Friday, May 21, 2010

Guaranteed Appointments

Lately there has been a lot of talk about ending guaranteed appointments for ordained elders in the United Methodist Church.

I haven't yet decided where I stand or how I would (theoretically) vote on the issue. I can see both sides of the argument. There's no question that there are lots of ineffective elders who get shuffled around from church to church, creating chaos wherever they go. These are people who, if they were part of a congregational polity, wouldn't be able to find a job. In theory, the system would naturally weed them out.

On the other hand, I share the concern of many female and ethnic minority clergy who already have a hard enough time being accepted by many churches. A lot of good has come from bishops appointing a female or a person of an ethnic group that the congregation might not necessarily feel "ready" for.

I am currently a Provisional Elder, so while I have not yet been fully ordained in full connection with my conference, in practice I fulfill the same function as a Full Elder. I agree to serve where I am sent. Three years ago the Clarksville District Superintendent called me up and said that the Bishop was appointing me to Bethlehem UMC, and I said OK.

In an article I read recently, the Commission on the Study of Ministry has recommended that the Book of Discipline be changed to to remove the guarantee of employment for Ordained Elders, but that bishops would still have the power of appointment.

I'm not sure how you can have one without the other. Elders make the sacrifice of going where sent because they have the assurance of a steady job with a minimum salary. The article claims that "iteneracy was never meant as a bartering system", but the guarantee is crucial in light of the sacrifices pastors make.

What happens when an Elder gets on the Bishop's bad side and the bishop decides to punish them? (and don't think it doesn't already happen)

If this person has been faithfully serving where they have been sent for a long time, and if each of these appointments has included a parsonage, what happens when the bishop decides not to appoint them anywhere? They haven't built up any equity to buy a home. They might have a spouse who has made a lot of sacrifices or even given up on their career to support them in ministry, to say nothing of their children!

I'll be very interested to see the final report of the Commission, because it seems like there are a lot of crucial questions that need to be addressed before such a drastic change is made. I agree that some fundamental changes need to be made in our system, but I'm not sure this recommendation as it currently exists is the way to go.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Seeing the Floods Firsthand

We've all seen a lot in the last week. Some of it on TV and the internet, and some in person. Here's a sampling of what I and some of my friends and family have witnessed.

Saturday afternoon: up until this point we were annoyed that the weather coverage was pre-empting the Kentucky Derby (as a Louisville native, the Derby is a high-holy day for Jessica) and preventing all but one of our guests from attending our Derby Party. Once we saw these images on our TV, we realized that the rain was no mere annoyance.
You can't see it here, but the lowest point of Dunbar Cave Rd. (very close to our house) was under several feet of water.

Here are several photos Jessica took on Tuesday when she took a brief walk from her office on 8th Avenue in downtown Nashville:
A submerged SUV on 2nd avenue.

A view from the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge of LP Field, where the Tennessee Titans play. The thing that looks like roller coaster track is allegedly a work of art.

Joe's Crab Shack.

On Thursday I went to a house in Hendersonville with my friend, Gavin Richardson, to do some cleanup work.
This woman hadn't thrown anything away in decades. The smells gave new meaning to gross.

One corner of her garage.

Just a few of the literally thousands of people who have some from all over the region and all over the country to help. The three people in the foreground were all from different states!

Please keep praying for our state. There are many areas that were hit very hard and will take a long time to recover. If you're so inclined, you can donate to the Red Cross or UMCOR, and if you live near Nashville and want to volunteer, you can connect with needs at Hands on Nashville.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Middle TN Flooding

OK, the last post was obviously a joke. But there is serious suffering going on in the Nashville area right now. Here are some ways you can help.

You can donate money to the Red Cross, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), or the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. These are all very reputable organizations, and you can be sure every cent of your donation will go to relief.

If you live in the area and can volunteer some time and energy, Hands on Nashville is doing a great job of coordinating volunteers.

If your church group or family can spare an hour or so, you can put together a Cleaning Bucket to help those whose homes have been flooded begin the recovery process. The page contains all the necessary items, and your local United Methodist congregation can help get it to the right place.

If nothing else, please take a moment to pray for all those who have been affected by the floods. If you're not the praying sort, radiate some good thoughts. Those are appreciated, too. We're in for a very long road to recovery here, one that will keep going long after the national media spotlight has moved on.

Who is Pat going to blame?

As the flood waters begin to recede here in the Middle TN area, we are beginning to survey the damage, asses how we did in the response, and what sort of things we can do differently next time so much rain comes in a short amount of time.

For help on this last question, we can always ask our old buddy Pat Robertson. Pat always helps us understand how the victims are to blame in any tragedy, whether it be Haitians after the earthquake, American society after 9/11, or Ariel Sharon after he had a massive stroke.

Who exactly will Pat Robertson blame for angering God so badly that He (remember, Pat's god is an abusive, insecure male deity with a very short fuse) would drown the city of Nashville, a place that is often referred to as "the buckle of the Bible belt".

I posed this question to my Facebook friends earlier today, and they had a couple of ideas. One culprit could be that enclave of theological liberalism, Vanderbilt Divinity School. Did you know they let a Jewish person teach New Testament there? For shame...

Another person suggested that God is angry with the Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville, for not allowing missionaries to pray or speak in "angelic tongues".

Still another suggested that the Christian Music industry is to blame, since one of its biggest stars, Jennifer Knapp, recently came out of the closet as a lesbian.

A friend who is also a Methodist pastor suggested that I am to blame. Draw your own conclusions on that one!

What do you think, dear readers? Who will Pat Robertson point his finger of judgment at? Best submission (judged by Jessica and myself) gets an honorable mention on the blog and the respect of your peers.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fox News on Mr. Rogers

I'm part of the generation that was "ruined" by Mr. Rogers, and I'm proud of it.

According to the fine folks at Fox News, "this evil man" has messed up a generation of kids by telling them that they are special for being just who they are, instead of telling them they have to work hard to be special.

First of all, I think Fox is playing with fire here. Many of their core audience are hardcore Calvinists, and Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, guys.

Second, Mr. Rogers was right. You and I and every single individual on this earth are special and wonderful for being exactly who we are. As someone trained in theology, Fred Rogers understood that this message wasn't just a cute saying on a poster, it is one of the core truths that the whole narrative of scripture is based on.

Genesis 1:26 says that God created human beings in God's image. If we are God's image bearers, then we are very special indeed. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:26, to be specific), Jesus tells his hearers that God takes good care of the flowers in the field and the birds in the air, and since we are much more valuable to God, we should not worry (easier said than done, of course). Mr. Rogers was right: we are very special.

This doesn't mean we deserve an "A" on every test, as the Fox News anchors claim. That's silly, and Mr. Rogers, Big Bird, and all the other characters I loved as a child never told me that. American kids who have a gross sense of entitlement can't blame that on children's TV. Come to think of it, isn't blaming our problems on others one of the things conservatives rail against? Hmmm...

Mr. Rogers was right. And I am proud to be part of the generation that he "ruined".