Thursday, July 31, 2008

Please pass the veggie burgers.

I don't usually make a big deal about it but I don't eat meat. I rarely refer to myself as a vegetarian because that word tends to carry some other baggage with it. In fact, I used to make fun of vegetarians including my wife. (Who now won't let me live it down.) I just don't eat meat. I am certainly not a vegan. I drink milk, though only in my lattes. I am pretty much addicted to cheese. I would eat eggs but I don't often get around to it. I also eat fish, though not as much as I did in Corpus Christi.

Unlike many vegetarians, I am not at all offended by meat. I was at a large dinner at the County Line the other night talking to my colleagues over a giant steaming plate or chicken, brisket and ribs while I ate potato salad and coleslaw. The meat even looked good. (The County Line does killer ribs). It even smelled good. But I didn't eat it. When friends come to visit, I BBQ. I do my own killer ribs while my portobello mushrooms cook nearby.

I am still fairly new to this whole thing. I gave up meat for lent this year. At the end of lent I decided that it would be permanent. I was actually shocked at my own decision. As a typical American male, meat used to make up the majority of my diet. Vegatables were really just a garnish.

There are a lot of reasons I don't eat meat. There are health reasons, environmental reasons, theological reasons, economic reasons, sustainability reasons and fairness reasons. Then there are the animals themselves. Which brings me to why I decided to post about this this morning. Nicholas Kristof wrote an interesting piece this morning in The New York Times on the forthcoming referendum on animal rights in California. A piece on that topic would not likely be interesting if it was written by a member of PETA or another hardcore animal rights activist. But Kristof grew up on a farm and continues to eat meat. (With a little bit of reservation.) I don't post this as any sort of personal commentary on California politics. That is a road I have no desire to go down. Check out the article. I always love to hear your thoughts.

A Farm Boy Reflects



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bishop Lowry

Newly elected Bishop Mike Lowry preached this past Sunday here at University. The San Antonio Express News covered it from an interesting angle. The story is posted here:



Saturday, July 26, 2008

Time better wasted...

I have had myspace and facebook accounts for some time now. However, I never really saw them as more than time wasters. I didn't spend much time on either and the time I did spend was no more useful than surfing the web for celebrity news. Then, quite at random, I read a piece in the New York Times by Luis Suarez who works for IBM. In "I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip" Suarez describes social networking sites as tools for more efficient communication. Inspired by his article, I made a decision. I gave up on myspace and decided I would experiment for some time to see if facebook could become a useful tool in my communication life.

If you are not familiar with sites like myspace and facebook, they are a little hard for me to describe. There is a pretty in depth article at wikipedia, but it might confuse you more. Perhaps I can best describe what these sites do by explaining how facebook has become useful to me. Friendships in my generation are a little different than those of my father's. My father knows where most of the people he grew up with are. They very often live in the same house the grew up in. If they don't, my father usually knows where they went. My childhood friends are scattered all over the country. I also left my hometown at 17 and went to college, where I made some more friends, who then scattered all over the country. I then got a job in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania where I made more friends, then Allentown, Pennsylvania, then Austin, Texas, then I made friends in seminary, then I started working in churches which caused me to make friends and then move. You may get the point that I have made friends all over the country, who have continued to spread all over the country and it is really difficult to stay connected with all these people. Standard mail doesn't work, just like my friends, my address changes every couple or few years. Email doesn't even help. People change email when they change jobs or when spam overwhelms their account.

This is where services like facebook come in. Facebook, like some of the others, works by collecting "friends." You can find friends by joining networks or groups based on location or the University you attended or even some interest (like one of mine, Equal Exchange for people interested in fairly traded coffee.) This isn't necessarily a search for new friends, it is a way to sort of round up the friends you already have. One of the ways I constantly reconnect with friends is through a feature called "People you may know" which basically looks at your friends and see who they are friends with. If two of your friends share the same friend, the service thinks you might know that person as well.

Okay, I don't want to go too deeply into how this all works but instead talk about how it works for me. Facebook allows me to collect my friends in one large social space. I am not required to interact with them on any sort of regular basis. But if I do want to communicate with someone, I don't need to find their email address, I can just send them a message. Also, if I want to let all my friends to know something, that becomes really easy. I can share photos will all my friends (and only people who I have selected as my friends) and not have to email them out to everyone.

Facebook also has a neat feature called "News Feed" where I can see little updates on all my friends, like if they upload new pictures or change status or just decide to post something about their current state of mind. Friends can also post event invitations, for instance, to let them all know that they are going to see Batman.

I realize that for some, the idea of online social networking just doesn't fly. It may seem to impersonal or just another time drain. But I am pretty convinced for now. I think communication is in a rapid period of evolution. I was in on the ground floor of email even before college. When it was new, it worked to well. If I knew someone who had email, I knew that this could be a primary means of communication. Now, I have friends with 4 email accounts, all so overfull that they may not see, let alone have a chance to respond to mine. I never was much into instant messaging, but many found it as an instant way to cut through the clutter. Text messaging is very effective, but I only enlist it with my closest friends. The church used to communicate primarily through newsletters, now it is web and email and weblogs. I imagine, in a few years, these will all be obsolete. We have the technology to communicate instantly with people from anywhere on the globe, the technology is there to make it happen, but the technology to help make it not overwhelming, is still in progress.



Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Glad to not be watching the radar

Three years in Corpus Christi really heightened my hurricane awareness. Although Corpus was not really even brushed during my time there we had one close enough that my house was completely boarded up. Rita in 2005 really looked like it was coming our way and in the wake of Katrina, the city ordered everyone to leave. We saw the immediate traffic jam form and decided to wait a bit and hang out in our very dark house.
Now I am just hoping for a little rain to come our way.



Sunday, July 20, 2008

News from Juridictional Conference

There has been a lot going on this past week at Jurisdictional Conference, the quadrennial meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Most United Methodists don't pay much attention to this meeting except that, it is where our Bishops are elected and assigned.

The first news is that Friday, Mike Lowry, clergy member of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference and most recently Executive Director of the Office of New Church Development and Transformation has been elected Bishop and assigned to serve in the Central Texas Conference. Mike is know and loved by many in our conference and has served at University UMC, San Antonio Bethany UMC, Austin; Asbury UMC, Corpus Christi; Wesley UMC, Harlingen; and St. Paul's UMC, Kerrville.

Here at University, we are blessed in that Bishop Lowry will be here at University next Sunday to preach.

In other important news, our conference has a new bishop. With the pending retirement of Bishop Joel Martinez, newly elected Bishop Jim Dorff will be our presiding bishop beginning in September. More on him soon!



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reading Along

I read the Bible in a number of ways. On thing I like to do on occasion is to read all the way through. I tend to do this starting in four places. I start at the beginning of Genesis, the beginning of Psalms, the beginning of Matthew and the beginning of Romans. I try to read a little bit from each starting point each day. It keeps me from getting too bogged down in any one part of the Bible or getting burned out on one specific genre. In an effort to hold myself accountable, I am posting a section on where I am and how it is going. On the right side of the blog, you will see, "Where in the Bible is Will?" I am not going to update it every day since that process itself would be too time consuming, but I will try to update it a couple of time a week so you can see how I am progressing and read along if you like. You will see I got a little head start, so if you want to join me in my journey, you better get reading.



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Church Unique

Just a short review of Will Mancini’s Church Unique, How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement (also available on Amazon's Kindle device).I have to say I have read quite a few titles in the genre of church vision and management. While Mancini hits a lot of the common themes, his book does have a unique perspective in emphasizing the unique nature of each church. He wisely casts off any attempt at laying out specific tactics for a successful growing church. From this perspective, Will Mancini is the anti-consultant. I often make fun of consultants from my radio days. Company execs would spend outrageous amounts of money to bring in a consultant team to change everything because that team had just taken a similar station from #5 in the market to #1. Of course, the market they had succeeded in was Cleveland and we were in Allentown. It never worked because the consultants had not taken into account what made Allentown unique and what made our station unique. Imagine how much more powerful this issue is when we are talking, not about radio stations, but unique outposts of the mission of Jesus Christ.

Will Mancini does offer a plan, but it a plan to understand a church’s own unique calling and how to clarify and articulate a vision around that.

The book is worth reading even if you are not considering entering into a process of reenvisioning you church. It is filled with great language and plenty of insight into the process of change management including thoughts on those barriers that keep us from becoming what God would have us become.

I got to meet Will Mancini while I was reading the book. It became clear during our brief lunch that this book itself is only a snap shot of his own vision and his track record of helping churches is pretty impressive. If you have read the book or are familiar with the author’s work, you comments are welcome.



Monday, July 14, 2008

What's the Mission

As you can see on the right side of the blog, I am reading Will Mancini's, Church Unique. I just finished chapter 12 and wanted to share one sentence. "Being confronted with the need to know one's mission would force millions of us to reexamine who we are and what we're really about."

That is a really impactful sentence for what we are doing at University, especially in the area of discipleship. Our mission as Christians is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As a church, if we are constantly reminding ourselves of that, it really causes us to think about what we do in the life of the church day in and day out.

As a church, we do a lot of things. A lot of those things are really great. But there are always things that we do that do not stand up to the bright light or missional examination. In other words, too often we ask why we are doing something and the answer is not, "because it makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

Church Unique is a good read. I will post a full review when I am done.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


If I had to give one heads up for someone beginning a ministry it would be this: learn to be ok when people are disppointed in you. This isn't meant to be jaded or dismissive. It is just a fact of ministry that as a pastor or other leader in the church people will be dissappointed in you. Often, in my experience, people are disappointed in me because of an unrealistic expectation they hold of me or my pastoral office. In most situations, pastors have no real chance of living up to all the expectations people hold. We can't possible visit everyone, keep track of every concern and be present at every important moment. This doesn't give us permission to not try. It just means we won't succeed. I think it is possible to learn to deal with disappointment in this arena. What is a little more difficult is the fact that as a pastor, who happens to be a human being, I also occassionally fail to live up to realistic expectations. As a servant of God, it can really sting with this happens, because often people's understanding and faith is tied up with God's servants so, in some situations, failing to live up can be taken (usually subconsciously) as God failing to deliver. I'm an not saying that this is fair, just true. But no matter how hard I try, I often fail to live up to someone's realistic expectation.

I remember once missing being at the bedside at the death of the mother of a member of my congregation. She asked me to come. It was a reasonable request. I was in town. I was available, but I didn't make it and she was disappointed. I got tied up doing something else. That haunted me for a while. One of my mentors actually helped me by saying that this same sort of thing would happen again and again.

Here is the interesting thing. If I had to look back at the number of times I failed to live up to someone's realistic expectations, it was because I was involved in or exhausted from an effort to live up to someone else's unrealistic expectations.

As a pastor, a representative of God, there is a temptation to be all things to all people. The danger of this is that I might miss the opportunity to be what God needs me to be for one person.



Habits that save lives

I am not by any means a student of human behavior, but I am fascinated by it. There is a very cool article in this morning’s New York Times on using the same psychology used to manufacturer the need the causes us to buy products to do something far more important. Successful product marketing creates a need and then creates a habit.

Charles Duhigg writes that studies reveal, “as much as 45 percent of what we do every day is habitual — that is, performed almost without thinking in the same location or at the same time each day, usually because of subtle cues.” Marketers don’t just want you to buy a product, that want to make the product a habitual part of your life so that you keep buying the product.

This same marketing tactic can be used for pure good. In this instance, we are talking about saving lives in Africa by making the use of soap after a visit to the restroom a habit thus saving countless lives from deadly disease.

Check out the article here:

Warning: Habits May Be Good for You

Published: July 13, 2008
Social scientists have learned that there is power in tying certain behaviors to habitual cues through relentless advertising.

It has me wondering, is there something here that would help people do some other things that are good for them, like praying and reading scripture?



Thursday, July 10, 2008


A lot of people have been asking how I like my new position at University. I love it. But, if I were asked to describe it in one word, the word would be "intense."

University is a pretty good jump in size from the previous two appointments, the last one having a membership of about 1000 and the one before that around 1300. In any place other than Texas those would be considered large churches but they are about 1/5 the size of University. What makes University so much more intense is not just that the size means more people and programs. What makes it intense for me is how to work changes at this size. Working in a very large church like University, when it is well managed as University is, allows for a lot really well qualified staff and lay leadership. In a thousand member church, even though there are many more resources than in a small church, the pastor is still required to wear a huge number of hats. At Grace in Corpus and even at Oak Hill in Austin, I found myself answering the phone, fixing a computer, even investigating where a water leak was coming from. At University, there are people far more qualified than me to do everything else. I even have dedicated staff (including the incredible Laura and Elizabeth) to assist me directly in accomplishing what I need to do. Now, if you are a pastor at a small church, this might begin to sound really good. Here is the intense side: Because everyone around me is taking care of everything else, I can focus solely on what I am called to do in my position here. And there is a reason for that. With 5600 members and an amazing number of programs and systems, someone needs to be doing what I am doing all the time at a pretty intense level of function. Where this gets intense is that this all means that I work on creative, administrative and decision making functions for huge chunks of time without many mundane interruptions to give my brain a rest. The sheer volume of creative writing, problem solving and decision making is, well, intense. Often one day here feels like a whole week in my past appointments. Which is all pretty exhausting, but totally cool!

So back to the question, how do I like my new position at University? I love it and there is a lot to love.



Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Small Groups

I had the opportunity to spend last evening with one of our small groups. I have to tell you, it was a real joy. My position at University requires a lot of time in an administration role and it is refreshing to just be with people who are trying to connect with God and figure out what God is doing in their lives. Small group ministry is a real passion of mine. I believe that real transformation occurs when people gather around God's word. Small groups also provide for a caring community that many people are lacking in the increasingly more complex world we live in.

My first priority at University is to launch our new core curriculum and discipleship process which will be revealed during our upcoming sermon series, "University for Life." But part of the process and work of discipleship depends on small groups. So, next on my list will be working to create, enrich, grow, sustain and coach more small groups. I am looking forward to that work!



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mainline Worship

There is already a link to this post on the right side of the blog, but I thought it was worth drawing a little more attention to. Adam Hamilton writes this morning about the power and future of traditional, mainline worship:

Why Mainline Worship Has a Future
Adam Hamilton at Seeing Gray



Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mission Accomplished

6000 parts and one fourth of July weekend later, we have a swing set! My friend Kelly and his family came up for the weekend. Little did they know, they would be in the midst of a construction project.

Although working on a swing set is a little different than my regular work, I will consider this a theological project as the name of God was invoked and prayers were spoken.

I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend!



Thursday, July 3, 2008

These bars can't hold me!

We interrupt our deep thoughts on discipleship for something lighter:

I am not sure how Simon and Simone, our two box tortoises feel about their new home. In our house in Corpus Christi, they lived in the atrium outside our bathroom. I was a big space with lots of plants and things to climb on. However, despite the fact that we could see them from the bathroom, their view was pretty much just tall brick walls. When we got the new house, we spent a long time trying to figure out where they would live. We didn't want to just build them wooden box because we like to be able to see what they are up to. So, my father-in-law and I finally decided to build them a low fence. That way they would have plenty of room and they would be able to see out. So how did they react? Well, they spend an awful lot of time trying to see if they can fit between the bars. This is nothing new. At the hold house, I had to reinforce to outside door to the atrium because they were working together to push it open. Turtles are much stronger and much more clever than you would imagine.

Before you think I am truly imprisoning these poor creatures, they have it pretty good and they know it. If I do let them out, they just come back to me looking for food. Alisha knows everything they can eat so they feast on our leftover fruits and vegetables. The bigger one likes to be petted as well. It is sort of like petting a small dinosaur.

I will let you know how they adjust.



Tuesday, July 1, 2008


In the book, unChristian, I posted about earlier this week, some of the research show that young outsiders (those outside the Christian faith) perceive Christians and being hypocritical. With that in my head, I came across this piece in the New York Times this morning. It is a good, quick read that may make you question your own rationalizations. Or you might really hate the article.

Deep Down, We Can’t Fool Even Ourselves

Note, I think the New York Times still requires you to register to read even linked articles. If so, it may be worth it for you. I post their stuff from time to time.