Saturday, May 26, 2007

9 lbs of Strawberries...

My folks are in town this weekend. We took them to the Delaplane Strawberry Festival where we witnessed a most amazing championsip strawberry eating. I kid you not, we saw several grown men eat gross amounts of strawberries. The winner (see picture) ate 9 lbs. of strawberries in 7 minutes. I'm not sure i've eaten 9 lbs. of strawberries in 33 years! It was a lot of fun...odd but fun.

posted from my handheld device.

UPDATE: The gentleman in the picture is Tom "Goose" Gilbert (see his stats here) - he shattered the world record which was 5.23 lbs. I am not making this up - look here.

Friday, May 25, 2007


My new phone arrived on Monday. I have been spending the week playing
with it. Its been pretty cool. For instance, I am writing this poat
from my phone...beautiful!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Solitude of heart...

I have been posting a lot lately on time spent in reading and reflection. I mentioned that it fed my soul. Today in my reading I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen. Eugene Peterson quotes it beautifully in a discussion on pastoral work and relationships.

"Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of the heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own often hidden, needs."

-Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

He quotes this in a brief section on busyness. He writes in reference to pastors and states that "busyness is an illness of spirit." His point is that busy pastors miss out on opportunities to share life with the people - most importantly meaningful conversation and regular prayer. Moreover, busyness keeps us from being formed to be at a place where we can be used authentically for the gospel of Jesus.

I am continually reminded (maybe one of these days I will stop forgetting) that my heart must be formed by the power of the Spirit to be enabled to follow the call of Jesus on my life (in pastoral ministry or otherwise.) This forming/shaping/molding happens in time intentionally set apart - time in prayer and reflection, time in devotion, time in authentic relationship with others, time in worship, time in work, time in play.

The hardest part of this is being master of my own schedule. Of course there are two sides to this - the first is not allowing it to be dictated by others. The second side of this is the possibility going to far the other way where one becomes isolated and inaccessible in the name of "seeking wholeness." It's a matter of vigorously guarding the time set apart for those things that shape who we are and then sharing the rest of our time appropriately.

What is the thing that seems to be an obstacle to your formation?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grappling with Pastoral Identity...

This is a concept that's been increasingly on my mind of late - both in ministry practice and theory. Many churches expect their pastor to be a chaplain - tending to the needs of the sick, the shut-in, and the elderly. This is a pastoral care model of church where the pastor exists to take care of the people, pastorally. Sure the people also want a good sermon on Sunday...but it seems the primary role of the pastor is care-giver.

The other end of the spectrum is the spiritual leader. Here the role of the pastor is a spiritual teacher sharing spiritual wisdom around every corner. The primary emphasis is preaching and teaching , with a touch of administrative leadership (to delegate all other duties except that which relates to preaching and teaching.)

Surely both of the stereo-types above are just that - caricatures for the sake of discussion. However if we take the idea of spiritual gifts seriously, both types of pastors (and everyone in between) are hopefully employing the gifts which the Spirit has given them. As Paul says, surely there are those gifted to preach and those gifted to share mercy - and both are necessary.

Yet in different church cultures and structures, we lean more heavily to one side or the other. Smaller churches tend to want a chaplain-pastor. Larger churches want a teacher-pastor. There is a current trend in my own denomination to make sure our pastors are leaders - which is spiritual gift.

Yet I have never heard of any denomination that uses spiritual gifts assessments to help in the discernment process of those who are considering pastoral ministry. It seems to me that this would be one of the first things that we should do. Surely there is no concrete and 100% accurate type of assessment, however, it would seem that spiritual gifts would be a natural place to start with a journey towards pastoral ministry.

I am not sure that there is one specific profile of the perfect pastor - for pastoral leadership in a congregation depends on many variables - community context, congregational needs (for leadership and otherwise), God's desires for that congregation, etc. So I guess this post is merely my "thinking out loud" about such things as I grapple with my own leadership style and pastoral identity.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflecting on reflection...

This morning I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours reading at a local coffee shop (not the one pictured to the left.) What a treat!

I was able to explore and reflect on parts and pieces from various books: The Wisdom of Crowds, Friedman's Fables, and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Ministry. Each of these addressing some curiosity or aspect of ministry that my soul is seeking right now. Reading like this really feeds my soul. What feeds your soul?

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Today was homecoming at RUMC. It was my first...ever. Apparently, homecoming is a small, rural church phenomenon. The purpose of homecoming is to invite all the people who used to live in the community back to their home church for a time of celebration and reconnection. It is standard to have a former pastor preach the service.

For many churches this is a really big deal. So there seems to be this kind of pressure to make sure everything goes really well. Since I am new to the church this year, they asked me to preach the service which was a real honor. (However, last night I was afraid I wasn't going to have anything say, see here, things ended up working out very nicely.)

Thanks be to God, worship went very smoothly. Its hard to describe, but a certain excitement or energy filled the entire sanctuary. It was pretty amazing. One person described it saying, "You could feel the love in the room."

Since we had folks from all over coming back to Rectortown, I met a lot of really nice folks who's history with the church goes back longer than I have been alive! All of them very kind and very encouraging!

In the end, I am happy to report I survived my first homecoming.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

preacher's block...

...someone once called it the relentless return of the sabbath...and there are weeks where it seems that way. Sunday morning comes each week whether I am ready or not...this week I don't feel particularly ready.

I have read. I have prayed. I have ideas. But my sermon just isn't clicking...the ideas don't have a flow, or a comfortable order yet...

I am going to sleep on it and see what things look like after a good night's rest.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Laughed, I Cried, I Hurled...

Hat-tip: Marko

Dark night of the soul...

Have you ever had a bad dream that woke you in the wee hours of the morning, and that just sat with you? The awful feelings that it created won't be evicted from the residence of your thoughts. Rather they stay and make themselves at home.

Yeah I had one of those last night. It was rather interesting timing, too. But before I go into the dream, I have to give some background. You see the some of the bitterness that I referred to earlier is from the experience I had with our denominational committee that oversees the ordination process. All candidates for ordination go through a process which involves papers, interviews and continuing education events. The quickest anybody could get through this process is about 7 years. This winter I went before this group for the final "examination."

They asked me to work on some areas pertaining to my preaching and comeback next year. That was a very painful experience for me (and at times, still is.) Anyhow, in addition to trying to improve my preaching, I have also been trying to work through this bitterness.

One of the ways I am doing this is to attempt openness with my congregation around where my heart is. So, during the portion of worship where folks lift up prayer concerns I asked for prayers to help me deal with this bitterness so that it doesn't seep in to other areas of life, so that I can be the pastor and person God has both created and called me to be. My purpose in asking for prayers was not for them to feel sorry for me. Rather I wanted to be authentic with people I love and serve with.

So last night I received some unexpected words of grace from someone in the congregation I have a lot of respect for. He was very encouraging about ministry at the church and my role. He was very objective and kind. For some reason after those words, there was a quiet inside - it was as if my bitterness towards the process or this past January's continuance had subsided. It was nice.

Then came my dream. I dreamt about being with the board and reliving the whole experience in dream fashion. That sense of rejection and lack of institutional support or confidence reignited inside. I awoke from that dream with all my anger, bitterness, and disappointment burning inside like a roaring fire. For the next hour and a half, if felt as though a battle was raging inside over whether the fire bitterness would consume me or whether I could break free from its bonds. (Next time something like this happens, I am getting my butt out of bed and doing something constructive to get my mind off of it regardless of the time!) Thankfully, I fell asleep at some point and when I awoke - the strong feelings had been extinguished and all that was left were some embers of the memory of some internal struggle - almost like that itself was the dream - how I wish it were!

Now hours later its helpful to write and reflect about. (That and I had a long run this morning to help stamp out any of the residual coals of negativity - thank God for running shoes!)

While this "dark night of the soul" of learning to handle my feelings of rejection, failure, and doubt is not pleasant, when I am able to get some distance from it and some perspective on it, I can't help but ponder how God may use and redeem this stuff. (Thank God for his creative and redemptive power.)

At times I am reminded of a quote from St. John of the Cross's devotional classic The Dark Night of the Soul: "God draws the soul high so she can be submerged , and he lowers her so she can be lifted back to him. Which is why the wise man says, 'Before the soul is exalted, she is humbled and before she humbled, she is exalted.' "

I hope and pray that through this I can be like that wise man and see these ups and downs with those eyes of faith, trusting that in all this God is present.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

An End to Gadget Envy?

I have been drooling over smart phones for a long time now. (I mean who wouldn't want a pda and a phone all in one, right...right?) Everywhere I look it seems as if people have them: airports, coffee shops, stores, church...everywhere! I've talk to people who have them and ask them if they like them, I read about them, I think I even had a dream about them once . At least once a month I was going on-line and pricing them. (My OCD tendencies are starting to show...)

Its time to cut bait or fish. I am going fishing. I am going to take the plunge. This afternoon I will order my new smartphone. For those of you who know me well, this is no surprise - you knew it was just a matter of time. I tried to tell myself I could choose to live without one. And I did...Now, I am just choosing not to! The price and the plan are right...I am going to put an end to my gadget envy...with this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Orthodox Jewish Reggae!?

Yes, that's what I said orthodox Jewish reggae. Or probably better put an orthodox Jew who jams hard on the reggae. His name is Matisyahu. You can visit his myspace here, and check out some of his music. He has three studio albums and at least one live album out. If your looking for some soulful jams, check him out!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Random thoughts from others...

Scot McKnight has an interesting post about Pietism and emerging church here.

Jay Voorhees shares some questions (positively) about itinerancy and denominations that resonate with some of what I have been thinking.

I think John Wesley would fit very well with the emerging church/culture conversation and movement. He brought revitalization into the Church of England (and ultimately a new denomination) with his emphasis on acts of piety (worship, personal holiness) and acts of mercy (serving and loving others, social holiness). These marriage of these two acts of mercy and piety seems to be making a comeback in the emerging church conversation.

And maybe this new conversation/movement - whatever you want to call it - will renew the UM denomination. However, at times "it's easier to give birth than it is to raise the dead" and maybe God is birthing a new movement. However, "in order for there to be resurrection, there must be death" so maybe the UM church (and mainline denominationalism) has do "die" in order to be resurrected. Or maybe I have had too much coffee this morning a need to get back Bible study preparation.

Taming Elephants...

Have you heard the analogy of the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about? You know, where the elephant stands for some big issue that everyone sees, but no one wants to acknowledge for one reason or another.

Well, I have some elephants in my interior life that I’ve known were there, but have been reluctant to address for one reason or another. Their names are Woundedness and Bitterness. These two guys are taking up space that I need for other things like faith, compassion, confidence, and joy.

So where did these elephants come from and why did I let them in? That’s a good question that I am beginning to ask in order to show them the door. From what I have learned so far, that obese fella named Woundedness showed up at some point in my early childhood with the divorce of my parents. He was small when he first arrived, but then as the years went on and I continued to ignore him, he grew.

Not only is he heavy to carry around, he’s become so comfortable in me that he invited his friend Bitterness.

About five years he began showing up here and there. Then one day he stayed for good. (That’s what I get for leaving the door open.) Where Woundedness would occasionally make his presence known in response to certain comments or situations, Bitterness was a little more active, making his presence known or felt in situations where it seemed he had no reason to be there, which created situations where Woundedness would join in the fun. If you thought these guys are bad on their own, they can be a dangerous combination!

So now I have this pair of elephants roaming around my interior life. I have been reluctant to address these two for various reasons, the main one is this: have you ever tried to move a 26,000lb elephant with a 175lb frame? At times, that’s the kind of effort it feels like it will take to deal with these guys!

But there is a fact that gives me hope – it is possible to tame elephants! (How do you think they get them to sit on those little stools in the circus?) If you have ever seen the circus, you know what I mean. Tiny people move not just one elephant but a whole group of them. (Thankfully, right now I have just two!)

So now my journey has been to learn how to tame elephants (both those inside me and those in the room). I am sure there are certain steps one takes in order to tame an elephant. To begin with one must give them a name, you can’t have any influence with something when you don’t know what to call it. Then one must become acquainted with the beast, developing an understanding of the thing. For its not until one understands something or someone that one can interact with it effectively. Once this has been accomplished, its time to begin working with the animals to move them. Practice makes perfect and a little work with them each day over time leads to mastery.

I hope to be able to post in the future about my mastery over Bitterness and Woundedness…and hopefully I’ll have pictures of them sitting on those cute little stools.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What is the church?

A thought struck me the other day: if the church is the incarnation of Jesus in the world, then we ought to spend more time out in the world than in the church building. Thus we would refrain expending lots of energy or resources on "programming" and facilities (to the extent that they don't facilitate the three items below) in order to really focus on three things:
  1. a weekly worship gathering,
  2. opportunities to help others intentionally grow in their relationship with God
  3. intentional ways for the church to share the love of God out in the community
If Christians are spending all our time at church with other Christians then how will people hear about the radical love of God? What do we imply about the church and Christians if we don't spend time developing authentic relationships with outside our community of faith? What are we saying about the good news of Jesus if we are afraid to share it with others?

I pose these questions to myself and my own church context as well as to the broader church. What do you think?

Rob Bell's latest book...

I just finished reading Rob Bell's latest book, Sex God. It was interesting and a different way of looking at sexuality, humanity, and God. I appreciate his hopeful theology, use of story, and historical perspective to illuminate concepts and ideas.

His perspective is usually something refreshing, one I have typically not heard before. For instance, he describes some of the rituals of a Jewish wedding and their significance to our connectedness with God, human relationships, and sexuality. Pretty cool stuff.

That spoke to me because I have been feeling somewhat disconnected lately - to God and to others...not so much with creation - we bond over grass-cutting on a weekly basis. I'll post more specifically on this later, but the first couple of chapters spoke to me giving me perspective, concepts, and language to on which to reflect.

Not to mention its a pretty quick read and (this only makes sense if you have ever listened to one of his sermons, which you can do here) it reads like he preaches. Some of the material comes from his sermons over the past year or two, but still good stuff. All in all, I recommend this book.

Got Wisdom?

What is a pastor? What does a pastor do? Am I that? Can I be that? Do I want to be that? These are all questions running through my head like those recordings at the airport on endless loop.

To aid in my reflection, I am reading Eugene Peterson's Five Smooth Stones of Pastoral Work. In the introduction alone he raises questions (that he will hopefully address in the rest of the book!) such as how does one gain wisdom - the knowing of how to live life - in an age such as ours where the smartest people in the world can send rockets into space and take brilliant pictures of the universe, yet they can't manage healthy relationships with their families?

Another insight Peterson points out is that we, as pastors, have access to the works of faithful men and women who provide wonderful biblical scholarship and theology to aid us in the proclamation of the scriptures. Yet when it comes to the time between Sundays we (pastors) rely on the latest pop-psychology or sociology books to help us. We spend time reading the latest methods or books, but at the neglect of the wisdom of the ancients mothers and fathers who have gone before us.

My own experience bears this out. (On my desk right now I have five books that fall into the pop-psyhc or soc. category.) So where does one find pastoral wisdom? I have to believe some kind of middle ground exists where we glean from the wisdom of those who have gone before while being aware of our culture through current voices.

So as I journey with the questions on endless loop, for this portion of the road I have chosen Peterson as a companion to help wrestle with the questions and possible raise some new ones.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blue Oxford, Tan Khakis, and a Tie...

Here is Dan Kimball's post about his experience in Virginia this past week. I fear we may have scared (or scarred) him.

Hat tip: Gordo

The Best Laid Plans...

Over the past several weeks our congregation has been exploring healing - physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. Today we had a healing service...but not the way I had in mind. Going into worship I was excited about some of the new things we were going to try.

Yet, We had few "hiccups" with the order of worship and the worship leader. This irritated me a bit, but I was keeping my cool, looking forward to our acts of healing after communion.

Then in the middle of the service during a hymn, one of our elderly members who sings in the choir passed out. (This is the third time he has done this at church - the second time since I have been there!) Thankfully he passed out sitting down. The hymn we were singing was - "Have Thine Own Way Lord." (Ironic, because worship certainly wasn't going the way I intended!)

So some of the men in the choir fireman-carried him into the fellowship hall where luckily we had an EMT in the congregation who was able to provide assistance until the rescue squad arrived. We continued the service with a prayer for healing for our "fallen" comrade and then attempted to continue with the rest of the order of worship.

In the end, I think that this poor gentleman's fainting spell really set the tone for the rest of the service. This may sound weird, but somehow the kinks in the (read: my) plans created space for God to move in the midst of the service. People shared authentically about what was going on in their own lives. They approached the healing centers (anointing with oil, shared prayer, remembering their baptism, and kneeling at the altar rail) with a different kind of mindset.

If anyone was touched by the service or experienced any kind of healing, there is no question that it was the power of God moving and not the design and implementation of the service! What a day!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Random Thoughts from Seminar with Dan Kimball

Yesterday and today I have been in Stafford, VA for a continuing ed event sponsored by the Virginia Conference of the UMC. One of the headline speakers is Dan Kimball. I am impressed that they brought a speaker from outside the denomination. I have really enjoyed Dan’s perspective and approach to being a worshiping community.

The focus of the conference is on connecting with the disconnected, i.e. evangelism. Dan asked some good questions and I think really challenged the folks who attended. The biggest thing that I think is a Methodist cultural issue – reaching outside the four walls of the church building. There are many UMCs that do this well. However, I would argue that the majority of UMCs don’t do this well. We have somehow lost the DNA of Wesley where people go out to where the people are.

It seems that in our culture, the pastor and church staff sit in their office in the church preparing for the people that are already attending. Mission is leaving for one week in the year to serve someone in a far off place.

Yet, there are many people in our own community that need to be connected with the kingdom of God. Our churches need to be missionaries in our communities. We need to have vital, celebratory, life-giving worship. We need to be developing authentic relationships with people outside our churches. We need to be growing in our own relationship with God so that we can be transformed in love to serve and love the people in our community, not because they are a number, but because they are loved by the Author of grace and creation.

The church is not social club. The church is the people who are the body of Christ called to go out into the world.