Curiosity killed the cat …

Three years ago I went to Jacksonville, Florida, all by myself. I don’t mind traveling by myself, but I usually know someone at my destination. I’m usually traveling to a place where I’ll meet someone specific to spend time with, or who will show me around (in the cases of visiting seminaries).

This time, I knew no one. I was going because God called me. Not so much to Jacksonville (although arguably God did call me there), but I knew I had a call to ministry. So I went to Exploration 2006, an event for 18-24 year olds who are considering ordained ministry in the UMC.

I can’t say my call was any clearer as a result of that experience. I know it’s supposed to help you in discernment (and it was as far as where I should go for seminary), but that wasn’t what I needed and it’s not what I got.

The most amazing part of that experience was walking into a hotel where I knew there were hundreds of other people of my generation feeling some of the same things I was feeling.

We all had experienced something supernatural. We all had experienced something of the Divine that said, “Do this crazy thing!”

The thing we hadn’t experienced was being in the same room with other people who had that same experience.

The life-altering experience for us was to be able to share our experiences, our feelings, our doubts, our fears, the complete ridiculousness of what was going on in our lives …

Going by myself ended up being a pretty awesome experience, too. A few of us who had all come individually ended up forming a great group to spend the weekend with (not to mention an awesome birthday dinner). Although we don’t all keep in touch anymore, I still have a bond with those folks that is unlike any other. I could hardly tell you a thing about any of their lives, but I know if something amazing happened in my life, I would be able to share it with them gladly.

I hope you will pray for all the amazing young people who will be at Exploration for the first time this weekend. Pray that they will open themselves to as many others as they can so they might open themselves fully to God’s plan for their lives and ministries.

Finding Security

It’s amazing how God takes us to places that challenge our sense of comfort and security. Often we think of finding solace and rest in God, but we forget often that God doesn’t allow us to become complacent in that rest. God is a god of Action and Re-Action.

Two years ago, I was thrown (willingly) into a place of serious insecurity. When I got to BU, I found out that there was a whole other wing of Christianity I was unaware of.

I went from being the most liberal Christian in the room to one of the conservatives, or, at best, a moderate.

I went from having the most religious education of my peers to having relatively none.

It was unsettling, to say the least. I felt insecure about my own beliefs because of the way they were discounted by those around me. I realized just how many moral and religious issues I hadn’t yet taken a stand on, and could therefore not really have dialogue about with my peers. It was a completely different social, geographical, and religious climate than I had ever existed in. Not to mention the whole world of Academia can just be intimidating.

But over two years, and even more I see it now, I became more and more secure in my environment. After a period of knee-jerk reactions (some unfounded and extreme, others rather reasonable), I began to find both my niche and my voice. In certain things I adapted and changed, and in others I remained steadfast, but with more sincerity and solidarity of opinion. I now see the halls of BU and the streets of Boston as a safe environment, much like home.

But I’m again entering a situation where the climate is unlike any other. I thought that at camp, and back in the South, I might feel at home again. It’s where I’ve been my whole life!

But I’m not the same person I was two, or six, or ten, years ago. The fact that I have changed has significantly affected where and when I automatically feel secure. Even Lakeshore last summer could be considered somewhat a place of insecurity because the faces have changed so much.

Now I’m in a place where although I feel supported by those I work with, and those who work for me, I have no guarantees about singleness of purpose. In my residency in ministry group, we all come from different backgrounds, both personally and educationally. I know for a fact that if I am not THE most liberal (hate the word, but it’s true) person in the room, I’m one of maybe two. I’m again worried about expressing my opinions for fear of others.

But this time, I’m less afraid of being railed on than I was before. I now am concerned that my opinions (for example, about a fellow minister’s extremely conservative alma mater that they have strong positive feelings for) will bring hurt to those around me.

I always found myself defending the conservative opinion at BU, and I will still defend the conservative religious opinion not because I think it is valid, but because there are people who need that kind of guidance and structure in their lives, and because many of those opinions are well-founded in Scripture (unfortunately sometimes not much else, though). Not all those who hold those stances are “crazies.” They aren’t all (at least not intentionally) oppressing the people around them. They aren’t necessarily bad people.

But I’m back in a place where that opinion doesn’t need any defense. At times I feel a little like Amos, a prophet in a foreign land. But I want to lovingly be a part of the community, without being discouraging or discounting to those around me, as my peers, I believe, unknowingly, did to me when I got to BU. I want to be able to have conversations where I’m not afraid to express my opinion and it will be taken seriously because I have gained the trust and admiration of those with whom I work and study.

We will see where this two-year journey takes me …

Devotional Practices

I’m in a provisional ministers’ group here in the NC conference, and we have our first meeting tomorrow. We’re reading a book called Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition, and it’s actually a kind of devotional workbook. However, from what I’ve read so far it is more about devotional practice than actually being a devotional itself.

In any case, it highlights some of the ways that John Wesley used devotional time in his life, as well as addressing the idea of a devotional life rather than a devotional time.

Some of the questions got me thinking (as questions usually are supposed to, especially in a workbook like this) about my own experience with devotional practices. My “quiet time” (although I hate that term) is currently non-existent, and it has been for a while now. I find myself only doing any kind of in-depth Bible study when I’m preparing for a sermon or to lead some kind of worship.

I realized today that my devotional practice often centers around others. Sometimes that means preaching or leading worship or Bible study, sometimes it means spending time in conversation with some of my staff or friends. But regardless, my greatest times of devotion always involve working with others in some way.

My most recent and strongest time of devotion was Summer 2008 working with the Discernment Group at Lakeshore. I could feel God closer than ever because of the way God worked among us as a group. My faith was strengthened as well as edified because of the way I saw God working in those students’ lives, and consequently in my own life.

Personal devotion time alone just has never felt sincere to me. I always have felt like I’m doing it because people say I’m supposed to, and not because God wants me to, or because I’m going to “get something out of it.” I get more out of being in community with others, seeing how God is working in their lives and being a part of that.

Maybe it’s because God has called me to ministry and logically I would be enriched by ministering to people, but I also am reminded of John Wesley’s mantra that “There is no holiness except social holiness.” That can certainly be taken to a number of different levels, from the concept of corporate worship to justice issues and beyond. But on a very basic level, I understand it to mean that I don’t feel like I’m participating in my own sanctification unless I’m working with others in some way.

What do you think? What is your devotional practice? Do you feel spiritually enriched in personal, solitary study or prayer? Or are you in my social holiness boat?

Quotes anyone?

One of the things that is a trademark (or at least we like to think it is) of Camp Don Lee is hospitality. We eat family style, provide cool bottles of water for everyone upon arrival, have rocking chairs all over the place (and what says Southern hospitality more than a rocking chair, really?), and we try to be generally friendly and helpful.

Well, one of the places we want to improve our non-verbal/physical hospitality is in the cabins. we want them to be welcoming places, places people will immediately feel comfortable.

Now anyone who has been here knows our cabins in no way resemble the Ritz. They aren’t dirty, they aren’t falling apart, they’re just CAMP CABINS. Most were built in the 50s.

We have lots of ideas to beautify the spaces, but one is to use the bedrails we have put on the top bunks as opportunities for beautification. We were thinking about putting some sort of comforting, inspirational, or nature-oriented quotes on them.

Bible verses come to mind first, but we do host school groups throughout the year. Although we are unapologetic about our United Methodist affiliation, we want to be inclusive and respectful.

So, I’m asking for two things:

  1. If you have seen things in a setting like mine that were welcoming or helped make you more comfortable, would you mind sharing those ideas?
  2. If you have quotes (one or two short sentences) that would be appropriate for this setting, I’d love to hear them.

Weekend #2

So begins the meat of my workweek — the weekend. It’s really interesting having a backward week. Right now, my “weekend” is Tuesday/Wednesday. Which really makes things interesting dealing with our retreat groups. I can’t tell you how many phone calls and e-mails I got over the “weekend” of Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s going to be an interesting thing to juggle, being sure I’m in communication with these people as often as possible but still taking time for myself.

Right now, I don’t really have a Sabbath time. It’s not like I have ever been very good at taking Sabbath time, but I know, theoretically, that it’s an important part of a minister’s life. But I’m happiest when I’m busy. I feel worthless if I’m just sitting around with nothing to do for a long period of time.

I started re-reading Harry Potter this summer during rest period, and I think that was good for me. It’s a little harder to find that kind of time now, though, because while I’m at work, I’m … working. And when I’m at home, I’m spending time with Will watching TV (right now catching up on LOST) or playing games.

I don’t want to lose the theological interest that I had during seminary, so I want to keep reading, but I also have a hard time spending money on books at this point.

And here I go, whining instead of celebrating what God is doing in my life.

On that note, I was walking across camp today to check on a cabin. I looked out over the river, past the pier, toward the ferry as it was crossing, and I realized how amazing my life is. I absolutely LOVE my job. I really do! It’s an amazing ministry, in an even more amazing piece of Creation. How blessed am I that I get to go to this “office” every day?

I love when my staff get here too. I love the fact that they’re willing to give up a weekend of college life to come here and make a difference in the lives of others. Others they don’t even know. They just know that this place has changed them, and there is something special about it. Really special.

I know how much a place like this changed me. It’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. So I couldn’t be more blessed to get to work with these young people and see their experience, much like mine, that may be changing their lives or the lives they’re encountering over a weekend.

God is SO Good. All the time.

I said I wouldn’t do it …

Well, I tried the blogging thing when I went to Boston, but it didn’t really stick.

Most days, I don’t really feel like what I do or what I have to say is of any consequence to other people, but I’ve really appreciated what I read on others’ blogs, even the more mundane things were appreciated.

I don’t intend to bare my soul or air any dirty laundry. I don’t think a blog is the place to discuss things like that. But I do want to highlight the ways God blesses my ministry and the people I encounter.

I really want to lift up the ways that God shows up in a ministry that sometimes feels more like hotel management than ministry.

I want to provide reminders to myself and to those around me that God is all over the place, and that God can use the simplest experiences to change minds and lives.

I hope this can become a forum for celebration of God’s action in the world, not the woes of a camp director. God is good. All the time.