Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Camel Committee

I know this was in the comment section. But I wanted to get it out front and think about the role and vision of committees.

Maybe camels are not so bad in a Christian committee. Need to remember to add God and prayers to the thoughts. Camels in a caravan kneel down in the evening and the camel-driver unloads their burdens. In the morning, the camels kneel down again, and the camel-driver put the burdens back on. It´s the same with prayer: we get on our knees to unload at night, and in the morning we get on our knees again. God gives us just the load we are able to carry that day

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Praise of Committees

One of the benefits of serving a United Church is that I can tap into the wisdom of a somewhat different tradition. The following is from the E-News of the Iowa Conference United Church of Christ, by permission of the writer:

It has often been said that a camel is a horse designed by committee. Usually, this tired old saw is uttered in an attempt to disparage both camels and committees. But does it, really?

What it is it about the camel that makes it so obviously an inferior design? Given the environment in which it functions, the argument can be made that a camel is, in many ways, superior to a horse. It has large feet to make walking on sand less of an effort. It can go for days, if not weeks, without water. It can carry a heavy load over great distances. It is even claimed by some that a camel is faster than a horse, at least in the desert. Is it possible that the camel, and not the horse, is the superior design? If so, what does that say about the design skills of a committee? Could it possibly be that a committee design is in some very meaningful way a better design than one done by a single designer?

I was thinking about this just yesterday. It was the day of the Conference's annual get-together for pastors serving their first call in Iowa. There were about 20 pastors in the room, of varying ages and degrees of pastoral experience. There were licensed pastors and ordained pastors, seminary grads and diplomates of the Conference lay ministry program. There were young and old. It was a widely divergent group, everyone with different strengths and different weaknesses. As the day wore on, however, some common characteristics became apparent, characteristics like genuine love for pastoral ministry, enthusiasm, realism, commitment to the well-being of their congregations. And, more than anything else, a core of competence. This was a really good group of people, anyone of which I would be proud to call colleague.

And yet, each one of them was chosen by a committee! Not a single one of these men and women was there because some individual had the power and authority to say to one "You go to that church" and to another "You go to that other church." All of them were serving their congregations because some group, some committee, of caring, concerned and faithful members of those congregations, guided by the Holy Spirit, did the hard, tedious and often thankless work of sifting through dozens and dozens of profiles, checking references, conducting interviews and trying to separate wheat from chaff. And I, for one, was impressed by the results of the hundreds of hours of work those committees devoted to the wellbeing of their churches.

Maybe the camel is a horse designed by a committee, but when the nearest oasis is a couple of hundred miles away, having a camel to ride is a pretty comforting thought.

Tony Stoik

Associate Conference Minister/Western Iowa

Iowa Conference

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Lord's Prayer

I try to pay attention to the thoughts that pop into my head while I'm praying, and here's one I thought worth sharing: as I was praying the Lord's Prayer this morning, I realized that, given the number of Christians there are on the planet, and given how universal the Lord's Prayer is, the odds are that someone else, somewhere, was praying that prayer (thought probably in a language other than English) at the exact moment that I was. Private prayer is normally just that, you and God, and Jesus encouraged that: "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:6) But I realized this morning that private prayer is not completely personal, that at any given moment my prayers are joined with the prayers of thousands of others all over the world--and I find that thought exciting.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pass It On

Here's something worth pondering, from UCC Iowa Conference Minister for Youth Nicole Havelka (reprinted by permission):


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Talking to Statues

I was in Clarkson Hospital in Omaha yesterday when I noticed a man apparently having a very animated conversation with a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson. The man was sitting across from Jefferson, talking clearly and gesturing freely. Jefferson, as is his wont, was listening intently, even though he was in the act of writing the Declaration of Independence. As I got closer, I realized that of course the man was talking on his cell phone, using his head set, and, like many of us, gesturing even though his conversation partner couldn’t see his gestures.

I guess I wouldn’t have blamed the man if he had been talking to Jefferson; the statue (in bronze) is very lifelike. Jefferson is seated, in his shirtsleeves, a large writing board propped on his lap, with a quill pen in his hand. On the board is a piece of parchment with the opening words of the Declaration of Independence already written. But Jefferson isn’t looking at his paper. He’s looking straight ahead, as though pondering what the next words will be in this seminal document of American history, indeed, of world history. It will be important to get it right.

The statue has the effect of humanizing this larger-than-life figure, of making me feel a certain kinship to him. How many times have I turned away from my manuscript or my keyboard and looked at nothing in particular, trying to decide where to go next in what I was writing. The late Charles Schultz of “Peanuts” fame once said that getting the idea for a comic strip was much more difficult than the actual drawing and lettering of the strip. He added, “It’s hard to convince people that when you’re sitting and staring out of the window you’re doing the hardest work of the day.”

But as I thought about the humanized Jefferson I was looking at my thoughts went back to the man who seemed to have been having a conversation with him. Aren’t we all having a conversation with the people who have gone before us? As Americans, we converse with Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Sojourner Truth; as Christians we are in dialogue with Augustine and Anselm, Knox and Calvin, Theresa of Avila and Mother Theresa. We listen to what they have to say, and we respond, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in challenge. G.K. Chesteron, one of my conversation partners, once wrote that tradition is simply a way of giving dead people a vote.

When I was in the Reformation Museum in Geneva a few years ago, I saw a life-sized statue of the reformer John Calvin. Calvin, too, is seated, but instead of pondering his next words, he is caught in the act of expounding Scripture. The Bible is open on his lap; with his right hand he is marking the passage he is talking about; his left hand is raised, thrust forward, the index finger up to make a point. The statue, it seems to me, captures one aspect of Calvin, but not everything, any more than the statue of Thomas Jeffereson captured everything about Jefferson. What this statue captures is Calvin’s energy, his commitment, his total captivation by the Word. We may not want to follow Calvin in everything, but here’s one place where he becomes a first-class conversation partner.

If you ever see me talking to a statue of Calvin, you’ll know why.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Alban Institute

This is an excellent seminar if you can afford it. Highly recommended for those who have been their current pastorates more than about 8 years and plan to stay a long time.

The Alban Institute

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Killing a Dead Man

Word got out among the Jews that [Jesus] was back in town. The people came to take a look, not only at Jesus but also at Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. So the high priests plotted to kill Lazarus because so many of the Jews were going over and believing in Jesus on account of him. - John 12:9-11, The Message

They are just a few verses, easy to miss in the transition from Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, but they struck me when I read them this morning. The high priests want to kill a dead man!

Lazarus, of course, was the brother of Mary and Martha, and we read the dramatic story of his resurrection in the 11th Chapter of John. He died, and Jesus restored him to life. I admit that sometimes I wonder what kind of life he had after that, but John isn’t interested in telling us, except for this: by being raised from the dead, he became a marked man.

Well, I don’t know how Lazarus reacted to that threat on his life, but I suspect with laughter. He’s already passed through the most extreme experience life has to offer. He has already died. What more can they do to him?

On one hand, it shows the futility of the opposition to Jesus. First, they’ll get rid of Jesus. Then, they’ll get rid of the man Jesus raised from the dead. Where do they go from there? Get rid of everyone who saw Jesus raise him from the dead? Get rid of everyone who heard about Jesus raising him from the dead? The reaction of the Pharisees at the Triumphal Entrance is more realistic: “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

The Church is kind of like Lazarus: still alive, in spite of all the forces that would like to see it dead and buried. In fact, you could say that the Church has already died and been raised from the dead. What else is there that anyone can do to us? “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12) Every attempt to kill the Church, through persecution, harassment, or neglect, is only killing a dead man. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Knowing that should give us a new lease on life, so to speak.