Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reflecting on Annual Conference

Do we perhaps have the leadership we deserve?  This is in no way a rhetorical question.  Bear with me.

We have been in trouble in this annual conference for a long time.  I remember when I was in seminary, 20+ years ago, there was talk of poor morale in the NTC.  As a member of First Church Dallas I personally experienced the turmoil in the wake of the events surrounding Walker Railey’s last days in the conference.  I walked out of a number of clergy gatherings in tears during Bishop Blake’s term, because as a Local Pastor I felt completely unwanted, unappreciated, and ignored.  And I have had my own difficulties with a Board of Ordained Ministry that really didn’t understand a call to ministry that included doing PhD work while remaining committed to local church ministry, resulting in a 17-year journey to ordination as elder. 

For the past few years we have been talking about effectiveness and fruitfulness.  We have restructured and renamed positions, though often the people occupying positions of leadership have not really changed.  Our congregations are all seeking the pastor that will turn things around for them.  Our pastors are seeking churches that will work with them and not be “clergy killers.” Our Bishops, Connectional Table leaders and large church pastors tried at General Conference to restructure our general boards and agencies so that the local church could be more effective. And now the North Texas Conference is convinced that if we have just the right bishop we will prosper.  Everyone is trying to save the church and we all think we know the answer.  

We have asked for transparency from our Bishop. We got that at the very end of conference and it doesn’t seem to be what we wanted after all.  Perhaps because I was at home watching the end instead of at the Plano Centre, I think I may have experienced Bishop Bledsoe’s announcement rescinding his retirement in a different way than many of you.  I simply heard and responded to the pain.  I really wasn’t thinking about whether or not it was appropriate for a leader – which, I admit, may say something about my leadership skills.  I didn’t experience it as manipulative, just very real.  

So to answer the question that I posed: Do we have the leadership we deserve? I think the answer, at least for me, is yes, I certainly have the leadership that I have deserved.  I think that if Bishop Bledsoe has not been the leader that I wanted, then I have been responsible for that, at least in part.  I have assumed that he would not listen to me – that I was too unimportant to listen to. So I didn’t try to get to know him when he came; I didn’t tell him what I thought he did well; I didn’t tell him when I thought he was doing the wrong thing.  I thought the safest course was to stay “under the radar.”   I have certainly complained when I thought I or others have been unfairly treated, but I have not complained to the bishop because I thought that would be bad for my career.  And therein lies the problem.  I have been thinking of the Bishop as my boss instead of as my brother in Christ who has oversight of my ministry, but who is subject to the same Lord and the same Spirit as I am.  I have been more concerned about my career than about caring for the covenant by sharing as honestly and lovingly as I can.  

Here is where I hope we will go:  If the news stories, blogs and facebook posts are any indication, many believe that the bishop is wrong to fight and will be unable to lead the NTC effectively.  I am hearing a great deal of pain and brokenness.  But my prayer is this:  that we are so broken that we are at the point where we can say, “God, we can’t do this. We don’t know what we are doing. We are in a mess and we can’t save ourselves.”  That is the point at which I begin to see hope, because when we acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves and we cry out to God, God will listen and respond.  After all, as Bishop Swanson said so eloquently and passionately, “It’s not our church, it's God's church!”

If it is in God’s will, I would like to see Bishop Bledsoe remain as Bishop of the NTC for several reasons:  First, because I think we need to heal from our pain and brokenness together.  Secondly, because I think it will be crystal clear to all of us that his success and our success will depend completely and totally on our Lord. Third, because I think that if we get a new bishop we will expect him/her to fix things, to save us, to be the answer to our problems, and that would be a great mistake.  One thing I learned at General Conference was that Bishop Bledsoe was not the only bishop who was restructuring and who was trying to find ways to get ineffective pastors out of ministry.  Bishop Willimon has said that he has transitioned 30 pastors out of ministry in his time.  (See the interview here: )

If things are going to be different, then we must be different. We must give up expecting the Bishop or the conference to solve our problems at the local church level. We must give up our reliance on core competencies as the guarantee of fruitfulness and pray with humility that we will display the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  To paraphrase Paul: there is no dashboard against such things.  

We have always been proud of the leadership of the North Texas Annual Conference in the broader church.  We are proud of our large churches and our innovative programs.  What if instead of being known for our pride, we were known for the quality of our humble servanthood?  What if we were known as the conference that relied on the Holy Spirit for guidance?  What if our faith instead of our best practices were proclaimed throughout the world?

I don’t have the answers for our conference. But I do have the answer for me.  I am recommitting to the covenant we share. I prayed for every pastor and church in the conference last Saturday and I will do that every week.  If you have a particular prayer request that you wish to have prayed for, then please let me know.  I will be praying tomorrow (Friday).  I hope to be going down to pray in the chapel at the Conference Center on many weeks. I can’t do that tomorrow because of a prior luncheon commitment in Leonard. So I will pray here.  I will also be beseeching God to forgive me of my sin of putting my career above the covenant and transform me into a more faithful disciple.  I pray that the next time I see injustice in the system, I will be able to speak about it boldly without fear and without anger.  But I pray that I will also become an encourager of my brothers and sisters in a much deeper way and a means of grace in any way that God can use me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Reflections on Memorial Day

I have, in the past, had ambiguous feelings about Memorial Day. I see the need to have the ceremonies and fly the flag.  I have memories of those who lost loved ones in wars.  One particularly poignant memory has stayed with me through the years.  My mother got a call one day from some very good friends whose son was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam – one of those guys who would drop down into the jungle to pick up troops needing a way out.  He was scheduled to come home in two weeks, but instead of coming home to celebrate with his parents, he was coming home in a casket to be buried by them.  He was the light of their lives, their first born son.  The family of this young man was proud of him for his service, but so, so devastated by his loss. I still remember the tears in my mother’s eyes as she took the call and learned that the young man that she had babysat and watched grow up had been killed in action.  So while I understood the proud, patriotic displays on Memorial Day, I was also deeply troubled by the fact that we sent such young men (and now women) to war.

I have been what you might call a wannabe pacifist.  I say a “wannabe” because I think being a true pacifist requires an attitude that I just never had.  I resonate with much of the pacifists’ views.  Pacifists hold on to the world view that God's kingdom requires them to be peacemakers.  But even more than that, they trust that God will bring about that kingdom.  They argue that inactivity is a sign of deep faith in the ability of God to work.   Pacifists do not run away from evil; they are not those who run to Canada to escape the draft while living off of Daddy's money.  They are people who use the weapons of the Spirit to combat evil:  prayer, fasting, voluntary poverty, refusing to return evil for evil.  Pacifists know that they will not always be effective; that evil will sometimes (maybe even most times) strike them down.  But they are willing to be struck down for the same reason that Christ was willing to go to the cross: because they believe that love is the ultimate victory and Christ is the ultimate victor.  

I am only a wannabe pacifist because while I might just possibly be able to allow myself to be struck down, I am definitely not willing to see those I love suffer if I have the chance to do something about it.  I will use the weapons of the Spirit to combat evil, but in this broken world I can’t see any way around  using weapons of the world. Unless we as Christians are willing to stand in front of the aggressors and die en masse for what we believe, fighting evil with physical means seems the only option. 

Even in my wannabe pacifist days, I began to listen to those who had served in the military. And from years of listening, I have learned something about those who serve. For the most part, they are not in the service because they love war.  They do hope to gain benefits like training, education, leadership skills, etc. But for the most part those who serve in our armed forces are just as interested in peace as I am.   In fact, most of those I have listened to and talked with are in the military because they believe that their service will make the world safer, more peaceful and less chaotic.  Despite things like the My Lai massacre and the Abu-Ghraib torture, most of the folks that I have talked to saw their “enemies” as human beings, and grieved over the situation that led to war.  

So on this Memorial Day, I will remember those who gave their lives so that others could live.  I will honor their memory and fly that flag.  I still hate war and I am very glad that The United Methodist Church works for peace.  But I have to honor our warriors, because, I think in their own way, they are working to be peacemakers as well. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An invitation to prayer and waiting on the Holy Spirit

An Open Letter to my covenant brothers and sisters in the North Texas Conference:

When I reflected on GC 2012, the image that kept coming to me was the Tower of Babel. It seemed to me that various groups were trying to build a tower to the heavens with their various plans and God confused their voices and sent them out.  The anger that I have had at the triads, the new plans, the lack of guaranteed appointments, etc. was amplified by the chaos at GC.  And then a few days ago, after listening to the Bishop’s talk on YouTube and the message about HPUMC, I was angry – again.  I wrote down all the reasons. But when I woke up the next morning, God “hit me upside the head” (as we say in East Texas) and helped me to the realization that my anger was not the righteous anger of God (who knew?) and God gave me a word from the Holy Spirit that I share with you.

I have heard a lot about us needing a “new Pentecost” in recent weeks and months and my clergy study group has been studying the book of Acts for about 2 years.   So when God convicted me of my sin of anger, God also convicted me of the need for emulating the early church.  It says in Acts 1:14 that the disciples, the women, the family of Jesus were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” while awaiting the Holy Spirit.  So I think this is the word that God has given me: that I/we need to spend a time together in prayer before Annual Conference waiting for the Holy Spirit. 
We all have been praying, but the vision here is to come together on the Saturday before Annual Conference to pray for AC, for the Global church, for ourselves, for each other, for our congregations; to meet without any other agenda, without a plan, without deciding in advance who takes leadership, without even lunch!  Just to pray individually, in groups, in the whole group as the Spirit moves us. 

FUMC Plano has graciously agreed to open their sanctuary from 9-4 on Saturday, June 2.  I invite all of you who also feel this on your heart to come and join me in prayer, for an hour, a morning, an afternoon or all day.  I know this is a busy time, a crazy time to suggest such a thing.  I am assuming that if God wants this to be a group thing, that God will put it on the hearts of others as well as mine! 

I believe with all my heart that one prayer God always answers is the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come, Holy Spirit, come.”  I will be waiting in prayer on the Holy Spirit at FUMC Plano in the Sanctuary on Saturday, June 2 from 9am to 4 pm.  I hope that some of you will be led to wait with me.

Martha Myre
Pastor, FUMC Leonard

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Opening Worship at GC2012

 (Note: This is somewhat after the fact, but I was having computer connectivity issues!)

Opening worship was full of pageantry.  There was lively, globally-conscious music.  Symbols, dancers, Bishops, lo!ts of Bishops, and awesome video. But was the Holy Spirit present?  I'm sure some felt the movement of the Spirit, but, sadly, for me, though I was entertained and enjoyed the experience, I was not moved or inspired or deeply touched. I have been reflecting on why.

I had high hopes for the opening: Native Americans took the stage. But when the presenter told a Native American creation story as if being in NA territory meant that Genesis 1 &  2 were not relevant, my own spirit withdrew.  The creative dance and dramatic presentation were well-done and beautiful, but didn't speak to me. I acknowledge that this is most likely a problem in me, but there you have it. The video presentation was professional but felt more like a preview of Discovery Channel's series on Planet Earth.  The music was pretty good overall, but the anthem "God Has Work for Us to Do" was just boring.  The decorations were tasteful, but the cross, though on the stage, was almost disguised and hidden, as if we were ashamed of what it really means.

What did I want that I didn't get? I wanted a focus on Jesus.  I wanted pleading prayers that called upon the Holy Spirit to fall upon us.  I wanted less choreography and professionalism and more authentic crying out to God.  I wanted music that gave honor and praise to the crucified and risen Christ, that celebrated Jesus as Lord of our lives. I wanted less drama and more scripture.

What spoke most?  The Bishop's sermon.  The service of communion whose words were familiar and (to me) deeply meaningful.  I loved hearing the mix of voices and languages.  And the old hymns redeemed  some of the pagan theology.

I am continuing to pray that God will open my heart to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit here at GC2012.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Impressions from General Conference

It's interesting how many people I know or, at least, who are familiar to me this time around.  I was at Fort Worth and felt a little out of place--since I wasn't a delegate.  This time I am happy to be here in a support capacity and feel the energy. 

I  love connecting and re-connecting with some of the staff people I worked with last time.  These are the folks who make it all happen.  They have almost uniformly positive attitudes and servant hearts.  I am having fun people-watching and catching snippets of conversation here and there.  Mostly it's things like, "When did you get in?" "Do you know what room we are in?" "So good to see you again!" etc.  Some folks are already grouping and looking like they are having serious conversations, but most are just enjoying the day, the reconnecting, and the beautiful weather. 

Those of us who are working as Recorders or Transcribers (or both!) have had our training and the newbies are trying to pick the brains of those who have done this before.  Some of the trainees are looking a bit worried about what they have gotten themselves into. 

There are some very serious issues coming up in the next few days and a tremendous amount of work to be done.  The legislative committees don't even start to work until Thursday morning and have to be completely through by Saturday evening at 9:30.  As it stands now, whatever they don't get to just won't be gotten to.  There is no provision for staying until all the petitions have been looked at, so the committees will have to prioritize their work.  This is a new rule, so we are not sure what the effect will be, but as for now, that is the way it will be done.

Be praying for the delegates as they begin their work and the support staff as they try to provide a calm working environment and smooth process for the delegates.

The next 11 days will be challenging and could potentially have a great impact even on local congregations.  This afternoon, however, I am looking forward to opening worship.  I expect it to be inspiring and I am praying for an outburst of the Holy Spirit.  As I said in a reply to another blog:  "Even United Methodists can have a Pentecost!

Blessings from Tampa,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Dr. King,
Thank you for your dream. Your passionate words helped a whole generation understand what the kingdom of God would be like.  Our world is beginning to change and I can see glimpses of your dream becoming reality; though we still have a long way to go.  Thank you for the way in which you lived out your faith and your commitment to the kingdom. You were not perfect; you had your flaws and failures. And that too is a gift, because I am not perfect either and it helps to know that imperfect people can be faithful and effective people. Thank you for fighting hate with love and conflict with peace.  You are one of my heroes and inspirations, because you followed Jesus where he led you and I am trying to do that too.  I look forward to the day when we can walk together in the new Jerusalem and see that God’s kingdom is as beautiful and wonderful as you dreamed it would be.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Question of Thanksgiving

This post is a little late, but these questions have been rolling around in my brain for a while.  

What exactly does it mean to “give thanks?”  Just to “give thanks.”  Period.  I keep hearing people say (or sing) that they are thankful for this, that, or the other, but often they don’t say to whom they are thankful.  So . . . can you be “generically” thankful?  Does “I am thankful for. . .” -  whatever – mean anything?  I mean, can an atheist be thankful?  Obviously an atheist or anyone else can be thankful to another person, but can they be thankful for another person?  What does it mean to be thankful for food, home, friends, family, etc. if no one actually gave them to you?  Are you thankful to yourself?  I watched a video from Skepticon where all these atheists were expressing thankfulness for things, people, concepts, etc.  Only two of them noted that they were not thankful for anything, because being thankful for implies that you are thankful to someone.   One of them said, quite sensibly, that saying that he was “thankful” would be anthropomorphizing the universe.  So he just commented on what he “liked.”

And then there are the Christians who express thanks.  We say things like, “I am thankful that I have all of this good food to eat.”  But if we are expressing thanks to God, we had better be careful.  If we acknowledge that God is the source of what we are thankful for, then we are by default acknowledging that all we have is a gift.  And if that is true then the “blessings” that we have are supposed to be used to bless others.  If we are not blessing others, can we truly say that we are thankful?

If true thanksgiving acknowledges the source of the blessings for which we are giving thanks, then we should be prepared to put some muscle behind our thankfulness.  Otherwise our thankfulness can be as empty and meaningless as that of the atheists.  

I think that I am going to need to be more careful in the future with my words of gratitude; instead of saying, “I am thankful for . . .”  generically, I need to say: “I thank my friends for. . .,” or “I thank my family for. . .,” or “I thank my church for . . .,” or  “I thank God for . . .”   And my gratitude really should be expressed in giving to others, not simply in indulging myself.

I have come into contact with a lot of people who do not have enough food, electricity, water, etc.   I pray that more and more God will turn my giving thanks into sharing blessings.

Sigh.  Just when I think I have made a little progress towards being a Jesus-follower, I realize how far I have to go.   I am thankful to my family, my friends, my church, and our God for patience with me!