Monday, December 08, 2008

Here is a link sent to me by Denise Seman, one of our members at First UMC, Niles:

If you go to this web site, ,you can pick out a thank you card and Xerox will print it and send it to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq. You can't pick out who gets it, but it will go to some member of the armed services. It would be great if we could get everyone we know to send one!!! This is a great site. Please send a card. It is FREE and it only takes a second. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the soldiers received a bunch of these? Our guys and gals over there need to know we are behind them..



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good eat!

We are spending time at Granny's house for Thanksgiving this year--followed by our usual 4 a.m. foray into the fray of the frenetic holiday shopping that is the day after Turkey Day. We have not bought a piece of electronic equipment in the last 8 years unless it was purchased on the day after Thanksgiving!

I can smell the turkey cooking now--mostly because it's my job to baste the beast every quarter hour or so. CNN recommended not basting the turkey this year (something about saving gas in a difficult economy), but I figure, "What does Wolf Blitzer know about cooking a bird?" So, I'm bastin'!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone--look out for turkeys wielding axes! (Rebecca wrote a story today about a turkey's revenge this morning--very cute, but also a bit disturbing!)

God Bless us, Everyone,


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sermon--November 9, 2008

“Be Prepared”Matthew 25:1-13
By: David E. MacDonald
November 9, 2008 (26th Sunday after Pentecost)
Niles First United Methodist Church


--Scout motto: “Be Prepared” (Baden-Powell, “Why, for any old thing, of course!”)

(We taught scouts to be prepared by having them pack their bags, and do the grocery shopping. . .there was one boy who always forgot something, like the salad dressing, and that boy grew up to be a preacher. . .)

--Jesus tells this story of 10 bridesmaids. (In those days, a wedding was a week-long event! The groom would collect the bridesmaids, and they would process by lamplight to the bride's home, where they would greet her in song, and the groom would take the bride to his family home. Then the ceremony would take place the next day, then there would be music and dancing and partying for the rest of the week----this is why the wine ran out in Cana.)

--This whole section of Scripture, beginning in Chapter 24, is all about being prepared.

--For what? (The persecutions to come, and for the time when Jesus would return.)

--After this, Jesus tells his disciples exactly what he expects will happen (“The Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”)

So, let's place these bridesmaids into that context—Jesus is about to be crucified, and he's preparing his disciples for what is to come.

--That why I call this a “Parable of the Kingdom,” because Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) what to expect in the new community that he is building.

--Let's begin by looking at those bridesmaids who were prepared.

--Most of us would put ourselves in that category, right? (Remember the salad dressing. . .)

--To be prepared in this context means to have enough for yourself, but not enough for others—doesn't that sound a bit cruel?

Think about it this way: we can only fill our own lamps. As much as we try, we cannot force others to come to Christ, nor can we learn their lessons for them. The bridesmaids who remembered their oil knew the lesson that every lifeguard learns; you cannot save a drowning person if they pull you under first.

--Are we then to be selfish? (Grab all the grace I can and leave nothing for others?) No, but we are to do like they tell you on the airplane-- “In the event of a sudden drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the compartments in the ceiling above your seat. If you need to help a child or another passenger with their oxygen, please put your own oxygen mask on first.”)

--We are to be grounded enough in our faith that we can fill up our own lamps before we can be of use to anyone else.

The lesson of the wise bridesmaids is simple: Fill up your lamp, and be prepared for any eventuality. (God often surprises us-- these stories all take place in the middle of the night—a time when unexpected things happen.)

--Now, to the foolish bridesmaids. They didn't have enough oil for their lamps. Pardon the blatant stereotype, but these are the sisters of the Gamma Gamma Phi sorority, the party girls, who don't study and hope that they'll get by on their charms and family connections. These are the bridesmaids who show up at the rehearsal an hour late because they had to get their nails done, who demand that everyone listen to them and pay attention to them instead of the bride and groom, and who show up on the wedding day and talk about how their wedding will be so much nicer. (I don't have anything against weddings, really, it's just that I've seen too much of what goes on behind the scenes to have a fairytale outlook on them any more.)

--The foolish bridesmaids are the ones who think that it's all about the wedding day, and not about the important task at hand—the wedding of two people together for a lifetime of days, spent caring for and loving one another and those around them.

--So the foolish bridesmaids don't have enough oil. Ever felt like that? Ever known anyone who was perpetually like that? (We had a guy at camp, whenever we went out for wings, who always wanted to go “halvsies” with someone, and then mysteriously never had his full half!)

--These bridesmaids expect everything to be handed to them on a platter. They don't want to think about what's coming up in the future—they want to party now! And living in the now moment becomes such a high for them that they forget that tomorrow there will be a new 'now' that needs their attention, and that they will be left out in the cold if they don't act in the now now.

--But in this case, when they ask for some oil from the wise bridesmaids, they get denied.
(What? But I've always had someone who would help me out!)

--Ever felt like that? (Ever known anyone like that?)

Oh, so that's what responsibility is all about! Oh, I didn't know that if I took a high risk variable rate mortgage that my rates would go up! Oh, I didn't realize that student loans had to be paid off! Oh, you mean to tell me that credit cards aren't free money? (Wow, this is like my college days all over again!) Or, in the case of Wall Street-- Oh, you mean that we can't just keep offering people cheap loans and huge lines of credit? What? The market for that kind of stuff will eventually implode and cause a financial crisis?

Help! Bail me out! Just this one time, I swear it won't happen again! Just go halvsies with me, won't ya? Just this one time!

The lesson of the foolish bridesmaids is this: sometimes, we have to learn from our own stupid mistakes. Sometimes, there are certain lessons in life that can only be learned the hard way. (I see some nodding of heads—am I breaking through here? Are we finding common ground in our experiences? I think so.)

But—and this is a biggie—God is a God of grace.

--Forget for a moment what the groom says at the end of the story, about the other bridesmaids being shut out of the wedding banquet, and look at this from a different perspective.

--Some of us are like the wise bridesmaids, and some of us are like the foolish bridesmaids, but I would venture to guess that at one time or another, most of us have been both of these characters.

--When we are the wise, prepared virgins, God reminds us of this simple lesson: Don't forget who gave you the oil for your lamp to begin with. Don't get ahead of yourself. You remember what it was like when you didn't have enough oil. Get out there and remind others how to get it, too. But remember, if the foolish ones need to learn the hard way, the best thing you can do is let them do just that.

--When we are the foolish, unprepared virgins, God gives us this message: Wake up, get out there, and go get yourself some oil. Ain't nobody gonna do it for you. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and don't expect anyone else to hoe your row for you. But remember, when you hit rock bottom, someone who has enough oil will help light your way so that you can come back and get filled again.

--So, how do we get our lamps filled with oil? (Spent this weekend with the E.Ohio Clergy Spouse Retreat—talked about prayer—I can’t help you with your hang-ups; I can’t teach you to pray; I can’t fill your lamp, and you can’t fill mine; some preachers might end with a five point plan on how to fill your lamp; others might preach a whole series, with a visual of a lamp being filled with oil each week; as you know, I’m not a gimmicky kind of preacher)

That’s the lesson of the bridesmaids—no one can find out how to fill your lamp but you.

Story—“Why I Make Sam Go to Church” by Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies, pg. 99-100)

Well, maybe no one can fill your lamp but you, but it sure helps to have a community of faith like the one in the story, and this one here, to help you out when you need it.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sermon--October 26, 2008

“Toward the Promised Land”
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
By: David E. MacDonald
October 26, 2008 (Reformation Sunday)
Niles First United Methodist Church

Moses ben Amram, aged 120, formerly of Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, died yesterday somewhere in the mountains just outside the Promised Land. He was the eldest son of Amram of Jochebed, slaves in Egypt. He was a member of the Tribe of Levi, rescued during the days of the Egyptian troubles by his birth mother, and raised in the Palace of Pharaoh, just outside Cairo. After an unfortunate incident, during which an Egyptian guard was killed, Moses wandered in the wilderness for a while, tending the sheep of his father in law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; this experience would serve him well in later years. After returning to Egypt to free the people of Israel, he led them through the wilderness of Zin for 40 years, beseeching God on their behalf, and bringing laws and messages to them on God’s behalf. Moses died after his last encounter with the LORD, and his body was secretly buried somewhere in the valley of Moab. Place of Interment is not known. He was preceded in death by his mother and father, his brother, Aaron, and his sister Miriam. He is survived by Joshua, his chosen successor, and all the people of Israel. Memorial donations may be made to the “Moses ben Amram Settlement of the Promised Land Trust,” care of Joshua ben Nun.

That might be one way to write Moses’ obituary—at least if it had been written today. But here’s what the writers of Deuteronomy chose to put as the last words on the great prophet Moses:

10Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

(How’d you like to be the pastor to follow that guy?)

--The mysterious circumstances of his death and burial aside, the story of Moses’ final encounter with God, and his death just before the people of Israel entered the Promised Land is an intriguing story.

--Having said that, it also seems an odd biblical account for Reformation Sunday, the day when we remember our heritage as Protestant Christians.

--But, I think that Moses and the great reformers of our faith are not that dissimilar, save for the fact that we pretty much know where Luther, Wesley, Calvin, and others are buried . . . and none of them had the good fortune to live for one hundred and twenty years!

In Jude, v. 9, the author refers to a battle over Moses’ body between Michael and Satan. (There may have been a book called “The Assumption of Moses” that survived until the 6th century, and then disappeared.)

Just as the legacy of Moses was tangled over and pored over for centuries, so the lives of the Reformers of the faith have been fought over for many a year. Today, we can find ways to use Wesley’s words to “prove” almost any point. (BTW, the same is done with the Bible)

But great reformers and leaders of the faith, like Moses and Martin Luther and John Wesley, provide us with some lessons that are important for us to learn.

God has a plan.

It’s not all about us.

Reformation is about moving forward, not turning back.

Training up those who will follow us in leadership is the most important thing that we can do as church leaders today.

--God has a plan

--God’s plan for Israel began well before the story of Moses. In a way, the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch, form a story “arc” that begins with creation, follows the story of Abraham and his descendants, through the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, and then back out of Egypt and back to the land promised to their ancestors. It is a story about a people who deeply and painfully experienced the loss of intimacy with God (symbolized by the abundance of the Garden of Paradise), and try desperately for generations to get back to something akin to that intimacy of relationship again.

--I believe that God has a plan for all people: that we have all lost that intimate connection to the Divine, and we are all on a quest to somehow get back to Eden, to experience what it means to live as God’s people.

--The story of the Reformation is all about people who wanted to “Get with the Plan,” who tried to steer the people of God back onto the right track.

--Martin Luther (Indulgences, Scripture)
--John Calvin (Preaching, Heaven/Hell)
--William Tyndale (Bringing the Bible to the people in English)
--Count Von Zinzendorf (Moravians; Holiness of Heart and Life)
--Wesley (Care for the poor; Evangelism; Zeal for the whole Gospel)

--God has a plan, and the plan is hard for us to know sometimes. We get sidetracked with our own issues and dilemmas, our own pains and losses, and we forget to keep searching for the Plan. The Plan is not always clear, sometimes God deliberately wants us to wander for a bit, just like the Israelites did, so that we learn some important lessons.

--A word of caution: When I say “WE” here, I’m referring to the General “WE,” not each of us specifically.

(e.g. , the notion that “God has a plan” can apply to every person’s individual situation is not a valid Biblical statement; God has intentions for us, God wants what is best for us, but it is by no means part of God’s plan that some individuals should suffer, and others should have disease, and others should die too young. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the Plan that God has for each of us [as a part of the whole] to be connected with God!)

Perhaps this can be better explained by my second point:

--It’s not all about us. (Individually)

--One reason that some scholars believe Moses’ burial place is not known to us is that God may have wanted to avoid a sort of “spiritual tourism” racket that could have built up around Moses’ remains; a “cult of personality” that might develop as the people of Israel might want to return to the sight of the burial of their founder and chief prophet, perhaps to remember the anniversary of his birth or death. To avoid such quasi-idolatrousness, God chose instead to make the transition into the Promised Land not about Moses, but about the People. So, it came time for Moses to meet his end and go gently into the night, while his people thrived for centuries.

--That’s why I have a problem with preachers who name their ministries after themselves, because my question is, “What happens when you die?” Unless you’ve named your son or daughter after you and have named that person as your successor (which is what Robert Schuler did), you are basically setting yourself (and your ministry) up for immediate crisis and potential failure at the moment of your demise.

--So, nothing against the Lutherans or the Wesleyans, but that’s why I’m glad to be called a “Methodist,” because that is a term that applied to all the people who followed Wesley, not just a few of them. (Explain the term)

--So sometimes we are like Moses: we have to leave everything on the mountain top, and allow another person, perhaps one who is more capable of carrying on what we have begun, to carry on the work.

(Paul struggled with this: “some plant, some water, some tend, some harvest”)

--Recognizing that we may not be the ones to reap the harvest that we sow is perhaps the most difficult lesson for us to grasp today.

But do you imagine that Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517 believed that he would see the end result of all that he had done?

Do you think that John Wesley, preaching the in the fields and coal mines and town squares of England ever though he would see the day when the people called Methodist would number in the millions around the world?

Do you think, even for a moment, that the seasick pilgrims of the Mayflower thought they would see an independent nation on the North American continent, or that the slaves carried over the Atlantic in the bows of ships knew that someday their people would see freedom, and the same opportunities offered to the descendents of their slave owners?

Never! That which we begin may not have an immediate impact. The programs and ministries we start now may take lots of time to come to fruition, but every good thing worth doing has always been this way.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, himself a kind of Moses figure for the poor and oppressed of El Salvador, once wrote:

It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capability.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
(When Moses died, the people mourned for 30 days, and then moved on. This is the story not only of Moses, but of the whole people of God!)
Sometimes we are Moses, and the best thing we can do for the betterment of the world, the improvement of the Church, and the reformation of our society is to plant seeds and then get out of the way and let others reap the benefits.
--On the other hand, sometimes we may be called upon to be Joshua, to take up the mantle of those who have gone before us, and to carry on the good work of God’s plan. Reformation is about moving forward, not turning back.
Image of a ship on the wrong course:
Common response is to “turn the ship around.”
Do we really want to “turn the ship around”? Or, do we want to “correct course”? That’s what Joshua did for the Israelites—he didn’t take them back to the so-called “comforts” of Egypt, but corrected their course (improved their vision) towards the Promised Land.
Perhaps the better image for this Reformation process is that of a train; if it goes off the track, our goal is to get it back on track so that we can reach our destination.
Today, the Church is in need of a new kind of Reformation. We live in a very different world from that of our ancestors in the faith. We live in a time that is beset with fear and misunderstanding—between cultures, governments, and religions.

For some, the answer is to go back—to become Fundamentalists, unmoving and unchanging our beliefs and practices. But this is the very antithesis of Reformation! This is the opposite of what Joshua did when the people lost their beloved leader, Moses. He took them onward, moving toward the goal of getting closer to the plan God had for them. He knew that what lay ahead was infinitely more promising than a return to what was a familiar, but by no means more comfortable position as the slaves of Egypt. Fundamentalism, of any variety, is a dangerous distortion of the Divine plan of getting human beings closer to God.
Psalm 90:1-6; 13-17 (Superscript: “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God”)

--God is constant (“in all generations”; “everlasting”; “a thousand years . . . like yesterday”)

God is constant, but continues to bless. Our best days are not behind us, but before us, and God’s work is not accomplished because of us, but most often in spite of us! So we need to also be like Joshua, and move forward in advancing our knowledge of and connection to the divine.

--But, again, we also need to be like Moses. Training up leaders to follow us is the most important thing we can do as church leaders today.

--And we’re all church leaders! (Just ask the new members’ class. . .spiritual gifts)

--Moses recognized that he wasn’t going to live forever—120 years is a long time, but let’s face it, even the best of us succumb to old age at some point.

--Is the Church facing that today? Are we as a movement facing institutional “old age,” and needing to pass on the mantle to others?

--Majority of students entering seminary now are not training to become Pastors. (Yet, 40% of our active clergy will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, while we take in classes of new ordinands in the single digits.)

Moses’ death was seen as a “turning point in the history of Israel.”
John Wesley was a “turning point” in Anglican/Reformation history.
Are we at a “turning point” today? And what are we going to do about it?

--Start new ministries to reach new generations.
--Hand over responsibility and leadership to others (and accept that they may do things “the wrong way,” translated—differently)
--Be prepared to be mentors and advisors to a new generation of Christians. They are not going to be able to make it on their own. They’ll need experienced folks like we have here to help them understand the basics of the faith, and how to ground yourself enough to do the work that God calls you to do.

--So are you ready for a Reformation? Are you ready to see the Church enter the Promised Land—or at least get a little closer to it?

Rev. Clarence W. Davis is pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and he spoke these very powerful words at the funeral of a faithful member of his congregation not too long ago:

“So then, in this life, the best that we can do is to make a steady, joyful, determined, Godly march to Canaan’s edge. There at Canaan’s edge, we go home to be with God; and God comes to be with those who yet remain here on earth, on their own journey to Canaan’s edge.”

We march on—toward the Promised Land—and we must—we must—take the hands of others to come along with us—Joshua’s and Moses’ alike, so that we will get there someday together.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Casinos in Ohio? (I don't think so!)

Once again, someone is trying to convince Ohioans that we need our very own "casino resort," in order to prevent all those precious gambling dollars from leaving our state to go to Michigan, West Virginia, or any of the other crime-ridden states that currently support such types of gambling.

Casino gambling is a zero-sum game--it benefits the richest (a.k.a., the owners of the casinos), and penalizes the poorest (a.k.a., the working folk who waste their hard-earned money on a fleetingly "good time.") Meanwhile, the casino owners (many of whom don't live in Ohio anyway), benefit from the lowest taxes on earth for any business, a virtual monopoly on gambling (guaranteed by the constitution, if this issue passes), and a morally-ambiguous mission that doesn't create as many jobs as it promises, brings down property values, and causes other, even more insidious types of crime and decay in its wake.

Let me make this clear: No one--not you, not me, not this state--will benefit from casino gambling, except for the casino owners themselves.


(And yes, in case anyone is wondering, this is an official, and legal, position of The United Methodist Church, and a letter about this from the two Ohio bishops can be found here. In fact, the East and West Ohio conferences have a goal of 5,000 signs in church yards opposing gambling before election day--churches can advocate for/against issues, just not candidates.)

Yours most politically,


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Famous for Fifteen Minutes

Here is a link to my claim-to-fame (from the East Ohio Conference website, an article about my call to ministry and ordination).


Hope you enjoy! (Those who haven't seen it a bazillion times by now!)


Monday, August 25, 2008

Back Home Again

I have been on the move recently--a week in Indianapolis and Dayton for Urban Ministry things, and then a week away on vacation with the family. We spent a great week at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which we really enjoyed! I will post pics when we get them downloaded off the camera.

I'm mostly posting this today so my Mom won't call me and say "You haven't posted in a while!"
I'll write more later.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Senator's Prayer

Senator Obama has been on the move lately--traveling throughout the Middle East and Europe over the last few weeks. Kind of makes me sad, actually--we have heard a lot "about" him, but not much "from" him, since he's been on a whirlwind tour of photo-ops with the world's leaders. I respect what he's doing, though, trying to shore up his foreign relations credentials ahead of the fall debates, when his lack of experience will be a sure target for Senator McCain.

What dismayed me, though, was this article, and others like it, which reported that someone intercepted Mr. Obama's prayer to God (placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem), and printed it in a newspaper. Now, I regularly pray prayers that lots of people hear, and even sometimes print out prayers for others to use, but the prayers in the Western Wall are meant as direct intercessions to God, not as public fodder. What I pray on Sunday mornings out loud from the pulpit and what I pray privately on Monday mornings in my office are two different prayers altogether. We can be thankful that the Senator seems to have almost been mindful of the fact that his prayer might have been intercepted, because he actually kept the contents pretty genuine and general (No mention of "please help make me President in '08").

This incident, and all the hullabaloo about Mr. Obama's church in Chicago have gotten me thinking--to what extent do we want our politicians in this country to be genuinely religious? We want them to have the outward appearance of religion--to say the right words ("God bless the United States of America" at the end of every speech), but not to use challenging words of faith, or to be challenged by prophetic preaching (witness the Rev. Wright incident). We have what is called a "civil religion" in America, that is about 80% America, 10% Religion and 10% superstition (more on that breakdown another time), and Senator Obama is not the only victim of this. Though I do not see eye to eye with President Bush on almost anything, I can sympathize with him for facing persecution in some quarters when he talks about what I believe is a genuine faith in God's salvation. And, I felt sorry for John Kerry in '04, when he faced being evicted from his church's communion because of some of the positions he holds.

What we should be doing in this country is praying for our leaders--all of them, not just the ones we agree with--asking that God will give them the wisdom that they need, and that they will have the courage to do what is right for this country and for the good of all humanity.

So, let's spend less time worrying about what's in Obama's prayer, and more time worrying about what's in our own.

Prayerfully yours,


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday @ the Mall

I spent my first Tuesday afternoon at the mall this week. It was a bit uneventful--I talked to about a dozen families about VBS, got two prayer requests, and had one man ask me where the restrooms were! All in all, I think it's going to take time to build up a "presence" for our congregation at the mall, so I'm going to try to keep up the program for a while.

Next week starts VBS, so it will be pretty busy around here. I am playing the part of Flame, the Flamingo (he's a puppet with an outrageous French accent!), and the Bible storyteller. Looking forward to the fun!

I've posted a new picture of me in my ordination gear here, and I also posted some ordination pics on my MySpace page:

That's all for now,


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Post Ordination Wrap-up

I know, it's been a long time since ordination!

Problem is, I usually blog at the office, and my ordination pictures are all on the computer at home--sometimes that can be the longest hundred yards in the world when it comes to getting something from over there over here, and vice versa.

Here are some pics from the conference website. Check out the Retirement and Commissioning Service to see me receiving the mantle from Liz Spiker. The ordination service pictures have some nice shots, including several angles where you can see my bald spot prominently. And, the Wednesday afternoon business session has one picture of me doing a report for the Urban Ministry Team. As Aunt Sara has wisely stated, "Why not just cut down the whole tree. . ."

Ordination was a very moving experience for me. To be surrounded by so many who love and care for me, who have supported me through these many years, and who continue to support me in ministry was truly an honor. It was also very moving to have the Bishop place his hands on my head and call down the Holy Spirit to enable me to do the work I do. "Take authority" are the words the Bishop speaks to every Elder, while placing the stole around the neck. Those words--and that garment--come with some heavy-duty responsibility. I pray that I will continue to have the strength, by the grace of God, to fulfill those obligations.

As soon as Kelly e-mails me some pictures, I'll post them here.

In the meantime, I am gearing up for a week of vacation next week--just the kids and me, since Kelly will be going to "The Promised Land" (also known as the Usborne home office in Tulsa, Oklahoma) for her national convention.

While I've got the attention of about three people in the world, let me ask a favor: Please keep my friend, David Rittgers, and his family in your prayers. David is the pastor of one of our new church starts, "The Orchard Path." He just started on July 1, has no congregation, and his wife is serving as the church secretary. Keep them in your prayers, that they might be able to reach many people with the message of Jesus' love.

In Christ,


Monday, June 02, 2008

Ordination Thoughts

Thinking about ordination (again), and what it all means.

Heavy stuff.

"Vito's Ordination Song" by Sufjan Stevens has been swirling through my head for several days now. It's a beautiful song (I need to get the CD):

I always knew you in your mothers arms
I have called your name
I've an idea placed in your mind
to be a better man
I've made a crown for you
put it in your room
and when the bride groom comes
there will be noise
there will be glad
and a perfect bed

and when you write a poem
I know the words
I know the sounds
before you write it down
when you wear your clothes
I wear them too
I wear your shoes
and your jacket too

Ialways knew you
in your mothers arms
I have called you son
I've made amends between father and son
or if you haven't one
rest in my arms
sleep in my bed
there is a design
to what i did and said

I don't know who Vito was/is, and I don't know what his circumstances were when he was ordained, but I sure do know that these words speak to me. . ."I always knew you/in your mother's arms," "I know the words, I know the sounds, before you write them down." God's relationship to us--all of us--is so close that he knows us better than we know ourselves.

God calls all of us to special ministries--within the Church and in the World. As I near the taking of my ordination vows, I begin to feel the weight of my call bearing down on me, but I also feel God's protection, and the rest that God promises to the faithful. I also know what it means to lay aside my "heavy burden," and take up the lighter yoke of service in Jesus' name. I only pray that I can be faithful to that call, as God has been faithful to me.

Here's a YouTube video of Sufjan singing his song live (the quality isn't great, but the song is!)

"I always knew you. . ."
"Before you knit me together in my mother's womb"
"In your mother's arms."

Thanks be to God.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Class of 2008

Today, I gave the baccalaureate address for the Niles McKinley High School class of 2008. Boy do I feel old! When I was graduating high school, these kids were still in pre-school! O.K., I am not that old, but thinking about that fact makes you pause for a moment.

As I spoke this afternoon, I wondered, 'What are we accomplishing here?' Another milestone on their way to the cap and gown, another step on the way to bigger and better things. What could I possibly say that could inspire these kids? Not much. But I hope that this service was an opportunity for them to hear that their community loves and honors them, and that we're all behind them in their achievements. I hope they saw a young(er) pastor, and thought, 'Hmm, maybe I could do that some day--though not in as geeky a way, for sure.'

The phrase that I began my sermon with was the quotation by Abe Lincoln that was carved into the Summit county sandstone in my high school auditorium-- "I will study and get ready, and perhaps some day my chance will come." Prophetic words from a young Lincoln, unsure of what to do with his education, and not sure how he could ever make a difference in this world as a gangly lawyer from Illinois. Now, another gangly lawyer from Illinois (by way of Hawaii and Indonesia) is poised to make just as much history, thanks in no small part to Mr. Lincoln's leadership.

I think I'm going to go outside now and get my bike ready for the riding season. Our church is taking a bike ride (gulp--22 miles round trip!) at the end of June, and I am pretty sure I am not in any shape to attempt that without any buildup.

See you on the road,


Friday, May 02, 2008

It's Over! (For me, anyway)

Well, my 2008 General Conference experience has officially come to an end. The delegates are still in session, but our shift as marshals and pages has ended, so we are all back at our hotel rooms, relaxing and packing for the journey home. I'm tired, but it has been a good two weeks, and I have learned a lot. This will be a short blog post, because, frankly, I need to get away from General Conference for a while before I can fully digest all the information and experiences that I have racked up while here. Watch this space for future reflections. For now, I'm going to bed.

Pray for safe travels for all of us returning home in the next 24 hours.


At the Crossroads

Today, I found new hope for The United Methodist Church in the form of Bishop Hee-Soo Jung. Bishop Jung, the preacher at this morning's worship, spoke of the need for our denomination to recognize that we are at a crossroads--what he called "the intersection between holiness and hospitality." Holiness describes our connection to God, a deep relationship that gives us strength. Hospitality describes our connection to others--a wide embrace of all people, created in God's image. Bishop Jung also spoke of the need to "re-member" the Body of Christ--meaning that we need to be able to see a way to put ourselves back together. Too much focus on either holiness or hospitality creates a false idolatry--one that we all too often fall prey to in the Church. Bishop Jung closed by reminding us that, ultimately, it is not we who save ourselves through having the right opinion about Jesus, but Jesus who saves us by his love--stretched out on the cross.

This sermon gave me courage. It gave me hope (there's that word again!). It gave me a reason to believe that The United Methodist Church does have a future, despite our differences, and despite the idolatries that sometimes get in our way.

It's really late, and I'm going to bed. Only one more day of General Conference left, and miles more to go. . .

Traveling on to perfection,


P.S.-- I finally got to connect up with Aunt Sara's pastor, Rev. Jim Winkler. He said that he thinks very highly of her and Carl Henry, and believes that Carl would "eat this up" if he were at General Conference.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Word For Those Who Are Discouraged. . .

Tonight was not a good night for justice in The United Methodist Church. Once again, our denomination's top legislative body voted to keep the exclusionary language that defines homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching," and to deny even the possibility of ordination to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. It hurts. I know, I felt it too, and I cried along with the delegates and visitors as hundreds sang "Jesus Loves Me" in a tribute to those left behind by our denomination. But I also have hope.

I have hope because of a few simple words spoken by Bishop Judy Craig in the summer of 2007. She said, (I am paraphrasing) "General Conference is one thousand delegates in one big room for ten days. But it is not the Church. The church is out there, in your communities, where people meet God every day, and all are welcome." That's why I have hope, because I know that the people I serve back in Niles are loving, caring, committed Christians, who would welcome anyone who came to their doors, and would love any person who truly wanted to be a part of their community. I also know that there are many more people out there like that, in communities all across the globe. Our United Methodist Church is bigger than the one thousand people in that arena, many of whom were elected either through name recognition or their position on this very issue.

Ultimately, my faith in God and in Jesus Christ is not dependent on the words and actions of General Conference. My faith is based on the love of God, which I have experienced through the sacrificial love modeled by Jesus, and lived out by the people around me--gay and straight, conservative and liberal, Methodist or not.

Now, for my friends Mary K., Bob, Jane, and Tim, here's the story I told you all at breakfast this morning. For everyone else, it may be useful for you, too.

What I Learned from the Labyrinth:

Once, when I was walking and praying the labyrinth at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, I encountered a man who was walking the opposite direction. That is to say that as I was walking in toward the center of the labyrinth, he was walking from the center out. But, for a short time, we were on paths that were directly next to each other, and we were walking in the same direction. Even though we had different goals, we were both on the same journey. It is this way for us in life also.

I hope it helps. I know that I joke and get a little silly at times, but I really do care about these issues, and about all the wonderful people I have come to meet because of this General Conference. No matter what decisions are made here in Fort Worth, I will have discovered a new part of my Christian family tree, and that is worth the price of admission.

God Bless, and Pray for the Delegates and Staff,

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thanks to All Who Voted

The caption poll has closed, but I want to thank all those (all ten of you) who voted. It looks like "Bishop Palmer as Al Roker" has won the clear majority, with 70%. There will be a new poll up shortly. Please vote early and often.

By the way, I saw Bishop Palmer up close last night (I was a "stage page" again), and he really doesn't look all that much like Al Roker in person--in fact, he has mustache, which I had not noticed before, that makes him look distinctly un-Roker like. Oh well, it was still pretty funny!

Yours photogenically,


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Visit From the President (of Liberia)

Today, we heard from the President of Liberia, Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Bishop John Innis, the bishop of Liberia, introduced the President by telling the remarkable story of how she came to be president and how she came to speak to us. She has had a fascinating journey, even having been put under arrest once for speaking out against the government of the time. In 2006, she became the first woman to ever serve as president of an African country.

The president has a distinguished, almost regal, air about her, and speaks with the careful consideration of a person who is well acquainted with speaking to crowds as large as this. She was greeted by a thunderous standing ovation, accompanied by the ululations of several African women in the hall.

I found it particularly touching that Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf was also welcomed by the children of the “Hope for Africa” children’s choir, about whom I have already blogged. What a message of hope for these children—not only that a person from their continent is addressing the General Conference, but that a woman—the first woman president in African history—has proven that a child from Africa can become whatever he or she desires to be.

Some comments from the speech:

-- 3 billion people (nearly half the population of the world) live on less than $2.00 a day.

-- 270 million children around the world have no access to health services.

--1 child dies every three seconds from preventable causes.

--Many children in Liberia were “drafted” to become soldiers in the civil war that took place in that country.

--44% of children in Liberia are enrolled in schools, the majority of whom are girls.

--Incentives are now being offered to talented people who will serve as teachers in rural Liberia.

--Development cannot succeed, unless the citizens are involved in conception and implementation of the development plans.

--The United Methodist Church has stood with the people of Liberia for over 175 years, since we sent the first missionaries to that country (the country’s first president, and the longest serving president, were both United Methodists).

The United Methodist Church owns and runs schools, hospitals, clinics, and rural outposts throughout Liberia.

The people of Liberia are thankful for the Church’s assistance in the past, but the people of Africa need the Church more now than ever before.

--Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf urged the delegates to consider establishing a Western Africa campus for Africa University.

--Children and Youth in Africa are truly our hope for the future; once, when the Presidential security team came through Liberia to prepare the way for the President’s convoy, children ran away. Now, when they know the President is coming, they flock the convoy and encourage her to get out and greet them.

“Liberia is on the way back. Africa is on the way back. There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Our world can indeed be made a future of hope and peace.”

After her speech, the president was greeted by the Council of Bishops, one by one. One bishop even paused to take a picture of her with his cell phone! I guess even bishops get a little star-struck now and then.

Once again, we are shown that there is a “future with hope” in another part of our world.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Hope for the Future of Africa. . .And, a little slice of Cowtown

Today, I sat in the plenary hall as the "Hope for the Children of Africa" Choir from Uganda practiced for a "celebration moment." Just a year ago, these twenty four children were orphaned and in extreme poverty. Now, they have been given food, clothing, a safe place to live, and a quality education. And, they have been able to travel to this country, to share their beautiful voices and smiling faces with all of us. I cried as I listened to them, both during their rehearsal and during their performance. Their beautiful faith in Jesus Christ, who has meant freedom and a new life for them, touched me in a way I have not been touched in a long time. As I listened, I imagined my own two children, and how lucky they are to have a mother and a father, a home and a school nearby, and safety, food, and love in abundance. How lucky we all are in the U.S., and how complacent we become, when we take for granted all the blessings that God has given us. How blessed we are when we can realize the gifts God gives us--the simple things in life. I pray that the delegates got as much hope from this experience as I did. Maybe the memory of that moment will help them to make the wise decisions that are needed from them at this time in our church history.

A clip of the choir can be found by clicking here (The video is about halfway down the page).

On a different note, a group of us from the Marshal and Page corps went to the Fort Worth Stockyards tonight for some "Cowtown Culture" and a good steak. We accomplished both of these, first by taking a look-see around (I'm hoping that Mary K sends me a copy of the picture of all of us in front of the cattle pens--if she does, I'll post it), and then by going to dinner at Riscky's Steakhouse. Gooooooood eats! Everyone at the MacDonald house (barring the dogs and the cat) now has a souvenir, and I'm happy to have gotten the chance to see this interesting part of Texas.

Long day ahead tomorrow. The President of Liberia is coming to Conference, and there will be lots of work to do to welcome her.

Y'all take care,


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sin and Cell Phones

Much has been made over the past two days about “the cell phones.” This, of course, is shorthand (Methodist-speak, if you will), for a controversy that has arisen over a gift given by a special interest group to a block of delegates from outside the U.S.

It goes like this: The Renewal Coalition held a dinner for delegates from outside the U.S., or those from the “Central Conferences.” At this dinner, there was much talk about how The United Methodist Church needs to be renewed, and how we’ve gone astray, and how we must vote to keep the liberal agenda from destroying the denomination. At the end of the dinner, boxes were handed out to about 150 delegates from Africa and the Philippines. Inside these boxes were pre-paid cell phones—a gift from the Renewal Coalition. On top of the boxes were letters, from “Your Friends in The United Methodist Church,” encouraging, in part, that the African and Filipino delegates vote for a specific slate of officers for the Judicial Council, the highest "court" in the United Methodist "legal system."


You read it right.

Don't get me wrong, I think that delegates from outside the U.S. have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the technology afforded them, but it seems a bit underhanded, and yes, even a little un-Methodist, to go about rectifying the situation this way.

I wrote that "much has been made of this," but really, as I talk to folks back home, there's no indication that this news has even been a blip on the news radar screen. General Conference is such a rarified environment, filled with tension and a fair amount of exhaustion. Cell phones become a big thing when you're locked up in a convention center for two weeks with 1,600 petitions to get through. And tensions can get high when you're in such an environment.

I've been going around this week telling people that I'm much calmer this year than I ever have been about the outcome of General Conference. Maybe it's because I'm getting a new perspective on it. Maybe it's because I've grown since 2000. Or maybe it's because I've seen the care and concern that the delegates are showing in their committees and meetings. The Holy Spirit is flowing in the hearts and minds of the people here, even despite the politics and wrangling (no Texas pun intended). I see it in the careful attention to detail that Matthew Laferty (East Ohio) takes in chairing the legislative committee on Conferences. I see it in the way the delegates keep reminding one another to "slow down," so the translators can keep up, and the non-U.S. delegates can hear. I see it in the hallways and in the hotels and on the shuttles, when the barriers are down and the fatigue of the day has set in. And, I see it when we worship, and 3,000 plus voices are raised in praise of the Almighty God.

Call me an optimist, or maybe I'm just still hopelessly in love with this denomination, but I still think there's hope. I really need to get some more sleep--I'm getting too mushy.

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rural Ministry, Bishops, and Central America, Oh My!

This morning's plenary session was filled with reports from committtees and study task forces. We heard from the task force that has studied the issue of bishops in the church, and some of their recommendations. Then, we heard from our friends in the rural church, as they highlighted the fact that Jesus himself came from a small rural town (Nazareth). Finally, one of my favorite bishops, Minerva Carcano (Desert Southwest), along with Bishop Elias Galvan, presented the report of the task force to study the relationships between The UMC and the various Central and South American Methodist churches, and the Methodists in the Carribbean.
It was all very interesting--not that I had much time to focus, since I was up, down, and all around, passing notes with important information on them ("Meet me for lunch at Joe's"). Everyone wanted the people on the stage to know that it was COLD in the arena--not that the stage party had to be told--it was positively frigid!

After the morning session broke up, there was a communion service, held at the central table, which is at the intersection of the four sections of delegate seating. It was a small crowd, not nearly a huge percentage of the delegates, but the best part of the thing is that "outsiders" were allowed to participate. The bishop who led the service spoke mostly in French, and it was interesting to hear the liturgy, so familiar to me, spoken in a different language than my own. It was actually pretty easy to piece together what was being said, since he followed the standard United Methodist liturgy. What an example of inclusion!

Bob (my roomate) and I attended the Rural Life celebration (free lunch), and I got to see the Fort Worth Water Gardens--a literal oasis in the middle of this bustling city.

One thought that has been on replay in my head this morning is this quote from Bishop Hutchinson: "Have we as a Church been baptized into form, but not yet into power?" I pray that the delegates of this conference will continue to feel the presence of the Spirit of God, and will be "born from above" as they make decisions that are important not just in this convention center, but around the world.

Taking a break for now,


P.S.-- Thank you to the person who sought me out in session today to tell me you quoted from my blog on your blog! I'm sorry I forgot your name, but if you see me again, please make yourself known!

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Quiet(er) Day.

Today was relatively quiet for me. We were able to sleep in, since our shift didn't start until 1:30 in the afternoon. I was slated to work the legislative committee on Higher Education and Ministry. The committee had broken up into sub groups in order to deal with the large load of petitions they had, so I was assigned to the sub committee dealing with Candidacy for ministry. They had an interesting discussion regarding the purpose of the candidacy process, and the "kinks" in the current process. I found it hard to: 1) not chime in on the discussion, and 2) not fall over, since my feet were killing me! I did get a chance to be useful, though, which gives me a sense of job satisfaction. I also got to see Valerie Stultz (my former D.S.), who is a member of the sub-committee.

During my off time this morning, I took a little walk around the downtown area of Fort Worth. It's a very nice city! There was a clean air festival downtown, which seemed fun. I stopped in a bookstore and had a cup of tea and a snack, and generally took in the sights and sounds of the city.

Dinner tonight was one of the highlights of the day--Angelo's Barbecue, which had real authentic atmosphere, and some really good food! If you ever get to Fort Worth, leave the downtown area and head for Angelo's.

People are beginning to buzz about what's happening to the various pieces of legislation coming before the committees and the conference. One thing I've noticed here in Fort Worth that was not evident in Cleveland is the distinct feeling that people actually want to have a civil discussion. Sure, there are nutters on both sides of every issue that want to have it their way or no way, but you'll have that. What I've observed on the part of the delegates this year is a concerted effort to make sure that everyone's voice is heard, that fairness takes precedence over politics, and that the Spirit of God is felt in everything they do. All this makes me believe that there must be "a future with hope" for our Church.

Tomorrow, I will get my first chance to serve on the plenary floor of the conference. I will be sitting by microphone number 12, helping the delegates fill out the paperwork that must be submitted every time they speak to an issue or make a motion. I look forward to getting the chance to see the workings of the conference from that perspective--something that I've been wanting to do for a long time!

Pray for the delegates as they work through a long weekend.

I'm going to bed,


Thursday, April 24, 2008


Check out this picture, and then answer the poll to the left.

Have Fun!


A First. . .

. . .for me, and for the General Conference.

This morning, I was one of many thousands who witnessed, for the first time ever, a "Young People's Address" to the General Conference. As I said to my roomate, Bob, this was the first time I have ever felt that someone was speaking for me at a General Conference. These amazing young people, from all around the world, spoke some of the hard truths that our church needs to hear--about ministry with young people, and ministry in general. I applaud them for having the bravery and the eloquence to bring this message to us. When the address comes online, I'll post a link here.

I served (for 6 1/2 hours) this morning, as a "stage page," which meant that my job was to look after the Bishops. This was easy for the first two hours, since the bishops were not there! They were sitting around the outside of the bar of the conference, so that they could participate in the Episcopal address, which focused on the theme of holy communion. It was an effective presentation, expertly executed by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher. When she was finished, I had a piece of mail to deliver to her, and she had a distinctly relieved look on her face!

I spoke with Bishop Hopkins today, along with some of the other members of the East Ohio delegation, and have met several other very nice people. My fellow Pages and Marshals are some of the nicest people--I guess you have to be, in order to be able to tell people "no" with a smile on your face, as we have been occasionally called on to do.

One other thing-- pray for the safety of the Bishops. The stage on which they are seated has several different levels, and I had at least three Bishops almost land flat on their faces at my feet today. The last thing we want is a Bishop in a cast, or worse, in the hospital for something more serious. I made sure to say "please mind your step, Bishop," as often as I could remember!

God Bless everyone. Pray for me, as I go to serve soon in a Legislative Committee this evening.

Hope for the Future,


A Storm of Hope

Sorry no post yesterday--this was because of two reasons:

1. It was a long day. We had orientation for three hours in the morning, followed by a quick lunch and then worship rehearsal (an event that we sat through in its entirety, only to be told at the last minute by our supervisors exactly what we needed to do). Then, we had a few hours off to explore the convention center and get to know the lay of the land. Worship began at 6:00, which meant we were in place at 4:30, and we finally got dinner last night at 8:45. Thanks to the nice folks at Panera, we were allowed in at the last minute, before the restaurant closed, and they let us stay around after they locked the doors. That was great, because of reason #2.

2. There was a HUGE storm in Fort Worth last night! When we first arrived in Ft. Worth, I marveled at the very large storm drains, thinking, "Wow, everything in texas really is bigger!" Now I know why. This was not just a storm, it was a driving rain, pouring down deluge, what the old folks used to call a "gully warsher." Bob and I both got soaked--and I even had an umbrella!

All of this was nothing compared to the awesome opening worship last night. The theme of the conference, "A Future With Hope," provided the setting. As worshippers entered the arena, they were invited to dip their hands in baptismal fonts and asked to "remember your baptism and be thankful." (This was my job) I was interested at how this simple action forced people to slow down, breathe, and begin worship in a different mindset than they may have had when they arrived. The music was tremendous--there is nothing like General Conference music to inspire you! We heard music from Africa, Asia, the United States, and even a Charles Wesley hymn or two.

Bishop Janice Huie was the preacher. She spoke in her sermon of how the word "hope" has lost its muscle in today's world--people speak of hope as if it is a mere wish or desire, rather than faith in the unseen blessings of God. She called this former kind of hope a "marshmallow hope," that easily melts and changes shape under pressure or heat. But the hope that we have as Christians, and as United Methodists, is that God is a great God who has plans for us--plans that may not come to fruition until we are all long gone, but plans that will carry on the Church and the work of Christ more many, many, more years to come.

When we got back to our hotel last night, we found the storm had knocked out our electricity--thus, no blogging. But, it was a great day, filled with reminders of the Holy Spirit's presence in our Church, and with true Hope for the future.

Today begins the marathon of sessions, speeches, and standing around (for me), but I can't wait to get started.

Check out videos and live streaming coverage of the conference at the website here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm on the Ground

I have arrived in Texas, and the Lonestar state is hot! It was over 80 degrees when I arrived, but I planned ahead and wore shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. I met my roomate, Bob, at the airport, and he had a well-planned out route for us to take from the airport to the hotel. About three hours and three modes of transportation later, we arrived, had a great evening meal, and a good night's sleep. Bob is from the Wyoming Conference (not where you would think it is--, and has been a pastor for about as long as I've been alive! We've found some common interests and experiences, so I think we'll get along really well.

When we arrived in Fort Worth itself last night, we saw the convention center. It's true what they say--everything is bigger in Texas! The conference center takes up about four or five city blocks, and kind of looks like a space ship from the outside--must be the Texas connection to the space program. Folks here are very friendly and helpful, and of the non-natives, all the people we've met so far have been connected to the General Conference.

More later, but I wanted everyone to know that I'm safe, sound, and on the ground. I'll try to get some pics in future posts, so you can see some of what I'm talking about.

Take Care, Y'all,


Monday, April 21, 2008

One More Day!

Only one day left until General Conference starts. Pray for me as I head to Texas tomorrow. Pray for the delegates as they make important decisions, and participate in the "holy conferencing."

Information about General Confernce, and a very nice legislation tracking application, can be found at:

Watch this space for updates from the site of the Conference. . .

Yours in Service,


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Spiritual Gifts Assesment

For those of you who are members of our New Members Orientation Class, here is the link for the Spiritual Gifts assesment. Please complete it and bring your results to our next class.

For others, you might enjoy taking the assesment and finding out what your gifts happen to be, too!

United Methodist Spiritual Gifts Assesment (click to open)

Yours in Giftedness,


Monday, April 14, 2008

And So the Politicking Begins. . .

Despite a concerted effort on the part of the official channels of The United Methodist Church to avoid a "divisive" General Conference, the websites of the various caucus groups have begun their full-scale efforts to influence the voting of that body when it meets beginning next week.

Don't get me wrong, I think there is a significant place for the various interest groups, within and without our denomination. Many of the social justice issues that The UMC has taken a stance on in the past 40 years (and more, in our predecessor denominations) were taken because of pressure from groups like MFSA, BMRC, RMN, and yes, even Good News and the Confessing Movement. The Church needs to hear the voices of all its members if we are to truly have "Open hearts, Open minds, and Open doors."

Having said that, it is disturbing to me that many of the above organizations (and others like them) tend to see General Conference as an opportunity for more of the "us versus them" politicking that has taken hold of our denomination. Every four years, we see the gears turning, on both sides of all the "hot button" issues, to change our denomination either into a bastion of conservative theology, or a haven of liberal concerns. I have, in the past, been a part of these debates (those of you who know me well will know which side I have been on), and I still hold many of those same positions dear to me. However, I have grown to see that The United Methodist Church is a place where such differences of opinion can co-exist fairly easily, with opportunities to be in "holy conferencing" from time to time to allow ourselves a chance to breathe in God's Holy Spirit and seek the guidance of our collective wisdom on matters of importance to the Church and the World.

What concerns me is not that these groups have an agenda--we all have one of those--but that so many are willing to use John Wesley, the Book of Discipline, and even scripture to defend, build up, and support their positions. And, I am disturbed by the fact that no one seems to think that the fact that the "other side" seems to have just as many quotes to support their position--a fact that ought to convince us all of the folly of "proof-texting" to make a point.

All of this is a not-very-clear way of saying that I hope and pray that General Conference 2008 will be different--in tone, in style, and in substance. I pray that the delegates will be able to tackle the tough issues, even the ones that come up time and time again, but that they will be able to do so in an atmosphere of grace and graciousness, in a spiritof peace and cooperation, and in a manner befitting the call that we have to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Watch this space for updates from Fort Worth.

Yours in Service to Christ and the Church,


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Preparing for General Conference

Things are beginning to come together for my trip to serve as a Page at General Conference. I have my hotel (and roomate) lined up, flights to and from Fort Worth, and I'm beginning to get into the mindset of what it will take to be useful to the delegates, bishops, and observers of this interesting and monumental event.

Last night, while Kelly was at a meeting and the kids were in bed, I read through some of the almost 1,600 petitions that have been sent to the delegates--believe me, I don't envy those who have to read them in a more in-depth manner than I did! You can track specific pieces of legislation at the General Conference Website here. I am fascinated by the strange and sometimes downright crazy petitions that get sent to General Conference. For instance, there are two petitions (yes, I said two) that seek to change the wording of the Apostle's Creed. Apparently the Apostles didn't get it right the first time, so it's up to The United Methodist Church to put things right. There was also a petition seeking to hold lay staff members of churches up to the same moral (i.e. non-homosexual) standards that ministers are held to. Now, I actually have no problem with the denomination setting standards for ministers, but as far as I am concerned--I don't care who you sleep with at night, or what sort of relationship you are in--if you can do the job, you should be able to be hired by a local church, providing that the local church has no problem with your orientation or lifestyle.

Wow--that soap box can get pretty high sometimes; makes me dizzy. That's what I'm going to have to try to avoid as a General Conference Page. We received a list recently of the behaviors expected of General Conference staff, and one of them was that we are not to advocate for any cause or participate in any caucusing or lobbying. Fair enough. I'm looking forward to seeing G.C. from a different perspective this time. The last time I went, in Cleveland, I had no such restriction, and had a definite agenda as to what I thought should be the outcome of the Conference. Alas, we didn't rename ourselves "The Super-Wesley Bunch" then, and I don't think it's going to happen this time, either. (It's a joke--you're allowed to laugh.)

As I prepare, I invite all the readers of this blog (all three of you) to be in prayer with me: for the delegates, bishops, and staff of the General Conference, for the visitors to the Fort Worth Convention Center, and for the witness that we will make to the world in a few weeks' time that we truly are UNITED Methodists. Prayer resources for the Conference can be found here. Also, please pray for my feet and hips--which are always the first casualties when I have to be on my feet for long periods of time, which will happen a lot between April 22 and May 3.

Watch this space for updates,


Thursday, April 03, 2008

New Member of the Family

No, we're not expecting a baby!

Actually, we adopted a new "baby" to our family, in the form of a furry friend. He's about three months old, a collie/retriever mix, and he just showed up in the church parking lot about a week ago. We put an ad in the paper looking for his family, but no responses were forthcoming. We figure that he was probably dumped in the park by someone who either couldn't (or wouldn't) take care of him.

He's really cute, and we call him "Cheese." (Get it? Mack and Cheese!)

Potty training is going pretty well--he is down to only one or two accidents a day, depending on how observant we are!

Pictures will be posted as soon as we can get him to sit still long enough to get one that isn't a big blur.

Meanwhile, Mack and Tiger Lilly (especially Tiger) are going through the difficult process of accepting another fuzzy member of the family.

Covered in shed fur,


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Truly Holy Week. . .

Here we are in the middle of what most Pastors call "the busiest week of the year." Everyone I talk to says that Holy Week seems to have crept up on them this year. And it's true--it seems as if we just recovered from Christmas, and now we're in the middle of another holy season. But for me, though this week always brings a bit more busyness than usual, Holy Week is a chance for reflection and thought about what our faith is really all about.

Why did Jesus die on the cross?
What is up with the resurrection?
What does all this mean for me today?

These are all big questions, and for many of us, they are lifelong kinds of questions--the ones that really may never get an answer. But Holy Week is all about asking those questions. This season confronts us with our uncertainties, reminds us that they are neither new nor original to our generation, and helps us begin to answer them, each in our own way.

This year, we are marking Holy Saturday in our church, a new service for us as a congregation, but a very old service as far as the Church is concerned. During our Vigil, we will be reminding ourselves of the "between-time" and "between-space" that Saturday of Holy Week provides--from this vantage point, we can glimpse both the cross and the empty tomb. And then, at the end of the service, we will renew our baptismal vows. And I think that's appropriate, because it serves as a reminder that we always glimpse the cross and the empty tomb at baptism, for we have "died with Christ," and we are raised again with him, in the promise of eternal life.

So, if you have the answers to any of the above questions about Easter, let me know. I'll want to talk to you about them, because I think that what you will probably discover is that our "answers" to such questions can only ever be tentative, at best. But thanks be to God, when Christ appears to us again, "we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

A Blessed Holy Week to You,


Monday, March 03, 2008

I'm In!

I just got word tonight from the convener of my interview team for ordination--and I'm approved! 100% Grade-A recommended for ordination.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise God all creatures here below,
Praise God above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Thanks be to God,


Friday, February 29, 2008

Confirmation Station Up and Running!

The first post has been added to Confirmation Station.

Click here to go see it!

Yours electronically,


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A snowy day in Northeast Ohio.

Another snowy day in Northeast Ohio. This has been a wintery winter! Schools were closed in many of the surrounding communities--but not in Niles, where our motto is, "It builds character!" The Red Dragons were out in full force today--meaning that this town has the most character-built children in the country.

On a happy note, I have recovered from yet another bout of flu, this one having come on Wednesday of last week. I got over that in time for the Men's retreat at Camp Wanake this past weekend, and I am looking forward to a busy weekend this week. We have the youth group lock-in on Friday night, contemporary worship on Saturday, and the Baked Potato / Salad dinner (to raise money for my trip to General Conference) on Sunday. To top that all off, I have my interview for ordination on Monday (all day), followed by an Alumni Council meeting at Methesco on Tuesday. It's good to be well again!

For those who might be interested, I have started a second blog. I know, you must be thinking, "Why start a second blog, when this one is rarely updated?" But, this one is for the confirmands and mentors at the church. I haven't posted anything there yet, but I will soon, as information is forthcoming. Here's the link:

Happy Lent,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Being Sick Is No Fun

You name it, and our family has probably had it in the last couple of weeks--sicknesses galore!

I think we may finally be getting back on an even keel, though Kelly is still feeling a little queasy from the last bout of stomach stuff that she had.

Being sick and in bed reminds you of what's truly important in life--being able to hold your head upright, washing, keeping food down--things like that. It also gives you lots of time to reflect. Too bad I didn't do that. I played computer games instead (and watched primary/caucus results when they were available).

So, let this be a lesson for all of us--if you get sick, use your time wisely. Don't play computer games like I did; or, maybe your getting sick is God's way of reminding you to slow down, and that you need to try to beat your high score on Gem Blaster.

Be Well,


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some Links

A lot of people have been asking me about the churches I talked about in my sermon this Sunday. I am glad that the stories I told had such a positive impact for so many folks!

Here are some links that you might find useful, if you want to learn more:

Cass Community United Methodist Church

Second Grace United Methodist Church

Solomon's Porch

These stories have inspired me to think "outside the building" as I look forward to this new year. I can see our congregation being involved in so many great ministries as we reach out to touch the lives of people who are in need of the message of God's love and redemption.

As my part of going beyond our building, I plan on dedicating myself to starting a Christian meditation group somewhere in the Niles, Ohio area in the next year. I plan to advertise the group widely, and look for a meeting space (not in our church building--somewhere out in the community) where people can come together once a month for prayer and meditation.

Anyone got any suggestions on meeting places (preferrably free or very low cost)?

It's an idea--still in the germination stage, but a call from God that I'm feeling pretty strongly right now.

Think. Pray. Act.