Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bringing on the Joy

"Ask not, doubt not. You have, my heart, already chosen the joy of Advent. As a force against your own uncertainty, bravely tell yourself, 'It is the Advent of the great God.' Say this with faith and love, and then both the past of your life, which has become holy, and your life's eternal, boundless future will draw together in the now of this world. For then into the heart comes the one who is Advent, the boundless future who is already in the process of coming, the Lord, who has already come into the time of the flesh to redeem it." (Karl Rahner, The Eternal Year)

This past week, full of its own ups and downs, has been less about the chronological time that my calendar and my schedule keep, and more about sending me headlong into the kairos that is all around me. kairos is the Greek word for "God time"--the "appointed time". It has always seemed to me that it is time outside of time...time in which all things good exist. I have wanted to live in this time, not to escape the mundane and sometimes even painful parts of the chronological, but to know and remember what Rahner admonishes me to do: to fight my own uncertainty with the joy of Advent. The one who is coming has already come and my celebration is a both/and.

Balancing the tension between the need to keep to schedules and plans and maps and the need to exist in the time appointed has usually kept me from fully letting go. This week, my preparations for the Christ-Mass will be filled with joy, and I will say into the void of clocks ticking my days away (and ticking the days of those I love away)--no more! For time is met headlong with the joy of knowing what has come to pass...and is now coming to pass...and will come to pass--all at once.

Bring on the joy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advent with Auden

I can't quite put my finger on it, but W.H. Auden really has Advent and Christmastide down for me. Those seasons are never quite as bright and shiny as nostalgia demands, but the joy for me when I truly catch hold of them is deeper than our secular holiday might proclaim. I think Auden's connection has something to do with the deep sadness and distress and longing of his own life...something that requires more than just bright, shiny, and happy to deal with. It requires actual deep joy, deep peace, deeper than the surface--penetrating to the dark places.

He "gets" why we need the Light so much because he has seen the darkness.

I came across this stanza from a poem of his, "Alone, alone" today:

"We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle."

Our very lives (and what we, as human beings have done with them) demand something deeper. There is some amazing thing that must happen to shake us from our complacency. Yet we have even managed to turn this Christ-Mass into a time of auto-pilot because there seems so much to to get out, services to plan, staff evaluations to do, house to clean AND decorate before the youth arrive for their party, "child" care to plan for when we go on vacation over the holidays.

I'm pondering this in the context of Auden because my "to do" list actually needs to be done--especially as it pertains to planning and carrying out worship and end of year things, but I think there is a holier way to do it, a way which tempers the manic joy of making sure that everything is done in order to fulfill my Victorian and administrative fantasies and simply asks, "What needs to be done in order that we all may experience the wonder of Incarnation again? What needs to be done in order to help my work and home function in such a way as is faithful to God's call in our lives?"

I hope that this year we are not required to save a parking space for the donkey and upgrade the accommodations so as not to offend ourselves (though the Occupant has never been offended thus). For the part of my life and the lives around me which don't want the smell of sheep dung mingled with our cinnamon and evergreen, I pray that God might know the depth of miracle we need.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blood in the Water...and Plasma too!

Oh yeah. My first tendency is to be conflict averse. I'm getting over that. I've got good medicine.

It's called the Gospel.

I've been watching information and misinformation about the current health care reform debate. And I've watched the pithy status lines and polls on facebook, sound bites that sometimes wound. It would pain me less to see actual honest debate without spin. My first tendency is to not wade into these waters.

But I'm reminded that at the Pool, the way to be healed was to wade least until Jesus showed up! But it's not just a superstition that we deal with by the water's edge. Jesus asks, "Do you want to be healed?"

Do we want to be healed?

I think we'd rather fear. Because fear is easier. It isolates us. It means we maintain control, or at least the illusion of control. It means we don't have to untidy our lives or entangle them with the lives of others. It means we can continue to feel more worthy.

It also means that we can go on fearing death in secret, though we proclaim that we are living even now our eternal life.

This caveat--I deeply desire to read information from each side of the debate. I also deeply desire to NOT read anything that can be said in 30 seconds or less. This reform is far too complex for 30 seconds or less. It's far too complex for single anecdotal evidence. I don't feel I yet know enough about this to comment specifically on what plan would be best for us to adopt. I am predisposed to have a desire that all people might have access to health care because I believe that the Gospel mandates that we care for each other, including the sojourner and the stranger. I don't know the optimal way to do it.

But I do know that this debate is currently more about our fear than it is our faith. And when we spend more time wounding each other than praying and discussing what it means to be people of faith in the midst of a time when we could influence the care of millions of people, it makes me wonder what is at the root of our fear. The wounds have left blood in the water and those who feed on our fears have sensed that we are much easier to manipulate.

I want to be healed. I desire healing for all. The vision of Isaiah 65 stands in my mind: "No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed." We cannot abandon the wealthy. We cannot abandon the poor. We cannot abandon children. We cannot abandon the elderly.

I know this may mean I have to sacrifice more. I may end up with less so that others might have enough.

I also believe that is the kingdom. I am ashamed that I might have to be "forced" into that. Maybe the time to start is now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Watching our Youth

I have been acting as our youth director for the past 7 months, and I confess that sometimes it's the most stressful thing I've got going. But I've discovered lately that one of the reasons I've been stressed is that I've been underestimating our youth.

The youth at St. Mark don't just want to be entertained. They want a way to connect all their lives with the life of the Holy. They want to look in the Bible and see themselves, including their passions and failings.

On Sunday, I took what I thought was an "easy way out". I decided to have them work on retelling a Bible story--their choice. They had loved the dramatic retelling of David and Goliath that we had used in worship early this summer, and so I thought they might get a little creative with another story. Plus, they love it when we bring out the video camera with the thought of getting to be "on film".

The first thing out of one of their mouths was "how about the story where the guy raises an army of the dead?" I explained about Ezekiel and about the prophets and some of the context and we read the scripture and talked some more about it.

And then their brains and the Holy Spirit started to kick in. They started wondering what it might be like for the "Master of the Universe" to drop "Z-Man" onto the St. Mark playground. What bones, literal and figurative might be there? How would God bring them to life? And what's more, how could we film it and present it to the congregation?

I loved watching them pouring over the Bible to get ideas for the script...and cutting out bones and picturing what the bones of the church might look like. They didn't need me to entertain them with a game. They just needed to be let loose into the places where God has working...and will work always. And then know that those places were here. Now. With them.

Love it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Pastor's Work

At the end of every week, I try to look back and take a little stock of what I've done in ministry. Many weeks, I end up beating myself up mentally for the things I haven't gotten done, even though I usually end up working 50+ hours.

But this week, I'm thinking about the variety. Hospital visits. Calling on new guests in worship. Staffing concerns. Counseling sessions. Worship planning. Finance figuring. Theological reading. Pastoral calling. Hanging out with parishioners.

It feels like something caught this week, like I was in a groove. I prayed more. I had more fun. Maybe it started with this past Sunday, when my husband danced as David in worship. He came in (after we stayed up far too late trying to choreograph the sucker...I may owe him my first-born child for agreeing to do it!) to the strains of "Nelson Mandela's Welcome to the City of Glasgow. And the celebration just went on from there.

So maybe I have two things on my pastor's work list from now on:

1. Pray
2. Have fun

Because somehow all of it this week was fun, even the finance committee meeting when we found out that the church is at a breaking point money-wise. Even in the midst of hard conversations with people whose lives are out of balance. Even in the midst of not having enough hours in the day to get absolutely everything done.

And what might happen if every week, I find the fun part of what I do in every circumstance. Because the truth is that we are actually made to have fun with what we do. We're made to watch in wonder as God works...and marvel at what God does. And be ready to move, sing, pray, work, watch, ponder, and cry when God leads.

Yay! I get to be a pastor!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Watermelon Sunday!

Many people have been intrigued by the facebook comments on Watermelon Sunday! A few months ago, I was trying to think of something fun to do in July when churches in the Valley (not just mine!) seem to go into the doldrums in terms of programming and attendance. So I tossed around a few ideas and decided to go with a "Beat the Heat" month. First up--the Sunday immediately following Independence Day. How better to celebrate than with watermelons?

But how to incorporate them into the service? I put out a call on facebook, and many people responded with stories from their childhood as well as suggestions. Dropping the watermelon off our bell tower. Seeing how many people get scared if I eat watermelon and drink milk at the same time (apparently it has a superstitious reference). Rolling the watermelon down the center aisle.

I did get a great suggestion from Leigh Gregg to go find a bunch of different melons and then let the kids try to guess what color the inside is based on the outside of the melon. That worked so well because I was able to find Crenshaw and Canary melons (the outside of both is very yellow, but the inside of the Crenshaw is light orange like a canteloupe and the inside of the Canary is mottled green/orange), both a regular honeydew and an orange-centered honeydew (they look completely alike outside) and a regular watermelon and a yellow-meat watermelon. That last one was probably the most dramatic as it's something more familiar to the kids that they had never seen before--it was just golden yellow as I picked it up and showed it to them.

Still, what to preach? Did I want to try to incorporate the fruit?

Then I started doing some research on the watermelon. The earliest crops were actually grown in Africa over 5000 years ago. Seeds were found in the tombs of Pharoahs. And the people of Israel, while wandering in the wilderness, actually name melons as one of the things they miss about Egypt in Numbers 11:5 (when they are whining about manna).

One of the coolest things about watermelons is that they actually are an incredibly important source of water in the desert parts of Africa. In fact, some people have used them as their primary water source in dry times and cultivate them just for that purpose. And so I got to thinking about Isaiah 35:1-10 and the streams in the desert that God will bring about. This picture was a sign of hope at a time when Isaiah wasn't offering much hope. But there they were--the life returning to a place of dryness.

Now is a watermelon what I think Isaiah meant by "streams in the desert"? Nope. But I also wonder how many times we miss the streams that are provided for us to sojourn in the desert for awhile longer. Not the great stream and life overwhelming that Isaiah 35 (and Isaiah 65 and other texts of Zion) promise us, but a "foretaste" if you will. In sort of the same way communion gives us a taste of the feast to come--so watermelon will always remind me now of streams in the desert.

The second cool fact I didn't know about watermelon vines is that they require the presence of bees in order to bear fruit. They are inter-dependent. One of the lectionary texts for this day talked about Jesus sending out people 2 by 2. He was very specific in telling them everything that they couldn't take. In the end, I can almost hear the question of the disciples: "Well, Jesus, what can we take then?" And I can hear him replying: "Each other." We require the presence of God and each other so many times in order to bear fruit. We don't make it on our own very well. So we ask the question--who is on the Journey with you? Are they helping you bear fruit? Watermelon will always help me to remember that I can't go it alone if I expect to bear fruit!

Then we closed the service by serving some of the sweetest and juiciest watermelon around (I love roadside stands in the Valley!) to everyone as they left. It made me excited to see how something as common and as a part of our 4th of July celebrations might actually be able to point back to the Original Freedom Plan...and give us hope for our future.

In other news, the bread I used today was a recipe slightly modified from a Baking in America recipe attributed to Martha Washington. It was spiced with mace, nutmeg, cloves and rose water! Yummy! The original recipe used about a pound of currants, but obviously, since this is communion that would have been bad. I also added more flour (to give it less a "tea bread" still uses yeast though!) and baked it free-form instead of in a pan.

Next Sunday we're going to go for a Dip in the Pool (exploring the waters of baptism)! I love worship!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Forgiveness? Reconciliation?

John Shea writes:

There is a long-suffering lady
with thin hands
who stands on the corner of Delphia and Lawrence
and forgives you.
"You are forgiven," she smiles.
The neighborhood is embarrassed.
It is sure it has done nothing wrong
yet everyday, in a small voice
it is forgiven.
On the way to the Jewel Food Store
housewives pass her with hard looks
then whisper in the cereal section.
Stan Dumke asked her right out
what she was up to
and she forgave him.
A group who care about the neighborhood
agree that if she was old it would be harmless
or if she was religious it would be understandable
but as it is...they asked her to move on.
Like all things with eternal purposes
she stayed.
And she was informed upon.
On a most unforgiving day of snow and slush
while she was reconciling a reluctant passerby
the State People
whose business is sanity,
persuaded her into a car.
She is gone.
We are reduced to forgetting.
"Prayer for the Lady Who Forgave Us"

Blanket forgiveness without repentance? I'm not sure about it.

But there is something very beautiful in the woman's assumption that we all need forgiveness. And there's something very true in all the passerby's assumptions that each one of them is the only one who doesn't.

I wonder what happens in worship when I pronounce forgiveness of sins. Do we feel that? Do we know we need it? Does it leave a pathway open for reconciliation? Or does it just make us upset?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Getting back in the swing

I've had a full year in the appointment to St. Mark UMC in McAllen. I've commented to so many people that I kept forgetting going into it that the first year of any given appointment is one in which you feel like the visitor they handed the keys to and said, "Well, guess you're in charge!"

For the first time ever since I came into full time ministry, I'm taking the week after Annual Conference off for vacation. And I'm thinking this week about what it means to get back in the swing of things.

The swing of things will be more familiar now. I won't have to guess or as about nearly as much. Maybe a rhythm will develop that will be helpful for everyone.

The swing of things will also be seductive. It will be easier to do things "just like last year" without stopping to contemplate whether that's a good idea or not. It will be easier to ask only the same people because I'm pretty sure they'll say yes. It will be easier not to risk. But I'm not sure that's how the kingdom comes.

I was watching the choir at one of our annual conference worship sessions. They swayed back and forth to the rhythm, but at one point, the pianist added an extra beat and they got turned around. They didn't break--they just kept going in the new pattern, the song kept moving and we all kept singing along with them.

Here's my hope for "the swing of things"--that we could add just an extra beat somewhere, get turned around and keep swinging together for the sake of what God calls us to do.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I just have to say that I love meetings for the most part.

I love getting together with people over lunch, talking about their lives and how faith related to them. And how they relate to faith.

I even found a large-group meeting this weekend stimulating.

Long drives in the car, not so much.

These are all changes from when I was younger--back then, if someone had mentioned the thought of driving a lot on a regular basis, I would have taken that every time. I loved the freedom of the open road and the car and the getting to somewhere.

Now...I guess I like getting somewhere with someone else, instead of just by myself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I've been pondering lately what it means to be "connectional." I currently serve on my conference's Order of Elders Advisory committee, and we have talked about "lone rangers" and the affect they have on the greater connection of our Annual Conference, both within the orders and within the whole body, as some churches are also seen to be "lone rangers".

When I say "connectional", I believe that it means that the health of my church cannot be sustained only by sacrificing the health of other churches.

When I say "connectional", I believe it means that when I am only concerned about my own self or needs in the system and how I can get ahead, I should be questioned.

When I saw "connectional", I believe it means that I play a vital role in something larger...and I must recognize that the others around me also play vital roles.

When I say "connectional", I believe it means that I should be urging all churches to faithful discipleship--not just one-upmanship.

When I say "connectional", I believe it means that there will be times when I carry someone else's burden...and times when I can feel free to ask for help carrying my own.

When I say "connectional", I believe it means that God is in the midst of the connection at all levels, and I ignore that at my peril.

When I say "connectional", I believe it means that the connection doesn't need me to imitate and create a needs me to discern and act in my local setting in conjunction with the movements of the connection.

When I say "connectional", I believe it means that I have a right and duty to speak and to be listened to, heard and considered by the connection...and to listen and consider in return.

Just some thoughts. I wish that this was more natural to us, but this Body of Christ finds it far more easy and personally rewarding to think congregationally instead of connectionally and individually instead of within the understanding of the Orders. I wonder if we'll ever intuitively move in a different direction.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The pioneering spirit

Last Friday, I did a graveside service for a 90-year-old. Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a colleague's father, who was 95. And then I went and sang at the bedside of a woman who is in hospice (last stages of Alzheimer's).

None of them did I know personally, other than what their families have told me about them. But I've been listening more and more to "Vista", by David Wilcox, and I keep going back to the title track:

The mountains were high from the valley below.
Back in those days, they didn't know
what was waiting for them over the divide
and who would be the first to see the other side.
But you led the climb up to the cracks,
seeing it all ahead of the rest
Your expression showed the wonder of the place
Looking westward with the sunlight on your face

And the wide open vista...the wide open sweet Someday
Climbing over the ridgetop to finally see the view
that none of us ever have known
Crossing over to home...and the vista.

The flowers were bright here at your side
All of us came to say our goodbyes
Light of morning shines strong into the room
Your breathing changes, time is coming soon
I speak my love, I say my words
You squeeze my hand to say that you've heard
But in your eyes I saw the twinkle in the blue
Looking over the ridge, out into the view

Of the wide open vista...the wide open sweet Someday
Climbing over the ridgetop to finally see the view
that none of us ever have known
Crossing over to Home...and the vista
The wide open sweet Someday
Climbing over the ridgetop to finally see the view
and all of us go there alone
Crossing over to Home.

I love that juxtaposition of the pioneering spirit and the journey to a heavenly home. And it seems like a lot of our "pioneers" are beginning to go--the pioneers of civil rights, of various industries, of women's rights. I wonder if that pioneering spirit will be a factor in my generation. I wonder if anyone, when we go, will call us brave and those who moved forward into a more faithful place.

What mountain lies before me, and what will I do to climb it? I feel like so many times, I watch myself and others content to set up camp at the foot of the mountain. Are we so scared to see God, the great Someday...Home? I think there are a few climbers. Oh, that I might just leave the safety of the camp and just climb.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm not doing well in 2009 with keeping up the blog.

Things seemed to have spiraled here in the church, between the various organizations I have responsibility in and my calling as a pastor and wife.

But I wonder how much of that I choose.

I choose every day to be my husband's wife. Some days more graciously than others.

I choose every day to be a pastor. Some days more graciously than others.

I have tried to discern what God has called me to beyond the local church.

The choices I make have effects, not only on me, but on many others. My family, my congregants, my peers and colleagues, but also on myself. How do I go about balancing all of those in a healthy way?

And why is it that every time I try to make a decision I believe to be healthy, people keep telling me that realistically, I can't (or shouldn't) do it?

I'm preaching this Sunday on the cruciform shape of life, using 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. I'm pondering all of the ways in which the cross makes absolutely no sense, pays no attention to the "reality" of the day and flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But I wonder if it's even possible to break free from my own neediness (which translates sometimes into busy-ness) and the neediness of the church (which translates, somehow into creating more busy-ness than is either healthy or faithful) to get to a place in which I live life looking like the cross.

I'm being haunted by something just beyond my reach--that there is something more than working at "life in Christ". There is living into it, which is a different thing all-together.

I want to live, not just work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bread Upon the Waters

I have been working through some of my bread-making skills to help some friends pull together a Lenten series based on the stages that bread goes through as its being made. I pulled out again a copy of Peter Reinhart's Bread Upon the Waters. Peter Reinhart is a lay member of an Eastern Orthodox monastic order, but he's also one of the pre-eminent breadmakers and teachers in this country. Rereading through that little book reminded me again of how much of my own spiritual journey gets mirrored in the things I love to do.

This week, given the ways in which I have functioned and failed to function, the chapter on degassing (also called the "punch down") spoke strongly to me. In it, Reinhart speaks of running Brother Juniper's Cafe with his wife:

(page 65) "Despite [the support structures set up to help us be channels of grace as we ran our cafe], we had many moments of crisis and disagreement surrounding management issues, cooking choices, short-temperedness, and other manifestations of fatigue and stress. We often felt like play actors, putting on happy, cheerful, courteous faces for customers when inside we were grappling with upset and anger. There were times when we were actually afraid to pray to be used by God because it seemed as if we were setting ourselves up to realize our many inadequacies. We often wondered if we were failures...Despite the many difficult days and challenges to our personal sense of virtue and civility, we forged ahead knowing that our obligation to our customers was to model the courtesies that we espoused."

That line about not even being sure that we wanted to pray rang true with me. Sometimes I don't want to pray because I'm not sure I want to hear the answer...don't want to deal with inadequacy. I'm supposed to have competency, but I'm running out of steam for it as well. Sounds a lot like I need to let go. But what does it look like to be "punched down" for the sake of the Kingdom?

(Reinhart, pg. 68) "When we punch down bread dough, humbling it as a creation dependent upon the baker's beneficence and skill, it springs back, stengthened in flavor and character, building upon the fermentation already present. Letting some air out of the dough is a necessary passage if the dough is to become truly great bread. ...
There can be no growth, no evoking of the fullness of our own (or our bread's) potential, without enduring punch downs. They lead to humility. But humility is a powerful creative force; it is a manifestation of one of the energies of God, and what could be more empowering than that?"

Humility. Not a virtue I've ever sought after. Perhaps it's time. Perhaps it's time for all of us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Emergent Merton

Last week, I was at Perkins School of Theology for Ministers Week. The topic this year was the emergent church, and as I've read a lot but never heard anyone actually talk about it in person, I went up. I felt behind the times while at the same time ahead of many of my colleagues, who are still discussing how to get a contemporary service up and running. It was challenging to take some things that I had been thinking even further, especially in how I communicate--communicate the Gospel, communicate about the church, and foster communication within the church and about the world.

But then in my reading today, I came upon this:

"The 'spiritual preoccupations' of this time--the post-Vatican II Conciliar years. ... I need perhaps to be less preoccupied with them, to show that one can be free of them, and go one's own way in peace. But thee is inculcated in us such a fear of being out of everything, out of touch, left behind. This fear is a form of tyranny, a law--and one is faced with a choice between this law and true grace, hidden, paradoxical, but free.

"An unformulated 'preoccupation' of our time--the conviction that it is precisely in these (collective) preoccupations that the Holy Spirit is at work. To be 'preoccupied with the current preoccupations' is then the best--if not the only--way to be open to the Spirit.

"Hence one must know what everybody is saying, read what everybody is reading, keep up with everything or be left behind by the Holy Spirit. Is this a perversion of the idea of the Church--a distortion of perspective due to the Church's situation in the world of mass communications? I wonder if this anxiety to keep up is not in act an obstacle to the Holy Spirit." (February 4, 1966)

I think this may be where I could run into trouble with emergent--not that it is inherently a trouble with the idea of emergent churches. It seems, instead to be something that is built into the system--that they don't read everything everyone is reading or know what everyone is saying--that it, instead, emerges out of who the community authentically is and what it is authentically connected to in the Spirit. But I will be tempted to read my way, to knowledge my way, to network my way into it because I am so thirsty for this kind of experience in all its creativity and vitality and out-of-controlness.

But where on the circle do I start?

I remember as a young girl trying to figure out when to jump into a game of double dutch. Maybe it's just a question of finding the rhythm of those who are already turning the rope.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bill Gates

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the partners of the United Methodist Church in the Nothing But Nets campaign, so I tend to perk up my ears when I hear news of the foundation. This week, Bill and Melinda Gates sent out an annual letter, outlining their goals, hopes and progress on the issues of health that they care most about. But it was the following that caught my eye:

"Our spending in 2008 was $3.3 billion. In 2009, instead of reducing this amount, we are choosing to increase it to $3.8 billion, which is about 7 percent of our assets.

Although spending at this level will reduce the assets more quickly, the goal of our foundation is to make investments whose payback to society is very high rather than to pay out the minimum to make the endowment last as long as possible."

This is something different even than a theology of abundance (which is what I'm hearing most from people in church circles on how to talk about money). No one would argue that the Gates foundation has an abundance. But they are pushing ahead to give more because the need is greater--and because they can have more impact.

I'm not arguing that the Gates Foundation has any kind of theological basis or that their giving patterns fit a theological argument. But they are not hoarding, and that to me is good news. They are saying that when they see brothers and sisters in need, they don't just try to keep the institution safe guarded and going. Although I'm not sure I would term it "extravagant generosity", they are trying to be more generous, not less.

This is good for me. I'm hoping that this is good for the church. We need to be more generous, not less because there is much more need. And instead of hoarding for the future, our giving needs to have impact right now, when people are hurting and struggling all across the globe. We will always and everywhere need Jesus. But now there might be more opportunity to help people realize it. With our time and with our resources, I hope that we give bigger.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Holy Boldness

Tonight we start session 5 of the Holy Boldness Urban Academy that we've been holding in our conference. We began the process in July-ish of 2006, bringing together the design team around a model that the General Board of Global Ministries provided. The hope is that through a 6-session academy (note: not a conference!), urban churches might identify paths toward one another and paths into ministry in their own neighborhoods.

We know that most of our urban churches are struggling right now. If they're not struggling, they're probably considering moving out into the suburbs. But I take great hope in some of the things I've seen come out of our academy. Churches working together, even across conference boundaries. Churches sharing good ideas with each other, encouraging one another. Urban churches realizing that they are not alone and that there is something different about them than their suburban or rural counterparts--and that ministry cannot be done in exactly the same way in all three areas.

And yet they've realized that not everything is different. There is still a need for focus and for ministries that have a life-changing impact on the neighborhood and community. The gospel is not different...but it is heard sometimes differently. We have an incredible opportunity to be in an uncomfortable place.

Why incredible opportunity? I still remember being at Perkins Minister's Week early on in my pastorate when I heard Ched Myers giving his reading of the Mark 14 passage in which Jesus says in most of our translations: "you will always have the poor with you." He wondered out loud whether or not it could also mean "you will always be with the poor."

Now I haven't done due diligence and gone and checked the Greek myself. But that phrase caught me. What if it isn't that we will always be able to go out and serve the poor as one of the many options that a church might offer for ministry? What if, instead, we are asked to keep the poor constantly within hearing, within seeing, within reach? This is just one of the incredible opportunities I find in urban ministry.

Not that it isn't available, especially in rural ministry. But in the gentile UMC, it is easy to become addicted to the office with my desk and secretary, screening calls. My place of leisure with my books and resources around me. This Holy Boldness academy has reminded me once again that the power of God in the urban church is one that draws such a wondrous crowd together that we might experience something like the Pentecost every day. Economic diversity, racial diversity, unchurched and churched, age diversity. It's not just the poor in wealth, but every person who has been impoverished because they have not "fit" into other places.

I hope and pray for the churches who are converging on Travis Park UMC right now that they will be encouraged--to be holy and bold. And to be with those who also need the Word in their midst, made manifest by the Body of Christ, choosing to stay among them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Covenant Connection

There are so many reasons I'm proud to be from the Southwest Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Bishop Schnase was in my father's youth group in Del Rio!)...but one of the big ones is Covenant Connection, which is what we call our process of the provisional membership years. There is so much support built into it, so much community, so much useful continuing ed and some really great feedback that I believe helps form and shape incredible ministers. I think that the fact that we're one of the smaller conferences in the Jurisdiction and yet have managed to produce some excellent leadership has a lot to do with the way we start our pastors out.

I say this because I just got back from our 3rd Covenant Connection retreat of Year 1 (this is supposedly the last class that will be three years, something that many of us regret, since our process aims to create community and it's difficult to do that in the 17 months that a 2 year process will give them). The skill sets of the provisional members are evident, but it's also clear to me that many of them are figuring out that this can be a place where they can admit their own struggles and the places that they would most like coaching and feedback. It's not just gatekeeping--it's continued instruction and a safe place to learn how to be colleagues both with each other and with the greater orders of elder and deacon.

So hooray for annual conferences that aren't just letting people hang around and occasionally meet for the time between their commissioning and ordination. Hooray for annual conferences who are taking seriously the fact that this time that we are given is a gift--to help us become more effective and receive affirmation and continued feedback and advice!

May we not be so anxious to get to the goal that we miss the richness of the journey and thus become poorer for it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More Auden

I thought that one more line from Auden at this point in our History would be helpful. We're coming up on the Inauguration, and I have such high hopes...and I'm trying to remember that it's most helpful to put my hope in God. And yet it's so easy to hope that our government can do good!

Our government, though, is made of fallible people facing difficult problems. I doubt that there has been a government ever which hasn't been made up of fallible people facing difficult problems. Yet the people in this one I like more than I like others (oh, may I not be fallible!) and they are facing more difficult problems than many governments have faced at the beginning of a term.

But back to Auden. When I remember that it is people who are in charge...and people of whom they are in charge, I remember this line, said by Simeon, the man whom God promised would not die until he saw the salvation of God:

"for the course of History is predictable in the degree to which all men love themselves, and spontaneous in the degree to which each man loves God and through Him his neighbour."

What is predictable scares me...what is spontaneous and somehow the working of the Spirit delights me. My hopes and prayers for this country are that we don't let predictability work its insidious machinations...but instead a fresh Wind might blow. And leave all of us more loving.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

For the Time Being

Several years ago, I ran into one of W.H. Auden's longer poems called For the Time Being. Though I really ought to read it beginning with Advent (since it does!), I always end up running through it at this time of year because the first part I ever read was the last part in the poem:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tee,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes--
Some have gotten broken--and carrying them up into the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week--
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted--quite unsuccessfully--
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
And much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most tying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father:
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake".
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon;
When the Spirit must practise his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, that, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
(final Narrator and Chorus sections of "For the Time Being" by W.H.Auden)

I wait for that lovely movement in which everything becomes a You and nothing is an It. I see so much need for that in the world today. Reduced to numbers and statistics, decisions must be made because those statistics cannot lie, but they really are lies which are spun and spinning always, some more fathomable to our beliefs and some complete anathema to them. And yet there is nothing else than those numbers, those billions of "Its" because for everything to become a You might break our minds into thousands of pieces.

Perhaps the Time Being is the time to let broken be okay. Because we know the One who will make us Whole. And that One is the One to whom no person is an It.

Monday, January 5, 2009

We will not panic

I keep having to tell myself this. I keep reminding myself of Philippians 4:4-7.

Vacations do this to me. Just when the rhythm of work seems to be working its way into me, I get thrown off by something that is supposed to be relaxing and generally is, until I come back and realize that the rhythm is gone and it's going to take awhile to get back.

Not good for someone with ADD.

So I will not panic about the letters that must be written immediately, the positions that have to be filled, the job descriptions that need to be examined and the many other details that are falling around me. I'm going to pray and then I'm going to tackle them one at a time.

But it does remind me that I would rather have these problems than the problem of what will I eat and what will I wear and where will I lay my head tonight.

Not Panicking! The Official Theme of 2009!