Friday, April 25, 2008

A week off from preaching...

Well, with the youth leading worship this past Sunday, and my Wednesday night lessons already prepared, I had a chance to play catch-up last week. Keeping more than 3 things in my head at a time has never really worked for me, so I've had to do some investigating into organizational methods. I did the Palm Pilot thing for almost a decade, and did the Franklin Covey planner on and off alongside it. But those things were tools, not methods. And as a Methodist...well, I need methods! ;-)

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I discovered the Getting Things Done (aka GTD) methodology, set out by David Allen in his book by the same name. The flow goes something like this:

  1. Collect-Get all of the thoughts out of your head, your email, your various post-its all around the office, and get them into one big bucket that you sort through on a consistent basis. For me, this entails use of my cell phone's voice recorder, and my handy-dandy Hipster PDA.
  2. Process-Ask some basic questions...Is this actionable or not? Is it a single action or a project? Is it for me or for someone else? Is it something I can do in 2 min right now, or do I need to do it later?
  3. Organize-Get them in the right files, on project or task lists, on your calendar, etc
  4. Review-Go over your calendar and lists, and make decisions about what to do this week, today.
  5. the thing!
I've heard-tell that Allen's spirituality is a little on the creepy side, but then again, so is that of my favorite chess guru, Jeremy Silman. So I don't get into a lot of his side stuff. I've actually found my best resource for applying GTD has not been Allen, but another guy (and a Floridian at that) named Merlin Mann. His site, 43 Folders, is good for both organization and technology. He's the guy to (tongue-in-cheek) popularized the Hipster PDA, which is a fancy term for a stack of index cards in a binder clip.

It's been a long learning curve for me, and I've changed the system 10 million times in the last year or so, but it's been beneficial for me. Of course, once I get a good system, then I have to deal with the worries and fears in me that make me want to procrastinate all the things in these wonderful lists.

But that's for another day. Hope this is helpful to somebody!

Why are we failing?

Just a short thought from the Episcopal address, taken from the UM News report:

"[Illinois Area Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher] attributed some of the membership decline in U.S. churches to 'ruptures in our United Methodist relationships. Left or right, conservative or liberal, we treat our baptized brothers and sisters as if they are our enemies' and seek to destroy those who have a different viewpoint or perspective, she said.

"'Our fervent pursuit of being right takes priority over right relationship,' she said. The disarray of the table, the fractured and ruptured United Methodist relationships, and 'carefully calculated formulas of theology' make church members unable to hear and listen to the cries of a neighbor. 'Our own need deafens us to the needs of others,' she said."

I don't think this is a disease contained only in our Methodist population. It seems to have infected most of Western (and maybe more) Christianity. Not the first time it's been said...but it needs to be repeated.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Approaching General Conference...

Maybe I'm a total Metho-nerd for this, but I am excited about the possibilities coming up with General Conference this year. As a probationary elder, I wasn't eligible, so all I can do is pray, and watch, and pray some more.

With all the changes going on in our society, with the rise of post-modernism and Emerging generations, it would be easy to run scarred, to throw up walls of "It has always been thus." Yet the history of Methodism in America has been one of adventure, moving with the people into new frontiers. Out of the safe colonial cities, and into the wild West. Is it not time to do the same today, to travel with the citizens of this New World, and give them the Gospel in a new, wild & untamed land?

What does that mean for us today? Maybe that's why we've taken to the Emerging Church Conversation so readily, because we were a pioneering group at our founding, and still have that latent heart within carry the Holy Word of God to new lands, new cultures, new and different generations, where other churches fear to go.

True Methodists don't say "Come to us, our doors are open." They say "The people are out there, on the frontier. We will go with them into the wild, bring God's love and transforming power to them."

So maybe it's time to saddle up that circuit riding horse, dust off our riding gear, and head out with the wagon trains. We don't have to be caught up in the lawlessness of the New West...maybe we can bring it some grace instead.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dealing with disagreement

Col 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

I've picked some bad fights in my day. By and large, they have not been physical. But I tend to get drawn into arguments, particularly about theological and spiritual matters

These arguments usually end up falling into two camps: really bad, or really good. I seldom have an in-between experience. Either I feel like people are really listening and at least thinking about what I have to say, or I leave feeling verbally cut in two.

One of the really bad ones I got involved with because a church member (not here) recommended a website where he had been reading about all kinds of heresies in the church today. Upon checking out the website, I found that they spoke very negatively about teachers and authors that I had learned a great deal from. And many of the things they were saying were either false or gross exaggerations. In reading one of the articles, my blood started to boil, and I made my way to the comments line to defend one individual's beliefs and intentions. This turned into a rather long battle, across several different topics, by the end of which I had been compared to Satan for believing dialog was a useful tool for Christians, and having made no headway with anyone. I've tried to avoid the site ever since.

The only (so far) really good one started under similar circumstances. I was looking for discussion groups on theology, and found a group who again had a very different set of beliefs. Upon reading in the group, I found very similar problems...bad information and exaggerations. But this time, perhaps wary from previous failures, I took a different tack. I emailed the group's leader, and started asking questions, and offered to be a resources for better information, as I owned books from several of the authors they were concerned about. This began an email exchange, a new friendship, as we learned more about each other, and realized that though we have some big differences in some areas of belief, in others we were quite similar. When I did join in the discussion with the rest of the group, I had an ally in the group's leader, even when we disagreed. We tease each other as we discuss, and I have found several of the other members of the group to be very reasonable. We even took a break from debate to pray for one of the members who was going through a very hard time in life. Although there are still tense moments in our discussions, I get the feeling I am discussing amongst friends.

We all end up in disagreements now and again. Yours may differ from mine in terms of content. They may be about beliefs, or about treatment of others, or about wrongs done to one another, or ways to run an organization. But I bet we've had some similar experiences none the less. You've had some times where you had a disagreement with someone that left you feeling raw and beaten down. You've left a conversation you thought you were having with friends unsure of the future of the relationship.

So how do you end up having a good conversation? Some of the differences come in how the other party handles the disagreement. That, sadly, you cannot control. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, they will react in a hurtful way towards you.

But there are some things you can do, to try and handle the situation the best you can:

  1. Ask yourself...”Is this needed? Will someone benefit from this conversation?”

  2. Gage your audience. Will this person be receptive to what you have to say?

  3. Resist the urge to flinch. Take the time to thoughtfully respond to what is said, rather than reacting. This can make a world of difference.

  4. Really listen to what the other person has to say. They may have had experiences that give them a totally different view-point on the situation.

  5. Respect the personhood of the other party, even if they don't respect yours. They too are God's Creation, whether they realize it or not. Treat them how you would want to be treated.

  6. Give and take. Be willing to admit when the other person has a point.

  7. Know when to bail out. Sometimes a conversation ceases to be fruitful. Know when it's time to stop, even if just to step-back and breathe.

Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be a bad experience. It can be an opportunity to grow, to be challenged, even to build stronger relationships. May the conflicts that come your way be the good ones!

Answering the Whispers

"What was that?" Sammy rolled over in his bed. It was the whispers again, same as the night before, and the ones before that. He wrestled with the thought of tip-toeing across the hall again, to wake his folks, to get some comfort. The whispers didn't scare him so much. They seemed to be kind. Gentle. Like they were coming from his mom or dad, but they had decidedly ruled that out a week ago, when he had first awoken them under similar circumstances. After the first few nights of this, his parents had wearily asked him to stop waking them up in the middle of the night. They didn't believe him, he was sure of it. He though he heard them whispering about special doctors they might take him to, to cure his "en-som-ne-ya," whatever that was. So he just stopped saying anything. He rolled onto his stomach, and tried to fall back asleep.

It was only an hour later when the whispers came back. He though this time about yelling back. Why wouldn't they let him sleep? But what would he say? Please go away, crazy whispers? Yeah, right. His parents already thought he needed a doctor. What if they heard him? No, there had to be something he could do. Then a vague memory fluttered into his imagination. A Sunday school flannel-board story, with a little boy named Sam, just like him. He heard whispers at night too! It was way, way back when he had heard that story. Almost a whole grade ago!! But he could still hear Miss Keenan's voice, as clear as if she was there. "Then Eli realized it was the LORD who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, "Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, `Yes, LORD, your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went back to bed." Sammy flopped onto his back. Well, it couldn't hurt! And something deep inside of him cried out to give it a try. The whispers began again. In a timid little voice, he whispered back "Yes, Lord, your servant is listening."

For the first time, in the midst of the whispers, Sammy clearly heard his own name...


God calls to us in a lot of different ways. When He does...will you listen?

1 Samuel 3:1-10

What is Lent anyway?

I was in a Christian bookstore the other day, purchasing some oil to mix with the ashes for Ash Wednesday. As I struck up a conversation with the clerk, and explained my purpose, she confessed that she had no clue what Lent was, since her church never practiced that. I kind of take it for granted, having been raised as a very traditional Methodist, that people understand our various traditions, and it's always good for me to be reminded not everyone has had the same experiences.

So what is Lent anyway? To most folks, the practice begins and ends with giving up something for 40 days that you feel like you either like too much or need to have out of your life. Many people who do practice Lent do so out of habit as much as anything else, and give up chocolate (the eternal favorite), television, video games, caffeine (ouch), or some other thing out of a sense of obligation. It is interesting, when we look at Lent just as giving up something, how our attitudes sour. It is no surprise that Ash Wednesday is preceded by Fat Tuesday in some cultures (Mardi Gras), with people packing in all their indulgence they are going to miss into one day, before the 40 days of misery begin.

But what is the point of giving all this stuff up anyway? While emptying oneself is a critical component of many of the worlds' religions, in Christianity it takes on a deeper purpose. When we give up one thing, it is to make room for another. When we empty ourselves, it is with the point of filling that space with Christ. Fasting of any form, without something to fill in the gap, is an exercise in utter misery. But when you give up a meal to pray, or to give the money you would have spent to the homeless, or to commit to God that His priorities are more important than even the hunger of the stomach, then your sacrifice has purpose, meaning. When you turn off the TV to make time for prayer, or Scripture study, then it takes on new life. It isn't just's opportunity to find a deeper walk with Christ. Even if what you give up doesn't take any time, it should have a purpose.

So if you give up something for Lent this year, put something in it's place too. Don't just make yourself miserable...take an opportunity to draw closer to Christ instead.