...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

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.

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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

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