Braving the Wilderness  |  Book Recommendation

In one episode of the sitcom Modern Family we discover Phil & Claire Dunphy in the middle of a big disagreement.  Throughout the episode Phil is trying to figure out what he did wrong to make her angry.  As he bumbles through the episode we find that Phil has made all kinds of missteps…but none of them are the offense for which he is paying dearly.  Then we make the discovery that Phil came the day before after a lunch with an ex-girlfriend.  His ex suggested the wedge salad and he tried it.  He couldn’t get over the wedge salad.  He had gone on-and-on with Claire about how much he LOVES wedge salads and can’t believe that he’d never had one before.

Claire is angry not over any of the obvious mistakes Phil has made.  Through a series of flashbacks we see that Claire had recommended wedge salads time-and-time again.  Claire is angry because he never listens to her and doesn’t seem to trust her suggestions.  My wife and I often refer to the Modern Family wedge salad when we act in the same way.

Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, is a wedge salad.  My wife talked incessantly about this book and applied Brown’s teachings to everything.  Perhaps out of stubbornness– maybe out of laziness– I ignored her glowing affirmations until I finally picked up the book last week.  It is remarkable.  She weaves together government, politics, personal struggles and the growing sense of personal loneliness and civic divisions.  She offers us a way to reconceptualize our place in our family, social group, culture, religion, and nation.  It is an empowering book that I hope all of my congregation, family and friends will consider.

A Time of Transition

Three years ago we bought a home in Peoria and began new ministries: Carrie in Peoria and Scott in Hudson.  We were welcomed into those congregations and we have loved them, both.  It is with deeply conflicted emotions, therefore, that we share some news with our congregations, communities, family, and friends.

Bishop Frank Beard has prayerfully discerned that we will both be reappointed to new churches beginning July 1, 2017.  We will move to Collinsville, Illinois where Scott will serve as the pastor at First United Methodist Church and Carrie will be leading The Journey, a new church start of Belleville Union United Methodist Church.  She will be the associate pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Belleville primarily to be the pastor of the Journey in Freeburg.

We will be pleased to be so near to Carrie’s family in Saint Louis and we are fortunate to be a bit closer to Scott’s family in Pittsfield, but we have never been far from family and the drive has always been worth it…to do great ministry with amazing people.  Other the past seven years we have been in loving congregations doing vital ministry wherever the bishop has sent us.

Our hearts will break to say goodbye to our congregations in June.  We must pack our home and move to a new community and, certainly, we leave things behind: our hearts, prayers, and the fruits of labor (born of us and our current churches).  Though, we will also take some things with us: We take the love of our congregations, the lessons learned, and the experiences gained.  Most importantly, though, we take cherished memories and Christ-filled hearts

We mourn our losses and treasure our past experiences, but we also look forward to the ministry that lies ahead.  We know that wonderful people and experiences await us in Collinsville and Freeburg/Belleville.

Why do United Methodist pastors move?

We realize that lots of questions arise when news of pastoral moves come up.  First of all, whether you are in one of our churches or any other United Methodist Church, feel free to sit down with your pastor to learn more about why we do this and the benefits of our system.  In the meantime, click here to learn more about where this strange practice comes from and how it works.

House Renovations

We’ve had to do some work on the house, lately.  It’s one of those things that snuck up on us.  Since we moved in three years ago, we’ve intended to get the front steps tiled to match the porch.  Soon after we moved in a pipe leaked into the basement and we had to tear out a wall so the plumbers could properly fix it.  That wall has been torn up ever since.  Some plaster cracked in the bedroom and we needed to get it repaired.  We waited too long and the crack became too big to do a simple repair.  We looked around and realized that all these small jobs had turned into a huge job.  So we called a handy man and dug deep into the wallet.

Our relationships are like this.  Maybe a person gets angry and yells at their spouse, but if we talk about our feelings…process what happened…then that “small crack in the plaster” can easily be fixed.  Maybe a person really messes up and breaks trust with a parent or child.  They say that they will pick them up or take care of them, but, then, the person forgets or chooses not to. It’s like the basement wall, though: If we get in and repair it correctly…and rebuild trust right away, we can get back to enjoying life and it may not have to cost us so much.

With any relationship issues: ignoring the problem is not a good option.  The longer we ignore the problem, the bigger the problem becomes.  Sometimes, when we don’t properly talk through our smaller problems the relationship breaks down and soon it is far too expensive to repair.

With our house, I think we caught it in time.  We had to use quite a bit of savings, but our house is nearly all fixed up: even better than when we moved in.  If you have a relationship that has broken down, don’t wait any longer.  Get to work fixing the pain and begin the process of rebuilding trust.  I think you will find that it is worth the risk, time and expense!

A Life-Changing Experience | The Philippines

It may shock people to learn that Carrie left me…for two weeks.  She had her eye on another love…mission and traveling so she went out on mission to the Philippines and is having a great time (though I can’t wait until she gets home)!

She left on March 2, but how crazy is it that we are able to communicate moment-by-moment via texting on our cell phones?  That is, however, made difficult by the fourteen hour time difference.  There really aren’t all that many hours when we are both awake to talk, sadly.

She is really enjoying this  trip.  They are staying on the island of Leyte where there is a University.  One of the problems that the people of the Philippines face is that few women are able to get an education in agriculture and they need to feed their country, so Carrie is with a team of people who are working to build a women’s dormitory at the University.

A mission team started the dormitory 20 years go, finishing two rooms.  In a recent disaster, the roof failed and a mission team was needed to repair it: it re-ignited the dream that began two decades before.  Carrie is very excited to be part of the team that is working to take the project further (with local construction crews, too, of course).  Carrie has been loving this project and feels passionate about the need.

It’s not just construction, though. Her team also collected books and clothes, shipping them in advance of their trip.  The United Methodist Church is finding great success in the Philippines and they have many people who want to be trained as clergy, but there is little education for pastors.  They need help educating pastors, so Carrie is also part of a group providing training for licensed local pastors who have not had the benefit of a seminary education.  Carrie also surprised me the other day when she  suggested that we should plan, in the future, to go to the Philippines to teach.  How fun would that be?

It was a long journey to get to the Philippines.  Her car was making some noise so I decided that we should keep her car here so I could get it to the mechanic (and so that she wasn’t driving an unreliable vehicle, of course).  We both had Ash Wednesday services so we couldn’t go up the night before like many people on the team.  We got up early on Thursday morning so I could get her to Chicago O’Hare Airport by 9 o’clock to meet the group.  We left the house at 5:30am and I got her there at 8:45am to meet the rest of the group, but, then, I rushed back to Hudson for a 12:30pm meeting at my church.  It was a really long day for me, but that was nothing compared to poor Carrie.  She traveled continuously for 52 hours straight!!!  I can’t imagine how miserable that must have been with flights, drives, and the seemingly endless layovers at airports.

It was a crazy-long journey for her, but I think the trip, so far, has been worth it.  Based on the photos she is posting on Facebook the food has been one of the most exciting aspects of the trip for her.  Is anyone really surprised?  I, on the other hand, am not very excited about the food I am eating while she is gone.  I’m going to appreciate her culinary skills all-the-more when she returns!

PS: Check out Carrie’s Instagram and Facebook pages to see more!

 

Covenant

[The following is re-posted from my professional blog at www.hudsonumc.org/pastor]

Six and a half years ago I went before friends, family and God to make a sacred commitment.  That commitment was to my new wife that I would care for her and remain with her even when it was really hard.  She, amazingly, made the same commitment to me!  As I held her and thought about this commitment I was not just starry-eyed and excited (there was that, too), but I also had a feeling of anxiety.  I felt a little overwhelmed. Forever is a long time, you see.

That commitment means that even when I am angry.  Even when she has really messed up, I am not going to just give up (and vice-versa).  It means that we will work really hard to endure, even though we are both bound to break promises or make mistakes throughout our relationship.  It means that we keep going even when the ‘going gets tough.’  I think you get the idea.

On January first my church will renew our vows to God and remember our baptism during a Wesley covenant service.  It is not just the words we say to God, but recognizing that God claims us and remains committed to a relationship with us…even when we break our commitments.

So, if God commits to us even when we mess up or break our promises…why should we bother recommitting to God?

Well, it’s like a sound marriage.  The other person may forgive you for messing up, but if the marriage is going to be positive and life-giving: both people have to work hard at the relationship.

We can know that God is seeking after us.  We can know that God loves us and commits to us.  Yet, it will not be a sound relationship if we do not also commit to God, seek after God and love God in return.  Imagine a one-sided marriage, would that be pleasant for either person?

As we begin this new year, I encourage each person to think about their God who loves them and think about ways to be more faithful and committed to that God.  Not because God’s love depends upon it, but because, like a marriage, sharing that commitment will enrich your life and enrich your relationship with God.

Divided States of America

This election makes me sick.  I feel as though I have a front row seat to…finger-pointing and scapegoating.  Each candidate seems to be telling me that America’s problems are the other person’s fault and they are the answer to those problems.

I have blamed the candidates, the parties, and, even, the structure of our election process for this polarized political landscape (and there is enough blame to go around), but I’ve come to consider that the blame also rests with the citizenry.  The citizens of this nation have become incredibly entrenched in their views, overall.  Rather than civil discourse there are raised voices, hate speech, and violence.  Our politicians sometimes even get themselves into trouble if they are willing to work on a bi-partisan project or vote for a bill that doesn’t perfectly conform to their party’s platform.  From where does this entrenchment come?

Unfortunately, most people turn to television news that suits their existing worldview (yes, I’m talking about you, MSNBC & Fox News).  Instead of turning on the radio or television to have assumptions challenged: existing worldviews are reinforced.  Yet, one cannot solely blame television or, even, talk radio (although I like to try).

The advent of social media and internet news technologies allows a user to choose the news sources and information they want and much of it happens without us even knowing.  I share views with some of my Facebook friends but I am also connected with people who view the world in an opposing manner.  Though some of those opposing views pop up in my newsfeed (usually because of a heated argument in the comment section) most of the posts in my feed reflect the views of people with whom I already agree.  Facebook sees that I “like” and view posts by certain friends (that have shared points-of-view) and Facebook shows me more of what I want….

Most of our media is designed to reflect the world we want to see, rather than the complex challenging world that exists.  When a person sees the world as they want it is easy to become entrenched in a view.  As citizens of this great country we must seek out views that challenge us (and this is getting more difficult).  We cannot build relationships with people we do not understand and we cannot have a working government without understanding one another! We must work to understand the people who oppose us and have civil discourse on the issues that plague our civilization.  Here are three thoughts:

  1. Listening to opposing views will not betray one’s own beliefs, so listen to/read what other people have to say reserving judgement until you’ve heard/read it all!.
  2. Do not immediately comment or repudiate another person’s claims, especially on-line.  If the person is not standing in front of you, there is not a hurry to respond.  Taking a moment to consider another viewpoint may even help you to develop a response that is more persuasive.
  3. Remind yourself, when on-line, that each person owns their own posts and comment.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your response will undo a post. In fact, responding in anger one is likely to only deepen another’s entrenchment.  Presenting oneself in a respectful way (even if the other person is not being respectful) and looking for commonalities will further your own causes.

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Three Weeks in Chicago

The past few weeks have been fun, challenging and rewarding.

In case you don’t already know, I traveled to Chicago for three weeks of classes as I work on my Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree.  This program is a joint program of several seminaries in the Chicago area and brings together some of the best known preachers and professors for a unique program.

This marks the beginning of my second year and, so I have friends and colleagues who greeted me (and I, them).  It is a homecoming, in a way, and I feel blessed by the people who surrounded me over the past few weeks.

It’s funny, I’ve spent a few weeks with these other preachers and, yet, I feel very close to some of these new friends of mine.  I feel as though they know my life and yet they have only known me, in-person, for the length of six weeks, collectively.

Perhaps knowing a person is not about the length of time we have known them, but the depths we have gone with them?  Is it possible for two people who have been friends for just a few months to be closer than a brother and sister who have known one another for forty years?  Yes, I think it is possible that as human beings the best relationships we will experience are about depth, not length.

I hope to find opportunities to pursue deep and meaningful relationships and I hope you will join me in this journey.

Remembering Home.

Due to a housing shortage at the seminary where my Doctoral program meets (it is an ecumenical program with several schools including Garrett-Evangelical), I couldn’t stay in Hyde Park the first week of classes. I got a room at my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical (G-ETS), and I’ve been commuting to-and-from class this first week.

I was not looking forward to the commute. Something happened, though, the moment I stepped on campus: I felt as though I was home. It is not just a building. It is not just a landmark or even a person that I know.  It is the experiences that form my memories which make G-ETS feel like home and those memories are triggered when I see the sights, smell the smells, sit in the space.

When strong memories are triggered they can transport us.  Sometimes they transport us across time, sometimes across space, and sometimes both.  Each night this week I have gone walking by the lake.  When I go for these walks I am not walking down a physical path: I am walking in a different time.

What triggers your favorite memories?

Perhaps this week you can find some of these triggers that transport you to a different time and place.

Are We Parents?

We got a call last night that Children’s Home Association, the agency through which we are licensed for foster care.  They have a child that needs to be placed with us. Unfortunately, we can’t share much on the internet or on social media, as you might imagine.

The truth is: I don’t know what to think.  There is an anxiety that is almost overwhelming.  We want to provide a loving home to a child in foster care but the idea of doing this is so much safer than the reality.  We are about to embark on a journey that is bigger than we imagined and the road ahead leaves me with a question: “Can I handle this!?”

I think we all find ourselves at some point in front of a task that seems bigger than we can handle.  It feels daunting. Luckily, with God all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26)  I am sure God will give me the strength for this!

Holy Land Tour: Jerusalem

Over the past three days we have toured Jerusalem.  We toured the old city. We went on the Via Dolorosa (The way of the cross), the traditional path taken by Jesus to his death.  The path winds through the city ending at the Church of The Holy Sepulcher the traditional place of Jesus’ death and burial.  I’m including some photos (below) of sites throughout the Church:

We also went to the Western Wall to share prayers.  Katie, Carrie and I spent one day on our own at the  Mahane Yehudi Market where we shopped and enjoyed lunch.

On the last full day in Jerusalem we visited the Dome of the Rock (a shared holy site by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), Ruins and the Teaching Steps, the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holocaust Museum and the Garden Tomb.  It was really full but wonderful day.

Hope this post finds you well.  Now, we’re off to Jordan!