Monday, August 25, 2008

Another August, Another Chapter - Turn the Page

August is time of endings and beginnings in our home.

"Summer," which is to say, the summer break from school comes screeching to a halt. There is a return to "normalcy" (whatever that is in our lives) - of schedule - that comes as a relief for me.

With each new grade comes new opportunities, new challenges.

Two weeks into the school year, and Jack has brought home three notes that "he's having trouble following directions."

Really? Hmmm. Didn't see that one coming. I guess his teacher informs us of this in case we didn't know that about him already. Although I'm not in the classroom when these power struggles occur, I know exactly what's going on. Jacky's teacher was Christopher's way back when. She's learning quickly how different they are.

She, no doubt, in her attempt to assert her appropriate place as the leader in the room, gives an instruction to class that all are to follow.

And all do, save one.

Guess who?

When she focuses more directly on him to comply, he has this look that seems to indicate the following:

"Madam, Princes do not follow orders....they give them."

Yea, welcome to my world, Mrs. Teacher.

And then there's Christopher.

Since his birth, he's had a nickname from me - "Little Bit." Well, it no longer applies. That boy has grown so much in the last year it is frightening. Tall. Thin. A good looking kid. His mother has contributed mightily to his looks.

Can't keep him in pants or shoes. And for a kid who likes, shall we say, the finer things in life, it can become an expensive proposition.

At the cusp of 13 this boy, uh excuse me, young man is coming into his own. He's just made his debut as starting center for the Little Red Devils. The boy looks good, I have to say. No problems delivering the ball to the QB - came off the line and made his block...looking good. He got a phone this Summer. His very own. With some wisdom, we concluded that we might as well purchase the unlimited texting option on our family plan.

First month's bill?

I had 24 text messages for the month.

Christopher? Almost 2,000.

How is that possible?

Andrew is a Sophomore. No longer the rookie at the behemoth of a campus, he knows his way around and scoffs at those stupid freshmen who get in his way. He has just made his debut with the Red Devil Marching Band. I had a lump in my throat as I watched him on the field the other night. He was nervous, but battled through it. In his hands was the horn I marched with. I knew exactly what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

I was so excited for him. Andrew is not a loaner, but never really jumped into "team" activities like Christopher, uh, excuse me, Chris.

Band is a team - and that's good for him.

He's two months away from driving. What do I feel about that? One side of me is relieved to have another driver in the house. The other side is horrified. Welcome to the life of a parent, right?

But there is no time to succumb to the temptation to wallow in the nostalgia of who my children were. The rapids of change are too swift. All I'm left to do is ride them out, give God thanks for the days that are, and navigate, as best I can through them with this profound gift too often and too easily taken for granted -


There may come a time to look back and recall these days. But not today.

Got to go run car pool, cook dinner, help with homework . . .

Monday, August 18, 2008

Of Cones of Silence - My Guess Is That They Missed It By That Much!

I'm thinking Pastor Rick Warren's "purpose" in driving home the notion that the other of the two candidates was in a "cone of silence" during the forum last weekend was to help assure the gathering that all was fair and square - on the up and up.

It's politics...what a naive thought, that.

I watched the forum, there were code words aplenty from Barack and John seeking to score points with the voting block they were courting.

Sometimes Sen. Obama's work at finding the right answer comes off as one searching too hard to find the right words to something that shouldn't be that difficult. Too many "ahhs" and way too many "as I have saids," show someone trying too hard to prove one's self to a skeptical crowd.

Sen. McCain's answers flowed a bit more freely (maybe too freely), and the propensity to tell stories rather than answer difficult questions with difficult answers about difficult issues that perplex our country and our world was way too predictable. And when there was an answer, it was usually a one word, terse response seeming to communicate certainty - and that certainty was way too cut and dried, thereby ignoring the complexities of life in which too many of us are forced to make sense of life in the shades of grey.

But back to the "cone of silence."

Funny thing about "Cones of Silence," and an interesting choice of words by Rick Warren. Forget that "Get Smart" drivel on the big screen this Summer. For those of you too young to remember; one, you make me sick, but two, the television series displayed a mastery at great writing and perfect delivery. The relevance of this world view is staggeringly contemporary. We laugh and cringe all that the same time.

Oh, and "cones of silence," be they contrived or real - we all know how well they work. Ever said "I'm not supposed to tell this, but I trust you so I'm going to tell you, and you can't repeat it, o.k.?"

"Of course," you say in response.

Until, in the company of another "trusted" person, you repeat the "I'm not supposed to tell...." - and then that "cone" is pretty darned cracked.

Yea, cones of silence work about as well as this one . . . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Relative Integrity - Or, Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Russia's wrong, I'm not questioning that. The prospect of the bear reawakening is one that should give the world pause.

But if ever there was a example of the impact of words and actions, this is it.

And it bespeaks a powerful lesson that carries with it a truth that is at once personal and public, relational and geo-political, and ultimately spiritual - one's moral authority to effect clarity and a change in perspective and behavior is muted by one's actions if they are direct conflict

I'm just sayin' - - -

"Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised." Tolstoy

For the latest on our story, let's turn now to the news broadcast of record, "The Daily Show:"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

SCD - In Retrospect

Ahh, home again.

Grand Rapids was a lovely, lovely town. Being there, and then on to Grand Haven and Lake Michigan, were highlights of the trip, no doubt about it.

Having said that, though, I was ready to get home. I had not seen my family in a week, and hadn't seen Christopher and Jack in almost two weeks.

Our reunion was powerful, loving and typical. True gladness to see each other. Hugs and kisses all round, then back to the computer, phone and xbox.

Like I said...Ahh, home again.

The Grand Rapids experience, for all about it that disappointed, offered both clarity and epiphany to my practice of ministry.

As alluded to in previous posts, my disappointment stemmed from several observations. Among them:

  • Events of this sort should model the excellence it posits we who lead congregations must exhibit. This one did not. As the General Boards eval this event, I trust they conclude a split event weakens the message...whatever that message is.
  • A prevailing bias toward a particular approach to church starts and turnarounds that assumes only a certain methodology of being a congregation will make a difference...they said over and over again that context matters most - that may be true, and I believe it is, but they trumpeted one approach above all others.

My clarity and epiphany are two fold. First, I am convinced more than ever that a congregation like the one I serve is essential to the ongoing work of the Realm of God. Granted, it may well be that such a congregation is the only one left for me to serve, and I can live with that - I don't know if they can, but I can.

What does that mean? St. John's, its clergy and laity, all of us, must step it up. We have to continue to seek ways to innovate our worship, our operations, our ministries, our message and our community to make real what we say matters most to us as a congregation.

We have to employ every manner of media at our disposal to communicate with our congregation, network with our partners in the community, and show who we are and what we're about. Website, audio, video, podcasts - everything. And we must excel at doing it.

We have to establish our place in the connectional church by regularly and continually satisfying every expectation of the conference upon us - financially, offering ourselves for conference leadership - and gladly doing so as partners in ministry. As I attended a "teaching church" in Grand Rapids - one in which I did learn quite alot - it occurred to me - I'm serving a "teaching church."

We cannot nor should never be ashamed to announce our Wesleyan distinctiveness as United Methodists. And even though there is plenty about the United Methodist "system" that often confounds and needs to be changed, we stick with it so that we may be architects of reform. At heart, being a Wesleyan is about a particular view of discipleship that is open, loving and accountable. The tranformative character of grace is expressed in our life together and in ministry to and with the least among us.

And finally, we, each of us, must plug in, step up, and do our part to make this thing we love so much, the companions of Jesus, the people called Methodists who worship at Peabody and Bellevue, vital and vibrant for this generation and the next.

We'll do this not because we are desperate for what our future holds - a sentiment that guides too much of this "congregational renewal" business, but because the authenticity of our fellowship, guided by the Spirit and bound by the grace of God through Jesus Christ shines light on the Way of Jesus - to which all are welcomed and all may find sanctuary.

All. Everyone. Period.

The second thing is this -

I come back with thoughts that are beginning to take root - some of which have been germinating for some time - and convictions that were confirmed by my experience in Grand Rapids, and my firm belief that while I didn't get what I expected from the leadership in Grand Rapids, through conversation, discernment, worshipping at a vital urban congregation, I was able to discover what I needed.

I doubt I'll ever go to this event again, but there is value to being away. It's at a distance I can look back over my shoulder and see things with greater perspective. There are times we must pull away to see where we are and where we're going. That alone is something I need to take with me hereon and integrate into the practice of ministry.

It has to be more than a half day. All of us who serve must find times to leave our context completely in order to see it completely.

Why did Jesus retreat to the mountain to pray? Was it to gain perspective...see the big picture...get ready for what needed to happen when he came down? I think so.

So, in retrospect, I'm glad I went.

And I'm bound now with confirmed zeal for who we are becoming - not tomorrow, but today.

Right here. Right now.

Monday, August 04, 2008

SCD - Day Five, Or, "I Once Spent a Year in Grand Rapids One Week"

(GRAND RAPIDS) - I did my due diligence for the morning - even made the plenary.

I heard the Sr. Pastor of the host church in Grand Rapids, Brad. He did a decent job. I was distracted, however, by his attire. This man, who is maybe 10 years older than me was wedged into an American Eagle polo shirt, you know with the big logo all over the front?

Like the one my 12 year old wears?

By wedged, I mean, although he was probably wearing L, he could've taken a XL, or XXL, if you know what I mean.

Between that and his teenager jeans (don't ask) and his old man black shoes - he was a sight.

I "gleaned" some things from his talk that will be helpful, but not earth shattering.

The Core Ministry Session was spent with he and his staff, presumably on "creative worship."

Not so much.

They obviously do some decent things, but when it came to being United Methodist, or sacramental, they hedged - even laughed at each other saying "you want to take that one?"

or, "Is the D.S. in the room?"

She was.

Anyway, after half a day - I'm done.

Going to spend the rest of the time in conversation with the team from the Conference looking at bigger picture questions of what? how? and when? do we implement who we are in our context to renew congregations and start new ones.

That will be time better spent.

Tomorrow? I'll walk, pack and sit at GRR until time to board for MEM.

I'll leave low 80's and breezy for 100's and stifling - and I can't wait.

Closing thoughts - this event has not been a total bust. I must say, however, that for a General Board event, it was subpar. For the cost and effort it takes for people to come from all over to get to location, I expect workshop leaders to be smoking...on their stuff...ready.

I do not want nor need regurgitation of their "new book."

Don't care...I can read myself.

I expect respect for who we are as a church with a diversity of offerings as broad as the opened hearts, minds and doors we claim we have, and not the disproportionate weight being given to produce churches that look like the culture.

I shouldn't have to travel across country to watch a satellite feed from Orlando.

I do believe that innovation is essential..and that was helpful.

But there is a big difference between innovation and revolution.

I shouldn't have to work so hard "gleaning" something to take away from an event like this.

I should be fed, and fed well.

Too much of this required too much work and too much of what was offered was, frankly, unpalatable.

Finally, I'm very encouraged by the passion of those of us who've been here from our parish area, the Memphis Annual Conference. We are focused on different areas of ministry. Maybe it's because we know that Memphis Conference is viewed as the "can anything good come from Bethlehem" contingent in the SEJ, and maybe the whole of the UMC in America.

I know the answer to that. Yes it can. And yes it has.

We don't need to be what we're not. But we do need to be who we are - fully and completely, and yield ourselves to the leading of the Spirit.

That's called being faithful.

And I'm o.k. with whatever happens if we are.

My next post will come from the friendly confines.

From Grand Rapids, I am out.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

SCD - Day Four

(GRAND RAPIDS) - Today was spent at the "teaching church" of our choice. I chose First United Methodist Church, Grand Rapids. It is at the heart of City Center, and has, after a season of renewal, become a vital outreach and evangelistic link for the community.

At last, an experience resonant with my experience and spirit.

They are a radically hospitable congregation in ministry to the city. All are welcome.

Now, here's the sad part.

First UMC wasn't on the original list of "teaching churches."

Mars Hill Church was, and pulled out last minute.

First UMC was pressed into service late in the game and saved this school. Had they not been, no one from this event sponsored by the our General Boards and agencies would have experienced an established, urban centered church. All we would have had was suburban locations, worship centers, platforms and super high tech gadgetry.

There is a place for that - but it isn't the only place where vital, relevant worship and ministry takes place.

Some of God's children need a sanctuary, a pulpit, an actual Communion Table, stained glass and even a pipe organ.

First UMC was such a place. I liked much of what I saw.

There are some things I would have changed.

I didn't like Eucharist as an add on(too many of our congregations do that - by the way, if Word & Table is to be THE normative form for our worship, it can't be an "add on" it must to be central).

There was no confession and peace making.

There was no congregational response in The Great Thanksgiving.

The bread we took was not the bread that was broken ( a no-no for me). And, worst of all, what we took (which is to say it wasn't given) was in baskets cut neatly into squares. I partook of "cubed Jesus."

It's not the stuff of the church that defines them. It's the spirit of authentic welcome. Matters not what your "style" is.

Where authentic hospitality resides, there is the Church.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

SCD - Day Three

(GRAND RAPIDS) - A much better day -

Feeling some extra sleep was more important than the morning plenary - I slept in.

I did attend the next Core Ministry workshop, which was Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John's, Houston.

Compelling story - real - an approach that more readily resonates - and we know some of the same people.

He may well have been the reason I came.

I anticipate more conversation with him before the week is done.

There are ideas coalescing - informed in part from what little bit I've "gleaned," and, some conferencing with trusted colleagues of some areas of focus I'm feeling compelled to explore in the practice of ministry at "my" Saint John's.

And then, the rest of the day.

We travelled to Grand Haven, on Lake Michigan. Beautiful community. They were in the midst of their annual Coast Guard Festival. Hundreds of boats on the water. It was a community celebration and beatiful to watch on a stunningly beautiful day.

And it was here that I got my steps in. Guess I walked at least 3 miles but did so among the masses.

We made it to the beach and it was wonderful. The cool water and sand was too inviting. So, I excused myself from the crew, found my spot, took off shirt, and "sprawled" on the beach. Not sure how long I was out, but I'm pretty red right now - and it's awesome.

Tomorrow, on the Lord's Day, I'm attending the "teaching church" option for worship. I'm going to First UMC, downtown Grand Rapids, an urban church focusing on outreach, spiritual formation and worship. And, they're growing!

Ahh, something familiar, at last!

Friday, August 01, 2008

SCD - Day Two - Or, "Am I That Out of Touch?"

(GRAND RAPIDS) - OK, folks, two days in.

Those who know me at all understand that I expect some level of excellence at events like this.

Thus far, I'm not even getting decent mediocrity.

I'm here because my friend and colleague, Kevin, asked me to come, and because I want to be part of the solution in our Conference, and not the problem, I'm heeding his counsel to glean something of value if I can and let the rest go.

Mark Beeson did the opening plenary. What did I glean? Communication is essential and the means to do it must reach the context of the culture.

Basic? Sure.

Anything of value that was said, however, was overshadowed by a little too much "look at me" for my taste. The videos of how "they do it" amounted to showing off. Polished, highly produced - close to gimmicky, but probably relevant to the under 30 set, no doubt about it.

Feels a bit out of my reach and my style.

However, I will say that some ideas are spinning that I intend to implement around how we communicate.

The next session was on "Creative Preaching." All I'll say about it is that I left halfway in.

Following lunch I attended Dan Glover's "Creating a Discipleship System." I was not familiar with his work until today. I did find it of value and it was probably my best session of the day.

My Ministry Track work, on the L3 Incubator entered day two. I find some value in the methodology, but by the time I got to this session, I was spent, and not really available to contribute much.

I left the day with the strongest sense that this event, which, presumably, represents that "best" of The United Methodist Church's future, has painted a picture of the church that I don't recognize, nor really want to be a part of.

I left thinking, "am I really that out of touch?"

The 14 of us here from the Memphis Conference convened following the day's sessions to process. I'm not alone in my concern. Some are finding more to take away than I have thus far. It is also possible that I've not picked sessions on the menu that represent perpectives more resonant with mine.

A bunch of us travelled downtown for a lovely seafood dinner and conversation at a restaurant in which we sat outside overlooking the river. It was THE highlight of the day - no question.

Got my 2.5 miles in this morning - always a good thing. So the day starts and ends with something good.

With hope that I'll "glean" something tomorrow that I'll hang on to and bring home, I prepare for bed. It's a halfday, and then I'm loading up in the Dodge Charger I've rented and heading west to Lake Michigan for the rest of the day.