Saturday, June 25, 2005

Vacation Time

Well, the family vacation begins Sunday. We are headed south, to visit Mickey Mouse down in Florida. I gotta say, Not my first choice for summer vacation, but with a seven year old girl and a four year old boy, it seems that it may be inevitable. For some reason I couldn't convince them that pitching a tent in the middle of a Canadian forest right next to a crystal blue mountain stream would be as fun as standing in line in the heat for hours on end to ride a roller coaster ride that lasts two minutes and makes you puke.
No, actually I'm kind of looking forward to it. We will have fun, no matter where we are. Because the point of the family vacation is to commune with your family, to have fun just being together. And we can do that anywhere, even at Disney World.
I am completely in love with my family! I am so happy to be going away with them, out on the open road, that I honestly don't care where we go, as long as we are together. Sounds cheesy, yes? I know. But nonetheless, there it is.
Off to see the Wizard,
Andy B.

Friday, June 24, 2005

NOT RIGID: Kind of Like "Jacob's Well"

My sister unknowingly paid my remarkable congregation a wonderful compliment last Sunday. She attended our 10:30 worship service, and in the car on the way to lunch, she said, "The atmosphere at your church is kind of like Jacob's Well." She had attended a couple of worship services there. Little did she know just how much her remark warmed my heart.

"That's exactly what we are trying to create!" I replied. "You have no idea how good that makes me feel!"

Jacob's Well is a church here in Kansas City that is in the forefront of the emergent church movement, which, in my opinion, is the future of the church. When I gaze into my crystal ball, I see a few things happening in upcoming years.
1) Fundamentalism and right-wing evangelicalism will begin to fade into irrelevance.
2) We will finally realize that the mega-church model is actully harmful to the health of the body of Christ rather than helpful.
3) Eventually everybody will understand that the labels "traditional" and "contemporary" are void of meaning when applied to the church.
As these trends happen, what is now known as the emergent movement will become the paradigm for doing church. From the Emergent Village website:

We must imagine and pursue the development of new ways of being followers of Jesus … new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings of mission, new ways of expressing compassion and seeking justice, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and service, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.

When I asked my sister what exactly she meant when she made her comparison, she said, "It seems so ... open. It is very free and natural. Growing up, I always thought church was so, I don't know, rigid. Your church is definitely not rigid."

Not rigid - That's me! Of all of the words used to describe me (some of which have been kind, some not so much), rigid has never been one of them. It strikes me that rigidity is another way to think about the Pharisaic legalism against which Jesus struggled. Rigidity is one of the primary traits of right-wing Christianity, in particular when it comes to the creation and enforcement of the so-called "moral code" that is to dictate personal behavior. Rigidity is what passes for "strength" or "security" for some people, but in reality is an artificial construct used to oppress people, and patently out of line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rigidity is neither morality nor strength, it is just rigidity.

My remarkable congregation may not know much about the emergent movement, but they know that the church they love is a spiritual home, a place to encounter the living divine creator of the cosmos, to be grasped by the grace of Christ Jesus our savior, to be pulled ever closer into communion with the mystic presence of God's miraculous spirit. And it is people just like my sister, people who do not attend church because of the rigidity they perceive there, with whom the church needs to speak today.

Going with the flow, Andy B.

Blog Time - From Here On Out

One thing about an evening Vacation Bible School, it sure takes away from blog time! Having our VBS from 5:30 til 8:30 each evening this week has supplanted the time I ususally spend reading blogs and writing for Enter the Rainbow. And that's a good thing! VBS is awesome!

But now I have some catching up to do. I haven't read my usual list of blogs for several days now, and I am sure that by blogging friends have posted some really wonderful things over that time.

Or maybe I won't even try to catch up. Maybe I'll just start from now and move ahead. I'll read their latest posts and forget about trying to read what they have written. At last count, I have 27 blogs in the old My Favorites folder. I don't read all of them every day, but I try to get through the list at least once every couple of days. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes to start from now and read on, rather than catch up.

Maybe that is a good philosophy to espouse every now and then in life, also. For example, I have a friend who keeps days and days worth of newspapers in her house because she fully intends to do the crossword puzzles contained therein. She cannot bring herself to recycle any papers because each one contains a potentially completed puzzle. She knows that each day brings a new puzzle, but she just adds it to her pile. She needs to say to herself, "These old puzzles aren't going to get done. It is time to focus my energy on the puzzle of the day, bundle up all of those old puzzles, and take them out to the curb."

When life stacks up on us like five days of unread blogs or a pile of incomplete puzzles, sometimes it is wise to claim a new starting point. We need to say at times, "Alright, that happened and it is gone. Now, from here on out, this is what we'll do."

Looking ahead,
Andy B.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I Love V.B.S.!

Can I just say that, if I could make a career out of teaching children at Vacation Bible School, I would do it! Is anyone hiring for that position? I am having a fabulous time at our community's VBS this year.

We have an ecumenical, inter-generational VBS week, with things to do from preschool on up! I know at least two of our participants are octagenarians. We start out with dinner at 5:30 and classes for everyone starting at 6:30, then we get together for a closing session at 8:00. Little kids are running around, teenagers are sitting and eating with grown-ups, adults are laughing with the children - it is wonderful! It is a glimpse of the heavenly banquet, every night this week.

We are using the newest curriculum by Group. It is a pretty average curriculum, and it has some really weak points that have neede jazzing up. It is pretty heavy on the gender-specific language with regard to God, and has a few other theological issues, too. But the point of VBS is NOT the curriculum. The wonderful thing about events like VBS is not the content at all. I certainly don't remember a thing I ever learned as a kid in VBS, and I am pretty sure you don't either. The wonderful thing about VBS is the intentionality of it.

All of us, preschoolers, elementary kids, youth, adults young and old - we are all there together at the church building because God is amazing! Because God has called us to be there! Because we want to gather together and celebrate the goodness of the Lord! Because we are choosing to be formed in faith by the presence of the living Christ in our midst! Amen and Amen!

So if you know of anyone who is hiring a full-time VBS Bible teacher, give me a call. I'd love to apply for the job!

Flying High,
Andy B.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Methodism, the Movement

Shane Raynor from the Wesley Blog pointed this great article out in his blog. The author, Rev. Donald Haynes, is on the faculty of Hood Theological Seminary. Here is a quote from the article:

We must connect with pre-Christians, disenchanted Christians, dormant Christians and lapsed Christians with the grace theology inherent to our heritage. Notice this language! Let's stop calling these people unchurched. They are not necessarily seeking institutional church relationship. They are seeking meaning for their lives, and God in their life situation.
Right on, brother Haynes! People are sick of the institution formerly known as the church. It doesn't matter if people have the Apostle's Creed memorized or know how to find Philemon in the Bible. And people do not tend to make the viability of the Annual Conference's health insurance plan a top priority when seeking a relationship with the Divine. We just want to know that God loves us. Rev. Haynes says
Envision just how many persons within the focus of your eyes today are going to bed tonight not knowing that God knows, God cares, and God loves - all unconditionally. So many are driven by searching souls and suffering bodies. This is the hour of Methodism's "third awakening." We must rise with an ignited heart, a helping hand, a recovered passion for souls, a renewed energy.

Methodism was planted and has taken root in the rich theological soil of grace. God's abundant grace sneaking up on us before we even know we need it and bringing us home again, sometimes before we're even fully aware that we have strayed. Rev. Haynes describes people coming to a church where this kind of grace is flourishing.

Upon arriving, often bruised from fundamentalist judgment, visitors respond to grace theology like a kitten drinking warm milk. For persons with messed-up lives and guilt, the byproduct of Methodism's grace theology is comprehensive, holistic church growth.

Please go read the entire article at this link.

Shane Raynor and I both love this article. And yet, Shane Raynor is often on the opposite side of the theological table from me when we discuss particular issues via the blogosphere. The point is, no matter where you are, you can reach out to a neighbor in need with the compassion of Christ. This third awakening is calling on Methodists and all Christians to cease and desist from abusing one another with dogma and start loving one another unconditionally.

Remember, the point is not to save the church. The point is to save our souls.

Andy B.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Okay, Here's what NOT to do...

Imagine if you will a small group of people sitting together around a table. This group has been convened to discuss important issues, issues that will impact the lives of millions of other people. In fact, the millions of others have specifically chosen this small group to represent them in these vital discussions. One of the things the small group does is collect information about these issues from a variety of sources, then make the best decisions possible based on this input. Can you picture that?

Now imagine that this small group is divided into two sub-groups. One of the sub-groups (let's call them Sub-Group A) has a few more people in it that the other (Sub-Group B). Because of the way the small group is run, the group with the most people can decide when, where, and about what to discuss. That means Sub-Group A has the power at this time. Got the picture?

Now imagine (this will require a bit of a stretch) that the leader of the small group, who is a member of Sub-Group A, hears a bit of input with which he does not agree. In fact, the input is pretty much directly counter to his idea. And so the leader of the small group immediately calls a halt to the discussion and leaves the table, taking all of the other members of Sub-Group A with him, literally turning off the microphones on members of Sub-Group B, and effectively shutting down the discussion altogether. I know that is difficult to believe, but can you at least imagine it?

It would be easier to imagine in a country that was not a democracy. Unfortunately, it happened in the United States House Judiciary Committee. It was the grown-up version of "If you won't play by my rules I'll just take my ball and go home" taunt most frequently heard on the elementary school playground.

Diversity means difference, and difference implies disagreement. As a minister, I hope the Church can learn something about what NOT to do by watching our current version of government operate. When the Church has important decisions to make, it is my prayer that Sub-Group A (whoever that may be at the time) will listen honestly to everyone's input before deciding anything. The Church is a wonderfully diverse body, with an array of different beliefs and ideas existing side-by-side. That is one of the things I love most about the Church. It has always been that way, and if I have anything to say about it, it always will.

Desiring Dialogue,
Andy B.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Ministry, Interrupted

Almost 36 hours passed from the time I started writing my last post about my visit to the Alzheimer's wing and the time I actually finished it and posted it, about ten minutes ago. If I ever needed any more evidence that "ministry happens in the interruptions," I got it yesterday.

I had my day yesterday fully agenda-ized! I knew exactly what I was going to get done and when - say goodbye to Cori and Erin going to church camp, do my correspondance, write a sermon, check on hospitals, attend covenant group, finish the blog entry, prepare for the weekend. That was going to be my day. Not even halfway through the "correspondance" portion of my morning, though, the interruption began, and did not end until afternoon. The only thing on my agenda that I accomplished was attending my covenant group, who holds me accountable for my health in the midst of busy ministry. I steadfastly refuse to miss that.

Someone came by to talk for an hour, someone called for help with a crisis, the plumbers needed a question answered downstairs, I went to visit someone in jail, someone new was admitted to the hospital for surgery so I went to see them. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. "Hey everyone, I have an agenda to accomplish here!"

So where am I today, Friday? I want everyone reading this to know that I AM SITTING AT HOME ALL DAY LONG WITH MY SON WESLEY PLAYING SUPER-HEROES, LEGOS, JEDI KNIGHTS, AND WHATEVER ELSE HE WANTS TO DO. Later we might go for a little hike in the woods somewhere. That is it! This is what I call SABBATH!

Last night after Wesley and I watched "Holes" (don't tell Erin, it was probably a little bit too rough for Wesley to see, but for a couple of guys sitting around watching a movie, we don't mind the rough stuff so much), Wes sat back on the couch and said, "Now THAT was a movie!" We smiled at each other.

That night, he slept next to me in the big bed. Somehow this morning he ended up completely sideways, allowing me just a few inches of space. I looked at him sleeping and thought, "My son is almost as tall as a queen-sized mattress is wide. When did that happen?"

I am going to finish up this entry really quick. I hear the Legos clicking away up in Wesley's room, and I don't want to miss any of the action. Thank you, Wes, for interrupting!

Sabbath Peace,
Andy B.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ministry of Presence in the Alzheimers Wing

It has been a week since my last post. Four of those days I was at the conference and three of those days I spent getting caught up on everything I missed while I was away at said conference. One of the things I did to get caught up was to go and visit Anna. (name changed for privacy)

Anna lives in the Alzheimer's wing of a nursing home.

You press a red button on the wall to get the doors of the wing to open. This is a security featured designed not to keep people out, but rather to keep people in. I pressed the red button and had to sidestep a woman whom I did not know in a wheelchair right in front of the doorway as I entered. She looked at me and smiled. "Did you get it all right?" she asked.

I didn't know what she meant, and I don't really think she did either. I smiled and took her hand, saying, "Yes, ma'am. Everything is all right." She grasped my hand with a strength that I would not have guessed her slender, elderly frame could muster, and she pulled me close. She laughed with what might have been relief.

"Oh, good!" she said, "I was hoping that you would be able to" and so on and so on. Sometimes she made sentences and sometimes she just put words together at random, like drawing them from a hat. I don't remember what all she said, but I remember standing with her hands clasped desperately around mine, holding me close in the middle of the hallway for a good two or three minutes as she told me all kinds of very unusual things. She hugged me a couple of times. Through it all I just smiled and held her hands, until I was able to gently pry myself free. I continued down the hall to find Anna.

On my way, I wove through a score of wheelchairs that contained mostly women who had lost their memories, didn't know for sure where they were, what they were doing here, perhaps even having no real sense of self. Who are we, anyway, if not our memories? What is it that makes us more than biological machines? Where does the self reside? Alzheimer's disease is a monster, whose only objective is to rob its victims of everything they once were. I smiled and waved to everyone I passed in that hallway, and I got a few waves in return.

I made it through the gauntlet and stepped into the dining room at the end of the hall. I spotted Anna sitting at a table in her wheelchair, along with the other people who reside in her wing. I knelt by the side of her chair.

Anna is a very beautiful woman. She has shining white hair and deep, wise laugh lines in her face. Her lovely eyes convey a sparkle of wit and grace, and looking at her you know that if it wasn't for the monster steadily stealing her mind away, she would be dancing or strolling in a garden or attending a fabulous party or something.

"Hi, Anna. I'm Andy, the pastor of your church," I said.

A confused look came into those lovely eyes. "Who?" she said.

"The pastor of your church."

"What church?"

"Yours, Anna." I named the church.

"Oh, yes," she replied. And then she thought for a moment, then asked me something that gave me a little electric jolt in my heart. "How are your two children?" Then, noting my pause, she continued, "You have two children, right?"

She remembered? Or did some synapse fire randomly and came up with "two children"? I smiled and pulled out my wallet to show her the pictures. "Yes, they are doing just wonderfully," I replied. After that, she meandered away from the topic. As she went, her eyes became more and more puzzled, like she had forgotten something.

Our conversation comprised short bits of coherent discussion that popcorned from topic to topic as Anna led the way. Interspersed amidst these moments of coherence were long stretches of mumblings from behind her beautiful, confused eyes, as Anna worked to dredge words from the muddy river bottom of her mind. Once she asked me about my mother. We talked about her husband. We talked about food. Through it all, I knelt beside her wheelchair with my hand in hers and my eyes locked on hers, hoping that our physical and visual connection was compensating for the lack of verbal connection we experienced.

But there was that one moment. "How are your two children?" Out of the formless void, something was created with a few spoken words. And it was good.

After about fifteen minutes with Anna, I said goodbye, greeted the nurses on duty, wove through the wheelchairs back down the hallway, entered the code that unlocked the doors of the wing (the nurses had whispered it to me), and left the building.

What happened in the Alzheimer's wing? Will Anna remember that I came to see her? What did our hand holding and eye contact do, or what was it? What is the significance of that one moment of verbal connection? I don't really know. And I guess I don't really need to know. I suppose I'll just trust that God was there somehow, and leave it at that. It was ministry; I am a minister. Amen.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Pastor-Man Learns to Step Aside

Saturday night's worship service will be a real doozie! I am sorry that I will not be there.
Mike will give the message, Barbara will lead the service, Laura will offer communion, and Ellen will play the piano. All of these people are "ringers" - substitutes for the regular folks who will all be unavailable. I am going to the Missouri Annual Conference session in Columbia, but I would really love to be a fly on the wall to see Saturday's service unfold.

Mike and Barbara are members of my remarkable congregation, but Laura is a pastor friend from Living Water Christian Church and Ellen is a friend of a friend of a friend (literally) who is wonderful enough to step in and play the piano for the service. What a celebration of the body of Christ! It makes me smile to think about these four people meeting each other for the first time for the purpose of leading a worship experience together. Literally, Laura and Ellen will be meeting everyone there for the very first time, including each other, and yet somehow within the mystery of worship, they will all be united as members of the one body. Boy, do I ever wish I could be there to see that. It is going to be magical.

Problem is, if I was there, there would be no need for Mike, Barbara, Laura, or Ellen to be there either cause I would do it all.

Hmmm ... wait a minute ... what's that? ... I am sensing God trying to teach me something here.

You mean .... hold on, let's see if I'm getting this ... you mean I could actually (gasp) STEP ASIDE and let other people do stuff?!?! But that's just crazy talk! I am the pastor! I am Pastor-Man! Faster than a speeding phylactery, more powerful than a complete set of the New Interpreter's Bible, able to leap tall capital campaigns in a single bound. There's no need to fear, Pastor-Man is here!

Well, Pastor-Man is learning, sisters and brothers. I am learning that stepping aside not only allows other people to shine, stepping aside also allows the Body of Christ to flourish. So, this Saturday I will step aside. Mike, Laura, Barbara, and Ellen have things well in hand. In fact, I am sure the service will be a real doozie. (I really wish I could be there to see it; maybe someone will tape it for me!)