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Saturday, November 8, 2008

We, the People

We have elected a new president of the United States of America. With the election of Barack Obama, many place high hopes for change across our land and world.

What are your hopes?

What role does the Church play in providing a prophetic witness to the new Obama administration and to us as nation?

Some did not vote for Barack Obama. What are your hopes (this is an appreciative inquiry)?

As a nation, whether we voted for Obama or not, we are called to be one people. After all it says, "we, the people," not "he, the president." What do you hope "we, the people" will be and do as a nation in these next weeks, months, and years, rooted in our faith and lived out in our nation?

It's a critical time in our nation's history. WDYT?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Has Tuesday Finally Come?

All day that silly saying of Wimpy's from the Popeye cartoons of my childhood keeps coming to mind, "I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today."

I don't know, but I wonder if it was funny 40-50 years ago because nobody would give anybody a hamburger today if you weren't going to pay them until next Tuesday. Now it seems that we have built our society on the expectation that we can have all the hamburgers we want and don't have to pay for them until the next and then the next and then the next Tuesday.

So has our Tuesday finally come as a nation or at least on Wall Street?

First it was Bear Stearns, then Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, then Lehman Brothers, and then Merrill Lynch (described as Wall Street meeting Main Street, USA). Where will it all lead?

I don't have a business or financial background so I can't fully analyze and extrapolate all that is going on, but it seems like there are some questions to consider and lessons to be learned.

A few of my questions today as Wall Street reels:

Is this as simple as greed?

Where was the leadership in these companies? What were their principles of operation that led them to this place?

What does this suggest to us as a church? Will anyone speak of it in worship this Sunday? Or any Sunday? (Maybe that's why I'm hoping some of you can lend your expertise in analysis, especially how that analysis might impact our faith.)

Clif Christopher is coming to the Minnesota Annual Conference on September 23 at St. Andrew's Church in Eden Prairie and I'll be interested in how he addresses stewardship in light of these economic times; things have changed economically since he was here last fall. How is it impacting your fall stewardship campaign if at all?

Furthermore, what is the unique voice of the Christian faith in these financial times?


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Middle Ages in the Church Today

I've spent some time with family this summer and as a result, I've been immersed in young adult culture and then older adult culture (as in 75+). At first I was thinking these two cultures are on a collision course but I've decided it's more like they are going in opposite directions, never to meet unless something really brings them together.

I found young adults to be more disconnected to the church than I even I had imagined. What we care about as the institutional church is so far off their radar of concern. But it's not that they don't have expectations of the church. In fact, they're deeply disappointed that we talk but we don't walk what they expect the church to be: a community that cares about people other than ourselves. That's kind of the bottom line: we care too much about ourselves and not others, especially those who are different from ourselves, the environment, and the global issues of our day.

My immersion with older was a little disconcerting, too. Change is about the last thing they want--in the church or politics. For instance, my cousin's daughter who is 14 came to a family gathering. No one quite expected her to make the 2 hours trip in the car but she came. Shouldn't we be delighted that she did? Shouldn't we be all over her in terms of making her feel welcome? Instead the girl hennas her hair and later all I heard was that she hennas her hair. Who cares? In my immersion with young adults in San Francisco, I never saw so many tattoos in my entire life in such a short time. I had to get over myself on that one! Yet these older adults can't figure out why younger people won't go to church! But the look on their faces would make any young adult think twice, not to mention my cousin's 14-year-old!

When I got home the other day from the most recent foray into family immersions, I began to wonder, what is the role of people my age? Baby boomers. I'm thinking specifically in terms of the church.

Do we ask the right questions of both groups?

How are we part of the problem? Or the solution?

Do we advocate for one group or the other?

Do we try to bring these totally alien groups together?

Do we align with one or the other?

I was talking to one of my young adult relatives and she said, "You have to just go with the young people...but then I suppose that's hard for the old people." Yes, my dear, that's the dilemma.

So, I'm wondering. How do you experience these two diverse age groups? As one of them or someone like me in the middle.

Frankly, I've never felt so middle aged as I have at the end of this summer after my immersions with the two age groups! And the church is definitely in the grips of middle age--trying to negotiate between these two very diverse age groups.


Friday, June 13, 2008


As the mid-summer's dream of warmer days and some time away from our usual responsibilities approaches, I note that many periodicals and newspapers begin to publish the "beach reading" or summertime bests. Even Circuit Rider's latest edition, May/June 2008, listed some well-known United Methodists--laity and clergy--and their favorite books.

John Wesley used to read a wide variety of topics and disciplines. He was particularly fond of the sciences in his time as well as theology. He advocated wide reading with clergy. Sometimes I worry that we as clergy don't read widely enough, keeping us from having a diverse perspective on the world, our lives, the culture, and the people entrusted to us. But then, do laity read widely outside of their fields of interest? I'd be interested to know what influences what you read.

I'll begin by listing what I am presently reading, too. I usually have several books going at a time--one on my iPod (audio book) and one or more that I'm reading with my eyes. All are stimulating but quite frankly I'm much less inclined to fall asleep while reading when I'm running plugged into an audio book!

On my iPod I am reading Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. This is an excellent history of how social change occurs, motivated by people of faith. I haven't seen the movie but I can't imagine that it represents the social conditions and Methodist influence as pointedly as the book. I am learning things about Methodism in England during the last half of the 18th century (and later years of John Wesley) and the beginning of the next. The social conditions as well as the way in which Methodism is regarded by "outsiders" isn't something that I have as vividly had described. Plus, it's important to read about those who have brought about deep social change against all odds.

With my eyes I am reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. This came from Bishop Will Willimon's recommendation in the Circuit Rider. His description of this novel caused me to call up my local bookstore and get a copy asap. As Bishop Willimon says, "When the church becomes infatuated with physical illlness, and ministry too easily degenerates into running errands for those who are experiencing physical degeneration, Mann's novel that takes place entirely in a hospital tells the truth. Our therapeutic church is really changed in this classic." I'm only about 100 pages into this 700 page novel so I can't say I have his perspective yet, but I'm intrigued!

And then with my eyes, I am also reading A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply by Michael Schacker. The bee population is disappearing, bee colonies are collapsing, and the greatest scientific minds can't figure out why. The interconnectedness of the bee with agriculture with world hunger and poverty should give overwhelming concern to us all. We as United Methodist Christians need to do more theological thinking about the ecological changes going on around us.

For me I'm reading history, fiction and science.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Can You See the Campers for the Trees?

The Sunday afternoon and evening following annual conference, I went out to Kingswood camp to teach the "theology" session for our camp counselors. It's great fun, partly because most of them are young adults and I enjoy listening to and interacting with them. Although, two of our camp counselors are retirees (think about that!).

I shared my presuppositions about camp:
1) Parents send kids to camp for spiritual formation.
2) Church camp provides in its 24/7 format the opportunity for more than 1 year of Sunday School impact.
3) Over 80% of adults in church today became Christians by or during their teen years.
4) 60-85% of those adults made their first commitment to Christ at camp.

So, the week of camp is an important one in the life of campers, counselors, our annual conference, and the mission of our church which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ! These camp counselors have a big job--please pray for them.

I share the United Methodist understanding of grace and how it relates to the various ages and stages of young people as they come to camp. Some campers need to be made aware or reminded of God's grace and unconditional love (prevenient grace); some need to be invited to make a commitment to Christ (justifying grace); and some need to grow in their relationship with God (sanctifying grace). In fact, all campers need all three!

I ended by saying that I expect each counselor to make it his or her goal that each camper:

1) will connect to the Creator and creation;
2) experience God's unconditional love through him or her and their peers;
3) will witness an example of faith and find it compelling in the life of the counselor;
4) will have the opportunity to draw closer to God;
5) will have daily Bible study and prayer that connects with their lives;
6) will experience Christian community; and
7) will have fun!

Our camping program is going through a year of continued assessment and reorganization. I would appreciate it if you would share something about the following:

1) What difference has camping made in your spiritual journey? Or your child's?
2) What's the most important aspect of camping and how can we do it more faithfully and fruitfully?
3) What input would you give the camping program about camp overall?


Monday, May 19, 2008

Whatever it takes?

In the United Methodist Church, we talk a lot about "open doors." We want to share the message that people who don't look like us, who don't have all the religious questions sorted out for themselves, who may find other doors and tables closed to them, and who speak other languages and are from many parts of the world are welcome. It's a statement that we seek to live into, recognizing that on any given day (not just Sunday), we are evaluated by our openness.

So I was struck by the recent situation in Bertha, Minnesota where an autistic boy (granted, a large 200+ pound, 6 foot boy) has disturbed worship and whose mother was legally restrained from attending church with him yesterday.

I never trust the press in reporting these stories so I have no idea how much the church and its leadership worked with the family. It does sound like his disruption was pretty extreme (spitting and urinating, threatening elderly and children).

But with the increase in autism in our society, I don't think it's a situation that couldn't happen to any one of our churches.

I can't help but think about the ministry that was started at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas which its pastor, Adam Hamilton, often tells as an example of a church that would do "whatever it took" to reach out to people in their need. They had a family with special needs and they developed a ministry for that individual family and then of course it's grown to include many families in the community. I do know that it's pretty labor-intensive, but as a result love-intensive.

So as clergy or laity, what would you do in a situation like this? What measures would you put into effect? Would that family be welcome at your church?


Monday, May 12, 2008

And so it goes, and so it goes...

So General Conference is over and now we live with what was decided. I've been amazed at people who watched on live streaming since I would think that was very tedious! Others could care less what happened. Always there are some who see some legislation acted upon that makes them wonder whether they can continue to be United Methodist. Yet others perceived some positive changes in spirit and direction of the Church. And so it goes, and so it goes!

I am sure that many of you who watch this blog (or at least respond to it) have some responses to various legislation. Here's a short list, developed from a recent Newscope, to whet your memories:

The General Conference:
Approved a $642 million budget, representing an increased of 1.2% over each of the next 4 years;
Shortened the ordination process;
Changed the term "probationary" to "provisional" member (the status after commissioning);
Established a study group on church structure that would make the US a "regional" conference (like other areas of the world are central conferences now);
Approved full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the only item that made the Star Tribune that I know of--only in Minnesota!);
Rejected language that would state that United Methodists disagree on homosexuality;
Retained language that prohibits UM ministers from conducting homosexual unions as well as rejected proposals that would add "civil unions" to basic civil liberties in the Social Principles;
Opposed homophobia and heterosexism as "forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation;"
Reported in various ways the vitality of our denomination in this country and around the world;
and added "witness" to our promise of "prayers, presence, gifts and service."

This is hardly a comprehensive list; it's impossible to report all the changes so you may know of some others that matter more to you.

But I would be interested in what your reactions are to any decisions made at General Conference. How do they impact you? How does it make you feel as a United Methodist? How will you live them out?


Friday, March 28, 2008

A Future with Hope

General Conference is approaching and will make many decisions that affect us all as United Methodists. The theme for General Conference is "A Future with Hope." Few United Methodists would argue that these aren't the easiest times for us. Those in various "corners" of the wide and sometimes thinly stretched "tent" of United Methodism may view General Conference and the United Methodist Church's future with anything but hope.

Yet hope is something we actively pursue through prayer and self-discipline. I would also say through our own confession and repentance of what we have contributed to what isn't right and good about our Church; self-discipline keeps us from trying to get others to confess and repent for what they have contributed to its decline!

I have hope for the future of United Methodism by keeping my eyes focused on our mission and working toward it: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I have hope when resisting cynicism and disparaging others. Holy conferencing is essential to a future of hope, especially at General Conference.

I have hope when I see new life bubbling up in the church in the midst of decline like a forest floor where new shoots come up and out of decaying stumps.

See my website article ( under the bishop's corner for other reflections on General Conference and a future with hope.

What do you hope for in our future as United Methodists?

What is your hope for General Confernce?


Friday, March 14, 2008

Rise up, O Men of God!

You may be surprised to see a heading like that from me: Rise up, O Men of God! But recently various religious pundits have been weighing in on the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (found at which was just issued in late February. The report indicates that almost half of Americans have changed the faith or denomination of their childhood (I would be one of those) or choosing not to affiliate with a faith tradition at all (the "nones" as I call them). The study indicates that religion in the US is "diverse and fluid" as individuals "pick and choose religions that meet their needs."

I listen to a podcast called "Interfaith Voices" with Maureen Fiedler as host each week. Recently (March 6) she had James Twitchell on her show ( who has written a book called, Shopping for God, and he reflected on this Pew Forum study, but focused on men in the big "spiritual brand shifting" of religion in the US. He said some pretty provocative things, not with an axe to grind (i.e. there is a "the feminization of the church" because we have a woman bishop, district superintendent and pastor) but from the perspective that it's just plain hard for men to be comfortable in church with no gender reference in terms of who is the pastor. In fact, he suggests it has more to do with the seating and the singing than who is leading worship.

Women, he says, want to go to church and take their children. Men don't want to go and want to be comfortable in cinema-type seats as opposed to pews; they don't like to sing in public, especially if they can't read music. He said (please don't blast me for his words!): "Men have to be coddled in order to go to church." I thought that was a bit over the top and a grand, sweeping generalization but he did say it!

Most importantly men need groups where they can talk about the Bible with each other, what it means to go through a divorce or what it's like to be misunderstood at work or how to be a father. Often Bible studies are both genders because we're trying so desperately just to get some warm bodies there. I wonder how many of our churches have men's groups. When are they? Are they well-received?

I also know that children are more likely to get the idea that religion is important if their dads are actively involved and if their families (mothers and/or fathers in this case) read the Bible and pray outside of church.

I was challenged by his emphasis on men in light of "spiritual brand switching" and the growing group of religiously unaffiliated.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Can You Speak Bible? Does Anyone Understand It When You Do?

A few weeks ago I heard an interesting news article about Mike Huckabee's use of biblical references in his speeches. In an NPR story, February 8, 2008,, his usage of biblical references was called "a separate dialect." NPR went to the National Mall to ask people what they understood his references to be. (Read the whole article to get a sense of how basic the biblical references were and how clueless the respondents were in their interpretation of them as Huckabee used them.)

For instance, when one person was asked about a reference Huckabee made, stating "it's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5000 people," he answered that it had something to do with Moses. In reference to using a "small smooth stone" instead of relying on armor, one confused person said, "is he talking about peace, a resolution of peace?"

The list goes on recording the general confusion about the references. Finally a woman who attends a church in Omaha, NE (all of those questioned had been "raised in Christian households and had attended Sunday School") got all the references right when asked. Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor who wrote a book Religious Literacy, commented on hearing that someone actually got the references right by saying, "It's an exceedingly small target audience, about as small as the percentage of animals climbing on Noah's ark."

I heard this NPR article while driving one day and pondered why these persons who had attended church and Sunday School didn't know these references.

As the pastor of a church, I have often been concerned about the quality of biblical teaching in Sunday Schools. Once the church I was serving needed to add educational space and because many adults never went to that part of the building to see the need in the overcrowded rooms, I had someone take pictures of the classrooms in session for a display. Looking at them, I noticed that the children (5th and 6th grade) were making snowmen. I made some comment about how the phrase, "a snowball's chance..." is not in the Bible, and therefore expressed deep concern about what was being taught; how the time was being used. What did snowmen have to do with Sunday School?

Why don't people who are raised in the church know these basic biblical references well enough to interpret Huckabee's comments?

How are we intentionally teaching and preaching the basics of the biblical faith so that people would know these stories or references?

Is it important that people know the scriptures for their faith development or is it simply a matter of cultural literacy (obviously missing some main points in Huckabee's speeches)?