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

For the full report (which I'd advise) see

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

Lyrics and music at

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"

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

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


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


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:

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.

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

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 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 & 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."

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.

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 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. 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

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.


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!

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!

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


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

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. 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,

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:

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:

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."