Friday, October 29, 2010

Pumpkins - Methodist Style

Remember the pumpkins we would carve as kids? Triangle eyes was about as tricky as it got. Boy has pumpkin carving come a long way.

Well if you are looking for something to impress your neighbors and declare your denominational loyalty, here is a John Wesley pumpkin. You can find the pattern here. I have done this pattern in the past. It's not as difficult as it might look as long as you have pumking carving tools.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Day Later

Yesterday I said that we were likely to see some sloppy play because of the layoffs between the end of the championship series and the beginning of the World Series, and unfortunately I turned out to be correct. Six errors were committed by both teams last night. In addition, an 11-7 score is just not good baseball. Cliff Lee finally got beat, and no one can say to me that his layoff did not have something to do with his inability to hit his spots. He had 8 days between his starts, normally he has four. This is supposed to be the best baseball that can be played by the two best teams, but year after year that is not the product that is put on the field. MLB has to address this.

Notre Dame yesterday lost one of their students when the tower in which he was filming football practice collapsed. Declan Sullivan, a twenty-year-old Junior, died from his injuries at a local hospital. I have written here about football coaches needing to be made to understand that they are responsible for their athletes in a way that is much deeper than just as some commodity which can be replaced at will, and I guess I need to broaden that perspective.

The University has said it will conduct a full investigation, and many reporters are saying they hope that negligence will not be found. How can negligence not be found? A student was sent up a fifty-foot tower in fifty-mile-an-hour winds. There is no other way to describe this than as negligent. What is even worse is that Sullivan tweeted both before he went up and while he was on the tower that he was “terrified.”

Even if he went up of his own volition, the university hires adults to make decisions that students might not be able to make themselves. Sometimes being the person in charge includes stopping people from doing what they should not do, even if they want to do it. This is a tragedy that should never have occurred. Practice had been held inside the day before because of these same winds, so it was not as if there was a sudden burst of wind that brought the tower down.

I truly hope the University is committed to this investigation and is willing to take the necessary steps to make sure it never happens again, which must include firing staff. That to me would include anyone, up to and including the coach, who saw him up there and immediately did not say “what is someone doing up in a tower in fifty-mile-an-hour winds,” and order him to be brought down. I’m sure the universities insurance company is already preparing a check that contains at least 6 zeros.

My prayers go out to the Sullivan family and his friends.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Baseball and World Series Musings

After the Yankees lost on Friday night I had basically stopped following sports for a while. I hadn’t watch ESPN or read any of my normal Yankees Blogs, and so boy was I surprised by all that has gone on since then. I discover that pitching coach Dave Eiland has been fired, CC Sabathia is having surgery on his knee, Kristin Lee the wife of Cliff, was unhappy with how Ranger fans were treated (as if somehow only Yankee fans boo and jeer opposing team fans. Did you not hear the “Yankees S*#k” chants at the Ballpark in Arlington?), the official scorer for the Yankees, Bill Shannon, died in a house fire, Pettitte was pitching injured in the playoffs, and the Yankees first goal is to get Joe Girardi signed to an extension. And those were just a few of the stories. Wow.

Fox has got to be very upset with their World Series match-up which starts tonight. Of the final four teams, this was their worst nightmare, because outside of diehard baseball fans, who are going to watch anyways, and fans in Dallas and San Francisco, no one cares. Sure there are some good stories to follow, and the pitching has the possibility of being great, but these are not teams or players that people know, and Fox and MLB are really to blame for this.

Now as a Yankee fan I love the fact I can watch my team play games on national television that might otherwise be blacked out because of the absolutely ridiculous television contract that MLB signed with Fox. But when the teams that they push all the time are the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Braves, Cubs, and a few others, then it is little wonder that people never learn about any of the other teams. And if they don’t know those teams they are not going to be interested in watching them in the post season. In addition, the general marketing and advertising of the game is just ridiculously stupid and behind the times.

In many ways, MLB is like the church. They are counting on their much older fan base to continue to tell the story and bring in new generations rather than reaching out and doing creative things to bring the new fans in themselves. In other words, their marketing plan is doomed to fail at some point. One of the reasons they are working so hard to keep Mark Cuban from buying a team, besides for the fact that Jerry Reinsdorf (who owns the White Sox and is one of the commissioners closest friends) can’t stand him, is because they know that he will push them on this and be a general thorn in their side. As much as I can’t stand a lot of what the NBA does and represents, they do a very good job in marketing their sport and their personalities, and Cuban even pushes the NBA.

I don’t really have a good prediction on the series. I think the Rangers are the better team top to bottom, but I would also say that about the Yankees over the Rangers, so there you go. Both teams have been sitting out for a while, which is absolutely ridiculous. Baseball is an everyday sport, and it needs to be played every day. Every. Single. Day. Give one day for travel between home games, but other than that keep going. The Yankees sat for seven days before they played the Rangers, and it clearly didn’t help them. Remember the 2006 Tigers, they sat forever before the series and they suffered the consequences.

In this case both teams have been sitting for almost an equal amount so it will be which team can get their timing back the quickest. That does also make for the possibility of some ugly, sloppy baseball, which is not a good product to be putting on the field for what is supposed to be the premier event in baseball. For some this might be the only baseball they watch all year and it should be the best that can be found, but often it isn’t, and again MLB and their ridiculous television contracts are responsible.

I think what the series might come down to is which team is happy to just be there and which team wants to win it all. If you remember back to when the Rays made it to the series, they all talked about how happy they were to make it to the series, and that is how they played. They had already achieved what they wanted to do. (I know they all still want to win, but I think there was a letdown because they had already achieved so much. They certainly did not play like the team that won the American League East and pennant that year.) There are other teams that have done this as well.

Bottom line is that I am going with the Rangers in 6. I could be totally wrong because there are just way too many unknowns in this series. As a Yankee fan I’ve been going back and forth of whether it’s better for Lee to win or not, and I think I’ve decided it is best for us to have him win in Texas. This is true for a couple of reasons.

One is that winning the series in the best that is ever going to happen in Texas, and so that is already out of the way. There is nothing else Lee can do there. Two, then the Yankees can say: “Sure you’re a World Series Champion with Texas, but you haven’t won one with the Yankees. Winning in Texas makes you king of the Dallas metroplex, but winning in New York makes you the king of the world. A victory parade through the suburbs simply cannot compare to a ticker tape parade through the canyon of heroes, so come to New York and we’ll really show you what it means to be a champion.”

So what do you say Cliff?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm Not Stupid

I've addressed the stupidity in ads several times here, but there is a new one that is just over the top. It's a Dominoes commercial in which it says at the bottom of the screen that they are filming a real marketing test group, and the "participants" are saying that they don't believe the cheese is real, blah, blah, blah. And then to prove that what Dominoes says is true all of the sudden the walls of the room are removed, and voila, they are actually sitting in a field at a farm in Wisconsin, and all the "participants" are shocked at where they are.

Really, do you think I'm actually that stupid Dominoes? First of all, in order to get there, the people would have had to have done one of several different things. One is that they might have had to have driven to the farm themselves, walked out into the field and climbed into the room, so how could they be surprised by where they are. Two, is maybe the room was on a truck and so they were driven out there, which is really creepy, and why weren't the people then talking about why the room was moving. That would be more interesting to me than where the cheese came from. The third option is that the "participants" were blind folded, maybe put in a trunk or a van without windows so they couldn't see anything, driven to the farm, and then only once they were in the room were their blindfolds removed. This is an even creepier idea then the second one and is more like kidnapping than a focus group.

Of course the reality is that all of these actors knew exactly what was going on and where they were. Commercials are not long enough to have us be able to suspend all sense of reality, they are what they are, and this one if just dumb. I don't want to buy your pizza because I think you might actually believe that I am stupid enough to believe this is an actual event.

The other problem is that simply because you show me a picture of cows in a field does not actually prove that you use milk from these cows to make your cheese. The fact that you are trying to deceive me into believing the first stupid part of this ad, makes me believe that the second part of the ad probably isn't true as well. This is just bad advertising and whoever came up with it, let alone approved it should be fired.

And while we're at it, showing the picture of the pizza with the cheese all stuck to the top and saying this is unacceptable and we will do better worked the first time, and that was a good ad. Showing the same picture in a second, let a lone a third ad, just shows me that you are out of ideas and are more interested in advertising than in actually doing anything.

Apparently I am not the only one who pointed out the stupidity of this ad, or I have a much bigger readership than I thought, because Dominoe's has now changed the spot. They now show everyone being taken in a limousine to the farm, but there are still two problems. One, were the windows totally blacked out from the inside? Again, totally freaky. Second, has no one from Dominoe's ever been to a dairy farm? They smell, shall we say nicely, like cows. Therefore there is no way the people could get out of the limo and not immediately know that they were at a farm. Good attempt Dominoe's but your ad is still stupid.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Special Needs Ministry

One of the things I did when I was at the Church of the Resurrection for their Leadership Institute was to attend a pre-institute class on their Matthew’s Ministry program which reaches out to people with special needs. This is an amazing ministry and something we will be working on here at Sudbury UMC, but there was one thing that struck me during this. As we were sitting in the classroom listening to Jennifer Ross, who is the director, talking about what they did and what they would recommend, outside the window was the true work of the ministry.

Last year Ross was contacted by some of the parents and told that their children were being laid-off from their jobs and needed something to do, because to be quite frank they were driving their parents nuts and they needed to get them out of the house. So they talked about what they could do and decided to begin a bakery to help out the coffee shop and do some other catering things. So they bought a convection oven and now gather together on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to bake 1500 cookies and bread to be sold in the coffee shop.

And so as we were sitting in the classroom, the Mathews Ministry participants and youth from the senior high ministry were working on cooking, wrapping and labeling all of these cookies right outside the window. There was nothing that said more about the program then seeing it actually in action. It was an incredible sight.

Seeing the kids working together was truly incredible, but it was very different than the way it would have happened when I was in high school (which was 20 years ago). Because schools are working so much on mainstreaming children with special needs these days, our youth are much more accustomed to being around them and working with them they we ever were. While there were special needs kids in the schools I attended they were all in separate classes and we had few interactions with them.

The results of this work in schools can be seen in a recent article that appeared in the USA Today (which I can’t stand, but read because it was what one of the hotels I was staying in provided). The article recounts the increasing incidence of special needs students who are being voted as homecoming or prom king and queen. They have even forced school administrators to add these students to the ballots after they were initially left off.

I will be honest that my first impression was that the kids were doing it as something that was funny to do rather than being serious about it. I said that because that is how and why it would have been done when I was in high school. They might lift them up but only so that they could make fun of them behind their backs. However, in reading the article I had to change my perspective because I don’t think that’s why youth are doing it today.

Instead, they are doing it because they truly like these kids and want them to have this opportunity. One of the places that has done this is Cibola High School in my adopted hometown of Albuquerque. One of the teachers said that because federal law has mandated mainstreaming that special needs students are “no longer seen as different. There’s a climate of acceptance and enjoying each other.” I know that there are still lots of people who have issues with mainstreaming, but these are the very stories that show how effective these programs can be.

I recently visited the Negro League Museum and I still haven’t processed everything about going there, and will have to write more about it, but there was one sign that stuck out to me. In recounting the exclusion of African-Americans from the game, one of the quotes they had said “if colored clubs were admitted (to MLB) there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to any one.”

In other words if blacks and whites played together, whites could be offended, but if blacks were excluded no one would be offended because blacks don’t count. How often do we still hear that same type of rhetoric? It’s often a lot more subtle now, but the impact and the outcome are exactly the same.

I see now how far behind the curve the church has been on this issue. One of the questions that churches should ask themselves is to look at who is missing from their tables, and for far too long and in far too many places this has included those with special needs. Often this is because churches have not felt that they have the resources to do it, or have said that they would be welcoming but don't want to do anything until they actually have the need presented to them.

There is an age old catch 22 in churches in which they will say that they don't have a nursery because they don't have have any infants, but the reverse is that they probably don't have any infants because they don't have a nursery. Is the same true with special need children? I suspect it is, and I also suspect you know where I come down on this issue. We as the church need to be offering the love of Christ to everyone that we come into contact with, and we need to be reaching out to them rather than waiting for them to come to us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Church Signs

I may have written about this before, I can’t remember, but on my way to one of the conference centers, there is a church that on the sign outside it has all of the normal information: pastors name, worship times, etc. But then they also say “visitors welcome.” It always makes me wonder, do you need to say that? What does it mean that you have to say that?

Yesterday’s quote on this page was from Margaret Thatcher, and said something like, “Power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.” And I wonder if the same thing applies to churches. If you have to say that visitors are welcome is that because visitors aren’t truly welcome? Shouldn’t people know that they are welcome to your church? And if people don’t know that, what is going on and what needs to be done to correct it?

I do not believe that saying on your sign that visitors are welcome is either correct or inviting. Would you go to a restaurant that said on its sign “customers welcome”?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sowing the Seeds

Here is my sermon from last Sunday:

In August when I preached on Jeremiah for the first time and banged the theme of repentence over our head for twenty minutes, I promised that we wouldn’t be hearing from Jeremiah again any time too soon, but yet here we are. Pastor Joel preached on Jeremiah last week and I continue it this week. But the Jeremiah passages we heard last week and this week form a different picture of Jeremiah’s message.

In Jeremiah’s call story in the first chapter, we are told that Jeremiah is being appointed by God “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow…” That was what we heard in those earlier passages. Jeremiah is giving God’s judgment against the southern kingdom and announcing the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the exile of the people.

In addition to being told what was going to happen to them , the people were also told that they were responsible for what was going to happen because they had failed to follow God’s commands. They had broken their covenant relationship with God. These are not exactly the most uplifting words we hear in scripture, and is one of the reasons why Jeremiah is called the weeping or the crying prophet, because he weeps over the sins of the people and cries over the coming destruction. All he seemed to offer was a story of doom and gloom, and the people were witnessing the prohesied destruction. Everything that they held as important and sacred was gone, and they had no idea what the future was going to bring, or even if they had a future

But then starting at chapter 30, we get a change not only in Jeremiah’s prophecies but also in his tone. Jeremiah begins to offer notes of comfort, and so these chapters are called the Book of Consolation, and in pronouncing these things he begins to fulfill the second portion of his call story. As I already said, God told Jeremiah that he was being called “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow,” but he was also being called “to build and to plant.” Today’s scripture passage follows up on the passage from last week in which the exiles are told to put down roots, to buy property, to get married and have families, to do all those things that return a sense of normalcy to life. He begins to offer a new sense of hope. Even though the reality of the situation hasn’t really changed, what jeremiah provides is a new lense through which to view the future.

Nine years ago, these readings fell five and six weeks respectively after 9/11, and I can remember many preachers at the time using these passages to talk about the future. Our understanding of the world and of ourselves had just been shattered, and here was Jeremiah talking about hope in the midst of despair and destruction. That is also what was going on for the Jewish people. But we also find ourselves sitting here today two years removed from the biggest economic meltdown that most of us have ever experienced, and even now while some people are doing better, most people have not yet felt any sense of easy or of recovery and are wondering what does the future hold for us? Is there any hope? What word of consolation can we receive?

Jeremiah says that in the midst of despair God is going to sow new seeds, new seeds of life, new seeds of forgiveness and a new covenant written on our hearts. God, who created the earth and sowed the garden originally, is going to do something new here as well. God is going to form a new covenant with the people. While covenants take a prominent role in the Bible, only once in the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures is the phrase ‘new covenant” used, and that is right here. But this time rather than a covenant created in stone as was given to Moses or marked on the outside of the body as given to Abraham through circumcision, this time the covenant is going to be made in the heart. We are being given a new covenant. This is not an external set of laws to be obeyed for fear of punishment, but instead this is a covenant that we live into because it is a part of who we are. It is an embodied covenant where people’s hearts will be so filled with the love of God that every step of their lives will be guided and led by God, and they will be unable to do anything differently.

When we refer to John Wesley’s claim that we are moving on to perfection, this is what we are talking about. This is being sanctified in God’s grace, and what Jeremiah tells us is that there is nothing radical that needs to be done to have this accomplished, instead the law that is written on our hearts are these words: “I am yours, and you are mine, says the lord.” All we have to do to make the covenant is to say “we will be God’s people.”

According Anthony Saldarini, this new covenant does three things. The first is that first it “removes a despairing attitude from the mind of the community.” It gives us the hope for a new future even in the midst of our despair. Second, it “contributes to the picture of a renewal of community life by God’s power,” because we stop relying only on ourselves and turn ourselves over to God. And finally, it “incorporates into this vision of newness a realistic note that knows the reality of sin in the human condition but believes it will be checked and controlled, not pervasive and determinative in the new community.” That is we recognize our flaws and failures, and those as a collective body, but we say that these things will not hold us back or limit us because we are God’s people.

Now Christians have typically interpreted this promise as only being fulfilled in the person of Christ. But, Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, that we are grafted onto the tree that already existed. Christians, Paul says, “come derivatively and belatedly to share the promised newness.” We enter into the covenant through the person of Christ, but the promise of the covenant is already there because we have been grafted onto the tree that God has already created. Now I’m sure that some of you think we are cherry picking these scriptures so that they fit the theme of the stewardship campaign, but it’s not true. It’s just the way it’s worked out, but how does this have anything to do with giving? Well I’m glad you asked, because really this is about one more piece of the covenant.

In the Methodist church we pledge to support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. All of those things are important, but obviously at the moment we are focusing on our gifts. So here’s a little illustration about giving. Here we have our tree that is our faith and this congregation. We have been talking for several weeks now about strengthening our roots and growing our branches. But what do trees need to grow? They need light and air, which means they need to be out in the world. They cannot be boxed in or constrained. They need food of some sort, which means they need to be exposed to things which feed them and renew them. And they need water. All of these things are important, and without one of them the tree will die, but water is one of the most important.

Now there’s several things we can do with this tree. The first thing we can do is to say “I’m not going to water it. God will give it whatever it might need.” But that only goes so far as we have seen this summer. It also matches a famous statement about how things get done in the world. It says, without God, we can’t, and without us God won’t. If we refuse to water the tree then God won’t water it either. Have you ever seen what a tree that is lacking water will do. The first thing is to stop sending water out to the farthest branches and leaves. It begins to turn inwards and reduce its size, it drops leaves and focuses only on these things that it thinks it absolutely needs to feed in order to survive. I’m sure we’ve all seen or heard about churches like this. But, here’s the problem, when churches go into survival mode they stop being a church because when a church is concerned only about its own survival it is no longer focused on making disciples of Christ, it is only focused on itself.

Now another thing we can do is to give it only the amount of water we are willing to give. Now this glass represents the material blessings that have been bestowed on us. To make this a little more colorful let’s make the water green. Since we’re talking about money that works, but it also makes it a little easier to see. Most of us work from a position of scarcity. We say this is all I have and I need to be very careful with what I do with my money, while also still having some fun with it. And so we start and we pay for housing, utilities and our food, then we pay for our car, and maybe we have to pay for school. And then there’s clothing, and our vacations, and retirement, and our credit cards, and hopefully we’re putting some away for retirement, and then we need a little spending money for movies, eating out and other forms of entertainment, and then at the end we say to God, “Thank you for all your blessings, this is what I’m going to present to you,” and so we put this in the plate, and say “ahh ahh” and we present it to God.

But that’s not a lot left to strengthen the roots of the tree, even with a lot of people doing the same thing, in some cases quantity does not make for quality. I’m sure that we’ve all seen trees that are not getting as much water as they need. When they are lacking their roots go out searching for more water and the root systems become very shallow. Think of all the sidewalks you’ve seen broken up by roots that are too shallow. By having shallow roots, trees can try and get more water. We’ve all seen tree do this. But this is only a short-term solution because what is the risk with a shallow root system? In any strong wind, these are the trees that fall over because their roots are not strong enough to hold them in place. In other words, when their faith is challenged, when they deal with one of the very situations that Jeremiah is talking about, a time of despair, then they fall apart. But a healthy tree, on the other hand, has a healthy root system that are not only spreads out but that also goes deep in order to provide stability to the tree.

So let’s try that again. This again is the same amount, but rather than giving to God from what remains we give from our first fruits, and look at how much still remains. The scriptures tell us that we should be giving from our first fruits or from our treasures, and that is what this does. It does not change the reality. We still have the same amount of money but what has changed is how we perceive. When we give from bounty we have changed our reality, because then rather than giving as a burden, or a yoke which we wear around our necks, we instead give freely and we give from abundance. How much better will the tree do with this gift?

Now we know that there are some in this congregation who are still struggling financially, and we ask you to give what you can, and we ask that those who are doing better to help us all carry one another burdens because this is our tree and it lives and dies not with the work of just one of us but from the collective effort we put into strengthening our roots and spreading our branches. To close I’d like to tell you a couple of stories.

Last week I was worshipping with our brothers and sisters in Leawood, Kansas, at the church of the Resurrection. I was there having spent two and half days at leadership training along with 2000 other clergy and laity from 46 states. There were also 11 ministers from Brazil who flew up to attend. Their airfare to get there was more than 1,000, and as you might imagine, clergy salaries are not the same in brazil as they are in the United States, so this was a significant commitment on their part. At the end of the last session they asked for some time with Adam Hamilton, who is the senior pastor, to thank him for the church’s hospitality, where they presented him with an envelope.

Inside was a card expressing their thanks, but there was also an offering they had taken. The Church of the Resurrection has a program called Matthew’s Ministry which works with people with special needs, and these clergy members were so moved by what they were doing with this group of God’s children that they had collected $240 dollars between them to give to this program. Some of the money was American dollars, but some was also in Brazilian Reals. I’m assuming that those who gave in reals had run out of their American money but still felt the need to give, and so gave from what they had.

In addition to Matthew’s ministry, they also hold a worship service once each month for Alzheimer’s patients from the area nursing homes. Most of those who attend have advanced Alzheimer’s, and while they can’t remember their names they can still sing all of the songs. After one of the services, one of the ladies in attendance walked up to one of the ushers and handed him an offering envelope before she was escorted back to their van. The woman had tried to write her name on the outside of the envelope, if we had video capabilities I would show you an image of it, but all she could do was just make some strait lines with a pencil, but it was what was inside that took everyone aback. Inside was a packet of cookies that she had received at the nursing home. They don’t take an offering at this service, but she knew that she was supposed to be giving to God from her treasure and so she gave probably the only thing she had to give, her packet of cookies.

Can we say that we match those stories? Are we giving to God as a burden, or are we giving freely? Are we giving because we have to, or are we giving because we are saying to God, “I want you to write your covenant on my heart, because you are my God and I am you disciple.”

I have one last thing. This week we received an email from Ginger Merritt. The Merritts are members of this church who moved to Shanghai a little more than two years ago. This is what Ginger had to say:

We are enjoying life in China and especially the nice weather lately. It is very pleasant here and the sky is clear blue. October and November are typically the best months in Shanghai. We have just returned from a short trip to Jeju Island in South Korea. It was very relaxing and nice landscape. We did nothing particular except spend time as a family. Abby is off this week on her school trip to Xian to explore the historical sites and museums. Emma returned from her school trip to Beijing 2 weeks ago. They camped on the Great Wall and visited the Summer Palace and Forbidden City. Although she complained about all of the hiking and walking, she had a great time and came back very animated and refreshed. We are so happy that they get to experience these things.

On a very important note, we have found a church that we LOVE! After almost two years, we came across a Methodist church started about 1.5 years ago by a group of 12 Americans from the Midwest. They met privately for the first 8 months (due to strict regulations on Christian churches in China), and then grew to about 50 regular people, so decided to officially form a church. We discovered it and immediately felt “whole” again. I will help with the Youth group beginning next month and both girls are enthusiastic about church again. We have been going to a non-denominational church for the past year, and really like the pastor, but it is very contemporary and not so comfortable for us. But, we went anyway, in the absence of something that was more of a fit for our family. Now, we have Trinity. It is funny that we, as Americans, with so many choices, do not realize the hole that is there when you cannot find a comfortable church home.

Please give my love and regards to our SUMC friends. We miss you!

In Him,

What we all have to ask during this stewardship campaign is what does this church mean to us, and will our giving continue to allow it to run the programs that it does that allow us to make a difference in the world? If this church was to disappear what would that mean for our lives? What would it mean for our community? What would it mean for our nation and our world? Would anyone notice? I think they would, be the only way we can strengthen our roots and spread our branches is through your support.

It is my hope that over the next week you will sit down with your family and talk about what this church means to you and how you will support it with your gifts in the next year, and you will also have a conversation with God about your giving and what it means for your spiritual life. We cannot do what we do in this church without your support, so I hope you will be ready next week to present your estimate of giving so that together we can strengthen our roots and spread our branches together, not only next year but in the years to come. May it be so. Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

God and Dog

I Saw this at the Leadership Insitute at the United Methodist Church of the resurrection and have to share it. Even as a cat person I love this video.

More information can be found at or

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Contemporary Worship

One of the books that I am making my way through very slowly is Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. While I don’t agree with everything he has to say, I do agree enough to be able to recommend it to others. One of the photos on the book shows what is intended to be a normal “contemporary” worship service. (I know that saying contemporary doesn’t really have any true meaning, but in this case it’s about praise music) There is a woman who is standing up with her hands raised up in the air singing the song being played. Meanwhile there is a man sitting next to her looking at her strangely wondering what is going on and why he is there.

I’ve already written about my dislike of rock music in worship services, but even more important to us as the church is that I’ve never seen a praise service that I thought was done well. Everyone seems to be doing it because that is what is expected of them rather than because they have any skills at putting one on. I will now have to amend that statement because I have now seen a contemporary service done well. I still have a lot of problems with what took place, but that is for another posting.

But in looking around at the people who were attending and what was going on, the service also still reinforced my previous opinion that praise worship seems to have as its primary audience middle-aged women, or at the very least they seem to be the ones to get the most from it. At the recent service I attended all the women (the vast majority of whom were in this age group) were standing, singing loudly, clapping and raising their hands in praise.

The men meanwhile were standing there, because they knew they would look strange or would be in trouble if they remained sitting, and they were wondering what they should be doing with their hands. They were not moving to the music, they were not clapping and the majority were also not singing. I did see two men with their hands raised up, but two out of probably 500 is statistically insignificant.

This scene made me think so much of this book cover and made me wonder again about why the church is working so hard to target an audience who are already coming to church in large numbers. I was heartened to hear from Pastor Joel that it was his impression from musicians who attended a recent conference on worship music that the days of rock bands in worship is limited, but still wonder why this continues to be pushed so hard by the church

A recent article in the Christian Century on a report conducted by the United Methodist Church found that churches who switched to a contemporary service increased their average attendance by 2%. Now since the average United Methodist church has around 60 people in worship, that means that they increased attendance by 1.2 people. Is this really the thing that is going to solve all of our problems? Now across the denomination that would increase average attendance by some 20,000 people, but I’m sure that is not enough to even offset the number of people we lose to death, let alone turn the denomination around.

We need to stop looking to this as the thing that will solve all of our problems. Instead let us begin making a compelling argument to the world about the love of Christ and why they need him in their lives. That would mean that we would have to stop preaching only to ourselves and to move outside of our walls and engage with the world. I strongly believe that if we did that, that our concerns over numbers would go away, and they would go away for two reasons.

The first is that people would begin to see the church as being relevant to the world, to the problems they see and what is going on in their lives and would want to be involved in such a group. The second reason is that by doing these things I think we would become so focused on working to bringing about the Kingdom of God that we wouldn’t even think about membership because we would know that we were working on something more important.

Jesus did not say “go and make members,” instead he said “Go and make disciples,” and in the United Methodist Church we are to make disciples for the transformation of the world. We have been confused that being a disciple and being a member were one and the same thing, but they are not. You can be a member without being a disciple, and you can be a disciple without being a member, and I will take the later everyday of the week including Sunday.

To go one step further, Jesus said “Go and make disciples, baptizing in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit.” Make disciples and then baptize them. We have this totally turned around. We baptize and hope they will become disciples. Rather than worrying about discipleship we are worried about baptism.

While this emphasis has a distinct theological element to it, most of that theology is not accepted by the Methodist church. I think now the push is still on this because the church can count baptisms and make reports about this (this is the one thing I will blame Asbury for cursing the church with) but reporting how many disciples you have made is very difficult.

I don’t know what the answer to this is, but was incredibly heartened to hear from a district superintendent from western Ohio who said that he pays no attention whatsoever to membership numbers because they are a useless statistic. Instead he wants to know how many people are worshipping and how many are taking classes.

I only wish more of the leadership would take this same position, then we could stop hearing about the decline in membership and start focusing on things that really matter. People of my generation and younger simply aren’t “joiners.” It doesn’t have any meaning in most churches anyways as few could even articulate what it means to be a member. We can’t even talk about benefits let alone responsibilities.

Does this mean we just abandon membership? No, because I do think it is important, but we should return to the old Methodist model which is that you could be involved in a society, but you were not a member until you had been taken into a class or band. And to get into those you had to display a high level of discipleship and agree to abide by the principles that went with membership and you would be held accountable. That meant there were a lot more people attending Methodist churches then there were members of Methodist churches, and that seems to me like a better and more proper situation. I would much rather see churches with 100 members, but with 500 in attendance, then 500 members with 100 in attendance. At least in the first scenario we have a shot at discipling 400 extra people and bring them to the love of Christ.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Personal Wine

There is currently a beer ad going in which people just ask for a generic beer, and when asked more specific questions about what it is that they want they say they don’t care. Of course that’s the wrong answer and they end of with a bad beer because they don’t choose the one you are supposed to buy. I can’t stand these ads, and to tell you how effective they are I don’t even remember who they are for.

The biggest problem with these ads is the simple fact that I have never heard anyone at a bar say “give me a beer,” and I suspect the same is true for you. Now someone might say this at a party where they know the selection is limited. But, if they are at bar they will always order something specific. They don’t say “give me the house beer.”

Now they do say that when it comes to wine. I was recently at a restaurant and the couple next to me ordered two glasses of wine. The woman ordered a Cabernet, and when the waiter asked what one she wanted, she sort of raised her voice incredulously and said “I want a Cabernet,” as if that somehow cleared up the situation. The man said to give her the house cab and he wanted the house chardonnay.

As someone who loves wine, and as someone who is also a wine snob, this is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. What it says first of all is that people who do this know absolutely nothing about wine because they believe that one wine is just as good as another. I can tell you that that is simply the furthest thing from the truth. I have a friend who was under this impression and thought that wine out of a box was just as good as a really expensive wine, and so couldn’t understand why you would spend a lot on wine. I had to disavow her of this by letting her taste and compare different wines and to her astonishment she found out I was right.

Now this is not to say that you have to spend a lot for wine to be good, because you don’t. You can find some excellent wines between $10-$20. You can also buy some wines that I think are terrible for a lot more, so taste is not based on price. (Although I will write later about studies that have been done that put people’s feelings about the taste of a wine solely on the price people thought it cost.)

Now since the Methodist church has a historic position against alcohol and its consumption, you might find it a little strange that I am writing about alcohol. I personally support that position, and I drink alcohol rarely. And even though I would prefer to have wine over a beer, I drink wine even less. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I am married to someone who is an addict in recovery, and I could never drink a bottle of wine all by myself and so I don’t. and often the wines that are offered by the glass in restaurants simply aren’t all that good and I would rather pass on wine altogether than to drink bad wine.

So here is the end of my rant (or my wine, if you caught the meaning from my title). If you are going to drink wine, please take some time to learn something about them, and please don’t just ask for a generic wine as if there is no difference between these things. And finally, if you are involved with a company that grows, sells or markets wine, this is the perfect opportunity to begin to educate the general public about the differences. Everyone will benefit from this.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Is Sacred Space

I was recently at the Church of the resurrection in Leawood, KS, for their Leadership Institute. For those of you unaware of them, they are the largest United Methodist church in the country. I stayed after the conference was over in order to be able to attend some of their worship services. They have their main sanctuary which hosts most of their services. I have no idea how many it holds, but it is huge. My guess is between 2-3,000.

They also hold a service in what is now called the Wesley Chapel, which is a smaller venue (300?) and was their original sanctuary. In the same building and behind the chapel is another area, now called the student center. This was their second sanctuary after the Wesley Chapel became too small, but before the new sanctuary was built. While this building is still used for worship services it also has many other uses, including being used for their youth ministry. It has computers, basketball hoops and a climbing wall, and yet it is also still used for one of the Sunday worship services. One of those services takes place at the same time as the biggest service (which is traditional) is going in the main sanctuary, and is obviously geared to younger adults, or the bottom end of boomers/beginning Gen Xers and their children. It also hosts the two worship services which are run on Wednesday evenings first for middle schoolers and then for high schoolers.

The use of that space, which I know many youth would love, got me thinking about what creates sacred space. But there is even a further wrinkle in this. After the second sanctuary was opened (which is now the student center) they used the old sanctuary (now the chapel) as their narthex. In other words, when they needed to space to fill a different function then they changed the space to fit their needs. The space did not dictate function and purpose, they dictated it. Then when they moved into their new building they again changed this space back to a worship space because they needed a small chapel in which to hold worship. Again, they dictated purpose and function.

Finally, they have plans to build an entirely new and even bigger worship space at some point in the future. When I asked one of the members of their church council what they would do with their current sanctuary he said he didn’t know as they hadn’t begun discussing that yet. However, he said in the original master plan, the building which now houses the main sanctuary was scheduled to be the health and wellness center, and so his guess was that it would be transitioned to fulfill that purpose. So, at some point in the future, their current sanctuary could be turned into a gym or basketball courts or something else (I’m guessing as to what would be included in this). Again, they are going to dictate what the space is used for, and when it no longer fulfills their needs then they will change the space to make sure it is working for them.

Many churches throughout the country are saddled with churches and worship spaces that no longer fulfill their needs, but they cannot change them or get rid of them. Why? Because the space has become “too important” and we could “never worship anywhere else.” What are we worshipping in this scenario, God or the building? I believe it is the second. The building is important, but it is only a building. If it no longer serves the need or needs of the community then it should be changed to make sure the needs are met.

What the Church of the Resurrection is showing is that a space becomes sacred simply because of what goes on inside of it, not because of anything to do with the space. I think we all know this intuitively, as we have probably all has sacred time and space that existed well outside of the sanctuary. I personally have seen it in hospital rooms, in people’s homes, in nature and even in classrooms. Jesus says “wherever two or more are gathered, there I am with them.” Notice he does not say, wherever two or more are gathered together in a specific type of building. It is the people in connection with God that make the church, not the building.

We need to get past our hold-ups about our spaces and begin to realize that they need to answer and be amenable to us, not the other way around. We need to get passed the idea that we built a nice church for ourselves, and we liked it, so we kept it that way and we expect others to always keep it that way as well. Few other things in life follow this pattern and we need to remove it from the church too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Abhorrent Behavior, Part 2

So yesterday I wrote about adults in athletic situations not stepping up and doing their duty, and now we have the most recent example of abhorrent behavior in this regard. On Saturday, Virginia Tech player Greg Nosal got the tip of his finger caught in the face mask of the opposing quarterback and ripped the tip of his finger off. He didn't know it at the time and even though it hurt he played a few more plays until he looked down at his glove which was covered in blood, so he ran off the field to seek medical attention.

When they took his glove off, Nosal said he could see the tip of the bone, and so they sent people back onto the field to look for the tip of his finger, which they couldn't find. Then they looked in the glove and found that it was still in the glove. The team surgeon examined the wound and decided that the tip could be reattached, and then gave Nosal the choice: Stop playing now and have it reattached, or take some pain killers, have the finger put on ice and keep playing. Nosal chose the second option, and so he played into the fourth quarter in a game that they were leading 31-7 and eventually won 45-21.

The coach, Frank Beamer, said "For him to continue to play, it says a lot about him and what his effort for this football team is." In an interview with ESPN the team trainer, Mike Goforth, said that he's seen a lot of crazy things in football, but that he didn't consider this all that crazy it just proved how tough Nosal is, and then said "it's not like he lost a bone, it was just the skin at the top that got taken off."

This is disgusting on so many levels that it is just boggling to my mind. First, what type of doctor considers it okay to just drug up a player in order to allow them to play rather than surgically repairing his finger which has been torn off? He gave the player the option? Are you kidding me? What medical school can possibly teach this as appropriate medical behavior?

Second, the coach says that this proves his toughness and how much he cares about the team. Hey coach, aren't you supposed to care about the well being of your players? I understand that winning is important, but number one, you were already blowing the other team out, and number two, in the end it's only a football game. The long-term well being of your players should come first and foremost on your mind. It doesn't matter that he could still play. People have played with broken bones, but that doesn't make it right. You are the adult in the situation you need to stand up and say no, go get medical attention.

I have written a lot about concussions and football players, teams, doctors, coaches and the media not taking this seriously enough. There is a trend moving that in the opposite direction. One team recently hid the helmet of a player who had a concussion and wanted to go back in, but couldn't because he couldn't find his helmet.

That is a team that understands the seriousness of this issue. Because here is the problem. Most people say the biggest issue that needs to be overcome in order to be serious about concussions is the tough guy attitude that pervades athletics in general, and football in particular, that you suck it up and keep playing no matter what, and that is what leads people to keep playing with traumatic brain injuries which the shouldn't be playing with.

How is any player or team going to take concussions seriously and not want to keep playing in order to show how tough they are and show, in Beamer's words, how important the team is to them. If they are not going to stop playing when they are bleeding profusely because they are missing the tip of their finger, why would they ever stop for any injury which they can't even see, like an injury to the brain?

We need to be well past this macho man mentality and coaches, trainers and doctors need to be disciplined for allowing this to happen, let alone encouraging this type of behavior. This is simply unconscionable. What's even worse was the fawning displayed on ESPN and in the sports columns about this. I have yet to see a single person say that this was wrong, let along make the obvious connection to the problems in protecting players who have concussions who want to keep playing to show how tough they are and how important the team is to them.

It's time for the adults to act like adults. These players are given into your charge and it is your duty to protect them. Sometimes that means protecting them from themselves. I played enough sports to know about playing through pain, and breaking through walls, but this is way past that.

This is where it become asinine, and someone needs to start holding these people accountable. These are not gladiators out to entertain who can be disposed of at our leisure. These are kids who have their entire lives left in front of them, the vast majority of whom will never even sniff a professional team.

We need to be setting the examples for them, teaching them what is acceptable and what is not, and this is an absolute failure. The Virginia Tech coaching and medical staff should be ashamed of themselves, as should the media for not only not holding them accountable but for not even calling them to task.

Rich-Poor Divide

The census is beginning to release its information, and one of the things they have found (not surprisingly) is that the gap between the rich and poor is becoming even greater. This has been exacerbated by the economic crisis of the last few years, but is certainly not a recent trend. This article does a good job of looking at several different sides of the divide.

I recently wrote about the appearance of lots of high end cars being driven around lately, but I had another occurrence this week that set me back a little. I was flying out to St. Louis for a meeting on equitable compensation, which I will write more about later, and of course had to sit through the standard “in case of emergency” speech before you take off.

One of the things we are told is that in the “unlikely event of a water landing” your seat may be used as a flotation device. You just have to rip it off, although I’ve never tried this it seems like it might be a little difficult especially when you are in a hurry to get off, and then you place your arms through the straps. But this time, the video also told us that if you are flying in first class you will find a life-vest in the compartment between the seats. It then showed how to put it on and inflate it.

No ripping off the seat cushions in first class, they get the really good treatment. If you can’t afford to fly first class, hold on to that seat cushion, which you probably forget anyways, because that’s all that’s going to save you. However, if you’re a first class passenger we are going to help you out by at least giving you a fighting chance of surviving outside the plane in the water.

Now maybe this has always been the case and I just never paid any attention to it, but this struck me as another sign of this growing gap between those who have (and are therefore important) and those who don’t.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Abhorrent Behavior

I'm sure this will come as no surprise to most people, but most professional athletes are extreme narcissists. I might even venture a claim that every professional athlete has narcissistic tendencies that are greater than the general public. Most of this is not their fault however because they have been trained to be narcissists by nearly everyone in their lives from the earliest days that they showed skills greater than the normal youth athlete.

In addition, for many of these athletes there have not really ever been serious consequences for their negative behavior. Instead they have been coddled and protected for nearly their entire lives. When they have done things wrong people have made excuses or looked the other way. It is little wonder that so many athletes at college and in the pros get into trouble, because they never expect to get into trouble. Even when they have it happen once they certainly don't expect it to happen again.

One of the areas that again and again gets athletes in trouble is women. They have little experience being turned down and even less being rebuked, and so when they don't get things their own way they act out in negative ways. We need look no further than Ben Rothlisberger's problems, or those that Brett Favre is now being accused of.

Favre is the perfect example of narcissism gone wrong. Every year he is able to keep everyone begging at his door to come back and play and he is able to stay out as long as he wants to with no consequences. Instead everyone fawns all over him and are so grateful that he deigns to stoop to their level to even talk to them let alone play for them. He is coddled and protected by everyone from the front office to the coaches and most especially the media. It is pretty rare to hear any criticism of Favre's behavior over the past few years. The two who stand out for consistently calling him out are Michael Wilbon and Gregg Easterbrook. Unfortunately they are only two small voices in a much larger cacophony of adulation.

So it would not surprise me at all if Favre actually did what he is being accused of. At this point all there are is accusations and it is still not clear if the woman who supposedly received the inappropriate texts and images will even cooperate. And here is the true tragedy of the situation: If she does cooperate you can be pretty sure that any career she might have wanted to have in professional sports would be over. It might already be over for even having this information brought to light.

Many people are now saying that she must not have been offended by this information at the time because she didn't complain about it then. That is such a false argument on its face, that it shows they don't understand the seriousness of the allegations or the situation. Again, if she, as an employee of the Jets, had brought allegations against their newly acquired future hall of fame quarterback who was finally going to deliver the Jets their long awaited Super Bowl trophy, what do you think would have happened to her?

I'm pretty sure she would have kissed her job good bye. She would probably have been ridiculed and attacked on every front and by nearly everyone, including her employer. That is what sports teams usually do, although we are seeing a positive change on this, and quarterbacks are protected even more than others. This is not some third and long pulling guard, this is Brett Frickin Favre. I'm sure she feared for her job and her reputation, and I'm sure she still does.

It does not surprise me that she didn't say anything, and, if the allegations are true, it wouldn't surprise me if there are others out there who have experienced the same behavior from Favre. These are seldom isolated incidents. Instead they are patterns of behavior that have never been corrected, but instead tolerated, and this is true for more than just athletes.

We need to wake up to the enabling behaviors that we as a society give to professional athletes (and politicians and musicians and actors, and... and... and...), and realize that in order for their abhorrent behavior stop we have to stand up and stop it. And this must happen much earlier than when they cash their first paycheck. It needs to happen in youth sports, high school and in college, and we need to hold the adults in their lives accountable as well.

When Urban Meyer at the University of Florida can get off without even a rebuke for the behavior of his players (19 players have been charged with crimes since 2005. Many of them have been charged multiple times) then there is no incentive for him to step in and do anything, nor is their any incentive not to recruit athletes with troublesome pasts. I believe everyone deserves at least a second chance, and sometimes more, but unless someone is willing to say that this behavior will not be tolerated and there are consequences then the behavior will never change.

In addition, we are well past the point where we can just say "it's just boys being boys." Sexual harassment not only shouldn't be tolerated, but it is illegal. Although this is not being charged as a sexual harassment case, that is certainly how it appears, because through his alleged actions Favre had the potential of creating a hostile work environment. The simple fact that the alleged victim probably did not feel safe in bringing any charges against him, shows the power differential that existed and allowed this behavior to exist.

If Favre is cleared of everything, this does not change his overall narcissistic behavior nor does it change the reality of the situation as it currently exists for most athletes. It would be just as easy to replace Favre's name with any other of thousands of athletes (and politicians, etc.) who exhibit the same abhorrent behavior. It is past time for us as a society to stand up and say that this will not be tolerated, because until we do, nothing will change.

Until we say that we will no longer buy the merchandise or attend any game for any team or league that tolerates this, then it won't change. Until we say that we will no longer vote for any politician, no matter how much we like their policies, who exhibit this type of behavior then it will never stop. And until we say that we will no longer pay to see any musician or actor who exhibits this type of behavior it will never stop.

Until we stand up and hold people accountable for their actions and say we are not going to tolerate it any more, then we are just as guilty as they are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How The Mind Works

So I was sitting in the airport at St Louis waiting for my connecting flight, when I look across the room and see a man sitting with his luggage, but he has his bag pulled up tightly against him and one of his hands is sort of hidden behind the bag and there is something coming up that looks distinctively like smoke.

I instantly think that the man has a cigarette going that he is trying to hide behind the bag. Now I have to note that the airport, as strange as this seems in this day and age, does have a smoking section, so I was sort of inclined to think this was cigarette smoke anyways. So then I’m sort of indignant about this and start wondering where the cops are. There had been two sitting by one of the gates in their golf cart, which was plugged into wall charging, and I wonder if I should go get then to put an end to this travesty. I even begin to smell the cigarette, and then the man raises his hand up to take another puff.

But, instead of a smoking cigarette he had a steaming cup of coffee, and I was a little abashed. What was amazing to me was that in my mind I had already decided it was a cigarette and so my mind thought if you see a cigarette you should also be able to smell it and therefore I began to smell it even though it wasn’t actually there.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Silver Bullet

I was asked by one of our guest preachers this summer whether we ever sang more contemporary, or modern songs in worship. He said he liked the last hymn we did, but that we were very high church. I didn't quite know what to make of his statement. He later said that he had been asked by some people where to go for a high church Methodist experience, and he didn't know, but now, he said, he knows where to send them. Is this a good or a bad thing?

My first thought was that compared to the church he was coming from, we were certainly more high church, but that's all relative. If you compare what we do to the Anglicans or Catholics, then we are not high church. My second thought was what difference did it make?

Now if we were a congregation in decline, or taking our lasts gasps of air, then I can see where he could be concerned about what we were doing here. But the simple fact is we are a vibrant, growing community, and so should we be concerned that we are "high church"? It seems to meet the demands of the people who are coming. Does it meet everyone's needs? No, and maybe the work that Joel has been doing on worship will help us there. But, to be honest, a church simply cannot meet everyone's needs, nor should it ever try.

In the end, I kind of took his comments as being a critique of what we are doing. The leadership of this conference and the larger church, are looking for the silver bullets, or the one thing, that will solve all of our problems, of which I have written plenty about. And when they come up with an idea that is what they push down everyone's throat, until they find it doesn't work, and then they look for the next great idea. Instead of recognizing that every community and church is different. What works in Sudbury probably would not work in Dorchester, and vice versa, and what works in northern Maine might be totally different as well.

There is no silver bullet. There is no one solution that will change everything for the better, except to offer people the love of Christ, although that is rarely mentioned. Now I have no problem making recommendations for things that are working elsewhere, we actually need to do a lot more of that, but then allow churches to pick and choose what they think will work for their context. And if a church is doing well, don't make suggestions for how they could change, make suggestions for how we can take what we are doing now and make it even better.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pastor Sized Churches

At the conference I attended last week Bishop Willimon said something that I have always thought, but didn’t know exactly how to express. He attributed this thought to someone else, but I didn’t write down who it was. He said that every pastor has a size of church in their being. That is, if you assign a pastor who is a 400 member pastor to an 800 member church, then pretty soon they will be the pastor of a 400 member church. They will lose 400 members because that is not who they are as a pastor and they do not have the gifts and graces necessary to pastor a church that size. On the flip side, if you appoint a 1000 member pastor to a 400 member church pretty soon they will have 1000 members. They will naturally increase their church to that size.

Like I said, I had always thought of something like this but didn’t have the words to express this. Now do I think this is an absolute rule? Of course not. There have to be some exceptions. I don’t think that Adam Hamilton thought of himself as an 18,000 member pastor. Plus I think that some people can learn to the skills necessary to pastor an ever expanding church population.

Now what Bishop Willimon was talking about when discussing this was right-sizing the church, being honest about where we are, what our numbers truly are and what they represent and for cabinets to actually place ministers in the places that are best for the church and best for them. The respective cabinets will have to do a lot of work before this could ever take place because appointments are made for many different reasons and strategic deployment of clergy to the right church is not always the reason why people are appointed where they are.

I have to say that no one in the process, from the district committee, to the Board of Ordination to the district superintendent has ever asked me what type or size of church I think I am being called to serve. I wonder what most people’s answers would be? I think eventually people would try and scam the system and say “oh of course I want to be a pastor of a 500 member church” (which would be among the largest churches in New England), when in fact they are a clergy member for a 40 member church.

Now let me say I love the small church. There is nothing wrong with a 40 member church, as long as they are being church, which is another conversation. But should they be getting an inordinate amount of support from the conference? Should they have a full-time clergy appointed? The simple answer is no. Now they might be appointed a 200 member clergy with the hope of growing their church. But for many of these churches, they have no desire to grow, which is the issue of whether they are truly being a church or not, and so they should get a 40 member pastor to guide them, to hospice them as it were.

I honestly think that is where most of the clergy are today, they are small church pastors. In looking at many of the new congregations we are creating we are simply replicating the typical New England Methodist church. They get up and running and hit about 40-60 in average attendance and that is where they stop. Now in many ways this shouldn’t be surprising because, again, this is all that most pastors know. They probably attended a small membership church, they did their internship at a small membership church, and they were first appointed to a small membership church (or churches). They have never been taught to do anything different, and many have no vision for creating bigger and even when they do have the vision they don’t have the skills to take the steps, and in many areas they do not even have examples to look at to follow.

So here is my radical idea. Everyone at all levels of the church should begin asking clergy what type of church they are called to serve and then try and train them to meet the needs of that type of church, and then give them opportunities to match their call. A pastor’s fruit will tell you what type size of orchard they should be tending. God calls people to do different things, and so we need to recognize that in our education and in our appointments.

What would it look like if we set up internship programs and sent young clergy to the largest churches in the conference to serve for a year and see how they operate? Or even in some cases sent them out of the conference to other areas of the country so they can witness even larger churches and then bring back that information to this conference. These interns would need to be sent strategically and carefully chosen, we cannot pick people merely because they are the ones who are best at making friends and brown-nosing the system, which of how it often appears now.

Personally I believe that I would be best and most fulfilled in a church of about 1000 in average attendance. (Of course I could be wrong, but that is what is in my head) There are no United Methodist churches in New England that even meet that criteria and so I have to look elsewhere for guidance, learning and mentoring. And for those in my local congregation I do believe that we could grow to that place.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

No Loud Commercials

A while back I wrote about Congress waisting their time with ridiculous bills, and then came up with a list of things that I thought they should be dealing with instead. One of those was to eliminate the change in volume between television shows and commercials. Apparently I have more power than I thought.

The Senate just unanimously passed a bill (which is a miracle in itself) which would require commercials to be broadcast at the same volume level as television shows. A similar bill has already passed the House. It is now being sent to a conference committee to work out two differences before being sent on to the President for his signature.

No need to thank me, your admiration is all I need.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Future of Islam

This week I had a conversation with two other members of the clergy about Islam and it’s place in the world. I think I got them both to understand and recognize that the radicals are actually only a small percentage of all Muslims, but what both of them wanted to say was that in their experience Muslim’s are okay as long as they can be kept in the minority, but are a problem when they are in the majority.

To simplify, their argument was that it was better to be a Muslim in a Christian nation than it was to be a Christian in a Muslim nation. As a church historian I tried to give them a much broader perspective over hundreds of years rather than looking at only say the last ten or even twenty years to help them see something differently.

One of the issues I raised with them was an interesting line that Bernard Lewis has in his book What Went Wrong? The book attempts to looks at the changes that have occurred in Islam (in particular in the Middle East) which led them from being at the height of learning and the protectors of Greek thought to being, or at least perceived to be, in opposition to learning, and science in particular.

In one of the chapters Lewis says that Islam is taking on many of the characteristics of things which have evolved or taken place in Christianity, including a strict hierarchy of leadership and also an inquisition. What he wondered, and he did not explore at all, was whether this will also lead to a reformation, and that has sort of stuck with me. I don’t know if that is possible or what it would look like but it’s interesting.

Something else that occurred to me after the conversation was over was based on something that one of the other clergy said. He recognized that Christianity has made a lot of mistakes over time but that we have evolved and gotten better with time and that we have begun to live into our scriptures and he doesn’t see that happening in Islam and he actually sees them reverting back to something else.

But I thought if we look at Christianity being 600 years younger (Muhammad began receiving his revelations around 610) we are only approaching the end of the middle-ages and the beginning of the Renaissance is still a few years aways. This is not exactly the high point of western civilization, and we are still more than 100 years away from the reformation.

If you were an outside observer to Christianity at this time, especially someone coming into contact with them as being different, you too might not have the best opinion of them or of what is going on, and Christians did not treat non-Christians very well, just ask the Jews. Is that a fair or accurate comparison, I don’t know, but it’s what’s sort of running through my mind at the moment.

Now I guess the question that must be asked is if all Western religions have to follow a particular trajectory. And since Muslims trace their lineage back to Abraham I think they should be considered a Western religion. Since they helped protect most of what we consider Greek and Roman thought for centuries, this also helps with that argument.

Judaism never really had a reformation, but they have certainly broken into widely divergent groups. So the question becomes, as Islam becomes older will they follow a similar path as Christianity and Judaism and become much more divergent in their beliefs and practices (I understand that they are already divergent between Sunnis and Shias, not to mention Sufis or other divisions like Wahabism)? If that happens what does that look like and what does it mean for relations to other relations and within Islamic nations?