Thursday, December 13, 2007

A gift from Walden Pond

I decided rather than check ESPN for their latest vitriolic outburst about the new head coach of the Hogs, I'd do something productive with my time. So, I swiveled the chair over and looked at my bookshelf, grabbed Walden, and looked at the table of contents: Headings like "Where I Lived, and What I lived for," "Sounds," "Visitors," and "Winter Animals," grabbed my eye. So, I open to a page in the "What I lived for" section. Thoreau is ruminating on the qualities of the morning, and then qualifies that perhaps morning is simply a state of mind, and that morning can occur for those who develop the talent at it any hour or every hour of the day, saying, "To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning." And then this sentence: "Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me."

Wow--those are two of the most beautiful thoughts I have encountered in a while. What a gift. Glad I came across them, so I thought I'd pass them along.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How Art Made the World

I'm watching the great documentary right now that my mother in law let us borrow like 2 years ago. It is produced by the BBC, and is available on DVD, or on PBS maybe (since that's where the website comes from). This kind of stuff is right up my alley. Tonight's episode was about the birth of images, and the discovery of a religious site that may very well be the birth of civilization: the massive man hours to create the site would have taken thousands of people, and our strains of domesticated wheat just so happen to trace their roots to the wild wheat found in a 15 mile radius of this particular site in Turkey. (equating the birth of civilization with the agricultural revolution, of course). The program also explored the evidence of altered states of consciousness in the creation of cave paintings in many cultures. The whole thing incorporates art, science, and culture into an amalgam of information. If you geek like me, you'll like this program. Check it out at your local library.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas priorities

I've gotten some good comments on my newest newsletter article--perhaps you'll enjoy too.

Ho hum. So it’s the Christmas season, and here’s your monthly installment of the “Pastor’s Perspective.” I can just imagine you sitting there reading and thinking, “Well, I don’t have to read this…I know what he’s gonna say: Jesus is the reason for the season, give to others, why can’t we just all get along, blah, blah, blah.” In an effort to curb this assumed lack of enthusiasm about this particular column, please allow me to instead propose the following, perhaps unexpected Christmas meditation.

Did you know that one of the hottest Christmas “must-haves” this year is the Nintendo Wii? It is really cool, and has motion sensors in the game controls, so that the motion you make with your hands is replicated in the video game! It allows you to get some exercise while playing—and it’s catching on fast with older adults too—not just kids and teenagers. So everyone can come together again around the t.v., like we did back in the 50’s, and everyone knows life was much better back in the 50’s! Of course, by now everyone has an ipod, so if you don’t have one yet, you’d better step up to the plate and buy one unless you just want to get a big gold chain with a “has been” marquee and hang that around your neck. Or, you could just bypass the whole ipod (it’s so yesterday) and drop a mere $500 on an iphone. There’s even more there to tinker with, and it has all the stuff an ipod has anyway. Then the great thing is that once you have all of these electronic marvels, you get to buy more stuff to make the latest gadgets work with your existing less than state of the art stuff. You want to use your new ipod in the car? You get to purchase more stuff to make the thing work in your car! Ipod at home? You can buy an ipod stereo, or an ipod alarm clock that will wake you up to that music that is so important that you would rather listen to it than anything going on in the world around you! The important thing to remember is to spend lots of money this Christmas season on gifts for everyone in the family, because otherwise how will they know you love them? Spend until your wrist hurts from sliding your credit card through that little swiper thing at the store! Spend until you feel good! You don’t feel good yet? Well keep spending—you’re bound to get there!

Also, forget about all this sentimentality about some poor refugee kid in a manger somewhere. We live in the 21st century! What does all that have to do with my life in this complex world anyway?! What we should be focusing on is how a therapeutic shiatsu massage chair liner that we can purchase at Sam’s for a pretty good price can make our lives more clear, calm, and collected. Why go to some antiquated service with candlelight on Dec. 24 when I could be out doing some last minute stocking stuffer shopping at Wal-Mart? (I still don’t understand why they’re closed the morning of Christmas—what if I have to buy batteries for all my new stuff?) Candles are nice, but Bed, Bath, and Beyond has tons of candles of all kinds of colors with different aromatherapies that will probably make you feel as good or better than being at that service anyway! After all—that’s the point of Christmas: feeling good. And you can do that in a lot less time by buying something rather than worshipping and giving to others.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. Have you ever heard of reverse psychology? I wonder if it works?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My petition to General Conference

Well, I was able to get it together before the deadline! I'll be interested to see if it registers a blip on the radar at GC next year, or if it is quickly swept under the rug. I went to the last GC as an observer, and monitored the committee process for part of a class I took on the GC. It was pretty entertaining. More on that later perhaps, as I've been neglecting the blog and have probably lost a few readers. Sorry for the inconsistency folks--I've just been under the gun, sick, tired, and weighed down. But with no further ado---The GC petition that will strike one "explanatory footnote" from the Methodist General Rules (not a constitutional amendment, since the footnote is not part of the constititution.) I'll leave it as it will be printed in the DCA, so that I can get an idea of how effectively I was able to communicate the purpose of the petition. If you can comment on why you think I wrote it, do so, and I'll weigh in later. I couldn't figure out how to do strikethrough on blogger (you probably could do it on wordpress--I'm having blogger envy of my friend Matt ) so the stuff that I'm proposing to delete is in italics, mmmkay?

“Delete ‘Of the Duty of Christians to Civil Authority’ footnote to Articles of Confession” Discipline no. 103 (p. 66), Financial Implications: none.

Delete the footnote on page 66 of the 2004 book of Discipline (¶103) that is titled “Of the Duty of Christians to the Civil Authority: "It is the duty of Christians, and especially of all Christian Ministers, to observe and obey the laws and commands of the governing or the supreme authority of the country of which they are citizens or subjects or in which they reside, and to use all laudable means to encourage and enjoin obedience to the powers that be.”

(The explanation for the footnote, immediately preceding it, would obviously also be deleted.) [The following provision was adopted by the Uniting Conference (1939). This statement seeks to interpret to our churches in foreign lands Article XXIII of the Articles of Religion. It is a legislative enactment but is not part of the Constitution. (See Judicial Council Decisions 41, 176, and Decision 6, Interim Judicial Council.)]

Rationale: This footnote is superfluous, given the inclusion of Article XVI of the E.U.B., which states more clearly and eloquently the sentiment of the footnote, without using problematic language such as “commands of the governing or supreme authority,” and “encourage and enjoin obedience to the powers that be.”
October 22, 2007
Signed, Rev. M. Nathan Mattox
Probationary Elder, Oklahoma Conference

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wesley detailed my car!

How could you not trust such a face? As you can see from the photo, I had left a red sharpie in my glove compartment, and Wesley (who requests to "play tar" after we arrive in the garage sometimes) got a hold of it and did some magic. Believe it or not, you have a before and after picture there--thank God for the internets--I searched "getting permanent marker out of leather," and found a wonderful forum recommending "Axe body spray." As I scrolled down, I found that people had used other brands of body spray as well, (I guess it isn't the phermones that works on the sharpie), and so I rooted around and found some Victoria Secret "Love Spell." Now my car smells nice, and there aren't red marks all over the place!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Listening to Radiohead's new "IN Rainbows."

Which is available only on band's website for whatever you want to pay for it. (As if you haven't heard about it). Pretty cool gesture by a cool band. I'm cooking a Ribeye and giving it a spin, and I'd give positive reviews: More detail perhaps after the whole disc. I'm on 3 right now and it is beautiful. 4 has a great rhythm, and a nice little hypnotic guitar line that almost sounds like a harp underwater. (Maybe it is), but I've got to go check on my coals.

Commercials I pause and then call Lara in to watch

((((((Push pause on the blue radio to the side if you don't want two soundtracks going on.))))))
I have a DVR, so a commercial has to be fairly gripping in the first few nanoseconds for me to watch and enjoy. otherwise, it is skipped, and never besmirches my mental space. (ON a side note, one downside to a DVR is that I have no idea if a great looking movie is coming out--I didn't know the knew Wes Anderson movie was released until reading a magazine article about it.) So, as an infrequent consumer of commercials, here are a few that caught my eye.

(I think the face flinch at the start really gets this one rolling. Hillarious!

(Even though Merriman and S. Jackson have been disappointments this year in the fantasy football realm, this one cool. I like the braveheart music and the epic struggle of the gridiron. Is it cheesy that I get chills when Jackson stretches the ball toward the goal line?)

(Ha ha! I think this one could have theological translations! I love how everyone is running with their arms strait down, that looks really funny, and i also like how our "Wendy" wakes up right in the nick of time and then begins evangelizing the other running toward the hole. They remind me of a motly band of disciples. The drastic imagery for doing something as mundane as eating a warmed over burger is clever. They also have similar ones where "Wendy" is in a forest with a crowd of people kicking trees. That's funny stuff.

This one's cool, and real as far as I can tell. There's a little thing at the bottom that says "closed circuit course with professional drivers, do not attempt."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

My ordination exam, for your reading pleasure

Before I post this mammoth, something bears repeating....
It never fails. Around the time stuff needs to be turned in to the BOM, I always get a lot of hits on this particular post (my original probationary questions posted in 2005) with referrals from search engines with the questions word for word in the search bar. I posted this with the hopes of spurring on sluggish minds and sharing ideas and creating conversation about doctrine and theology. Every one of the answers is original. I hope your BOM answers are too. It is too easy to cut and paste. God wants more from you than that. Wade into your own Spirit and retrieve something you can be proud of and stand by--be honest about your convictions. your own BOM will see through anything else.

Okay, now that that's clear. Here's what I've wrestled with over the past few months for the Oklahoma Board of Ordained Ministry.

Doctrinal Statement—Elder in Full Connection

I. Theology

1. How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God?

Ministry has given me a greater understanding of the “shared truth” that is a product of organized religion. Just because something doesn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean that I discount it. This insight came to me one night when I was in conversation with another person on an internet message board about the value of “organized religion.” It seems that many who are my age accept it as a given that “organized religion” is flawed, corrupt, and dangerous, whereas “spirituality” is superior, incorruptible, and beneficial. I understand where this idea comes from, and agree with some of the critique of organized religion, but my experience as a pastor has taught me that while we may arrive at some extremely profound personal insights about God by practicing individual spirituality, we arrive at much broader spiritual truths by participating in a communal spirituality (or, an “organized” religion).

Worshipping God, and especially designing and leading worship in a community, forces me to come to terms with other people’s thoughts and deep convictions about God. While the song “I’ll Fly Away,” may not resonate with my spiritual life, it does with some in my worshipping community, and thus is something with which I must wrestle. In an age when we typically approach spirituality like another commodity to be consumed,[1] this aspect of communal spirituality keeps me from picking and choosing only those aspects of faith life which are agreeable to my spiritual palate.

Ministry has also affected my experience of God by giving me more of a sense of accountability with regard to a daily practice of spiritual disciplines. This has been a recent development for me, and was brought on by a sense of conviction that I had when I would field prayer requests at our worship service. I am sure that people asking me to pray for their niece McKayla or their friend Ray would derive some sense of comfort from me lifting up their name during a pastoral prayer in worship, but I had a pang of guilt when I asked the congregation to be “keeping them in their prayers,” since I was not doing that myself. For the first half of my probationary period, my personal spiritual disciplines consisted of studying for the sermon and harkening back to the few times when I had actually sat down and meditated to say that I “practiced meditation.” I would also regularly pray before I began the process of sermon writing to ask for the Spirit’s guidance.

Finally, I decided that I needed to put some true effort and time into intercessory prayer and some other disciplines. My wife, Lara, supported me by joining me in this endeavor. The church people needed to have confidence that when they brought their prayers of concern and joy to their pastor, that prayer would be remembered throughout the week. I had the “novel” idea to bring home the Sunday bulletin, and on Mondays and Thursdays to read aloud the names of those listed on our prayer list. On other days throughout the week, we would read a devotional from the Alive Now publication or some other insightful literature that we had come across, we would watch a Nooma video together, we would meditate, or we would practice the “Order for Evening Praise and Prayer” from the Book of Worship. The practice of these disciplines has made our home life richer, and I feel closer and more in tune with the God whom I proclaim every Sunday. If it had not been for the hypocrisy I felt for not engaging in regular intercessory prayer in the practice of ministry, I most likely would not have arrived at this closer relationship with God.

2. What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?

My experience in ministry has given me the perspective that humanity’s need for divine grace is not relegated to some bracketed experience of “justifying” grace. A strength of our Wesleyan heritage is the tradition of recognizing justifying grace along with prevenient and sanctifying grace. Humanity is in need of a broad and comprehensive understanding of a grace that is active and nurturing throughout their lives. God meets us in distinct ways throughout our lives, and through sanctifying grace, molds us into the Divine image. As we grow toward this image, the fruits of the Spirit become more and more manifested in our day to day lives.

Humanity is and always has been in the midst of a struggle between our true purpose as created beings who reflect God’s love with “holiness and happiness of heart”[2] and the misguided purposes that are influenced by our weakness in perceiving that Divine aim. This weakness influences and is influenced by ignorance, fear, exploitation, and oppression. Paul pointed to the “powers and principalities” that are manifestations of these human frailties in forms that seem to have worldly power and dominion. Divine grace opens our eyes to our intended purpose. This grace is not achieved or deserved, but given freely. God’s heart is overflowing with it, because God desires to be known, and our knowledge of our own nature facilitates our understanding of God. This free grace is received only by a heart open to its presence—this process is faith.

The overflowing grace of God’s Heart falls like rain on all of humanity. Some of us are hardened with hatred and lifeless with lethargy and grace seems to run off of them as rain fails to penetrate the ground in the desert. I have noticed from my own experience with grace that the fruits of grace are cultivated more fully if the soil of our hearts is tilled and fertilized with attentiveness and accountability. For this reason, I have suggested Covenant Discipleship Groups to my church, and we are embarking on a pilot group to test this ministry for our church at present. Humanity is forgetful about our dependence upon grace and we begin to believe that we achieve things or bear things on our own. We forget that the rain is what nourishes and provides the fruit. A regular accounting of grace in community, especially through small groups in the Wesleyan model, is a great way to keep God’s ever unfolding grace before us.

3. What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of (a) the Lordship of Jesus Christ and (b) the work of the Holy Spirit?

The practice of ministry has deepened my understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ because it has given me the responsibility of proclaiming this Lordship over and above nationalism or consumerism or any other idol that our community sacrifices to in place of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Shortly after being appointed to Morris, I preached a sermon the week of the fourth of July called “the Declaration of Dependence.” During the Children’s sermon, I asked the kids if they knew the pledge of allegiance, and drew their attention to the American flag we have in our sanctuary. I then explained to them that God calls us to give our allegiance to Christ, and how much more powerful an allegiance this is than our national allegiance. In a faith where we believe “there is no longer Jew nor Greek…for we are one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal. 3:28),[3] I think it is especially pertinent in our era of hyper-nationalism to be prophetic about our citizenship in the Kingdom of God over and sometimes against our national identity and interests. To counter our national obsession with independence and individuality, I instead preached about the Biblical call to submit to God and recognize the interdependence that exists among God’s creation.

As the early Christians committed themselves to Christ as Lord and thus turned their attention to alleviating the woes of the powerless and dispossessed people of the Empire, I see the direction of Christ pointing me toward the same ends. The Lordship of Christ reigns in a Basileia where the world has been turned upside down, and the powers and principalities that dominate the earth have been shaken out. Christ directs his disciples to carry out the healing and preaching that will facilitate the unveiling of this reality “in our midst.”

I associate the term “Lord” with the spirit of God who liberated the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. I also celebrate Paul’s correlation between the Lord and freedom in 2nd Corinthians 3:17, which states, “The Lord is the Spirit; but where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” If “Lord” is the name for the experience of liberation and for free life, then the name is misunderstood and brought into disrepute if it is interpreted in terms of masculine notions of rule. Instead of affirming a Lord who rules my life in a coercive manner, I celebrate Jesus Christ as the Lord who gives freedom. When I state that Jesus Christ is Lord, I am giving my loyalty to the Risen Christ. I am committing myself to be the best disciple I can be.

I appreciate what Douglass John Hall writes in an article on the Lordship of Christ,

If Jesus is to be anything more than another name, another historical mythic figure for us; if he is to become in any sense "Christ," "Saviour," "Lord"; if his name and his story are to arouse in us anything like "faith," then we shall have to encounter him and not merely some ideas about him…. Faith needs not only to hear about but in some real--if "different"--sense to "see" Jesus (John 12:21). [4]

This is the freedom that the Lordship of Christ inspires. Christ leads by example. I call Christ Lord because Christ goes first where he wants me to go. As I follow the Lord, Christ’s leadership becomes more clear to my eyes. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Through my experience in ministry, I have come to know the work of the Holy Spirit through many facets. To begin with, I can remember a specific instance when I felt the pull of the Holy Spirit to go visit a woman in the hospital. I was in the middle of typing my sermon though, and was in the middle of some fruitful time when writing came pretty easily. I resolved to go visit the woman later that afternoon after I had finished some things around the house. When I got to the hospital, I found out that both she and the man who was across the hall from her room (also a church member) had both died an hour or so before I arrived. I didn’t know that the other man was in the hospital, but if I had followed the prompting of the Spirit, I would have seen that he was there in the hospital too, and would have been able to spend some time with them before they passed away.

The experience made me disappointed with myself, but also gave me great hope that the Spirit would indeed guide me in my ministry---all I had to do was follow the movement of the Spirit when I perceived it. Before my experience in the ministry, I connected with the idea of the Spirit as Life-Breath. I appreciated this understanding of the Holy Ruach because it was so dynamic and integral to my life. As I have grown in the ministry, I have come to also understand the Spirit as Paraclete: as the Counselor and Advocate and Helper whom Jesus refers to in the Gospel of John. Before, I experienced the Spirit as a Force in Nature, as I will describe in a later question. After ministry, I have also experienced the Spirit in the personal sense of which Jesus speaks. Though I was quite satisfied with my understanding of the Spirit before the ministry, my experience with the Spirit as Guide during the ministry has broadened my love for God.

4. The United Methodist Church holds that Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are sources and norms for belief and practice but that the Bible is primary among them. What is your understanding of this theological position of the Church?

Throughout my life, I have thought of the Wesleyan quadrilateral as the legs of a chair. Each leg needs to be the same length in order for the chair to sit without that annoying “wobble.” In my seminary education, I learned that it would probably be more accurate to envision the scriptural source of our Christian faith as the hub of a wheel. The other three elements of tradition, experience, and reason are the spokes out to the wheel. Although all of the elements of the wheel are needed to keep the wheel spinning, each of the three “spokes” needs to connect in some way to the “hub.” The Holy Scriptures should be at the hub of the wheel because they are the stories of humanity. They speak about our core virtues: love, kindness, honor, and liberation. They also speak about our core struggles: vanity, idolatry, and greed.

The Bible points to everything necessary for our salvation. Scripture is our primary encounter with Jesus Christ, and in many cases it is a foundational aspect of our faith journey. Before I could read, I had memorized the Zacchaeus story in My First Bible[5] word for word thanks to my parent’s ritual of reading to me before going to bed. As a child in Sunday school I learned about the stories of Jesus and his encounters with his people. This formation shapes my encounter with the living Christ, who meets us in our everyday lives, and with the Holy Spirit, whom we encounter with every breath we take.

Our engagement with scripture is shaped by our tradition. The Book of Discipline sees tradition as the “passing on and receiving of the gospel among persons, regions, and generations [that] constitutes a dynamic element of Christian history.”[6] The Christian faith is illuminated by tradition in the way that a Biblical illumination gives color and expression to the verses that are written. As an undergraduate student, it was the study of Christian history and tradition that gave me deeper appreciation of my own faith. The accounts of Scripture are only the first chapters of the story of Christianity. Listening to the voices of the past and celebrating the customs that were shaped by them is an enriching element of practicing faith. Religious movements without the wellsprings of tradition oftentimes fall into the trap of over-indulging the sentiments of the present. Though our faith teaches us to be forward looking, filled with hope and expectations for the coming of God’s Reign, it is well served by understanding and celebrating our own roots. The critical study of our tradition also imparts humility in the expression of our Christian faith. If we are able to be reflective and penitent in the observation of tradition, we will be good witnesses to the grace of God.

Experience vivifies the core of the Christian faith and according to the Book of Discipline is much akin to tradition in that it is our own “personal tradition.” I think the Book of Discipline states well: “Our experience interacts with Scripture. We read Scripture in light of the conditions and events that help shape who we are, and we interpret our experience in terms of Scripture.”[7] As the truth of the Scriptures interacts with our experience of life, the core of the Christian faith becomes a “living faith.” In the community of believers, this element of Christian faith is shared and strengthened. We give testimony to the truth of Christian faith when we share our experience with others. By giving this testimony, our experience literally feeds and forms the experiences of others. My understanding of the Christian faith is not only built on my own experiences, but on the experiences of those with whom I have shared my life.

Though Christian faith is confirmed by reason, it is not exhausted by it. God gives us all our faculties to use in our faith quest. It delights me that our denomination affirms the use of reason to approach truth. The Book of Discipline states, “We seek nothing less than a total view of reality that is decisively informed by the promises and imperatives of the Christian gospel.”[8] Though our faculties of rational thought are sometimes not enough to comprehend the depth of God’s love, we endeavor to shine the light of our minds onto the expanses of God’s nature. As Job was instructed to consider the expansiveness of God’s wonderful creation in response to his questioning of his suffering, God intends for us to search out God’s ways in the world around us. God’s grace is confirmed by reason if we approach a scientific engagement with the world with humility.

God is a living God. Therefore, our methods of approach toward God are manifold. Everywhere we turn, we are given an opportunity to know our loving God in a new way. Our church is wise to uplift diverse paths to the realization of Christian faith.

5. How do you understand the following traditional evangelical doctrines: (a) repentance; (b) justification; (c) regeneration; and (d) sanctification? What are the marks of the Christian life?

I understand repentance, justification, regeneration, and sanctification to be facets of Divine grace that humans experience in varied, yet identifiable ways. A parable that Jesus uses to speak about Divine Grace that I believe captures all of these elements is Jesus’ parable of the father with two sons in Luke 15. The story also illustrates the chief mark of the Christian life: giving and receiving forgiveness.

Andrew Marr, a Benedictine monk who wrote an article about the “prodigal son” story on a website that I sometimes use to study for sermon writing, introduced to me the notion that the literal Greek translation of the prodigal son’s activities in the foreign land (usually translated, “he squandered his property.”) is literally “he scattered his substance.”[9] I think this is a beautiful observation, because it sets the table for viewing this parable as a metaphor for the Father’s accepting grace (justification) to also be the starting point for regeneration. Though the prodigal son scatters his substance to the extent that he even abandons his own identity as a son and heir of the father (“I will get up and say to my father….treat me like one of your hired hands.”), (Luke 15:18) when he finally returns and his father throws his arms around him, he stammers out his repentance, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” but he doesn’t make it to his plan of joining the hired hands. His father regenerates his relationship with him as son, and he again knows himself as a son.

This story also perfectly characterizes repentance because it is truly given as a response to the grace shown. So, repentance, far from being a “lure” for God to forgive us, is instead an affirmation of prevenient grace. Wesley said that prevenient, or preventing grace is responsible for “all the drawings of the Father, the desires after God, which if we yield to them, increase more and more.” [10] This prevenient grace is noticeable in the story in the pig pen, as the son laments his station in life and thinks of his father’s generosity. This step toward repentance, though motivated by self-centeredness, is still infused with grace because it is a “drawing of the father.”

Justification is the experience of being embraced by a loving Father who chooses to accept us even though we don’t deserve it. The prodigal son thinks he will be lucky to wind up in the servants’ quarters, working for his food. His father runs to greet him and puts his ring on his finger and throws him a party. As before mentioned, justification is the point that regeneration begins. It is the experience of being reconstituted and re-grown. It is the experience of being re-substantiated as a son when we have “scattered our substance” to the extent that we don’t know ourselves as children of God.

Though it may be a preaching cliché, it deserves mention that we typically refer to this story as the “prodigal son” but the story of grace exhibited by the father in the story is not limited in his direction. Both the prodigal son and the son who remained at home with the father are focal points in the story, and Jesus even asks his Pharisee audience to put themselves in the shoes of the loyal son by leaving the story with an open ending. To me, this exhibits the nature of sanctifying grace in that it goes on and on, goading us toward the heavenly banquet. The loyal son resents his father’s grace and instead wallows in his own self-pity. Instead of being thankful for the time spent with his father on the farm, he resents it and is jealous of his brother’s party. But his Father comes out in the courtyard and pleads with him to come inside. While justification is our restoration to God favor, utter sanctification is the restoration to the image of God. The father in the story is cajoling his loyal son to become forgiving and welcoming, like the father has done.

Sanctification is growing in grace toward a perfection of love. It is a powerful understanding of grace because it gives us the vocabulary to speak about salvation as a journey instead of an experience set and bounded by time. It orients our experience of God toward relationship, because it instills in us the idea that grace is something that happens every day of our life, and our relationship with God is organic, not static. In this organic relationship, we have genuine freedom and responsibility to keep our eyes open to that grace. If we do not, we forget who and whose we are and return to the distant land, scattering our substance.

Wesley thought of the mark of a Christian life to be holiness. Holiness was expressed in personal life, and in one’s engagement with society. I believe a chief component of this holiness is the forgiveness that we are asked to give in order to receive from God in the Lord’s prayer. This forgiveness and reconciliation seems to be the chief concern of the Father in the story that Jesus tells, and we can be sure that it is the first thing our Heavenly Father looks for in our own lives as well.

6. For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of your influence as an ordained minister, are you willing to make a complete dedication of yourself of the highest ideals of the Christian life; and to this end will you agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to physical health, intentional intellectual development, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, integrity in all personal relationships, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God? Explain.

I understand the agreement I make outlined in ¶304.2 to be to make myself a “clean window” for God’s light to shine through my life. Wesley believed, and I believe, that personal holiness is the foundation of social holiness. Therefore, I have the ability to further unveil God’s kingdom in this world by my commitment to live in a way that celebrates the “authentic life.” Living as a member of a community who dedicates himself to the above mentioned criteria gives others the opportunity to see firsthand the joy such a lifestyle brings. In this way, my life itself is a witness to the Gospel and evangelism for the benefits that it brings to our lives. However, I am wary of “practicing my piety before others in order to be seen by them.” (Mt. 6:1) Instead of committing myself to personal holiness in order to draw attention to myself, I believe I can best serve God by quietly practicing personal holiness. A window works best when it is clean. And when it is clean, it might not be noticed at all. Instead, it draws attention to what is outside it, or what shines through it.

As I grow in grace and come closer to the redemptive heart of Christ, the Spirit will flow out of my heart, as Christ proclaims in John 7: 37-38: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” The River of Life has the potential to refresh, inspire, and create. By living and loving holistically and joyfully, I give my life to this purpose.

The Book of Discipline states, “we proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners.”[11] The social witness that I perceive to be the goal of the church begins in the hearts and lives of its believers. The honesty of “faithful living” is the most compelling form of evangelism. Though Christ is with every person, regardless of their good or bad choices in life, I believe Christ leads us toward a richer life in the ways outlined in this question. The Biblical witness shows that God builds a relationship with us through covenants. When we live in a way that celebrates trust, honesty, integrity, and maturity, these values are multiplied in our culture. John Wesley’s vision of social holiness is kindled in our personal lives.

7. What is the meaning and significance of the Sacraments?

For me, administering the sacraments is of paramount importance when considering my calling into the ministry. I have studied By Water and the Spirit, and This Holy Mystery, and believe a centering of our worship and ministry around the sacraments will bring about great spiritual renewal. Each time I offer communion to a parishioner, I am cognizant that God’s grace is being tangibly offered in a way too deep for words. I have been honored to baptize eleven infants and confirmands, and have had numerous conversations on our particular understanding of Baptism and how it differs from that of other denominations which are prevalent in our communities.

When I offer the communion bread, I tear off a piece of the common loaf and place it in the recipient’s hands, saying “Brother, (or Sister), the Bread of Life.” I have always chosen to say “brother” or “sister” because it accentuates the theological notion of our adoption by God, and the ecclesiological notion of a familial body of Christ. I choose to say “the Bread of Life” because I speak about the idea that the community is the “Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood,” in the Great Thanksgiving, and want to give the people partaking another phrase to consider while eating the bread. The communion bread is the “bread of life” because is made from life, it gives life, and it transforms life.

When I have poured the waters of baptism, I have always felt a deep sense of gratitude that God is using me to be involved in such a monumental moment in the person’s life. I approach Baptism as the “threshold” to the House of God. Whether we are infants or adults, we “put on Christ” and begin a new life of forgiveness, compassion, and growing in grace.

8. Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What is its primary tasks today?

In the “Wesleyan Vision” document on the GBHEM website, there is a great description of what the church has been and should be. The authors write that the ecclesia should:

Support one another in the shared journey of realizing God’s love, taking on the mind of Christ, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. While the possibility of such transformation is grounded solely in God’s grace, Wesley recognized that God has chosen to involve humanity cooperatively in the process of salvation. We must put to work what God is working in us (Phil. 2:12-13). [12]

I have heard it said that the task of the church is to be “created co-creators” in the world. The creativity of the church helps to define our primary task of making the Kingdom of God known. Christ gave us the “great commission” to make disciples who will help to achieve this goal.

As Paul understood it, the nature of the church is literally the body of Christ and the manifestation of the Risen Christ in the world. Our nature is also our mission—because it is both a description and a potential. Though the church is the body of Christ, it must be dynamic just as Jesus was dynamic. The Gospels show that Jesus was on the move—he was tireless in his efforts to reveal God to the people. Likewise, the church as the body of Christ has this same mission today. Christ talked about his presence in the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. If we are the body of Christ, we must reach out to these people in whom Christ resides.

When I was a youth minister, I took a group of youth to Kansas City from Bartlesville in our new church bus. On our return, the weather through Kansas was getting quite nasty. There were tornados touching down west of us, but I knew we could get out of the path of the tornados if we only could get to our southern road. There were no safe places to stop in rural Kansas, so I barged on ahead with the hope that I would be able to keep the kids out of harm’s way. The shell on the van was catching the wind, and from time to time I was concerned that I would not be able to retain control of the van. In the midst of it all, the kids were laughing and carrying on in the back, oblivious to the pit that I had in my stomach. “These are your children, God, and I’m all you’ve got to keep them safe,” I prayed, “So guide my hands and stay at my side because I’m afraid!” It wasn’t so much a petition of a prayer as it was a demand of God. I needed a sign from God that I wasn’t alone in such a daunting task. Within minutes of asking God to open my eyes to His presence, a lighting bolt struck a tree that was about 50 yards outside my driver’s window just as I passed it. The tree burst into flames, and the kids screamed in fear and delight. From that point on during our journey home, my hands were steady despite the continuing wind and storm.

The reason I share this experience here is because I believe the people of God are being whipped around by the storms of our time. War, pandemics, oppression, social upheaval, and environmental crises: all of these things put God’s creation in the midst of great danger. A contemporary challenge for the church is to call on God’s guidance and then face the storm that bears down upon us with the faith that God is by our side. When God’s presence is manifested for our confidence and inspiration during these crises, it is our task to point “through the window” and witness to humanity that we are not alone.

We have the opportunity to invoke God’s presence and then witness to God’s activity through worship. I believe one aspect of the church’s mission in this day is to provide a worship experience that inspires creativity, reverence, and which empowers participants to build the Kingdom of God. I have been excited to see the developments of “alternative worship” and the “emergent church,” which build on the technological and creative gifts of people of faith to design worship experiences that resonate with people of the “media generations.” In my youth ministry, college ministry, and parish ministry, I have experimented with forms of “movement centered” worship that engage all of the senses—encouraging us to “taste and see that God is good.” (Ps. 34)

The unveiling of the kingdom of God is best carried out by a group of people who are inspired. Though the traditional models of worship have served the church well for many generations, we face new challenges in a world that is flooded with images. We as a church must adapt to a population that is increasingly engaging the world in a multi-sensory fashion. By planning worship that is engaging and impressive to people, the church will be able to convey the power and meaning of our own symbols and facilitate an experience where worshippers might open their eyes to the hollowness of the images of materialism that dominate our current landscape. As Jesus says, “The Sabbath is made for humanity.” (Mr. 2:27) The Sabbath is linked to God’s creativity, and God calls the church to observe the Sabbath in order to instill in us reverence and inspiration that leads us to renew our efforts to show God’s light to the world.

9. What is your understanding of (a) the Kingdom of God; (b) the Resurrection; (c) eternal life?

In my understanding, the Kingdom of God is a vision that God has for creation. This reality is hoped for by the people of God, and is also achieved in the lives of the people who strive to make the Kingdom of God a present reality. The Kingdom of God is present reality in the Living Christ, who inspires the church to act with the compassion and holiness.

I believe God is desperately pulling us toward the Kingdom of God, but it takes creation’s fulfillment of the persuasive vision and dream of God to make the Kingdom of God a reality. This belief is rooted in the Wesleyan notion of free will. Georgia Harkness wrote that the Kingdom of God is “both present and future. The Kingdom means both acceptance and action, a gift and a task. We work for it as we wait for it." [13]

I give my heart to the idea that this Kingdom is both possible and present. It is possible in the sense of world salvation or the reign of God over political systems of selfishness. It is present in the reign of God in the salvation of individual hearts. These saints in whom the reign of God is expressed exhibit the possibility for the whole world and actively work for the realization of God’s creativity.

The Resurrection is an event in history through which God proclaims a radical new covenant with Creation. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s incarnation is fully complete. Christ suffered and died a torturous death that exemplified God’s intimate involvement with the experience of creation. Christ was glorified in the Resurrection from death so that Creation might witness its potential.

The disciples experienced mysterious encounters with the Risen Christ. Sometimes, Jesus came to them as they had known him, showing his wounds to those who doubted they were seeing a bodily resurrection of their teacher and friend. In some cases, such as in the last chapters of John, Jesus appeared unrecognizable to his disciples. After a certain exchange though, the disciples would see Christ clearly through the “disguise.” The Gospel witness of both of these experiences of the Risen Christ is an amazing testimony to the depth and breadth of the Resurrection of Christ. The Risen Christ was a bodily incarnation of our Master for a period of time before ascension, and a sign of God’s redeeming grace and power beyond death. The Risen Christ is also an expansion of the Christ consciousness into all Creation and time. As the hymn goes, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!” Christ comes to us with different faces in the day-to-day interactions of our normal lives. If our eyes are opened, like the disciples in Luke’s account of the walk to Emmaus, we will see that we are accompanied by the Risen Christ in the encounters we might otherwise ignore.

Eternal life is a facet of Christ’s resurrection. Through our participation in the “Body of Christ” we are made to live beyond our death in mysterious and beautiful ways. Our participation in Christ’s love for creation is a participation in an everlasting experience of God. There are many conceptualizations of eternal life, and the scriptures don’t seem to be in agreement on them. I am aware that as a pastor to those facing the final stage of bodily life, a theology lesson on the diversity of scriptural accounts of eternal life will not be the appropriate way to respond to a person’s questions about what lies before them. Instead, I hope to allow God to use me as a comforting presence. Therefore, my ideas of eternal life aren’t as important as my ability to listen and assure people who have diverse ideas about our continued journey after death. Douglas John Hall writes,

Life itself presents most of us with enough challenges and as it were, “little endings” that life is itself a preparation for death, if we are sufficiently attentive to its ceaseless passing nature….Two Pauline cornerstones of religiosity, faith and hope, are inherently expressive of this incompleteness. Faith is not sight, and hope is not arrival at the condition hoped for. Both Pauline virtues beg for a completeness they themselves lack. [14]

Our temporality is reflected in our very ideals—but these ideals are all that is within our grasp. Though our current popular conceptualizations of eternal life as subjective immortality do not quite jive with the New Testament concept of bodily resurrection, I believe it is not a pastoral priority to speculate on the “correct doctrine” of eternal life. It is important to my personal spirituality to focus attention instead on the Kingdom “in our midst.” Though this is perhaps a luxury of my youth, I believe a Christian response to the eternal present moment is the utmost glorification of God.

In Matthew 22:22-33, Christ responds to the questions of the Pharisees about the afterlife with a witness to the “God of the Living.” Though our minds are somewhat unable to conceive of God’s possibilities for us in the afterlife, we are invited to respond to the God of the Living in our lives. My experience with the God of the Living is that God has a deep love for Creation. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is a witness to God’s presence with us after our earthly life.

II. Vocation

1. How do you conceive your vocation as an ordained minister?

As an ordained Elder, the fourfold nature of my vocation is a calling toward preaching the Word, Ordering the administrative life of the church, Serving the community through acts of mercy and justice, and making the Sacraments readily available to the community of faith. According to the “Wesleyan Vision for Theological Education and Leadership,” Wesley believed a minister should also posses “a competent sense of the settings in which the church is serving—obtained through study of science, cultural history, and the like.” [15] This is one aspect of my vocation that is very attractive and fulfilling, because I enjoy learning about all sorts of things that help me identify with my parish. In undergraduate school, I fancied myself a “renaissance man,” taking all kinds of courses, from music appreciation to the History of China to Biology. After getting a D in Microeconomics, though, I decided to leave the “renaissance man” stuff to Da Vinci and instead take courses in fields in which I’d shown natural aptitude. However, when I read the previously mentioned paper on the GBHEM website, I was pleased that ministry could fulfill this inclination toward broadening my horizons.

According to the Biblical witness, theological tradition, and the Book of Discipline ¶303, the meaning of ordination is to “set apart” those who are called to the orders of Deacon and Elder to provide for the needs of the church and the world. In the context of the general ministry of the Church, ordination “provides for the continuation of Christ’s ministry, which has been committed to the church as a whole.”[16] As a “gift from God to the Church,” ordination conveys God’s grace and love for the world. As a recipient and a conduit of this gift for the church, my role as an ordained clergyperson would be to give inspiration, education, and opportunities to the people of God. Ordination also calls me to reach out to those who aren’t familiar with the good news of God’s love and grace for the world. Though lay people and ordained clergy are both called by God to lead the Church, ordination is the special recognition by the church that God calls a person to a particular function within the life of the Church.

As a minister within a particular context, ordination calls me to utilize the tools of my location to re-frame the Good News to appeal to a given body of people. Ordination requires creativity, sensitivity, openness, humility, and bravery to meet all these needs. As the “general ministry of the church,” I believe ordination is the call to listen constantly to God’s whisperings. Ordination is the human response to make God’s direction our livelihood. We are “set apart” in a community to draw attention to God’s vision for our individual and corporate lives.

III. The Practice of Ministry

1. How has the practice of commissioned ministry affected your understanding of the expectations and obligations of the itinerant system?

As a commissioned minister, I have moved once from one conference to another. I have come in to two different churches which hosted the previous pastor for only a year and a half each. In both cases, church members felt like their church was a “revolving door,” and seemed to lament this facet of our system of ministry.

On the other hand, both churches seemed to have benefited from the unique perspectives and differing gifts and graces of each minister. As the retired Bishop Kenneth Carder of Mississippi once said, “Polity is Ecclesiology,” or in simpler terms, the way we structure the church gives us insight on what we believe the church represents in the world. The iteneracy is the embodyment of the connectional system, and our connection is an ecclesiological statement to the world about who we believe Christ to be in the world. The connectional nature of the church is probably most evident to the laypeople of the church in the charge conference, the apportionment, and the iteneracy. This method of organizing church leads to a very real sense of connection between the Methodist churches in one area because they are all served by the same clergy, and because they all contribute to one purpose—making disciples for Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul speaks of this same structure within the church. He writes, “Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials…” [17]

Before I was appointed to my first church (in Waldron, AR), I had a dream that I was a “traveling architect” who came upon a group of people building a house. The house was something very special, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on a particular style. The house was a unique kind of place, windows sticking out here and there, winding staircases and turrets, a large, welcoming front door. As I came up to the house and made my suggestions for other additions to the house, the people scratched their heads and surveyed the plans, then they shared their tools with me and we began building. It became clear to me that the people had been welcoming other “traveling architects” like me for quite some time, which was why this place was so unique. After reading the above passage from Corinthians at a later date, it struck me that the people in my dream were symbolozing the church, and the building that we work on is literally God’s Temple—not a physical structure, but the wonderful temple which is “all of us” according to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

With an itinerant clergy, the church may sometimes feel like a watering hole for clergy to pass through and offer their “two cents.” But if we pay attention to Paul’s metaphor, we see that we are indeed building a very unique and beautiful house—one that God can live in. The myriad of gifts and graces entrusted to the diverse clergy of an area assure that the house we are working on has welcoming doors and lots of windows, winding staircases, beautiful detail and décor, balconies and high ceilings. We should pay attention to the building materials that we use, because we want this house to stand the test of time—and it will endure some trials. However, with our connection, with the input of all those traveling architects, the Spirit will lead us to build on a solid foundation.

I have experienced the itinerant system both as a minister and as a son of a minister. As a child of a minister, I was blessed to have a good experience with the moves and transitions that it brought into my life. I knew other “P.K.’s” who weren’t so fortunate. As a minister with a family of my own, the itinerant system has been bittersweet. Still there is the excitement of going somewhere new, but new are the difficulties of moving just as friendships are beginning to develop (if they have time to develop at all), and feeling like our lives and livelihoods are not of our own design. I suppose as a child in a pastor’s family, the iteneracy seemed like a fact of life. Now, as I choose to follow my own calling into ministry, the ramifications of that choice for my family seem more tangible. However, I am emboldened by the Wesleyan covenant, and the generations of ministers before me who have taken it and the generation with whom I will take it. “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee, or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee….”[18]

2. Do you offer yourself without reserve to be appointed and to serve as the appointive authority may determine?

I must confess that I am perplexed by the word “reserve” in the question. Moses and Jesus (and practically everyone else in the Bible) had “reservations” about their call and where that would lead them.[19] Is more certainty expected from a candidate for ordination? Reservations” are an indelible part of our Biblical heritage. God named our ancestor “Israel” because he “wrestled with God.” I cannot pretend that I have no concerns about my calling’s implications on my family—considerations with which neither Jesus nor John Wesley were much concerned. But I am willing.

As a United Methodist minister’s son, I have grown up within the itinerant system, and an understanding that the bishop’s cabinet may see it fit to move my family and me to another location to be in ministry. I am willing to entrust my life and ministry to the Spirit guided deliberations of the cabinet. I believe that open communication with my district superintendent about my gifts and graces for ministry in the church and about the special needs of my family will facilitate the guidance of the Spirit in the deliberations of the cabinet.

One aspect of my familial situation that I have made clear to my district superintendent in the hopes that it enters into the deliberations of the cabinet is the degree of specialization of my wife’s profession, and the limitations that puts on her employment outside her current practice at a developmental pediatric clinic in Tulsa. This being said, I believe God has called me to the ordained ministry as an Elder, and I believe God has called my wife to use her focused talents to evaluate, diagnose, and counsel children and families of children on the autism spectrum and with learning disorders, as her residencies and post doctoral work have qualified her to do. I trust that God will make it work.

3. Describe and evaluate your personal gifts for ministry. What would be your areas of strength and areas that you need to be strengthened? How have they affected your ministry?

In the course of my ministry, I have come to know teaching as the “calling within the calling” for me. I believe I have gifts for teaching, and I sense it as a calling for me because I feel empowered and enabled by it. Every time I am preparing and teaching a Bible study at church, it acts as a fuel for my ministry in other areas. It doesn’t concern me if I have 3 or 30 people show up to a study, I am energized by sharing information, delving into new ideas, and witnessing intellectual growth in faith.

I believe I also have a gift for preaching. I have been told by parishioners and others that my sermons are well grounded in Scripture, inspiring, challenging, and intelligently given. I have shared several sermons with, a sermon writing resource, and have noticed them getting a lot of views on my own website, as well as a lot of encouraging comments. I feel the Spirit’s movement within me when I am preparing for a sermon and when I am preaching, but I do have occasional “dry spells” when I have a hard time finding the inspiration for “a credible and timely word.”[20] I hope my sermon delivery progresses over the years. I feel most comfortable preaching from a manuscript in the pulpit, but have found my presentation to be more engaging and charismatic when I occasionally prepare with notes and leave the pulpit.

Over the past year, I have grown in my ability to gauge when someone would appreciate a pastoral visit and then act on that gut feeling. This was not a “natural” gift, but instead had to be cultivated through practice. I have also learned through disappointment that I felt and faced when I failed to act on the movement of the Spirit that someone was in need of a pastoral visit.

According to the different models presented in the book assigned by the Board of Ordained Ministry, Leadership is the Key,[21] I believe I draw from the teaching, scholarship, fellowship, preaching, and spiritual guide models. I have room to grow in other areas of my ministry, including (but not limited to): gaining more enthusiasm and charisma when I speak and preach, gaining patience with the necessary administrative tasks and annoying things a pastor encounters in day to day ministry (“Someone moved the tables that I set up!” “So and so is on the phone, and she needs help with gas money again—it’s the second time she’s called this weekend!” etc.), gaining a better capacity for remembering names and the web of relationships that occur in a church. I have taken comfort in the adage, “God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.”

4. Are you willing to minister with all persons without regard to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition or disabilities?

I affirm the diversity of God’s creation and our church, and would like to see the church grow more diverse. Thus, I will gladly minister to everyone in the church, and those in the community who seek ministry. I believe that God’s vision for the world is for us to know the Spirit that dwells within us and between us—the Divine Breath that connects all things together. I believe that this is a foundational component of the Realm of God. An outgrowth of this recognition in the church is a burgeoning inclusiveness in ministry. As we see in the birth of the Church in Acts 2, the Wind of God stirs us into inclusiveness. The Holy Spirit’s gift to that original church was the astonishing ability to speak in tongues that were understood by people from all over the world. The news of “God’s deeds and power” can be communicated in our context with this same beauty and openness, but we must be prepared for the Spirit’s inclusiveness to extend beyond our own ideas of where it should go. As Jesus says in John 3, the Spirit of God is like the Wind. No one sees where it comes from or where it is going—and all who are born of the Spirit have this same quality. In Luke’s gospel, the disciples of Jesus were consistently bewildered by Christ’s actions toward those they felt were unworthy of grace and Divine light. These disciples must have been perplexed that the Spirit led them to attract foreigners from every corner of the known world to the message of God’s love. The contention about God’s openness is played out as early as the church’s first generation, when Paul and Peter argue with James and the Jerusalem church that the inclusiveness of God extends beyond their own cultural stipulations of God’s covenant in the form of circumcision.

The doctrinal trials of the early church inspire me to think about how we are being challenged to make the church more inclusive in our current context. I believe that churches that embrace the challenge of inclusiveness will be attractive to members of my generation, who typically view a church’s refusal to be truly open to all people as hypocritical to Christ’s message. If we are to be the representatives of the early church, we must learn to live with the inclusive power of the Spirit—even though it may sometimes make us uncomfortable. Inclusiveness is a nice concept that may, for some, conjure up images of smiles and fluffiness. However, inclusiveness is a challenge. It has the potential to make people angry because we like the “status quo.” Merely “accepting” or “tolerating” people who are different than we are is only the first step of inclusiveness. Radical inclusiveness, the kind of inclusiveness that sparked the tremendous growth of the early church, is celebrating and ministering to God’s creation in all its diversity. It means recognizing the stirring of the Spirit in people who are very different from us.

In Acts 10 and 11, Peter witnesses the activity of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles and is astounded: “Who are we to withhold the waters of Baptism, when God has poured out the Spirit upon them,” he testifies. If we open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to the movement of the Holy Spirit, we will see that the Spirit works in people and in places that astound us as well. Unless we plan on “hindering God,” we can be like the early church in the breaking down of cultural walls that separate us. The church does not have the choice whether or not it is going to be “inclusive.” Simply put, the church has nothing to do with Christ if it is not a reflection of his unequivocal inclusiveness.

5. Will you regard all pastoral conversations of a confessional nature as a trust between the person concerned and God?

I am ready and willing to preserve the confidentiality of confession, provided that I do not determine that the person confessing is an imminent danger to themselves or others, or is being abused. If this is the case, I will make it clear to the person that I would prefer to refer them to professional help or the legal authorities. In my two and a half years of parish ministry, I have had very few parishioners ask for private conversations that I would regard as confessional, but I have honored those confessions I have heard as a sacred communication. I have also kept confidential things that people may have mentioned to me in passing, or in front of their families. If I am unclear about whether a person intends for me to share information of concern with our prayer team, I simply ask if they would like me to share the information, or keep it to myself. Though our ordination has nothing to do with the ability to receive these confessions to God, and there are wonderful ministries such as the Stephen’s Ministry program that equip laypeople with the tools of counseling, we are charged with this responsibility as a natural facet of ministry.

6. Provide evidence of experience in peace and justice ministries.

I have been involved in numerous projects and ministries of environmental justice, which has bearing on bearing on peace and justice among the human family of Creation through the threats of global warming and the socio-economic impact that environmental degradation is having in our world. Besides that, non-human creation is God’s,[22] and worthy of the peace and justice that we also seek for the human family.

When I was a youth minister in Bartlesville, I organized an “environmental mission trip” for our youth that consisted of a trip to Colorado working at a nature preserve and then for the Denver parks and recreation department, working to restore natural ecosystems. The following year, I organized a similar environmental mission trip to Washington DC with the General Board of Church and Society for the Oklahoma Conference. These experiences gave me resources to share with a fellowship of young adults through the National Council of Churches that I later became involved in through a grant I had received from the Fund for Theological Education to study communities of faith that were enacting some kind of creation care into the worship life of the congregation. Through my association with the National Council of Churches, I was able to represent our national ecumenical body in a consortium with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, which brought together the NCC, the National Association of Evangelicals, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. This organization harmonized the efforts on behalf of environmental justice by these large orgainizations.

In 2005, I offered a workshop on Creation care at the Arkansas UMW school of Christian mission. I have also planned a regional conference for Creation Care for the National Council of Churches, held in Little Rock, and am currently on the steering committee of a similar conference for the South Central Jurisdiction being held in March of 2008 at Mt. Sequoyah.

Does peace and justice ministries translate into “planning and attending conferences” in my mind? No. I am also involved in the Oklahoma Conference Environmental Coalition, which recently distributed 500 redbud trees at the last annual conference, and see my role in the church to encourage our laypeople to think more broadly and theologically about the impact of Creation abuse. I also ride my bicycle to make pastoral visits, plant trees, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

In the realm of non-ecological peace and justice, I was the president of the ministerial alliance in Waldron, AR in 2005, and community churches cooperated under our leadership to provide food and shelter at an old hospital for 90 evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. I worked very closely with this project, which lasted several months, and helped several families establish a permanent home in Waldron. This endeavor had racial justice undertones, since our community was a predominantly white mountain town, and all of the evacuees were African Americans from New Orleans. Through the efforts, Waldron broadened its horizons and became more culturally enriched, and the same happened for the evacuees. In Waldron, I also was primarily responsible for a food pantry that our church operated and a voucher program we participated in through the ministerial alliance to provide for utilities and sheltering transients. In Morris, I have helped our mission committee plan a work trip to San Marcos, TX, where we refurbished the home of a blind elderly woman.

7. If a person in your congregation were to ask for re-baptism, what would your response be? Explain.

I would begin by identifying the reason the person believed his or her first baptism was inadequate. Some seem to want to be re-baptized because they feel they missed out on the experience of baptism and are hungering for a tangible, memorable experience to hold. Others seem to be convinced by other denominations that only a “believer’s baptism” by full immersion is acceptable to God. I have met other people who think that baptism is a marker for every time they have felt a re-commitment to a life of faith, perhaps after a life changing experience.

At every opportunity, I make clear to the congregation that I serve that our church accepts the baptisms of other Trinitarian denominations, and that when others join our congregation from other denominations, we gladly accept their baptism from that church, because we believe the Body of Christ is bigger than our denomination. I also make note of this statement of faith when I am inviting those in the congregation to the communion table.

I can understand that especially in a culture where we tend to treat religious experience as a consumable commodity, those who have no memory of their baptism may feel “short-changed.” The impulse to mark a significant religious experience with a tangible ritual makes sense. Before wading into the theological and scriptural underpinnings to our church’s stance on this issue, I would first give some real attention to this person’s experience that they probably want to celebrate with baptism.

If the parishioner wanted to be re-baptized because they had been convinced by friends or relatives that their baptism was inadequate, I would point to the many scriptures and deep theological resources that show how sacramental baptism is the entry of the recipient into the covenant relationship with God through the Body of Christ, or the church. (See the next answer for more detail on these.) Though we may not stay true to that covenant, God remains faithful, and thus a “rebaptism” is unnecessary. God’s covenant with us, outwardly displayed by our baptism, is a one time invitation because the door is never closed. Baptism is a celebration of what God does, not what we do.

Nevertheless, because we are physical beings in need of tangible and memorable “milestones” (nothing to be ashamed of, since God created us this way), I would also lift up the resources we have in our church to mark occasions of spiritual renewal and commitment, such as reaffirmation of faith, covenant renewal, and remembrance of baptism ceremonies. Anointing is a tangible expression of our calling as baptized members of the royal priesthood that engages several senses. I also believe that a second spiritual baptism is a gift that many experience, perhaps marking the experience of justifying grace, or moments of entire sanctification. Though our Pentecostal cousins limit the experience of this gift to speaking in tongues, I have known it as a physical encounter with the Wind of God.[23] As believers in the ever unfolding path of sanctifying grace, we affirm the celebration of milestones along the journey of discipleship. There is no need to go back to the beginning of the race (baptism) to experience the wind on your face as you run.

8. What is your understanding of infant baptism and how does it relate to Confirmation? Use the quadrilateral to support your position.

I understand infant baptism to be an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace of adoption by God and entry into the life of faith and discipleship found in the church. I believe it to be a sacrament “drawing in” the recipient into the body of Christ, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body….Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1Cor. 13: 11, 27) Regarding the baptism of infants in our Holy Scriptures, we find numerous references to God’s activity in the lives of those who are unaware and unable to communicate a profession of faith. Jeremiah speaks beautifully about God’s nurture of us before we are even born, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) Though many of our denominational neighbors do not accept that infant baptism is “scriptural,” there is ample evidence that when early Christians came into the fold, their whole households were baptized.[24]

It is reasonable to believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom belongs” (Mark 10:14), he intended for his followers to take him seriously in every facet of faith life. Jesus lifted up the spiritual wakefulness of children too often for us to believe that God’s adoption isn’t conferred until an “age of accountability.” Secondly, the scriptures point to a correlation between circumcision and baptism. (Col 2: 11-12) If we make that connection, then it is quite logical to baptize infants since our Old Testament speaks of God’s covenant being conferred upon a child by the rite of circumcision at the age of 8 days. (Ge. 17: 12)

Infant baptism is also strongly asserted and defended in our tradition. By Water and the Spirit was a much needed study and proclamation of our traditional understanding of baptism. It continues to guide General Conferences since its publication in 1996 on matters of revising our statutes on membership and discipleship. The study reveals a twisting and turning evolution of our popular understanding of baptism, which won’t be recounted here. John Wesley adopted a highly sacramental value for infant baptism, accepting the scriptural understanding of its regenerative effect on humankind. However, his soteriological perspective was that it was neither “essential to nor sufficient for salvation.”[25] Wesley also insisted on a willing commitment to Christ for those who had become morally accountable for their own lives. While we typically refer to this act as “confirmation,” Wesley rejected the notion that the sacrament of baptism was somehow “split in two,” with the confirmation of our vows of Baptism completing the vows of baptism which were taken on our behalf at infancy.[26] Instead of the ritual of confirmation bringing some “closure” to baptism, I instead believe that it “opens wider” the baptismal vows as newly recognized and claimed by the recipient. The profession of faith and laying on of hands that is the heart of this service is a public receiving of God’s continuing grace and commitment to the body of Christ.

My experience of baptizing infants and being baptized as an infant confirms for me the Spirit’s presence in this beautiful sacrament. I have a deep spiritual assurance in my participation in the Body of Christ, and have also witnessed the Spirit’s movement as I have read the beautiful liturgy and stirred the waters during the Thanksgiving over the water. I have felt blessed to be God’s channel of grace during infant baptisms and adult baptisms. I explained to our recent group of confirmands that when I touched their forehead with water and said “Remember your baptism, and be thankful,” I understood that they may not have a cognizant memory of being baptized (I don’t), but that their Spirit does remember, and that God’s grace works in and through us in ways we sometimes do not understand.

9. What is your understanding of the connectional relationship between the local church and general church? How will you give leadership to your local church in the full payment of connectional apportionments and general church obligations?

The connectional relationship of the church is a witness to the world about the Body of Christ and the Pauline theological/ecclesiological statement, “Many gifts, one spirit.”[27] Our churches are diverse in their ministries, their flavors of worship, their settings, their gifts—yet there is one Spirit who guides them and engenders them with vitality and power. As I mentioned in question III.1, the connectional nature of our church is probably most palpable to our laypeople in the institutions of the charge conference, the iteneracy, and the apportionment. Of course, the connection can also be experienced in the church through district and conference events, joint mission projects, and through the support of extension ministries. There are many tools and resources made available to the local church by the annual conference and general conference. Likewise, there would be no annual and general conference if it were not for the gifts and resources of the local church. As in our participation in the spiritual Body of Christ, we find that the whole is more than the sum of its parts when we work and worship in unity.

I have consistently referred to the apportionment as the “lifeblood of the connection.” If we do not bear fruit, we are doing nothing to manifest the grace we have been given. If our church does not “bear fruit” in the apportionment covenant, we are simply taking and not giving. The apportionment is the “lifeblood of the connection,” because without it, the connection would merely be an ideal without embodiment.

In both churches to which I have been appointed, I have vocally and financially supported the apportionment. In both churches, we have paid 100% of our covenant. (Although, in my first year of ministry, it took a last minute gift of around $4000 by one individual to make that happen.) This past year, our finance committee developed the idea of “adopting an apportionment” to subsidize the apportionment budget within the general budget of the church. Each line item in the apportionment was outlined on a card shaped like a heart (which went with the general theme of the program—“The Apportionment: Circulatory system of the Connectional Church”), and then the parishioners were invited to make a special gift above and beyond their pledge and choose a line item in the apportionment to adopt.

The program was a success. Individuals and Sunday school classes each chose some ministry that appealed to them within our apportionment. Everyone got involved. The 3rd-5th grade Sunday school class even adopted the “Interdenominational Cooperation” apportionment for about $35, and paid their adopted apportionment with the collections they had been saving in the classroom for years. The program subsidized about 25% of our apportionment, and in the process educated the church about this aspect of our connection. I am committed to educating the congregation I serve about the importance of the apportionment and its provision for the mission of the Body of Christ.

10. Will you encourage or discourage the use of United Methodist literature and curriculum in the churches you serve? Explain.

I will encourage the use of U.M. literature and curriculum within the church because our literature is unique in its presentation of a Wesleyan outlook on grace and discipleship. While many other curricula emphasize only justifying grace (because it’s the only “movement” of grace they affirm as a theological tradition), United Methodist curriculum is consistent in its articulation of the continuing unfolding nature of sanctifying grace and the “tilling” of prevenient grace. The mission of the United Methodist church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” This is a process and a journey of living into grace, not an encapsulated event of “getting saved.” Our curriculum reflects this broader task.

I think it is sometimes best to let the leaders of various ministries see the benefits of using United Methodist curriculum on their own terms instead of imposing a forced loyalty to United Methodist curriculum. For example: when I was appointed to my church in Morris, I was pleased to find a grief ministry in operation. Unfortunately, they were using “Griefshare,” which is published by the Southern Baptists. I attended some of their meetings, affirmed their ministry, and along the way made reference to our Stephen’s Ministry resources that might also be considered. Eventually, the group came to a video in the Griefshare curriculum that made many in the group feel uncomfortable. It was focused on “getting your soul saved,” so you could be assured of going to heaven to meet your loved one who had passed away.

The group came to the conclusion that this was not in line with their aims as a ministry, and asked me to give them more information about Stephen’s ministries. The pastor doesn’t have to become the “enemy” in the curriculum “war” by alienating laypeople for considering outside resources. Some resources found outside the UM are very good, theologically sound, and full of spiritual depth (I think the Nooma Video curriculum, for instance, is top rate and unparalleled). However, a pastor should take the Christian education of the church very seriously and celebrate our theological heritage which is most consistently found in our own curriculum.

[1] Eugene Peterson writes compellingly about this subject in terms of replacing the Holy Trinity with the “very individualized personal Trinity of my Holy wants, my Holy needs, and my Holy feelings” in the second book of his “Spiritual Theology” series, Eat This Book (Grand Rapids: Eeardman’s, 2006) pp. 31-34

[2]The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: UM Publishing House, 2004), 46

[3] Unless otherwise noted, scriptural references will be from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

[4] Douglas John Hall. “We Would See Jesus,” The Living Pulpit (3:1, Jan-Mar 1994), 4.

[5] My First Bible. Edited by Ruth Hannon. (New York: Regina Press, 1974), 77.

[6] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: UM Publishing House, 2004), 79.

[7] BOD, 81

[8] BOD, 82.

[9] Andrew Marr, “The Parable of Two Brothers and Their Father.” (

[10] John Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” Thomas Jackson, ed. ( Point 2.

[11] BOD, 49.

[12] Kenneth L. Carder, et. al, A Wesleyan Vision for Theological Education and Leadership Formation for the 21st Century. ( p. 4.

[13] Georgia Harkness, Understanding the Kingdom of God. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1974)

[14] Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) pp. 215-216

[15] Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, et. al, A Wesleyan Vision for Theological Education and Leadership Formation for the 21st Century. ( p. 6.

[16] BOD, 183

[17] Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2005).

[18] John Wesley, “A Covenant Prayer,” United Methodist Hymnal. (Nashville: UM Publishing House, 1989) 607.

[19] Exodus 4, and throughout, Luke 22:42, etc.

[20] I like this description of a sermon brought to my attention by Clark Williamson and Ronald Allen’s book by the same title about process theology and preaching.

[21] Herb Miller, Leadership is the Key: Unlocking your Ministry Effectiveness. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997) pp. 16-25

[22] “The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24, KJV)

[23] Standing in a glacial valley in Wyoming, overlooking a lake surrounded by lodgepole pines, I was praying and journaling on a cliff-face during a 2 week retreat. I suddenly noticed that I could see the wind coming down the valley from the glacier while it blew over the lake in front of me. I could see the gusts of wind before they hit my face. I also noticed that lodgepole pines whistled as the wind blew through them. Isaiah’s words rang in my ears, “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Is. 55:12, KJV) Perhaps imparting to me the gift of the interpretation of tongues, God gave me the ability to hear the whistling pines and glimmering lake as creation’s response to the Holy Wind of God. The experience has been stamped on my soul, and I can still feel the wind on my face.

[24] Acts 11: 13-14, Acts 16: 15, Acts 16: 31-33, 1 Corinthians 1:16

[25] Mark Trotter, et al, By Water and the Spirit. (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996), 4.

[26]Mark Trotter, et al, By Water and the Spirit (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996), 20.

[27] 1 Corinthians 12