Monday, March 31, 2008

Blog Honing

I was just reading John the Methodist's old blogger profile of my friend Andrew Thompson. Here's one question he answered that convicted me:

What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
Well, I’ve only been blogging since last August, so I guess I’m still something of a novice! But if I were to offer advice to others, it would be to orient their blogs toward issues that they are passionate about. I don’t think most people want to read somebody’s random thoughts about life, the universe, and everything. They want to read cogent, thoughtful commentary on issues of relevance. Related to that are two other small pieces of advice: post regularly and develop a primary subject matter. I think that those elements are key to developing a consistent readership.

I don't know if 3 years of blogging under my belt gets me out of the "novice" genre, but Andrew's point is well taken. I don't believe this blog has much of a cohesive theme. Should it? I suppose lack of feedback will be an answer in the affirmative. Though I didn't think about a theme, per se, when I opened the doors of this blog, I kind of thought the title alluded to the purpose and I hoped to do what Reinhold did with his book of a similar title: that being various accounts of pastoral life from a rookie. Is that enough of a theme? Andrew, you out there?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Scanning party.

I did about 2 hours of work with an hp customer service chat room person (whom at one point I just had to ask "are you a real person," because she kept repeating phrases like "no need to worry," and "I'm glad to be of assistance, let us now try removing the Universal Serial Bus Driver." When I asked "Danielle" point blank if she were a "real person," she merely said, "I am Danielle." I felt like I was talking to HAL.

So, after a while of stilted conversation with "Danielle," we finally got my printer, scanner, copier working. It was good Easter season work, brining my printer back to life. Afterward, we had a scanning party, and I decided to scan some of my art that I have over here at the house. I did this one at an "emerging worship" service with the General Board of Discipleship. I'm unhappy with how the scanner shot right through the areas of thin paint to the canvas, but oh well. We were supposed to paint "hope," and I decided to combine imagery from the burning bush and the nativity. Also, the flames/light is encroaching into the darkness.

Is that a brachiasaurus head? No! It's a new little Mattox!

My wife is going to kill me, but this is what I first saw when I saw our ultrasound photo.

My pregnant pampered princess just informed me that she thought I thought the whole uterus looked like that nostril thing on the brach's head. This was not my original comparison, but it also fits I suppose. No, Lara. Look at the actual embryo. You can click on the picture and see that it looks like a brachiasaurus with its mouth open.

I enjoy coordinating clothes with my son, but love him enough to stop in a few years

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Sermon: It's How you believe

Sermon Text: Colossians 3: 1-4Matthew 28

Sorry, no transcript this week either. I'm preaching in more of an extemporaneous style now. If the manuscript sermons have been a big help to you, leave a comment, and I'll look into getting an ipod or something that I could put podcasts of the sermon on the website. If I don't hear from anyone, I will keep giving you the talking points of the sermon and what I can remember of it. (and some improvements I've made in the past 24 hours. :) )

My earthquake experiences have been unextraordinary. Leaning back in my chair during seminary during one, asleep during the other.

Quite possibly, this earthquake that Matthew recounts was not that extraordinary too. After all he's the only writer to remember it. Perhaps this was just indicative of a resurrection that kind of "flew under the radar," anyway. John tells of the disciples going back to their fishing after the encounters with the risen Christ.

So, no hard feelings if you merely think of Easter Sunday as a day to go to church in pastel colors and have an egg hunt.Our ultimate antagonist to having a life of faith is the disease of apathy. Apatheism, some call it. (Here, some of the teenagers in church were busy texting each other, and made a good illustration about apathy and the Easter story.)

But perhaps we are apathetic because we believe that the Easter event is just another event that we are supposed to believe "happened" so that we can "believe the right things" and "get into heaven." Once we've gotten the story down, and believe that it has happened, we're "okay." Hmm.

Perhaps all this talk of an earthquake and an angel and the clunky narrative about guards being placed at the tomb is just Matthew writing in a convenient explanation as to why the Romans and Jews keep dismissing the early Christians talk about a resurrection by saying that they had stolen the body. Or, if you watch the Discovery or History Channel, you can learn about all the other theories about how Jesus might have "come back from the dead." Some say Jesus was drugged, feigned death, and later escaped from the tomb. Others say the disciples just got so worked up in their grief that they made up the whole thing.

So, that "story that we have to get down right" in order to "believe the right things," isn't so simple after all, is it?

The gospels sure don't help us.  They each tell the story in different ways. Which one am I "supposed to believe" preacher?

What if Matthew, with all this talk about guards at the gate, is trying to communicate to us the idea that it's not what you believe, it's how you believe?

The guards at the tomb witnessed everything the women did! They surely "believed the right things." They were right there so scared they couldn't move! They got the information, because they took it back to the authorities. The difference was "how they believed." They were content to be paid off to change their story. They sold out while the women shared the good news.

Bishop Will Willimon points out. "There are so many ways to "explain" the resurrection. The point is, we can't explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains us!"

This past week, we recounted the stories about how Jesus was "there for us," but how his disciples failed to be "there for him." They deserted, they shrunk away in fear. They lied about their association with him. They betrayed him. Now an angel who "has the appearance of lightning" is telling us this man is back. Uh-oh! But notice what Jesus tells the women. "Greetings! Tell my brothers to meet me in Galilee." My brothers! The two most important words of this story. My brothers.

The women become not only missionaries of the resurrection message, but also agents of reconciliation.Resurrection faith isn’t just a matter of believing that a dead body came back to life. The soldiers and the priests believed this as well, and were quick to work against the resurrection. Resurrection faith is knowing that this event heals a relationship between you and God. It is the understanding that you are a “brother” or “sister” being summoned to go and share the good news with others. Dear friends, Matthew tells us that it’s not about “believing.” It’s about what you do with that belief that identifies you as a child of the Resurrection.

When the Resurrection compels us to be agents of reconciliation, that's letting Easter shape "how" and not just "what" we believe. Easter means you have another chance to be the person God created you to be, and you can start doing that at any moment, even after you think it's too late. The disciples whom Jesus called "brothers" and "sisters" learned that it was never too late. This is "how" we believe. We believe in the resurrection by believing in the possibilities for redemption and reconciliation that happen every day. We believe in the resurrection by making those moments happen.

But, if you think being a child of the resurrection means you have everything figured out, then think again. When the disciples meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, Matthew tells us "but some doubted." That's okay. The resurrection is big enough to handle our doubt. "Thus the same elements of worship, doubt, and little faith inhere in the church after Easter as before. Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted." (New Interpreter's Bible) This is the good news.

This is what is exciting. The resurrection hasn't ended. It is still going on in your life and in mine. We have the opportunity to participate in it by our life lived in the name of Christ. That's why it is so beautifully fitting that we had a baptism today and added another sister to the community of faith. We've added a witness to the resurrection. She will be brought up in the faith.And it won't be what she believes that makes a difference to Christ. It will be "how" she believes that witnesses to the resurrection.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Dilemma Resolved

I went to speak with the family, mentioned in the previous post, early this past week and discussed with them the meaning of baptism. I also told them about the celebration of a new birth service in our Book of Worship. By the way, reading the book of worship's intro to Baptism, I found that "naming ceremonies" are supposedly common in Native American settings, so that certainly applies to my context. The family decided that they didn't have to make a decision for Easter and called at the end of the week to let me know they were interested in doing something on another day during Easter season. They are going to continue to discuss what it is that they will do. So, that issue was blessedly resolved.

As for the baptism today, it went beautifully. My son gave some creative commentary while I was pouring the water into the font as I was beginning the thanksgiving over the water.

"Is he pee-peeing?!" It sure sounded like it, I have to give him that. People laughed, and the family baptizing their baby was genuinely amused as well. I tried to not laugh. Wes is going through potty training right now, so I guess that is on his mind quite a bit. I've attached photos of his Easter duds and a couple from his birthday bloodbath. (He slipped on our tile floor and busted his chin wide open. 3 years hath 7 stitches!

Oh yeah, it's not exactly an afterthought, but mi esposa esta embarazada! Looks like the new Mattox could be a Halloweener!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Easter Baby Quandry

Alright Methoblogosphere: here's a pastoral, doctrinal, puzzle to help me solve: I have one young woman who indicated on her attendance registry that she was interested in joining the church and desired a pastoral call. (Yes, check marks in those particular boxes are rare in my experience) When I called her back the following week, she said she was interested in joining the church and having her daughter baptized on Easter. I was glad. Easter always seems more "Easter-y" when I get to celebrate a baptism. I told her I'd send her a copy of the baptismal vows that she would be taking on behalf of her daughter, and a copy of the paragraphs from the discipline related to church membership. (216-221--don't worry, I simplify the procedural points of 221) I explained to her that they were in a sense the "covenant" that the church makes with her to support her in faith and love and in return receive her support, service, presence, and gifts. So, all is golden. We're receiving new members on Easter and we haven't received any new members since August. Great.

Okay: Today I get a call. Another young couple who has a foot in our church and a foot in the Baptist church (female grew up in our church, husband grew up as a Baptist preacher's kid, she’s actually been baptized over there in addition to her baptism in our church). They want to have their baby "dedicated" on Easter Sunday as well at our church. I set up an appointment to speak with them tomorrow. I had previously (a month or two ago) told them that if they’d like, we have a service of celebration of a new birth in our Book of Worship, so this is where they’re getting the idea of “dedicating their baby.”

My concern is…does it confuse the issue or undermine the importance of the baptism already scheduled on Easter Sunday to have that “celebration” (basically consisting of an address by the pastor, standing the family up in front of the church, and a response from the church) on that same morning? What I’d probably do is have the celebration toward the beginning, and then the baptism as the culmination of the service after the sermon during the “response to the word.” But perhaps it'd be better just to ask them to choose another date. I don't know, I don't want to seem difficult or obstinate to them. I want to be welcoming and receptive to them, but also convey the beauty and meaning of our tradition. I don't want to be cheap and wishy washy, but I also don't want to be hard-nosed and insensitive to a family wishing to share the joy of a new birth in a way that's palatable to both parents.

When I speak to the family tomorrow, I think I’m going to let them know that I’d prefer to baptize the child and talk with them about their understanding of baptism and what our church says about baptism. (Using “by water and the spirit” as a guide) My understanding is that infant baptism is our dedication of the child as well as the recognition of God’s grace working in the child. Not something that we initiate, but something God has initiated and that we respond to through the gift of that sacrament and then continue to respond to through a profession of faith and a striving toward perfection.

But I’ll also mention the service of celebration of a new birth and let them know that we could do that if they are resolute in their decision not to have the child baptized. Want to help me navigate this minefield?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sitting at a slow computer at Creation Care Conference

AT Mt Sequoyah, and thought I'd give those interested a little update as to what is happening here. IF you know me, (or perhaps you've just picked this up from the blog), you know that I'm an eco-geeko, and that I'm frequently found at conferences on what Christians can do to be better stewards of the environment. I've found this conference particularly good, and was very pleased at the massive turnout. There were about 130 people here (even with the snow!) from many walks of life. If you've ever been to an "eco-theo" summit, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that there isn't any racial diversity here, but thanks to Oklahoma City University, there is some age diversity at least. (I'm used to being one of the young whipper snappers at this kind of thing: I'm not complaining, perhaps its just the nature of a Church conference, and the general inability of working adults to be at this kind of thing, but I'd say the age breakdown is about 60% over 65, 15% 40-65, and 25% under 40. Hmmmm. I just realized that my last post was about statistics too: that's another one of my geek things.
I'm leading worship tomorrow, and am very disappointed that it is bitterly cold in Fayetteville and we won't be worshipping out doors.
I went to several workshops today, and was inspired by Mark Davies keynote address. He spoke about his inspiration to co-found "oikos." John Hill of the GBCS gave a good workshop on political advocacy, and Katie from Georgia Interfaith power and light was inspiring too (inspiring enough to remember her last name? I know, I'm tired).

So, I'm glad to be here. Great connections are being made, and folks feel motivated and informed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

General Conference Delegations quiz

I was surprised by a few of the things about the General Conference delegations this year. Namely, who would have the largest delegation. I thought it was Florida last time I looked. Can you guess who it is this year? (Answers below)

1. Largest Delegation?
2. Second Largest Delegation?
3. Third Largest Delegation?
4. Largest Delegation in each Jurisdiction?
5. Largest "Jurisdiction" at GC?

1. Nigeria with 44 (West Africa Central Conference)
2 N. Katanga with 38 (Congo Central Conference)
3. Virginia with 30 (SE Jurisdiction)
4. SE--Virginia: 30, NE--Balt/Wash, and W. Penn with 16 each, NC--W. Ohio: 22, SC--Texas: 22 (that's east Texas, including Houston), W--Cal/Pac, Cal/Nev with 10 each.
Interesting sidenote, the top 4 conferences in SEJ all have larger delegations than the largest delegations from other largest jurisdictions: Virginia: 30, N. Georgia: 28, Florida: 26, W.N.Carolina 26 (all larger than the 22 from NC and SC). Also interesting, only the Red Bird (2) and Memphis (6) conferences are sending delegations smaller than the largest delegation from the West (10), the others are all larger.
5. The Central Conferences are the largest "jurisdiction" at General Conference with 276 delegates. We like to paint the SEJ as the "bullies" at GC, but they actually come in second with 252. SCJ has 148, NC 138, NE 126, West 40, Concordant churches (independent Methodist denominations who still have a say at Gen. Conf: 10) The whole Western Jurisdiction is outnumbered by the Nigeria Conference alone. Maybe that explains why all my West Jurisdiction pals from seminary were always whining about being pushed around at GC.

Here are all the numbers, if you are a geek like me.