighting, stealing, or absenteeism. They list all toxic behaviors under three headings: shaming, team sabotage, and passive hostility. Such behaviors in the workplace are on the rise. Due to budgets constraints, there are fewer managers to redirect toxic persons.

Why do workplaces tolerate toxicity in the first place? Some hiring practices still prefer expertise over like-ability. Once hired, toxic people can be successful, so that their co-workers or bosses tend to protect them. In fact bosses are the least likely to see the systemic effects of toxic people because 1) honest feedback is not given from others about the toxic person and 2) their productivity is seen and valued.

If they know that a problem exists at all, most leaders quickly turn to an individual solution like working with the toxic person one-on-one . This may include firing the toxic person, giving the impression that the "bad apple" is gone. For example, researchers have found that teams made up of two emotionally toxic persons performed just as badly as teams made of all unstable people.The authors doggedly recommend beginning with organizational/team values and measurable practices that reinforce respectful engagement.

Many may not have the freedom to think in terms of what their workplace is doing to them or others; after all, having a job that pays the bills in these times is a great blessing. But it’s not lack of gratitude for having an imperfect job that should concern us. What should worry us is how people can be treated in the setting where they spend the majority of their adult lives: the workplace. At the same time, reflective Christians would do well to ask if and how we may contribute to sick systems. For this, Kusy and Hollway argue effectively for a detailed plan for organizational, team, and individual health and healing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Long Is Too Long?

When the football legend of my childhood, Jim Brown, retired from the NFL and the Cleveland Browns at 29, we all were given a prime example of what it means to "go out on top." As stunning as it was, it proved to be, in the end, something that has probably kept Brown's name on top of the record in yards per carry at 5.2. If he had continued for several more years, that number certainly would have diminished.

Football seasons have almost doubled in length since Jim Brown broke in, so many of the records Brown set were bound to be broken. As for as retiring early, Brown is in a small group of Hall of Famers. Most of the greats continued playing a few more seasons and in most cases, with severely diminished skills, even as they tried new teams.

All this, of course, raises the question of the self- chosen limits on our own longevity wherever we serve and ultimately, not only when to move on, but also, when to retire. At what point are we actors and not just reactors? Knowing when to fold 'em is something worth thinking about and not just leaving it to someone else to decide for you. When that happens maybe it has been too long.

The Browns? Life did go on. Leroy Kelly, whose career was less than Brown's (after all, he was the greatest), but who is still enshrined in Canton, Ohio, became the featured back behind his equally talented line (one of which is also at Canton). Kelly was a mainstay for his team the rest of the decade and into the early 1970's.

Most of us will not be the record setters. At the same time, there's a beauty to be able to leave them wanting more, and to know that you gave them everything you had. Life is about taking the next step, in God's love- both for ourselves and the ones we serve.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interesting Formula for Clergy Effectiveness?

A couple of years ago, the seminary president stated his case for measuring clergy effectiveness. He put it simply as something like:

Statistical growth X Personal spirituality = effectiveness
Fruitfulness x Faithfulness = effectiveness

This, he suggested, is how we measure our job success. In this scenario, effectiveness is a multiple of numbers and spirituality.

A good bit of this is the assembly line model of ministry management inherited from the previous century. It leaves me empty and uninspired. And it doesn't seem to hold up to Eugene Peterson's still prophetic attack of the clergy success syndrome in Working the Angles. That was the 1980's. Where are the prophets of clergy spiritual dearth today? The grad-grinds of effectiveness, using their graphs and charts to substantiate numbers, have clearly won the day.

Pastor as spiritual guide or healer takes an easy back seat when I need to prove myself. No surprise that stuff like personal health, well-being, balance, relationships, sanity, and sabbath also take a back seat. The current race to find and equip younger clergy? Younger clergy are cheaper for local churches, and denominations don't have to worry about paying their pensions for many years.

Older clergy, though, can bring a discernment and wisdom and spirituality- all the stuff that the years have taught us, if we let them. That includes seeing the numbers in perspective. But the church that values the ecclesiastical equivalent of assembly-line efficiency, calling it effectiveness, has very limited time and space for a wounded healer, so, no thanks, Henri Nouwen! We need more and younger bodies to feed the process. More food for the fodder.

Such is the problem with the business model. When we have to prove we're doing it, like the state exams for school children, we focus not on true vocation and gifts, but on standardization with all things being equal. But all things are not equal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Completing Denominational Forms

If you're a UMC clergyperson, you will probably be asked to complete an annual "self evaluation." There are lots of forms UMC's complete every year. For example, the year end reports are used for assessment of local church apportionments, which pays for the cost of our general church overhead, stuff we call "connectional" items. But the clergy self evaluation? It's anyone's guess if any denominational or conference exec. ever reads these.

Is the reward the actual exercise of reflective self-examination? Assuming that actual reflection is required, I'd have to conclude that yes, the completing of this most curious form doesn't really "help" cabinets who say they need them. Instead, it can help the clergy by inviting honest self-critique. Again, to the extent that that happens at all, it's worth it.

But being a good grad-grind isn't going to save you- not when you need help in your next move! Like guaranteed appointments, meeting all your deadlines will not come to your rescue if and when you are caught in the happenstance of life or the quirks of one or two antagonists.

Pastors spend much of their time guiding others to accept with grace what cannot be changed, what is out of our control. But when it comes to our own lives, we still think that we can control everything that happens to us. That's an illusion, one from which no amount of record keeping can protect.

So use the self evaluation "due by Advent" as an opportunity to grow this year if you need to. But expect no more.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Had Enough Transformation?

It's fine that we describe ourselves as a transforming congregation, conference, denomination, church, world, etc. It's just that overuse has made that term innocuous and I'm not sure if I know what it means.

"Transformative?" The correct adjective is transformational. But that still doesn't help me. There's a verb somewhere in transforming, the infinitive "to transform."

I know St. Paul uses it in Romans 12: 1-2, but "The Transformers" is also a kid flick. So in using a word with both biblical roots AND one that drips with popular culture, it would be logical to assume that we all benefit, right?

But when I hear the word, I don't think about new creation anymore. Instead I think about denominational statistics, organizational control, and manipulating language, all to create a reality that may or may not correlate with the facts on the ground where we live.

Like the idea of "building the kingdom of God," of a past generation, the market-eers of "transformation" make us sound like something fairly cool: people of action and verve. Really, where is our capacity for transformation? Our resistance to it is in our DNA.

In commenting on the Creeds, Rowan Williams speaks of God's almightiness as God's ability to bring something fresh and new out of any and all situations. So if there's any transformation, God- Father, Son, Holy Spirit is the actor and agent. We are the subjects, the clay, the transformed, willing as well as resistant.

As for the word transformation, in a few years, we will move on to something else, like "extreme middle" or "rethink," or whatever seems to mesh with the current fad or fetish. In the meantime, think and act concretely:
  1. What would receiving God's gift of new creation, recreation mean to you here, now?
  2. How is Holy Spirit, the Guide, with you in that experience?
  3. What are the practices that you, a clergy leader, will engage?
  4. If we are not aware of those changes in our own spirit, how can we, in good faith, offer it?
Like a mustard seed's growth or the action of leaven, God's rule begins almost by stealth and through the smallest of shifts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shame Agents

Unlike guilt that is used for manipulation and control, shame humiliates, isolates, and paralyzes the recipient. Shaming diminishes. Where guilt is about obsessing over my actions and consequences, shame is about my being a bad person.

Christian faith could inoculate us from swallowing the shame-bait. Although a healthy baptismal theology can be a defense against internalizing the toxin, there is still much in our Christian culture that accentuates the sinfulness of humanity not as choice or "bent to sinning," but as bad to the core. Included in this are those of any ilk who make absolute claims of truth and where disagreeing with them is the same as rejecting the Holy Trinity.

Whereas the shame- based leader can use name-calling and hang-dogging all too frequently in private, this may also be done in public depending on who else is present. People with toxic behaviors that border on illegality have learned to survive by hiding them from the right people.

Listening to the accuser makes it almost impossible to hear the Advocate, the Paraclete, at the same time! God's stated description of you is "VERY GOOD." On the wings of those words, we are healed!

Good bye, evil monkey.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beginnings: Around the Fire & More!

Tokens of Trust: Introduction to Christian faith- the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. The fall group is open and will meet at Chapelwood on Sundays, September 13, 20, and 27, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., W203.

Chapelwood 101
, a review of our vision for ministry and faith heritage, will be offered on Wednesday evenings, on September 9 and 16, 7:00-8:15 p.m. in LC204. Guests are welcome.

Beginnings: Around the Fire will start with a PREVIEW Wednesday, September 30, 6:30-8:15 p.m. at A Moveable Feast, 9341 Katy Freeway. This 8-week study explores the practices of Christian community taken from Acts 2. Each session begins with a meal, free to guests, followed by a talk from Acts 2, small groups.

For more information or to RSVP, contact Scott Endress, (713) 354-4470, sendress@chapelwood.org

Can Guilt Be Good?

Never mind John Wesley's admonition to serve with all due diligence not for wrath's but for conscience's sake. Guilt works, and if it gets the job done, then why not? After all, everyone is motivated differently, and if it's guilt with a dash of shame that keeps me doing my job well, then there has to be some good in it.

Fear of losing his job is what kept Peter Gibbons around in the cult movie Office Space. Even he admitted to the "Bobs" that people will only work hard enough not to get fired. It only goes so far, guilt.

Guilt is tricky because if that's your center, then how do you keep from becoming obsessive and hyper-critical of first yourself and then others. And the nature of guilt is that you will never ever do enough and be enough to please yourself. Assuaging your guilt, whatever ministry offered, quickly becomes about you. My feeling better about myself then becomes the motivation for ministry.

We all cling to various illusions. The question of guilt's saving virtue can be answered by the inner experience of it and whether it is more draining in the long run. Do we really need it in order to serve faithfully from a full cup of God's love and grace in Jesus? When I think of an alternative center of ministry, it would be self- respect, not the self-contempt that guilt breeds.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Detox Begins with Organizational Values

A good example of this process of defining organizational values is the work of the strategic discernment team at Chapelwood. Led by "clarity evangelist" Will Mancini, we set out to uncover the values that really define us. With God's grace as the operative theme, the new mission statement reads: "To embody God's grace as we receive it to those who need it."

This is connected to reality is via the Chapelwood examen, and very portable and useful in any and all of our groups:
  • Since we last met, how have you received God's grace?
  • Who have you encountered in need of God's grace?
  • How have you embodied God's grace?
This ensures that the value of grace is not only talked about, but thought about, acted on, and, in short, embodied in our own unique way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do We Have a Toxic Workplace?

I bought the last one at Barnes and Noble (review forthcoming). The topic of toxicity in the church is a good topic for clergy for two reasons. One, if we can prevent toxic behaviors, such as bullying, passive hostility, and shaming, everyone now and in the future will benefit. Two, if we've ever had the fun of working with, supervising, or working under a toxic individual, we can learn the importance of respectful engagement and human dignity.

The topic also begs other questions, like:
  • How do I sometimes exhibit unhealthy and yes, toxic behaviors?
  • How does my community of faith tolerate or enable toxicity?
  • How can we survive a toxic workplace?
The point made about toxicity is that we treat it as an individual problem, when it is also a team and organizational problem. The "bad apple" metaphor is not very accurate- a more realistic comparison could be infection or cancer. Start with organizational values, such as respect for all. Incorporate these values in measurements for team effectiveness and individual fruitfulness.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Houston Cenacle SDI Class of '09!

Photos help tell the story of our graduation from the Spiritual Direction Institute yesterday, Sunday, August 23. All pictured are fellow classmates, except for Sister Ann Goggin, Director. The service in the Chapelwood UMC Chapel, was followed by a wonderful reception where family, friends, our spiritual directors and teachers could celebrate with us.

Highlights from the service included remarks from Sister Mary Denison, the conferring of our certificates by Sister Ann Goggin and Sister Mary, and the singing of the Servant Song led by Bill Duhon:

Will you let me be your servant?
Let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are travelers on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will you hold the Christ-light for you
In the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
When you laugh, I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through.

Please note: All photos are Copyright 2009 by Bob Dees (Deespix)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I Learned the Hidden Curriculum

The reason and wisdom of those red- faced warriors inside and outside various Town Halls have taught me:
  1. Having a doctor, especially for mental health, is seriously overrated!
  2. Family members, especially the dying themselves, should stop whining for comfort care!
  3. Private is cool, and to spend your savings for private insurance is really, really cool.
  4. We are Not our brother's or sister's or child's keeper in "chrisjun" America.
  5. Deficits are suddenly very important (wars, occupations, and bailouts notwithstanding).
  6. Venting works for a few short minutes, while lower brain function lasts a good long time.
Some are too hotheaded to do anything but just vent, which has never worked for me and only enrages me more. So the town halls? Maybe we should drop them in favor of some much needed anger management sessions, and charge their insurer- I'm sure THEY'LL pick up the tab!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Got You Here?

It may not be what you think!

That's what I find refreshing and expansive about Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. As a good sociologist would, Gladwell questions the American mythology of entitlement, which is all about personal mastery. Instead he looks at the details of success that we overlook, and have absolutely no control of: birth date and place, generational cohort, ethnic make-up, family heritage.

The examples in the book are amazing. For example, few people think about the Beatles' success a result of practicing, refining, and performing their craft in the strip clubs of Hamburg for seven years in the 1950's before the "British Invasion" of the 1960's. Bill Gates had a rare opportunity to log thousands of "practice" hours writing software on one of the first multi-site computers during his high school years. Gladwell points to chance when it comes to the explanation of how his family came into being: a white settler chose a certain black Jamaican women to be his wife, and this fact coupled with unique historical opportunities (schooling, for example) available to their heirs explains much of his familial and personal success.

According to Gladwell, personal initiative does play a huge part in success, just not in the parameters of the choices, not in the historical givens of a situation. These personal factors have to do with details we sometimes overlook: the opportunity to learn a skill and the long hours practicing it in meaningful work, willingness to do the kinds of work that fall to us because it might be "below" or "beneath" others, and personality traits (especially people skills/relational intelligence).

Gladwell stops short of expressing gratitude- it's just not really in the sociologist's vocabulary. But I think the ability he has in telling the story of success also comes with an appreciation for the fact that success is, by and large a gift of many factors out of our control. Whether you call it chance or gift makes a big difference. Gladwell allows for both. Christians call it grace, that which we receive that comes out of God's love and abundance, that which we have nothing to do with, beginning with our birth, our life, and any health we enjoy. Everything looks better when seen as a gift, wrote Chesterton. How true!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Be Where You're Not Needed

"The God who made the world and everything in it, he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things." Acts 17: 24-25, NRSV

If we are in a profession that makes a business out of helping people, and clergy are prime suspects, then the reason our health and wholeness are at risk on a massive scale is because we have learned how to keep everything looking good even though we ourselves are EMPTY. Compassion fatigue? Not me! Go, go power ranger!

Appearances are valued in this culture of ours and churches only magnify the importance of looking good. You could call it an addiction -- driven to be needed and liked and wanted. It doesn't take long for us to develop a God complex, functioning as though our supply is unlimited, ignoring or denying our real needs for rest, renewal, and sanity. All the while telling others to rely on God's resources. Really!

But the rush of being needed and liked usually runs counter to being with God. It's just that God is the One who doesn't NEED anything. God will always be completely happy being God! Could that be the reason why we find it so hard listening to and breathing in the Holy Spirit? Because we are so filled with the toxin of being needed?

Awareness of our real need is the healthier posture from which to offer whatever we have to give. How freeing- and absolutely liberating- it is to be in this Presence that doesn't sap us, but offers life and love in fullness.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tokens of Trust @ Chapelwood!

I'm facilitating an Introduction to Christianity using Tokens of Trust as the resource! The summer group will meet at Chapelwood on Wednesdays, August 12, 19, 26, 7:00-8:15 p.m. and the fall group will meet at Chapelwood on Sundays, September 13, 20, and 27, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

The book by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is a helpful, easy-to read exploration of the two ancient creeds of the church, the Apostles and the Nicene. We will not expect anyone to be well versed in the creeds.

The book is not required reading- it's provided for further study and reflection. Each evening will include a gathering time, a talk, and small groups. There is no charge for the book or refreshments. For further information, contact Scott Endress at sendress@chapelwood.org or 713-354-4470.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tokens of Trust

Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams is an imaginative exploration of the foundations of Christian faith. Using the most ancient creeds, The Apostles and Nicene, the book is based on the series of talks Williams made at the Canterbury Cathedral Holy Week, 2005.

Central to the book is the connection of faith with trust. Christianity is not a set of beliefs ascribed to but a living, breathing, ongoing relationship to God, and engagement within the world and the community, the church. The theme of trusting relationship is continued as Williams presents Jesus Christ as the difference-maker, the one who brings peace to a shattered world, and a peace, realized in part, through the dynamic process of the community of Christians.

Thus the resurrection is the fulfillment of the one God who alone is faithful and trustworthy. In this, he defines hell as our decision not God's, using the image where God is eternally knocking on a closed door that we ourselves keep shut. "Eternity," says Williams, "requires contemplation." And he means bringing ourselves into the light, choosing to "acclimatize" to love.

One of the features of this book is its beautiful visuals of paintings, photography, and architecture from around the world to enrich Williams' text. The writing itself is easy to read, non-technical, and full of helpful, relevant illustrations. Those looking for a line-by- line exegesis of these historic creeds, or even a how-they-came-to be- explanation will need to turn to other studies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Learn from the UMC how to be PC

I noticed that, according to a United Methodist portal headline, most UM clergy support traditional marriage. Was this supposed to smooth over our rifts? Why do I ask?

Because the article also states in confusing fashion that while only a quarter of UMC clergy surveyed supported same-sex marriages, 51% of UMC clergy supported the rights of married or covenanted same-sex couples. ?!?!? How can we support the rights of a married or covenanted couple but not their same-sex marriage? We 're saying: "I support your right to do that, but I don't support your doing it." Talk about doublespeak and contradiction.

Getting back to the headline that most clergy support traditional marriage: golly, maybe that has something to do with a denominational BAN on same-sex weddings and ordination of GLBT people? For UMC's this survey is as useless as a 1980 Discipline! Does it really matter what we think?

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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

Try Gratitude

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