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Missing the point?

Friday, June 30, 2006
So I read 3 issues of Relevant magazine in the last couple of days because I had them, but I really want to comment on the article in the July/August edition entitled Missing the Point. It is a short article about the emerging church that isn’t necessarily positive or negative. There are a lot of opinions out there, this one seems to say there might be problems with Emergent as an entity, and so maybe also the emerging church as a group. To set the record straight, Emergent is the official entity, not really a denomination, but a group that seems to oversee what is going on in the emerging church. The emerging church is less stringently defined, but is really where the grass roots efforts are coming from. For more on the division, I suggest you check out the article or do some googling. Or ask me directly.

So my reactions to the article. Or thoughts I had while reading it. Right now, Emergent isn’t set on defining a statement of faith or making blanket statements about anything. This seems to be a criticism, but I definitely see it as a positive. As we begin to see that divisions are only constructions of what we are able to do with our language and thoughts, it is going to be harder and harder to really outline what is right and what is wrong. When churches have statements of faith that require this and that and more and more, that is instantly not appealing. Weren’t all of these rules what Jesus taught against? Emergent (by way of Tony Jones, the national coordinator’s statements) does say that things like the Apostles or Nicene Creeds hold up, but that as we continue to build up more and more and more rules and regulations and requirements, we are drawing borders, creating and us and them. (Google Acts 29 network and read their doctrine, these are the kinds of statements I am REALLY wary of) Suddenly we have to get defensive and protect our borders, keep people out of what we hold onto. Jesus didn’t want us to keep people out. Jesus wanted us to open our doors, forget divisions, care for the lepers and the children and the prostitutes and the poor and the tax collectors, etc.

Emergent has also been accused of being the “Religious Left” as a backlash to those on the “Religious Right.” Oh yes, let us create more divisions. I mean, I can honestly say that I don’t agree with a word out of Pat Robertson’s mouth. I care about social justice. But shouldn’t we be moving away from these paradigms? Most people I know stand firmly in the middle because their opinions are so varied. Again, we create an us and them. Emergent doesn’t want to be the “Religious Left.” It just wants to be some place where people can be in conversation about things that are meaningful. Things that can help change the world.

The other big thing that keeps coming up is the issue of absolute truth. I think Jones did a good thing by really getting at the underlying meaning of what absolute is and is not. Do we have the right to use absolute as a label? Can truth as it stands be absolute? I’m wary to think so, I’m wary to make blanket statements about things I’m just beginning to sort out. All I know is that I’m on this journey, and though parts of it may be hard, I know that my relationship with God is something that I am certain about. Am I certain that everything I believe is true? No. But faith is something that I think gains strength when we wrestle with issues. I don’t think I could ever be complacent and not challenge myself in what I think and believe. I often worry about people who think they have it all figured out because when tragedy strikes it can all fall apart.
In any case, I do think the article was good, I think it is good to struggle with the ideas coming out of the emerging church. I also think that for the emerging church to move forward, at some point the focus must change from deconstruction to reconstruction. Though the shift in thinking is that we know less and less the more we know, there has to be a way to meld that postmodern thought with the gospels. I think there is beauty in the mystery of what God is calling us to be. I think there is something peaceful in the unsettling feeling that I just don’t know everything. I’m excited to call myself a part of a group that is working towards change and is working towards caring for others. It is all about conversation, and it is all about working towards the fact that the Kingdom of God is among us.

conservative? liberal? can't we just forget divisions?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It is always exciting when the US-2 clan is in the “news” even if it is the 2004 end term article and has nothing to do with me. You can read the article about the 2004-2006 class of US-2s here. It is great to know that group of people and I am excited for what their respective futures hold.

Housesitting brings reading, so I should have some content driven posts here soon. I read an article out of Relevant magazine last night on the emerging church/ Emergent that someone had wanted me to read though she didn’t want me to know it was in Relevant. I can’t help it if I have other circles that started talking about the article and I found a way to get my hands on it. Sometimes I’m biased against Relevant because they look like a progressive magazine and then don’t always follow through with what their image is. I guess it is ok to be “safe” in this overly "conservative" Christian climate we’ve got going on in our country right now, but frankly I wish some of these voices speaking out were a bit more edgy and really addressed some of the injustice and other things going on right now that make me cringe. In any case, there will be a post on that article in the near future.

I had this discussion with Kel yesterday about that, he was letting me in on the recent conference in Washington that addressed poverty from a faith based perspective. There were lots of articles that seemed to bash anyone who might be thinking outside of mainstream Christian thought, immediately jumping to the conclusion that anyone concerned for poverty in these matters are ridiculously left. It becomes an us and them immediately. Aren’t we all working for the glory of God? Shouldn’t we all be working together in this fight to help the least and the lost? Inn my opinion, postmodern thought is all about breaking down these constructions. Deconstruction is something that has to happen before we can really truly begin to love each other in the way that Christ calls us to. The quest will ultimately be to reconstruct ourselves in such a manner that there are not divisions, but rather a world that looks beyond inward thinking and works towards a world frame that isn’t so self-centered.

Food for thought

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I've got to get out to my housesitting duties here soon, but I wanted to post a little bit about the individual and individuality. For today, I'm going to post a little segment of dialogue from the movie "Waking Life," my screenname, lifeawakened is drawn from that and my experiences I've had watching that movie. If you like philosophy especially dealing with metaphysics, it is a great movie to check out.

Woman 1: Well you know that thing Benedict Anderson says about identity?
Woman 2: No.
Woman 1: Well he's talking about like say a baby picture. So you pick up this picture, this two dimensional image, and say, "that's me." Well to connect this baby in this weird little image with yourself, living and breathing in the present you have to make up a story. Like, this was me when I was a year old, and then later I had long hair, and then we moved to Riverdale, and now, here I am. So it takes a story that is actually a fiction to make you and the baby in the picture identical. To create your identity.
Woman 2: The funny thing is, our cells are completely regenerating every 7 years, we've already become completely different people several times over. And yet we always remain quintessentially ourselves.

This movie deals a lot about who we are and whether or not we matter. There is a great discourse I think on free will that I'm still trying to wrap my mind around. Basically the movie has a lot of little monologues and dialogues that delve into the psyche and physical condition. While it is not overly spiritual, I find moments where I feel like what the philosophers are getting at is some deeply spiritual stuff. When people realize there are not explanations for some things in this world that are just astounding, it becomes eye opening. In any case, it is one of my favorite movies even if it is a little philosophically heady (I often will just watch a scene or two to get my mind moving).

How we grow and change is absolutely fascinating to me. Even though we are evolving into being completely different every 7 years, we are still the same essentially. I just love that idea because it really opens up possibilities to the stability and complexity of who we are. In a world that is constantly changing, we are still essentially the same. Things like these really make me step back and think with wonder and awe about how amazing God is to have created such complex beings that are ever changing and yet are the same as before, always linked through stories. It truly is beauty to me.

summer storms

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I live for summer storms. One of the best things when working in TN was the storms. They would roll in, happen for a small part of the afternoon and then move on. There was something blessed about those moments of rain on a hot day, and though it would get unbearably hotter, that cool breeze for a moment was heavenly.

That's how I felt tonight. I was out with some friends, watching the storm brew. Storms here have been a rare occurance in my year here, but tonight it really felt magical. I could see from where I was in the early evening, that it was raining in some parts of the city, but not others. As I headed to my bible study, the sky was ominous, the clouds looming, and I wanted nothing more than to just pull my car over and wait for the rain to wash over me.

I took some pictures on my way there, some when I got there. We started in on Luke, and then Daen went to check on the kiddo upstairs. Suddenly she was back down, telling us we needed to go outside. The lightning was dancing. The 5 of us stood outside, mesmerized by the show that was put before us. There was this God moment then. The ground felt holy, and I stood there in awe. This time of year, I'm gearing up for fireworks, another awe filled experience for me, but this was like God's fireworks. Lighting up the night sky, giving us a show to accompany the rain.

We were back in and reading Luke before we knew it, but it was in that moment that I realized that things aren't always the same, people won't always be the same, but we can always have amazing experiences that link us to each other in ways that are unimaginable.

Where its at...

Monday, June 26, 2006
In 9th grade, the girl who sat next to me in World History in Ms. Montalto's class would come in every day singing "I got two turntables and a microphooooone" finally, I inquired about who this song was by as I was somewhere in between my R & B and alternative music phases and was trying to figure out exactly what it was that I liked musically. Her answer was Beck. I picked up his album Odelay, and from that point forward was hooked. I've always heard that Beck gives a great performance and if I had the chance I should check him out. I had an opportunity to once when I also had my first opportunity to see Ben Folds Five, but the idea was nixed by parents who weren't keen on letting a 16 year old go to Chicago with the rest of her 16-18 year old friends to catch a concert. Probably a wise idea, even though that would have been my only chance to see Ben Folds Five before they split.

Anyhow, Friday night, I was given the opportunity to go and check out Beck and see what the buzz I'd been hearing about truly was. Like Kel, I really felt it was a truly spiritual experience for me, but in a completely different way. Check out his blog for his experience of the concert, the awesome opening act and the strange antics.

For me, the experience was one of healing. Music is part of my soul, part of my being if you will. I caught a bunch of concerts while in college, and I've now been to 3 while here in ABQ, but I wasn't prepared for what the concert was going to hand me. I probably had one of the worst seats in the place, but that was exactly what I needed. From my view, I could see the vast sea of people in the theatre, I could make out faces from across the room, but there I was, alone, in the last row in the last seat. I could have moved forward or worked towards finding a better seat, but what I realized was that the experience I had in that moment was something I could only have in that moment of being alone. One of my favorite fiction books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower describes what I felt in one line. "I feel infinite." In those moments of letting the music wash over me, it was true. I did feel infinite. In the past two weeks I've struggled to not be fearful of life. Things that should be joyful have simply held an opposing fear that hasn't been easy to swallow, but in those moments, I felt loved. I felt like I wasn't the only one thinking through those tough questions. I was really blessed by the experience and I'm really thankful for my friends who have done wonders in lifting me up when I'm going through some of these struggles of dealing with life and death. Music was just what I needed to open the doors to that healing process. Experiencing the concert in the last row by myself somehow helped me realize that I'm not at all alone in all of this, there are people surrounding me and lifting me up whether I know they are or not.

That being said, I'm looking forward to seeing the Counting Crows and Goo Goo Dolls next week with friends. We're doing general admission lawn seating, so we'll all be together and we'll be able to experience the concert in another manner that I love... as a community. Look forward to hearing about that one next week. It is my 2nd time seeing Goo Goo Dolls, but a first for Counting Crows. CC blows me away every time I put on their albums, Hard Candy was the soundtrack to summer 2002. I'm really looking forward to it and everything that goes along with the 4th of July.

still searching

Friday, June 23, 2006
I said a few posts ago that a post was coming on where young adults should go from here in the UMC, I haven't gotten a good grip on it all, partly because I'm feeling pretty disillusioned from the church right now.

One thing that might be good is the new young adult network website that launched today. I talked with a couple of people who think it might be on the right track, but I am caught wondering, what does this do for the young adults who are not connected? I've seen these kind of websites spring up time and time again and they don't ever seem to reach their target audience. Some of my favorite alternative Christian websites get a lot of hateful posts from Christians who think it is their duty to call these more alternative streams of Christian living un-Christian. What are we doing when we are fighting amongst ourselves except for discourage others and show others that we are not a loving community of people who want to make the world change?

I can't get beyond that idea, it irks me when people throw around racial slurs (as it should), it hurts me deeply when someone is excluded because of things they choose or don't choose to have be in their lifestyle. We are shaped by the things inside of us and outside of us and it is never easy to fight those battles that cause division. I know I sound like a broken record, but I guess the thing I think needs to change most is that we need to be loving each other. I know that I long for a place that I fit in, I long for community, I want a world where pulitzer prize winning photos are not based on tragedy but are based on hope and new life. Those are the things I want to see young people embrace. That shift from inward focus to outward focus has to be one that is motivated by love and love alone. We cannot stay locked up in our churches and expect the world to conform to us. It just isn't happening. We have to get out there and love.

I could go on and on and on about all of this, but I think it is important to not sit and watch the world continue to deteriorate because we have stopped knowing how to love.

I'm off to go see Beck, but I thought I'd get this post up because who knows where the night will take me and I probably won't want to post tonight when I get back. I'll be back in on Monday to share about my concert experience I'm sure. Tonight is just another reminder of how blessed I am to have great friends here in Albuquerque. Seems to be a theme running through this week. :-D

an added bonus post

Thursday, June 22, 2006
I basically lived at my Wesley Foundation during my time at school, but there was one room that haunted me. Working for a church, you learn the ins and outs of it all, I knew the building very well, but this room just freaked me out.

The story goes that in the late 60s/early 70s, a mural was painted in this room. I was never able to get a straight answer from anyone about it all, but it was the strangest painting I've ever seen. You can speculate about the pictures, but in any case, it is not something that I have ever felt belonged in a church. I'll go through what I know about each picture, but what I know has been total speculation.

So why am I blogging about this? Because after 4+ years of trying to convince people that the room was unusable, finally there has been approval to paint over the room. Myself and my coworkers at the time would continually think about vandalizing it just so it would not be so freaky. When giving tours to new students, they were almost always freaked out, and I completely understood how Wesley could be seen as the "pagan" church on campus. (Yes, I actually had someone ask me that. No, Wesley is not pagan at all)

This wall tells of the story of Ring around the Rosy. Though the origin of the Nursery Rhyme is debateable. This wall has people holding hands and running around in a circle, falling down dead, and then the bodies being burnt.
There might be some Christian symbolism here, there appears to be a chalice with a red liquid in it, and maybe the doves/birds mean something but there is some strange stuff here too.
This wall has lots of plants and animals, just to take up space around the windows I guess.
King Arthur burns on a funeral pyre above the door, a startling image to leave the room with.

The wizard is kind of neat because he is painted around corners, but still, lets be honest he's kind of scary too.

So soon, the pictures of this mural are all that will remain. I'm slightly jealous that I don't get to be there to help paint over this, but I keep telling myself I had a part in getting the ball rolling and fighting for the removal of this for the past 4 years. Sure, it is cool in a strange way, but for a small room it is overwhelming and you always feel as though you're being watched by the spirits in the trees.

at the potter's hand

From Growing Strong at Broken Places by Paula Ripple.

"Both my hands shaped this pot. And, the place where it actually forms is a place of tension between the pressure applied from the outside and the presure of the hand on the inside. That's the way my life has been. Sadness and death and misfortune and the love of friends and all the things that happened to me that I didn't even choose. All of the at influenced my life. But, there are things I believe in about myself, my faith in God and the love of some friends that worked on the insides of me. My life, like this pot, is the result of what happened on the outside and what was going on inside of me. Life, like this pot comes to be in places of tension. Life comes to be when we learn how to avoid looking for answers and finally learn how to ask the questions that will bring us to life."

Yesterday in Bible study we discussed the Exile and Post-exilic period of the Hebrew Bible. Of course you can't really discuss that without discussing Jeremiah, which our study spent 2 days on. Jeremiah uses a lot of pottery imagery and I am continually reminded of this quote. I'm not sure where I first came across it, but I haven't actually read the book yet. I do that all of the time, find interesting things and never read the whole story.

Sometimes we let ourselves be affected by just the things going outside, which destroys the pot crushing it inward. Sometimes we concentrate so much on the inside that the pot looses shape completely. Thankfully we have the opportunity to start again and let the potter shape our lives. We have the opportunity to let the fine balance between what is happening inside and what is happening outside shape who we are. There are sometimes flaws, but they can be fixed before the pot is fired.

I'm still working through the difference between asking questions and looking for answers. Asking the questions is really all we need but sometimes we become so obsessed with needing answers that we let life pass us by.

another great night

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
I had another great night tonight, went and saw Look Both Ways, an indie film from Australia that has won some awards. It was a really good film that really tied the lives of a group of people together in a way that I had not really thought about before. Usually movies that have intersecting lives complete the story in such a manner that lives become tangled. This one was considerably more subtle than that, and I appreciated it because it seemed much more realistic to me. I mean 6 degrees of seperation really does hold true a lot of the time, but not always in overt ways. In any case, if you have a chance to see the film I highly recommend it.

The film dealt a lot with death, dying, and tragedy. And I couldn't help but think during it how miserable people must be when their lives are consumed with those things. When life is just so mundane that it is all that you think about or when life is just so tragic that you can think nothing more than that. I can't say that I haven't had those rough times, but there is always this underlying hope that transcends the completely dire situation. I guess it just served as a reminder to me that life is what you make of it, and it doesn't actually matter how you die, but how you lived your life. Really powerful message for sure, especially for me right now.

I seem to measure my life on how I impact other people, good or bad. If I don't think I've done enough for someone, I really struggle through that. I feel good when people truly benefit from the things I do. Sometimes I do wonder if I'm missing something though. If I'm missing an opportunity to really get out there and do the things I want and need to do because I'm too busy worrying about others. Can being too helpful really be a fault? I'd venture to say that it can be because you can really lose sight of yourself and who you are and then one day wake up and wonder where your life has gone. I really do think there has got to be some happy medium where you are able to take care of yourself as well. It is definitely hard with how passionate I am with what I do and how much I care about those around me to stop and really evaluate whether all that I do is healthy or whether I'm giving so much of myself that it might be harmful. This is why it is good to have these little reminders of taking care of myself and letting others take care of me. It helps me to really think about the things I value in life, and to work toward them without suffering from burnout, which is incredibly easy to do in the social service field.

Whether I like it or not, these past 11 months have really given me the opportunity to reflect and grow in unimaginable ways. Sure, sometimes I spend too much time analyzing things and stressing out about them, but when I look at the person I was when I got here and compare it to who I've become, I'm really thankful for those experiences. At dinner tonight, I was talking about some friends who I'm challenging and who are challenging me, and it was remarked to me that they respect me and my thoughts and opinions and I guess it never really occurred to me in that fashion. I've always spent so much time really looking up to people around me and have never really noticed the things I have to offer. God is certainly teaching me that I have more to give than just my heart which really brings me joy. I can only hope that I can bless others as abundantly and freely as those around me continue to bless me.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I am truly blessed by my friends here. I've spent a lot of time with my counterculture friends the past few days and it has been really good for me. Coming back here this time was harder than I thought, I'm just somewhat overly stressed out and really figuring out how to deal with the death of a friend hasn't been as easy as I thought it might be. I still think about it and am sort of shocked by it all.

Thursday night last week I went out with Tara and Leah, we ate a nice dinner out, wandered around Barnes and Noble and went back to Tara's and talked. It was a combination of verbalizing the crazy things that are going on and being distracted by getting into one of my passions, alt. worship. I shared some of my past worship stuff with them and really enjoyed that time. (The second of those links isn't my stuff but was at the Emergent convention. My fav alt worship service i did... I lost the film, it was a sad day) Friday night was Nacho Libre time and was a good ending to the week. Saturday of course was counterculture and we did some alt. worship stuff which was really cool. I put my greek skills to use and I think the effect we were going for came off well.

Last night was really the best part of the last few days. Tara and Billy invited me out to celebrate Kel's birthday with all of them which was really a blessing to me in more ways than I think any of them will understand. We enjoyed a great meal, grabbed some Boba tea (or smoothie) and just sat outside the mall and chatted until it was dark. That was really the closest thing I've had to my normal way to release stress and frustration. Back in Champaign, I used to take walks at night in the clean crisp air. I had a good safe mile route that I would take usually 3-5 times a week. I really rejoice in the outdoors and breathing fresh air. Even though we just sat there and chatted, I really felt the presence of God like I used to on those walks. There is something just divine about laughing and fellowshipping with friends that you know really care about you and about where you're at. It was truly spiritual communion.

God steps in at those times where things seem dire, where life is getting hard. I'm a very relational person for being the introvert I am, and I was reminded again today at staff devotion of those friendships and relationships and how important it is to stay connected. You can read that devotion here. It really blessed me and spoke to me today. After we were done hearing that, we each picked words that were spread around the table that described where we are right now. I picked challenge. I'm really in this position right now where I'm feeling challenged and probably need to be challenged. It is terribly frustrating, but wonderfully necessary.

And I've got plenty of blessings to look forward to this summer. Of course more to come on those as they come along.

man it is hot

Monday, June 19, 2006
Even if the humidity is less than 10%, 98 degrees is still hot. Especially when you get in your car. It is like you're baking in an oven.

I'm still in the middle of my draft of where we go from here as far as young adults in the UMC goes, and probably won't have time to work on it tonight. I'm headed out for a friends birthday dinner relatively soon and just don't have the time or energy to devote to a vision tonight.

I've been talking about counterculture off and on, my church home in Albuquerque. They've just redesigned their webpage to better reflect where they (we) are now. I'll throw out a link so you can see what I do on Saturday nights. I'm really glad I've stumbled across this "group of screw-ups and Christ followers." They really continue to challenge me and bless me on my journey here. I'm very often coming in from left field, and find myself biting my tongue a lot, but that is teaching me humility. I love that I am feeling less uncomfortable about putting myself out there with them even though we often have differing beliefs and opinions. At the core though, I resonate with the passion that this group of people shares to care for each other. It seems the group is at a crucial point where we need to really get out there and live out the gospel and it is really enjoyable to be a part of a group that is figuring out where its needs are and is working to meet them. It is refreshing for sure.

When we stop and care for each other it does wonders for our souls.

Social Justice cause of the month

Friday, June 16, 2006

While at Annual Conference, the topic of my boycott of McDonald's came up a few times. A few people asked me, "Geez, I didn't even know there was a reason to boycott McDonald's, why haven't you blogged about it?" So here is that obligatory post. I'm hoping to have a new cause of the month each month, so if you know of anything I should support feel free to send it my way.

Back in 2004, the UMC joined a few other social activist agencies in the boycott of Taco Bell. This boycott was in support of the Immokalee Workers who are not paid a fair wage for the tomatoes that are used in many fast food chains. The boycott of Taco Bell was a successful endeavor as Taco Bell has agreed to pay them a fair wage and give them better working conditions. It was a boycott that intended to spur other fast food giants into caring about the wages and work standards of those that pick tomatoes. Unfortunately, other fast food entities have not joined the cause. Even though those who work and pick Taco Bell tomatoes are paid better, there are still those who work under horrible conditions for very little pay. Did I mention this all goes on in Florida? If you think that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave and everyone lives a wonderful American dream, you are mistaken. Yes, there are major issues in many other countries, but until we can understand the lives of our neighbors here, I don't know that we will be able to combat the massive amount of injustice going on overseas.

I urge you, if anything, check out the website. If you eat McDonald's regularly, cut back or join me in the boycott. It worked for the Taco Bell boycott, it was one major victory for these people that desperately want to have a better quality of life and want to support their families.

Annual Conference Slideshow

Thursday, June 15, 2006

it is good to be back

Wednesday, June 14, 2006
May and into June was a busy time for me, thankfully now I have a few weeks in ABQ before I head out again. I suppose I should do some Annual Conference debriefing, hopefully so I'm not upset about it anymore.

Overall, I had a good time. I got home on Wednesday night late and Jodie picked me up at my house to head to Champaign. We picked up Nick from New Horizon and we were on our way. I had some awesome pizza, got a chance to see my favorite Wesley Church & Foundation staff, visited Ruth at work, at which point we needed to head to conference. Off we went to Peoria for 3 days of very little sleep and just a little bit of business. We got there just in time for worship where Jodie had to read a prayer and definitely sat next to the Bishop during the whole service. I think that the "Poke the Bishop" game that I linked to earlier came from that event, but we always try to have interesting interactions with the Bishop. We went and grabbed some food afterwards at Steak n Shake (a midwest love of mine). We began all of our theological discussion there, I think that might have all started with seeing a guy that was wearing a shirt that said on the front "Calvinism: This shirt chose me" and on the back it said "Armenianism: I chose this shirt". I thought it was clever. We didn't really talk about those subjects because we're all good UMs but it was quality.

Thursday was more of the same but we really got into some of the resolutions and found other ways to entertain ourselves. One was that there was a giant ladder up front, that really led to nowhere. Later we figured out that they were using it to take photos, but not until after we hung a sign on it that said "Jacob's Ladder" that stayed up the rest of the weekend. So maybe we do random things during conference but you can't say we didn't have fun. We went mini golfing Friday night, and out to my campus minister's parents house Sat afternoon. It was really great to spend time with my friends, and I really did benefit from seeing some of my pastor friends and others because I really feel valued in the presence of those that have seen me grow up. There were some pastors there that knew me when I was 15 and we're 8.5 years past that point. People were really excited about what I'm doing, and can't wait to have me back in Illinois. It is good to feel loved.

Sunday was the day that left a terrible taste in my mouth. After ordination, which I love but was FAR too long this year, we had discussion over the budget. I got up on the conference floor and asked a question about the $110,000 being cut from colleges and campus ministries. Simply speaking, I asked if there were other provisions made for young adult ministries when that is being cut. The answer I got made me angry. Basically, the response of the CCFA chair was to suggest that maybe we as young people should stop complaining about ministry cuts and get out and join the community. It became glaringly clear to me in that moment that IGRC is trying its best to remove itself from the hole it has dug itself (we've lost 40% of our members since 1974). But I don't think the approach is the best one. Instead of increasing what we give to ministries to help them thrive, we cut them to save more to use in the overhead of administration. I'm not saying we don't need that administration, I just think that cutting ministry is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

The median age of a person in Illinois is slightly under 35 and yet we cut ministries to those under 35? That just doesn't make sense to me. I guarantee that the median age in our churches is probably closer to 60 than it is to 35. I heard a statistic that in 10 years half of our clergy will retire and in 20 it will be more like 75%. In a conference that brings in about 15 clergy a year and there are about 1000 pastors, you can see that the math doesn't add up. The cynic in me says that it will all be fine because the rapid church decline will meet or exceed that rate of loss. This is completely and totally painful because there is a hint of truth in it.

I am discouraged by the constant degrading manner in which young adults are treated in our churches. I am out in my community, which is probably part of the reason that my church home in Albuquerque is not United Methodist. Young adults were called "kids" on the conference floor, and if that is the attitude of people in our congregations, no wonder we can't get 20-30 year olds in the door. We want to know that we matter, and being called a kid who should get out in my community and do something that matters doesn't exactly make me feel like I'm important. I guarantee that people my age don't come to church to sit in pews. We come to care about each other, and not just those seated next to us, but we come to care about the world as a whole.

More to come later on this, I'm working on where we go from here...


Monday, June 12, 2006
I feel like I should write this eloquent post about Holli's wake, something that is uplifting and inspiring and will bring hope to all who read it. But I can't. The truth of the matter is that attending the wake of a friend is a tough thing. Seeing her less than a week old baby float between family and friends because her mom was lying motionless just feet away was hard. Knowing that Carie isn't going to experience the love and warmth of her mother, that was hard. I should have been visiting Holli on Sunday like we had planned. I should have been smiling and laughing with her and remembering the good old times like our trip to Mountain TOP, or how much fun it was to be in a band in high school called Spazms of Faith. How truly spastic she and I were, how much fun we had at YAR. The various retreats, hanging out at my house between Sunday worship and youth group. You know, all of the fun stuff we had done.

But that's not how it is. Instead, today was a rough day. Today was a day I wasn't ready to experience, but I didn't have a choice. I'll be back to the routine tomorrow, but today will probably change a bit of my outlook on things. One thing I keep relearning is that it is never easy to lose a friend no matter what the circumstances.

In other news, more to come on Annual Conference in the next few days. If you need something uplifting as an intro to what is to come, check out one of the games we played during conference here. Drew won even though I totally had my chance when the Bishop walked into the bathroom as I was walking out but I just couldn't bring myself to play such a game while in the bathroom with the Bishop.


Friday, June 09, 2006
Conference is going well. We went out tonight and had a blast mini-golfing, and overall business has been interesting, but nothing too exciting (ok business isn't terribly exciting anyway).

I of course had a lot to blog about tonight, but just learned some news that makes it hard to think about much of anything. A good friend from high school passed away on Thursday. I know very little of the details. We hadn't talked to each other in awhile before recently and I'm fairly sure I haven't seen her since my graduation party from high school. I talked to her on Tuesday, she invited me to come and visit her in the hospital on Friday as she was to be induced to have her first child on Thursday morning. Her daughter came into this world as Holli left it. Holli Ann (Mahlum) Cannon passed away, leaving behind her husband and her new daughter and many many friends and family. It is insane to even type that. I'm really just in a state of utter shock.

We were part of the same youth group, had shared dresses with each other for prom/homecoming. I will always remember how she would call me by my first and last names together and I would just laugh everytime. I was so excited for her to have this precious baby, and had planned on making a trip to Momence on Sunday when I got back from conference. She could really light up a room with her smile. I have some great memories with her. Death is truly a difficult thing to grasp, especially when it comes to someone so young. I wish I knew more to say, but there isn't really much you can say.

Rest in Peace Holli. You will be missed.

Yes, this is what pizza should look like. Oh Papa Del's how I adore you.

Green makes me happy. Even if I'm just passing through.

I already have tons to blog about, but it is past 1 am and I'm not primed for my 7 am wakeup. It should be a fun weekend, filled with all sorts of not sleeping enough and fun stories.

Blogger was down today and it rocked my whole world.

Thursday, June 08, 2006
I went home for lunch today and had Spaghetti-os (for more on that subject you can read here). I was excited to see that I helped someone out on the Albuquerque forum on www.dukecityfix.com When I moved here, DCF was my window into anything and everything Albuquerque and even helped me find counterculture. Anyway, there was a discussion on the new forum about this restaurant, formerly O’Neill’s then Sig’s now Two Fools Tavern. I definitely gave my thumbs up to their fish and chips and the recommendation seems to have been a good one.

It is funny to me how the blog world has changed how I communicate. I read a lot about other people, and I know that a lot of people know more about me than ever before. I think we as a culture are seeking to make these relationships with people because in our busy world, we have trouble connecting with each other in the same ways as previously possible. Suddenly we’re bombarded with media and we’re pulled in every which way.

But is this blog world a bad thing? Is it keeping us from truly engaging with each other? Most of my interaction with others happens via the internet and I’m pretty lost if I don’t have it at my disposal. There was a huge write-up in the Reporter this week about the blog world and how it helps to connect younger generations with the church. Suddenly, lay members and others who feeli that their voices aren’t being heard have a forum to sound off on. I haven’t joined the Methodist Blogroll because of the ridiculous length of it, because I like the aesthetics of my blog at the moment. But I peruse the MBR weekly roundup and there is some great stuff out in the Methoblogsphere.

I haven’t answered the question about whether or not this blog world is a bad thing. I think if we isolate ourselves that it can be harmful, but I feel that engaging with others in topics that sometimes are not polite to bring up at dinner is a good thing. Those of us wrestling with matters of faith just need to remember the ultimate goal cannot be to push one’s agenda politically or theologically, but instead our goal should be to encourage questions, encourage dialogue, and have an open forum that will ultimately enrich the lives of others rather than make people feel bitter and angry at the church.

Blogging from IGRAC the rest of the week. Hopefully with fun pictures. :-)

over 100 posts!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I have to mention that I've hit the over 100 posts mark. I meant to have a party, but got busy and forgot.

In Albuquerque news, we've had 2 consecutive days of over 100 degree weather. Yeah, it is hot, but normally in Illinois I would want nothing to do with being outside in this kind of heat. Here it is different, it is stuffy inside because my apartment is like an oven and I just want to sit outside and enjoy the breeze. I discovered that hummingbirds frequent the feeder outside my apartment, hopefully I'll be able to get a picture here soon.

The other fun thing that is going on is Music camp at church. In one week, the children at the church pulls together a production. It looks like a ton of fun, but I have too much work to get done before I'm headed off to conference at home tomorrow to go and play. I did check out the crafts this afternoon as well as have a ton of drop in youth visits. I also did my part in filling up the van with gas. No one can say I did nothing for Music Camp. I think this would have been fun as a kid. I had a role in 3 major productions, though I can only remember the name of two. So you may remember me from such greatness as little sheep #3 from "We like sheep" (pink cast and all) or as a kid in "Down by the Creekbank" I can sing you a couple songs from each of those productions from kindergarten and 1st grade. Sometimes I'm amazed at what I keep in my head. I also played the wife of Ham, son of Noah in a musical. Oh the memories.

I had a good discussion today about the book of Revelation. My good friend is leading a Bible study at Wesley at U of Illinois this summer with the grad students and needed some expert advice on apocalyptic literature. This topic of conversation went along nicely with it being 6/6/06. I've heard more today about eschatology than I would have cared to have heard. I wasn't much help but we got to talking about the role of the prophet. There are so many misconceptions of a prophet's role. I often think here that this or that prophet is coming to town here (we are on the outskirts of the Bible belt) and just have to shake my head. The first time I ever took a spiritual gifts test, my two highest scores were in teaching and prophetic wisdom. It freaked me out until I really had a handle on what it means to be a prophetic voice. I'm starting to really see how that fits who I am and especially how I'm feeling in the UMC right now. In my conversation this afternoon, my statement about the role of a prophetic voice was this... "It is interesting to see people open their eyes to the fact that the job of a prophet is not to declare the future, but instead to show God's intentions and to bring forth the covenant between God and humanity."

I'm big on the covenant right now. Huge on the vast power of God's love. A lot has to do with being a part of a Disciple OT class, some has to do with reading McLaren's "The Last Word and the Word after That." Both deserving of their own posts on down the line.

I'm really enjoying the chance I have to be in discussion about the issues I've brought up in my last couple of posts. I'm thankful for those of you who leave comments for me of encouragement. I know my posts can be lengthy at times, but that is because posting is part of my thought process. So far I cannot say that I have ever come to any definitive conclusions about anything I post about. As an introvert, I spend lots of time thinking and rehashing things in my head before I'm willing to speak up on issues, but blogging gives me the opportunity to begin to do more of my thinking outside of myself. I'm amazed at what it has inspired me to speak up about and really try to take a stand on. I'm looking forward to the next 100 posts and the blogging I get to do over the next few years. I'm excited for the opportunity to struggle through seminary and the ordination process on my blog. I'm just hoping I'm still into it as much then as I am now.

social activism killing the UMC?

Monday, June 05, 2006

I cannot get enough of this United Methodist stuff. I just got sent an article by my friend Kel who knows my affinity for the UMC and figured I would think this article is interesting. If this article is true, I am certainly sad, but I must remember that correlation does not equal causation. Thank you to the worst ethics teacher ever for pounding that one in my head.

So yeah, I do think there is a hint truth to this article because it forces me to look at extremes. I grew up considerably more conservative than I am now in regards to theology and politics. What I’m learning is that there has to be a balance of thoughts concerning salvation and thoughts concerning social activism. When you have one without the other you risk losing meaning behind anything that you do. I need spiritual nourishment, but I cannot just be fed and go home happy. There is an unsettling feeling when I am only doing for myself. I guess it is because that spiritual nourishment that I receive pours out of me like flowing water and I can’t get enough of giving it away.

So what’s the deal with the decline then? I see it as a lack of connection. This is odd for a connectional church, but we are doing a horrible job of interpreting that connection to others. We are doing a horrible job of identifying with the culture. I grew up in the church, so I actually like singing hymns with the organ, but most of my friends wouldn’t. (And contrary to popular belief we really don't like contemp Christian music either) Though the decline in members I think has little to do with worship style and more to do with how we approach the concept of Christianity. If there is a generation that is giving, it is certainly mine. Counteracting the yuppie culture seems to be our thing. Did you catch wind of the Global Night Commute back in April? A grassroots movement by people who care. People my age who aren’t involved in the larger connectional community of the UMC don’t really connect with the cool things that are being done and that can be done through the connectional system. We don’t do a good job at campus ministry for the most part either. We have kids graduate from high school and say “See you when you have kids.” What is that? Why do we give up?

I can’t say I’ve always felt welcome at my UM church home here. As a young adult who is heading towards ministry, one would assume that I would be lifted up and encouraged, but often I come home from the days working at the church more discouraged than I thought possible. I’m learning, I’m growing, but I cannot do it on my own. I need people I trust to encourage me. I’ve always said that I see my calling manifest in conversations with others. The first time I ever thought about ministry was at Mtn TOP when one of my adult leaders asked me if I had ever thought about it. I had gone on and on about being a computer engineer to her, and suddenly it clicked that it was totally wrong (ok so it took me a bit longer to figure that out). Through that conviction, I started searching out my calling, but it hasn’t always been easy. I am discouraged often when I see the voice of my age group asking “Why don’t you hear us?” and we are silenced again and again. So leadership is starting to make baby steps to draw us in. Check out the article on page 5 of my home conference newspaper. I was talking to my dad about it, and though it is there and printed, it seems that we can talk lots about attracting younger people, but until there is implementation of this I feel really skeptical. (And no, implementation is not having Nicole Mullen sing as an official part of Annual Conference)

I know I’m like a broken record right now, but I’m really passionate about this. I think that no matter how much I try to be heard, and try to help others be heard, we will not be heard unless the deconstruction that I talked about previously happens. Here’s the deal; ultimately, I want to enable others to be passionate about ministry, and to be passionate disciples of Jesus Christ. I am only one person, but I have many leaders that I trust. This is fortunate for me, but it isn’t generally the case for those in my age group. Instead we are confused. Highly spiritual, but confused. We don’t want the answers, we want to be enabled to ask the questions. We want to live out the gospel, but if we aren't even given an opportunity to hear the gospel, we're out of luck.

perspectives on change

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I returned from annual conference #1 yesterday, and of course have lots to think about and say about it, but who knows what all will end up being posts and what all will just manifest itself in conversations I have with people over the next few weeks. I figured I should post a picture of what I did during the time (stand at the booth and answer questions) along with show how the board looked upon completion. It was overall a good time to get to know some new people and see what another conference is like.

So, the main topic at conference of course was change. Every year, I'd venture to say at every annual conference, the main topic is change. I'd venture to say that is because the denomination is dying. That is apparent, and yeah, change is necessary, so we preach on change and still don't do anything about it.

I think we tend to have it all wrong though. For example, the group convened by the Bishop that is looking at change in the NM conference has no one under 40 in it. Who has their finger on change? Who has the time to implement change? People who only have a few years of ministry left before retirement? Or people who have the time and energy to do more than sit around a table for 8 hours and discuss books on leadership and change? The answer seems obvious to me, but maybe that's because I'm 23 and naive.

There is a power struggle in the church. Unfortunately, that power struggle is looking to be an endless cycle unless a complete deconstruction of our understanding of what it means to be the church happens. We can't just talk about change in terms of how we do worship, or how we greet people, or how we lead studies. Change has to be holistic and doing a little tweaking will at best result in maybe a slower rate of loss.

There are beginnings of a movement within the UMC to attract younger clergy. This is all well and good, but younger clergy won't be attracted to an entity that seems to just try to shut them up. Younger clergy are looking for the potential to change and frankly there are other denominations that are doing better things than arguing with each other. I know my calling to full time ministry is there, but there are lots of times where I don't feel supported in that calling and that's a huge deal.

I often get questioned about where I'm headed next, and for awhile I was reluctant to confidently say that my calling is full-time ministry and that seminary is my next step. It wasn't that I didn't know that is what I'm called to, it was that I was afraid of getting lost in this power trap. But things are changing for me, and I truly feel that my calling is to be part of this movement to transform and reform. To deconstruct and reconstruct. Unless my generation is given an opportunity to engage in ministry, the demise of the UMC feels imminent.

You can only say things need to change for a while before the rug gets pulled out from beneath you because you just stood there.

On being uber Methodist

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I'm currently halfway through my time as a representative of Saranam at the New Mexico Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (we UMs are awesome at extremely long names... ie I am a US-2 missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church).

Anyhow, I'm learning a lot about another conference and can't help to fall more in love with my own conference. I went to a couple of business sessions and some worships, but so far have been trying to man my booth. I've also made friends with some youth who think I'm cool. Once again I am reminded of my love for youth ministry, I wonder if God is trying to steer me back in that direction.

Did I mention this is #1 of 2 annual conferences for me? For those unaware, I am quite possibly the nerdiest UM ever. I like annual conference a lot, and I'm attending 2 for the heck of it, not being a delgate. I wish I would have tried to be a delegate at home, but I just didn't plan that far ahead to see if I could find a spot. In any case, for my non UM readers, AC is the yearly meeting of the conference. Conferences are geographical areas that make up part of our connectional system. The connection is why I love the UM church. See, all UMCs are linked together, first usually through clusters (churches in the same town), then districts (usually a larger city and the surrounding areas), then conferences (such as NM conference, or my home Illinois Great Rivers conference which is basically all of Illinois south of I-80 with a few exceptions), then jurisdictions (i'm in the south central currently but North central represent!) then general conference which includes the US and reps from all over the world. As you start to get involved in the UM church, you make connections. I have a great supportive community of pastors in IGRC that are an inspiration to me, because that is what the UM system does.

So what makes us unique as the body of the UMC? Well one thing I think that stands out is the system of apportionments. (All of my UM readers can feel free to cringe) See, each UMC pays a part of their budget to their conference, and the conference then pays general apportionments. This money does fund administrative things such as our Bishops and other staff, as well as the different boards and agencies of the church, all the way down to my insurance and US-2 trainings and expenses. So how cool is that? like 1/1000 of a cent of every apportionment goes to help fund the US-2 program! Of course I didn't figure out an actual number, but you get the point.

Today at the business meeting I went to, the NM conference by way of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration decided to no longer refer to this money as apportionments but rather that we are funding shared ministries. I honestly say I like this change. Instead of giving money to fund this big word that is difficult to describe and understand, we're funding things like UMCOR (the United Methodist Commitee on Relief) so that all money donated to disaster victims can go straight to the source. We are funding things like campus ministries that shape the future (ahem... current) leaders of the church. We are funding things like the General Board of Church and Society that really is active with social justice issues and can deal with societal problems on a large scale. We are sending missionaries all over the world to do work that will impact lives for years to come.

Everyone who has ever been a part of leadership in the UMC knows that apportionments can be a difficult thing to swallow. Some churches choose to not pay their apportionments because they need to fund other things within the church. If that is the mentality of the church as a whole, the denomination should not exist. This is who we are, this is what we do. We are connectional not just because our pastors change churches within the conference every 5-7 years or so, we are connectional because we share ministries together. We lighten the load of churches doing relief work in Louisiana and Mississippi through UMCOR, we have missionaries who can rely on funding from our conferences. We are able to support schools like Africa University, and countless others that are making a difference in people's lives throughout the world.

I'll be the first to admit that maybe I am a little too excited to be United Methodist. I've had plenty of opportunity to be cynical about the system, but time and time again I realize how much it means to me to be part of something that is larger than just my home church, that is larger than my district or my conference. I am proud to be sharing ministries and smile whenever I see that cross and flame plastered on a building.
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