Thursday, February 24, 2011

Growing up Christian, child of alcoholic

As an adult child of an alcoholic, the standard quiz of the coping traits sometimes left me more puzzled and feeling, well, different. Working with a skilled spiritual director, and teacher of the Enneagram, equipped me to better see and appreciate the child I was meant to be, born to be. At the beginning of the retreat, we shared our earliest memory of experiencing joy. We recalled what we were doing at time. As a result, I have been able to discover a continuity between that child self and the self that emerged.

I "grew up Christian," baptized and confirmed and strengthened by family and a healthy community of faith. Trust in a loving God has played a huge role in healing and recovery. My faith heritage and congregation was largely safe and accepting. Not everyone has that. Telling my story may help those who live with any kind of church/home dichotomy or dysfunction. For those who have been wounded, the healing can be in asking who it was who hurt us. In most cases, it is not really a whole church., but rather, an individual.

In childhood and adolescence, my emerging self struggled to control, manage or avoid the explosive people or situations around me.
I now know I am responsible for my own actions. I cannot control people or situations to avoid my pain or fear. Even as I love and serve others, I surrender regularly, prayerfully, to God's love and care.

Then, I was comfortable reducing conversations to pablum- and even tried not to feel or think anything at all. My recovery has required a continuing practice of becoming aware of myself, including harmful self-talk, as well as my body. I now attend to sabbath, gratitude, and better breathing. I am open to joy and delight in being alive, not just consumed with fight or flight.

Then, I numbed-out, emotionally and chemically. I now realize that anything I put into my body can become an addiction, or it can be helpful and healthful. I can exercise regularly to increase my energy level, endorphins, and sense of well-being.

That old self invested in keeping the peace, especially once the booze started talking. Some people are unhappy. I am not wholly responsible for the world's well-being. This is not easy, but I am working on giving priority to what is mine to do even though people pleasing is in my DNA.

Next, I share how coping with an alcoholic parent can become a curse in ministry, driving our worst self, or a gift in service to others, inviting us to know a deeper healing, love, and grace.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Old Idea Still Looks Good to Me

What if effective pastoral leaders who become cabinet members had their own congregations as a part of their job??

They might be less prone to stew about the old days when they were a real pastor. With very few exceptions, most actually complain about missing their previous life in the pastorate. Yet another example of this is here.

The last thing we need is more unhappiness. It doesn't have to be this way! Ministry can fit a person's gifts and graces. It is about being being faithful to your gifts and stewarding them to be best of your ability with God's help and for God's glory.

The goal is to serve God and others with a loving heart, and yes, that does include being true -faithful- to your own best self and what you know about yourself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Resistance and God's Over-Abundance

Many are the grad-grinds today, contorting communion with God into a formula, and manipulating the life of prayer into a blueprint for some kind of measurable result, the end chosen by me or for me. The cup of our soul must somehow be metered and correlated with congregational utility.

Be cordial. Smile. Don't listen.

Whatever happened to God's extravagant grace, overflowing into our receiving, sharing, and giving? Like quality-control engineers, must our spiritual life be managed and controlled and fitted to serve the efficiency model? No longer does my cup overflow as promised in Psalm 23. Instead, the overflow itself is a dangerous waste of precious resource in a world of scarcity and institutional "survivor."

Reading about the shift in culture and clergy role is helpful. Gradually if not inexorably, the years wear down the yearning for more and more of God. More and more self-service can emerge. The passion for doing good with and for real people is siphoned away in the matrix of committee and commission work. The advancement of career- the one thing the system carrots -becomes the consummate good. Spiritual health doesn't matter unless it's tied to the real and measurable data.

But recovery, spiritual and otherwise, begins deep within, not from the outside. Not from looking good or image-management. No amount of trumpeting from well connected officials changes that. The war on inefficiency hides the fact that, in spite of all the waste that the aging structure continues to bless, real ministry continues to be done from a full cup. It's the grace of God. The over-abundance of God's love and mercy. Yearn and pray for it. Listen to it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Evelyn Underhill's Letter to Archbishop Lang, 1930

I came across this lately. Perhaps it's just more preaching to the choir, but it seems it's worth yet another gander and mention here:

We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with a few noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experiences of the life of prayer. Their Christianity as a whole is humanitarian rather than theocentric. So their dealings with souls are often vague and amateurish. Those needing spiritual help may find much kindliness, but seldom that firm touch of firsthand knowledge of interior ways which comes only from a disciplined personal life of prayer. In public worship they often fail to evoke the spirit of adoration because they do not possess it themselves...

They [the bishops] should call upon every ordained clergyman, as an essential part of his pastoral duty and not merely for his own sake: (a) To adopt a rule of life which shall include a fixed daily period of prayer and reading of a type that feeds, pacifies and expands his soul, and deepens his communion with God; b) To make an annual retreat; (c) To use every endeavor to make his church into a real home of prayer and teach his people, both by exhortation and example so to use it.

See more here.

Underhill's critique wouldn't hurt so much if it were not so true. We might think about our spiritual life if and when there's a crisis of some sort. Yet, it is important enough to put on the front burner now, not only for personal benefit, but also, for those who receive our ministry. For those who direct others in the spiritual life, also need and require the benefit of spiritual direction.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Resurrection of Ministry Reviewed

Andrew Purves has written a two-part theology of ministry. In The Resurrection of Ministry (the first volume is ominously titled The Crucifixion of Ministry), Purvis, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, sets forth his argument for a theology grounded and a ministry sustained in the resurrected and ascended Lord.

For the practically minded, the book has few personal illustrations and even when Purves attempts them, they are second and third person via negativa, using students, his Presbytery, and other ministers as examples of what not to emulate. My attention was awakened when Eugene Peterson's diatribe against clergy "shopkeeping" in Working the Angles was referenced.

Ya, it worked in getting my attention so that I was at least awake when I came across the thesis of the book, found on page 46: "The ministry in the mood of Easter Sunday and Ascension Thursday means reclaiming...Jesus as an active Lord and making sure that he and not we are at the center of things." It means clergy ask the question, "What are you up to, Lord, and what does it mean for me to get in on it?"

I found chapter 6, or "Ministry in the Power of the Resurrected Jesus" to be the best one overall, while the development of the "steps" of the theology, developed throughout the first five chapters, somewhat tedious. Were they supposed to be deductive, where each step follows the other in a logical succession? If so, there were 17 such "steps" that seemed somewhat random and poorly connected to each other. In my opinion, a biblical, not systematic, theology would connect better with the narrative of the four gospels. For example, the 14 "Stations of Light" could have provided the framework, as each are apart of the Easter and post- Easter narrative.

Yet there are nuggets, and some are worth noting:
  • What constitutes the ground and content of ministry is that Jesus lives. (p.141)
  • Expectations change because the center of attention has shifted from what we do to what the resurrected Lord is doing. (143)
  • Never leave home without anointing oil.
  • Expect that Jesus in his Spirit is up to something in people's lives, and oil is the symbol of that ministry.
  • Never sit in a committee meeting without...spiritual discernment of what the Lord is up to. (145)
  • Expect astonishment (146)
  • Ultimately, it is not up to us to exercise messianic let us not even try. The kingdom is not carried on our shoulders. (152)
To the extent we put "me and my" ministry in the center of things, and for all the times we regularly do not choose to receive the living Lord, who is intimately connected to us and every person we will ever serve, The Resurrection of Ministry provides a helpful corrective for too much self  and too much doing in ministry. However, as I read these pages, it was a LONG time getting there. My recommendation: skim, don't read.

I was alive to see #1

Duane Thomas, the former star running back of the Dallas Cowboys, was known to have put the Super Bowl in its proper context by suggesting that if the game was really so huge, why is it played every year?

In the early years, the game was big, at least for me. The Green Bay Packers had just beaten my Browns in the 1965 Championship Game, the first Browns game I remember watching. The muddy, frigid mess was by itself a spectacle.

The first Super Bowl ever was memorable for me- for reasons much bigger than football. I was a third grader in January of 1967, when I became seriously ill with a rapidly moving virus. In a few hours, my breathing began to shut down.

Dr. Bibbs, our next door neighbor, rushed over and worked with what we had available: he turned the vaporizer sideways and forced the moist air into my nose and mouth. Very soon two police officers appeared at my bedroom door, put an oxygen mask over my face, and wheeled me off to the hospital, where I stayed for several long days and nights at It was a pediatric ward at old Lakewood Hospital, and a television was "shared" in an outside hallway.

The next Sunday, the first Super Bowl was to be played. Dad, ever the letter writer, advised that I write a request to the physician to see if I could be discharged in time for the game. Request was granted upon my recovery. I went home that Saturday, and even got to see some of the game with some of my buddies.

Thankful for life and breath, this remembrance is not about any football game. The test of all happiness is gratitude, C.K. Chesterton noted. May you receive the gift of gratitude- and the joy that comes with it- today and always!

All that has breath, praise the Lord!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Does a Pre-Nup Circumvent the Trust Clause?

Just wondering if certain types of multi-site ministry are the cynic's way around the so-called "trust clause" of United Methodism. One of the laws of the church which keeps United Methodist congregations from waging battles over church property is that, in the event that a church closes its doors for now and forever, the ownership of the property and its assets reverts back to United Methodist Church, the defunct church's Annual Conference. Thus, all property under the United Methodist banner is actually held in trust by local congregations, a trust granted by the United Methodist Church.

The strategy of a larger or mega church "adopting" closing churches for their own ministry goals means that an under-the-table prenuptial could be enacted with the Conference before ever embarking on such a venture.

It goes something like: the Conference and cabinet, happy that a new ministry focus will be housed and funded on the old property, will agree to give the home congregation the closed campus. The adopting church makes any needed improvements to it and provides the staffing and leadership for its ministry there. In turn, the church asks that if the new ministry fails, any portion spent on the property and staffing be returned to the home church.

Should Conferences and cabinets encourage entrepreneurial spirit by offering a sort of insurance for new ministry attempts? Is this even possible without first bankrupting Conferences? What about other congregations who remain open but have failed at branch locations? Can every church now get in line to ask their Conference for what amounts to a financial payback ?

If churches want a handsome economic pay back for failed ventures, then the UMC is not at all structured to treat all churches with fairness and equity. And it probably is a very bad precedent. And if you can't afford to responsibly fund your own ministry, then why even try it in the first place?

Oldies but Goodies