Monday, June 30, 2008

Moving at Different Speeds

I mentioned in an earlier post (How Much Would Jesus Water? ) that I tend to think about everything theologically. I also think about a lot of things in terms of systems. I was in Walmart today picking up a few items and since I was not in a particular hurry, I was noticing the problems and frustrations of flow-through in Walmart. The problem is a variety of different tempos. If you think about it, different people move at different speeds at different times when they are in Walmart. For instance, as a rule, I move pretty fast most of the time. It is just how I am wired. So if I am running in to Walmart for some milk I walk at a sprint-like speed through to the back of the store, grab the milk and dash to the fastest looking checkout. (Which isn't very fast if I am in a hurry. But that is a different point.) However, today, I actually was running a little early for an off-site meeting and had some time to kill. So, I was looking around, taking my time. I glanced at some leaf-blowers, contemplated the different environmental impacts of some different furniture polish, looked at the vegetable seeds contemplating if I could get lettuce to grow this late in the summer and generally strolled around the store taking in all the consumerisitic goodness. I noticed on a couple of occasions that there were people behind me growing impatient at my speed and lack of direction. This can be a little aggravating because sensing their impatience, I feel compelled to move along and cut short my browsing. What is more interesting is that I caught myself at one point aggravated at a person in front of me for going too slow. Some people, no matter what their mood and purpose for being in the store just move slow. My sauntering, killing time pace may be faster than their, let me hurry up and get some milk pace. When Walmart gets a little crowded, this begins to cause chaos. All the rhythm and flow is killed by people trying to deal with and adjust for the paces of others. The person who switches sides of the aisle to pass the slow person in front of them is cut off by the person who just veered off to look at something and was nearly struck by the person behind them aggravated at their pace. Most of us are so focused on our own pace that we don't pay much attention to the person behind us who is in a hurry or the person in front of us who is going as fast as they can.

These are complex systems and they are just a snapshot of what happens when we drive. Often we are struck in traffic because someone was impatiently tailgating another and had to stop short. By the time they got back up to speed they had caused a ripple effect that actually caused you to stop.

You might not believe it at this point, but I am going to tie this into life in the church. Churches are incredibly complex systems and they have flow problems as well. I am not talking about the traffic flow problems in the halls and parking lots. (Which, by the way, are remarkably similar to Walmart.) I am talking about how we become disciples. Have you ever been aggravated by the way something works at church? If you have ever been heavily involved in small groups, Sunday school, Bible study or any other adult education and/or spiritual formation program you may have found yourself aggravated by some aspect of it. Next time this happens, ask yourself, "is this a flow problem?" In other words, we are all on a journey of discipleship. We are all on our way toward perfection. However, we are all in a different place and we are all running at a different speed. It might be helpful to be mindful of our own pace, a pace which might be perfect for us at the moment, and the pace of those around us. What can we do to help the system flow so that traffic jams happen less and all of God's children have a smooth ride on their journey of discipleship.

Thanks for shopping.


Sunday, June 29, 2008


I remember once leading a leadership retreat for small church. We were discussing ways that they could better reach out to their community and help newcomers really connect to the message of Jesus. We were talking about how they were perceived by their neighbors. There was some amount of dissension in the room because some of the leaders were not happy about the way others were describing the perceptions outsiders had about their church. They were using words like unfriendly, cliquish, closed minded, outdated and even fuddy-duddy. Some of the members hearing these descriptions objected saying, “We are not like that!” I remember interrupting at some point and saying, “It doesn’t matter if you are like that.” Then I wrote on the big piece a paper I had hanging on the wall “perception= reality.” I had that piece of paper hanging in my office for the longest time. It reminded me of what I was trying to get across to them: when you are trying to invite others to join you and others don’t really know you, what people think is true about you is even more important than what is really true about you. In other words, when it comes to trying to reach out perception=reality.

“Perception is Reality” stood out as a heading in the afterward of unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Kinnaman is president of the Barna group a Christian based research and development group. The book began as a research project into the perception outsiders have of the Christians faith. It has ended up as a reflection on these perceptions and a call to action to address them.

The authors add some good vocabulary to the ongoing conversations. I like their use of the word “outsider” to replace all our different terms like non-Christians, seekers, etc. It is hard to find a word that does not sound pejorative, but this term is pretty helpful to the conversation.

The term unChristian is pretty interesting. It is not used to define outsiders but rather to describe the perceived attitudes of Christians from the perspective of outsiders. The authors’ defined six themes of negative perceptions. An overwhelming number of respondents, especially in the age group of 16-29 felt the church was: hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental.

While I believe research like this is useful and necessary, I must admit it is always suspect. While proper data collection can minimize margin for error, the answer you get will always reflect the question you asked. There may be a bit of that going on this book, but that is beside the point.

This book is likely to be unsettling for some. You may not agree with every point it makes. But, I believe the point of a book like this is to foster conversation. If you looked at that list of perceptions of young outsiders that the church is hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental; and say, “That’s not true. We are not like that!” you should definitely read the book. Remember, perception=reality.

If you have read the book or read it in the future, I hope you will post your comments.



Saturday, June 28, 2008

I was just about to write about this, but...

I was working on my thoughts on the book unChristian, which I just finally finished. In the meantime, someone send me a link to a post Adam Hamilton has just written on the book. He comments mostly on something that comes early on in the book which struck me as a little odd when I read it. I just pushed past it thinking that it wasn't really critical to the point the book was making, but Rev. Hamilton makes some strong points about it. Read it here:

Do You Have a “Biblical Worldview”?at Adam Hamilton's weblog Seeing Gray.

I will write my own thoughts on the book soon.



Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Much Would Jesus Water?

This is my actual lawn. Note that the water running down the street is not mine.

You will learn about me that I think theologically about everything. In other words, God is part of the equation in every part of my life. I do not allow myself to categorize things and claim that certain things have nothing to do with my relationship with God. Thus my struggle with my lawn. In the process of moving, the San Antonio sun along with the lack of rain got ahead of any effort to keep my lawn green. I am in the midst of reviving it, but it is always a struggle of stewardship for me.

I know that it would please my neighbors for my lawn to not be a desert of tumble weeds, dust and crab grass. My backyard is also where my son plays and it is a lot more accomodating to play on a carpet of grass rather than on hard dirt and occasional mud. Also, keeping the lawn alive at some level requires less resources than starting from scratch.

On the other hand. Keeping it healthy requires water, which is scarce; and money, which can be used for lots of other things. I have to imagine if I asked Jesus if he would use the gifts from God of scarce water and scarce financial resources on keeping the lawn alive or on something else, the something else might win.

Then again, I am not Jesus. But I am trying to look more like him. So I shall continue to struggle. You know, a little rain would make this all a little easier. Miracles do happen.



Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You have read. Now you can listen.

My first U Podcast is online. If you missed my first sermon here at the U this past Sunday you can listen online at:

While preaching is one of my favorite forms of ministry, it is not my primary role here at University. We already have two truly fine and very different preachers in Charles and Ryan. But I will take whatever chances I can get to preach the word to God's people.



Monday, June 23, 2008

fixing up the blog

My old weblog ( really evolved over the three years I maintained it. Instead of moving all the features, links and other stuff over to the new one, I decided to start fresh. I am finally getting around to adding some stuff to this one to keep you entertained between posts. On the right side I have started a section for books I am reading and a section for weblogs I like to visit (including one I just found.) More to come!



Sunday, June 22, 2008


I had my first taste of University Praise worship this morning. And, wow! It was slightly daunting experiencing it for the first time in the role of the preaching pastor. However it wasn't too overwhelming since we has such an amazingly gifted collection of people working together on the service. There is someone using their gifts to ensure every detail is attended to so I didn't have much to worry about.

I will try and write more once I decompress from the experience!



Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When it's not the big stuff, it's the little stuff

There are a lot of big things involved in moving to a new city and a new job. However, once all the big stuff is out of the way, you realize how much little stuff there is still left to do. There are all the people and companies that still don't have the new address, there is the really important piece of paper that isn't in the box you were sure it was in, there's a new driver's license to get. I just realized that the weblog profile still had me living and working in Corpus Christi.

No worries though. As I remember, this process only lasts about... three years.



Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some First Thoughts

As I mentioned in my last post, the first time leading worship in a new place with new people can be a bit intimidating. I was actually surprised how comfortable I was this morning. I think it was the attention to detail that at first impressed me but then gave me the confidence to be comfortable. I arrived at 6:30 this morning. I am used to being at church at that time, but usually that meant that I was opening the doors and turning on the lights. The U was already alive and ready to go. I found I didn't have a whole lot to do besides prepare myself. I had a little help with that as well with someone ready to pray with Charles and me before worship began.

I was in sanctuary worship this morning. The grandeur of sanctuary worship is awe inspiring. It is not just the architecture. I have been in buildings as impressive. It it the way that the building, the furnishing and the people work together. From the hand embroidered kneeling rails to the story-telling stained glass, from the soul-shaking organ to the beautiful choral celebration of the choir, the place was alive with excellence.

I have heard people downplay this level of worship claiming that worship is not supposed to be to be a performance. While it is true that worship does not need to be this complex to honor God, it is also true that God deserves our very best. We should never strive for excellence in other areas of our lives while allowing our worship of the creator of the universe to be mediocre. I also believe that excellent worship can help to bring people into relationship with Christ. What we are commanded to share as Christians is serious business. When we invite people to our church, we are inviting them to accept a life-changing invitation. When we show them that we are serious enough to offer God our very best, it sends a message that this is as important to us as we proclaim.

More soon but overall, first day: pretty cool!



Here we go!

I only have a moment, but I wanted to post on my first Sunday here at the U. The first Sunday at a new place is a really strange thing. While I will be leading parts of worship, I probably know less about what is supposed to be going on than most of the people in the room. Today I am assisting in traditional worship which also means I will be a radically different space than I am used to. Grace had a pretty small, informal space. I will be up front in a giant sanctuary this morning with overwhelming stained glass, a balcony, and marble flooring on the chancel. The space is intimidating enough without all the people!



Thursday, June 12, 2008

Moving on toward... unpacking

I think if anyone remembered exactly how hard moving is, people would stop moving. Unpacking is a fairly simple yet strenuous thing until you reach a certain tipping point. There comes a moment when you can't unpack any more boxes because they are in they way of the thing that you need to set up before you unpack them.

And then there is the problem of that thing you really need that is most likely in the box that is at the bottom of the largest pile of boxes. However, when you get to that bottom box, you realize that the item is actually in the box that was on top and is not at the very bottom of the new pile you just formed.



Monday, June 9, 2008

Not Quite

I didn't quite finish the series "The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination" before ordination. On Saturday, Ryan and I were ordained, finishing another stage of our journey to be faithful disciples. You will notice, I never like to use "finish" in a any form without modifying it. We may have completed this part of our journey, but we are far from done.

I hope to complete my series on what led to my ordination. I am hopeful, but I also know how busy life will be once I get to San Antonio. I will be there soon. I am sitting this morning in the midst of stacks of boxes awaiting the arrival of the movers. We hope to be loaded today and unload tomorrow in our new home. Moving is quite a journey on its own.



Thursday, June 5, 2008

Greetings from Annual Conference

It is good this morning to finally sit with delegation from The U and to worship with them in the midst of the entire conference. I will try to send updates as the conference progresses. peace, will

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Monument Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 10

I am really getting down to the wire to finish this project. Today, I am to be voted on by the full clergy session of the Southwest Texas Conference. All ordained elders will be eligible to vote later this afternoon on whether to elect me to “full connection.” If they do, I will be ordained on Saturday. Since I come before the group with a unanimous recommendation from the Board of Ordained Ministry, this is sort of a formality, but it still raises a tiny bit of anxiety. This is the very, very, very last vote in a seven (plus) year process.

But back to the unfolding drama. I enrolled at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where they gave me a full scholarship and a really, really cheap apartment. About that time, there were some staff changes at Oak Hill UMC. I spoke a couple times to Rev. Barbara Ruth, then the senior pastor there and she offered me a part time position as Adult Ministries Coordinator. It paid just enough that Alisha and I would be able to get by.

And then, I was back to the process (which was supposed to be what this was about.) At this point, I had been a United Methodist long enough to continue. I was assigned a Clergy Mentor, Rev. Dick West, at the time, Senior Pastor of Covenant UMC in Austin. I was given a giant binder to work through with him. We met once a month for more discernment, working toward my opportunity to sit in front of my church’s staff parish relations committee and the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. And that is where I will pick up next time!