Archive for November, 2007

A Place of Distinction

In Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, he talks about the importance of place and the way that we are called to particular places. He recounts the story of Basil the Great who appointed his brother Gregory to the little backwater town of Nyssa. “His brother told him that he didn’t want Gregory to obtain distinction from his church but rather to confer distinction upon it (p. 74).”

Peterson goes on, “In obscure Nyssa, apart from the high-adrenalin stimulus of the city, Gregory looked around and recognized his place in creation, noticed the script of God’s revelation in the created world around him, noticed the intricate relationsips and resonances between his place and the Christ of creation.”

Do you think this just might be applicable to folks in an itinerant system? How are you conferring the distinction of God upon the place where you’ve been placed?  How have you encountered God in the place where you live and serve?

November 29, 2007 at 10:38 am 2 comments

Thanksgiving Eve, Nintendogs, and Cars

MaterToday is a good day. I’m at home on Thanksgiving Eve hangin’ out with my kids. We bought a new dog…on my daughter’s Nintendo DS. Nintendogs is definitely the height of entertainment for five year olds (and their dads).

We’re also watching Cars for the 242nd time. That’s my son’s favorite show in the world. Actually, I think every person entering ministry as an itinerant United Methodist clergyperson should have to watch Cars and discuss it – maybe we could add another year to the probationary process for this. Sometimes our folks enter rural communities a lot like Lighting McQueen, when we should enter a lot more like Sally Carrera or Doc Hudson. Thank God for the “Maters” of the world who teach us things our seminary professors couldn’t. Come to think of it, I could probably write a book on pastoral theology using Cars as a metaphor for contextual ministry. If you steal this idea, you owe me royalties!! On the other hand, if you’re a publisher, have your people call my people…

November 21, 2007 at 9:20 am 4 comments

Back from the Vatican…errr Nashville

Had a great trip to Nashville with some really cool folks from our conference. The young adult summit was a gathering of people from around the nation getting together to talk about strategic ways to increase our outreach to young adults. I’ve decided I’m not much of an “on location” blogger, so no real notes from the summit.

I traveled back and forth with Nathan Mattox, and we had some terrific conversation about a number of different things. One thing I want to point you to is the book Nathan loaned me for the trip back and forth. I read quite a bit of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality by Belden C. Lane as we traveled. Nathan commented on this in my post on burning brush, and he was spot on with the recommendation. I resonated deeply with a lot of what Lane does in this work, and I highly recommend it to folks who are interested in the connection between spirituality and a love of “fierce landscapes.” Some of the theological commitments remind me of Wendell Berry and his emphasis on “place.”

I think this concept is really important for itinerant ministers – if we lose sight of the fact that our ministry happens in a particular place or context, we’re sunk before we start. That’s why I’m suspicious of any methodology that will work in a Church of any shape, size, makeup, or place. I think that is a bunch of modernist baloney.

November 19, 2007 at 7:15 am 3 comments

Off to Nashville

I’m flying out of Tulsa this morning on my way to Nashville. I’m going with a few others from the Oklahoma Conference for the Young Adult Summit. Hopefully I can blog a bit about it while I’m there.

November 15, 2007 at 7:01 am 2 comments

Current State of the UMC

Kevin Watson over at Deeply Committed gave me a “Friday Shout Out,” perhaps the only time I will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, Craig Groeschel, and Andrew Conard! Kevin asked me for my thoughts on the current state of the UMC, and I responded in the comments section. So if you’re curious about that, head on over and check out a few of my ideas in the comments on that post.

After making those comments, I found something interesting by Lovett H. Weems, Jr. He has just released 10 Provocative Questions, which were inspired by the 2007 State of the Church Report. Interestingly, we have a few insights in common. We both cite structural dynamics as a key issue in the state of the UMC, and we both talk about the way our denomination should learn from the dynamic missional congregations we already have.

I’d encourage you to read Dr. Weems questions; they’re worth thinking and talking about.

November 12, 2007 at 9:39 am 4 comments

Strengthened by Solitude

Fall SceneSaturday was a really good day. A few months back, my mother had a lot of bulldozer work done on her property, leaving about 5 large piles of trees behind. These piles eventually have to be burned, and so with my wife gone to Women of Faith, the kids and I went over to help burn them. There is something really great about clearing and burning brush piles. As we were working I said to my Mom, “You know, I think it’s impossible to worry or stress out when you’re burning brush.” She agreed. Right now she’s going through radiation treatments for skin cancer, so I think her words carry a little more weight than mine on that particular subject.

Once the fires were burning good, we went to the house for lunch. The afternoon was fairly uneventful, until I had to go back and pile a little more brush and check on the fires. I drove the four-wheeler out, with Dixie, Mom’s border collie, running ahead across the pasture. After seeing the fires were good and contained, I decided to ride up next to the mountain that borders my mom’s place on the back side of her property.

I got off the four-wheeler and stood watching the sun begin its evening descent into the western sky. Off to my right, I heard a loud snort and saw four white tails raised high in the air as the deer bounded off into the woods. Dixie laid down at my feet, and I began to think. Before I knew it, nearly thirty minutes of silent thought went by and I didn’t want to leave. God was truly in that place, and like Peter at the transfiguration, I was ready to build a house and move right in.

At first, I thought maybe this was a bad thing…that I was being unfaithful for imagining what it would be like to live in that spot and experience that kind of beauty and solitude every day. In fact, I’ve been thinking about that for the last few days, and I’ve only began to process what happened there.

I’ve had Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines sitting on the shelf since our vacation early this year, but I hadn’t found the time to read it. Actually, that’s not true. I tried to read it, but I guess it just wasn’t the right time. Now it is, and today I came across a passage that I believe helps explain what I experienced on Saturday.

Today, sustained withdrawal from society into solitude seems to indicate weakness, suffering, flight, or failure rather than great strength, joy, and effectiveness. Believing that, we, for instance, thoroughly misunderstand the context of Jesus’ temptations after his baptism…

Willard then suggests that the Spirit led Jesus into solitude in the wilderness, not to place Jesus in the weakest position possible, but to allow him to face Satan at the place of his strength and strengthening.

The desert was his [Jesus’] fortress, his place of power. Throughout his life he sought the solitary place as an indirect submission of his own physical body to righteousness. That is, he sought it not as an activity done for its own sake, but one done to give him power for good. All of those who followed Jesus knew of his practice of solitude, and it was greatly imitated in the centuries after his death.

I think that something similar might have been going on as I stood in God’s presence watching the sun go down into the valley. As I stood on the side of the hill, I was conscious in my silence of God’s overwhelming grace. Today, Willard helped me realize something. My time alone – mesmerized by God’s beauty – didn’t bring on the temptation to withdraw from the world. Instead, as I unknowingly imitated our merciful Savior in the wilderness, God embraced me, empowered me for good, and gave me strength to engage the world once again…even though I had no idea that was going on. Thanks be to God.

November 7, 2007 at 12:51 pm 6 comments


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