Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Just after midnight Tuesday morning it was finished. That's when I got done with the last Harry Potter book.

No spoilers here, just my grades.
The book - B+
The ending - D
The series - A-

Anyone else want to offer their grades?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry is Here

It has arrived. sent it in a little box that has a picture of an owl delivering a letter, the title "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in the now-so-familiar font, "Year 7" on one side, and four red bars that contain the admonition: "ATTENTION MUGGLES - DO NOT DELIVER OR OPEN BEFORE JULY 21!"
Oo, this is so exciting I can hardly stand it!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sabbatical Thoughts

I was on the phone with Mom a couple days ago, and she said that my voice sounded much less stressed out. A couple of things ran through my mind. First, "Hey, my mini-sabbatical is working!" Second, "Wow, if she noticed a difference in my voice over the phone, I must have really needed this rest."

I guess I was pretty stressed out, more than I realized. I have been sabbaticalling for four days, now, and I really have noticed a difference. Only now, here comes the weekend! As we get closer and closer to Saturday night and Sunday, my anxiety about the worship services is rising, even though I know that everyone and everything is going to be just fine. My first-born, type A, perfectionist, people-pleaser self has a tough time completely letting it go, it seems. Hmm, imagine that.

It's good for me, though, (he said through clenched teeth.) I am trying to convince myself that this disconnected time is a spiritual discipline that will be renewing, refreshing, reinvigorating. However, in order to ensure that I am fully disengaged, I am actually physically leaving town. I am going to church with my grandma in Columbia this weekend! I hope the physical distance will help me feel better about the spiritual and emotional distance, somehow. Plus, Nanny is celebrating her birthday this sumer by having all her kids and grandkids come for visits at various times, and it's my turn this weekend!

And you know what else? I am realizing that my disconnected time is good for the congregation, too. In order to be an effective pastor in an itenerant system, you have to lead by equipping and empowering the laity rely on themselves to be church. Too many UM clergy lead as if they are called to a congregation rather than being sent to serve in the connection. If the pastor is out of the picture for a few weeks, it should bring focus to the strengths of the congregation. I've always said that the true beauty of a healthy itenerancy is how it makes for strong congregations led by faithful laity, a powerful facet of Methodism ever since the beginning.

I have also decided to try to turn my sermon series on the book of Galatians into a book. So I am transcribing sermons with the thought that each of the five will be a chapter of the book. So far, so good. It is fun, engaging, and actually quite fulfilling. And so, as far as mini-sabbaticals go, I'd have to say this is the best one I have ever taken!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me, Burnout!

Beth Quick has written a post that further explains the motivations behind my mini-sabbatical. Definitely worth a read - she got a "Best of the Methoblogosphere!" award for it!

One True Church?

The conversation seems to be going something like this:

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): Only the Roman Catholic church is a church, the rest of y'all are not really churches.

Protestants (P): Say what, now?

CDF: Don't get all upset, we are just articulating our official doctrines.

P: Yeah, we understand that. That's not the point. The point is the official doctrines you are articulating are arrogant, demeaning, unreasonable, and unscriptural.

CDF: No, no, no - you must have misunderstood the situation here. All we are trying to do is clear up a few questions that came up after Vatican II. That's all.

P: Actually, we're pretty sure that we understand you perfectly well. And thank you for nodding in our direction with that cute little "ecclesial communities" quip. It makes us feel oh so special.

CDF: Maybe you missed the part about how important ecumenical dialogue is to us...?

P: No, we read that, too. And as long as you define "ecumenical dialogue" to mean "convince everyone to join us because we are right and they are wrong," we're not really all that interested!

Anyway, that's how I'm interpreting things. Really, I don't think this document will have any impact on the people in the pews. I don't think this document will affect the good things that truly progressive, ecumenically minded congregations are doing together in the world. And of course this document is not going to have any bearing whatsoever upon ultimate concerns such as the realization of the reign of God on earth.

I worry more about the impact of this document on the unchurched/dechurched/non-Christian/seekers/whatever group of people, because it provides yet one more reason to not look for ultimate meaning in life from within the church. Why would I want to participate in that kind of "my pop is bigger than your pop" bickering? How is that going to make my life better?

Christians are called to be evangelists, and the self-centered attitudes expressed in this document are one of the biggest stumbling blocks to accopmlishing that task.

Here's a summary of the document.
Here's a news story about it.
Here's a thoughtful commentary in response.
Here's a hopeful article on the topic.

cross-posted here

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mini-Sabbatical Starts NOW!

Today is the first day of my four week "mini-sabbatical." I am still sort of working out what it is going to look like exactly. I know that I will be doing some reading, some writing, some praying, some worshiping, and some travelling. In what order and at what ratio is going to emerge as the weeks go by.

I decided that, although it isn't a secret (it's all officially approved by the SPRC), we wouldn't make a big general announcement that I would be out of the picture for a month. There's really no need to do so. The rest of the staff can handle things at church; in fact they'll probably not even notice I'm gone! Things are clicking, there's a lot of natural momentum with the ministries, and the people of the congregation are so amazing, my job is mostly just to get out of their way and cheer, anyway.

There are basically two responses I hear when I tell people that I am going on sabbatical. The first is "Oh, what's wrong?" The second is, "Good for you!" The first response comes from a basic misunderstanding of sabbatical. Torah indicates that every seventh year is to be a sabbatical year, in which the ground would remain untilled, debts be forgiven, and servants released. The personal sabbatical for me then, is an opportunity to let my spiritual soil recover from seasons of tilling and harvest, to release my grudges and stressors, and to allow God to renew and refresh me so that I might continue in my calling. I'm 36 years old, and nothing is "wrong" with me; it's just that I want to feel this good about life and ministry when I'm 56, 76, 96 years old, too.

I am not going to sabbatical from blogging, though, just from work at the church.

Oh, I have to share what one church member said. Erin and the kids are still going to be around at the church, of course. So Mike very helpfully suggested that, when people ask her where I am, Erin should say that we are having marrital problems and that they should mind their own business! Yeah, that should generate a little conversation, huh?

Monday, July 09, 2007

All-Star Logic

Here's an observation:

The American League Central Division has 13 All-Stars. The National League Central Division has 11 All-Stars, despite having one more team than the AL Central. (In fact, the AL Central has more All-Stars than any division in baseball.)
The obvious conclusion to this data set is that the Kansas City Royals are a much better baseball team than the St. Louis Cardinals.

Here's my logic. Both teams got one All-Star, Gil Meche for KC and Albert Pujols for St. Louis. But of the teams that each Missouri club has to play, KC's divisional opponents have 5, 3, 3, and 1 All-Star, whereas St. Louis's division rivals have 4, 2, 2, 1, and 1 All-Star. Clearly the AL Central is the superior division, and since a big chunk of the season is played in the division, it is understandable that the Royals have the record they do, though the Cardinals ought to be cleaning up in the relatively wimpy NL Central. The Royals have to play against 12 All-Stars on 4 teams, whereas the Cards only play against 10 All-Stars scattered over 5 different teams!

The data are irrefutable. The Royals are obviously the better team.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lambs Among Wolves

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 70 disciples into the surrounding community. I have been thinking about this story a lot, and will be preaching on it tonight. Here's where I am right now:

I think we can learn a few things about being disciples today from these 70 disciples of long ago.

First - their message wasn't "Jesus died for you," because Jesus hadn't died yet. There message was "Peace be with you" and "God is here." Maybe we shouldn't minimize the Gospel to "Jesus died for you so now what are you going to do for him" as much as just offer people peace and point out that God is all around us.

Second - they did not condemn the people who didn't listen to them, they left that to God and moved on. In verse 12, Jesus condemns the towns that do not receive the disciples, but the disciples themselves do not. Maybe we, as disciples, ought not to waste our time condemning others for not receiving the message and just move on to someone else who will. We can do so if we hold to a healthy doctrine of prevenient grace, I think.

Third - Jesus told them not to break their arms patting themselves on the back, but to rejoice that their "names are written in heaven." In other words, find joy in God, in doing God's work. Maybe we spend too much time assessing and evaluating and examining ourselves to figure out if we are doing a good job, and not enough time just doing it. (Like I wrote in this post.) Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living, but I think that an unlived life is not really worth examining.

An example on that third point:
The "assessment mentality" leads a church to ask questions like, How are we going to have enough money to do all we want to do? A better question might be, How are we going to do what God wants us to do with the resources we have been given?

No purse, no bag, no extra pair of shoes, even. "Like lambs among wolves."

Monday, July 02, 2007

How You Doin'?

How do you respond when somebody asks you, “How’s your congregation doing?”

Would you compare this year’s worship attendance to last year? Would you speak in terms of income related to expenses? Would you describe a building project or some kind of capital improvement? Would you pull out your copy of the budget and refer to particular line items?

Would you mention mission trips, classes being offered, or the style of your worship services? Would you talk about the programs you have for youth and college students? Would you highlight your children’s ministry? Or maybe you would talk about what curriculum your church is buying in order to be “relevant” to today’s young people?

(Yeah, so that last one may have crossed over the cynical line a little bit, sorry.)

I’m wondering about this question because, depending on whom you ask here at North Kansas City, you would get highly divergent answers to the “How’s your congregation doing?” question. On the one hand, I hear parishioners talk about how bad things are, how we are not generating enough income, how we might need to only include in the budget the “administrative” items and have the “ministry” items fundraise to support themselves, how we need to save our current funds for a future rainy day, and so forth.

On the other hand, I also hear parishioners talk about wonderful things are, how many new people are coming, how attendance is up, how great it is to see so many children, and so forth.

And here’s the kicker – sometimes, it’s the same people saying both things!

Maybe we would be better off if we concentrated less on answering the question of how we’re doing and more on just doing it. I feel really bad for people caught up in a business mentality who want “specific, measurable, attainable” goals to assess the success of a congregation. I know that I myself get caught in that trap from time to time, sometimes when I’m around other pastors and my competitive tendencies start to kick in. It also happens when we are feeling the continual pressure from the higher ups to have “fruitful” congregations and “effective” pastors, and we want to be able to show how we’re accomplishing these expectations, so we tend to dwell on, even obsess over, the “How’re you doing?” question.

Every now and then I would like to release that question, pretend like it didn’t matter, and just be church, you know? That would be so liberating! Or maybe answer that question in a completely unexpected way. Something Carlin-esque, perhaps.

Next time somebody asks me, “Hey, how’s your congregation doing?”

I think I'll reply, "Oh, we’re moderately neato."

Update: Cross posted here.