Thursday, January 31, 2008

Julius In the News - More On Kenya

This link (click here) has a video story featuring Julius and Sarah.

Julius is on his way to Kenya to bury his brother and care for his family. Please pray for his safety and for Sarah's peace of mind. And while you're at it, throw in a couple for an end to this craziness.

This picture, which was in the Kansas City Star this week, is of Julius holding a picture of himself and his brother.

Soulfari Kenya's blog is a place you might go to hear about ways you can help.

The United Methodist Church is there, too. Click here to read about our denomination's response and here is another little blurb. I am interested in the sentence that indicates some church compounds have become safe havens in the voilence. I wish I knew more about that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Prayers for Kenya - Terrible News

Edna just sent me an email, and when I read the subject line, "Really bad news from Kenya," I braced myself, and opened the email.

Earlier, I had read this news report - click here - describing an assasination in Kenya, really just one more act of violence among many, I thought then.

Edna's email relayed the terrible news that Julius's brother Melitus had been shot and killed in Kenya. (Last week, I posted an email from Julius regarding his brother Emmanuel - click here.) Melitus was the founder of an orphanage where she had been this summer, and as her email mentioned, had recently been elected to parliament.

Suddenly, the news story I had read earlier took on new significance. Amazing how things change when a generic news story suddenly gets personal, isn't it?

Julius and his wife Sarah were here in North KC in worship on Sunday morning. Now, two days later, his brother is killed, the rest of his family are in fear for their lives, and they are confronted with enormous decisions that will have to be made under extreme pressure. He wants to be there with his family; they are terrified of what could happen if (when?) he goes; the rest of his family is in danger and he wants to protect them; there is a great risk to his own well-being if he goes; Kenya is his home and great violence is being done to it - I cannot even begin to imagine what they must be going through.

I told both Edna and Sarah today via email that my prayers this morning when I read the news were not very pleasant. How much richer would our Christian liturgy be if we could cuss? This morning, I did my best to find out. Please pause and say a prayer for Kenya as you read this.

For Julius, Sarah, Emmanuel, Juliana, and for all the rest ...

How long, O Lord?
How long?
I cry for help ... nothing.
I see violence, blood, death ... and still nothing.
How long, O Lord?
How long?

(borrowed from Habakkuk 1)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Just Another Morning at Home

This morning, Wes says to me, "Dad, why isn't ten pronounced like 'onety'?"

This is a typical question from Wes.

In response, Cori said, "Because then twenty would be pronounced like 'twoty'?" (Say it out loud for full effect.)

This is a typical answer from Cori.

Then they both burst out laughing, and periodically repeated the word "twoty" throughout the morning, which of course sent them into another round of near hysterical laughter.

This is a typical conversation around our house.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Church / State / Politics - Here's a question for you ...

I have a few honest questions, and I promise there is no agenda attached.

I read this announcment yesterday, with some bracketed things in order to keep it objective:

The [Specific Political Party] Women's Club of [Unnamed] County will meet at 7
p.m. Monday at [Anonymous] United Methodist Church, [Address].
Membership is open to all [Unnamed] County women who are interested in the [Specific Political Party] and upcoming election issues.
The meeting is open to the public and will feature longtime [Specific Political Party] activist [John Doe]. He will provide information about the [Specific Political Party] primary elections and caucus procedures. [Statewide elected official also of the Specific Political Party] will also attend.
For more information, please call [phone number].

Okay, got the picture? I hope all the [brackets] aren't distracting.

My honest questions, then are: Is this okay? Can Anonymous UMC host this meeting without transgressing an ethical or legal boundary? Is Anon. UMC endorsing the Specific Party by hosting this event? What do you think?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Reverend Photog... back in action. Click this.

MLK Day - How Big is the Dream?

Click here and here for news about Kenya. There are informative stories and also video posted at both sites.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, right? So I'm asking myself today, "What would he say about our world if he were here?" Would he call us to contentment and satisfaction at how far we have come, or would he continue to challenge and push us until the dream of peace and justice and reconciliation that he so powerfully announced was realized around the globe?

How is this picture, taken recently in Kenya, different from the pictures of police just a few decades ago, responding to marches and protests led by Rev. King? Different uniform. Different straw that broke the camel's back. But the underlying causes are pretty much the same, aren't they? Injustice - oppression - intolerance - hatred. The powerful wielding their power without any thought or concern for the powerless.

"I have a dream..." is too fluffy for me today. Instead, let's go with this:
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime -- the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. (King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963)

May we be extremists for love on behalf of Christ in this bruised and broken world.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thoughts on the Ordination Process

Why is the candidacy process toward ordination in the United Methodist Church so long and involved?
Because ordained ministry is hard work, and you need a good set of tools in your belt in order to do it.

Why is seminary so hard?
Because ordained ministry requires a depth of theological understanding that ninety hours of master’s degree work can give you.

This is my personal testimony. All I can do is share from my own perspective, and say what my experience has been. I hope that, if your testimony about any of this is different, you will respectfully offer it in the comment section, or post something on your own blog. (For example, read what Brad has to say about his experience.)

I wouldn’t be who I am, nor could I do what I do without having been formed in the crucible of seminary and journeyed the candidacy process together with a group of other Residents in Ministry whom I still count as beloved sisters and brothers. I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to serve Christ as I am called in the church without having had the formation, growth, and learning I was given in the candidacy process and in seminary.

I had a fantastic mentor; I had a covenant group with whom I could share my innermost self; I had relationships with professors, superintendents, and bishops that were collegial and supportive; I had peers who pushed me to excel and who encouraged me when I was sucking rocks; I had Sandy Ward at the Conference Office letting us know exactly what forms we needed to turn in and by when; I had family members and friends keeping me grounded and keeping my priorities straight.

I went into the process as a response to my calling, not in order to figure it out. The candidacy process is not the place to discern your calling; it is where you go in response to it. If you are not called to ministry and certain of that call, wait. Like my Dad said, “If there is anything else that you could do, do it.” And if you are called into a ministry that can be done without candidacy/seminary/ordination, for heaven’s sake don’t put yourself through it!

I dug more deeply into my seminary studies than I had at any other level – high school, undergrad, or master’s – I worked my ass off in seminary. It is a Master’s Degree and it is supposed to be hard; the Church of Jesus Christ/the United Methodist denomination/the souls of God’s children are at stake here, you better believe that I wanted to work hard – for their sake. If I had discerned that I could realize my calling without seminary, there is NO WAY I would have put myself and my family through it! (Although I found that walking the baby in the middle of the night is a great time to study your Greek verb paradigms.)

Instead of worrying about what “the system” required of me, I just did what I thought I needed to do in order to be equipped for my calling. Turned out, it was pretty much the same thing. For example, I found a mentor and was in a covenant group before I learned that those things are required. So I called my DS and told her, and she said “Great! If you found something that works for you, run with it.” My calling is to ordained ministry, and the things I figured I would need to accomplish my calling were there to be found in the candidacy process and in seminary. What a deal!

I am so very proud of the eight years of my life between 1999 when I realized my call into ordained ministry and 2007 when I was ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. And I’ve gotta say, it was fracking hard! Of course it was. It was work, it was struggle, it was formation. I’ve heard people complain about that length of time, but I don’t. I’m grateful to have had that time to prepare.

I’m not saying Deacons and Elders are better than anyone else. This is not an either/or deal here. I’m not saying “licensed/commissioned/ordained” implies “smarter” “stronger” “bigger” or “better” or anything like that. It is just a particular role in the ministry of Christ accomplished through his body, the church. It is a role to which God called me, and I am fulfilled in it, and (I have to confess) proud of the journey I took in order to get here.

And I’m also not saying that after my eight years of candidacy/seminary work, I have finally “arrived” and there’s no more work to be done. Far from it; one of the most astonishing things about going through the process is realizing just how much I don’t know and still need to learn.

And another thing I’m not saying is “Don’t change the process.” I think the process toward ordination can and should be transformed - always reforming, if you will. I am saying don’t make it easier and don’t make it shorter just for the sake of convenience. I don’t want my doctor to have gone through a process that was quick and easy, just so that she could become a doctor sooner and at a younger age; nor would I want my pastor to.

If the process needs to be transformed, let’s get real about doing it. But if all we’re going to do is complain about how long and difficult it is, count me out.

Cross posted here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Please Keep Kenya in Prayer

My dear friend Edna forwarded me this email from a Kenyan friend:

Hi Friends,
Hope this correspondance find you all safe, well and healthy as we are.
I have been in touch with my famliy in Kenya and so far all but one have been spared the harsh reality there... my brother Emmanuel.

He has been robbed by policemen who beat him with those big sticks they carry for no apparent reason at all. He has been robbed at gun point but all in all he will live to see another day. Right now am unable to keep intouch with him over the phone because that to was stolen... That is the scary news yet we still pray for peace and common sense to return to Kenya. He will be okay. Pray earnestly for peace and calm to return to Kenya. I am trying to pretend that I am okay and do what i have to do.
I also pray that one day our leaders to be held accountable for their actions and utterances of insighting others to voilence. I wish that Justice to be cherished in Kenya. Right now the one thing many Kenyans long for the most is Justice. A system that gurantees every Kenya there legal rights. anyway...


Anyway i found this educative article on BBC website that i request you all read to comprehend the reason behind the chaos and voilence in Kenya. I am encouraged by such article because it does not protray Kenyan as other articles have. This one tries to shed light on the root cause of the problem and some solution to the current problems. And the danger of Democracy in a communal society.
Go to the link below:


Julius is a person in turmoil. "Anyway ... anyway ... anyway..." To know that his brother, on the other side of the world, has been beaten and robbed; to wonder if others in his family will be safe; to visualize his home being torn to shreds by senseless violence - we cannot begin to fathom what it must feel like.
Edna wrote:

Dear Andy,
I am so sad and discouraged. I knew Emmanuel had been robbed but I didn't know he had been beaten. Emmanuel is brothein-law of Sarah who was at church with me Sunday and father of Francie that I recently wrote about in my blog. Maybe it will all be settled in some distant future time but my friend had been beaten and I can't help but be very, very sad.
I keep praying.

Please pray with Edna and Julius a prayer for peace. Please pray for Emmanuel and for Sarah and for Francie. Please pray for justice and peace and calm to prevail in Kenya. I feel like Julius sometimes, like I have to "pretend that I am okay" and just go on with life, you know?

And honestly I feel like sometimes I wish that I just didn't know Edna, so that then I wouldn't know people she knows, so this issue would remain an abstract, other-side-of-the-world news article that I hear vaguely mentioned every now and then. It would be so much easier then, so much neater, so much less intrusive. I could just categorize "Kenya" in a list of "global concerns" that we ought to stay aware of and wring our hands about.

But damn it, I do know Edna, and she does know people who are scared and hurting and almost frantic with worry about what might happen next. Because they hurt, Edna hurts, and because Edna hurts, I hurt. I saw her last night at church. I asked her how she was and she said, "Pretending."

I guess one good thing is that we can all hurt together while we pretend everything's okay, huh?

picture above is from the website of Soulfari Kenya

Addendum (1/18): To clarify, I love Edna dearly and do not regret knowing her in the slightest! When I reread this post this morning, I realized there may be room for misinterpretation there. It may have been clearer to have written: "Sometimes I wish that I could pretend I just didn't know Edna..." I am so happy to know Edna, and I am a better person because I do. (Love you, Edna!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ministers' School

After Tim Keel presented on Tuesday, Ministers' School for me kind of went into auto-pilot. I was there, but more focused on managing the logistics, keeping things together, and doing my thing as chair of the board rather than actively participating in the school itself. However I did manage to snag a few bits and pieces from the other presenters.

We had Robert Martin from Saint Paul School of Theology lead morning Bible study Wednesday and Thursday. He took us through Paul's visit to Athens in Acts chapter 17. He noted how Paul had visited the city, getting to know his context, and observing the people's lives. Paul then went to them - into the marketplace - and "met them where they were" to talk with them about Jesus. In this way, Robert said, Paul was able to make Jesus incarnate for the people of Athens - which is what the church needs to do in our own particular contexts today.

Another of our presenters was Craig Miller, from the General Board of Discipleship. If you want to hear a rather standard, "party line" presentataion on church growth ideas, Craig Miller is your guy. After all, he is pretty much the denominational church growth person in his role on the GBOD. And his presentation was jarringly different from Tim Keel. While Tim said to emerge from within particular context, Craig generalized about churches and generations. While Tim cautioned against reductionism, Craig presented lists of things. While Tim said fruitfulness is what happens naturally, Craig said here is what fruitfulness should look like. I will say this, however: we got to play Guitar Hero on the big screen, which was pretty cool.

Our last presenter was Susan Cox-Johnson, who shared some of her thoughts about how the Emergent movement of today is kind of rooted in the Wesleyan movement of way back when. I confess that I was pretty busy during her talk, and so I didn't get too many details (sorry, Susan) - but I do remember how she compared Wesley's field preaching with the Emergent movement by making the claim that John Wesley was adapting his ministry to the context, and trying to figure out the best way to preach the Gospel in a new way so that it would be heard. Here's some more about her presentation.

Bishop Schnase led a little session that was supposed to be "Conversation with the Bishop" but kind of turned into a presentation by the Bishop instead. No big deal, it is always good to hear what Bish Schnay-Z is reading these days. His sermon during closing worship used the metaphors of sculling and white water rafting to illustrate what it's like to try to do church one way when the context really calls us to do things another way. As in, it would really hard to row a scull down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. He used time, but I would use context. Whereas his message was about how at one time sculling was a good enough model, now we have to white water raft. I might say that sculling works some places and other places necessitate rafting. And in fact, at our congregation's planning retreat Saturday afternoon, I did! (That's right, I stole it. And I'd do it again!)

With the end of this school, my two-year term as Chair of the Board ended, and now I am Dean of the School. (My Grandfather told me yesterday he was Dean of Missouri Ministers' School in the mid-1950s, which is kind of cool.) Instead of logistics and details, I'll be responsible for content and faculty. I've got to say, I'm pumped!

Next year:
"Gutenberg 2.0: Proclaiming the Gospel in the Information Age"
Faculty (so far):
Tony Jones, Debra Mason, Billy Reeder
Main ideas:
Just like the printing press did 500 years ago, digital technology has given people access to more information and means of communication than ever before. We know about text messages, online social network sites, streaming video feeds, and such - but what effect do these media have on the message? What does it mean to tell someone that God loves them via a text message? What does it mean to share Christian fellowship via a Facebook group? What does the doctrine of incarnation look like through a computer screen? Can my laptop be an icon through which I encounter the divine?

These kinds of questions (and more!) will frame Ministers' School in 2009, and I for one can't wait!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is Ministry the New Idolatry?

I'm at Missouri Ministers' School this week.

Tim Keel said this afternoon that we worship our ministries, and the way he said it was basically saying we are guilty of idolatry. His point was that we attach so much importance to the programs that they become the most important thing, far more important that the faith they are supposed to nurture, not to mention the God they are supposed to serve.

Congregations spend (waste) a lot of time trying to put programs into place rather than allowing things to come up from within the people. It seems like we see the "success" of a congregation and immediately try to emulate it in our own context. Not emulate - duplicate. So we say that what we need here is such-and-such a program and then we bring in someone to do it and try to make it fit our context.

Does your congregation worship it's ministries? Have the things you do become more important than what you are?

That's not to say that we cannot learn from other congregations. We need to hear the stories of other congregations, if not to simply do what they do, then to understand how they do what they do and grow from that. We are connectional; collaborative. Tim Keel's word is "postures." We adopt postures toward life, and it is these postures which we can learn from others.

If we adopt a "posture of availability," we set the stage for the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that is impossible if we try to artficially impose a program or a ministry from another place onto our context. The trick is to stay open, stay "available," stay on the lookout for where God might me moving next, and remember that it might very well be in our midst.

There was more to Tim's presentation, but that idea really caught my attention. Tomorrow we hear from Robert Martin from Saint Paul School of Theology and Craig Miller from the General Board of Discipleship. I'll write more later about what they have to say.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Prayers for Kenya

The violence in Kenya has a face for us here in North Kansas City. Last summer, a member of our congregation travelled there on a mission trip to serve at the Missionaries of Charity home for disabled and abandoned children and women and in the autism unit at an elementary school. She kept a blog and you can read about her experience there.

Edna has been in contact with some of her friends in Kenya, and they are alive, but it is very dangerous to leave the house still. 300 people are reported killed and 70,000 have been displaced, according to the BBC. We are asking for prayers for all of those innocent ones caught up in between the combatants, and for a just, peaceful resolution to the fighting.

There is such power in relationship, isn't there? Without Edna, the violence in Kenya would be just another abstract news story about a political/ethnic conflict on the other side of the world. And we would still pray for peace and for the safety of all the people, to be sure. But since Edna was there, knows people, has been in contact with them, and has shared and continues to share her experiences with us in the congregation, their story is our story, and their suffering is ours.

Life in Christ is a mystery. How is it that my connection with Edna means that I am also connected with her friends in Kenya? It kind of shrinks the world a little bit, no?