Prayer/Karma Request: Ordination Interview

As faithful readers know, I don't publish much about my current personal life outside of anecdotes about ministry setting or past exploits.  But in this case, I'd like to make an exception.  Feel free to scroll on if you are bored.

I'm a United Methodist pastor.  Fulfilling a call to ministry via Ordination in the United Methodist Church is about a decade long process from clean start to final finish. 

I began my call to ministry process in June 1998.  I met with all the mentors and committees, got the education (Bachelors in Religion and Masters of Divinity), interned/worked at five churches, and I was commissioned into the ordination process in June 2006.  After four years of pastoral ministry, I am now at the final stages of that process, called "full connection" for those with the team jerseys reading. 

My Ordination interview is tomorrow (December 1st).  Here's what will go down on that date:
  • Interviewing Committee: At around 9am CST, I will meet with a group of  6-8 clergy and laity who are thoroughly familiar with my materials, gifts, and personality.  They interview me and issue a recommendation to the full board as to whether to ordain me as a full Elder or not.
  • Executive Committee: Afterword, I will meet with the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry (12 people in various forms of Board leadership) to reflect on the process, answer further questions, and satisfy the leadership that the interviewing committee has judged me thoroughly.
  • Full Board: Later that afternoon, the full Board of Ordained Ministry (I think its between 40-60 people) will receive the recommendations, debate, and vote. I will receive a phone call late in the day on Tuesday telling me the results.
While that isn't the utter end of the process (there's a vote by the full amassed clergy in the Conference in May along with the Ordination service), this is the final step that is the hardest and most stressful IMO. 

So...prayers, good karma, smoke signals, kind thoughts, and meditations on the Force would be appreciated.  Thanks in advance.

(pictured is fellow Methoblogger Will Deuel being came up on Google Images as I searched for "United Methodist Ordination"...neat huh?)


Prooftexting, Psalm 109:8, & Obama [bad.hack]

Prooftexting is taking verses from the Bible or a religious text and using them to buttress one's points or as "bullet" points to teach sinners a lesson.  We prooftext often when answering a question about Christian beliefs or in calling another person to accounting for their sin.  Dr. McGrath has a good summary of prooftexting's follies here, including out-of-context shenanigans and its sheer uselessness given the diversity of voices in religious texts. 

But prooftexting reached a new low in recent weeks.  On the Rachel Maddow show (video starting at 3:25ish), she highlighted a Christian merchandising move that sells "Pray for Obama, Psalm 109:8" t-shirts and bumper stickers.  Here's my exact reaction process of seeing the t-shirt for the first time:

  1. Hey, they are finally praying for Obama instead of shouting at him...progress!  I wonder what that Psalm is...[grabs bible]
  2. Psalm 109:8 "Let his days be few and another take his office." OH, it's SNARK!  Ha! Good one.  But there's no election of leaders in the ancient for a  leader to leave office he would have to...oh, this can't be good.  I wonder what the context is...[reads next verse]
  3. Psalm 109:9 "Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow." OH, it's CALLING for a leader's DEATH.  Yea for Christians calling for assassinations!  UGH. [weeps]
So, there you have it.  The email forward you thought was clever and witty is actually calling for the assassination of a President, or at least the quick death of one.  Awesome.  And another example of religion being used to promote hatred and violence.

Too bad the guys didn't read the rest of Psalm 109:
Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame; and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
bad.hack indeed.


Church on your Wii

All this talk about Virtual Church (1, 2, 3...ah ah ah) totally ignores the awesome interactive capabilities of the Nintendo Wii and its potential for Virtual Church in many houses.

Luckily some entrepreneurial Catholic has it all figured out.  Check it out!  (h/t Everyday Liturgy's Twitter)

Of course, it's a bad.hack (even though it absolutely cannot be real) because of its scoring system of "grace points."  Grace is never earned...that's a basic tenet of Methodism and a large swath of Christendom.  If they were called "indulgences" then it would be accurate but an even stronger indication this is fake.

Still, kudos for the WASPs and the animation.



Hacking Content Overload: Becoming Curators

My spouse gets exasperated with how fast I read.  I read the last Harry Potter in about 6 hours and just read a hyper-masculine body shop magazine Twilight in about 4 hours.  I appreciate this gift because I have 2000 items to read in my GReader everyday and a few hundred Facebook updates of people I appreciate.  It's a lot of reading and skimming and starring items for further study later...but it's part of my daily routine and I wouldn't trade it.

However, what annoys me is that I read the same thing about 5-6 times (at least).  It's great as I get many different perspectives but for information-only stuff, it's lots of clutter and what others have called the social media echo-chamber.  Parroting tech specs or talking points wears on me and wears out the J button (GReader inside joke!).  But I don't want to unsubscribe because of the other content on those feeds.  So how can one sort through the different feeds and find the wheat among the chaff?

Last year, Internet addict thinker Steve Rubel had a solution to sorting through the ballooning amount of content: following Digital Curators that find great internet stuff, clean it up, frame it, and share it.  It's not Digg as aggregate voting by the masses is finding what's popular, not what's the best.  Museum Curators find the best and offer it in frameworks of their choosing.  Same approach for our digital lifestyle: if you trust a person, you'll read their stuff because you know it will be quality.

For example, on Facebook I have Curator friends whose links I always read...because I know them in RL and trust them and we usually have like interests. I know my facebook posted links, friendfeed, and twitter function like Curators for others given the amount of responses on them.  I only post what I like and what I think others would like.  In this way, niche Curators like myself (also called Long Tail editors) can be found and relied on for a specific area of content.

So how is this relevant to the Church?  It's almost like there's an inverse process in every medium:
  • When a medium's content is professionalized, amateurization opens up the medium (ie. blogs opened up journalism from newspapers)
  • When a medium's content is amateurized, professionalization brings out the subjective best of that medium (Curators cut through the clutter and find the good stuff)
As I wrote before, the amateurization of the church is upon us as pastors, denominations, and small groups become ran by amateurs rather than solid professionals.  Perhaps rather than pushing back or setting new standards or crying Chicken Little we should find ways to become Curators of our medium.
  • Community Curators: In our communities, we can highlight community events and offer the church's hospitality and presence to them. In this way, churches can support the best the community has to offer and use its gifts to make it even better. If we hold up certain events and ignore others, perhaps the best of the community will rise up and make the community a better place.  What other ways can we become curators of our communities, holding up the best of what's going on?
  • Denominational Curators: In our denominational variances and regional differences being played out on the national scene, perhaps loosening up expression of denominational faith (women pastors, etc) and holding up how in each area particular pastors or programs are ideally expressing that regions' faith values.  What other ways can we become curators of our denominations, holding up the best of what we have to offer?
  • Biblical Curators: before the bible was written people were entrusted with the stories of Christ and they held those stories in trust and in the community.  Perhaps today as bible tools are better available and everyone's opines from dumb to worse can be found online, perhaps churches should become curators again.  Churches can hold up particular stories and go into great depth with them instead of the cursory Lectionary readings and offer true deep insight into the Scriptures.
In short, with the glut of denominations, the rise of amateur local pastors (not in a negative sense), and the proliferation of pseudo-biblical-research on the internet, what roles as Curators might the church be called to play?

Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors!


Humanity: Ambitious or Viral?

You tell me:

From Agent Smith in the 1999 movie The Matrix:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? –A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we... are the cure."
From Christian Brady's blog Targuman today:
We are the only creatures that God created who are restless, we are the only creatures who have ambition. …It is part of our having been made in the image of God that we have ambition, drive to become something more.
You tell me: is our restlessness, our lack of desire/ability to obtain a level of parity with our it a viral orientation that destroys us or a blessing that keeps us from sanguine extinction?



Hebrew Concept of the Universe [infographic]

It's helpful to have charts that illustrate what the reference point is for the biblical texts. Here's a beautifully-illustrated infographic by Michæl Paukner that shows (generally) what the universe looks like for the writers of the Creation story.  (h/t BoingBoing)

Click to enlarge, of course:


The Diversity Culture [review]

It is unfortunate when I pick up a book that looks interesting and realize it is totally not written with me in mind.  The Diversity Culture by Matthew Raley is that kind of book which is written to evangelicals who find themselves increasingly feeling isolated and incommunicable to the diversity of contemporary society.  Given that (a) I do not identify with evangelical culture, and (b) I have many avenues into contemporary society, then this was not the book written for me.

However, it was a book written ABOUT me, in a sense.   From the words of the back cover: a new culture of "spiritual openness, moral flexibility, and social diversity" is what the author writes about.  Though I am Christian, I am clearly immersed in that kind of culture and as such I must contend with some of the claims in the book of which I disagree with.  I decide on a daily basis what eternal "tenets" of Christianity I am gonna bend or seek to integrate better in my ever-changing relationship with the culture around me.  Raley helps me feel "examined" in a helpful way in three movements he makes in the book.

First, Raley talks about the practical way that contemporary society tries to navigate cultural differences.  Raley identifies this as "street postmodernism" where there's no rhyme or reason to people's beliefs: they just follow what gives them meaning and keeps them from getting hurt.  This was a helpful analysis of the cafeteria-style culture that Christians are called to be relevant to.  Further, Raley calls out evangelicals who call this culture simply "relativism" ie. people who assert there is no Truth.  In actuality, Raley states that they know there is a truth, there is right and wrong, but they don't have a method to integrate eternal Christian truths into lifestyles full of change and rapid escalation.  Again, I don't identify as evangelical, but this was a breath of fresh air that Raley "got" a key understanding of this culture.

Second, Raley talks about crucibles, or understanding that people have negative experiences in which they are formed into the people they are today with strong understandings of some truth.   This truth is not always positive about Christianity!  The evangelical's typical response has been either reject-correct (reject the conclusions they found) or accept-affirm (accept the conclusions and agree with them).  Raley seeks a third path which seems to be compassionate engagement which both affirms truth but challenges assumption from a position of weakness.  A power-narrative this isn't.  I found Raley's compassionate response and affirmation of people's crucibles to be an interesting illustration of how typical evangelical engagement of culture is off-base but not fatally flawed.

Finally, Raley shares a prejudice with me (well, his may be simply good analytics while mine is clearly a prejudice) against mega-churches.  He helpfully articulates why mega-churches are successful: they offer everything to everyone via market segmentation.  In my town, if you are young working class you probably attend X church, if you are older upper class you attend Y church, etc.  Demographics seek out similar demographics, perhaps.  But mega-churches are able to offer young adult ministries, seeker services, elder outreach, all the various "storefronts" that make people feel a part of the church, even though it is huge.

Raley's critique, however, is that such "variety of demographic storefronts" feeds the personal autonomy more than collective discipleship.  If you can choose the inputs and the segment of the church life that you want to participate in, then you don't have to stretch as a person.  As Raley says, "the body of Christ has become a customizeable package offered by an industry."  As I write often on this blog, the echo-chamber is present in mega-churches simply because of the choice of the worshippers to only attend and pay attention to what is relevant to them and ignore the rest.  It's a helpful critique from the "inside" that I appreciated.

In short, if you are evangelical, The Diversity Culture would be a good read.  If you are a non-evangelical-identified pastor, it is an interesting read.  If you are part of the cafeteria culture...then you might not get much out of the book but it could help with gentle correction of wayward evangelicals who seek you out in less-than-helpful fashion that Raley critiques as well.



Souls made of Lego

There's some deep theology here but I can't quite articulate it.  Any takers?



Christ Died for Our Prices

I don't know...I've said for years that making atonement a transaction is bad theology. This just takes it to the next level:

epic fail pictures

(from FAILblog)


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