Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoughts on the Beginning of General Conference

The United Methodist Church's quadrennial (every four years) General Conference begins today in Tampa, FL. Four years ago I did a daily blog recap, but that was before I had small children, so don't look for anything like that this time. I will probably do some intermittent commentary along the way, though.

My friend Jay Vorhees is coordinating social media coverage at GC, which you can check out over on the Metho-blog.

Before I give some opinions, let me say that I am so happy that our conference's clergy delegation is being led by Rev. Harriet Bryan, who I had the opportunity to get to know when I was serving in the Clarksville district. She has a peaceful and loving spirit that I hope will be shared by every delegate these next ten days. Were I a delegate, my passions on certain issues would not allow me to be terribly objective or as receptive to others' views as Harriet will be able to be.

There seem to be three major issues that will consume much of the time an energy of the delegates: the structure of the global church and the general agencies, the nature of the order of Elder, and, of course, human sexuality.

I don't have too many thoughts on the global structure, other than not wanting to see friends who work for General Agencies lose their jobs, but there is a need for our structures to be more efficient and effective, but I have no idea if any of the plans put forth will actually accomplish that.

Having just been admitted to the order of Elder, I do think there need to be some changes. Our current itinerant system is based on the idea of male clergy whose spouses to not work outside the home, and churches that all have parsonages for their pastor to live in. Neither of these things is the case anymore.

I lived in a parsonage in my last appointment, and my wife commuted 100 miles round-trip every day for four years. Modern, two career families cannot be expected to spend the time and money that requires and remain healthy families.

At issue is ending the appointment security for Elders, which doesn't personally bother me, but I'm a white heterosexual male. I won't be rejected by any church simply based on my race, gender, or sexual orientation. My age has given a few people reservations, but I'll be an old white guy soon enough. I have female and non-caucasian friends and colleagues who would be made much more vulnerable by ending appointment security, and I think we have to take that into serious consideration.

Ending appointment security also opens up the opportunity for a bishop to abuse the power of appointment as it is currently structured. Let's say Joe Pastor has been serving for 30 years, is the sole breadwinner for his family, and has lived in parsonages the entire time, and thus having built up no equity the way homeowners do. What happens if Joe gets on the wrong side of Bishop X and Joe is left without an appointment, effectively putting him and his family out on the street?

That's a worst case scenario, of course, but I don't think it's out of the question.

Something needs to be done to help ineffective Elders transition into a new career, but the one sided approach on the table right now doesn't seem like it will solve the issue, but simply consolidate more power in the office of the bishop without the protections that make for a mutually beneficial relationship between clergy and conference.

I don't, however, think we should go to a call system the way many other denominations do. Some kind of hybrid model needs to be developed that involves more consultation, and perhaps more open-ended appointments replacing the current year-to-year format.

Regarding human sexuality, I'm on the record saying that I do not believe that same-sex attraction is sinful, nor is acting on that attraction in a committed monogamous relationship. I am for full marriage equality in the eyes of both the church and the government.

With respect to colleagues whose convictions have led them to other conclusions, I do not feel that this injustice requires civil disobedience at this time. In other words, although I want to, I will not perform any same sex weddings at this time because of my covenant to uphold the Discipline. I want the Discipline to change.

Furthermore, I do not believe that being gay disqualifies people from ordained ministry.

(As a quick aside, this has not always been my take on these issues. If anyone is interested, I will happily share how my views have evolved over time)

My ideal scenario would have General Conference removing these barriers to begin to heal much of the harm we have done to our brothers and sisters of sexual orientations other than hetero.

But I know that's not going to happen all at once. So I do hope that, at the very least, the General Conference will add the acknowledgement to the Discipline that people of genuine faith come down on different sides of this question..

Four years ago, such a statement made it out of committee, but was narrowly voted down on the floor of General Conference after several individuals got up and started speaking in ways that came across as both hateful and hurtful. Whether they meant it to sound that way is not for any of us to judge. But I do hope that if similar things happen this time, there will be delegates brave enough to stand up and challenge harmful words spoken in the name of Christ.

For those who made it to the bottom of this post, thank you for listening to me get on my soapbox. If you have different opinions, please feel free to express them in a respectful manner. I believe the only way for us to move forward is to talk with one another, not at one another.

Above all, please pray for the General Conference, the delegates, and the United Methodist Church. We have a lot of big challenges facing us, and the events of the next ten days could help or harm our attempts to face them, or we could simply kick the can down the road four more years. Again.

Let's stay tuned to see what happens.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Here we go... again

Six years ago (and some change- it was the beginning of Lent) I started this blog, and the very first post was on the eve of the launch of a new worship experience at Crievewood UMC, called The Gathering.

Now I'm writing this post on the eve of the launch of a new worship experience at Arlington UMC, called The Road.

Back in 2006, I was still in seminary and serving as an associate pastor, I was 25, I was engaged to be married to Jessica that fall, and being part of creating The Gathering was the biggest thing I'd done in my very young career in the church.

Now I'm on my third appointment, and second stint as lead pastor. I'm married and have two kids, I'm 31, and my career in the church is still fairly young. While this service is a big deal, I've had enough experience to put this in perspective, and it won't keep me from sleeping tonight the way it did six years ago.

I still have the same haircut and facial hair, although it's got quite a bit more grey than it did then. The events of the last six years have had a bit to do with that...

I'm not sure that I really have a point in making this comparison, but it is interesting to see how I experience basically the same thing very differently at a different point in my life. Perhaps I'll have some profound observation by this time tomorrow.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion: Audio Edition

Jessica and I are on the latest Ministry Matters podcast discussing why young people leave the church, why they come back. We focus quite a bit on theology, style, and intangibles.

Speaking of podcasts, Arlington UMC continues to podcast our weekly messages. Our Easter Sunday message, "Everything Changes" is the latest episode, which is embedded below.

 If you're so inclined, click on over to our sermon.net page, (sermon.net/arlington), and check out the series we did during Lent, "How I Saw It", which featured monologues from the perspective of people who encountered Jesus in his earthly ministry. Scott Myrick and Diane Bearden-Enright gave particularly good performances as The Centurion and the Woman Caught in Adultery, respectively.

While I've got your attention, Arlington's new worship experience, The Road, begins this Sunday at 5pm. Check out our Facebook and Twitter feeds for all the latest info, photos, etc.

As always, comments and discussion are highly encouraged.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Passing Over into Freedom

(Note- I'm using Lent and Easter Wisdom from Thomas Merton as my Lenten devotional this year, and the entries go through the first week of Easter. I'll be blogging the journaling prompts most days.)

Easter is not a day to be compared to the Fourth of July, although in truth it is a celebration of our Christian freedom. Each time we participate in the sacred mysteries, the Pascha Domini (The Passover of the Lord), we die with Christ, rise with him, and receive from him the Spirit of promise who transforms us and unites us to the Father in and through the Son. ~Seasons of Celebration, p. 144.

How is every day of your life an experience of Easter?

I tend to get way more anxious than I should, and so for much of my life I've woken up and immediately been consumed about all the tasks I have to do that day. I viewed these things as an obligation and drew a whole lot of my self-worth from if and how well I accomplished all those tasks.

Guess how often that came out positively at the end of the day? Not very often.

The problem with the attitude that says, "I have to do this. I have to do that" is that it assumes that I have not choice in the matter, that I'm somehow under the control of all these outside forces that care nothing for me and how I feel.

But what are the obligations I have each day? Largely, they are the obligations I have to my wife and children, to my congregation and my denomination, and to other projects or friendships I'm involved in. I have all of those things because I chose to enter into them. I may not have fully understood what it would require to make these relationships work when I first entered into them, but I wasn't naive enough to think that I would never need to do something I wouldn't otherwise do for the greater good.

I could, if I wanted to, walk away from these relationships at any moment because I don't want to do certain things to maintain them. But I choose to do so because I value them and the consequences of throwing those relationships away are so much worse than the annoyance or discomfort I may experience in doing the things I wouldn't otherwise do.

That may sound cynical, but I really do believe that everything we do is a choice, even when it's something we feel like we're obligated to do, or we have to do.

The freedom of Easter is like this. Every day I wake up knowing that I have the opportunity to be a disciple of Jesus. Yes, there was a point in time when I decided that this was going to be a major part of my life, and another point in time where I began to explore the possibility that my vocation would be in a religious institution. But I still make those choices every day.

I choose (most of the time) to deal graciously with people and situations that aggravate me when I might otherwise say a few choice words that I know would be hurtful.

I choose to spend long hours working on church programs and composing sermons, when I know I could phone it in and still produce something decent.

I choose (again, most of the time) not to yell at Kate when she asks for candy and ice cream without having touched her dinner even though she knows darn well she's not going to get it.

Easter shows us that God is willing to give us the ultimate gift: himself, even when we had done nothing to deserve it and didn't necessarily ask for it. God asks for us to do the same: give ourselves in return, but will not withdraw the gift if we don't respond in kind. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more, and nothing we can do to make God love us any less. So every day we have is a day of freedom, a day full of choices as to how to respond to the gift of Easter.

At the end of the day, let's all try to look back over how we responded. What did we do well? How did we mess up? Let us choose to learn from the choices we made this day, and let it inform how we freely choose to respond to grace the next day.

That's what God really wants. God wants us to choose to give ourselves, and we can't genuinely make that choice without freedom.

So how will you use your God-given freedom today?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Good News for Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the great pause between the dark, lonely, painful hours of crucifixion and death, and the first light of Easter morning where the stone has rolled away, the body is gone, and we see that the whole game just changed.

I'll leave it to Tony Campolo to help remind us what time it is.

May this Holy Saturday be restful for you, and may you experience the joy of Resurrection tomorrow and for all time.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday- Visiting the Scene

Instead of writing a post pontificating on the significance of Jesus' suffering and crucifixion (I'm trying to finish my Easter sermon today), I'm simply going to post some photos from Greek Orthodox Calvary Chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem- the place that has been venerated as the sight of Jesus' crucifixion and Resurrection for at least seventeen centuries.

 However you choose to remember this day, I hope you have a blessed Easter experience.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Time to Turn to God

(Note- I'm using Lent and Easter Wisdom from Thomas Merton as my Lenten devotional this year. I'll be blogging the journaling prompts most days.)

All the faithful should listen to the word as it is announced in the liturgy or in Bible services and respond according to their ability. In this way, for the whole church, Lent will not be merely a season simply of a few formalized penitential practices, half-understood and undertaken without interest, but a time of metanoia, the turning of all minds and hearts to God in preparation of the Paschal Mystery in which some will for the first time receive the light of Christ, others will be restored to the communion of the faithful, and all will renew their baptismal consecration of their lives to God in Christ. ~Seasons of Celebration, p. 114

What word or phrase- a mantra, like "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me"- as you pass over these last days toward Easter?

I find it very meaningful to use the phrase, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" as a breath prayer (repeated over and over in my mind while breathing in and out), because saying along with the rhythm of breathing reminds me that continually seeking God's grace and mercy is the rhythm of the life of a Christian.

But this question made me think of something else today. Forty four years ago today, in Memphis, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed while in town supporting a sanitation worker's strike. The night before, he preached an eerily prophetic final sermon.

So, to paraphrase Dr. King, the mantra that comes to my mind today is "we will get there". I get so easily discouraged when I turn on the news or talk to people who seem convinced that there are not enough resources for all people to have a full, healthy life, that destructive wars are inevitable, or that people will never change.

So as I am preparing to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection on Easter morning, I have to keep repeating "we will get there" so I can preach it with this kind of conviction.

Sunday, April 01, 2012


If every tongue was still, the noise would still continue.
The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!

Happy Palm Sunday. Even in the midst of how somber most of Holy Week is, may you know the joy of Jesus coming and anticipate the Resurrection to come.