Monday, April 28, 2008

General Conference 2008

The General Conference of The United Methodist Church began on Wednesday of last week in Dallas, TX. For those not initiated, this is one of the necessary evils of the Church, a two-week-long meeting during which 900+ delegates gather to discuss and vote on doctrine and polity, mission and ministry for the denomination. Thank God it only happens once every four years.

Some people live for such meetings. They put their names into the hat for election by their respective annual conferences, and some even do a little campaigning. Once elected, the following year is filled with delegation meetings, reading reams of legislation, and receiving mail (some not so kind) from church members expressing themselves on issues coming before the conference. And each day at the Conference itself brings reams more of materials to be read and voted on. One delegate writes that his days begin at 7:15 a.m. and end at 1:15 the next morning. Frankly, I would rather submit to having my wisdom teeth pulled.

At least then I would get a Halcyon pill and Nitrous Oxide to make it bearable.

And so far, this year’s General Conference has voted that we need to be in ministry with the poor; we need to start more new churches and renew existing churches; we need to stamp out poverty and associated diseases around the world; and we need to develop “principled Christian leaders”.


And we’re going to study global warming.

We also officially received the Methodists of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) as a conference, a body eight times the size of the Memphis Conference. This was supposed to have happened in 2004, but due to some minutia in the UM BOOK OF DISCIPLINE that the 2004 General Conference did not follow correctly, it did not become official until now.

Then, in little over a month, Annual Conferences will begin (small regional gatherings), followed in July by Jurisdictional Conferences (larger regional gatherings).

As my eyes start to glaze over, I sometimes wonder why I chose the United Methodist denomination. I’m just not cut out for all these “important” meetings. Heck, I only have one “business suit” and I reserve it for important stuff like weddings and funerals!

Isn’t there a church that makes it easier to do the work of the Lord?

In fact, there is. I found it on the internet. It’s called the Universal Life Church, based in Modesto, California. The ULC’s only doctrine is: “DO ONLY THAT WHICH IS RIGHT.”


Ordination in the Universal Life Church is free and life-long, “without cost and without question of faith”. Just fill out the online registration and await word (via email) that you have been ordained.

That’s easier than writing a check at WalMart these days!

If you want the full package – to prove to your friends and family that you really are ordained – the ULC offers a range of packages from $14.95 to $119.95 with the necessary certificates (embossed with an official gold seal) and tools for ministry. For an extra fee, you can have your ordination certificate imprinted with the title of your choice, everything from “Abbe” to “Yogi”, including such popular titles as “guru”, “free thinker”, “oracle” and “wizard”.

The ULC also offers a wide range of certification (including “Sainthood”), and various degrees. As one might expect by now, in addition to the more mundane degrees like Doctor of Divinity and PhD in Religion (“Take this course, answer 75% of the questions correctly, and we will grant you a PhD in religion…”), more interesting degrees offered include Doctor of Metaphysics, Doctor of Motivation, Doctor of Immortality, and Doctor of the Universe.

No, I am not making this up!

The ULC website offers an online prayer room and confessional, as well as bookstore. The online shopping experience offers Friar Tuck-brand clergy shirts, Tax Guides (didn’t you guess that?), and the “Condensed Holy Bible: Old and New Testaments and Testament of Today in condensed form”.

This just in: I just discovered that there is a battle going on in the ULC over who owns the one true domain name...

Okay, perhaps there is a reason for all the conferencing that we United Methodists do!

(The General Conference of The United Methodist Church runs through May 2nd.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

You Go, Girl!


May 30, 1976: Janet Guthrie finishes 15th in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the first female driver in the Sprint Cup Series. Guthrie, the only woman to race the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, runs 32 more races in NASCAR's premier series from 1976-80, earning five top-10s (a best of sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1977).

May 29, 1977: Guthrie places 29th as the first woman in the Indianapolis 500, which had begun allowing women in the pits only six years earlier. Guthrie finishes ninth in the race a year later.
1982: Shirley Muldowney wins her third championship in the NHRA's Top Fuel division. Several other female drag racers follow in her footsteps as winners in the sport's top classes.

Aug. 10, 2002: Sarah Fisher captures the IRL pole position at Kentucky Speedway, the first by a woman in a major-league open-wheel series.

2004: Erin Crocker becomes the first woman to win a World of Outlaws sprint car event.

May 29, 2005: Joining Guthrie, Lyn St. James and Fisher as the only women to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick becomes the first to lead and finishes fourth in her first Indy 500 start.
May 27, 2007: The Indy 500 includes three women (Fisher, Patrick, Milka Duno) for the first time.

April 19, 2008: Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race, the Japan Indy 300!

By Nate Ryan
(Photo and info courtesy of USAToday)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bear's Gone Wild!

Okay, you know it’s got to be good when it starts off with a picture of a cute little bear cub!

If you’ve been hybernating in a cave the past two years, you might have missed the story about Knut, the little polar bear cub born at the Berlin Zoological Garden in December 2006.

According to zoo officials, Knut’s mother, for unexplained reasons, refused to care for her two new cubs and even took to abusing them – picking them up in her mouth and intentionally dropping them. The cubs were rescued – Knut’s brother died of a infection a short time later – and Knut went on to stardom, as indicated by his photo on the cover of Vanity Fair!

Still can't get his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone though.

Some animal rights activists took the extreme position that it would be better for the bear cub to be destroyed than to be raised by humans, but school children with protest signs and email accounts swayed the decision of the zoo and Knut was nurtured from infancy to cub-hood; he is now two years old and healthy.

Thanks to Knut’s fame, zoo attendance in Berlin jumped by 30% last year. What’s more, his face appears on a postage stamp and a commemorative silver coin; he has his own line of Steiff-brand stuffed animals and Haribo-brand Gummy Bears; he stars in numerous children’s books and DVDs; and it is rumored he is under contract with a major Hollywood studio. The German pop radio stations regularly play the catchy little ditty, "Knut, der kleine Eisbär". And in a smart financial move, the zoo has trademarked Knut’s name and image.

Note to self: pass this by the legal department before posting.

Of course, with celebrity comes headaches. For instance, a two-year-old bear cub is not as cute as that six-month-old ball of white fur we all fell in love with (think Madonna!). About a year ago, Knut received a death threat, which resulted in the need for increased security. And his every move – from hurting his foot on a rock to what he eats for breakfast – gets reported in the local tabloids.

Who knew that polar bears would like croissants so much???

But now the latest celebrity scandal involving Knut [no, he’s not dating Brittany!] is that he is a psychotic killer.

It’s always the cute ones!

Apparently last week he fished 10 carp out of a moat in his enclosure and slaughtered them in the presence of zoo guests. An international uproar ensued as animal rights activists (again on the wrong side of the argument) protested, arguing that the actions of the bear cub were in violation of German animal protection regulations.

Checking the endangered species list… nope, don’t see carp there!

Berlin Zoo officials have countered with arguments such as, “Sie Idioten widersprochen! Was erwarten Sie? Er ist ein wildes Tier. Das ist was polare Bären tun! Erhalten Sie ein Leben!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa! Mea Maxima Culpa!

Man, was I screwed up!

For what I guess has been the past two years, my head has been totally screwed up. And I confess, it is not the first time.

Some of you may read this with surprise, since in my public persona I try to exhibit a laid-back, care-free lifestyle. My home décor is best described as “beach casual”. My clothes are beach-oriented (at least during warm weather). My laptop computer sports an “Air Margaritaville” sticker that proclaims, “Fly Fast, Live Slow”. And any time you hear music coming from my house, office or truck, it will be either Jimmy Buffett or island music.

But last week I had a frightening epiphany.

I looked in the mirror.

And what I saw concerned me. My face was frowning… and not just a frown, but an angry frown… for no apparent reason.

Granted, it had been a tough week. I had just been through an uncomfortable confrontation with a church member, I was busy with paperwork, I was worrying about everything going “right” at the Board of Ordained Ministry retreat, I failed to understand the guiding logic behind some of the appointment rumors that were leaking out of the Cabinet, and I had just received unfortunate news about a colleague.

On top of all that, I realized I was suffering from of a “messiah complex” – that is, I was working overtime to find the “magic bullet” so I could single-handedly save my church from 20 years of decline. I was the fellow in Buffett’s song, “He Went to Paris”…

“…He was impressive, / young and aggressive, / saving the world on his own…”

But I don’t like to frown; I don’t want to be angry.

As I reflected on all this, I realized that most of it was a control issue. Life was not going according to MY plan and I was upset.

Even worse, I realized that most of what I was trying to control is, in fact, beyond my control: Not everyone is going to like me. The paperwork has to be completed. The retreat will be what it will be. What I think about clergy appointments doesn’t really matter […so long as my name is not mentioned]. And, while I grieve for my colleague, there is nothing I could do to change that situation.

And no matter how many books I read or how many seminars I attend, I cannot single-handedly change what is happening at my church. I did not create this congregation or its problems, and I cannot simply wave a magic wand and make those problems disappear. In fact, what I was doing to my church was roughly the equivalent of ordering a sick person to “Get well!”

But God is good – all the time! And She [finally] showed me the error of my ways in the mirror that day.

So, I have made a new resolution… several of them, actually. Here they are:
1) Relax!
2) Worry only about those things I can actually control (which is very little), and then only worry when absolutely necessary (which is never).
3) Relax!
4) Live out the joy of the Gospel.
5) Relax!
6) Listen to and celebrate the hopes and dreams of others.
7) Relax!
8) Share the ministry.
9) Relax!

So look for the new “me”. I hope that with this list in front of me, my life will be more fun, my work will be more productive, my church will be more joyful and my countenance will be much more pleasant.

At least, that is my hope.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Something to think about...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008