Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Clergy Collar: A Story

So about 15.5 months ago I became the pastor at Chatfield United Methodist Church. One of the questions I kept asking myself coming into the placement was this: What am I going to wear?

I am a jeans and t-shirt guy. Always have been from a child on (okay actually up until about 6th grade I hated jeans...I wanted to only wear sweatpants and well Zubaz when they were popular...but never jeans). Well most every pastor I met "dressed up" for work (usually that meant slacks and a dress shirt...sometimes including a tie), did that mean I had to also? I mean seriously there is one thing I cannot stand doing: coordinating my outfits. (1) I stink at it (2) It takes too much time and effort and well money. Enter my solution: The Clergy Shirt with Clergy Collar!

Buy 5 shirts make sure you have the tabs and you are ready to go. Roughly a $175 investment and problem is solved. Black goes with everything and well everyone will know I am a pastor then (which by the way when you are young like me in a town like me....trust me....people say "you are too young to be a pastor"). Well I started out wearing slacks and the clergy shirt everyday, but eventually I found that even to take more time than I liked. Jeans and a t-shirt were just easy and well that is who I am. I am practical and I like comfort!

Well now fast-forward to this past week. On Wednesday I was going to visit a member of the church who was in the hospital. Well in Rochester at St. Mary's, clergy can park in the ramp for free. We just have to write our name and the church on the parking ticket and turn it in as we exit. Well usually when I go to the hospital I dress up so I at least look like a pastor (although there have been times where an emergency visit arose and I just went in my usual t-shirt and jeans). I dress up because I don't want to be hassled as I leave the parking garage (even though I never have been hassled....funny how that sometimes plays into our minds). Well I didn't want to be hassled that day and so I decided to put on the clergy shirt and head up to Rochester. I pulled in and the garage was full....30 minute parking for me....and so I headed up to the hospital room. I got into the elevator and was accompanied by a hospital worker with a load of laundry and a lady holding a coffee cup. That lady and I got off on the same floor and headed in the same direction (I was focusing on trying to find where room 297 was....if it was left or if it was right). The lady spoke up: "You wouldn't happen to be going to room 310 are you?" I replied: "Nope. Room 297." (Yeah as in introvert I kind of just directly answer questions sometimes and don't open the conversation up) The lady replied: "Well if you have time could you stop by?" I replied: "Sure. Room 310. I have to visit a member of my church first but I will stop by before I leave." (as in introvert this is my nightmare.....strangers....needed help....looking for answers....good news is I have gotten better at getting over that initial fear I get inside).

Well I go visit the person I came to see and then I say I need to go and stop in and see someone who asked for me before my parking runs out and I headed off. Down the hall to room 310. I opened the door and there was the lady from the elevator and an older lady on the hospital bed. I said "Hi" and I introduced myself (Pastor Justin Halberma)....well to simplify the rest of the story. They were Roman Catholic and the younger lady (the daughter) had thought I was a priest (because of the collar). They were wonderful people and Fran (that was the mother's name) was at the Mayo because something irregular had shown up on here EKG and so they wanted her to go down to the Mayo (she is from Babbit, MN). At the time I visited they were waiting to hear if she needed to have a pacemaker put in. I let them know where the chaplain offices were if they wanted a priest (or needed one later since I was going up to the Cities for a meeting the next morning) but also gave them my information if they needed anything. I said a prayer with them and wished them well.

I went back the next day to see if everything turned out okay (on my way back from my meeting), and they had. They thanked me for my prayers and we had some further conversations and I wished them safe travels the next day and let them know that when they are back in Rochester they can feel free to call me at anytime.

It was a blessing....and reflecting (because that is what I do..I reflect in my head all the time) in the car on the way to my in-laws on Friday it hit me. I wore that collar just so I didn't have to deal with a hassle (a hassle that has never occured) and yet God was at work in that to connect Fran and her daughter to me so that God could speak to them in a moment of need. That is a powerful thing to realize, that God uses our ridiculous notions and flips them to reach out to someone in need.

(And for your information I am wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt (Duke) today.....that is just who I am)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Not Easy

You would think that writing your own call narrative would be an easy thing.  However, as I sit in front of my computer right now trying to get this written for what seems like the 20,000 time, I stare with a blank face and a blank mind.

I just cannot bring myself to just copy an earlier narrative or even paste parts of an earlier narrative because my current context in life makes everything seem so different.  New parts stand out.  An event I didn't realize in my first account, now sits fresh in my mind as a major point within my call and continuing call narrative.  Life is so complex and one's call is just as complex.

It is at times like these that I wish my mind was like a computer disk that just stored stuff in a static format, but I guess that wouldn't be much fun now would it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rochester, New York: Vacation, A Baseball Game, and Two Prophets

Stacy and I had a wonderful trip to Rochester, New York to go to a wedding of one of her friends. It was the first time that she and I had been on a vacation together without our son since before he came along and so it was different. The funny thing is that was we were looking at things to do we saw all this cool stuff that we could be doing with Micah (I think this shows that once your identity has shifted to "Parent" you can never leave that identity).

As we were planning our "vacation" around the wedding we knew that we wanted to go to a Rochester Red Wings game (they are the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins), but we didn't want to get tickets until that day in case it was raining. Well Friday, July 4th rolled around and we decided to go to the ballpark and get our tickets and then go up to Lake Ontario. We waited behind a few other patrons and then got up to the window. Hoping to get some sweet seats I said: "We came all the way from Minnesota and are looking for the best seats you have. What is the Minnesota special?" Here is how the rest of the conversation went:

Teller: Well I tell you what. Everytime I have been to Minnesota people have been good to me so here is what I am going to do. (reaches into his pocket and pulls out some tickets held together by a rubberband) My family is working at the game tonight and we have season tickets so here you go. They are on me. (I am dumbfounded, just looking down at him slide the tickets through the window...I don't know if I am suppose to pay him or what...noticing my bewilderment he goes on). They are some of the best seats in the house right behind the Red Wings Dugout, you enjoy the game.

Me: (not sure what to say and struggling for words with that bewildered look on my face) Thanks. That is awesome.

So yeah, we wanted to go to a game, but we were the recepients of some radical hospitality by the teller who showed us what it means to take care of a guest. The game was great and the seats were awesome, but perhaps one of the best/saddest/craziest (not sure how to describe it) parts of the game was waiting in line for the gates to open.

Two men were standing on the sidewalk facing the large gathering of people waiting for the gates to open. Both were dressed in slacks and button up shirts and both had Bibles in their hands. Both had shaved heads with beards. One was tall and skinny, the other was short and pudgy, but both were there to "convert" heathens. I put convert in quotation marks because I don't know how much converting they were really doing. It was what I expected out of street prophets. Quote some scripture, tell everyone how they are wicked and will face judgment and then mention that Jesus came to give life and give us that "get out of judgment free card" if we just repented and turned towards God. Now personally I disgree with their theology from the get go and so I went into critique mode in a discussion with my wife. As they were preparing to quote scripture I told my wife that if they wanted to make some type of connection with the crowd they might want to quote a translation other than the King James Version, she agreed, but then the best part came. They short gentleman not more then one minute later talked about how we don't need "new translations" or different ways of speaking scripture because God had given it to us in true form (I am guessing he was referring to the KJV translation, which then gets into a whole different question of assumptions). I chuckled to my wife and I think he caught that, because then he went on a tirade to the whole crowd about how they were all bound for hell and he would periodically shout: "HA-HA yeah it is so funny. Laugh it up. You are all wicked. HA HA." Now to reflect a little bit more.

1. I think these gentleman are actually doing what they do out of their understanding of God and how God works in the world. For that I cannot fault them even though I disagree totally with them. At least they are being authentic to what they believe.

2. I think the way they were doing things was totally done in the wrong context. Even if you do go by the "Turn or Burn" theology, historically this has had the most "relevance" in a community known by the "Turn or Burn" prophet. Jonathan Edwards was good because he spoke to people who gathered to hear him. Same with most of the "Great Awakening" speakers. People came to hear them and so they were open to what was being said. These two gentlemen were speaking to people who were gathered waiting to go into a baseball game not hear someone yell at them about the state of their soul in eternity.

3. If you are going to speak like that then "know" the people. They talked to everyone as if they were sinners who did not know God's grace, yet they really didn't know any of the people gathered there at all. They didn't know that they were speaking to a young methodist minister, in fact they didn't know anyone. If you really want to change peoples' lives then you better know who they really are first.

4. Context is everything. Know your context. Quoting an old english translation of the Bible isn't going to be very relevant to a modern crowd because they are going to equate that language with so many other things. Language is a key to communication and if you aren't speaking their language then you aren't going to communicate with them. Paul did this in his evangelism. He would correlate understandings and speak to the reality he knew. The way I would best challenge this is the following. If these two gentelemen were to go over to say Germany and do the same thing, would they speak in English? If they really wanted to reach people they would speak in German. The same goes here in America, learn the language (and language is very complex and not just a spoken thing) of the context you are in and speak in the terms people would understand.

I will probably be reflecting on this trip for a long time, but I wish these two prophets the best in their lives and hopefully they will also see that God is so much more than a God of judgment.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 Minnesota Annual Conference: "Change is Strange"

The 2008 conference opened last night with Bishop Sally Dyck's Episcopal Address. As usual it was a wonderful address that was both challenging and uplifting simultaneously. Change is strange! It is something that is different. Change takes out of what we know ias comfortable and introduces us to a different way of being or thinking.

It hit me as I was reflecting today that I haven't created an avenue for many at Chatfield UMC to express their anxieties, fears, or hopes that may be e result of the pastoral change when I was appointed last year. The change was probably drastic. Going from a retiring pastor who had been in the ministry over 30 years to a probationary pastor who was just beginning his ministry had to be a system shock to a certain extent.

It is my hope that the change has brought some strange things, but hopefully the strange things have brought about new perspectives and have challenged us to a deeper sense of discipleship.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Word of God Spoken

Since Monday, I have been up in Minneapolis at The Festival of Homiletics (i.e. festival of preaching) So far it has been moving but very challenging. It has been challenging because so far the speakers have been speaking to the areas of preaching that challenge me the most. Areas such as preaching a sermon that speaks the word of God even though in the end the people might not like you for it. The whole idea that the Word of God should make us uneasy because it should speak to our shortcomings and should call us to the way God would have us live. I would write more but I am typing this on my phone as I ride the MetroTransit rail up to downtown Minneapolis.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

General Conference Reflection: Fear and Hesitation

Just a quick reflection upon the live feed I have been watching from General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas. The morning session has mainly been focusing on name changes of central conferences and the possibilities of new structures for the United Methodist Church worldwide.

The theme has been this: We are afraid of change, We want to spend years studying and studying and studying, we are in hesitation to make a leap of faith.

What if the Trinity worked in the way that General Conference? Can you imagine God have an inner debate and the Son saying to the Spirit, we should refer this to a study. I am not sure the United States is ready for a revival and I am not sure that this is the right time for it to occur. Yes let us wait and make sure that we can have a committee help us by studying the impact and coming back to us with a proposal.

Ridiculous. Let us take a leap. Let us surrender control over to God and trust that God will provide for us. We are being to dependent upon our own devices. I kept hearing words of "fear" and having "comfort" in referring it to further study. And the church wonders why young people are growing disallusioned with the Methodist Church. (As a side note: The two people who spoke against the referral were two young woman of my age or younger. The last young lady t0 speak basically said what I had just typed, that only God knows the future.)

All I can do is continue to pray for us as a body of disciples. Pray that God will open our hearts and minds to let God work.

**Addendum: The motion to refer was rejected. Perhaps there is hope (although the vote was about 60% against referral to 40% for referral)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Time Flying

So it doesn't feel like I haven't posted in over a month, but the reality is that I haven't.  My life was busy as I got initiated into the crazy life of a pastor during Easter.  I think (or maybe I should say I hope) that the first year is crazier than normal because it is the first time through.

In the midst of the craziness of Easter I was also reading a few books.  I read two books by Shane Claiborne and I can honestly say I will never be the same after reading them.  Coming soon will be a reflection on each of these works.  However, I have to wait until I get them back because I loaned them out to others.  (this is what happens when I read a book that impacts me dramatically; I instantly want to share it with others hoping that their lives will be impacted in the same way)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Missionaries as Tour Guides"

I have to admit, I am late into reading Rob Bell. I had heard of the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan but I had never really felt like delving into his books. Now I am about halfway through his book Velvet Elvis and it has really been speaking to my spirit.

Some people might say "I am buying what he is selling." But that phrase is such a loaded statement. It assumes a consumer mindset that believes everything is a product that is meant to be sold and demand will determine whether it is true or not. I am not buying what Rob Bell is selling, but rather the truth that his perspective and story is telling is resounding in my being.
Rob Bell would say that Jesus is behind that. Jesus, the architect of truth. Jesus, the creator. Jesus, the primary actor in the story of the world. I think Rob Bell is on to something. He is struggling with the story of God and is struggling to see how his story and our story fit into that grand story (metanarrative). One paragraph really stuck out as I read it. Bell writes:
Missions then is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there. It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight. Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there; they just didn't realize it. You see God where others don't. And then you point [God] out. (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 87-88)
Bell then goes on to tell stories and share his insight into how as Christians really we are tour guides. We see the world through a story; the story of God and point to that living story to others who might not see it. God is already there. God is already present. Often we just don't see God.

But how do we become a tour guide? To be a tour guide; to be able to point things of importance out we ourselves have to see. We have to be able to recognize the story in the lives of others. Our best source of that story is the metenarrative of Scripture. The starting point where we read the story of God's people and how God interacted with them. By learning that story we are able to see how the story continues on today in our lives and the lives of others. We have to know the story in able to point to it and share it with others. To me that is profound. Rob Bell has spoken truth. He has pointed me to a reality of God that I had an inkling for but never could put fully into words.

I thank God this evening for working in the life of Rob Bell and speaking through him to me.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Reflection: Prayer and Dependence

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
for ever and ever.

The Lord's Prayer has always been a part of my life. I can remember saying it as a young child and have continued to recite it in the life of worship. However, when I really meditate on the Lord's Prayer I really cannot help but focus on the formation it calls for. Focus on the RED words highlighted above in the Lord's prayer. The possessive nouns and the verbs highlighted really call us to be formed by God. God's kingdom come. God's will be done. God give us this day. God forgive us our trespasses. God lead us not into temptation. God deliver us from evil. For God's is the kingdom.

God is the focus of the prayer, and the focus is on dependence upon God. Their is a realization that God is the primary actor in creation and the world and calls for the reciter to realize this and depend upon God.

Today I went to a meeting in which Rufus Campbell, a District Superintendent in the Minnesota Annual Conference, framed this thought in yet another way. In conversing with a lady who was posing a question, Rufus reminded us that often the church to often "depends" on its own skills and resources rather than depending on God. Easy to diagnose and say, but man is that a hard truth to change. It is hard to depend upon another person. That means that control is ultimately out of your hands. That is scary! But should that be scary? I mean we are talking about God here. God who created us. God who loves us. God who gave up God's own Son so that we could have life. God who suffered and died on the cross for us. Is there anyone or anything that could be more trustworthy and dependent? Yet often we are overcome by fear. It is easier for us to trust that we can get things done. It is less scary when we are in control, or at least that is what we think. But more and more I am coming to realize that self-dependence is just an illusion of security. Looking back on my life, it is pretty obvious to me that I screw things up. God doesn't screw things up. God mends the broken hearted. God takes me as a screwed up individual and walks with me trying to show me the way. Now only if we, or maybe I should really say "I", can remember that and really submit to God's will being done in my life and the life of the church.