Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guaranteed Pastoral Appointments - A Luxury We Can Afford Anymore? Revisited.

The Commission to Study Ministry will be recommending to the General Conference in 2012 to do away with guaranteed pastoral appointments. I wrote about this last year in this blog.

One statement confirms what I always thought - the clergy shortage was a myth. Yes, a lot of clergy are retiring, but the general membership of the church is declining as well. We desperately need leadership borne out of passion, not entitlement.

My only caution is that we not see this as a "fix all." One commission member noted: "Guaranteeing clergy jobs produces 'a culture of mediocrity. It allows people to coast rather than to continue to strive and to grow,' said Seattle Area Bishop Grant Hagiya, a commission member. 'What we need is the flexibility to maximize our leadership to those who are going to make a difference.'"

Maybe. But Southern Baptists are losing members too, and they certainly can't blame guaranteed appointments for their demise. Leadership, an understanding of discipleship, and a willingness to be spiritual guides and models seem to be needed now more than ever.

John Meunier, a fellow blogger and bi-vocational local pastor, writes a very good blog about this and what doing away with guaranteed jobs in the UMC might mean. An exerpt:
I think radical changes in the rules for ministry must go hand-in-hand with a renewal of a shared sense of our Wesleyan roots. It is from our shared identity as a people called Methodist that we need to define what we mean by effective ministry and the nature of the mission of the church.

Such a move also places much more importance on the role and quality of conference leadership. Do we select bishops and district superintendents to be the leaders with an clear eye for ministerial effectiveness and the skills and gifts to nurture and support mission-oriented churches and clergy?

Will our church structure and rules need significant rewriting to free clergy to do what they would be expected to do?

Does the denomination need to take on itself more of the expense of the educating of new pastors?

I look forward to the conversation.
So do I. Of course... does it have a chance of passing?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Being Authentic II - Time Well Spent

Given my last blog, it was with a strange twist of Providence that my brother called last week and said he was coming in on Sunday, that he wanted us to get together with my father on Monday and play a round of golf. I almost said no... and then realized that my father is 80 years old and that opportunities for us to get together for golf are probably numbered. So I told my brother, "Great idea."

The world knows the three of us as a retired college professor (Dad), an active college professor and researcher (my brother), and a minister (me). Two Dr's and a Rev. (I am the dummy of the family with only a masters degree). But to us, it was a father and his two boys playing golf. (The pic is one I snapped of Dad on an approach to a hole on Monday)

We decided playing nine holes was safest. All of us hit safely on the opening drive. No birdies for any of us, but there were some respectable pars. I ended up being 7 over - better than bogey golf (an 8 on the last hole didn't help my score, and McCrackens count all strokes). I was happy enough with my play given how long it had been since I swung a club that I should probably retire. I was also so doggone sore that it took me 15 minutes of slow-exercising arthritic joints in bed before I could get out of it the next morning.

It was well worth it.

We had a wonderful time with Dad. Good-natured ribbing and teasing. A few great shots by all of us. My brother and I noticed that Dad's swing is different. He certainly doesn't hit the ball very far. However - all his balls stayed in the fairway. Most of them were on line. I think the beauty of playing golf as long as he has is to know what your authentic swing is. It doesn't matter how impressive it looks; what matters is, it works. And it does.

Again, authenticity requires that we practice it. I think it probably requires some maturity as well. I don't think we have to be 80 years old to attain either - but it's nice to have some living models around nonetheless who have been doing it a while.

The late Bobby Jones once said this about "Old man par.":
"No man will ever have golf under his thumb. No round will ever be so good it could not have been better. Perhaps that is why golf is the greatest of games. You are not playing a human adversary; you are playing a game. You are playing Old Man Par.

"Old Man Par is a patient soul, who never shoots a birdie and never incurs a buzzard. And if you travel the long route with him, you must be patient, too."
That's probably a good approach to authentic self, too. As I said in the last blog, I'll say again: Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law. Christians should certainly practice Christianity.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Being Authentic

It's one of my favorite scenes from any movie. In "The Legend of Bagger Vance," Rannulph Junuh's caddy, Bagger, talks about the "Authentic Swing" - meaning golf swing:
Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing... Somethin' we was born with... Somethin' that's ours and ours alone... Somethin' that can't be taught to ya or learned... Somethin' that got to be remembered... Over time the world can, rob us of that swing... It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like... 
Junuh came back from the war with a Medal of Honor - and a broken man. Bagger wasn't just trying to help Rannulph's golf game, he was trying to get him to see how he was still useful. The preacher in me would say that God wasn't finished with him yet, he just had to grasp his unrealized potential.

I used to play golf. It didn't come naturally to me, and I realized one day if I wanted to be decent at it, I needed to intentionally practice it. So I did - I had a pro watch my swing, and he gave me very simple practice exercises to do everyday. I quit playing golf with friends for a while and just practiced: practiced irons, practiced driving, practiced pitching. Repetition. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it gets us one step closer to perfection.

I once got my handicap down to 11. To do that, I had to practice at least every other day. I would get up very early in the morning, go to the golf course, and play 9 holes (no one ever beat me to the course). Sometimes, I would drop 3-4 balls and hit from the same spot to hone my consistency. I sought to find a rhythm and discipline before I addressed the ball, and to duplicate it each time I played a shot. And it worked. It certainly wasn't perfect, and I wasn't going to turn in my ordination credentials to get my tour card, but I could play a round of golf with fairly good golfers and not embarrass myself too much.

It lasted about 3 years.

I moved and began going to the golf course more to be with church members than to play golf. It became a social time. And it certainly wasn't bad for ministry - had a lot of contact time with folks, invited a few folks to church (or back to church), and was able to talk with a few folks about tough struggles in their life. I wouldn't take anything for those times - they were rich and they were blessings to me. The only liability was to my golf game. I lost my "authentic swing." No sense of timing or rhythm. And as my arthritis got worse, I realized that my grip, my swing, and my whole approach to the game would have to be totally redefined. So I quit playing. The last time I played was at my 25th high school class reunion, and I barely finished the round.

Contrary to what some might believe, golf isn't life - but it can teach us a lot. For Christians to be authentic, to obtain or recover that "perfect swing," we have to know what fits FOR US. I certainly don't want to go down the road of individualism, because the American church already has too much "me and Jesus" in it and not near enough "us and Jesus." To be authentic means to be bathed in prayer and the Spirit. And to be bathed in prayer and the Spirit means, quite frankly, to shut up all of our requests and wants and to listen to God.

There is certainly a lot of brokenness in our lives: dreams unrealized. Riches lost. Poor choices. Accidents. Failures of health. It is easy to blame God, it is easy to blame the Devil. There is also a lot of healing in our lives: dreams answered. Being blessed with home and food. Being spared from physical harm. Walking away from a CCU or car accident. At those times, it is easy to thank God and say we beat the Devil.

An authentic life has us encountering both. Moses parted the sea but died on the mountain - in view of the Promised Land yet never setting foot on it. Elijah is brought into heaven, but not before God challenged him for retreating instead of fighting. Peter finally gets it right, but ends up dying (either crucified upside down or beheaded - both sound bad to me).

My hunch is that for these men, their authenticity depended on them being able to overcome their desires or their worries. To know God's voice and to realize our gifts and our limitations takes prayer - a conversation with God that is ongoing and constant. It swaps arrogance for humility. It exchanges wants for servanthood. It replaces our desire with God's passion. And all of these things take practice. Repetitious exercise. Practice leads us towards perfection.

The monastics have taught us how to do this through lectio divina. They suggest not just reading scripture - but PRAYING scripture. Daily. To ruminate on it. To ask God to change us through it. To focus on His presence and His voice. By such practices as this we learn what our true gifts are and what our place is as a disciple. We quit playing the games of who others want us to be and who we want to be, and instead find out who and what God created us to be. We find our authentic swing.

I don't think any of us are "naturals" when it comes to being authentic Christians. It takes work. It takes honesty. It takes courage. And it takes prayer - conversation with God - to find out what God truly created us to be. It's not that we don't have gifts or purpose - God created us with that already in us. We just have to discover what they are.

Let's find our one, true, authentic self. The only way to find it is to practice. Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law. Christians should certainly practice Christianity.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Bad Law in the Midst of Absent Leadership - Is the Church Far Behind?

Fellow blogger Allen Bevere in a recent blog wrote about a Peggy Noonan Wall Street Journal editorial regarding Arizona's recent legislation on immigration (May 1st edition, "Opinions - The Big Alienation: Uncontrolled borders and Washington's lack of self-control", WSJ). The whole editorial is worth reading - it is very good. I don't agree with all of it, but it is well-written and engaging.

Peggy Noonan is a refreshing voice. She was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George Bush the elder, but very critical of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. She is Catholic in faith, and I have always found her writing to be both objective and thought-provoking.

I agree with Allen in his words and comments about the new Arizona law regarding immigration; it is a bad law. As a high school sports official, I know that the best way to get rid of a bad rule is to enforce it, and I suspect if the Arizona law is enforced it will be out the door fairly quickly. It's already being amended for some obvious flaws.

But the point Allen makes in his blog is a good one: because of a lack of leadership (gumption?) among our Congress in Washington for over two administrations, immigration has become more problematic for border states. Neither party wants to touch the issue because it will mean losing votes. As in most things, when there is abdication in leadership and/or responsibility, someone or something will usually take charge. In the case of immigration, Arizona is taking charge. Nature abhors a vacuum.

I will reproduce the same quote Allen gave in his blog from Peggy Noonan's editorial:
None of this happened overnight. It is, most recently, the result of two wars that were supposed to be cakewalks, Katrina, the crash, and the phenomenon of a federal government that seemed less and less competent attempting to do more and more by passing bigger and bigger laws.

Add to this states on the verge of bankruptcy, the looming debt crisis of the federal government, and the likelihood of ever-rising taxes. Shake it all together, and you have the makings of the big alienation. Alienation is often followed by full-blown antagonism, and antagonism by breakage.

...Arizona is moving forward because the government in Washington has completely abdicated its responsibility. For 10 years—at least—through two administrations, Washington deliberately did nothing to ease the crisis on the borders because politicians calculated that an air of mounting crisis would spur mounting support for what Washington thought was appropriate reform—i.e., reform that would help the Democratic and Republican parties.

But while the Democrats worry about the prospects of the Democrats and the Republicans about the well-being of the Republicans, who worries about America?

Now, fellow United Methodists, imagine if the words are changed a little bit.
None of this happened overnight. It is, most recently, the result of two or more factions that are supposedly all United Methodist and Christian, fights over homosexuality, the economy, and the phenomenon of a church beaureacracy that seemed less and less competent attempting to do more and more by passing bigger budgets, a bigger Book of Discipline, and a larger Book of Resolutions.

Add to this churches on the verge of closing, the looming bankruptcies of annual conferences, and the likelihood of ever-rising apportionments. Shake it all together, and you have the makings of the big alienation. Alienation is often followed by full-blown antagonism, and antagonism by breakage.

...some United Methodist Churches are moving forward because the church leadership has completely abdicated its responsibility. For nearly 50 years—at least—through several Council of Bishops and General Conferences, we deliberately did nothing to address the crisis in the Church because church politicians calculated that an air of mounting crisis would spur mounting support for what they thought was appropriate reform—i.e., reform that would help the liberal or conservative factions.

But while MFSA and General Boards worry about the prospects of the MFSA and General Boards, and the Confessing Movement and IRD worry about the well-being of the Confessing Movement and IRD, who worries about the United Methodist Church?

Farfetched? Or are we just mirroring our government? Isn't it a bit unsettling that the UMC is set up just like our government? We have an executive branch (Council of Bishops), a judicial branch (Judicial Council), and a legislative branch (General Conference). And, if we were honest, we have lobbyists too [insert church faction/group here]. Did this happen by accident?

There might be a good reason to separate church and state. Why would we want to be like the state?

Our prayer should be that leadership arise to the occasion - and if it's from the grassroots up instead of the top down, so be it. Jesus started the Church with 12. He fed a mountainside of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. There are still 8 million United Methodists hanging around - I wonder what God can do with us?

You don't have to be a bishop - or even ordained - to lead. We were all ordained at our baptism to make disciples - and we can change the world.