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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?