Saturday, July 14, 2012

Comparing Denominational Gatherings

Taylor Burton Edwards posted a really interesting piece over on emergingUMC contrasting the Episcopal Church's recently wrapped-up General Convention with the United Methodist Church's most recent General Conference. He has a unique perspective because his wife is an Episcopal priest and was a deputy (delegate) to the Convention, while as an employee of the General Board of Discipleship, he was deeply involved in General Conference.

I know the Presbyterian Church (USA) just had their General Assembly, and the tidbits I've heard seem like the tone was as negative as at our General Conference, and I know the Disciples of Christ will have their General Assembly next year, and I hear that their gatherings tend to have a generally positive tone.

I do wonder what it is that makes big denominational gatherings that are each dealing with similar issues such as structure, budget, and human sexuality, take such radically different tones. As Taylor points out in his piece, there were a number of factors over the last four years that fed into the contrasting demeanors of the Episcopal and United Methodist gatherings.

But I also wonder if there might be a more general issue of a sense of denominational identity that plays into the tone of these gatherings? Do the Disciples and Episcopalians get along better because knowing who they are creates a more collegial atmosphere? (Yes, I know the Episcopalians have been at war over sexuality and that many of the more conservative lay and clergy have split off, and will likely continue to do so after the GC)

I'm still sitting on some ideas that I think might make future UMC General Conferences easier, but I'm probably going to wait until after this week's Jurisdictional Conferences are over to share them. This time next week we'll all know who our Bishops will be for the next four years!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Higgs Boson Parable

On Sunday I preached a sermon about parables, expanding the idea beyond just the stories that Jesus told and saying that the Bible, and really all of life, are parables in that they point to a reality that is much greater than themselves. They're things that assist us in trying to wrap our minds around a Truth that is greater than anything we can possibly comprehend.

You can listen to the message here

An illustration I wanted to use, but had to cut for time and to keep the message from dragging was about the recent discovery of the until-now-theoretical Higgs-boson particle.

I don't pretend to understand physics on any level, so forgive me if any of the implications I draw here are in any way incorrect.

The particle in question was suggested to exist in 1964. The hard evidence of its existence seems to have come now, in 2012. That's 48 years between theory and proof.

Jesus talked about the coming reign of God, or baselia tou Theou, but the full realization thereof has not yet come to be. This is 2000ish years of history bet on this theory. Kind of a big gamble.

So Jesus is either wrong, crazy, or some sort of semi-dangerous guy who is more than deserving of public humiliation and execution on a Roman cross (a standard that was quite liberally applied)...

or what he was talking about was a "theory" awaiting "proof".

I use those terms loosely, because Truth and fact are two distinct, if interrelated, things. Indiana Jones says so, after all.

The inadequacies of the analogy aside, the physicists who thought the theory of the Higgs-boson to be of merit invested the time, energy, and finances to build the Large Hadron Collider to achieve proof of the particle's existence.

Likewise, the church has thought Jesus' assertion of the coming reign of God to be of such merit as to invest substantial time, energy, and finances to live out said reality in microcosm in anticipation of its full realization in the entire cosmos.

Yes, the church universal has also spent a lot of time and energy engaged in less-than-worthy pursuits, too. Granted. But...

Those that believed the Higgs-boson existed kept at it until its existence was proven. Those who believe in the reality of the baselia tou Thou keep at it until its truth is not proven by empirical evidence in the way science is able to provide, but the full indwelling of said Truth where the rules that we always thought applied are shown to be false, and the rules of the Kingdom of God are shown to be the ultimate Truth.

This is what Jesus is suggesting in the parable of the farmer sowing seeds. He does is part, but he "knows not how" the ultimate result comes to be. The harvest he reaps is the product of his effort combined with elements and forces far beyond his control.

This discovery of the existence of the Higgs-boson particle does not somehow empower its effect on particle physics. Likewise, the full realization of the reign of God does not somehow empower its effect on the cosmos. It's been there the whole time, we just finally came to realize it.

Sub-atomic particle or meta-Truth, it's not-yet-really-yet-kinda-sorta the same.

May we all stand in awe of that which we are learning and that which we can't possibly comprehend.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Desert of Compassion

Here's a word I needed today:

What is my new desert? The name of it is compassion. There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion. It is the only desert that shall truly flourish like the lilly. It shall become a pool, it shall bud forth and blossom and rejoice with joy. It is the desert of compassion that the thirsty land turns into springs of water, that the poor possess all things. There are no bounds to contain the inhabitants of this solitude in which I live alone, as isolated as the Host on the altar, the food of all men, belonging to all and belonging to none, for God is with me, and He sits in the ruins of my heart, preaching His Gospel to the poor.
~Thomas Merton, Nov. 29, 1951
from Merton's journals, vol 2- "Entering the Silence", p. 463

Merton wrote this six months in to his tenure as Master of Scholastics (supervising the education and spiritual formation of new monks), reflecting on how hard it was for him to be responsible for so many people and how he knows he frequently messes up.

I am a year into being the pastor of a church with a staff and a daycare center. This is a new role for me and I'm getting used to being responsible for so many people in the dual role of their supervisor and their pastor. I feel pretty good about how it's gone overall, but I know I've made mistakes and I will continue to, since I'm human.

The only way for me to have any kind of success in this role is to spend lots of time in the desert of compassion, letting it empty me of myself and filling me up with grace that is far beyond my ability to conjure up on my own.

So thanks for this word today, Father Merton. I needed it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion- Mission Trip Edition

My latest article, "Mission Trip High: Keeping it Going or Leaving it There" is up on Ministry Matters.

In it, I question the idea of "bringing it home" from a mission trip or conference experience and argue that pastors and youth leaders need to adjust the expectations we put on youth for when they come back  from these experiences.

Feel free to post comments on the article page itself or here on the blog.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Crackhouse Church?

Pete Rollins, as he often does, delivers a simultaneously scathing and inviting critique of church. I have an article that will be on Ministry Matters later this week making a similar critique of  or orientation toward mission trips and conferences.

Crack House Church from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Most Interesting Pastor in the World

Lately I've been noticing more and more gray hair on my head and in my beard, and the rate at which they appear seems to be increasing.

On the one hand, this is encouraging, because receding hairlines run in my family. On the other, I'm only 31!

It occurred to me today that, if the current rate of exponential grayness continues, I will look less like Ricky Gervais

And more like "The Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials
(here is a current photo for comparison's sake)

So sooner or later I may make a video or two where I play "The Most Interesting Pastor in the World"

I posted this on my Facebook page earlier, and several friends have already suggested several attributes or quotes (Google it if you're not familiar with the commercials). Here are some of the better ones:

"I don't always serve communion, but when I do, I prefer Welch's"

"I don't always use online commentary, but when I do, I prefer Ministry Matters. Keep exegeting my friends."

He's so Wesleyan, he makes John Wesley look like John Calvin.

Mosquitos will not bite him during camp meetings out of sheer respect.

He wrote another 30 verses of "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"

The ushers come forward at his altar calls

He once preached by staring at the congregation with his piercing blue eyes

Let's see how creative the blogosphere is. Best "Interesting Pastor" line gets a shout out on this blog and the respect of your peers.