Thursday, March 26, 2009

Our Screwed Up Priorities

A bill currently before the Tennessee State Legislature would make "low-riding" your pants a crime. 

This is what the Tennessee Legislature feels is worth its time and energy.

Even though Tennessee has the tenth highest poverty rate in the nation.

Even though Tennessee has the third worst high school graduation rate in the nation.

Even though Tennessee has the eighteenth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation.

Even though poor, rural communities in Tennessee have raging meth epidemics.

Even though Tennessee has some of the worst health care in the nation, including over 200,000 people having recently lost access to any kind of healthcare through cuts in the state health care system, Tenncare. We have no idea how many people have died as a result of these cuts, but some estimates put the number in the hundreds.

I could go on. I could cite lots of different studies with conflicting statistics, but the overwhelming consensus is that our state has major problems: problems so huge that only entities like state and national governments are equipped to handle them. And our elected representatives feel that the best use of their time and our tax dollars is to debate whether kids low-riding their pants like gangster rappers? Imitating silly fashions from rap videos is now an offense against the state?

Is it really any wonder that our state is so behind? Is it any wonder that our region of the country is a national joke?

Please pray for the state of Tennessee. We have a very long way to go.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Madness!!!

The best sporting event of the year (except when the Titans are in the Superbowl) starts today. My alma matter, Butler University, plays LSU in the first game today. Everyone cheer for the Bulldogs, if for no other reason than President Obama picked them in his bracket.

My condolences to all the employers who are losing countless hours of productivity today and tomorrow. You can be comforted by the fact that your customers are as distracted as your employees.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Latest "End Times" Scare

Warning: a rant is about to ensue:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why I Stay in the UMC

Jennifer Smith started a conversation on her blog where she gave her reasons for staying in the UMC. Like most young clergy, I have spent a significant amount of time wrestling with the question of whether to stay in a declining mainline denomination that has as many problems as we do. Ultimately I have decided to stick around, and a few of the reasons are listed below.

1. The UMC in my home. I mean this in several senses. I was baptized, raised, and confirmed in the UMC, and my parents have been active members of the same congregation for nearly twenty years. But theologically I also find myself at home in the UMC because our doctrinal standards always fall back on a very broad sense of God's grace.

2. The UMC is a big tent. United Methodists inhabit the entire spectrum of Protestant Christian theology. We have gung-ho environmentalists, crusaders for all kinds of social justice issues, people who openly wrestle with the divinity of Christ, and people who believe Adam and Eve rode their dinosaurs to church. While we don't agree on much, we do continue to create space for transformational dialogue, and we're the better for it.

3. Connectionalism. This one is a bit of a double edged sword. One of the downsides of a connectional system is an itenerant system that is unsustainable in its present form. But the upside is that pooling our money and other resources together allows us to accomplish more good than any individual church could do. Whenever a disaster occurs, churches are able to put together relief supplies and put them on a truck, knowing they will get to those who are most in need. About a third of every dollar we put in the collection plate goes around the world for various ministries. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

4. We're always trying hard to do better. Some folks wonder why I stick around in a denomination that has such regressive policies toward people of differing sexual orientations. But I can see how far we've come in empowering women in ministry (we still have a very long way to go on that one, though), and I see the changing attitudes in my generation, so I have faith that during my career we will be able to truly be welcoming to all of God's children, and stop discriminating based on traits we can't choose.

These are a few very broad reasons why I stay in the UMC. We're in some very tough days right now, but I believe our best days are ahead of us. God never stops speaking, and I'm hopeful that we'll listen and follow.

Agree? Disagree? Think of some things I left out? Discuss...

update- I got good news today. I will be commissioned as a Provisional Elder at Annual Conference in June. I was turned down two years ago, so being accepted feels very good. More details later.

Friday, March 06, 2009

What is the real role of the clergy?

I've had one of those weeks. You know, one of those weeks where seemingly nothing has gone right. Without going into details or naming names, my week has largely consisted of having to scramble and cover for the fact that other people either didn't do what they were supposed to do or backed out of something they agreed to do. There's no real sense getting mad about it. That's life. Besides, I know for a fact that I've been the source of this same kind of consternation for people on innumerable occasions in the past, so perhaps it's karmic justice.

During times of high stress such as these, it's very comforting to talk to other clergy, who all have similar stories. At the very least, it helps me to know that I'm not the only one with problems. The fact that most other pastors I know spend most of their time planning the ideal way for things to do, then altering those plans when something inevitably goes wrong, makes me wonder about our theological understanding of the role of the pastor.

When you get right down to it, most denominational groups have a rather high ecclesiology (theological understanding of the nature and role of the church), especially when it comes to clergy. High church denominations focus on the sacramental authority of the clergy, whereas low church denominations focus on the pastors' role in bringing the gospel to the masses. Either way, they all have fairly high views of the set apart and unique nature of the role of pastors.

But is that really what clergy spend most of their time doing? One of the most meaningful things I do is presiding at the sacraments of baptism and Communion, but these things take up a relatively small portion of my working hours. I also treasure moments of evangelistic encounter, but again, if I were to categorize my work week, evangelism would only claim a small percentage of my time. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush (I have yet to hear of a preacher who doesn't have that nasty habit), this is more or less true for everyone who is called to ministry as a full time vocation.

So what is it that consumes most of our time? What label gets slapped on the biggest piece of the pie chart? I suggest that it is personality management. To have any kind of success as a minister, you have to have some skills in working with people and knowing how to interact with different personalities.

I heard someone say one time (I can't for the life of me remember where or when) that if everybody just did what they were supposed to do, then we wouldn't need leaders, so the job of a leader is to deal with those (frequent) times when people don't do what they are supposed to. We could pick apart that statement in all kinds of ways, and yet there is a real truth to it. 

If everybody did their work on time, if they all understood their roles and never needed any guidance, if nobody did anything they weren't supposed to, then leadership would be pretty easy. If churches actually functioned that way, the pastor could show up once a week, preach a sermon, and be done. I have a fantastic congregation with many gifted and responsible lay leaders, so some of my best weeks are almost that easy!

But anybody can lead when things are going smoothly. The measure of any leader, clergy leaders included, is shown when nothing is going right. Fortunately, clergy leaders don't just have to rely on the depth of their own gifts and graces. We are called to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit all of the time, and particularly in those moments when chaos seems to reign supreme.

Perhaps my musings here run counter to the rather high ecclesiological views of the role of the clergy espoused by most denominations, but I wonder if our understanding of said role isn't somewhat clouded by these grand, largely esoteric statements. Perhaps an understanding of clerical leadership as personality management would help us better discern the gifts and graces of those who feel the call to vocational ministry.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Happy Birthday, Aunt Alexis!

Kate's Aunt Alexis' (Matt's brother, Andrew's, wife) birthday is today, so we thought we'd record a video greeting for her and everyone to see.

We love you, Alexis!