Friday, January 14, 2011

A Great Pairing

I recently got both of these for Christmas. (ok, well I used my Christmas "splurge" $ and a gift card to get these for myself for Christmas. (Can I just say the Complete Collection Ed. of Lost is AWESOME!)

I will admit, that I was/am a big "Lost" fan. I think it was a brilliant show that might have even been a little ahead of it's time. But like the show or not, and like the way Season 6 ended or not, this show was one of the biggest and best social commentaries of our age. I think that we have only begun to scratch the surface of what "Lost" had to offer.

is a great pairing when going back through the series. I am also a big fan of the ".....and Philosophy" series of books. This book is a great entry into some of the greatest themes from the history of philosophy as seen through great philosophers of our day! Philosophy has made it's home in the academia portion of the mind, but as "Lost" shows us (as well as the "Philosophy and Popular Culture" series), Philosophy was an ongoing conversation with life and the way we live. The best shows and movies are overflowing with deep and eternal philosophical concepts. In addition, every decision we make each day is tied to some deep-seeded philosophical understandings within ourselves! Philosophy (and theology seen as a branch of philosophy) is very practical... more than we even consciously realize.

Along with the ever helpful, "Lostpedia" (Which I always spent an hr. on each day after the new episode aired), this book delves into some of the major philosophical themes that made the show so great. Truly a Postmodern show, "Lost" holds a mirror up to our lives, hopes, fears, dreams...all of the things that drive our lives and the ways that we choose to live. So do yourself a favor, get the absolute most that "Lost" has to offer: Ourselves! And having a little aid like the "Ultimate Lost and Philosophy", will help make sure that something as simple as "entertainment" can truly give you insight to self-understanding!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Leadership and the Art of Invitation

One Book that I highlighted in my last post was Peter Block's "Community". Current realities and situations have had me going back to Block a lot lately and I find even more depth and insight as I revisit his book. He has both enlightened me and challenged me now that I have returned to the traditional church infrastructure. I am reading him and hearing him through a new lens. Here are some thoughts from a 2005 keynote address. The original post can be found HERE!

Enjoy! and Thoughts?
Change the conversation, change your thinking, change your life.

…(M)aybe the audience creates the performance. Maybe the listening creates the speaking. Maybe citizens create leaders, maybe employees create bosses, maybe students create teachers and children create parents. Maybe the purpose of problem solving is to build relationships.

The only way the future gets created … is through invitation.

I’d rather have two people in the room who chose to be there than a thousand who were sent.

…(T)he idea of invitation is very powerful. What constitutes a powerful invitation? One that says, “Please come, and if you come here’s what’s required of you.” Most invitations are too soft, there are elements of begging: “Please come, it’s going to be great, nothing much will be required of you, it’s not going to take long, we’ll be fast, it’ll be organized, Robert’s Rules of Order, there’ll be food, there’ll be drink, the seats will be comfortable, and if you can come late, come at all, leave early, whatever, please come. God bless you.” A powerful invitation is one that says, “We want you to come! Now if you choose to come, here’s what will be demanded of you. You’ll have to show up. You’ll have to engage with your peers in powerful conversations. You’ll have to leave your interests at the door. We didn’t come together to negotiate; the future’s not created through negotiation, it’s created through imagination. It’s created from a dream… (A) possibility creates an alternative future. We’re not coming to negotiate. Leave your interests at home. You’re coming to engage in the primary actions between you and other citizens, you and other people who came. If you’re willing to live by these requirements, please come.”

To me servant-leadership… is a leadership that confronts people with their freedom.

… (T)he act of love is to confront people with their freedom, is to assemble, lead, in a way that says the choice resides in all of us. What greater gift can you give somebody than the experience of their own power, the experience that they have the capacity to create the world?

The skill of servanthood to me is to get good at questions that no matter how you answer them, you’re guilty. No matter how you answer this question you’re on the hook for being a creator of the future. You’re on the hook for being accountable. You create questions so people will choose accountability. We can’t hold each other accountable. We think we can legislate accountability. We can do performance management, we can have rules of the road that we’re (going to) enforce, but people talk about empowerment when all they really want to talk about are boundaries and limits, what will happen to me; we talk about consequences, there’ve got to be consequences; all of these are forms of patriarchy and they have no power. They have no power to create an alternative future. They have no power in the world. The question is, “How do I engage people so they choose to be accountable?” Well, questions do that. There are certain questions that if you start to answer them, you’re in trouble. No matter what you answer, you are responsible for creating an alternative future. The task of servant-leadership, in my mind, is, “Change the conversation, change the future.”

…(T)he questions have to be ones that have embedded in them the notion that choice resides in the world. It doesn’t reside in leaders; it doesn’t reside in the cause. It’s not in the performer, in the parent, in the teacher; cause resides in people’s connectedness to each other, in individuals.

Most of our organizations and communities are parent-child, boss-subordinate, mayor-citizen conversations — we think that matters. We think the boss-subordinate relationship matters, but I don’t think it does.

We think bosses are responsible for the emotional well being of their subordinates. If they have a depressed, low-morale team, it’s their fault! ...Maybe people are responsible for their own emotional well-being. What would it be like to be in a world where individuals were responsible for their own emotional well being, and we didn’t pretend that the boss was cause and subordinate was effect?

Here are some thoughts about conversations that have the power to create an alternative future. One’s the conversation of possibility. What’s the possibility I came here to live into or to create?

There’s a conversation of ownership. Take whatever you’re complaining about and say, “What have I helped do to create that situation?” Beautiful question. “What’s my contribution to the problem? What have I helped do?” It means I’m an owner. Whatever I complain about, let me turn that question and say, “How have I created that thing?” It’s a conversation of ownership.

There’s a conversation of commitment. Commitment means, what’s the promise I’m willing to make with no expectation of return? That’s a commitment. …“What’s the promise you’re willing to make with no expectation of return?” … Now who do I make the promise to? To peers. If you’re in a leadership spot and you want to create choice, engagement among people working for you, then you say let them make promises to each other. Let them sit in witness of those promises, peers, and say, “Okay, is that enough?” and that shifts the focus from boss-to-subordinate to peer-to-peer.

(W)hy not ask each individual, “What are you here to create? What’s the vision you have?” Now people get nervous: “Suppose we don’t have agreeable, compatible visions,” but I’ve never heard a vision that wasn’t embraceable. I’ve never heard an individual say, “The possibility I’m living into is to walk over people. To succeed at the cost of others.”

“Well, suppose my only purpose in leading would be to bring the gifts of the margin into the center. I just love that thought. I have no idea what it means, but I love the thought. And suppose when we come together we agree for the next six months we’re only going to talk about gifts. And we do it in the moment. We do it with each other and say, “You know, here’s the gift I’ve gotten from you in the last ten minutes.” And you teach people to breathe that in. Most people, when they’re given love or given a statement of gifts, exhale. And they begin a story. And so that’s the thought. And then you devise ways of doing that. So the gift conversation has a lot of power to it.

…(H)elp is just a subtle form of control. People want to give advice to each other. They want to tell you what they did when they were at your stage of life. They have an answer for you, and it’s called generosity; for me it’s mostly a conversation stopper. Whenever you engage people in powerful questions you have to set them up very carefully and tell them, do not help each other. Do not give advice. Do not mask your advice in questions: “Have you thought of this, have you thought of that?” Do not tell them what you did at this stage.

I want you to substitute curiosity for help. Every time you have the instinct to be useful, helpful, to have an answer, to give advice... Ask the other person, “Why does that matter to you? What’s the meaning that that has to you? What’s at stake for you?” In a deeper sense you say, “I came here to serve you by valuing meaning over speed. Meaning over efficiency. Meaning over problem solving.” People say, “I’m a problem solver.” I know you are, but it’s only a part of who you are. You have to inoculate people against the search for the quick answer, by asking them: “What does this mean? Why does it matter to you?”

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Book Superlatives (updated!)

*Yes, It is that time of year again. Time for my Superlative list! My last one was 2008! Not sure how I missed last year....Oh yeah! Working in retail over the holidays. Perhaps I will do a short list later on.
This year we will include an extra media besides books, but as usual the majority will be literature of some sort. I think you might notice that I have branched out in my reading a little more. So hold your hot chocolate and keep your hands inside the borders at all times: HERE WE GO!!

filler :( )
This is one of the best graphic novel series I've red since Watchmen and V: for Vendetta. Very much a postmodern commentary a culture, society, traditions, gender roles, expectations. And that doesn't even scratch the surface. Sadly, I came into this series far after the original publications, but I have to say that the experience of reading it all straight through helped me to appreciate all of the subtleties even more. This is a must for all re
aders, comic book fans or not!

As I stated in my review, this is a great book. I think that it is a book that any follower of Christ should read. There are a ton of reasons to suggest this book (besides the superlative title) and I keep finding more as I've had conversations and suggested this book to different people. It is great to have a little fun with Jesus. Why? Because it gets past our sacred cow barriers and allows us to question and challenge our views. This is a super-easy read (and that is not a discredit to the book). It is accessible yet still something for everyone. Give this one a go and see where Matt takes you!

I have started shifting to more books about politics and culture. Not sure why lately, just needed a break from the over-saturation of religious books I usually read. This book, however, by Washington Post columnist, Dan
a Milbank, does a good job of letting Beck speak for himself. Sadly though, what he says is not pretty. I can tune the guy out because he is mostly theatrical non-sense, but Dana makes a strong case of why he is actually dangerous. Being a "leader" of the Tea Party movement, he has a platform. If you read his history and how he has escalated over the years, we begin to see that the bigger the platform he is given, the more outrageous he becomes! However, I can't blame Beck for the radical reactivity in our great country. Somewhere along the line we began to trust clowns like this without questioning, thinking, or challenging what we are hearing. Now I am a big fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. However, as much as I love him, I have to remember that a filter has to go in place when I watch the show. I believe that with celebrity (esp. Beck's kind of celebrity) comes a responsibility. It is obvious from Milbank's perspective that Beck becomes more dangerous as he becomes more famous. Why? Because he will sa
y whatever he can to get more and more attention! Agree or not, this is a great book to read and challenge!

These are very sophisticated series for the YA genre. Set in a post-apocolyptic america, government control has regulated 12 (formerly 13) districts to a specific industry. With District 12 being the poorest and hardest district, the closer you get to 1 (and then the capital) the better the
conditions. A corrupt government also makes each district pick a male and a female (teen of course) to send to the "hunger games". This is a near-future gladiatorial event that the only way to win is to kill and be the last one standing. What I love about this series is that the main character is naturally subversive of the systems that hold her district captive. She doesn't mean to be, but everything she does ends up subverting the only institution in the book. There is a lot of post-colonial philosophy going on in this series that will be way over the YA reader's head. Yet at the same time they will connect with the sentiment and desire to make life better for all!
The series is not as strong a finisher as it starts, but it is still worth the read no matter what your age! Do yourself a favor and pick this series up!

This band is fantastic. From England, this 4-man folk band sounds bigger than they are. They have an amazing harmony and a great use of dynamics and raw emotion to get their music across. This band is very spiritual, yet not in an overt way. It is hard to nail them down theologically, and that's just fine with me. I find something new in each song! From toe-tapping complex rhythms to deeps harmonies that make your heart sink! This band is a fantastic find. I can't wait to see where they take us in the future!

This book is not a ness. a spiritual book, but none-the-less, churches and spiritual communities could learn a lot from what Block has to offer. This book is about fragmentation and the desire to belong. This transcends any single organizational structure. Where I connect with this book is def. in the church setting. As we have a daughter, a community to which we can truly "belong" (And Block has a great way of defining "belonging") is high on our priority lists. As the institutional Church continues to shrink, they focus more on gimmicks, styles, or templates that will put them back into the numerical position they have enjoyed for the last 50ish years. Block offers no gimmicks or templates. He simply discusses the structure and idea of community through the lens of "belonging". Many churches and organizations could take a lot from this book and use it to make a warm and welcoming environment where people WANT to belong! We all have the desire to belong, however, finding the place where we are allowed to truly belong is the real challenge for the future of many groups, churches and other organizations! A DEF. MUST READ!

I knew Jim Butcher was a popular fiction writer, but he was lost amid the myriad of popular authors that saturate the new release section of a book store. However, a former coworker was sent these books while serving in Iraq and loved them. After much talk I promised I would give it a chance. I got book 1 on Audiobook and have not stopped since!
Now understand, my interest in modern-day wizards began and ended with Harry Potter. Honestly, this has all of the stuff in it that simply have no interest in: Modern day wizards, werewolves, fairies, and the worst of all....VAMPIRES!!! But there is something about this series that keeps me coming back. The characters truly do come alive. Not only is Harry Dresden an awesome and fully realized lead, but in the audio versions, James Marsters IS Harry Dresden! His voice adds so much to the book. Even if I read one of the books, I will hear Harry through Marster's vocal lens! This is def. a series that should be given a chance...even if, like me, it is out of your normal fiction zone!

This is a great journal for readers. It has places for the title, author, notes and quotes. In addition there are pages specially designed for fav. quotations, and several lists of top books. My favorite section has a cloud that takes you from processing the books you've read and finding other books on a subject that was inspired by the previous book. For instance: when I read the book on Glenn Beck (above), I wrote that in the cloud and realized it made me want to learn more about the Tea Party and it's effect on America. So I researched and came up with 3 books (from different perspectives) on the subject. Have I read them yet? No. But I plan to! And this is why this journal is such a gem. It makes sure you not only have a good processed record of what you HAVE read, but makes sure that I am never without another book to read!

This man has had a great journey and many, many remarkable stories. Larry presents his own life in his trademark dry humor. It truly is amazing all of the people. A great Bio.

This book is a collection of essays on a variety of topics. My favorite essays gave some insight into the American psyche throughout the great Captain's career. Cap., as a symbol of the American spirit, has changed a lot since his WWII era debut. There was a lot of political, cultural and comic insight

Just like The Daily Show's Last book, AMERICA, this book is laugh out loud funny! Not always reverent, nor appropriate for those without a since of humor, this book is a great read. It is a cultural commentary on the human race (specifically the American humans!). This book is a hoot and has been a great conversational piece for many visitors! Found wherever books are sold, except Wal-Mart!

This translation is a very easy to understand translation. I'm still researching where it falls on the "Translation/paraphrase" spectrum, but all in all it seems to a great Bible. I use this version a lot with youth. I like that there are contractions used when the writers deem the text personal and stay formal where the text seems formal. I can't wait to see what the full Bible will be like in 2011!

Last year a new version of the NT arrived called "The Voice". Those same people are hard at work on the OT and have produced "The Voice of Psalms". I really like the lyrical feel of this. If fits beautifully with the NT and only wets my appetite for the full Bible! They are continuing to produce beautiful texts while staying true to the original nature of the original language. This is not always an easy task, but what is coming out may, in fact, be the most accessible and relevant version of the Bible to date. What makes it the Bible of choice over the one above (although it depends on the situation which Bible I might would use, and I still use as many versions as possible when teaching) is that it reclaims the Bible as a work of art. Now one could argue that it was never meant to be a work of art, but sometimes we need reminding that it transcends a "guide-book to life", or "God's book of promises". In fact, "The voice of Psalms" is a great reminder that the psalms were, in fact, a work of poetry and lyrics of such beauty for it's day... and like all art, they can speak to us in such different ways....even beyond what the author intended! Pick this one up!

Happy 2010 and Best Wishes as we share 2011 together!!!!

* Update to original publication

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jesus: Communist or Capitalist?

I get into this discussion a lot. It is kind-of the idea of the old WWJD; which would Jesus advocate for more: Socialism or Capitalism. It is tough. There are a lot of passages and examples from the teachings of Christ and the early Church that make a lot Christians who are social activists to answer: socialist. However, there are other passages that would make one argue against that.

Even pulling the Bible out of the picture, this has been an ongoing philosophical battle for decades in the US. I am a big fan of Ayn Rand and her Magnum Opus: Atlas Shrugged. It is perhaps the most comprehensive philosophical and narrative argument for Capitalism. However, it is an idealized Capitalism, not an actual one. I struggle with her theories in my head because that is the only place her reality has existed. Socialism, on the other hand, shares much of the same story. Socialism DOES NOT = COMMUNISM. There is a difference. I think that socialism is another "ideal" that has yet to be realized. Both, in my humble opinion, have their strengths and flaws in the utopian philosophical arguments.

However, CNN has a post that puts these two ideas in debate. I DO beyond a doubt think this is a great discussion for Christians and the Church to have. However, as much as I like this conversation, I must remember that Jesus was BEYOND either systematic thesis. The Kingdom of God (again IMHO), is bigger than this. But, if we want to bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth, then we have to do so with the systems that are in place. Wether it means subverting a specific system or embracing it, we have to use the best of it to heal while we in turn, heal the broken parts of our system.

It seems to many (I'm not sure I agree) that our government is sliding into a more socialist identity. While this is not a political blog, I'm not sure that some synthesis of the best parts of a socialist and capitalist mindset are truly at odds. A government's job in the USA is to protect and care for it's people. I'm not sure how you can do this with an Ayn Rand type of Capitalism. Then again, we have yet to have a truly successful Socialist experiment without the corruption and disenfranchisement of the people. Yet as a Social Conscious Christian, I find myself asking, "in what areas would a more Capitalist/Socialist approach truly do things like:

End Poverty
Alleviate corruption in government (this must be done, not to be political, but because to truly heal a situation, the system itself that is causing or at least allowing oppression, must be fixed).
End World Hunger
Give equal rights to all men and women

In any case, as always I have more questions than answers to offer. So in my offering I give you the link to the following debate/article and the video clips.


Enjoy, and please feel free to leave comments.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

How To Be Nasty Religiously (A repost)

This if from a person I have followed since I first began blogging, David Hayward. I have shared a lot of his art over the years, but he is far more than a talented artist. He is an insightful minister and human-being. You can find his blog here.

I found this post to be very insightful and thought-provoking. As I was taught in Kindergarten, it is always good to share! Check out his blog for more!

I realize mind-games and manipulative behaviors go on in every sector. But what I’ve experienced is that when someone is nasty in the work place, they are just nasty, it is recognized as such, and called for what it is. Usually. Not always.

But what I’ve noticed over the many years in the church, in spirituality, in Christianity, is that the nastiness in religious domains is more subversive. Christians, I’ve concluded, generally want to be nice, sincere people of faith. They would never want to hurt anybody.

So when something upsetting happens to them against their will, rather than get consciously angry, mean, manipulative or deceitful, they drive these unpleasant thoughts and feelings deep underground and cover it all in a sentimental spirituality laced with ultimate concern for the church, God’s will, and mission.

What actually happens is this psychologically separates the unconscious drives from the conscious ones, allowing the unconscious ones to bloom with full sanction under the guise of genuine concern. Anyone with any discernment can see the monstrosity of the person’s thinly veiled ulterior motives, lack of honesty and integrity. But the person himself is completely blind to them. His spirituality won’t allow him to recognize it. He lacks integrity. In other words, he is not an integrated person. He is not integrating his unconscious with his conscious, his dark side with his light, his sinner with his saint.

To address the issues head-on would fall on shocked, offended and deaf ears. It is useless. Unless a close friend or relative points it out. Then maybe. Otherwise, from my experience, it takes the mortifying trauma of an understood bad dream, a revelation, self-awareness, or realization (whatever you want to call it) for it to be addressed. Plus humility.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coffeehouse Theology: A Review

Coffehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski, is a book that I read a long time back. I since have used this in a small group setting (with the discussion guide). I did not receive this through Ooze since I already owned it. But Why not lend my review anyway?

AS many have said, the best place for this book is in the newly emerging, questioning modernity (but don't know that language), seeking understanding of frustration with the "typical" way of doing things in churches. This is a soft introductory book that I would put in my pile with Velvet Elvis, and A New Kind of Christian. these are typically the introductory books I hand out after someone has come to me to "vent" and ask questions. It usually puts some words into their feelings. It would depend on the person and where they are in their grasp of their thoughts and feelings on which book I offer. VE is a good one for people who want the less cerebral and technical words. ANKoC is more for those that have a grasp on what they are experiencing and want the technical on a base level. Coffeehouse Theology, is more in the middle.

However, here's the beauty of the book; where it works! It's in the title, Coffeehouse.... a place to gather and converse. This is a book meant to be talked about. I sometimes think that the discussion guide was written before the book... but the book to me is a discussion guide (There is also a Bible Study Guide as well). It is not meant to be a dissertation on pomo/postcoloinal theology (something that some have blasted because "theology" is in the title). It is supposed to be a jumping point, a conversation starter, a place to begin discussion on a different type of "theology"! To me, the title is ironic because it is more starting a conversation where people's long-held theologies fall apart. It is almost an anti-theology except that it explores some new (new to the person I would suggest this to) theological ideas that are floating about.

That all being said, there is some meat on this. Cyzenwski is trying to write to a tough audience. An audience that is new to Postmodern theology/thought, while at the same time challenge them not to throw everything out the window. It is a fine balance.

The book is well organized, easy to follow, and great to discuss. Others have analyzed this book well, so I simply point out the beauty of the book: to initiate conversations; to RELATE experiences! To CONNECT! This book is small and an easy read for most because the real magic happens when you take the few pages and turn them into a coffeehouse afternoon of respectful sharing and exploration!

A review for theOoze

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Morning Devotion

From "I am Still Running" by Jon Foreman:

Build me a home inside your scars
Build me a home inside your song
Build me a home inside your open arms
The only place I ever will belong

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking at Clergy Burnout

There is a fantastic article in the NY Times on this issue. READ IT HERE!

I've had countless conversations with people in the field of ministry (doesn't matter pastor, associate, youth, children's, etc...) that have or are experiencing burnout. I know that I have experienced it, not in ministry, but during non-stop semesters of college and straight into Div. School. I took classes every summer and after 8 years, I was showing the signs.

I know ministers who have been at churches 25 years who are burned out, and I know ministers who have been at a church 5 yrs. who are showing all of the symptoms. It seems that you are hearing more and more about clergy burnout these days. I think that there are many culprits here, the biggest being that both clergy and laity are not aware of the symptoms, or even the problem.

Clergy like to go nonstop, they take on the emotional burdens of their beloved congregation. ministers often times have "boundary issues" as is backed up in a study mentioned in the above article. They don't know when to say no to things and don't know when to separate themselves emotionally and physically in order to take care of themselves. I think that this is part of the personality of most ministers, and is simply something of which they need to be aware about themselves.

Laity can help too! Knowing the signs of burnout can help the laity take care of their ministers. It only makes sense. If you have a good minister you want to keep them healthy so that they can continue to be a good minister! It is a win for all. However, the best thing the laity can do is have steps in place FROM THE BEGINNING to PREVENT burnout. It's like heart disease, why wait until you have a heart attack to make a change when you can practice prevention and perhaps keep one from ever happening!

What Laity can do:
Encourage/allow ministers to seek regular therapy.
I have done counseling for a couple of ministers, and I have been counseled professionally. It keeps your sanity. It helps you keep tabs on yourself, and gives the clergy a safe place to express their feelings. Sadly, ministers do not feel that they can open up or explore their feelings with their congregations. I understand this. I can't speak for everyone, but I used to feel that expressing my frustrations, doubts, fears, and troubles would burden the congregation that I loved so dearly. I'm not sure this is true anymore, but in any case, the congregation cannot be a substitute for a professional counselor.

Encourage/allow ministers to meet regularly with other ministers.
Ministers need to vent at times. But they also need to be refreshed with new ideas. Sometimes the thing I get the most excited about is when I share and listen to the ideas of others. I can see what is working for other ministers, get feedback on my own thoughts and frustrations, and then take that back to the congregation. I have found that this benefits both the congregation and the minsters alike. And let's face it. Like any profession, the people that know best what you are going through are the people in the same field as you. Other ministers can also provide a support group and point out what one minister alone may not see.

Make sure your ministers take vacations and sick days.
This is one thing that I see a lot of ministers not doing; taking their vacation. Since only 2 churches I know of let their ministers bank vacation days, if the minister doesn't take it, they lose it. I've worked in and with churches for 13 years now and I know how hard it is to find time to take vacation days. There is ALWAYS something going on at the church, and you always have to coordinate to make sure that only one staff member is gone at a time. I am thinking of a certain pastor (and I know this isn't the only case), who has been called back for an emergency more than once. I remember one time that he had to spend extra money in order to change flights and come back early, leaving his family in the midwest. He never got that vacation time back. There needs to be some protection for the minister. He or she should not go on every vacation with the fear of being called back. This is where the laity and other staff members should step up and give some vacation security!
Everyone needs time away. We all need time to get our mind off of the daily stuff, get away, spend quality time with their family, etc... things that people in other fields of employment take for granted. Think about it, clergy are at church most holidays. And speaking from the experience of someone who's whole family lives out of town, it makes the built-in vacation times over those holidays (after the Christmas eve service I we jet out of town) far from relaxing and rejuvenating.
Ministers need time away. Their families miss them, they need to relax, and they need to come back excited and rejuvenated. The laity needs to be the minister's biggest advocate on this, because ministers often times get to the end of their year and are stuck with more vacation than they can take. Then it is a struggle to get away and they end up losing their vacation. Or the church has lost a minister suddenly for 2-3 straight weeks and becomes frustrated. This can be prevented.

The same goes with sick days. A lot of ministers are stubborn about taking sick days. Let's face it, if you are a pastor, you can't just call in when you wake up sick Sunday morning. This is where having a staff that can jump in as a support system in these times is important. Heck, even laity could still do the worship sans sermon if need be. But most ministers will power through the Sunday morning duties. But many are so overwhelmed with expectations and responsibility that they have trouble taking a day away from the office/ meetings/ visitations in order to take care of themselves. This is really where a staff covenant of helping, as well as a strong laity support system could take that pressure off of the minister. I can remember only one time in my ministry where a person looked at me and told me to go home and they would cover the meeting that night. I felt really guilty. I'm not sure why i felt guilty, I def. don't like being sick! However, she convinced me and I handed her my agenda/notes for the meeting and went home and got rest. What would happen if more laity stepped forward and told ministers who are sick to go home and get rest. Remember, the healthier the minister, the healthier the congregation has a chance to be!

Give comp. time!
This is one that is easily overlooked. As a youth minister I worked it into my contract to receive time compensation for extra time (time outside of my contracted weekly hours) that I worked. Ministry is always a 24 hr. on call job. Now I didn't keep up with every hour I spent over my 20 or 40 hr. work week. However, if there was an emergency that took up a whole night, a week of extra services, a conference out of town, or even a weekend (or better yet, a week-long) youth trip, I would find time to take and rejuvenate myself. I would be out of the office on monday, take an early weekend (being Thurs.-Sat., not Sunday), or just leave early one day.

Now, I never took all the time that was due to me, but that was ok! I was taking ENOUGH. I would go play golf with friends, have lunch with a colleague I hadn't seen in a while, get some stuff done around the house, or simply take a nap! It amazes me how few churches build in comp. time! The few I know have it for their youth ministers but not for the other clergy. Let's face it, many churches expect ministers to be in the office during the day (so we will say 9-5 mon.-thurs.), and then most of the day Sunday. There's the 40 hr. work week right there! However, the majority of the stuff that happens in ministry happens outside of those times. Services, meetings, meals, and ministry are often done when people are off of work. That means either in the evening or on Sat., which is the time the ministers usually have off. This is the nature of ministry and being available when people need you is why I went into ministry. However, being expected to pull "normal" hours plus the other 20-30 hrs. when ministry happens outside of the 9-5 window quickly wears and tears a minister. Giving the minister the option of using some comp. time when needed does wonders when he or she feels they need a breather! It allows them not to feel guilty when their child gets sick, they have a dental appointment, want to take a day to spend with their kids, or when they just need a day of real rest (since the ministers do most of their work on the "day of rest").

Unlike vacation days, most ministers won't feel like they have to take all of their comp. time. They won't feel bad when they have to take an afternoon to themselves and don't have to worry about using up sick days except for when they are truly sick. They can see it as a perk, as being recognized as a human being, not a machine. We all need some time off, especially if we've been pulling extra hours at work. My mom (not a minister) works more than 40hrs a week, and one month a year she is there from 7am-10pm most days. However, her boss makes sure that her and her staff get a break afterwards. My mom takes a week to herself (not sick or vacation days), and then throughout the next month she takes a few long weekends as comp. time for how hard she worked during the busy times. It makes my mom not dread the really tough month, and makes sure she is refreshed and happy when she's at work afterwords. Did I mention she loves her job? What if more churches took this approach? How much healthier would they and their ministers be?

Set up and honor sabbaticals.
This is an important one for many ministers because it gives them a nice long enough that they are usually eager to get back because they miss their congregation and have so much new stuff to share. Let me be clear, A sabbatical is not an extended vacation on a beach. There is relaxation and vacation involved, but this is a time where a person betters themselves. Most ministers will take classes, catch up on some reading, visit other churches to see what they are doing in ministry, visit the Holy Land, take a tour of European Church History, etc...

This is a time where a minister become a stronger and more rejuvenated person. We've all heard of ministers and their "bag of tricks". They have 3-5 years of "tricks" (sermons, lessons, ideas, etc..) in their bag and once they have used them up, the feel they have to move on in order to find a new place where the bag becomes new again. Ministers who are given a sabbatical (usually with the contracted understanding that they will do more than just vacation) come back with fresh ideas. This means fresh sermons, new programs, new ministries, and new experiences to share and discuss. An excited minister means an excited(ing) ministry!!!

In the article above, Rabbi Joel Myers says this: “We now recommend three or four months every three or four years,”. Most churches I know of that give sabbaticals contract one 6 month leave after 5 years at that church, and a 4 month leave every 3 years subsequent. I don't think this is a bad set-up. It means the minister has put in enough years to not be new, but (hopefully) not to long to have begun to burn out. I think 4 years would be better (take the sabbatical on the 5th year), but there is some negotiation here. Remember this will end up benefiting both the minister and the church. I know I would use my time to visit a school and take some challenging classes. Or perhaps I would teach at a seminary in South America. Who knows? But I know I would come back with new invigoration and excitement, wanting to share all of my new experiences with my community.

The problem here is that when a church offers a sabbatical, it is usually only for the pastor. We expect so much out of all of our ministers, why do we treat them they are less of a "minister"? What happens when the youth minister goes to a huge youth ministry conference overseas or on a different coast? What happens when the education minister goes to a seminary to brush up on the latest education concepts and understandings? What happens when the music minister takes a couple of months and does an apprenticeship under another well-renowned music minister? Besides preventing burnout? I think it would benefit everyone, even beyond that specific ministry!

Create an environment where the minister is allowed to be human!!!
This is prob. the bedrock/most important thing a Church can do to prevent burnout. Why? Because this happens on a daily basis! Many ministers are put on a pedestal, expected to be the museum display of the perfect Christian. Remember though, we are all on this journey. No one, not even the clergy, had "arrived" yet. These ministers are not Christ! They are not perfect. Yet they come into the church having to feel like they can't make a mistake. And if they do, people are quick to jump on them. We have to change our expectations!!!

This goes for the ministers too. What happens when you teach your church that you are a simple pilgrim and divulge openly when you make mistakes. What happens when we teach our laity love and forgiveness over judgment especially when it comes to clergy? What happens when we become intentionally authentic (no masks, no pretending, just be ourselves flaws and all) and humbly transparent? It is a scary thing for a minister to do, trust me. But if we work together we can create an environment where it is safe for EVERYONE to be one's self, admit their mistakes, find encouragement, and receive forgiveness. This can happen for both clergy and laity alike. This isn't a new idea, it is the Biblical concept of community!
Creating this intentional place is hard. It means letting go of power, changing one's expectations, and accepting everyone for who they are. It means loving each other, regardless of our differences; the way Christ teaches us to love. If we can't do it in our churches, then how can we do it in the world around us?

Just remember, it is just as easy for a church to get burnout with their ministers as it is for the ministers to find themselves in the same state. These things mentioned (and I'm sure other ministers would have some other great ideas), are just a few easy ways to PREVENT this from happening. A healthy congregation with healthy ministers leads to a ministry and community with vitality! And remember, is what people are seeking when they look at our churches!

Leave your thoughts, and ideas!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Now Reading: Colors of God

Up for review for Colors of God: Conversations about Being the Church


OK, so the Church is broken, now what?

If you’re like me, you’ve read a lot of books containing theory as to the why and the what of church problems and solutions. But what if we had a collaborative effort of church theorist-practitioners who produce solid paradigms, but do so in the context of sharing and testing in a local congregation? We do: It’s called The Colors of God.

This memorable collaboration, involving Dave Phillips, Quentin Steen and Randall “Peg” Peters takes readers on an unforgettable intellectual and practical exploration of the Christian faith as it is lived out in neXus church in Abbotsford, BC.

In Colors of God, the three authors utilize a unique conversational style to raise key questions and challenge theological assumptions about what constitutes Christian faith and how to embody that within a local church community. This book finds itself within the ‘emerging church’ stream and yet moves beyond simple theological arguments.

Instead, the authors attempt to lay out a useful framework for what it means to practically live out one’s faith in light of the Kingdom of God. Using colors to depict the different aspects of the Kingdom, they move beyond creed and belief into color, art, action and grace. Something I especially appreciate is their seriously playful effort to incorporate the grace-soaked insights of Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon into the DNA of their congregation.

Colors of God is the perfect book for anyone who questions aspects of their beliefs and longs to integrate better assumptions with a holistic faith community.

_____---______----__ - the congregation these authors started

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't Believe Everything On TV

Glenn Beck took on Liberation Theology and does a pretty poor job of representing the theology.
Take a look:

This bothers me, not because Beck is not entitled to his opinion, but because this was a gross misrepresentation of the complex study that is Liberation Theology! The clips of James Cone is taken out of context and then twisted to fit into Beck's political agenda. It is amazing to see how much he warps scripture such as "The Good Samaritan" to fit his own ideals. It is simply frightening.

Because many people (reading comments, blogs, and having conversations on this) take Beck's statements as if he were a true theologian or Biblical scholar. Where does the real problem lie though? Again, Beck is entitled to his opinion, and he is entitled to his voice on his own show. What frightens me most is that there is a lack of solid education going on in many of our faith communities on things such as Liberation Theology.

One reason I was called into ministry, and specifically into teaching in churches, is because I thought it was very sad that I had to go to college and Divinity school in order to get a solid education on what all is out there on scripture and theology. Bringing this same level of education to the laity is a a strong passion of mine and many of my friends and colleagues! It is my hope that when people see something like this on TV, they will think about it, weigh it against what they know based on solid education in our faith communities, find and be led to solid research sources, and know how to formulate their own thoughts and ideas.

Whether it be a charismatic TV personality, or a beloved pastor, or an opinionated blogger; we should encourage and train our fellow brothers and sisters in our communities to not settle for anything less than solid and well-informed education. We should help others to study and share within their communities so that we are having conversations to a more enlightened and responsible faith. This begins with the ministers' encouragement, training and equipping of the laity. Making a safe place of intentional diversity of opinion and encouraging healthy discussion as well as providing solid resources for people to learn more about their topics of interest.

I am a firm believer that you shouldn't simply take anyone's word (no matter how big their platform) as gospel. Instead, we should teach others to take responsibility for their thoughts and beliefs and become well-informed people of faith. Perhaps then we will have productive and more accurate conversations about things like Liberation Theology.

My prayer: that we would up the level of quality of our education in our communities of faith and never settle for anything less than the best!

More links:
Huffington Post (editorial)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Global Empathy

This video was on The Burner Blog from Fuller Theological Seminary, and I simply can't stop thinking about it. Take a look!

It is interesting to me how we are wired and how empathy is in our nature. In fact it seems to be our default. As my wife said, "this all makes sense and is nothing earth-shattering", yet somehow it is. Why? Because we find empathy so hard! We fight against our very NATURE, the IMAGE in which we were created (IMAGO DEI).

This scientific study and lecture sounds a LOT like the Kingdom of God of which Christ went on about. It IS conceivable that we can reach a level of global empathy, yet we still can't empathize with those people around us. If we can't respond emphatically with our neighbor, how then can we expect to grow into an empathetic relationship on a global scale.

There is a LOT to think on in this video. Ideas of empathy, not only for other humans, but also for all of creation including the planet itself. There is also a lot to ponder when they mention the way institutions we have structured to stabilize our lives push us away from empathy. There is a lot of good thoughts Brian McLaren has on this subject in his book, Everything Must Change.

In any case, it is worth pondering. Too much for me to go into properly, but def. worth a watch or three.

Feel free to comment!