Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lethargy and Life-Giving Prayer

Aelred of Rievaulx was known as the "The Bernard of the North." His writings include On Spiritual Friendship. The following is from Pastoral Prayer:

Lord, look at my soul's wounds.

Your living and effective eye sees everything.
It pierces like a sword, even to part asunder soul and spirit.
Assuredly, my Lord, you see in my soul and spirit
the traces of my former sins, my present sins, my present perils,
and also motives and occasions for others yet to be.

You see these things, Lord,
and I would have you see them.
You know well, O searcher of my heart,
that there is nothing in my soul that I would hide from you,
even had I the power to escape your eyes.
Woe to souls that want to hide themselves from you.
They cannot make themselves not to be seen by you,
but only miss your healing and incur punishment.

So see me, sweet Lord, see me.

My hope, most merciful, is in your loving kindness;
for you will see me, either as a good physician sees,
intent upon my healing,
or else as a kind master, anxious to correct,
or a forbearing parent, longing to forgive.

This, then, is what I ask, O font of pity,
trusting in your mighty mercy and merciful might:

I ask you, by the power of your most sweet name,
and by the mystery of your holy humanity,
to put away my sins and heal the languors of my soul,
mindful only of your goodness,
not of my ingratitude.

It's possible that the meaning of "languor" here is indifference or lack of enthusiasm, other options are sluggishness, lack of energy, or weariness.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Unfinished Reflections on Job

So, do you think the book of Job is the Bible's answer to suffering, or just several different answers strung together by wisdom teachers? If you're thinking that Job answers the question of innocent suffering, on the surface, you may be right. A little deeper look touches on whether faith and suffering are exclusive, or if someone can be faithful without promise of reward. That is, can faith truly exist without hope of reward?

Like the poetry of Job, we too, run the gamut as we try to make sense of suffering:
  • Punishment for sin-retribution
  • Teaching us a lesson- disciplinary
  • Benching us from active community life- probative
  • Blessing or healing will come as a result- redemptive
  • Suffering reveals our motives and perhaps God- revelatory
  • Reasons for suffering can't be known- ineffable. See especially Job 28
  • No reason as suffering is random- incidental
We read Job through thick New Testament eyes, but these same explanations are reflected in the Christian canon itself, especially the belief that suffering is and can be redemptive. Romans 8 is this statement in its purer form. The crucifixion and resurrection is the event which I believe tilts the whole of the N.T. in this direction. If you surveyed parishioners though, you'd probably find a minority here, because many would prefer to avoid the unsavory topic.

We often find the Gospel very thinly presented as "I believe therefore I get." That is, if I do this, then I'll get something else. This has to be a turn-off for people who suspect a hidden agenda. Since Christians have been presenting it that way for many years, why should we complain about the prophets of weal when they adopt the same this for that theology? It is transactional, not transforming, love.

Isn't it interesting that even Jesus' suffering doesn't seem to throw us off the cycle of reward and punishment?
Christian believing is about repentance, partnership, covenant love, with the God of Jesus, who suffers with us and for us. God never wastes our pain, and in that sense, we can be blessed and healed, now and forever.

You ARE a New Species: This Week's Moravian Watchword

I wonder if we really believed in God's loving grace to recreate us, would we then grow into and become the new species that we, in reality, are in Christ? The challenge becomes the terrible freedom of our living and trusting and choosing God's new creation in us. How to nurture that new species is the question.

The new has already happened in Christ! II Corinthians 5:17 It's our choosing it that becomes the essence, the underneath, of our prayer and spiritual practice. Our movement away or toward God is the key. So we ask, what moves me away from, or moves me toward, God's recreation of the new me?

I appreciate the choice for this week's Watchword from the Moravian tradition. Watchwords are meant to be encouragements to live out the faith in light of God's promises. Sometimes this requires to look deeper at why what is working is helpful and why what is not is a drain. So at this point of Lent, we do well to reflect on the disciplines and how they're working for our benefit. And especially, if what we have chosen is helping us with being a new species in Christ.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Info on Clergy Sabbatical Leaves, Texas Annual Conference

Considerations drawn from ¶352 Book of Discipline on Sabbatical Leave
  1. Available to Full-time Local Pastors, Associate, or Clergy members in full connection.
  2. Intended duration of 3—4 months (shorter sabbaticals can be negotiated).
  3. Compensation during the short-term sabbatical is maintained with the local congregation or salary-paying unit where the clergy is appointed.
  4. Must be requested in writing with plans for study or travel for the BOM and Bishop and D.S.
  5. Sabbatical leaves can be granted after completion of any six consecutive years of full-time service or the equivalent for part-time appointments.
Interim pastoral leadership guidelines are *below

Types of Leaves
  1. Short-term sabbaticals may be granted for study in a particular are of pastoral or specialized ministry.
  2. Advanced degree work.
  3. Pilgrimage
  4. Spiritual formation
  5. Learning a new style of worship or type of ministry
  6. A practicum in a type or style of ministry
  7. In depth research in areas of ministry or pastoral leadership
  8. Intercultural experience
  9. Language immersion experience
  10. Writing and reflection on an intense personal or pastoral experience.
A short-term sabbatical should not be used as renewal leave. Renewal leave is a shorter and (can be) a more frequent leave for renewal of the soul, physical health, or emotional recovery.

Benefits of a Short-Term Sabbatical
  • Encourages longer pastorates
  • Enhances the role of spiritual leader
  • Allows personal and professional development
  • Prevents burn-out
  • Encourages congregational self-sufficiency
The Director of the Center for Clergy Excellence, the D.S., and members of the BOM can be helpful in working with the clergyperson and the SPRC in planning for a Clergy Short-Term Sabbatical.

Complete an application form for short-term sabbatical describing the purpose, scope and duration of the sabbatical. Submit it to your Texas Conference D.S. and SPRC for their review, support, and signatures. Send your completed original to Short-Term Sabbatical Committee c/o Rev. B.T. Williamson, Director, Center for Clergy Excellence, Texas Annual Conference 5215 Main Street, Houston, TX. 77002.

*Interim Leadership During the Sabbatical

A Transitional Interim Ministry Specialist (TIMS) will be appointed to serve the congregation as interim pastor during the short-term sabbatical. The Director of the Center for Clergy Excellence will work with the pastor, SPRC, and D.S. to negotiate and complete a TIMS covenant assignment.

During the short-term sabbatical time, the D.S. will be invited to preach at least once at the church. During the short-term sabbatical time, the clergyperson is to be in touch with the D.S. for support, assistance if needed, and accountability. The D.S. will be available to the local congregation for guidance in regard to emergencies during the short-term sabbatical. The D.S. shall have a time to meet with the returning clergyperson and SPRC of the local congregation for a debriefing about the short-term sabbatical experience.

For further information contact: Rev. Suzan Carter, TIMS Consultant,713-859-7070, or Barbara Kilby, Center for Clergy Excellence, 713-521-9383, ext. 322, Texas Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Non-Compliance: Pastor Heal Thyself

Why is it that so many of us don't follow the informed advice or directives of professionals from dentists to doctors, from therapists to spiritual directors? Lately I've come across a rash of encounters where it seems the posture of "I don't want to, I'm not going to, and nobody can make me" is as much apart of the problem as any medical evaluation.

Reasons for resistance surely vary. For example, one fear is that it will make my condition worse, not better. Another concern may be cost. Yet another is stigma depending on the condition being treated. When a dear friend first sought relief from anxiety/panic attacks, the problem actually got worse! Since taking on a new spiritual discipline was apart of the therapy, the treatment incorporated the spiritual as much as it did the body and mind.

We may not like the loss of control inherent in any therapy. We'd rather choose what and what not to follow, to question in wisdom any course of action. No one can or should take that right away. But then clergy shouldn't disparage that their counsel and advice isn't regarded. "You're nothing but show-offs! First, take the log out of your own eye. The you can see how to take the speck out of your friend's eye." Matthew 7:5 CEV

Pastors are precariously, if not dangerously, on their own to follow their own or any professional's advice. While peer groups are helpful, and many tout their importance, I wonder how many clergy are really in a functioning group or spiritual direction relationship. Personally, I may not like what the directive is, whether it has to do with my spiritual or physical health. But if I don't care enough to be the least bit self-aware, how can I hope to lead others in discerning their own truth?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Comparison that Works

In order to compare ourselves with others, it's necessary to first take our focus off the primal grace of God's love and engage what the renowned preacher and teacher John Claypool called the "side-long" glance. It's the look of envy and when it becomes habitual, leads to misery. As my Mom would say, "Don't make funny faces, it will freeze in that same position the rest of your life."

The side-long glance prevents us from seeing what's ahead for us because we see only what we're not. Seeing what we're missing can lead us to life, if it leads us to seek God. But what if comparison thinking only allows ingratitude to grow deeper roots? Can we then blame the church or God or anyone else for our unhappiness and lack of spiritual movement? How can we take the next step forward if we don't focus on what's ahead?

John Claypool's quote in this regard comes from a sermon of his, "Life Isn't Fair, Thank God." May it heal your spirit- and restore gratitude for the wonder of our birth and the miracle of our life:
[But] I will give you a fail safe formula for how to live your life in joy and that is compare your particular situation at this moment with what you had a year before you were born. I entered the stage of history December 15, 1930. December 15, 1929, John Claypool did not exist. I had no body. I had no being.... As soon as I stay in touch with the fact that my sheer birth is windfall, that my life has been given to me as an incredible gift, then something deeper than justice becomes the way that I look at this whole mystery of existence. If it ever stays with us that life is gift and birth is windfall, then we can begin to be generous with our lives exactly as God has been generous with God's life.
God guard our minds and spirits and lead us in the paths of life.

Oldies but Goodies