Posted in Avengers, Christian, Church, Conviction, General Conference, Gifts, Kingdom, Spirit, United Methodist Church

General Conference and The Avengers

After spending two weeks at the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, I took a much needed date night with my husband on Monday night. We watched The Avengers. And because my brain is still in United Methodist land after two intense weeks of watching, listening, tweeting, and engaging – I couldn’t help but think about GC2012 in light of The Avengers.

While at General Conference I had many a friend and colleague talk about GC2012 in relation to The Hunger Games. And I get that. I get that in some ways it seemed like people were just out for themselves trying to slaughter the opponent so that they could move on to be the victor. I get that those references came from a place of frustration, of anger, of fear, of disillusionment.

One of the joys of this General Conference was the effect of social media and multiple voices being lifted up in a type of call and response. It was powerful and gave great voice to many. But in kind, one of the great hurts of this General Conference was social media. It’s easy to be snarky and give one-liners when you’re not face to face with people. And it’s easy to jump on the wave of criticism and complaint even in the midst of prophetic voices as people sharpen their favorite knives of choice.

Part of the beauty of The Avengers is that they’re all superheroes in their own right. They’re each bringing gifts to the table. The hard part is to get them to work together, valuing not just their own power/place in the world.

In describing General Conference to a clergy friend this morning, it’s hard to explain. There were times when you could visibly see the presence of God and the beautiful tapestry that is our church. There were other times when there were so many power plays and undercuts and self-interests that it was hugely discouraging.

I don’t doubt any of these people’s conviction. Captain America in the movie talks about each of the Avengers’ conviction and it’s not that they don’t have it, but sometimes it’s different. They believe strongly in something, but that something is not always the same. We each have those non-negotiables. We each have those things that are hard limits. I’ll agree to restructure, as long as… I’ll agree to support this piece of legislation, as long as these words are used…

It’s not that they lack conviction, it’s just that they’re not on the same page because they’re bogged down in their own egos, opinions, hang ups, and contexts.

No matter which restructure plan you were for, where you stand on language on homosexuality, or your thoughts on pension, guaranteed appointment or a set-aside bishop, there’s no doubt in my mind that the people at General Conference love The United Methodist Church. There would be no reason to come and be in the hard work of holy conferencing if you didn’t care. Whether we agree all the time or not, whether we acknowledge or gloss over some of our divisions and cracks, whether we shout and point fingers or just wash our hands of it, we should all be committed to at least some of the same things.

I don’t like using soldier/fighting language, but what united the Avengers, was a common cause – something they each believed in as a whole. What are those things that hold us together? Do we believe as Wesley said, “In essentials, unity…in non-essentials, liberty…and in all things charity.” What are our essentials?

I know it may be a crazy place to find hope, but watching The Avengers made me feel a lot more positive about the future of our church – and more than that – the kingdom of God. Over the past four years we’ve heard a lot about death tsunamis, the cancer of the church needing oncologists to come in and diagnose us, and other doom and gloom, and I don’t know about you, but scaring people and taking our ball and going home has never worked to inspire people in my mind. My dream for the UMC is that we don’t spend the next four years wringing our hands and talking incessantly about our decline or the lack of relevance, but that we actually start preaching and living the Gospel and let the rest come. It can’t just be a structure for a few big church pastors or vocal bishops or a handful of radical church plants or even awesome campus ministries that try to “save” our church. It has to be each of us – each pastor and lay person – not just looking out for our own interests or own needs, but actually living as Christ in the world.

So maybe you’re mad about how things went down at General Conference this year. Go for it. The whole add a sticker to the 2008 discipline that says “2012” is funny and snarky and there’s a bit of truth in there. Use that frustration, disillusionment, and unsettled feeling to get started with you. Don’t just point at particular conferences or jurisdictions or parts of the world and lift them up or tear them down. Start with you. Because we each have a common heritage, not just as United Methodists, but as children of God. Sometimes this heritage calls out for prophetic witness and sometimes it calls out for some non-negotiables, but even in the midst we have to remember the things that unify us. And we can’t just wait for the general church to give us permission to grow because of the latest nifty research or plan.

May we come together as one – all of us – with our gifts and graces and instead of hurling critique and distrust may we be intentional in actively asking the Holy Spirit to pour down on all of us – our communities, our churches, our world. May we unite not just against a common enemy, but for a common purpose.

Posted in God, God's Providence, Growth, Pastor, Spirit

Random?

The Sunflower Enoch planted as a seed last year!
In one of the devotions I read this past week the focus verse was 1 Corinthians 3:6, “Paul wrote, “I planted, Appolos watered, but God gave the growth.”

When we hear this, do we think about the different roles in the body of Christ and that sometimes we only walk with people for a season?  Or do we see it as a cop out to sometimes not give it our all, because it’s really up to God?  Do we lift up verses like these when things are going really successfully with our ministries or the things we’re involved with?  Or do we see it as being random that sometimes things grow and sometimes they don’t?

So is the emphasis on the growth or on the fact that it’s not all about us?

Probably a little of both.

God can bring growth sometimes even in spite of us.  The Spirit can move in mighty ways and can multiply things ten fold.  The Spirit can also move in mighty ways in the smallest of the smallest of small groups, class meetings, or covenant groups.  To me, this growth isn’t just talking about numbers, but fruit.  And fruitfulness isn’t just determined in the nuts and bolts of the bottom liine, but also in the tangible ways we’re in mission in communities, we show love to the least of these, we practice radical hospitality.

I also appreciate that it’s not all on us.  That makes me feel better in the transition seasons or the times when we’re running a little on empty. Then again, I don’t want my trust and faith in God and God’s power to make me complacent or for me to think well, God’s going to do great things here, I just sit back with my arms behind my head and lounge.  That’s the thing.  It’s not all random.  There are times of planting and watering.  We may not always see the planting and watering and we may not always feel like we’re doing all that much planting and watering, but God is bringing the growth.  And sometimes this growth isn’t in the people around us that we’re serving, but often and hopefully that growth is also in us.

May we trust and know that God is working in us and through us and around us.  May we continue to press forward and keep moving in the passion and ministry that God has given us.  May we know that we’re not in this alone but there are people surrounding us and working alongside us.  And may we know that God’s got this – not that we’re going to be a bunch of slackers or that we’re going to think that we’re God’s gift to the world – but it all flows back to the Source – God.

Posted in Campus Ministry, Lent, Prayer, Promise, Spirit, Unexpected, Worship

Marked with the Holy Spirit

Yesterday the online Upper Room’s focus verse was Ephesians 1:13, “When you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in [Christ, you] were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” What an appropriate text the day after Ash Wednesday as we boldly navigate this Lenten journey.

I love how the Holy Spirit shows up in the unexpected. Actually, sometimes I’m most surprised when the Holy Spirit shows up in the obvious places. Like a worship service. Dinner. Even a board meeting. Tonight we had our Wesley Board Meeting and our fellowship dinner and program night, followed by a joint prayer/worship service with BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) and CRU (Campus Crusade).

I admit that I started off the day pretty well. One of the students even said I looked more rested and alive today. (Pretty good praise for a Thursday.) But by the afternoon as the students went to enjoy a game of sand volleyball by Winthrop Lake, my sinus infection had turned into a monster of a headache and I was just D for Done.

I can’t say that the headache went away or that everything went exactly smoothly and perfectly but I could definitely feel the presence of God as Jon talked about his calling into ministry and we as a board got to send him with our approval to the District Committee on Ministry to be a certified candidate. I could tangibly hear and see the wonder of this special community as students shared over dinner, relaxed, hung out and chatted everywhere, and generally looked like they were right at home. And then as we began to make our way to the Winthrop Amphitheater for a joint prayer service with BCM and CRU – none of us knowing exactly what this would be like – but coming along anyway – I was struck in wonder by the beautiful night sky, a chance to worship with fellow believers on campus, and an opportunity to not be the one in charge, but a participant.

You see we were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Even with our sinus headaches, our thank God it’s Thursdays, and our exhaustion, God still shows up, guiding and leading us in the midst. It’s not just something that’s a maybe – it’s a promise.

Where did God show up for you today? Was it when things were going super smooth or a little rocky?

Posted in Death, Faith, Fear, God's Providence, Grace, Healing, Hope, Jesus, Methodism, Music, Spirit, Trust, Tumor, United Methodist Church

Tears

Annual Conference this year was both a whirlwind and a marathon.  Busy-ness or business was everywhere and it was both challenging and inspiring, a call to action and a test of will as we waited/persevered to the end.

I’m starting to think I’ve become more and more emotional as I grow older.  There were several times over this past week when I felt tears come to my eyes.  Some of those times were times of happiness and thanksgiving – feeling the Spirit move as Telley preached at Annual Conference, Josh’s ordination, the prayerful and powerful way our South Carolina delegation laid hands on Dad and prayed over him after unanimously deciding he would be our episcopal nominee.  There were so many great moments from the teaching to the preaching to the videos shared like this:

It was also a great time to camp out for Imagine No Malaria and to train some amazing Students In Mission (SIM) to commit their summers to being in mission = ministry with.  Much to be joyful about!

Sometimes the tears were both thankful and a little bit of just overwhelming gratitude.  It was surreal being back at Annual Conference this year.  Last year, I came in for two days right before the brain surgery and although some probably thought I was insane for coming, for me, it was my church.  The conference – both lay and clergy – are our people and that’s where we as a body share our joys and concerns.  I didn’t realize going into this how much being back at conference would bring up for me in terms of last year’s struggle.

We sang the song, “In Christ Alone” during the opening worship and those words and all of us a large body singing together was such a powerful witness and testimony to the love and providence of God.  (A video and lyrics are below.)  I’m glad we also sang this song during the ordination.  What a powerful song for our commissioned members and ordinands.

My mom’s birthday is June 11th and the brain surgery (left frontal craniotomy) was on her birthday last year.  There’s a part of me that would love to forget that date and not have any mark or reminder of it.  There’s another part of me that knows that it was everyone’s prayers and the grace of God that brought me through and it should be celebrated.  Don’t know which one is winning yet.  The jury is still out.  I get teary just typing about it.  Does that mean I haven’t fully dealt with it yet?  Could be.  Too soon?  Maybe, but not entirely.  Does that mean that was a mucho grande big deal and it’s still crazy to me that all of that happened a year ago and wasn’t just a bad dream?  Yes.  It’s hard to believe that that was me and if I didn’t have my lovely scar that I worry about getting sunburned, I might forget.

It’s hard to process things.  There’s a certain grief and emotion that swells up when you least expect it sometimes.  And it happens to all of us.  I was sitting in the Memorial Service for ministers that have gone to be with God over the past year on Mom’s birthday on the anniversary of my brain surgery and I just couldn’t do it.  I got through the sermon but the slide show of the pictures just did me in.  It’s always been a powerful service to me since in my mind the South Carolina Annual Conference is my home/my church and I know that one day there will be a service for each of us.  And there goes a Sandi Patti song and slides of the pastor that helped during my Gandaddy’s funeral and I have to head on out.  Even in the midst of the thanksgiving for life, even in the midst of the joy of the swelling of the Spirit, even in the midst of realizing that nothing can pluck any of us from God’s hand – there’s still both the realization that something really scary and really serious happened and a something that’s even beyond the word thanksgiving that describes that depth of feeling behind all that could have been and is now.

As I think about those that have faced such devastation in the storms and floods this year, those that have lost loved ones, those that are facing moves and transitions, those that are searching for hope and a rock to lean on when it feels like the walls are closing in around you – I know that the great Comforter is at work in our world and is blowing, inspiring and surrounding us every step of the way.  I am grateful that it is in Christ alone our hope is found and that we will never be turned away from it.  It’s available to each of us.

What are you grieving today?  What are your struggles?  When’s the last time you felt that ground swell of emotion?  How do we see the Spirit at work in our world?  What are the fears and frustrations that we’ve held on to and not given over to God?  What are those buttons of grief that can be turned in to sources of joy in our lives?

We are given songs or videos or movies or sermons or scriptures or friends or emails or a beautiful tree or the melody of the ocean or the stillness and quiet to claim as our promise from God.  It’s there waiting for us.  May we open ourselves to the Word God would speak to us this day.  May we claim it and know it and feel it to the depths of our souls.  May we know and trust.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin?s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

Posted in calling, Elections, General Conference, Spirit, United Methodist Church, Young Clergy

Elections are Coming, My Friends…

Sitting in the chiropractor’s chair, well “laying” and “table” are more like it – I was talking to him about just getting back from Student Forum Sunday night and then leaving again for Annual Conference next Tuesday.  He asked if I frequently travel like this and I said not really, just on school breaks and throughout the summer, but I guess that is a lot more than just not really.  So number one – as pastors I don’t think we realize how busy we are and how strange we look to the outside world.  And number two – have you ever tried to explain Annual Conference to someone?  Much less, that this is a big election year.

So for those that are United Methodist and haven’t been to Annual Conference on an election year and to bore the rest of you to tears, every 4 years each Annual Conference (Central Conference) elects delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference.  Every four years those delegates then go and represent their lovely people and vote on various and sundry things like budgets, foci, resolutions and bishops.  Sounds fun, right?  As someone I talked to recently wisely said, if you don’t like going to your district meetings or sitting in the sessions for Annual Conference, you won’t like General Conference.

Each conference only gets so many delegates that they can send.  Half of these are clergy and half of these are laity.  So what are some important things to think about when electing delegates and deciding who to vote for?  It’s such a wide range and I guess it depends on what your motivations are for your votes.  This will be my first time to vote since I wasn’t ordained until 2007.  I am super pumped which probably makes me a way over excited nerd.  I’m looking for people that have a good handle on both the intimate issues that affect congregations (and within congregations I’m not just talking about local churches but extension ministries, etc.) as well as the broader strokes of what’s happening in our general church and agencies.  I want people that know what’s at stake and the underlying issues and not just what sounds good.  Does that make sense?  So I’d like these folks to be pretty educated.  And very awesomely there is now a course that people can take called “Exploring General Conference.”  I’m not throwing around the “experience” word here to indicate that I want us to elect only people that have been before.  Not even.  But I am saying that we need folks that are actively engaged in the conversation of our denomination and who are actively leading and shaping and learning and discovering.

I also think that it’s very important to represent all of the diversity of our conferences.  I have several young clergy friends that are tweeting from various annual conferences right now and hearing how their elections are going has been both fascinating and eye-opening.  One of them the lovely (@MegEdmondson) tweeted: #txac clergy:  the YOUNGEST clergy elected has GRANDCHILDREN.”*  That’s kind of a big deal.  So yes, we need to pay attention to all of the diversity that we encompass – race, gender, age, type of ministry, etc.  I know I’m probably leaving things out of that list but it wasn’t meant to be all encompassing but merely to point out that we need a multitude of voices at the table.  If we believe in the “future” of our church as its “young people” then as both laity and clergy, we need to take that into consideration when we’re voting.  Not saying that people that are out of the young adult bracket can’t be strong and amazing advocates for youth and young adults, but there is a different perspective and issues at stake.

I’m one of those weird people that like the full tapestry that is our United Methodist Church.  As crazy as it may be with a gaggle of voices at the table, that’s what can make it awesome in the midst.  Like a family, we sometimes can shout over each other and stick our fingers in our ears, but if we’re committed to this crazy family of ours, we’ll take the time to sit beside each other and share a cookie or two and actually have some dialogue.  (Yes, the cookies offered during the breaks are essential I think to General Conference!)  So yes, part of my voting decision is going to be based on how people stand on some of the missional, theological, societal, and practical issues facing our denomination.  We’re talking a lot about the Call to Action and indicators and metrics and all that jazz, but we’ve also got to talk from a place of Hope and Spirit and Renewal and Revival.  Can’t we live in a world of both/and and not continue in the either/or?  Can’t we work our butts off and be faithful in our calling while also following the leading of the Spirit that is sometimes (actually I would say rarely) not all about numbers or statistics?  Maybe it’s a chicken and egg idea, but somehow I think that if we are following the moving of the Spirit and we are being intentional in continuing to up the ante and be in ministry doing as Wesley says, “all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” then the fruit or the numbers or the metrics will come.  And maybe they or a great conference or a wonderful sharing of ideas or a Spirit-filled conversation or retreat of renewal will give us the motivation and inspiration we need to keep stepping forward in faith.

So here’s what I say – before we go to Annual Conference – may we pray for the delegation that we are electing – both lay and clergy.  May we all pray for discernment as we cast our votes.  May those that aren’t voting be in prayer for a delegation that will fully encompass all that is the United Methodist Church and all of the beautiful work in progress that is.

We need to not just be in prayer for the delegates that we will elect, but for the delegates being elected across the connection.  None of us hold the speaking stick alone or keep the megaphone in hand.  This wave needs to continue over the next few weeks as we are in prayer for all of our leaders elected and the conferences that are electing them.

You’ve now read what’s important to me in voting and how intentionally I think we need to take these elections.  What do you think?  What helps make your choices about who to elect?  What are the critical issues you see in the UMC right now?  What would your ideal delegation look like?

* They have now elected a young clergyperson!  Yay!  Also to note that Josh Hale (@expatminister) said that they wisely started a pre-balloting prayer from the words of Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.”  I hope that this year’s Annual Conference isn’t all about elections, but it’s also about our learning, sharing, fellowship, sharing in the body of Christ together, and being church with one another.  Looking forward to it!

Posted in Camping, Faith, Family, Journey, Lost, Spirit, vacation

Journey for Parts Unknown

We went on “vacation” last week to Garden City Beach with my family.  Some dear, dear folks have graciously given us use of their condo since I was 6 years old and that has been the greatest blessing!  Enoch has been talking about the beach all summer and it was great for Evy to experience it as well!  The first day she was like ew…sand…yuck, but by the last day she was sitting in the mud as we dug a huge pool, river and pond.  I know, I know – who digs a river…and yes, in high tide, someone probably fell over in that deep hole we dug as the “pool.”  But it was good times!

Why is vacation in quotation marks?  Because when you take a one and a half and three year old to the beach or anywhere for that matter on “vacation” is it really vacation?  Trying to get them to sleep, follow directions, eat, nap and overall keep them sane and occupied is a near miracle and is certainly not restful for anyone.  Last week’s lectionary text from Hebrews (11:1-3, 8-16) begins by talking about faith and uses Abraham as an example as he is given this promise of God and sets out on this journey with his wife Sarah across parts unknown sleeping in tents and not knowing what the next day will bring but having this promise.  Dude.  We can’t even make it to the beach without a gazillion toys, snacks, books, and all of the “stuff” that we need to survive for less than a week. 

On the way to the beach (we left on a Sunday night) and I was exhausted.  Like for real tired.  The kids were asleep cuddled up in their child seats with their stuffed animals and I wanted to fall asleep so badly, but I’ve always been the one to drive to the beach and Mike doesn’t know all the cut throughs to get down there the non-GPS way.  So here I am awake telling him to go down Old Marion Road, no not that light, the next one, etc.  And I’m thinking oh wow – Abraham had no map, had no GPS, had no clearly marked laid out plan, and yet he took off, packed himself and his family up, and trusted God.

That is CRAZY.  There are many of us that are anti-GPS or even anti-google directions or anti-maps.  Some of us like to wander.  Some of us like to discover.  Some of us like the journey.  (Not with two toddlers, mind you…but you get the drift.)  J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”  Dad actually picked up a t-shirt with those words while we were at the beach.  Of course we gave him a hard time for that because that’s what we do since he loves his Mt. Mitchell camping extravaganzas, but I must say that I secretly liked the shirt a lot.  And I’ve always loved that quote.

Sometimes our wandering is part of the journey.  I was thrilled to return home and get our latest Entertainment Weekly out of the mailbox.  I love that magazine.  I do!  Call me crazy but I love stories and I love a magazine that talks about movies, tv, broadway, and books and has great columns with critical thinkers.  Good stuff.  Anyway – so there was a surprise for me in this issue.  I thought my days of getting little nuggets about the tv show Lost were over, but little did I know that with the new collection of dvd’s coming out, I’d get another gift of an article.  Some of you are like why in the world are you still talking about that ridiculous show and others of you are thinking I need to go get me an Entertainment Weekly.  But seriously it totally made sense to me and this text and this place that many of us are in – this journey.  Carlton Cuse one of the Executive Producers who wrote the show’s finale with Damon Lindelof were talking about how the finale was polarizing – some people happy with it and some people feeling like they wasted 6 years of their lives watching it.  He says, “It seems that the people who embraced the show as a journey and were not fixated on answers probably had the better experience with the show.”  Call me crazy but I completely resonate with that right now in terms of real life…

I’m not saying that we don’t wrestle with the big answers and the twists and turns and the why’s because as I’ve said before – God can handle those and God will give us what we need, but I am saying that part of this is the walk that we are on.  Part of this journey, this path is faith.  Faith that some of the big answers will take care of themselves and some may never get answered on this side of life, but faith that the journey – the life of faith that we lead – is enough.  It’s really easy to talk about faith and a lot harder to embrace it.  It’s really easy to talk the big talk about taking the scenic route and trusting our instincts or the leading of the Holy Spirit, but it’s a lot harder to put our money where our mouth is and not take the GPS.  Sometimes our faith leads us in scary directions with no quick Curious George DVD to plug in and a feeling of vertigo, and that’s tough and it’s scary and it’s real, but sometimes those scary places lead us to mountains of the highest heights and views we couldn’t have imagined and memories we will cherish like my prissy and beautiful little Evy with gritty and slimy beach sand all over her happily playing in the muck and loving it.  If we get stuck in place or if we’re too scared to move or if we stick our heads in the sand or are too busy to notice or care – yeah life seems pretty point a to b to c to d, turn left here, stay straight, this is how you get to your next destination.  But if we let go and let the Spirit lead…yep, we may have some twists and turns, yes, turbulence could be ahead, but what a ride.  What a faith that speaks.