...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, July 29, 2010

A Word About Numbers

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 with reporting of numbers, paid attendance or actual, as we do it today, whether at the ballgame or the pew. Those are business figures. Are our numbers incidental or unimportant? To be PC, absolutely not. In a way that matters to the UMC and those employed by it, numbers are important. Is that the main message of Acts, or of Jesus' parables of growth, or, for that matter, the ministry of John Wesley, as the Bishop maintains? It would seem that a variety of responses can be reasonably argued.

But saying we need more numbers when the UMC has had generational membership losses is not prophetic exhortation- it's simply more empty reporting of the previous day's weather.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is the Disciple Making Mantra Working?

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 ourselves are not buying?

I'm not sure we can be honest about discipleship if we're not on the journey ourselves, attending to our spiritual life and sharing it. Nouwen chose the venue of the journal as well as books, lectures, and finally, his own ministry with the disabled. But honesty requires being on journey in the first place.

We prefer a position of strength. I envision myself with no unsavory givens, that is, no weighty baggage. Implicit in most "grids" I've seen is the assumption of being "fixed." People may decide that this discipleship stuff is not for them- unless they can find a way to look good, to hide the messiness of their existence. It doesn't even enter our minds that our true vocation is always connected to the struggle to be whole, grounded in our own brokenness and healing.

Churches large and small tend to make "following Jesus" into "copying Jesus." We neglect our true self and our true life in the Holy Spirit. We try our best to schlep up somehow, on our own, a life as Jesus lived and taught. But it's communion with God, receiving Christ into ourselves that leads to the fruit of the Spirit, not the other way around. In valuing the result over the Source, we obscure the gift that makes discipleship possible.

Belonging in Christian community trumps any kind of assembly-line process. What we find pleasing about any scheme is that we think we can fit bunches of people into it and thereby churn more "disciples" out of it. But patience, gentleness, and love is not necessarily the fruit of such efforts to impose our form of discipleship on others.

Basically we put too much trust in disciple-making. We want it manageable, measurable, even easier, without risk. What then? Without a master plan, we're left with a simplicity with all it's beauty and breadth and depth: our desire to receive Jesus, to be formed by Holy Spirit, and willingness to stay on the journey with others. May your spirit be refreshed with the gift of curiosity and wonder and joy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

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 despite playing on losing teams. And even in the NBA, where guys seem obsessed with being viewed as ‘the man’, real men like Barkley, Ewing and Baylor are ringless, but revered.

“Despite such evidence to the contrary, LeBron James seems to think he needs a ring to change his life and secure his legacy. Maybe he’ll get one, maybe he won’t, but it’s probable that no amount of rings will ever remove the stench he wallowed in last week. LeBron may yet find that in the court of public opinion, just as putting on a tux can’t make a guy a gentleman, winning a ring can’t make one truly a champion.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just Another Fake Line in the Sandbox

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 matter.

The stand is a symbolic "I was against those terrible deficits under our current President and I did what I could to counteract the flow of big guvmunt!" in a campaign speech. The poor, the vulnerable, the already-stressed- out families who are without one or both incomes? Extending benefits goes immediately into the economy, and stimulating the economy with real cash infusion (read: success) is one thing that terrifies these Jim- dandies. They have nothing to offer except maybe some warmed over advice from St. Ronnie about checking the want ads.

But pitching a fit here and now would only be credible if anything was attempted about the huge budget shortfalls in the last ten years. "The one who mocks the poor has contempt for their Maker," says Proverbs 17:5. "Mocking" includes your pretend stands that mislead and don't work, even if they can get you re-elected.

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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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