Tuesday, September 30, 2008

See, I'm not crazy

Ever since I began my experiment with twitter (see my post "The Twittering Pastor") I have endured endless strange looks and unhelpful comments from friends, family and coworkers. When someone asks me about twitter and they are my age of older, I tend to answer with, "you won't understand." They often push me on it and the conversation ends with "you are right, I don't understand." That is the point where they often look at me like I have left the the realm reserved for sane people.

So I was excited when my assistant left me this article from the San Antonio Express News on how a non-denominational new church start is using twitter as a part of their worship service. You can read the article here:

"Blest be the tweets that bind" - San Antonio Express News

The thing that they are doing that I find really innovative is allowing people to send tweets during worship and even during the sermon, commenting on what they are experiencing at the moment and making worship truly interactive. (If you still don't know what a tweet is, go back and read the article or my post on the subject.)

While I am not quite ready to have an interactive discussion of my sermon occurring on the screen behind me, this Wednesday night, I will be taking a shot a little more interaction. After our Wednesday evening worship service, I will be leading a discussion group on the teaching for the night. The worship bulletins include discussion questions and starting at 7, we will have a chance to ask questions and discuss the scripture. I am really excited about the premise and I hope we can get some folks involved.

And if you want some more regular, random interaction, you can still follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/pastorwill. You can also follow the church at http://twitter.com/TheU



Thursday, September 25, 2008

And Let’s Be Careful Out There…

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
-James 1:26

With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor,
but through knowledge the righteous escape.
-Proverbs 11:9

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
-Matthew 12:36

You may notice that the blog rarely contains anything of a political nature. When it does contain something seemingly political, it usually contains a disclaimer pointing out that I have posted it for some other, non-political reason.

My reason for avoiding politics has nothing to do with an issue of separation of church and state. It has to do with my calling to speak prophetically. If I am understood in away way to be partisan, I lose my voice to speak theologically to both sides. Research shows that if I choose a side, half the people will stop listening to me no matter what I say. (See my post of my old weblog: Reinforcing our Prejudices: http://willatgrace.blogspot.com/2008/04/reinforcing-our-prejudices.html)

So, you won’t likely read on the blog about policy opinions or evaluations of candidates. However, you may hear me speak about process. I believe one of the roles of an ordained elder, ordained to Word, Sacrament and Order is to point out and hold people accountable for behavior that is counter to the word and interferes with the sacramental life and order of the church.

As we get closer to the presidential election, the internet rumor mill is churning at a feverish pace. Ignoring for a moment the distortions of fact found in television advertisements, the forwarded email phenomenon is completely out of control. While political advertisements tend to bend and stretch the truth to try and score points with potential voters, forwarded emails often start with pure lies invented to discredit a person whose views do not align with the creative inventor of the lie.

Some examples, you may have heard (with one for each major presidential and vice-presidential candidate to be fair):

-Barak Obama is a radical Muslim who was sworn into the Senate on the Quran – I can’t believe this one is still alive.
-John McCain declared during a 60 Minutes interview that he was a war criminal – Taken out of context in his discussions of his treatment as a P.O.W.
-Joe Biden plans to drop out of the election after the VP debate so Hillary Clinton can fill his spot – Just made up.
-There is a photo of Sarah Palin standing poolside in an American flag bikini holding and assault rifle – Well, there is such a photo, clearly manipulated in Photoshop to place Gov. Palin’s head on someone else’s body.

I guess the real problem isn’t that these rumors exist, but rather that people continue to pass them along as fact. As Christians, whether we like it or not, we are called to live at a little higher level of discourse. Let me localize the thought a bit. If you heard that your neighbor, someone you have known for a long time, was doing something unseemly, say dealing drugs, what would you do? Turn him in? Tell all your other neighbors? Or, talk to your neighbor.

Let’s start with the reason you would care at all. If you neighbor was, in fact, dealing drugs, this would be worthy of a response. Your neighbor may not have wronged you directly but what they were doing would be potentially be damaging to you, others neighborhood, and possibly even you.

Let’s look at how scripture advises us to handle such conflict, from Matthew 18:15-17:

15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.

So, you would go to your neighbor in private and check it out. Maybe it is not true. Maybe you can show him the error of his ways. If not, you take some other neighbors and have the same talk. Now, if your neighbor is not a member of the church telling your congregation may not help, but the point remains the same. Perhaps at this point, it would be alright to warn other neighbors about the problem.

I think people react to rumors about politicians out of well placed intention. I will pick on Sarah Palin’s rumor because it is the most egregious. If she was the sort of person who hung out at the pool in a bikini with an assault rifle, that might affect my impression of her overall judgment. I might feel wronged if she were the Vice President of our country. Following this biblical model, I can’t exactly go to her in private. However, before I broadcast the rumor, I think I have the responsibility to try my best to see if it is true.

There are lots of places to check the facts. If something is true and you believe it is important for your friends and family to know about, than by all means you should share the information. If it is not true, I believe you have a responsibility as a Christian, if not to correct the misinformation, to at least not continue to spread the falsehood.

When something comes into your inbox or a friend or coworker shares a fact about a candidate or any other human being for that matter, before you share it with others as truth, take the time to visit one of the these non-partisan websites:

www.snopes.com – an urban legend clearing house
www.factcheck.org – a service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. It is also non-partisan as evidence in the fact that both major party campaigns have quoted their findings.



Monday, September 22, 2008

Covenant Connection...From the Other Side

I am off to Kerrville this morning to spend some time at Mt. Wesley for Covenant Connection. When I was ordained in June, I finished my three your journey through Covenant Connection, our three year process of preparation and evaluation for probationary members of the annual conference (elders and deacons in waiting who have been commissioned but not yet ordained - don't worry if this seems confusing, it really is.) For the three years between commissioning as a probationer and ordination as an elder or deacon, our pastors, most of who are serving in the local church, meet a few times a year with their peers and a group of ordained elders and pastors called liaison pastor (there is one elder or deacon assigned for each probationer.) So, after finishing up three years as a probationer, I have been asked back, fresh from the experience to be a liaison pastor assigned to a new probationer.

For anyone who was with me for the journey of my own ordination, you know that I was not always totally fond of the covenant connection process. All in all I think the idea is sound, but I wasn't always very happy how it played out. So, when asked, I decided it didn't do much good to complain and it might be better to be part of making the process better. So here I go. I am actually excited to be around another group of pastors who are just getting started. I pray that I might offer some help in guidance that will equip them to be a blessing to God and Christ's Holy Church.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Change in the Weather… A Change in Me

Ever since I was young, I have been deeply affected by the weather. As a child growing up in Western New York, a beautiful summer day full of fun was often interrupted by ache deep in my stomach that would come a couple of hours before a violent summer storm would sweep across lake Erie and fill my little ears and eyes with brilliant flashes of lightening and rumbling thunder.

It is said that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. I believe that is true, but my own internal weather station seems to be just as powerful in taking me to other times and places. As one who spent most of my life in a different climate, I am not used to the Texas seasons or seeming lack of. In comparison to New York and Pennsylvania, Texas weather is pretty much always the same. Back home I could suffer through a streak of 100+ days in the summer and face a thermometer that spent a week below the zero mark in the winter. The seasons were radical changes that caused people to do things differently. As a kid, when that first crisp night of fall rolled in, it was time to return to school; when that first sharp icy wind blew through, it was time to put the bikes in the basement and take the sleds out of the shed; when that warm breeze blew across the snow banks, the birds reappeared, and the smell of mud filled the air it was time to bring the bikes back out and get outside; and when the heat made us restless in the classroom and all the windows were open and the fans were on, freedom returned with the months of summer.

So, I was sent into a mini tailspin this week when we hit a low of 59 and saw some cloudy skies in San Antonio. The clouds made it get dark a little earlier and suddenly, for my body it was fall, time to change gears, time to head inside, time to get ready for winter, time to gather firewood and get the clothes out of the basement. I called my Dad in New York who was sitting by a fire he has built in the fire place. But here it is supposed to be 85 tomorrow which means I should get back to work.



Saturday, September 13, 2008

Voices in my head...

Pastor Charles Anderson has begun a pretty amazing thing here at University in his Sermon Research Team. Every week, people are invited to consider the scripture and theme of the sermon and offer research, insight, personal testimony, illustrations, anything that might help others to understand the message. It is actually a fairly complex process. Notifications go out weeks in advance inviting people to participate so that material can come in on time for work on the sermon.

I am preaching next Sunday so I get the use all of the material that has come in for the week. Six people submitted material, about two to five pages each. I must say two things: First, I am impressed at the quality of material. Charles is pretty specific in his instructions asking, not for forwarded emails and Google searches, but personal experience. People really listen. Most of the material is truly personal reaction to the text and personal narrative and examples that resonate with the scripture. Second, in addition to being impressed, I am a little overwhelmed. This is a completely different way to work on the sermon and I am not totally sure my brain can handle it. After reading and internalizing all this material I am off kilter in my typical means of sermon writing.

Typically, I read a text and take is apart mechanically, looking for anything in language or Biblical context that speaks to me. Then, I meditate on it a bit, searching for some way to hear and then looking for some way to articulate what I hear in the passage to those I will share it with. All of a sudden, I have a bunch of other voices. I have different ways of hearing, different ways of understanding, different ways of sharing. And now they are all in my head. And I am not sure I can hear. Or maybe I need to listen differently.

I still have week to prepare. Let's see what the Spirit does with my muddled brain.



Friday, September 12, 2008

Not to be cliche, but yIKEs!


I was a little out of sorts this past week as I spent a couple of days disconnected from my lifeline that I call the Internet. I was at Laity Lodge in Leakey for a staff retreat. One of the most famous features of Laity Lodge (besides the beautiful scenery, the cool, flowing river and the amazing wildlife) is the complete lack of cellphone or Internet service. So, there was no blogging, no twittering, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no live hurricane tracking. I even found myself a little lost working on a sermon. While I enjoyed the quiet peace that allowed me to focus on God's word, I got flustered when I went to compare the text to a different translation, readily available online... only I wasn't online.

What did I learn? Did I learn that I am too dependant upon the interconnected world of the internet and need to spend more time offline and connected to paper and people? No, in fact, I think I am going to upgrade my wireless router so I can work outside.



Friday, September 5, 2008

Living outside... for the night

I am in Kerrville for the night for a Annual Conference leadership event with our new bishop. It is being held at our Methodist retreat center, Mount Wesley. I have stayed at Mount Wesley a lot and I think those days are over. First of all, I am allergic to something in the rooms, perhaps mold, perhaps something else. So, after just one night, I am fairly useless due to either a headache or too much allergy medication. Second, the rooms each hold 4 people. As a servant of Christ, who went to his death for our redemption, I hate to gripe about seemingly trivial things like this, but sharing a room with three men is just a little outside my comfort zone (especially since men tend to snore - I am not being judgemental since I do too. It is just a fact of life.)

I may not like sleeping at Mount Wesley, but I am way too cheap to spring for a hotel. So, here I am enjoying my new place, KOA of Kerrville. I have a lovely site for my tent and a nice little picnic table. There are definitely levels of roughing it. This site has an electric plug and there is free wifi so I am currently sitting outside blogging. It is not like I even have to go without tv since you can watch most things on the web now. If the outdoor life gets too rough, there is a Starbucks down the street.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Different Sort of Rhythm

It has been a while since I have been in the rhythm of preaching every week. In my first appointment in Austin, I started a Sunday night service and preached every week. But, in Corpus Christi, I preached less than half the time. There wasn't a whole lot of rhythm to that. Sometimes it was every other week, then maybe three weeks off, then maybe four weeks on, then back to every other week. The whole art of sermon writing is different when it is a sporadic thing. It becomes very, very different when you know that there is a message to deliver nearly every week. There is a certain flow of days and ideas and writing and editing. There is also a rhythm to collection of ideas and illustrations. When preaching weekly, I am constantly looking for sermon illustrations and other ways to connect to the material on the horizon. It reminds me of my days as an afternoon disc jockey, when I felt like I worked 24 hours a day because everything I saw, read, or experienced was potential show material. The VCR rolled during every tv show in case their was a clip I wanted. I took a notepad to movies and I read magazines with scissors.

All of a sudden, I find myself back in a rhythm, but with a fairly significant change. I now preach every week on Wednesday. I wouldn't think it would matter, but it is actually relevant that I preach on Wednesday evening, which technically means that I have Wednesday to prepare.

There is also a change in the rhythm because my preaching/teaching style has changed fairly significantly due to the nature of the service. As I wrote about in my last post, the main point of this service is a little different with focus on the question from our vision map, "What is the news about Jesus and what do I do about it?" So far, and I only have one week under my belt and one more on paper, the teachings are less existential and more educational. This may have a little to do with one more thing that changes the rhythm, the fact that the service is only thirty minutes long. It is my hope that connecting the teaching of the sermon with the questions of living scripture day to day will eventually happen in the post worship discussion. For the next four weeks, I am leading a small group on "University for Life" but after that, the service will be followed by small group breakouts to discuss some life questions based on the sermon. The questions for these breakouts are already being printed in the worship bulletins, so I can get in that rhythm.

I hope you will join me Wednesdays at 6:15 as I try and get my rhythm back. Your thoughts and comments on the service are always welcome!