Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Finding Ways to Create New Templates

How does an Indian teen from Boulder CO who thinks he's, in his words- "white," come to grips with imparting his Asian heritage, sound, and voice upon his beloved "native" (he's always known the US as home and thoroughly American) music- jazz??

While studying jazz at North Texas Mahanthappa realized he didn't "fit" in the African American or white populations. Rudresh Mahanthappa has created something that is more than a simple East meets West. Mahanthappa studied with Kadri Gopalnath, a master of South Indian Carnatic music. As the NPR piece describe "with Indian music is there is no harmony — there's only melody and rhythm," Mahanthappa says. "What my vocabulary is informed by is a lot of harmonic stuff. It comes from the fact that you can play this chord, and you can play this chord on top of it." So, Mahanthappa wrote pieces that accommodated both approaches. For more of the story and sound check out

What I love about this is the FUSION!

Wow, crazy energy, and power as old tools and techniques are coming together in fresh expressions. I wonder what this means for the Church? I'm curious about the possibilities as THIS generation experiences and reflects the Risen Christ in the here and now. There is a tremendous place for experimental Christianity today which expresses similar convergence and energy while retaining the very best of the "old" and engaging the "new."

2009-- Here we come!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review of the Year--- American Religious Thought

"In fact, on the question in the Pew survey about what it would take to achieve eternal life, only 1 percent of Christians said living life in accordance with the Bible. "

Did that get your attention?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a survey in June which they reissued in August with more specific questions- even naming various religions.

"Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus."

But wait, there's more...

The stranger stat shows that 42% felt atheism would lead to eternal life. I'd love to know the reasoning behind the green light vote for those who don't even believe in heaven!! The report says "One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith." Which gets opinion editor Charles Blow to posit a view that sounds like heaven as an extension of the good ol' U.S. of A.

And that's NOT all!

There are some other VERY interesting views that you may want to check out. This is worth consideration by the church, not to get into arguments, but to think about where people honestly are in life and their thinking. Postmodern? You betcha! Totally Americanized worldview? Oh yeah! But it's the reality of our times. And the church needs to figure out how to be true to our calling while engaging relationships with people (the masses) outside the church.

For more of Charles M. Blow's insightful op-ed piece see
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/opinion/27blow.html?_r=1&em

For the full report (which I'd advise) see http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=380

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Moment for Epiphany

Here’s an older Epiphany hymn now deleted from the United Methodist hymnal:

“Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning”

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Shall we then yield him, in costly devotion,
odors of Edom, and offerings divine,
gems of the mountain, and pearls of the ocean,
myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
vainly with gifts would his favor secure,
richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

WORDS: Reginald Heber, 1783-1826; Matthew 2:1-11 MORNING STAR
MUSIC: James P. Harding, c. 1850-1911 11 10.11 10

Published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church; PO Box 340003; Nashville TN 37203-0003; telephone 877-899-2780, ext. 7070; web site http://www.umcworship.org

Lyrics and music at
http://www.gbod.org/worship/music/brightestandbest-MH400.pdf

Sunday, December 28, 2008

College Sunday Worship & Great Christmas/Epiphany Music

We have a lot of college students home for the holidays. That means the FULL BAND in worship. Now we aren't typically one of those types of churches :) though the youth and some of the special Sundays often finds a variety of musicians leading worship. But today was the full sound, and I confess I LOVE IT! I appreciate that the church is open to this, is VERY encouraging of our young adults in their sharing, and that the young adults are so eager to share Christ through music. You see, the church encourages people to share their faith, even when the style may be different we appreciate that the story of God's work is continuing and that our children and grandchildren are in fact passionate about this!

I also found a depth of the Christmas story and of theology today that I didn't expect. It's a challenge to share the story as BOTH the gift of God AND maintain our role in response and in continuing to share in that story and work. This song managed to do that quiet well.

"Let Us Be"
Dyba/Hurst

The heavens rang with praise the night You were born;
A longing world beheld the Savior come.
You lived to bring us peace, You died to make us free
That we would live to show eternal love.
Because You came our hearts proclaim

Chorus:
Let us be joy to the world let us be peace on the earth,
That all would sing "Come let us adore Him."
Let us be wonders of heavenly grace, hope and love
That all would sing "Come let us adore Him."

Our everything we give, far as the curse is found,
To be a light, bright shining in the east.
In darkness and despair, we will meet broken there
And guide them to the foot of Mercy's seat.
So let our lives reveal Your light

Chorus

Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace
Merciful, Father of Life Everlasting

Chorus

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas for A Denomination

New birth, or God's gift to the world, comes to us through Jesus the Christ, yet may manifest the Spirit in all sorts of ways today. I'm thinking that while a local church might get this that many denominations are stuck in old ways. Lo and behold, I have found a wise man (George Bullard) who gives guidance which has many matches with what I've been suspecting, questioning, and puzzling over the last few days. Perhaps as those of us in leadership positions have opportunities to help create new realities for our beloved denominations we will create stronger, healthier structures which will do even greater good for God and for people in the days to come. I think the tool below captures many truths which may help create a bridge from what we have been to what we must become.

Answer these questions of your denomination and see how you score:

http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal/files/can_denominations_thrive_in_the_21st_century.doc

Another strong example of denominational leadership required to build a bridge to the future in this tough economic, and culturally challenging time is courtesy of another wise man named Bill Easum. http://easumbandy.com/fileadmin/free_resources/word_docs/Workbook-proofed.doc

Easum has insights into what he finds isn't working anywhere in the U.S. with Natural Church Development being one of the recent fads noted. A key to growth that he offers is the good common sense of competent, passionate pastors who have the support of their denomination; an emphasis on the judicatory supporting the church with major role as that of resourcing the congregations; church planting serving as a major part of the effort; as well as other factors which seem consistent with what I've work in the local church setting.

Relevant to some of my recent questioning I find Easum helpful when he suggests:

"Streamlining the Judicatory Bureaucracy. Those judicatories who are cutting back on overhead and investing most of income back into the churches before they are forced to by dwindling numbers are at the forefront of much of the transformation and reproduction uncovered in this study. One example is Central Baptist Association (Phoenix).
On-going, on-the-job training and coaching is found in every one of the growing judicatories in this study. The training, however, isn’t done by armchair theologians but by people who have actually grown churches. Most of the growing judicatories either have a person set aside for the oversight or they have contracted with an outside consultant to give oversight. Much of the training is in reading the signs of the times and making the appropriate adjustments or metamorphosis."

It sounds like some of these actions might be gifts which would bring Christmas to a denomination.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas E-Letter From an Old Friend

It's funny to think of Cameron as an "old" friend. He's a young man, still likely in honeymoon status since they haven't been married a year yet, and one who grew up in the youth group at a church I served. So, he sends an e-mail newspaper to share stories and pictures of their life and location now. I was surprised to find he was doing so much with music. I especially like how "real" his songs sound, and the lyrics which catch my interest. Keep following the way Cameron where ever it takes you.

In the meanwhile, you might enjoy checking out his work at http://corydwatson.com/cameronjones/podcast/

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Youth Mission in Nassau, Bahamas June 21-27



North Georgia United Methodist (and other conference) Youth groups are encouraged to attend a great international mission camp in Nassau, Bahamas June 21-27. This offers a great location in mission with local Haitians & Bahamians, Methodist youth from across the US, & worship leadership from Terry Carty & Youth Worker Movement friends. It will offer a perfect youth venue as we hope to have 600 missioners! We'll provide a great international youth mission with all the details taken care of and experienced youth ministers and missioners to help your church or district youth group have a transformational experience. Sign up directly through this link or send me your questions.

I'll look forward to working with you in Nassau!




Monday, December 22, 2008

Effective Congregations in Mission for God

My recent observations about U.S. religious denominational life in comparison to the Big 3 reorganization has had much focus on the necessary priority of a local congregation. As the years have gone by denominational advocates have lost sight of this, so that agency budgets continue to mount, administrative officers & staff continue to grow, and in general the denomination and the agencies pull more finances out of the congregations.

See Bishop Willimon's emphasis on a missional church at http://willimon.blogspot.com/2008/12/effective-churches.html. I think he reflects a fair expectation for a congregation and its leadership (clergy & laity), and I especially appreciate the broader sense of mission and ministry which necessarily engages the local community. If that is the appropriate expectation of the congregation then how must the bishop, the conference, and the denomination (and all of the denominational entities) encourage and advance this work of the local congregation?

This would be a true connectional denominational effort as EVERY layer of the denomination would have focus on ministry in a local context. Imagine the seminaries, the national denominational agencies, the conference bishop and ministry offices, and the district offices of a denomination all networked to encourage and facilitate such ministry as a witness to Jesus Christ! Our work would be interdependent upon the calling, the effectiveness, and the blessings of God at every level, and we'd have clear connections at every level. This would be a church model of denominational life, and not an institutional business model. Leadership at denominational levels would be adept at coaching for ministry effectiveness. Such leadership would be chosen with that ministry supervision and coaching expectation as a priority in mind.

Such effectiveness also has financial implications. A denominational emphasis on effective congregations might not ask how much the denomination or agency needs, but how much the denomination and agency could give to help the congregation be more effective in ministry. Sending 15% of the finances away from the local congregation should not be an expectation in a normal year. In a time of economic recession or depression this certainly can not be the case. A local congregation is not a franchise which must pay its dues. A denominational tithe for mission and ministry beyond the local church is understandable; anything beyond that should be seen as a voluntary offering which is received with humility and gratitude. Certainly we shouldn't expect clergy effectiveness is based primarily on institutional giving! One might be a fine "company man/woman" and supportive of the institution, but should good clergy be penalized if their church does not pay it's denominational dues?

It would be interesting to see again what Bishop Willimon might state as the duties of the district office, the conference office, the seminary, and the denominational offices to facilitate and empower the local congregation in their ministry effectiveness. I think such a reordering of our conference life and denominational life could be our own modern day reformation. Having just received The Financial Commitment of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012 http://www.gcfa.org/fs_FCB.html & thinking about the year ahead in my local congregation I can only hope this new day comes sooner rather than later.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Time for Denominational Restructuring?

I'm about to finish up some vacation days which have been spent on organizing my garage and shed, and thinking about the Big 3 bailout. My personal challenge has been to understand what this means to the church, the Church, and any denomination. I still confess that while I see some opportunity for the church in this type thinking I also recognize MANY challenges. Perhaps you have some answers from your experience or might be part of the conversation in your denominational context to restructure your denomination to "lose the fat" and become more of what God requires and people today need.

Here's an interesting article about IBM restructuring which offers a totally different approach than the Big 3 forced restructuring. They are responding, NOT so much out of fear, but with an emphasis of focus on what they do well AND emphasis on the opportunity of the day.

I like the way the CEO Sam Palmisano puts it. He says, "you can retrench, pull in your horns, protect the balance sheet, and preserve cash. Or you can realize that this is about humanity screaming for change."

http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/01/technology/IBMplan_obrien.fortune/

Like most of the large business and financial U.S. institutions the various religious denominations have tracked in comparable patterns over the last 50-100 years. We have all quite successfully grown large institutions! But where business will recalibrate or retool based on the "bottom line" (e.g. Big 3 and business of various sizes hit hard in the current economy) what would motivate a denomination to restructure? What is our bottom line? People, finances, certain numbers, ministries, clergy, other factors? What would cause us to refocus on 1) the primary work of what we should be doing, and 2) respond to current opportunity as we hear "humanity screaming for change?"

A denomination wouldn't likely be FORCED to restructure. Instead, just like a dying church, we'd slowly lose participation, finances, and other numbers that we'd then look back to as the "good old days" that we can't seem to reclaim. Yet, we'd likely operate in all the same ways. EXCEPT that we'd gradually start slimming and adapting our denominational personnel at various levels. We'd find less funding available and respond to the lack of finances. Some conference level positions, which should focus on primary agendas of local churches like children or youth ministry or college or young adults, might be combined or disappear-- even though we'd be lamenting the loss of younger people in the church and complain about needing younger clergy. Some national or international agencies might still maintain there size and positions even though they are largely irrelevant to local church concerns, and in fact, better reflect the strategies and emphasis of bygone days than the opportunities of this day.

As time goes on in this scenario, which might appear to need denominational restructuring, churches that are healthy in an area will be fewer, and the few who are growing and strong in finances and resources will be asked for more and more. So that, the local congregation's resources will be under strain as more pressure will be to send help away than to be in local ministry! That ugly downward spiral will take hold so that neither local church nor denomination are healthy, and are in a relationship which slowly drains both of them. They aren't in ICU, yet they aren't as healthy as they were in a previous time. And as the church and denomination focus more on their own unfulfilled needs and expectations they have less time, energy, and focus on everyone outside the church. What a dilemma, huh?! The religious group would certainly retain the old rhetoric and have established ministry principles which are effective yet they won't have the connections to their community and world necessary to be in mission and to develop healthy relationships. The local congregation would talk like they wanted change yet would likely not know how to get "there" and would be resistant to the requirements. Think about some of the recent Big 3 discussions again; what looks obvious to outsiders is merely a way of life and expectation for those in a Big 3 organization or partner group. Change, which is rather radical by nature in such a system, only seems possible as a last resort that is forced!

Even though elements of this conversation take place all the time in denominational settings no one will really do anything about a BIG restructuring. After all, it's not any one person's job, and most of the above has been discussed at length in hallways, classes, and in books for the last 20 years!! Occasionally local churches will complain about the denominational tax, but there are enough good things that happen with that so it's soon forgotten. Plus, there would be a ripple effect of reform. And with the denominational meeting every 4 years to make BIG changes, plus the fact that such naysayers would NEVER gain a much coveted delegate position, the likelihood of institutional insiders streamlining such a system are negligible. It's hard enough for a business model driven by profit and with a CEO to do such a thing. How could a denomination ruled by a committee of a 1000 delegates create such a bold course of action which would undo some of the trappings of our institutional past in order to create a more feasible, vibrant present and future?

Questions, questions, questions... where are some answers?

Christmas is coming! That reminds me of the gift of God meant to change the world. As I'm drawn back to the beginnings, the origin, back before all the tinsel and consumerism, I'm curious if a similar re-start for religion might be the best approach!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Child Slavery in Nepal

An American women in retirement years has found her life calling for this stage in her life and started the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation to keep girls out of slavery and in school. Learn more about the community activism which is rescuing poor girls and giving them new opportunities in life.

http://www.pbs.org/now/enterprisingideas/nyof.html

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Church Feeding the Poor

I had no idea that there were United Methodists in Macedonia!

As a matter of fact, where is Macedonia?

The Balkan nation has had Protestant work going on for a hundred years though it is still largely Eastern Orthodox and Muslim. Still, there is a place for the Wesleyan spirit and approach. Those Methodists started feeding some of the poorest citizens of Strumica.

Find the full story at http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=5254 though here's a teaser that inspires me:

"Church officials note that Strumica residents were initially dubious about the United Methodists providing food. What do these 'Protestants'—the name Methodists are called—want in exchange for nourishment? To attend their church? Gradually, people came to realize that the United Methodists were acting out of love, asking for nothing."

"The program started with 12 people in 2001 and has grown to the present 108. The hot meal, five days a week, consists of soup, main course, and dessert. The "Protestant program" has become a model for the region. Farmers who know about it donate vegetables or cheese. Strumica is in a major agricultural region."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Or Maybe The UMC is Like Toyota?

In good Wesleyan style you will find MANY questions here for consideration and discussion.

My weekend post, which asked questions about similarities between the UMC and the Big 3, has solicited some interesting comments which were posted, and a number of other e-mails and conversations. Again, I confess I have many questions as I note the comparison, and am curious if you have any answers. Maybe together we'll find some answers which will make all of us stronger as a Church! At the least some good dialogue is being generated which might encourage all of us.

An interesting follow up & comparison is to consider the business practices of an institution which models a different approach than the Big 3. Google the Toyota Plan and you will find years of information about their business principles. I'll pull just a few items (a danger as a system is best kept intact AND since systems take years to assemble/disassemble), yet this may stimulate our discussion, creativity, & organization.

The Toyota Way involves 14 principles that constitute the approach. The principles are organized in four broad categories: 1) long-term philosophy, 2) the right process will produce the right results, 3) add value to the organization by developing your people, and 4) continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning. http://www.si.umich.edu/ICOS/Liker04.pdf Contrast that with an emphasis on mass production, employee and executive salaries and benefits which are higher than the institution and market can bear, and ongoing discussions about institutional ills and decay which points to problems yet which doesn't seem to take corrective measures in a timely fashion. It's a challenge to compare a manufacturing/production scheme to the church, but there are some management principles which likely have church application. Find below a number of the principles which may help our discussion and action in the church.

Section I: Long-Term Philosophy
Principle 1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.

Section II: The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results
Principle 2. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.

Principle 4. Level out the workload

Section III: Add Value to the Organization by Developing Your People
Principle 9. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.

Principle 10. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.

Principle 11. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.

Section IV: Continuously Solving Root Problems Drives Organizational Learning
Principle 12. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.

Principle 13. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.
■ Do not pick a single direction and go down that one path until you have thoroughly considered alternatives. When you have picked, move quickly and continuously down the path.
■ This is a process of discussing problems and potential solutions with all of those affected, to collect their ideas and get agreement on a path forward. This consensus process, though time-consuming, helps broaden the search for solutions, and once a decision is made, the stage is set for rapid implementation.

Principle 14. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.
■ Once you have established a stable process, use continuous improvement tools to determine the root cause of inefficiencies and apply effective countermeasures.
■ Design processes that require almost no inventory. This will make wasted time and resources visible for all to see. Once waste is exposed, have employees use a continuous improvement process to eliminate it.
■ Protect the organizational knowledge base by developing stable personnel, slow promotion, and very careful succession systems.
■ Use reflection at key milestones and after you finish a project to openly identify all the shortcomings of the project. Develop countermeasures to avoid the same mistakes again.
■ Learn by standardizing the best practices, rather than reinventing the wheel with each new project and each new manager.

I believe that some churches (of all sizes in various locations), but this is likely a small number, are on the Toyota track. I've been fortunate to have served 3 such churches in two different conferences. Yet, I'm afraid this may be the exception to the rule. I suspect that new churches may have more opportunity to instill a culture and practice similar to the Toyota approach, though give them a little time and I bet they can as easily become a Big 3 institution.

LOTS of insights and questions emerge from these principles as I compare this type performance standard with typical church, conference, and denominational work.
  • Toyota seeks to develop a system and a culture which emphasizes continuous improvement of the process and of the workers. In the Toyota Way the people bring the system to life; the system encourages, supports, and demands worker involvement. At every level the workers have a sense of urgency, purpose, and teamwork, and seek to improve themselves and help each other improve. The goal is on developing people! How might such emphasis on teamwork across a United Methodist conference (regardless if clergy or laity, of clergy order or status, years served, etc.) transform us? How might such an emphasis in a local congregation transform the ministry for laity and clergy?
  • Note the emphasis on bringing problems to the surface and everyone impacted by the issue in the system is part of the conversation dealing with the problem. How might this approach be used as a new management tool at church, district, & conference levels? How might we broaden this approach to ministry in the community?
  • Much of the culture is imparted, nurtured, developed, and encouraged person to person. What might this approach mean to a local congregation in evangelism and discipleship? How might such an approach transform clergy training? Is there potential for a mentoring or apprentice style of ministry which would produce effective laity and clergy?
  • I understand the local congregation as the "production facility." That means the seminary, conference, agency, denomination, etc. are partners in the enterprise in support of the work of the local congregation. I fear that too much of our approach in recent years may have had this backwards! These various entities should serve to enhance and encourage the production facility and should be judged accordingly. The primary agenda of these various partners should be established by the needs and the problems identified in the "production facility."
  • Hmmm, not even sure how to best phrase some of this without getting into real trouble! How can we best be a "deployed ministry" (NOTE: I've broadened this to define the truth of Wesleyan Christianity which engages all clergy orders, missionaries, AND laity!) with some of the focus, urgency, methodology, quest for learning and excellence, and sense of long term leadership reforming the institutions we serve. Or, perhaps another question, can Big 3 culture administrators supervise Toyota culture clergy?!
  • "Relentless reflection and continuous improvement" might best be facilitated by a missionally oriented District Superintendent and Bishop. But that would presuppose a radical reorientation from our old approaches to substantial engagement of our churches. How do "company" men and women learn a new playbook? I'm not sure how we exchange a Big 3 handbook for a Toyota handbook! While some would see this as collegial exchange others would take offense and see this as subversive. Any ideas on ways the old forms and formats might give way to new connectional systems which would match a Toyota worldview?

What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mahlangu Hand Washer

Mahlangu Hand-Washer
By ALICE RAWSTHORN

Irene van Peer is a Dutch designer who, with a group of colleagues, has devised a clever method for turning empty plastic beverage bottles into hand-washing devices to help prevent the spread of disease in Africa. Van Peer realized the need for such a device while working on sanitation projects in South African townships; many of the township residents have difficulty washing their hands because they lack easy access to water. Van Peer and her colleagues began by having conversations about the idea with people, mostly women, in the townships. “For me it was important to listen to their problems and to come back with a solution they could make themselves,” she says.

Eventually, van Peer and her colleagues hit upon an ingenious design. It involves converting the cap of an empty bottle into a homemade tap. The cap is pierced and then a long, skinny cone made from a readily available material like cork is inserted. One end of a length of wire is pushed through the cone, and the other is wound around a weight, like a stone, to nestle in the palm of the hand. The bottle is held above the hand facing downward, and when the weight is pushed up, the water is released and trickles down the wire toward the weight. Used carefully, a one-liter bottle can perform up to 60 hand-washes.

After showing people in the townships how to use it, van Peer also left instructions to be passed on from person to person. She named it the Mahlangu after Johanna Mahlangu, a woman who told her she planned to make the hand-washers for her day care center for disabled children.

From- http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/12/14/magazine/2008_IDEAS.html

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is The United Methodist Church Like the Big 3?

Working in campus ministry my university students have taught me that an advantage of Facebook notes is dialogue rather than monologue. So, I have an off day, stray thought which is totally incomplete and which needs your input.

As we continue to watch the economic fallout and the necessary restructuring of our economy (and the major entities) it strikes me that many of the institutions of the last 50+ years MUST now figure out how to survive and thrive in this new world. Some will retool while many will likely disappear in the next year or two. What does this mean for retooling a religious denomination such as the UMC? The inherent danger in all of this is that while some groups saw the warnings, and had discussions, they just didn't move quickly enough. Will the fate of some of the Big 3 be the fate of the similarly institutionally obese UMC? By extension we could just as easily talk about a local congregation. Are we GM or Toyota in our community?

Some questions in comparison:
  • Can these institutions undo their growth, management style, and culture of the last decade/s quickly enough to gain their footing in these times?

  • Will they move past talk to quick, strategic action? Or do we wait a Year or, worse yet, FOUR YEARS! (This could be a discussion for another time)

  • Salaries & expectations of the institution by the administration & workers seem to be a major issue with the Big 3. This seems comparable to the UMC. How can we "undo" this and refocus on the consumer or potential consumer? Or will it be an impasse that causes our demise?

  • Are there basic steps common in such institutional retooling- other than establishing more committees?

  • Or is this merely a part of an institutional life cycle to be expected? Perhaps the option is that we merely serve as the clergy officiating the last years of a dying institution and this is our role.-Change IS going to happen. Will the UMC have the (what word should we use?!) resolve to do what is necessary to retool. If a for profit group can't do this and is hampered by a self inflicted hamstring injury (NOTE: from obesity not activity!) what are the odds a religious institution will survive?


We live in a time with an accelerated pattern of institutional change. But instead of fear I think there are many opportunities for us to follow the Living Christ in new and exciting ways. Can this even occur in a large institution or is best lived out in smaller groupings? Perhaps we might have opportunity to quickly lead the institutions we've served for these past years into a vibrant present and future.

What do you think?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Mission Hero

Here's my good friend Dr. Gary with a short profile and recognition. I could tell you more about him and some of our many adventures. We've worked together often over the years with local Augusta mission, establishing Interfaith Hospitality Network of Augusta, mission teams in Romania, Honduras, Mexico, and Togo, and many other exploits. Of course, it would be best for you to just join us in a mission and get to know him that way!

http://www.nbcaugusta.com/news/local/36002499.html

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Worship Resource Incubator

My work with university students has taught me much about their use of Facebook notes to share ideas, try their hand at creative writing, and in general looking for ways to express themselves. Recenlty one student posted some original rap lyrics he'd written a year or so ago. The emotion and struggle he presented were a perfect match for the feelings of a college student during final exam week! It made me wonder how we might facilitate a network of communities of people who might share original music, poetry, readings, etc. that might have application in worship.



Imagine if we were to try to create a worship experience for our diverse lunch crowd that gathers Tuesday as different religious (or no religion) backgrounds, various life experiences, array of ethnicities, and huge array of musical and entertainment tastes all converge in one worship. Get the idea?! We'd need to create something different than white worship or black or hispanic worship. Different than some of the traditional or mainstream stuff, not just praise music or contemporary Christian, but an experience that was real, honest, accepted people where they are at in life, yet eager to help a diverse group of people experince God in fresh, affirming, energizing, transformative ways.This all brings me to seeking your creativity, input, voice!! My friend in Nashville is part of a group that could benefit from the kind of creativity I've already found in you. Read some of his words below, let's talk about it, and let those creative ideas flow BUT share them with me. Pick up a hymnal or think about what a worship service needs BUT put it in your words-- think original music, prayers, readings, poems, etc. Think urban, rap, honesty, truth, peace, justice. Think emotional, vulnerable, expressive, soul searching. Share your/our deepest God questions, struggles, challenges. Share your/our deepest life questions, answers, curiousities. Let that creativity flow. Taylor writes below about a rap piece I sent him from a college friend, and gives a couple of options which you might be interested in. If you are interested in being part of the online creative community or want to submit something for the hymnal let me know.Taylor writes:So two things-- a) connecting communities of writers who are working on things like this and b) helping others see the value of this kind of thing for at least psalmody. Let's keep talking about both of these possibilities. The former is the kind of thing we're doing with the Open Source Liturgy Project. The latter would require submitting things to the Hymnal Revision Committee-- Let's dream, talk, worship.... Scott

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Correction Toward Sustainable Economy?

Somewhere in my studies over the years I'd heard that the old Greek oikonomos is the root word for economy. In it's original meaning it speaks of "house rules" or "house management." All the recent national and global economic upheaval certainly points to some problems in the house.

Now I'm not primarily an economic or financial thinker, though I tend to have faith opinions on many topics. While you might go to a financial expert (are there any of those in these times?) what I offer is more a faith and life response to the current changes in the world.

I come from much more conservative south Georgia roots. My people have tended more toward survival and are just now taking steps into middle class suburbia. All the financial instability, job losses, loss of homes, loss of stock value, etc. reminds me how fragile this whole thing is. It also reminds me how much we rely upon our job and financial status to define who we are. In our culture now you take away someones job and you strip so much away that for many it is paralyzing, debilitating, completely overwhelming with seemingly few options.

It all makes me wonder if these are global economic corrections which will return us to a more moderate, sustainable lifestyle. Many of us have been feasting and expecting more the next day. Perhaps this just isn't a sustainable way of living. Perhaps we will be returning to something a little closer to the lifestyles of previous generations. Perhaps we have the flexibility and the resilience to make the adjustments which will create a new order. In my mission journeys I find many people who do have these skills. Now it is our turn to adapt, and maybe as we do that we'll find we have actually strengthened our house.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Job Trends

Here's a good link for anyone curious about the job market the next decade. Of course, this targets some of the big trends. Look for the Boomers retiring and know that many professions will be aggressively recruiting. I'd also add that certain occupations always have many opportunities. Consider clergy and church work as one example since it's always a "sinner's market." :) Of course, with any vocation one needs to respond to their calling, their gifts, and the job they can do day-in and day-out that will put bread on the table!

http://www.worldwidelearn.com/online-education-guide/top-ten-job-trends.htm

Monday, December 8, 2008

Burned Out

One of the students I spend some time with at Augusta State University shared some lyrics that got my attention. It is December, the last day of class (when he shared this on 12/4), projects and papers have been due the last few days, and final exams are this week. Plus you add all the mess with the economy and the struggles of everyday life and most people seem beat down! The students are teaching me a lot about creativity, sharing deep thoughts and emotions, and finding one's voice. They are teaching me about listening to music while I read, think, feel! They remind me how challenging many people have it as there isn't enough money to cover the basics of a month, there are no jobs, and life is hard even as they give their best. I'm also becoming aware that there is an honesty, power, and reality that too often more recent traditional or "Christian" styles of music in the United States totally miss! Daniel has a complexity and reality to these lyrics that remind me of some of the Old Testament writings that struggle with current realities (check out some of the Psalms, Lamentations, Job, etc.). I know he is expressing what MANY people are experiencing in these tough days before Christmas. My comments are merely introduction to a creation from T. Daniel Barber. Just be sure to turn on the music and feel the power and emotion of the thoughts.

Lyrics: Burned Out
by T, Daniel Barber, 2007

beat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFeWW6gUpjs

Burned Out

I’m just so burned out, all that’s churned out, I’m hearing, is so uninspired
I let my soul glow, my eyes closed, in that never ending journey to find fire
It’s crazy; it’s hazy, moving through the fog
Man it’s almost daily, breathing in the smog
The proud can’t reach out, the weak can’t reach in
It’s the world they doubt and the faith they have in
Themselves, living in a personal hell
Trapped in a jail and they ain’t making bail
Turing ambitionless, wandering missionless
Warped to be hideous and pitiless, I hate it
Because you become deluded, end up just like them
Jaded and tainted and you reek of sin
Or you end up all alone, drove crazed by your thoughts
Not seeing no stars, so all hope is lost
Gotta make it past this, don’t like this turn out
But I’m stuck, just straight burned out
That’s what they want, so you can’t resist
So they beat you down, put shackles on your wrist

Hook:
I’m just so burned out; everything I deal with these days is getting me crazed
But I gotta get past it, gotta outlast it, have to break out of this daze (2 x)

It’s so rough to try to make it, to that good life
Because I don’t want to be thinking how I should’ve been right
It’s like boxing with fate and you’re in the 10th round
Everything’s blurred and you’re dizzy, spinning all round
When you were the underdog, they ain’t want you to lose
But when you’re on top, they want you lifted out you’re shoes
Now you’re doing things that’s drastic
But in only take you closer to a casket
When all you really want is to get some rest
Get a couple of minutes away to forget all the stress
And it’s just a mess; you can’t get any real joy
Like when you were a little kid in the room with your toys
Reaching your limits, you just can’t go on
But if you have limits then you just don’t know strong
Now I’m saying things that I barely believe
So many try, few rarely succeed
And achieve what they want, to be building up their power
And the ones that do, in up trapped in a tower
Then the lightning strikes and it all falls down
And then it’s that painful crash to the ground
Is this just how it is, when you go against the grain?
When every other day becomes just another pain
And you’re so burned out; you can hardly fight it
It’s just the price you pay for enlightenment
HookIt’s hard to believe in god and believe benevolence
When you only see malevolence, pride and prejudice
Taking your own path might make you lost
There’s a price for everything and this is just the cost
You wanna get away but you’re not thinking clear
There’s a bottle in your hand and you’re reeking of beer
If life’s supposed to be a painting, then it just got smeared
Becoming what you hated, that’s your worst fear
Another heartless monster, your eye’s freezing cold
You’re so hard now, can’t nothing touch your soul
Tryna drift away, wonder if there’s a heaven
If all of this is a test, well then tell me what’s the lesson?
So maybe the pain will lessen
And I can stop stressing bout reaching perfection
In this failed paradise that we call life
Hiding from the truth like a thief in the night
Nobody’s proactive, all we do is react
All we do is wait to get hit by hot wax
Letting the words of others be affecting what we do
And we’re turn on ourselves and looking like fools
While they’re flashing a smile, emptier than their deeds
Thinking that they can do whatever they please
Getting everyone involved in the evil they conceive
They’ve long been consumed by their greed
No more hero cause now he’s turning villain
Cause when he was hero, they were plotting to kill him
Either be starving or obese in a hearse
Man it’s so perverse, it’s just the reverse
In Africa and America, facing the terror of
Slow extinction, this is just the era of
Disaster, hypocrisy, shadiness and lies
The wool always over your eyes
Plotting for demise, it’s just a matter of time
Won’t let me climb out of this hole in my mind
Maybe they’ll hear my voice on day, my thoughts learn about
But not now, cause I’m just burned out

by T. Daniel Barber (Augusta, GA) 2007

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Alternative Gift Ideas

Today is the day at church where individuals and families bring their Angel Tree gifts in. Every year we receive around 250 names of children who share a Christmas wish list of items they would like to receive. So, on this day church members will bring in their bagged items and we'll load the clothes, books, toys, and bikes up in two moving trucks [THANK YOU Bill & Lois Monro of Monro Moving & Storage for donating the trucks and 2 workers for 5 hours!] to be taken to Augusta Urban Ministries. http://www.augustaurbanministries.org/ AUM coordinates the city wide collection, receives the donated items, and then will distribute to families the following Saturday. In addition we also collect 250 jars of peanut butter, 450 bags of flour, and 450 boxes of cereal. It is a very special day that "rings in" the season for me as I experience the emotions of those who give and the collective power as individuals and families work together.

Some years ago we offered an Alternative Christmas Market. We'd give options so that people could help organizations or groups and not just buy more junk for the people in their life! So, people might buy "stock" for Heifer Project International and for their donation which would purchase animals to go to a village somewhere in the world they would receive a gift card to give to good old Uncle Joe who already has everything in the world he needs, yet would appreciate a gift in his honor that changes the world. Others might purchase "studs" for Habitat for Humanity or the Fuller Center for Housing which would aid local work, and prove a fitting gift for Aunt Sue! You get the idea- honor someone at Christmas and change the world without merely creating more clutter in our lives and souls!! It proved a productive, fun favorite of the congregation for a number of years.

In this tougher economy with so many local needs in all of our cities it makes me wonder what alternative gift ideas you might have. Perhaps it's your own creation. Or maybe some activity such as our Angel Tree giving that brings the spirit of the season to life for you. I'm not talking so much about writing a check, or doing what we've always done at Christmas. Instead I'm imagining alternative gift ideas that might be a Christmas blessing to you and to someone else. Maybe that's a shared meal. Perhaps it is spending time with someone who is lonely or isolated. Certainly there is a child or teenager or college student who might not have much of a Christmas unless we have our eyes and ears open and respond to the need.

Be alive to these moments. Share your thoughts as we seek to experience the gift which can be so easily overlooked in the busyness of the season.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hope, Peace, Love, Joy??!

Sometimes churches use hope, peace, love, and joy as major themes of Advent. I know Christ is the answer, or expectation of those different themes which are typically joined to a given Sunday prior to Christmas. Funny thing- I bet we struggle more with the order of the themes, and which Sunday they line up with, than actually experiencing hope, peace, love, and joy!

This year I find myself drawn to a somewhat different Advent practice. Rather than only focusing on MY experience of this (which is one critical element of Christmas preparation but not the only) I'm trying to imagine how someone in inner city Augusta might be looking for Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. With more people losing jobs, more financial troubles, talk of ongoing recession, and a national and community sense of struggle this emotion feels right on the surface. This is no "warm fuzzy" Christmas preparation, but a personal and spiritual struggle that is bound up with the community struggle to find hope, peace, love, and joy.

Do you know the classic "The Christ of the Indian Road" by the Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973). Jones was friends with Gandhi and active in India during their rise to national independence. His work and faith were transformed over the years. His goal was to NOT present an "encrusted Christ" (encumbered by tradition, denominational emphasis, Western emphasis, etc.) but instead share Christ that would bring Life and Good News in a local setting in India. Thus, the Christ of the Indian road.

Of course, Christianity and all its expressions, have tended to get this wrong more often than right! I love the challenge that Jones throws to all religions when he writes "Each system must be judged by its output, its fruit." This is an interesting way to consider various religions. Be careful as you apply to yourself or your church! It is also a helpful corrective as most belief systems stray far from the ideals.

E. Stanley Jones desired to share Christ in India in a way which would allow people to then interpret Christ through their own experience and life, so that their interaction with God would be "first hand and vital." This pushed him to consider the central aspects of the Living Christ in a context where many held a belief system that was fatalistic and paralyzing. Even for the most religious he found they had no way to live up to the system and were only left with the question "What can I do?" in regards to their faith and their life. "What can I do, my Kismet is bad?" "What can I do, my Karma is bad?"

Sounds like life today and so many ways of practical, everyday religious thinking and conversation as we assign much to fate. A new experience of God that brings hope, peace, love, and joy-- NO matter the present situation or circumstance-- would be an excellent Christmas experience.

Stanley writes:

"You cannot break Brokeness. It starts with defeat and accepts that as a way of life. But in that very attitude it finds its victory. It never knows when it is defeated, for it turns every impediment into an instrument, and every difficulty into a door, every cross into a means of redemption. So I concluded that any people that would put the cross at the center of its thought and life would never know when it was defeated. It would have a quenchless hope that Easter morning lies just behind every Calvary."

This might prove a helpful individual and community life skill and attitude in tough times.

Preparing for Christmas,
Scott

Friday, December 5, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas

The Christian season we are in is called Advent and serves as time of preparation for Christmas. I'm rather slow to get into the spirit, and all the accumulated junk of the season, i.e. rampant consumerism and clutter, doesn't help me much. Plus it's a rather hectic time with the program of the church as we end one year with a major holiday and launch into a new year. I do like the family traditions and some of the church ritual. In general I actually find that this is a time when I get into a little better routine of prayer and devotional reading. I suspect that's because I REALLY need it!

Here's an old prayer that I've modified a little to better suit today's language. I didn't change much though so enjoy the flow of thoughts and be troubled and inspired by the sentiment. I broke it up more like poetry as I found it best to linger with the phrases and thoughts rather than read it coldly and quickly.

O Holy Spirit of God, visit now this soul of mine, and tarry within it until evening.
Inspire all my thoughts.
Pervade all my imaginations.
Suggest all my decisions.
Lodge in my will's most inward citadel and order all my doings.
Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my haste and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening; and give me grace at all times to rejoice in thy mysterious companionship.

-From A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Community Event As a Christmas Gift

Back in the 1980's & 90's Crawfordville GA was known for offering a country Christmas extravaganza featuring lights, eat some food, and have a country Christmas celebration. Christmas in Dixie it was called. And it was equal measure of both! The event lasted a month and was a big deal in the area, a must attend event, and good family fun that many throughout the region enjoyed. Folk from Atlanta to Augusta, Athens to Macon would drive in for a tradition that could only be experienced as words just wouldn't adequately capture the sights and sounds!!

Check out a great country Christmas event at a church I served for a couple of years where we picked up elements of that tradition. This is a great time for parents or grandparents with Children, though Youth and College students will also find this a fun little road trip. See directions at the end of note for this church down I-20 just beyond Thomson GA. Share this note with other churches and families in the area as this fun deserves strong regional support. Proceeds help the church to continue this gift to the community.

Macedonia United Methodist Church
Presents the 8th Annual“Christmas at Cedar Rock”
December 11, 12 & 13, 2008, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.

  • Enjoy a the sights and sounds of Christmas with a complimentary hayride through thousands of lights, displays, Bethlehem Village and a live Nativity Scene.

  • Have that special talk with Santa (Pictures available at a reasonable cost).

  • Visit the “Kids Only” shop - children 12 & under can purchase gifts for family and friends for $1 each – gift wrap included.

  • Visit the animals in our petting zoo.

  • Browse the “General Store” – handmade crafts, homemade baked goods, preserves and jams, jewelry, gift baskets and Christmas decorations.

  • Don’t forget to get some boiled peanuts before you leave!

Macedonia United Methodist Church is located ¼ mile off the Camak exit on I-20 on Highway 80 North. From Thomson travel Cedar Rock Road approximately 7 miles just beyond the intersection with Highway 80 near the Camak I-20 exit. For more info, call office at 465-9607.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Multi Ethnic Fellowship as a Visible Sign of God's Kingdom

Part of the reason I am enjoying my ministry is that I am WAY in over my head in the deep end of the pool!

This doesn't speak so much to the church ministry (since I've been doing this sort of work for 20 years-- though there are days!) but is the truth about campus ministry. The good of it is that I am not merely repeating what United Methodists have traditionally done in college & university ministries. Instead, I've tried to listen to students and follow God. This has resulted in some of the most exciting work of my life as we have entered into all sorts of relationships with students at this critical stage in their life and faith journey.

A key component of our campus ministry is that we are a good reflection of the university and the community. Said another way, we are not merely a group of suburban white college students sponsored by a predominately white denomination. Instead, our group reflects the beautiful diversity of our area, of God's people, and of our world.

This is not to suggest there aren't challenges. We are still learning what it means to be together, to grow together, and to engage more students in our group. Truth be told, we probably can't even agree on music that the whole group would like! Yet, there is something special about such a multi ethnic bunch that surely must be a sign of heaven! This must be the way God wants us to do business as we prepare ourselves for heaven, and as we help our world become more like our anticipated destination.

See the link below about someone in Arkansas who is further along in facilitating a multi ethnic church:

http://www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas/leaddocs/2008/081203_article.html

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Religion as Root of Violence??

I've recently blogged about the challenges of many people of faith in India, and was reluctant to say anything about the recent horror of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. This thought provoking religious editorial from the perspective of a pastor who served in Mumbai is worth your consideration:

http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=5241

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Village View

In early November a missionary we support in Honduras was in town and shared an update on their story. She showed some pictures and explained their work with children and families in the mountains of central Honduras. Rhonda stated that the biggest challenge was the people "don't think outside their little village." I like the double meaning in the statement. She meant the people learn a certain way of thinking, talking, and living in their village and that status quo habit is tough to expand or change.

Yeah, I can see that. I'm afraid I'm guilty as well. Seems like part of our condition doesn't it?

"They don't think out of their little village."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Approach to the World Hunger Crisis

The approach in Malawi was to use outside finances for a subsidy program to reduce costs for farmers. See the whole story as the transformation has huge impact for families who have known drought and severe hunger repeatedly over the years.

http://dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/11/26/1688572.aspx

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Isn't Working in the UMC

A recent panel of bishops discussed the question, "What is not working in the UMC?" They said out loud what many of us in most conferences discuss as key areas to work on: "Boards of Ordained Ministry, the appointment system, Charge Conference, general agencies and an antiquated communication system." While these discussions have been going on for some time at every level of the denominational structure it is time to move beyond discussion to action. The question of faith is always "What challenging step must we take today to follow Christ in our world today?" Unfortunately institutions and structures get accustomed to doing business a certain way, and can be slow to change what we are comfortable with and know from practice. As a bishop said so well our "Institutional preservation is our unstated mission." Sounds rather like heresy doesn't it? One huge related challenge will be, as one bishop recommended, to "follow the money" and consequence of our de facto mission now which appears to be sustaining the clergy.

An interesting read as many issues are diagnosed. Now that we have noted the symptoms will we move to a remedy which helps us, and more importantly the world, to to experience the Good News of Jesus Christ?

An addendum thought an hour after the original post-- It is "rivalry Saturday" for college football. One interview talked about the significance of special teams play for Florida. What got my attention was the punt return expert who is legendary for "changing field position." His strategy is exactly what the UMC needs to learn. How do we change "field position?" As one who works in mission I think the main key is to change from an emphasis on the institutional church to what God is doing in community and how the church needs to be at work/life in the community. Recapturing our mission in the world will be the key to changing our field position!

See more about the bishop's panel discussion at http://www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=4476

Friday, November 28, 2008

From Thanksgiving to Advent and then Christmas

Here's a favorite poem/prayer that seems to fit this season of endings and beginnings.

Benedicere
by Ken Sehested

May your home always be too
small to hold all your friends.

May your heart remain ever supple,
fearless in the face of threat,
jubilant in the grip of grace.

May your hand remain open, caressing, never clinched,
save to pound the doors
of all who barter justice
to the highest bidder.

May your heroes by earthy,
dusty-shoed and rumpled,
hallowed but unhaloed,
guiding you through seasons
of tremor and travail, apprenticed
to the godly art of giggling
amid haggard news and
portentous circumstance.

May your hankering be
in rhythm with heaven's,
whose covenant vows a dusty
intersection with our own:
when creation's hope and history rhyme.

May hosannas lilt from your lungs:
God is not done;
God is not yet done.

All flesh, I am told, will behold;
will surely behold.

New Year's Day 2005

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Music

Ah, the food, the family, the traditions, the fun that ties together the days and years of our lives.

I'm curious about your celebration of the day. Have you got a favorite Thanksgiving song? It could be sacred or secular, could be old or new. Help me create a Top 10 List of the BEST Thanksgiving songs. These would be songs that really express what it means to be thankful, or that might move us into that spirit.

Here's the beginnings of a list some of my Facebook friends helped generate. This is a mix of songs from a collective response of friends sharing the music that helps their experience of preparation for and expression of Thanksgiving. Maybe one of these songs will help you tap into some of the reflection, knowledge, and emotion which leads to thanks giving:

Blessed, Brett Dennen, Jazzy Folk style
Mystery, Bruce Cockburn, Rock
“Thankful,” Josh Groban
Let All Things Now Living
Count Your Many Blessings
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
We Gather Together
For The Beauty of the Earth
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Thankful, Caedmon's Call
Thank You, 33Miles
Thank You, Sanctus Real
How Could I Ask for More, Cindy Morgan
Give Thanks Forever, Chris Tomlin
Indescribable
How Great is Our God
Now Thank We All Our God
The Thankfulness Song, Veggie Tales Song
Amazing from the Sex and the City Soundtrack
Do You Remember by Jack Johnson
Jessica by The Allman Brothers
"Thanksgiving" by George Winston

What do you listen to in order to get in the mood for giving thanks or as part of your Thanksgiving celebration? Send a comment and add to the list.

In the meanwhile, enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations Still Continued

Make Me a Captive Lord
George Matheson, 1890

Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.

My heart is weak and poor until it master find;
It has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move till Thou has wrought its chain;
Enslave it with Thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.

My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve;
It lacks the needed fire to glow, it lacks the breeze to nerve.
It cannot drive the world until itself be driven;
Its flag can only be unfurled when Thou shalt breathe from heaven.

My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leant, and found in Thee its life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations Continued

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
George Matheson, 1882

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Learning to Be Thankful

Sunday my pastor shared a sermon trying to get me/us ready for Thanksgiving. He did a great job (at least for this typically ungrateful slob) in moving me toward a more thankful heart and life. My preacher reminded me that it's easy to be thankful for all the good stuff (as I see it and qualify life's happenings), and counter intuitive to even consider being thankful for the challenges in life. He shared a story at the end of the sermon about the blind pastor/hymn writer George Matheson (1841-1906). Matheson wrote the following prayer about his blindness: "My God, I have never thanked Thee for my 'thorn!' I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my 'thorn;' I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my 'thorn'. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Surprises in Mission and Campus Ministry

The nature of my work in the church and in the community means there are surprises every day. When I took my current church position in July 2007 it was to be a missions pastor. Quickly after that we realized there was a great need and a good opportunity with campus ministry next door at Augusta State University as director of the Wesley Foundation. One thing lead to another and I found myself as part time director of a group that had fallen on hard times.
That means there wasn't a program and there weren't any students!

A year later we have a faithful number of students who connect with us, with each other, and with God. And this crew is a real inspiration to me! They are diverse, they reflect different life experiences as well as a variety of religious (or not!) experiences. Every time we gather I find some of the best conversations, sometimes insightful and typically funny stuff, and usually some surprises along the way. This last week there was one conversation that reminded me of my struggles in college to take some of my own steps into young adult life. She is making choices about life and faith that are intense, profound, and transformational. I was deeply touched by her openness, and she has been the center of my prayers since that impromptu holy moment during lunch with all the student noise as background.

Early in the lunch this past Tuesday I was surprised to see one table of students get up and form a prayer circle. Our informal lunch has lots of noise and movement as some students are arriving from class and others are wolfing down their food and running to class. This particular table didn't know each other to start the semester, found one another at the weekly lunch, and now have deepening relationships so that they refer to themselves as a family! The witness and the growth of these college students is an exciting thing to see growing.

In these days leading to Thanksgiving my college student friends are one of the elements of my life and ministry that I'm very thankful for.



Saturday, November 22, 2008

International Faiths Concerned About Religious Violence in India

Here's another story about the religious violence in India and a growing international call for the government to bring the situation under control.

http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=1723955&ct=6354741

Friday, November 21, 2008

Connecting Congregations & GBGM In Mission Together

I've learned many lessons over the years by working with churches and Christians in international settings. We tend to call these "mission teams" in the U.S. and got to foreign destinations to assist and encourage the local church. Often we supply "people power" and offer medical teams, construction, children's ministries or other resources which help advance the work of the local congregation. Of course, the financial boost is typically a significant element of the work. Usually for me the experiences and the relationships work their way into my soul and have profound effect in the short term, and ongoing effects upon me for the long term.

http://www.worldmethodist.org/connectingcongregations.htm shows the World Methodist work through Connecting Congregations. This program offers churches in a number of countries throughout the world which need outside support. My first experience with this was in the late '90's as Trinity on the Hill UMC supported a Roma (Gypsy) Methodist congregation on the eastern side of Slovakia. After one of our medical missions in Romania a few of us spent a few extra days and traveled to the Slovak church and had an incredible time in this land of castles.

A similar effort is offered through the UMC General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) called In Mission Together. http://new.gbgm-umc.org/connections/partnerships/inmissiontogether/partner/ A number of partnership projects, are underway in Cambodia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Laos, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Vietnam. The commitment as a partner congregation includes annual financial support and may also include sending a team to visit and make friends, opportunities to learn about the culture of your partner church, and working together on a mission project.

Such long term relationships with churches around the globe will change the world!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teenage & Young Adult Community Activism

I really enjoy a variety of news and information sources. That's one reason I like the internet. I often catch BBC news which always surprises me with "world news" that I don't hear anything about in most U.S. coverage. I also like some of the PBS shows like Independent Lens. Last night I saw a documentary by three teenagers from the Swinomish Tribe in Washington state. They had gotten into trouble with drugs and alcohol while living on the reservation, and part of their treatment was to make a documentary about their life on the rez, including the impact of a nearby oil refinery on their way of life. It really shows an exploration of the impact of an industry on a local ecology, yet also offers a clearer understanding develop as the teens seek to tell their story, and must confront the larger world in both Olympia and Washington D.C. as they seek answers and seek to be heard. The movie and process was aided by MARCH POINT, a group serving as a collaborative film making effort between media professionals and Native youth telling their own story and the story of their tribe.

Look this movie over at the link below, and then imagine a similar project coming out of Harrisburg, or Bethlehem, another part of Augusta, or perhaps a nearby rural community.

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/marchpoint/

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bad News on Christian Education

“'Boring' is the number one word or phrase associated with Sunday school (among all adults), and 'fellowship with friends' is the number one reason adults attend Sunday school classes. "

This comes from Dan Dick in a United Methodist study on Christian education. Other insights worth discussion from the recent United Methodist General Board of Discipleship study:

  • Four-out-of-five UM adults (80.4%) report “little” or “no” interest in Sunday school, Bible study, or small group formation
  • Two-out-of-five (39.1%) claim that believing that Jesus Christ is God’s true son is enough — since they have a guaranteed spot in heaven, they don’t have anything else of value to learn.
  • 48% believe that attending weekly worship is adequate, and that there is no need for any other formational experience in their lives
  • only 1-in-6 (17%) of those attending studies report finding practical information that applies to their daily lives.
He goes on to say:
"...many teachers report seeing the same people over and over — good for community, not so good for launching disciples. The vast majority of Christian educators report that most students see classes and studies as an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end. Information is a higher value, it seems, than either formation or transformation."

"Those who teach in prisons, at universities, at nursing homes, in public schools (after hours, of course), etc., find that their audience is much more interested in learning about the faith than those who teach in churches."

MY RAMBLING THOUGHTS OFF the CUFF-- We aren't mobilizing an army and have fallen to merely making some numbers of people happy with a social network! Fellowship isn't a bad thing, and as a matter of fact a necessity for small groups, so I'd celebrate those who are in a group, yet want to find ways to "spice up" the study with a bigger intent in mind. That could lead to another blog just thinking about bridging into new study. I know of some churches who've "taken their study the next level" with great success.

Tougher issue- How do we move people beyond the pew and into a study? Isn't that the million dollar question?! Part of the issue developed over the last generation or so; I imagine we can't fix that over night. Do we push those who are stuck in the pew or merely try to start with the new generation?! Note the approach of many denominations in starting new churches rather than revitalizing the old and we may find an answer. Some of this may betray our artificial separation of worship and education with the professional/ministry separation of preacher from Christian educator. We don't do well at "filling the house" for worship though it's easier to do that than re-create the church into the Body of Christ for the world today. We need to re-work our approach, our roles, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead us into the "new" old ways. Many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world know more about this now than we do here in the United States. Yet another reason it is vital for our churches to be involved in mission as we ALWAYS take more away in the learning and blessing than we are ever able to give.

Of course, the challenge is to not lapse into a "closed" system. Too many churches and too many study groups are dead/boring/ irrelevant due to the fact we are stagnant in terms of members, ideas, and connection to real life. I suspect the numbers also betray much about our preaching, our worship, and our mission in the U.S. When I visit churches in the international "mission field" they typically have a small sanctuary and overflow with people, and they have limited finances with a ministry emphasis which is very similar to their lives- the emphasis isn't institutional but highlights the salvation and lordship of Christ today! Thus, neither preaching nor teaching are mundane; the hearing and the practice of the Gospel is vital to the church and the Christian.

Christian Education in the U.S. must:
1) get practical and relate to the everyday real life of people and to the mission of the church,
2) get out of the house! Note that many people are eager to learn, but we are stuck in a closed system of classes.
3) become relevant especially to church outsiders with real life application. Include a variety of people in the group including many who are new to the journey or approach the study from a different vantage point.
4) find expression in worship, mission, and throughout the various ministries of the Church.

Having just attended the national Christian Educators Fellowship I know some exciting elements of this are occurring in many churches. The challenge may be for the whole institution, and especially the clergy, to fully embrace what must take place for us to do our best work in helping people grow into the fullness of the image of Christ.

grace and peace,
Scott

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For Dan Dick's full report see http://blogs.gbod.org/research/2008/11/12/stupid-christian-education/

Sunday, November 16, 2008

As We Worship Some Face Danger as Christians

Some of my Christian friends in India are in grave danger. This is not an internet hoax. It is not likely to get much attention in the national press until someone from the U.S. is killed. Yet too often religious violence in certain Indian states is flaring into damage of property and even loss of life. Unfortunately the pro-Hindu government is turning a blind eye to these atrocities.

Consider what it would be like for a mob to approach you as you leave church today, douse you with gasoline, and burn you to death merely for the fact you had been to worship. Or imagine returning to your home after church, but being jumped by a crowd and being hacked to death. This is too common place in the Indian state of Orissa. That is the area, perhaps most famous to westerners, where the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his ages 9 & 7 were burned to death in their car. Though time has moved on the approach to religious diversity is still extremely violent and dangerous in many locations throughout India.

For more ongoing information find an excellent resource at FIACONA. This group is "deeply concerned about the increasing threats to the secular and pluralistic nature of Indian society and about the state of religious freedom of Christians in India." Would you be shocked to learn that 500 Christians were killed in Orissa in Kandhamal District with two hundred Christian villages and 127 Church and prayer halls either destroyed or burnt August-September 2008? This took place with police knowledge and no response. Official government reports grossly misstated the level of violence and murder. http://www.fiacona.org/

For more information from a missions perspective see http://themissionsociety.org/magazines/unfinished/2008-42/128

Saturday, November 15, 2008

As Worship Ends we Go to Serve

There have been a great variety of variations of the following prayer found in recent books and online. It's not the typical sugary sweet rather bland prayer, but a challenge as a benediction to end a time of worship. It's ironic how many of the Google listings I saw kept the first 5 sentences, and deleted the even more offensive and in some ways more interesting, last 2 sentences.

But this is how it is supposed to be when we finish with the ritual, the prayers, and the songs. We depart worship in order to serve God in the world, and to live as agents of reconciliation and redemption.

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort… at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths ,and superficial relationships. May God bless you so that you may live from deep within your heart where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger… at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people. May God bless you so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears… to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war.

May God bless you so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, in your neighborhood, so that you will courageously try what you don’t think you can do, but, in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly speak out about injustice, unjust laws, corrupt politicians, unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners, and senseless wars, genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember we are all called to continue God’s redemptive work of love and healing in God’s place, in and through God’s name, in God’s Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.

Source: “Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine,” published by the Franciscan Missionary Society, Liverpool, UK: Spring 2005. As found on http://halfthekingdom.org/wordpress/2008/08/14/a-franciscan-benediction/

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Rainy Day Off & Renewal of Creativity

I don't know about you, but I start to feel a little beat up by this point in the fall. Too much work, not much time off, and not enough rest and reflection drain my batteries!

It's a rainy day in my part of Georgia which gives a great chance to do NOTHING!! This is a really under utilized activity. After not doing much of anything (except playing with the "new" dog [another story for another day]) I got on the internet for a moment in search of someone to spark my creativity. Isn't it renewing to see the creativity of others to jump start the imagination?

I found http://thesmartestfish.blogspot.com/ today and have really enjoyed the various artistic expressions found there. Check it out for yourself and see if something isn't sparked in you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Current World Challenges Calling People of Faith

I wish I could just share some random thoughts on theology, or an inspirational story to renew your spirit. Instead, I'm struggling with the fact that now is the time to put our best theological thoughts to action. We are living in days that demand we do more for the good of all. We must move beyond our own self concerns and renew efforts to care for our neighbors- those in the next neighborhood or community as well as those half way around the world.

While we complain about the economy here in the U.S., and granted it may be nearing a historically awful place comparable to that of the Great Depression, many of us are still able to survive with hopes and dreams of a better future. In many places throughout the world today is a day of survival and basic subsistence, and if today is survived then tomorrow will be a very similar day of basic survival.

There is currently a global food crisis which is calling for our action. There is a special need for training and development of agriculture appropriate to local poor farmers and families throughout the world. Interested in helping to form such a team?? Read the following article and consider how you might help change the world with your interests and abilities.

http://www.churchworldservice.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6250

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bahamas 2009 Mission Thoughts Continued

What I've recently learned about the Bahamas:
  • It's a commonwealth

  • People drive on the left side of the road

  • It's an archipelago consisting of 2000 cays and 700 islands

  • They say "If the U.S. sneezes the Bahamas gets a cold."

  • There are significant numbers of Haitian refugees

  • It's a very beautiful place and some of the friendliest people I've ever met!
In addition to the work next summer in Nassau there are also options throughout the year on the various islands through Mission Encounter and through the Bahamas Methodist Habitat. This would be ideal for college or adult teams as there are needs in construction, children's ministry, and general community ministries. Abe and his team with Bahamas Methodist Habitat are well prepared for groups interested in both construction and other ministries. See http://methodisthabitat.org/ for contact information and team application packets.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Can You Picture Yourself Here?

Enjoy the beauty of an island, meet United Methodists from across the U.S., learn about international mission teams in a safe setting close to the U.S., and delve into a different culture. All this while eating some great food and benefiting from the expertise of some who've been involved in mission teams for years. We'll have many opportunities with both Bahamian and Haitian cultures. Think about this the next month or two while the weather is cold. But don't wait too long as the two camps will fill up fast. Go to Mission Encounter at http://www.missionencounter.com/location_nassau.htm for more information. And tell them Scott Parrish sent you! :) Just be sure to save me a hammock near the beach!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Summer Mission in Nassau, Bahamas

I just returned from a 1 1/2 day visit to Nassau, Bahamas with a team of conference youth coordinators. Terry Carty of the Youth Workers Movement http://youthworkermovement.org/ and Mike Shinn of Mission Encounter are facilitating the effort in conjunction with United Methodist Church leaders from across the United States. The scout team included conference youth leaders from Rocky Mountain, Virginia, Wisconsin, Delaware, Western North Carolina, North Georgia , & Arkansas. This is a really large effort with hundreds of youth and adults participating in a variety of projects including construction, vacation Bible school, recreation, and other opportunities. Some of the group will work in July, but I'll be involved in the June 21-27 camp and encouraging groups to talk it up and register in the next couple of months. We hope North GA might have 75 youth & adults involved. This will be a great entry level international mission for groups or youth ministers/counselors/churches who have always wanted their youth to experience such a mission but haven't had the opportunity. Look for more details soon here or find more information in mid November at http://www.missionencounter.com/location_nassau.htm

In addition to the entry level mission for youth or college students they also offer some good options on the other islands of the Bahamas through www.methodisthabitat.org

I'll share more pictures and stories in the days ahead.