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Showing posts from 2010

When Joy is Hard, II

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Allowing ourselves to mourn develops our capacity to feel life’s joys. I believe that positive and negative emotions are two sides of the same coin. Of course, many of us would prefer to experience and deal with only positive feelings. We often feel uncomfortable with our own or others’ sadness, anger, disappointments, fears. . . . As we learn to feel all our feelings, we explore what it means to be fully human, to be all that God created us to be. —Mary Lou Redding
The Power of a Focused HeartI came across this from doing the Beth Richardson online retreat, "Unlcuttering Your Heart during Advent and Christmas." It speaks to the psychology of joy- that true joy comes in the context of experiencing pain, not as an escape from it. Of course, the cultural expectations are all about turning on happiness with a click of the "joy app" brought to you by the Christmas machine.
But we're human and not wired machines. Our resources include that which is not accessi…

When Joy is Hard

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One Advent a few years ago a spiritual director said to me, "Maybe this year, instead of going to Bethlehem, you need to meet Jesus at Bethany with Mary and Martha, at the tomb of Lazarus, their brother and friend."

I'll always be grateful for that guidance. Those words invited me to be myself, to be present with the grief and loss I was experiencing. The truth is, the season's theme of joy can be an especially a heavy weight for those who are marking loss instead of celebrating new beginnings. Feelings of isolation and loneliness may be experienced by those who must work through the holiday so that others can celebrate Christmas- church professionals and clergy are among this group. Sometimes glad tidings just cannot be heard no matter the regularity or the volume with which they are made.

In many a devotional guide, this week, the third week of Advent, has a mini-break intended to help us breathe a little easier. If words of joy are difficult to hear, you may need t…

2010's Trite and Worn Words & Phrases

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In grades 7-9, I used a progression of marvelous texts called Word Wealth to expand vocabulary. So I should know better if and when I use any of these overused words in the next few months.

on steroids/
counter intuitive/man up/
friend-ed/ life back/it's all good/
leverage/transparency/it is what it is

* Please feel free to add your own phrases you find mildly irritating.


On Church-ese

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When God closes a door, does God open a window? Here's your answer!

Cleveland, You Still Rock, and You've Got Company

Le Quitness doesn't get why all those people in Memphis kept booing him. He didn't do anything to them. Every city that's not a top market has an automatic affinity for the fan-dom of Cleveland, Ohio. It's all about knowing what it's like to be treated as second class and third rate.

There's no sense in cataloging much history here, because Cleveland's experience is the norm and not the exception. (By the way, it's the Mistake ON the Lake- not the Mistake BY the Lake. Know the difference). It's just that, when sports franchises want the economic support of their community, they like to tout the importance of fan loyalty. But, when it's time for a franchise to leave, or a player to be let go or traded, it all suddenly becomes about running a business and market-size. There is no city that hasn't felt that empty feeling of losing a team or player or coach the fans once passionately followed.

The same week that the player returned from South B…

It's Time to Flush the Hallmark Theology

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Consider it your calling to debunk, in every way possible, the seasonal onslaught that's trumpeted in every piece of media, from the Grinch to the latest Hallmark special. The sad thing is, we so buy into it! What happens when we end up pinning all our hopes on whatever we can somehow produce on our own, whether it be good intentions or good actions?

We look back at another December and wonder why we feel so empty and exhausted. Maybe it was the toxic theology that we first ingested along with the primal Christmas special and the Thanksgiving turkey.

We don't have to swallow whatever anyone has to say about God. In fact, it is faithful pastoral work, as well as self-care, to disqualify some claims- to refuse them as sub- Christian. When someone says that God has a reason for the death of your loved one, instead of getting mad at God, learn how to get good and angry with that kind of this-for-that theology! But don't let that be an excuse for you to resist the life- infusion…

Surrender Can Be Gentle

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Looking for a softening of the austere Covenant Prayer from the Puritan and Wesleyan tradition? You may not be the only one that reacts to its harshness, especially the way some churches just throw it out there for everyone to read (not necessarily pray) every New Year. I struggle to pray and not mouth the words.
You find a gentler expression of a similar prayer by Charles de Foucauld, the posthumous founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus, the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Little Sisters of Jesus.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, these groups seek to conform to the social milieu where they earn much of their own living, working regular jobs, wearing ordinary clothes, and exercising their influence by sharing the life of those around them. Henri Nouwen cites Foucauld's prayer in The Road to Daybreak. Father, I abandon myself into your hands; Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only you…

St. Francis de Sales on Ingratitude

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Consider particularly the sin of ingratitude toward God, a general sin that reaches out to all the rest and makes them infinitely more enormous. Note then all the benefits God has granted you and how you have misused all of them against the giver. Note especially how many of his inspirations you have despised and how many movements you have rendered useless...So often God has run after you to save you, and you have always run before him in order to destroy yourself.

from Introduction to the Devout Life (Image), p. 47, Part One, The Fourth Meditation- On Sin

Civil Religion: Not Always Civil

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When it comes to gratitude for our blessings, November reminds me that there is a very healthy civil religion in the U.S. With Thanksgiving, each generation has added to the richness of it. Being grateful for your life is good for you, and if practiced, can lead to doing good things.

But there's also a toxic sort of civil religion that really doesn't do anything for me, like when I hear the refrain that "they" have taken God out of schools, (where did "they" put God?). We have "secularized" Christmas so we need to "Put Christ back in Christmas." The literalism of moving God or putting Jesus anywhere is baffling to me.

As a life-long student of the Bible, I doubt that a pristine worship of the One and Only, the God who made heaven and earth, ever really existed in ancient Israel. But it's not about what "they" have done to "take" God away. If the whining does anything truly constructive, it challenges Christians t…

Discernment: End of Life as Its Beginning

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I sometimes wonder when we ask to know God's will, do we really know what we're asking? Would I be able to receive it? Or is our knowing just overrated? Maybe that's why Jesus told the disciples they could not bear or even understand everything he had to say. (John 16:12) So we do well not to judge our entire lives based on whatever we happen to be feeling or thinking at the moment.

More often than not, we only know the right and true and best by looking back at it. Bearing good fruit from our chosen spiritual practice is one of the best ways to discernment. And the results- doing not just knowing- are equally important. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Remember that the "blessed" of Matthew 25: 31 ff. didn't even know the significance of their actions- they just did God's will.

Faith calls us to discover that in every ending, though we may not have seen it or even chose it at the time, God's grace was there offering…

On Offering What We Don't Have

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"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," shrieked the phony wizard. Of course, we too can hide behind the false self . Why not just give up on the impossible task of showing people the way to a place we've never been! Preaching until you have faith may have been helpful spiritual counsel for John Wesley from his Moravian spiritual director; but it's far from a universal dictate. So, if one size doesn't fit all, why do we make it so?

Some might call it avoidance, that is, running away from your own issues by projecting the problem onto others. Among other things, becoming an escape artist or a master of projection blinds us to the log in our own eye. Instead, we could use this season as a way to refocus. See the "cloud of witnesses" for what it is: an encouragement to choose what is truly life-giving here and now so that we can be there for others in a way that is healing and loving. But first see life and choose life for yourself. We cannot o…

Can We Let God Be Kinder than We Are?

When it comes to pain and suffering, how is it that we can be closer to Job's clueless "friends" than Jesus? See also the critique of the pop dictum "God Never Gives Us More than than We Can Handle."

Granted we can read Job as a story that has a Walt Disney ending all because of Job's faithfulness. That's not the only reading we can employ though. So why come down on the side of meanness instead of generosity and grace? Does God really take away our health - or dish up trouble- whatever the reason? Does God really extract everything from our lives so that one day, when everything and everyone is gone, we'll somehow accept Jesus? That is so unnecessary and harmful.

In ethics, we would call that employing the ends to justify the means. That very reasoning is used to justify any and all kind of harm done to others. I find it very sad and draining whenever I encounter it- and I do all too often with "believers." But applying this kind of toxic…

Survivors of Suicide- A Grief Like No Other

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Pastors and care-givers have the terribly isolating experience of surviving a parishioner, friend or family member who has taken their own life. I found the following advice from former NFL quarterback Eric Hipple:

"It's hard to describe [the pain of suicide] unless you have been close to someone who did commit suicide. That's why those of us who have been through this need to help each other. And please, if you think about suicide, go see a psychologist or a doctor. Get some treatment. Don't wait."

Don't try to reason with someone who is in clinical depression and making suicidal statements or threats. They're in that place because their thinking is compromised. For spiritual care givers, it maybe helpful to report your concerns to the next of kin and/or the physician(s) who is responsible for the care plan. This can be done in the best interests of a person who has come to see you for help, even while you honor the confidentiality and trust of a parishi…

The Wisdom in Weeds

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While some stuff we call weeds can actually be beneficial for soil development (like clover), what makes a weed so bad is that, given the right conditions, it can easily dominate the grass. I've had a long-time battle with something called wild aster.The weed appears to be totally immune to any and all treatments including just ignoring it. There are times it seems under control, but mostly it's an infernal struggle against this creeping, woody, well-rooted nightmare in my St. Augustine.

Heat, drought, insects, and lack of good soil can stress a lawn and make it susceptible to problems. Like the life of your lawn, the root of bitterness can grow in us, especially when we're stressed. We may stop seeing temptations for what they are: distractions from our main goal of loving God and serving others. We begin to pay so much attention to these, that, like the wild aster of my lawn, most of our energy is consumed with either fighting or feeding them.

Jesus has plenty of stories u…

Love is safe...but are Christians?

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Let mutual love continue. Hebrews 13:1

"Lord, save me from your followers!" -bumper sticker

The shoe is on the proverbial other foot. Now Christians are being put in the position of having to say that that Christian leaders of "Pastor" Terry Jones ilk are fringe and out of the ballpark of normative Christian faith and practice.

In addition to how this quagmire endangers our military service personnel and civilians working overseas, one of the questions I haven't heard asked is the effect it all might have on the safety of any and all of our churches. Blinded by hate and fear, Terry Jones apparently has no clue that his behavior threatens other Christians too.

So what's a faithful Christian to do? I'm pretty certain that Jesus and the New Testament is not about killing the opposition, but rather, patient endurance, even in a time of crisis. We simply cannot control the actions of others. So, it means we speak up when we see spiritual abuse, and all the more …

On Giving from a Full Cup

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My Dad’s main instrument was clarinet then followed by sax. As a teenager, dad appeared on the Major Bowes radio broadcast, THE amateur talent show of his generation. While in college at Drake University, Steve Allen was the pianist in his band. When Dad went to law school and become an attorney, he never left his passion; rather, he guided my older brother’s many Big Band and Dixieland groups for about a decade.

Every Sunday, musicians of all generations and hair lengths jammed into our living room, filling our house with every sound from Glenn Miller to Count Basie to the Dukes of Dixieland.

In a weird way, I miss the community, as intrusive as it was, that assembled in my living room those many Sundays. That kind of doing for the simple love of it is very rare. When you share your gift and passion with others, it can make you a better person, you can “fulfill” your mission, and you can improve the world beyond just yourself.

The good news is that there is enough of God’s grace fo…

Is a Day off the Answer to Clergy Obesity?

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Taking time away sure helps, especially if you can give yourself the freedom to do so. That seems to be the upshot of all the reporting of the portly North Carolinian United Methodist pastors. An article in the NY Times mentions several other clergy ailments such as depression and suggests that we find a way to take more sabbath.

While I think taking the time is extremely important, the reporting never really addresses the fact that, because of the nature of the pastoral life, most of our lives are structured in a way that 's inherently unhealthy. Whatever the "written" responsibilities are, the reality of the pastoral life is that we run the church while also being there for people in crisis. The nature of crisis is that it happens whenever it will, 24/7. So clergy are more stressed out than the general population. Do ya think?

I'm not sure clergy health has ever been that great. Let's not use this or any research to romanticize the clergy health of yesteryear.…

Is "Unworthy" Worthless?

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The question's relevance is found in the way we hear the references to our being unworthy in the Bible and in the liturgy of the church: "Say, 'We are worthless slaves,; we have only done what we ought to have done.'" Luke 17: 10, NRSV The CEV reads, "Say, 'We are merely servants, and we have simply done our duty.'" The traditional UMC Communion liturgy has, in the prayer of humble access, "We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under thy table..."

The use of "unworthy" does become a stumbling block. Other words, biblical and otherwise, exist. "Fear of God" is a hindrance to many as well. Should we just use different words now that so many hear them as curses rather than blessings, as nullifying, rather than amplifying, our access to God grace in Jesus?

For me the answer is yes, especially if by the words we automatically do more harm than good. This is much easier to do if your theology embraces our bei…

Study Leave, 2010

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Intention

Like Garrison Keillor's Pastor Inqvist, I've spoken about the importance of leave- taking in many of these posts. In 2010, it was time for me to walk the talk. Clergy persons need to be creative. There are few prepackaged opportunities for time away for personal, spiritual, and vocational renewal. And while both the D. Min. or a Spiritual Direction program can be renewing experiences, spiritual renewal is the by-product of such courses, not the purpose.

My goal of reading, prayer, study, and rest fit best into a few weeks' of study leave. Within about a month of the start of the time away, shaping up to be two weeks of reflection and discernment of "what's next," I was asked to lead our church's older adult ministry, and continue with existing responsibilities. So the new ministry actually delayed as well as re-framed my time away. The following is a narrative account of what actually happened while omitting some of the plans that changed.

A Spir…

What Would "the Beave" Lie About Today?

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What next? Did Beaver Cleever lie again about eating all of his school lunch or did he actually trade it out for a bunch of sweets and candy? How can he claim he didn't jaywalk when half the neighborhood saw him do it? Next, in order to be popular with the older, bigger, cooler kids, the Beaver takes the blame for some of their own misdeeds.

Sure would be nice if that early 1960's level of moral turpitude was around today. Each episode stood alone as a mini-morality play.

In my boyhood, I loved hanging out with the older kid across the street. He, like many of the people that I grew up with, went to the nearby parochial Catholic school. It was connected to one of the larger parishes in our city. It's hard to believe that so many these suburban communities are gone. Their schools and gorgeous churches, are for sale, doors closed.

But in the season of tagging along my older buddy, I learned why intention, not necessarily action, is what makes a sin so bad. Saying "darn&quo…

Why We Take It Personally

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The latest comings and goings of sports heroes has been an interesting lesson for students of social belonging.

With last month's hour long "show" dedicated to the wherefore of Lebron James, and the MLB trading deadline, which saw longtime favorites Oswald and Berkman leave the local Astros, those outside of these situations don't have a clue what's happening. Onlookers don't understand the feelings involved because all they see is an athlete improving his chances of winning by changing cities. All this while not hurting his bank account!

But those who are on the inside, I mean the fans, experience it all differently. They belong to their teams in what Joseph Myers has called "public space." Public belongers are committed and participate. They find their connection both important and meaningful. How the team or city views the individual is less important than how the fan views the team. So Lebron's self-absorbed departure from Cleveland and the l…

Why Join the Church?

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Some of the better material in books I find in the appendices. Such is true of Fusion by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson. Subtitled "Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church," the authors address a topic that is a day-to-day challenge for anyone engaged in evangelism and disciple formation.

I found that the "Membership Tools" in Appendix C generated a helpful reflection for anyone who is asked why church membership matters. To put it another way, what difference does following Jesus make? The authors give several reasons. As they assist regular attenders down the road to full membership, they regularly teach, and I slightly amend, their four primary reasons for church membership:

We need healthy relationshipsWe need our gifts to be accepted and used.
We need to feel like we're growing, making progress in the spiritual lifeWe need to belong- to something bigger than us.
#1 requires that we relearn healthy ways of being in relatio…

A Word About Numbers

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Bishop Will Willimon challenged us to say, in light of the Acts of the Apostles, that numbers (of conversions, people in pews, etc.) don't really matter. I don't know who is saying numbers don't matter, but I did what he asked us to do. I reflected on why Luke, who wrote the narrative, would have included numbers in the story of the church's expansion, in Acts.

I believe they are not unimportant in the larger story but they are, by themselves, not very meaningful. These instances are recounted, like the conversions of former persecutors (Saul) and Roman officials like Cornelius, to teach that your persecutors or occupying military officer might just become your brother or sister if you are faithful in your witness. And about numbers: the more people who see following Jesus not just dangerous, but also possible and workable, the more likely others will accept the invitation to join in. In a sense, numbers do attract more numbers.

That, in my opinion has little to do …

Is the Disciple Making Mantra Working?

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We have an impressive apparatus for making disciples of Jesus. It aligns with our mission statement quite nicely! How's that workin' for ya?

If it's possible, drop that latest disciple making toy. Consider the spiritual struggle to completely follow Jesus, your Light and your Salvation. Remember the folks that Jesus loved and taught, among them a rich young man (Mark 10:21-22)? He knew what Jesus was about, but he was not free to follow him.

The hard work of following Jesus "unreservedly," as Henri Nouwen put it in The Road to Daybreak, sometimes flouts our best efforts at invitation. As he wrote, "In the past I wanted to know where to go. Now I knew where to go, but didn't really want to." If someone like Henri Nouwen could write these words, and share his own struggle to follow Jesus even more fully, why isn't there more honesty about following Jesus- the kind that comes from the depths of our being? Is it about trying to sell something we our…

Bryant Gumble on Lebron

On Weds,Real Sports on HBO , had something to say about the THE KING:

“Finally tonight, a few words about championship rings. Just when did they become the all-important barometer of who does or doesn’t count in sports? When did they supersede personal excellence or exemplary character as a standard of greatness?

“I got to thinking about that the other night after the self-anointed chosen one, LeBron James, embarrassed himself as he tried to make his decision to seek rings in Miami sound like a search for the Holy Grail. It’s when he essentially admitted to placing a higher priority on winning than anything else.

“LeBron’s decision is typical of our immediate gratification era, but it flies in the face of history. Even though he never won a title, Dan Marino is still the biggest hero in Florida. And in Boston, all those Celtics championships are dimmed by the unforgettable brilliance of Ted Williams, who never won anything. In Chicago, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus have legendary status de…

Just Another Fake Line in the Sandbox

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Did you know that the culpable behemoths are not the B.P.'s who risk lives and worlds for a little more profit (and for our cheap gas). They're not the too-big-to fail giants on Wall Street bailed out by our tax dollars. The demagogues in the U.S. Senate, in a piece of work before their July 4 recess, took on the unemployed and their families, some of which possibly live on a street near you. Happy holiday!

Yup, our Senate heroes, especially its bold minority, is doing what it does best: rigging a cat fight for their hell-benders! After months of dubious negotiating the bill's size, they managed to shut down, at least temporarily, renewing expiring federal unemployment benefits. Maybe when the senators are finished taking a stand something will get done, who knows?

Two- off- the- book- wars, huge, unfunded, budget-toxic tax cuts for the leisure class, drug company hand-outs, and other stuff still unpaid? Naw, THOSE deficits are different. Now, deficits really do matt…

To Entangle, Enable or Empower

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Why does it matter? Enabling keeps us in ruts, wastes time, drains energy and, ultimately robs life of our direction.

If you answer yes to most of these you may be more of an enabler:
Do I do for others what they can and should do for themselves?Have I reminded them to do what was their responsibility?Have I commented even to myself on how another has fulfilled a task?Have I tried to change someone's feelings?Do I often find it easier to just say yes when I really need to say no?
Enabling others prevents people from knowing God's will and using their spiritual gifts. Being "entangled" with others does sap your energy, verve, and purpose. If you are functioning too much as an enabler, it may be a struggle being your own person, to stand on your own two feet. You may even "love too much" or try to get from others what you really need to give to yourself: respect, patience, and self-acceptance. Clergy are especially susceptible to wanting everyone to like t…

Is "Tilting" Enough?

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In Tilt: Small Shifts in Leadership that Make a Big Difference, authors Erik Rees and Jeff Jernigan describe the difference between being managed by change and leading it. By choosing the later, we can become part of the process of transformation instead of blocking it. A significant theme throughout the book: too much management and control leads to burn-out. And that deadens all forms of leadership, volunteer as well as professional.
The best chapters were on "Becoming an Empowering Leader" and "Value-Driven Behaviors." The importance of inviting new people and investing in them is the first step in empowering others, especially if Christ's ministry is ever to be replicated and multiplied. The strength of the book is the emphasis on behaviors or fruits. The authors do a good job of identifying what they mean by values- driven behaviors, a popular topic in the corporate world. As you begin to establish value-based behaviors, you actually have a good chance …

Beginning Second Half Ministry @ Chapelwood

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I'm a second-half pastor with ministry to second-half adults to be added to my official responsibilities July 1. I will continue equipping Chapelwood in the areas of Reaching and First Impression Ministry.

As the youngest of three brothers, I grew up looking up to my elders, literally. In a number of ways, I've sort of lived out that boyhood experience. As a college student, I participated in the "pioneer" older adult group as a leader in training. In my last year in college, I assisted the county in developing a legal assistance-peer counseling program for seniors. And in the course of ministry, I have directed retiree events at Mt. Sequoya (Arkansas), was chaplain for a Christian retirement community with continuing care, and trained as resident advocate, or an ombudsman. For the past three years, I've volunteered with the Houston Alzheimer's Association's conferences.

Throw in my own experience with caring for family members, which, in itself, changes yo…

An Old Idea Looking Better

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What if the mission record of the church has been poor, regardless of the vast array of clergy appointments made to said church? How in the world can it be concluded that everyone of those clergy were just ineffective, especially when they had proven themselves otherwise before or after their tenure at the resistant church?

While some have forwarded the corollary of the guaranteed appointment repeal (that is, refusing poorly performing churches a clergy appointment), there may be several other options short of stiffing the congregation an ordained pastor:
These instances are opportunities for bishops with exceptional pastoral skills to shine. Show the rest us how what it looks like to turn a church around!
In an area bishop's tenure, pastor a turn-around once every quadrennium. That would put an entirely different spin on the teaching function of the episcopacy.
Choose cabinet members on their demonstrated ability and willingness to turn a resistant church or churches around. They, to…

Include Integrity on Next Resume

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If you don't get caught, then why not fudge a little on your resume. Throw in a fake title here, add a few years there, who's really going to check anyway? We like to catch the politicians in fibs about braving gunfire, or their pretended combat service in Vietnam, and well we should. But lying on a resume is not any better. Printed resumes, just like viral speeches, are difficult to undo.

When I took my first pastorate as a student in a North Carolinian mill town church, I doubt anyone in the parish really cared that much about my resume. No one indicated that they were impressed by it if they had even seen it. They were more concerned that I drove a car with Ohio plates, I had a beard and pony tail, or in the ACC culture, that I attended Duke Divinity School.

Like sermons on humility, the best resumes are concise. "Elaborating" to make your body of work look better only fractures your integrity. Even if no one notices the little extra you imagined, you're only d…

The Weekly Watchword: The Miracle of Adoption

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For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Romans 8:14

Light saber or pixie dust? Holy Spirit is neither. We don't control Holy Spirit; better to yield and surrender. Think of it not as the Spirit coming down on the church, but rather, the church offering all to Holy Spirit. As the Moravian Watchword from Romans implies, it's Spirit's work of adopting and leading us that is significant, not our claim on the Spirit.

Just as important as receiving, it's sometimes helpful to look at what we're receiving. Paul makes clear that it's the very spirit of adoption, so that when we cry out to God as our loving Abba, it is the Spirit bearing witness to us that we belong to God, now and forever. (Romans 8:16) So any other voice that refutes that affirmation is not from Holy Spirit but from the father of lies.

The wisdom in this is that we don't have to look elsewhere. Though I don't always choose the hope and freedom and healing that the Spirit offe…

I Sincerely Doubt It

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I remember there was a phase in our boyhood when my older brother would retort, "I sincerely doubt it," to almost anything I would try to state, frustratingly, as fact!

Have you ever wondered about the presence and purpose of doubt? Why do we get to have it and centipedes or toads apparently don't? Wouldn't life be easier if we could just get over it and move on?

Doubt plays an important function because it can save us from ourselves. Doubt can keep us from making bad decisions or doing harm due to run- away hubris, and thinking we're always right. Knowing we don't have all the answers is apart of honest humility. Faith without this kind of doubt can serve to strengthen, not question, all pet peeves and prejudices. Then, I no longer think I'm right, I know I am.

When it comes to the Bible, doubt means different things. One of the well-worn texts on doubt comes from the Epistle of James:
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generous…

Dormancy

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A few months ago I was asked by the retreat leader to reflect on my spiritual season. In what season am I living spiritually? I couldn't get beyond the fact that Houston, Texas was experiencing its first winter in years. Maybe partly because of the four seasons in nature, our spirits too have seasons of energy, growth, denouement, and dormancy.

Discerning spiritual seasons can serve us well as we become aware of the center from which we give and serve and offer our ministry. Acknowledgment of our inner reality is a step in first doing no harm to self or another. Especially if we're at a place of ebbing energy, then offering gentleness and compassion to ourselves is easily blown off. We're supposed to be there for others, right?

I once knew a gardener who cared for an amazing array of roses, among other foliage. The trouble with our weather, he said, was that roses never had a rest, a break, a time when they were not on. Keeping the roses going throughout the year was a stru…

The Monastic Methodists

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In Longing for Spring, co-authors Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker do more than just report on the new monastic movement within United Methodist Churches. They also present a strong case for a Wesleyan monastic rule of life. All in a very brief 104 pp.- that's with the bibliography.

Heath, the McCreless Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, and Kisker, the James Cecil Logan Associate Professor of Evangelism and Wesley Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary, are also both leaders in the "new monasticism." Heath, a U.M. Elder, is on the leadership team of New Day, a connection of "micro-communities" of prayer and action. Kisker, also a United Methodist pastor, is apart of a band meeting at Wesley.

The reader will find the authors' experiences in intentional Wesleyan community helpful, because they too have negotiated the pitfalls of the institutional church. As a result, their wisdom is all the more valuable. Both authors share their spi…

Brain Healthy Faith

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You are what you eat. According to Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, authors of How God Changes Your Brain, your brain is only as healthy as your best spiritual practice or worst God -image. In short, the book is all about the nexus of God and science as seen in the human brain, and how that coming together can affect and transform our lives. And the research presented is a stirring case for how "God," i.e., our spiritual practices and religious faith, can affect the life and health of our brain, for good or ill.
The first part of the book is a primer of sorts. We learn the function of each part of the brain. There are certain "God" circuits where perception of God is formed. The amygdala is implicated in creating the reptilian brain and the fight or flight response. The frontal lobe's job is to logically think about God. The striatum helps to control the amygdala, allowing us to know safety and a sense of well-being in God's presence. The thala…