Hoping For Mail.

Now that I’m in seminary I get way TOOO excited when there is a letter waiting in my mailbox.  I could be someone writing me a note, it could be a check, it could be a note saying “you have a package waiting”, and there are always bills, too…  I feel a ‘let down’ when I go to my box and there is nothing waiting for me (or if it is just a bill).  Does anyone else ever feel that?
There is a sense of anticipation for me as I go for the mail and as I draw closer that anticipation grows as well.
Two weeks ago we turned in a paper on the church calendar for our United Methodist Worship class.  One of the things that becomes startlingly clear  as I read Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey (Abington Press, 1996) is that in American culture today we have forgotten what it is to relish in anticipation.  I open up my Mail program for instant email.  I go online and watch my favorite television show instantly on a whim.  I can purchase something immediately, online, and have it shipped to my home the very next day.  Our world is full of instant gratification.
The story of Christ is a very different story.  It is a story of waiting and hoping.  In fact, even before Mary began her anticipation the world had been anticipating.  Why is it, then, that we skip advent.  Why is it, then, that Christmas turns into one day?  Christmas is a season beginning on December 25 and Advent is the season of anticipation for four weeks prior.
What if we put away the wreaths and holiday packaging and left them until later.  What if we pushed Christmas away until  December 25 so that we could truly appreciate its absence right up until that most joyous season begins?

Several pastors I know do not like to use Christmas Carols during advent.  Churches tend to hate this.  They hate to wait until Christmas because they want it to feel like Christmas all through lent.  I think this is because in America we hate to wait.  Perhaps during the upcoming advent season you and your family can find some anticipation amid a season of craziness.  Perhaps you can learn to appreciate the excitement of anticipation…   Perhaps you will more fully embody Christ when you learn of the excitement of His coming!

The Church Is Falling Apart.
The job of a prophet is to speak the word of God.  Here it is:
Love the Lord your God with all of your being.
Stop worshiping Baal.
Stop squandering what I [God] have giving you.
Love your freakin’ neighbor.
The list goes on, but these Truths are not just ancient wordplay, nor are they recent revelations.  These are (badly paraphrased) words of God spoken through the prophets.  The prophets were not always revered (or even tolerated) by the people, but they laid down the law on behalf of God.  Let me tell you a couple of things:
We live in a world which has forgotten what it is like to invite God to dwell with us.  We go to church once a week, perhaps, but we don’t know how to live out our faith anymore.  Mostly this comes about because our church leaders no longer model faithful living.  Pastors want to have a nice car, house, pension, etc. so how in the hell can pastors expect others to drop their nets and follow them when they still have their net grasped in their hand?  We forget what it is to be inspired and instead fill our pulpits with mediocrity.
Laity in the church must claim their ministry.  Our laity must go out doing the work of the poor at the danger of losing life and limb.  We want to insulate ourselves from harm or death and our churches worry about lawsuits.  The truth is that our ministry into the world can not be without risk.  The early Christians risked death by meeting together.  When was the last time you risked death by going to church?  We must be fully committed to embodying our faith.
God is calling us to an authentic faith.  God wants us to drop our selfish ambition and greed to follow the life of Christ.  That can not be accomplished once a week nor is it accomplished in church council or slick advertising.  Our churches need to grow, but not in numbers.  Our churches (and their pastors) much first grow in spirit and commitment.  Let our churches speak loudly and with relevance to a broken world.  Let us proclaim the truth, even when it is hard to hear.
Our churches must begin to model stewardship. Forget these ridiculous buildings and projection systems and fancy coffee/bookshops in our churches.  Let start with basic Biblical literacy and interpretation and if we can learn to do that – let’s take our resources and begin to change the world (not our foyers).  What???  You think that it takes a nice looking building and fancy equipment to have lots of people?  Our churches don’t need a lot of uncommitted people, we need to model a committed faith that uses resources to change lives not to build a bigger freakin’ budget.
Our churches must strive to help our communities and the people in them to be transformed physically, emotionally and spiritually.  We might pretend to do mission in a sterile and safe way with part of our ‘budget’, but that just isn’t good enough for God.  God said it best of all “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself”.  God didn’t say just love your neighbor with the scraps that are leftover.  God said to love your neighbor AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF.  This isn’t easy, but if we begin to live more simply we can also begin to simply provide for those around us.
It is time for change.  Let’s not take baby steps. Let’s not downplay the significance of our sin.  Let’s not molest the Bible until it makes us feel justified in our lifestyle.  Instead – Let’s start a spiritual transformation in the church.
Try it.  I don’t want to have to pull out my sword and get all “Old Testament” on you. (see Exodus 32)
Just Dorking Around

I’m not sure really what to say today.  I should be working harder on my reading day, but I’ve had my mind on a lot of other things this week.  This is a long weekend for us (a five day weekend for me!) and I think that makes it even harder to focus and get my work done.  Lots of students have put together birthday parties and “night out”’s  for this weekend so I’ve found myself with many fun things to draw my attention from my work.  I have a paper to start on the church calendar (liturgical year / church year…) and a presentation to put together for my Old Testament class…plus I have a content quiz in O.T. and a midterm coming up in that class.  Ugh!
Well, I should stop thinking about it and start doing something about it, so I’m logging off and buckling down!
The Church Is In Trouble!
The United Methodist Church is heading for trouble.  In discussions with other seminarians, and through my own personal observations I see a deep lack of effective leadership.  District Committees on Ordained Ministry and Conference boards are supposed to be the gatekeepers, but our church feels so desperate for pastors and in many places those boards are so clogged up with mediocre leadership (I am TOTALLY not talking about my BOM, by the way!) that we just allow people through.  The church has developed a STANDARDIZED SYSTEM of tests to ‘weed out’ the bad apples.  I guess these boards must think that if people can get through the rigorous (ridiculous) process then they must be okay.
This is not working!  We can not assume that just because people get through the tests that they will be good pastors, and YES we need to qualitatively and, often, subjectively evaluate our candidates for ministry to make sure they are good!  You see, high quality leadership tends to cultivate more people who have the skill sets needed for ministry with the ability for high quality leadership.  Mediocrity only breeds mediocrity.  The members of these boards of ordained ministry need to take a personal interest in the candidates for ministry.  They need to visit them and really get to know their ministry styles, abilities and gifts.  They need to REALLY know who they are approving as certified candidates and take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for them!
As a church we must stop accepting mediocrity.  We should not be scared to stand up and demand ONLY THE BEST leadership.  We should not be so wimpy as to not ask the hard questions and turn down the wrong people.

The ordained ministry is a sacred trust.  We have already sacrificed that trust, now we must repair the damage the best we can.

A Birthday Gone Bad!

I can’t exactly sleep.  I have just had the best and worst day ever.  I enjoyed church this morning.  It was nice to hang out in the High School sunday school room and it was great to sit in church with my mother and my grandmother.
I read all afternoon to catch up on my Old Testament course reading and then mom had a Birthday party for me.  The Phillips family and my grandparents on the Carnes side all came up to the house and shared in a potluck and cake.  My cousin Marc and his friend was even able to make it for a while.  I enjoyed being with my family.
Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to get along with my father.  After our guests left, the night did not go so well.  I am no longer speaking to my father and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to comfortably spend time in Pittsfield from now on.
It seems like we should just automatically love our parents.  I don’t know how two related people allow themselves to come to such a point that they can not stand to be around one another.  At first glance, God does not seem to like this, but, on the other hand, some of the greatest sagas of the Bible are about family members who have grievances with one another.  I have struggled to forgive my father for my childhood all of my adult life, I really thought that I could.  I thought I did, even, but I also know that I can’t forget what I went through growing up.

All I can hope for, now, is to find some peace through distance and hope that he can, as well.

Googlesnarks and the Hayride
What a great night we just had.  I went home to see my parents for my birthday.  They had already scheduled a Sunday School wiener roast and hay ride at the house, and somehow I managed to convince my mother that it was okay to do something on my birthday besides ‘dote on Scott’.  I prefer it, in fact.
I didn’t know most of the people who came very well.  Some I remembered from when I lived in Pittsfield before, but I quickly got to know all of them.  What a great bunch of people.  There were five elementary / middle school aged children that came with their parents, otherwise it was all adults.  While we were out on the hay ride there was little girl sitting next to me who (you could tell) wanted to get the other littler kids to be scared.  I turned her game around on her.  I started talking to the woman next to me about the googelsnarks that live in the trees and grab little girls off of hay-rack rides…  It was sooo funny.  I laughed enough that she couldn’t quite tell if I was serious or not and then she would try to scare me.

It was such a relaxing fun night.  I hope I have a chance to do more activities with the Pittsfield church.

A Twitch
This week I have had a twitch in my eye and a very sore neck.  Hmmm…  Wonder if it had anything to do with the Research Report due last night and the fact that I felt as though I was behind in my reading?
Stress has a different effect on all of us.  If you had asked me whether or not I was stressed this week, I would have denied it.  That isn’t just me *trying* to be modest.  No.  The truth is that we all find ourselves in self-denial sometimes.  For me, this week it was the stress of school that I ignored until my body finally said, “HEY!  Scott!  Pay attention to your stress!”
Sometimes our self-denial manifests in our spiritual lives. There are times that I ignore my spiritual needs.  Do you ever do that?  Who really ever thinks, “Oh, yeah…I think I’m spiritually unhealthy this week?”  There is a question that is very important, especially as United Methodists: “How is it with your soul?”  The guy upstairs (not God, but literally the guy who lives in the dorm above me), often asks me, “How is it with your soul.  I seldom respond with a very straight answer (sorry, Tim), but having that question asked of me on a regular basis has made me think more about my spiritual health.

This is a question that I ask us all to ponder.  “How is it with your soul?”  Take a dry erase marker and write it on your bathroom mirror or put this question up on your refrigerator door.  Take moments throughout your week (or day) to think about how it is with your soul: looking beyond the everyday and looking to “the heart of the matter.”

The Research Report
Ugh!  I am printing out the final copy of my research report for class tonight.  What a relief!  Last night was a long night as a finished the report which I had been putting off!
Procrastination is definitely one of my sins.  I think my classmates and I are pretty well united in being pleased that our teacher, Mr. Lester has these smaller papers due throughout the semester in leading up to our exegesis paper.  This research report is not technically for a grade, but we are reporting on our progress in our research for the exegesis paper.  The main thing that I learned was that I didn’t have nearly enough material!  My research has only begun!
I went to the community meal, late tonight and was still trying to eat when worship began, so here I am writing on my blog instead of in worship, but I think that is okay for tonight.  I’d better get this report into its cover and head off to class!
Give Me the Technology, Please!
I’m doing laundry again today!  Every week, it seems, I am right back where I started.  It is a never-ending cycle.  We are in the 21st century.  By now, George Jetson had a machine that just created clothes each day for him, didn’t he?  Why isn’t technology working for me, like that????
You know, for the people of the third world, our technology in the United States is a futuristic wish!  I felt so stupid when I spent a month in Cuba.  A brought many clothes with me, but I just assumed there would be a washing machine and dryer at some point.  My roommate from Bangladesh would wash one of this two pairs of underwear in the sink each night and hang them up to dry so that he could alternate.
During our second week I finally need to clean my clothes (because I had more clothes on this trip than many of these people had in the homes).  We all went to the courtyard and turned on running water that was completely red with rust and washed our clothes.  I had no soap because I had not even conceived of such a thing as a “bar of laundry soap”.  How stupid could I have been back then?!?
So far as the third world goes, running water for clothes washing is a luxury.  How is it that I have become so spoiled?  I gripe about having to take my clothes to a machine, dump in liquid soap and wait for it to finish cleaning my clothes for me!!!
I see now, these amazing new washer and dryer systems that cost thousands of dollars.  How is it that we have come to this?  Is work really that revolting?  Can we no longer take care of ourselves?
Why is it that we can purchase new computers, laundry machines, flat screen televisions, fancy new cars…and yet we have a hard time putting money in the offering plate?  Have we really become so lazy and self-centered?  I have been guilty of this!
I think that God sometimes calls us to make adjustments in our lives.  I am now living at school with no money.  It is a weird feeling after several years in the work force, but I find that I am content living in this dorm room.  Every time I think of something I want – I remind myself of the bigger picture of what I need and what I wish to accomplish with my life.

I hope that we can all find ways to live more simply and give more richly.  I believe that is what God is calling us to!

Falling Behind
I have already fallen behind, it seems.  I have reading to catch up on and I feel exhausted.  The truth is that I don’t DO ANYTHING!  I don’t have a job, that is.  My life is exercising, reading and writing for school, walking, hanging out with other seminarians and sleeping!  This is a schedule that most people would love to have.  The problem is that, up until last week, I had not made school my vocation.  I need to be reading about 4 hours or more a day to keep up with the coursework and I have been slacking off.  I got caught up this weekend with my Old Testament class and I think I have found my new ‘rhythm of life’ as I start this new week.
That is what I have been missing – a rhythm.  I found the beat that I need to keep!  What about you?  Do you have a rhythm in your life?
No matter what we do:  working, riding our bicycles, walking, sitting in the car waiting for the kids, studying… the list goes on…  Everything is better with really great music that fits the occasion.  Our lives need music as well.  God gives us the right rhythm, we only need to listen for it and pattern our lives upon it!
I hope that you will spend some time contemplating God’s rhythm for your life.  Turn off your music and be in prayer with God.  Listen for a new and better pattern to emerge from the stillness of prayer!