Thursday, July 31, 2008

SCD - Day One

Johnny (over at ) is blogging from Grand Rapids, Michigan, one site of the School of Congregational Development, (SCD) put on annually by the UM General Board of Discipleship.

At the same time, I am enjoying a slightly overcast week in Orlando, Florida, at the second SCD location. I understand Grand Rapids is home to the Gerald Ford Museum. My hotel faces the entrance to Universal Studios... and the City Walk... which has an official (you guessed it) Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" restaurant!

Location! Location! Location!

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share my observations from Orlando as he does from Grand Rapids.

Johnny, maybe when we get back to Memphis we can compare notes over a tall cold one!

I was of the fortunate crowd that got to hear and see Bishop Minerva Carcano live and in person. I have always enjoyed her, having heard her speak several years ago at Lake Junaluska... before she was a bishop. Unfortunately, her plenary speech was what I would term "a softball".

You know how it is with softball -- this big, round ball comes floating toward home plate at such a rate that even a first grader can hit a home run!

About all I got out of what she said is that she received her spiritual qualities from her grandmother, a woman who led a very dedicated and directed life of prayer and Bible reading and church attendance. Bishop Carcano said that in order for our churches to be spiritual, the church's leaders must be spiritual.

Like I said...

But that seemed to be the theme for the day, at least in Orlando. My ministry track leaders said pretty much the same thing regarding turning around existing (failing) churches: if it's going to happen, the church leadership must be spiritual.

Of course, they had some fancy acronyms and illustrations to help get their point across.

The evening plenary -- which we had the pleasure of watching via satellite from Grand Rapids -- was Ed Jones, who, again told us we need to be spiritual. I didn't mind the satellite feed, but thought it funny when he would ask a question and folks here in Orlando would raise their hands, as if they thought he could see them! Ed had some even better acronyms and graphics.

... I am beginning to wonder if that's the real secret to church growth -- clever acronyms and neat graphics!

This is my 4th SCD (you'd think I'd learn by now!), and overall I'd say it was a fairly typical first day. Of course, Craig Miller and crew are probably thinking they don't want to give us all the "good stuff" on the first day or we'd all go home, right?


By the way, there are eight Memphis Conference pastors here in Orlando, including three superintendents; a fourth D.S. is registered but has not appeared yet.

And, here's the bonus: Since we are in Florida, our resident Bishop stopped in to say "hi". In fact, he's invited us all to lunch on Sunday!

Bet you didn't get that in Grand Rapids, eh?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pictures from my vacation!

I just got back from vacation and wanted to share with all my friends pictures of my vacation!
(I'll pause for a collective yawn.)

You know, when I was exploring ministry, everyone told me the same story: "Long hours, low pay. You'll never get a vacation." So I chose the Southern California School of Theology at Claremont, turning my seminary education into a four-year vacation!

And because I married a blue-eyed, blonde-haired California girl, we go back about twice a year now.

No complaints.

Anyway, our vacation started off with a bang... or, more precisely, the crack of a bat, at Angels' Stadium.

After sweeping the Red Sox the previous weekend (sorry, Joe!), the Angels were a little giddy and lost the previous day's game to the Cleveland Indians, but rallied on Tuesday night and won 3-2!

Here's how we spent the next two days...

That's me in the chair on the right. Six hours a day in the California sunshine, with nothing to do but relax, drink beer, and watch this:

But I had to leave earlier than normal (a pastor's work is never done!), so my final day was spent in Long Beach at the Crocs AVP Beach Volleyball Tour.

That's Dalhausser and Rogers, the #1 U.S. Men's team. They're packing for Bejing in a couple weeks to represent the United States at the Olympic Games.

And that's Keri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the #1 women's team. If you remember, Walsh & May took the Gold in 2004. No reason to believe they won't repeat in Bejing.

And from the looks of their "uniforms", their luggage will be considerably lighter!

And finally, that's... that's...

Are you ready???

That's your humble blogger with his arm around Keri Walsh!

To answer the obvious question, yes, we are standing on the same level of ground.

To answer the next question, yes, my wife is taking the photograph.

It was truly a vacation to remember... and I've got the pictures to prove it!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Tribute to "Papa"

Ernest "Papa" Hemingway
July 21, 1899 - July 2, 1961
He is a hero to me.
If you haven't read "The Old Man and the Sea", you probably won't understand.
Through his writings, he has taken me on journeys around the world.
I have seen places and met people. Without leaving home.
Exotic places. Interesting people.
He was a hard-living, hard-drinking man's man.
He was a peer of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso.
Today, "Papa", I lift a Mojito in your memory.
Happy Birthday.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Evangelism Gone Awry!

According to Chuck Shepherd's "News of the Weird"...

A 28-year-old woman, unnamed by the Kitsap (Wash.) Sun, was arrested in May and charged with stealing her husband's wallet and subsequently assaulting an arresting officer. According to deputies, she had awakened her husband, 24, demanding sex, but he had rebuffed her by insisting that from that point on, the two of them would quit smoking, drinking, and cussing, limit their sexual activities, and be "good Christians".

Part or all of that did not sit well with the wife, and police arrived to witness her screaming (described as "blood-curdling"), swearing, slamming doors, and complaining about her unsatisfactory sex life, while carrying around a large bottle of whiskey. At one point she allegedly tossed the couple's 20-pound dog at a deputy (who caught it safely).

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's All About the Money

Well, it was announced this morning that the Board of Directors of Anheuser-Busch accepted a $52 billion offer from InBev.

Seems it wasn't about the beer... or tradition... or even the thousands of U.S. jobs. All the dickering over the past month has really been about an additional $8 billion in the shareholders' pockets.

It's all about the money.

The new corporation will be called "Anheuser-Busch InBev" ...until they decide that is too long and cut it back to "InBev". Also, A-B will get two seats on the new Board of Directors ...until they decide they no longer need their input. And, InBev "promises" they will leave open all 12 A-B breweries in the U.S. least until they "discover" ways to make their shareholders even more money by consolidating and out-sourcing.

Because, remember, it's all about the money.

Forget about the great American story of a German immigrant who turned a failing brewery into the #1 beer in America (with 48.8% of all beer sales). Forget about the 150 years of history of making beer in St. Louis. Forget about surviving the Great Depression and Prohibition. Forget about all the ways A-B has given back to the community: baseball, amusment parks, recycling... Superbowl ads.

Because it's all about the money.

So what's the next American icon to go on the sale block?

--Ben & Jerry's Ice cream? No, wait, that was sold to a Unilever, a Dutch corporation.

--How about the Chicago Skyway? No, that's owned by a Spanish & Australian cooperative venture.

--How about the White House? [No comment.]

...because it's all about the money.

So, last call for Budweiser. Shareholders, you got what you wanted... what you deserve. I hope you are happy...

This Bud's for you!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Call me romantic. Call me old fashioned. But I love tradition.

As a child, my family celebrated most holidays by going to my grandmother’s house. On July 4th we would burn sparklers, eat watermelon and mix vanilla ice cream with strawberry soda. It was a tradition.

I still sometimes miss the “Red Pop and Ice Cream”, but my body can’t hardly take the heavy concentration of sugar anymore.

And I love celebrating the traditions of other cultures – Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, ¡Cinco de Mayo! – anything that creates an excuse for a party! I even like those celebrations that don’t make sense, like this week’s “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.

The “Running of the Bulls” is part of the traditional Festival of Saint Fermin, celebrated annually in Pamplona from July 6-14. The cause of the celebration is a Roman Catholic feast in honor of a Christian martyr. Saint Fermin actually died in Amiens, but modern apologists are now insisting he was martyred by being dragged through the streets of Pamplona by bulls.

How convenient.

Pamplona’s love affair with the bulls began as cattle merchants brought their livestock to town to sell during the festival. From that, the bullfights developed, and ultimately, the “Running of the Bulls” – necessary to move the bulls from the off-site corrals to the bull fight ring, a path which took them through the middle of town.

Of course, who wouldn’t be tempted to jump in front of the thousands of pounds of stampeding beef.

Yet, a tradition was born.

Ernest Hemingway brought the festival to the world’s attention in 1926 with his book, “The Sun Also Rises”. Since then, tourists – imagining themselves to be Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley – have flocked to watch and participate in this week-long spectacle… and all-night partying… accounting for most of the 15 deaths and 200+ injuries that have occurred since 1910.

As the creator of points out, this is not for sissies.

Many animal rights activists protest the “Running of the Bulls” and the subsequent bullfights as being inhumane and cruel to the bulls. As early as 1567, Pope Pius V wrote a papal “bull” forbidding bullfighting, but that decree was retracted by Pope Gregory XIII eight years later.

The vicar of Christ…

The organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has taken a more creative approach, staging the “Running of the Nudes” the day before the feast begins. Yes, as it sounds, it is a 1,000-member nude parade through the streets of Pamplona.

I don’t know that I would like to witness the killing of a bull, especially in the name of sport. I’d rather not see them kill the bull that provided my dinner tonight. And I don’t think I would run in front of a stampede either.

My daddy didn’t raise no idiots! ...Wait. That's a double negative!

Nonetheless, I say they shouldn’t have one without the other. The bull that goes into the ring will most likely be killed; he is bred specifically for the fight. Why not give him a chance to get even – gore a few people along the way – before he faces his ultimate end?

It only seems sporting.

As for me, I prefer a more quiet life. And some day you will find me celebrating the Fiesta de San Fermin in a small café in Pamplona, drinking sangria with my own Lady Ashley (not her real name), enjoying the richness of the traditions of another country, another time.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Show Me the Money!

It was Jesus who once told his disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

A story that ran in the L.A. Times yesterday emphasizes the need to hear Jesus’ words again today. The front-page investigative report, titled, “For-Profit Fundraisers collect loads, but non-profits see sliver”, takes a hard look at the charity industry. (follow link below to read the full report.)

It seems that more and more charitable organizations are turning to professional fundraisers to fill their coffers. That’s those annoying phone calls you get about dinnertime each evening. The voice at the other end of the line makes you feel guilty for not wanting to support your local firefighters, the Sheriff’s Ranch, breast cancer research, or missing children.

But what they don’t tell you – unless you ask – is that the fundraising company keeps most of the funds they raise. In many cases, these worthy causes only receive 15% of the funds raised; the worst on the L.A. Times list received only 6%.

I probably don’t need to do the math for you, but that means if you give $10, the charity only receives 60 cents.

The worst offenders seem to be those raising funds for the heart-strings charities – police benevolent associations, children’s causes, and religious organizations.

I’m pretty sure there is a special place in Hell for these people.

Of course, the moral to the story is to ask the phone solicitor just how much of your donation will go to the charity – they are obligated to tell you.

But that’s not the end of the story. Not every charitable organization handles their money the way you might wish they would. The L.A. Times article specifically mentions the American Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization that received only 12% of funds raised from 2003-2006 ($5.8 million raised, $700,000 delivered to the Foundation).

But if one looks closer at the American Breast Cancer Foundation, you will discover that only 2.5% of their income is spent on breast cancer research, and only 10.5% is spend on mammograms and other services not related to fundraising.

So again, to help you with the math – of your $10 donation, the ABCF receives $1.20, but only 15 cents is used for research and to provide services.

Did I mention that all of this is legal?

We are certainly living in a world of wolves. So the next time the phone rings – and it will – remember the advice of Jesus: “Be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves.”

For the full story, go to:,0,1801877.story?page=1

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We did the impossible!

Pardon me while I brag.

Asbury UMC just finished Vacation Bible School. While that isn’t such a big deal for most churches which have a tradition of VBS, for Asbury it was huge.

On a good Sunday, Asbury has 8-10 children in a one-room Sunday School class. For that reason, when I came to the church two years ago, I was told to not expect VBS: “We don’t have very many children.” When asked about the neighborhood children, I had been told, “We tried to reach out once, but no one came.” What was not said out loud is that most of “them” are black; most of “us” are white.

That was five years ago.

Fast forward to January 2008. I called the church’s Director of Children & Youth Ministries into my office and told him that I wanted VBS this summer. He seemed to be willing to try again. Then in May he decided to resign. His real job was requiring more of his time.

But things had been going our way recently. Through other activities, we were making inroads into the neighborhood, and I wasn’t willing to give up on VBS. I just didn’t know what God had in store.

At our May Church Council meeting, Leandria Smith, our Choir Director, asked what would become of VBS with no Children’s Director. I simply said, “We will have to find someone else to lead it.” That’s when God tapped her on the shoulder. She said, “I will lead it is someone helps me.” Immediately a hand went up. Then another. Then another.

VBS was back on.

Then came the next hurdle. We had only budgeted $50 for VBS. Some didn’t really think we would do it; others said we could just hit up the congregation for money “if” we did it. The idea of charging the children to attend VBS was foreign to all of us. I told Leandria to spend “whatever it takes to do it right. The money will be there.” And it was.

The next question was, “How many do we plan for?” [I know it ends in a preposition, but it’s still a good question.] I thought I was being optimistic when I said to prepare for 40. I had experienced this at a previous church in a similar situation and we got a response of 42. I felt we could do at least that good.

So with only a month to prepare, Leandria and her committee got right to work. We decided on Cokesbury’s “Beach Party” curriculum, mainly because I already had the wardrobe for it. Volunteers got right to work creating decorations and sets. We ordered a truck-load of sand to be dumped on the church lawn to create a beach. We also decided to serve a light lunch before sending the kids home each day.

We mailed out a flyer to our neighborhood mailing list – 1,000 households in the immediate area. Registrations started to trickle in. I felt confident we would get our target number.

Then our Lay Leader, Ellen Peete, took a poster down the street to the McFarland Community Center. The director was cooperative and agreed to encourage their Day Campers to come to our VBS. How many could that be, she asked? Maybe 120 children! Leandria reported this news to me with the question, “Should we tell them they can come, or is that too many?”

In my book, there’s no such thing as “too many”.

So we shifted into overdrive. Now instead of 40, we were expecting 140! Logistically, that would be more challenging, but not impossible. It would cost more, but as one member said, “How can you put a price on what we’re doing?”

Monday arrived. The children arrived. And we survived. Throughout the week we registered 162 children, with a single-day attendance high of 139. And 95% of them were African-American children from the neighborhood.

Our neighborhood!

And they were greeted with open arms and the love of Jesus Christ.

When Friday came, we were all exhausted. But we knew we had accomplished something huge. With God’s help, we did what many said was “impossible”. God was present in a mighty way.

We invited everyone back on Sunday for a closing celebration and cook-out, and we saw about 50 guests among the congregation that morning.

And already, when people say, “If we do this again next year…” it is quickly corrected by others: “You mean ‘When we do this again next year…’”

So pardon me while I brag, but I am extremely proud of my congregation right now.