Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ordination Papers - "Jesus is Lord"

Here's another ordination question to run up the flag pole. What do y'all think?

How do you interpret the statement Jesus is Lord as it relates to your calling and daily disciplines?

Most importantly, the statement, “Jesus is Lord,” means that other things are not. For his first disciples, claiming Jesus as Lord was an intentional jab at the Roman Empire, placing Jesus’ authority above Rome’s. “Jesus is Lord” means that in the priority list of my life, nothing comes before my relationship with God in Christ Jesus, not my job, my family, my personal comfort, my social status, others’ expectations, my own expectations – nothing. It means that I pray the Wesleyan covenant prayer, that I might be used by God for God’s service as God sees fit – full or empty, employed or laid aside, having all things or having nothing. I describe my calling to ministry as being grabbed by the shirt collar and dragged forward, with the admonition, “Come on, let’s get to work.” And while I resisted the calling for some time, trying to put other things ahead of God in my life, eventually the power of God’s liberating Spirit at work in the world swept me up, as it swept up Thomas in the presence of the resurrected Christ, leading him to cry out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Daily, as I pray and study scripture, as I plan worship and prepare my lessons to teach, as I interact with people as a pastor, I do so in concert with my awareness that Jesus is Lord and has a claim on my life that no other loyalty can compromise.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Veggies in a Stew?

NBC is airing edited episodes of VeggieTales. All "non-historical" mention of God or the Bible have been deleted, apparently.

Click here to read the story.

NBC has responded, saying, "NBC is committed to the positive messages and universal values of 'VeggieTales.' Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view."

Veggie creator Phil Visher is upset. According to the
LA Times, he said, "It's a mistake to pitch 'VeggieTales' as just values because fundamentally it's about God."

Let's do a
Richard Niebuhr thing with this: So, is this an example of "cucumber of culture?" Or maybe it is "cucumber against culture?" What do you think?

Hat tip to
Bill Tammeus

Ordination Papers - The Itinerancy

Thank you to those who put my last answer through the wringer. Your comments really helped me clarify some things. Here is another question to consider:

Q: What is your understanding of the open itinerant system within The United Methodist Church? Are you committed to such a system?

Members of the Annual Conference are appointed to serve in particular capacities by the bishop. These appointments are made prayerfully, in consultation with District Superintendents, clergy, and the local congregations and ministry settings, in order to discern where the gifts and graces for ministry evident in each clergy person might best match up with the particular needs and characteristics of the conference’s congregations and other ministry settings. Because the system is open, no consideration is given to race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, or age when making decisions about appointments. The itinerant system is one of the strengths of a connectional denomination, as the health of both the individual congregations and of the larger church as a whole can be considered when making appointments. Weaknesses of the itinerancy lie in the human tendency to politicize appointment decisions, conceiving of succeeding appointments as promotions and/or demotions, and the perception of many local churches that the conference is out of touch with the needs of the local congregation and therefore not qualified to make good appointment decisions. However, no system is perfect, and I believe that the itinerant system, when done well, provides the most effective clergy leadership for the promotion of healthy, vital local congregations and other ministry settings. I am strongly committed to serving in such a system.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ordination Papers - First Question

And away we go ...

1) What is the meaning of ordination, especially in the context of the general ministry of the church?

The sacrament of baptism is a gift from God and a means by which God’s grace enters the life of the baptized. It is also a ritual of initiation and incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church, in which the each person responds to the gift through participation in the life of the church by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service. Ordination is another facet of that response. It is not a higher or better response, just a particular manifestation of an individual’s response to God’s freely given grace. In ordination, the church affirms outwardly the inward commitment to serving God as a leader of a local congregation or in another ministry setting. The church thereby invests people with authority over certain areas of church life, based on the recognition of that commitment. Within the overall ministry of the church, ordained people are leaders who preach, teach, administer the sacraments, articulate the vision of the community, nurture the spiritual health of individuals within the community, and provide for service for people in need.

Well, what do y'all think?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Control - Part 2

I’d like to follow up on the issue of “control” with an observation about foster parenting.

Erin and I have sensed God calling us to be foster parents for a long time, and that calling has come to fruition with the presence of two little ones who have been in our care for the past several weeks. I haven’t written much about it, in part because I am reluctant to exploit the kids, in part for privacy’s sake, and mostly because we are so wrapped up emotionally in the situation that I have been unable to get any objective distance, everything is fresh and still kind of swirling around.

But Erin made an observation about our 3 year old foster child “Dakota” (name changed for privacy) the other day that has illuminated something about human behavior and the desire to have some control over life. Dakota has absolutely no control over what is happening. This child has been taken from home and family, told where to live, when to visit whom and for how long – nothing is under control.

And so, because these are BIG things that are completely out of control, controlling all the little things is very, very important. Dakota displays the behavior of a terribly spoiled child when things do not go just according to plan. Tears, screams, kicking, lying down on the floor – your basic hissy fit – is just about guaranteed to happen any time we offer even the smallest bit of discipline. My mom calls such behavior a “hing-ding.” I think you get the picture.

While I was getting frustrated and saying how spoiled Dakota was, Erin had another take on it. She says that telling Dakota, “No candy unless you clean your plate” is at the same time saying, “Here is one more thing in your life you do not have control over.” And Dakota is not really reacting to the candy, but to the whole thing – home, living arrangements, visits, etc. If Dakota’s reaction to being denied a piece of candy seems to be extreme, it is – if taken at face value. But there is so much churning just underneath the surface of that little heart, it doesn’t take much to pierce the façade and unleash the pent-up energy of the confusion, frustration, and helplessness there.

So before we react, we are careful to ask ourselves, “What is really going on here?” Our parental response can then be more measured, grounded, and responsive to what is actually happening, rather than just the behaviors that are presenting themselves. It’s not about the candy. We still do not allow hing-dings, but knowing some more about why Dakota is throwing one helps our response enormously. You have to address the behavior, of course. Any good parent will do that. But with a foster child, more things are out of control than just the availability of dessert.

Monday, September 18, 2006

This is a story about control...

Control eludes me. I have not posted a blog entry for a week, and it is mostly because my life has been beyond my control just lately. The stuff that has to be done has taken over, and the stuff that I want to do has faded from view. The good news is, some of the stuff that had to be done is now done, or at least ending, which will leave me more time for the stuff I want to be doing, instead.

However, at least this last week has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on control, and to talk with some good friends about it. With their help, (especially yours, Diana) I have discovered the following axiom: when you cannot control the big things, controlling the little things takes on enormous importance. I am adding this one to my list of axioms for ministry.

This axiom explains some of why people complain about what seem like trivial issues, especially in church. We can use this past weekend as a case study. During the week I had moved the American flag out of the front of the sanctuary in order to make room for our “Welcome Home” banner, and a church member raised a pretty angry complaint. What I realize now is that the issue is not the placement of the flag in the sanctuary per se (that issue has a-whole-nother set of concerns to consider), but in this case it is only a manifestation of the true issue. The issue is control. Having the American flag in the sanctuary, while not at all a priority for me, is very important to this particular congregant. The decision to remove it was not under his control, and he was reacting to it with some passion.

Having control means having power. So much of life is out of our control, and we feel powerless in the face of that. Rush hour traffic, deadlines imposed by our bosses, the weather, images of violence we see daily on the evening news, diabetes and cancer and cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s … most of what happens around us is out of our control, and so sometimes controlling a small something becomes a last, desperate attempt to cling to some shred of individuality and power, to finally avoid the full descent into chaos that threatens us at every moment.

And so people at church will complain about … just about anything – from the color of paint on the walls to the music choices for worship to the seating arrangement of the choir, and so on and so on. I’m sure that those of you in church leadership have heard complaints that pretty much run the gamut. In hearing their complaints, it is important to hear the issue behind the complaint, too.

Most of the time, it is about control. It’s like Janet says, “I don't wanna rule the world, Just wanna run my life.” Maybe this week, I will live a bit more under control.
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Monday, September 11, 2006


Well, everyone, I got them in the mail today! They were in an ominous envelope with the return address of “UM Conference Center, Columbia MO” in the upper left corner. Trembling in anticipation, I tore open the seal and pulled out … my ordination papers! (Or technically, my paperwork to complete in order to be considered for full membership in the annual conference. But for brevity’s sake, let’s call them ordination papers, okay?)

I have to complete this paperwork between now and December 1st – in other words, guess what my blog posts will consist of for the next two months? That’s right, friends, my answers to the questions in my ordination paperwork. Then, after I read all your comments on them, I’ll be equipped to deal with the interview team from Conference. I’ll say:

“Well, Kansas Bob liked that answer, so why don’t you?” or

“You know, I think bethquick would agree with me when I say …” or

“Now, of course if Larry B. had his own blog, he would point out the weakness in your argument.” or maybe even

“In fact, John gave this answer a ‘Best of the Methodist Blogosphere’ award two weeks ago.”

Here’s what I got in the packet, in order:
- A memo describing a “Paperwork Orientation Opportunity” next month.
- An instruction page.
- A shockingly pink checklist.
- A Biographical Information Form.
- A Waiver of Access to Personal File form.
- A criminal conduct disclosure form (needs to be notarized).
- An instruction sheet for Effective Practice.
- A Pastoral Care Experience Verbatim Report Format form.
- An instruction sheet for Proclamation.
- An instruction sheet for Theology and Doctrine.
- An instruction sheet for Worship and the Sacraments.
- A letter to my District Superintendent, asking for his review of my ministry.
- An instruction sheet for a Staff Evaluation form
- The Staff Evaluation form.
- An Assessment of Accomplishments, Improvements, and Goals form.
- A form describing the On-Site Interview Process

Seriously, how many forests were killed in putting together this packet? I’m telling you, my stress level increased 50% simply by opening the envelope! It’s not really a surprise, since most of the stuff is the same stuff I did when I was commissioned three years ago. But back then I was in seminary, so I was in the mode, you know? I was writing a lot, reading a lot of theology, immersed in academia. Now I’m immersed in something else altogether! (Pause...) No, not that, I'm talking about being immersed in local church ministry, and my mind is clenching up at the thought of doing this all over again – and this time for more than a grade, for my calling!

I know what I should do: do a little bit of work on this stuff every week between now and December 1. However, there’s a big gap between that knowledge and the actual completion of the assignments. A gap that, for me right now, is a major source of consternation. Put me on your prayer list, please!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Barmen 2006

The Barmen Declaration was written by German Christians in 1934, responding to the rise of fascism in their country. I have paraphrased the document and added a few things, bringing it up to date and making it personal. I think it may be somehow relevant to our current global situation, but I’m still mulling it over. Let me know what you think.

Barmen Declaration - 2006
When it comes to living together as children of God, I oppose any attempts to coerce unity by means of any false doctrine, including use of force, the invocation of hyper-patriotism, the implication that to disagree would be unchristian or un-American, or the use of scare tactics to achieve the desired goal. Unity exists in God alone.

I am happy to be a Christian, and I love the church very deeply. I am happy to be an American, and I am proud of the good things my country has done. At the same time, I know that my church and my country have not always done good things, and in fact have sometimes done pretty nasty things. I am sorry for these things. In addition, I have no wish to see either the church or the nation disintegrate.

The way I see things, our unity as a church, our unity as a nation, and more globally our unity as a human race that is a miraculous result of the realization of God’s reign on earth – this unity is at risk. It is threatened by the attitude of arrogance, greed, pride, reckless ambition, and self-centeredness of the powerful, and specifically by the actions, grounded in this attitude, that oppress, injure, and kill the powerless and those caught in the middle.

It’s the church’s job to be the living presence of Christ in the world, empowered and equipped for ministry by the Holy Spirit to do the work of the people (the liturgy) in Word and Sacrament. Everything the church says or does, therefore, must show that it belongs to God.
It is NOT the church’s job to cater to the prevailing power, the political or ideological whim or to put any worldly loyalty above loyalty to God and God’s purposes for this creation.

It’s the church’s job to exist in the world as an eschatological sign of God’s past/present/future reign on earth, and to acknowledge the crucial role the state plays to provide for justice and peace in the “in between” time.
It is NOT the church’s job to sit idly by and watch as a power-hungry state exceeds its responsibilities by infringing upon the freedom, upon the very lives of the earth’s people, nor is it the church’s job to exceed its own responsibilities by becoming merely a pawn of the powerful, or the religious arm of whatever government happens to currently be in charge.

It’s the church's job to resist evil in whatever forms it presents itself in the world. The church has been given that freedom and that responsibility by God.
It is NOT the church’s job to condone without question any act of violence that the powerful justify. Nor is it the church’s job to deny the possibility of a way of peace by naïvely assuming the only way to resolve conflict involves violence. Those who follow the Prince of Peace know a better way.

And finally, it is the church’s job to deliver God’s grace freely to all people.
It is NOT the church’s job to arrogantly select whom to love and whom to hate, nor is it the church’s job to subordinate the abundant grace of God to the flimsy prejudices of the powerful.

I think that if the church will just do its job and stop doing all that other stuff, we will pretty much be okay, and God will be happy with us. Anyone who can go along with that, I hope that you’ll join me in promising to just do our job as best as we can. True unity is grounded in faith, love, and hope.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Maybe it only SEEMS heretical ...

Yesterday, Billy Graham's column said, "When Jesus' body died on the cross, he didn't cease to exist, any more than we do when our bodies die. His soul or spirit kept on living, just as ours will when we die. ... But Jesus' spirit was different from ours, and one of the ways it was different was its absolute holiness and purity."

Does this feel kind of docetic to anyone else but me?

Monday, September 04, 2006

This is Worth Six Minutes of Your Life...

...if you really love the church and have big questions about what it is becoming. Click here to listen to Gordon sort things out.

Worship - Not About Style

I would like to pick up a thread of conversation that Kansas Bob pursued in his comment on my last post. I had written a rambling critique of bad music in worship being “the downfall of the worship style formerly known as contemporary.” KB responded, “The mocking tone of your comments tells me that you don’t understand this type of worship and how people are touched and moved in worship singing these types of songs.”

Well, he is right about the mocking tone he detected, but wrong about the target of said mocking tone. I was not mocking contemporary worship itself, but rather I was mocking the bad music that sometimes comprises a service that is labeled “contemporary.” I would similarly mock bad music that sometimes comprises a service that is labeled “traditional,” but in the post about “Christian kitsch,” it was not relevant. I could write a-whole-nother post about bad “traditional” worship.

But with regard to worship style, I really don’t care too much what happens in a worship service (within limits, of course), as long as it is centered on the presence of God, it is done with passion and energy, and it creates an environment conducive to the divine/human encounter. I certainly would not mock any worship experience that meets these criteria, whether it be one that features blue jeans and a band or formal robes and an organ. Some people seem to think that, just because it is a “traditional” service it must be lifeless and lethargic, and likewise some people seem to think that, just because it is a “contemporary” service it must be shallow and selfish. All of which further points out the problems that arise when we use labels in conversation – assumptions abound and definitions get pretty slippery sometimes.

Kansas Bob makes an assertion that, “…usually the total exclusion of choruses equates to passionless singing.” To which I reply, you ought to hear a British Methodist congregation sing And Can It Be that I Should Gain! There is passion, there is power, and there is energy. Partly because of the familiarity factor, which cannot be overestimated. We must always consider the context of worship in these kinds of conversations. But part of that passion is because of the depth of meaning in the text of the hymn. The poetry resonates with the mind, the theology stirs the spirit, and the resultant energy is embodied with a full-throated, lusty, courageous sound that is glorious to be a part of.

KB and I will find some common ground on this issue, I think, because he says, “…whether it is from a hymnal or overhead projector, give me passion over tradition ... even if it is judged as kitsch by some :)” Though I take exception to his assumption that tradition is passionless, I concur completely with his point that passion is a vital part of what makes worship, well – worship.

PS – Another thread of conversation from my last post that gets me thinking is the whole “blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus” thing. I think I’ll write my next post about that one, mainly responding to the question posed by anonymous, "Why is a b-h, b-e Jesus unacceptable?"