Monday, December 17, 2012

Muffled Thoughts

Just a few weeks before Christmas, every year at Campbell UMC we celebrate Advent with the Children's Nativity Parade. So 350-something days ago we scheduled for children to dress up like barn animals, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and wise men to stand in front of the church. Last Christmas, our youth director announced to the staff his son's upcoming birth by claiming a treasured spot as Jesus in the parade. It is a powerful event every year.
This past Sunday's Nativity Parade was no different - cameras flashed, smiles abound and tears fell. I doubt if anyone in the room could avoid thinking about a small community in Connecticut and the children must have sensed our need for hope. The barn animals struggled to keep their ears atop their heads, but had no problem teaching us a few lessons.
The donkeys took their spot on the step as if their parents had threatened them to be camera ready. However when Mary and Joseph made their way down the aisle, the three year old dressed in a brown tunic holding his ears knew he needed to scoot over to make room for couple and their baby. I wish I remembered that in the midst of this crazy season. 
The sixth grader who, I am sure was wrangled into filling the spot as Joseph at the first service somehow knew to bring into his arms the two year old cow heading in the wrong direction. Do I gracefully bring into my arms those who need a slight redirection?
What about the lesson from the four year old angel who could not keep her eyes off baby Jesus even with all the distractions around her?
Then you have the second grader who wanted to be sure you saw his star even though that group was pushed to the back row? 
In some ways it was harder emotionally this year to experience this tradition. However and possibly even more important for me, it was healing to know that the story stills needs to be told and who better to share it than the children that seem to understand it the best. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Drinking From the Same 'Ole Well

I just got home from attending a Women's Conference at a local church. 
The church's sign does not mention the denomination I serve. 
I did not hear any speakers that would be familiar with John Wesley's Aldersgate experience. 
In other words, the conference was not United Methodist. However this is the fifth year in a row I have attended and there were a half a dozen women from our congregation setting with me. And I am registered to go next year...along with many of those same women. 
My main purpose or at least the one I give to rationalize my attendance is to "steal" ideas for our women's event in January. We have molded our event after their conference in many ways, while keeping our own flavor. 
I know from good authority that this is one reason they have the event. So, the reason is all and good. Yet, at the same time we gained good ideas for "Simple Life 2013", I was fed spiritually. 
Shhhh, don't tell anyone that I could actually be fed at THAT church and still be in love with an open communion table. 
I heard the word of God spoken through the power of the Holy Spirit. I raised my voice and heard God through the music. 
They do ministry well and the speakers spoke of God's love.
Did I agree theologically or doctrinally with everything spoken in those walls during the 48 hours of the event? No. And that is my point. 
I went to a UM event a couple weeks ago and heard a pastor complaining because the speaker "probably" had a differing opinion about something than they did. They could not believe that the coordinators and leaders would bring in THAT KIND of speaker. 
I had to leave the table before my mouth opened and something fell out.
Come on, people. 
If we only drink from the well that we built are we really drinking the living water?
If you only read books that confirm what you already believe, why read the book?
If you only listen to speakers that have the same theological or doctrinal understanding as you, are you not limiting what God may have in store for you to hear?
I grow and learn because the Holy Spirit is moving, not because the church's, the speaker's or the author's articles of faith match my articles of faith. 
Don't get me wrong, I cringe a little when something is said that may go against what I believe...and then I move on and usually am encouraged by the very next statement. 
The reality is I am confident enough in how God is moving in me to not fear someone's differing view getting in the way of the Spirit moving overall. 
Yes, I have been known to actually start to re-think my own views when I hear a differing view. God has been a part of all the processing. At this point in my life, I have never been brainwashed to believe something against my will (or God's will). 
I think it is healthy for people to drink from other wells and I want to be the first in line. 
No one has a exclusive market on God's annointed word.
When was the last time you allowed God to use something outside your doctrinal comfort zone by drinking from a different well? 
Don't make me start quoting Scripture of God using wells in the OT to push people out of their comfort zones. 
God annoints who God annoints and guess what? The person God is using may not have the exact beliefs as you do.
Get over yourself and listen. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Words Sometimes Just Spill Out

I am praying for each family of those that were killed in Aurora, CO, each person that was injured, everyone that was in the theater that evening and the shooter’s family. Even more I am praying for all of us.
With the following statements, I know I am showing my age. I get that I have passed over the line where I now sound like my mother. I don't know if the timing is right to express these thoughts. Yet, I am still going to type my thoughts because I cannot seem to contain the words any longer.
I understand the need after a horrific tragedy to crave laws limiting guns. However, can we really take guns out of the public’s hands and still put them in actor’s hands on the big screen. Do we really believe that children who have been raised on Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto are also being taught to process the difference from video to real life?
We live in a broken world; I make that statement way too many times a day. So, an understandable response might be – yea, we know, Melissa. However, do we know we broke the world? With each drop of violence on television, movies, video games we also continue to crack our society a little more.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not own a gun; I don’t have a dog in that fight (haven’t decided if I want you to excuse my pun or not).  I believe Charles Heston made a better Moses than NRA spokesman. I get that more restrictions may help avoid gun related murders. I am not attempting to divert attention from the fact that guns were used to kill people in the theater. I just don’t think it is that simple.
I think we have disregarded mental illness for too long. And I pray that we continue the conversations needed to understand how to prevent these kinds of events in the future.
I think we need to realize we cannot fill our heads and hearts with violence through media and not expect it to have consequences that are not pretty. 
I think we have lost something when a 3 month old is at a midnight showing instead of home.  (Now I know I sound like my mother). Are we helping parents, especially new parents understand how priorities change when a new life comes into theirs?
I think we have also lost something that as I typed the above paragraph I was a little worried (not enough to stop me) that I called out a situation in the midst of grief. We should be able to express when we think something was illogical without facing our own firing squad of the “you’re okay, I’m okay” world (yes, I am a child or the 70s). Sometimes decisions are not smart. Are we allowed to bring wisdom into each other's lives? 
I do know we need God. With each crack of hate and evil, I believe that even more. Someday I hope we will quit bantering back and forth about whose fault things are and understand we all need healing that is only possible through Christ.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maritime Law and General Conference

On my recent cruise I learned the captain is not allowed under maritime law to dock the ship. I found that rather strange. As a matter of fact, I didn’t believe the information at first, possibly because I heard it originally from my brother. Yet, I did some research and found that it is true; a pilot is brought on the ship to advise the crew on conditions of the waterway. Because maneuvering the boat through the most difficult areas is the highest risk, someone with special skills and knowledge of the local waterway is needed. Pilots are expert ship handlers who possess this knowledge. They are responsible under the law and maritime custom for conducting the safe navigation of the vessel, even though legally the captain is still responsible for the ship.
I had this new knowledge in my head as I read the Facebook discussion about the end of the United Methodist General Conference. This annual meeting of the denomination ended as it often does in people’s hearts every four year; without much change made. I need to admit my frustration with reading statements of despair over the fact General Conference had not made the changes this person or that person desired.
I don’t believe disciples are made for the transformation of the world on the floor of this conference. My apologies if this opinion offends anyone. I appreciate the process and am committed to following my denominations expectations. However, inside of the nursing home room this morning, the daughter preparing to say goodbye to her mother doesn’t care what was decided in Tampa last month. As our youth gathered last night to talk about their upcoming mission trip to Memphis, I don’t think anyone brought up the debates from the Tampa Conference Center.
The waterways that I maneuver as a pastor are often tricky, yet I like to think that I am knowledgeable of the waters. Or at least I am aware of the some dangerous areas or where it is congested on this path of faith for this particular group of disciples. I have been given the authority by the United Methodist Church to guide this vessel within this specific place and it is these waters that lives are changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I have the UM Book of Discipline on my shelf right above my computer. I actually have Book of Disciplines back to 1880, but that is for another blog. I get that the “captain” is still legally responsible for the ship. I believe that this gathering of pastor and laity representatives is important and represents the structure of the United Methodist denomination. I know the discussions that took place on the floor of the conference and in the hallways were sometimes difficult but needed. Our denomination is facing change. Do not be mistaken that just because decisions for the change some wanted were not officially made by May 4th, that the waters were left unchanged.
I’m just sayin’ - when it comes to guiding the ship in the midst of these crazy waters, it comes down to the pastor.

The metaphor is not complete (trust me, I am well aware of where it sinks).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Late Night Musing

My frame of mind may possible be because it is late, who knows. But here it goes. I am a United Methodist pastor(I know I have said that before). However, I have not spent the last two weeks watching, listening or reading about the happenings in Tampa, FL at General Conference 2012-the UM's version of Congress. I have heard about rulings on some amendments (and expressed my opinions on some). I even watched a little debate one morning for about a half an hour. This is the first General Conference I have experienced as an appointed UM clergy. I respect the process and respect my fellow clergy who watch every moment. Yet, this is for some of you and for my laity friends who are UM nerds. Our mission statement does not read "make disciples for the transformation of the world through General Conference". The Conference closes, the 2012 Book of Discipline will go on sale, I will buy it and then I will probably make a hospital visit or maybe officiate a wedding or funeral. My point is, maybe a vote did not go the way you desired. I am sorry for the brokeness you may feel. Yet, the world is transformed for God's sake by us living out our calling to serve God each and every day. My opinion on issues are often changed through people sharing their hearts with me. By living our lives together, having our hearts break for what breaks God's heart and reaching out we begin to understand each other. Do you want to transform the world (whatever that may mean), then seek God, remember you are forgiven through Christ, know you are empowered by the Holy Spirit and love another. The world is transformed for God's sake not just on the floor of General Conference but through disciples who want to make a difference in the world in the name of Christ. So, turn off your computer, step away and go serve someone. It just might change the world.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Too much in my head!

I have been rather quiet on the blog front lately. However I have not been so quiet in the hallway outside my office. It seems that the status of my blog says nothing about how much my heart and mind have been processing lately. Anyone in the vicinity of my office gets to hear my rants and raves about so many different things, I thought why not put some into a blog.

I am a United Methodist and I am proud of a denomination that speaks about grace. I still believe there is something about an empty tomb that should take us to our knees while at the same time inspiring us to reach out to another. I don't like labels and to be honest, I don't like people who use them. If you want to call yourself a liberal, evangelical or a gooberhead, knock yourself out. However, please don't bash some group you have labeled because they happen not to completely agree with you using the Bible or God.

Yes, I am a pastor of a denomination that currently is not growing. I am of the opinion at the moment that it is not because we stand or don't stand in a particular camp on an issue. I think it is because we forgot that we are a denomination that loves the idea of grace and believes that there is something about an empty tomb that should take us to our knees while inspiring us to make a difference in someone else's life. In case you are into labels, in the purest sense - that would be evangelical (the empty tomb part) and a liberal or progressive (the reaching out to another part) coming together. Currently, we are just tossing out Scripture as if it is a sword for defense.

The United Methodists are gathered for their General Conference in Tampa, Florida right now. There will be many discussions (and other displays of opinion) about issues. I am the recipient of some of those discussions through the years. If people had not decided that women should be ordained in the United Methodist Church, I would not have the opportunities that I have before me today. So, I do not believe we should be silent on issues. However, I do believe that when the issue or agenda becomes bigger than the reason for the issue or agenda, we have a problem, Houston (or Tampa).

We are wasting a lot of time arguing about who is right and who is wrong. We spend emotional energy and too much Facebook, twitter and other communication space saying why someone else is stupid for believing what they believe. Judging another person for being judgmental doesn't seem to make sense to me. Our hearts should break, not only for the cause we are fighting but for one who disagrees with us. When that happens we find ourselves loving like Christ and the fight becomes a discussion for the kingdom.

I believe in a God that knows each of us intimately, loves us passionately and sent Jesus to reconcile the broken relationship between creation and creator. I believe that because of that gift I am called and drawn to embrace and serve others, even those that don't look, think or act like me. On some days I do that well, other days I really stink at it. Yet each day I am loved by God and forgiven through Christ's sacrifice and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We are not going to agree on what that means, but when we forget that is the reason for the discussion, we have forgotten what matters.