Friday, November 30, 2012

Vacancy: Room Available Immediately

While it may ruin my reputation as a faithful Wesleyan, I must confess that I have been carrying around two Powerball tickets in my purse this week. One was purchased by my partner who almost always plays and one was purchased by me since we were far from home with no one looking. I did not think we would win when we made the purchase with some postage stamps at Publix last week, but we decided to take a chance.

It's probably good that we did not win.

Sure, we could have finally traded two underwater condos for a house with more than one bedroom. We could have enabled everyone around us to have the Christmas of their dreams. We could have planned a New Year's Eve extravaganza. It would be fun to have $175+ million at one's disposal.

But, it's good we did not win.

Had we won, I would have likely quit my job on Thursday morning. I would have forfeited plans for an amazing summer sabbatical and gone on a permanent sabbatical. I would have not just told God how God was crazy for calling me to the impossible task of leading a church but instead come close to telling God to "Take this job and shove it. I ain't working here no more."

I'm tired.

Running on empty.

I've been trying to do it all. I've stayed up late fretting over the pledges that have not yet come in. I've been filling parts of a role that has been empty at our church for months. I've been trying to see several shut-ins, have coffee with new people and be present for my people. I've been reading materials for the Board of Ordained Ministry and thinking about a new exam process. I've been working with a coach and filling the pages of a notebook with things I should be doing. I've been leading a church through growth, hoping each week that the Vital Congregations Dashboard will show how I am a successful pastor. I've made it. If they could see me now!

But I have been missing the main thing. A stack of devotional books on my table will reveal to you when I last picked up some of them as the place-marker falls on a date that is long passed. I am not in the pulpit for two weeks in a row which means that my Bible has not been opened for study much, let alone for seeking to encounter God. I've thanked God for meals because I'm married to someone who never forgets, while often going about my day with more cuss-words yelled on I-395 than prayers of praise and adoration.

I'm running on empty. And I'm convinced that this life is not the life I am called to live. No doubt Jesus keeps on knocking, keeps on trying to get my attention. But I keep giving him one message: There's no room here for you. There's no vacancy. Can't you see how much is on my to-do list, Jesus? Can't you see how success is measured in this thing called the United Methodist Church? Can't you see how I can come to you later - after I've done all these other things?

No room.

I'm full.

And yet....I'm empty. I'm in need of a savior and a second chance.

As we approach the eve of Advent, I'm crawling back. I'm determined to not make these next 26 days about holiday lights, pretty packages, sugar cookies, greeting cards, overeating and overspending. Rather, I want to do everything to show Jesus how there is room available here. There's space that is wide open, chiseled out like the middle of a vessel that is ready to be filled.

This Advent will be different. I refuse to be like the innkeeper who told Mary and Joseph how there was no room at the inn. I refuse to push Jesus to the barn out back. Rather, I want him to take the best space possible - all of it - every pocket of my life and every ounce of my being.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I'm ready for you. There's room available here: a great big vacancy waiting to be filled by you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Stuck in the Middle

The United Methodist Church has been filling much of my Facebook feed in recent days. Last week, I watched as many of my friends grunted and groaned over the closing of brick and mortar Cokesbury stores across the land. Cokesbury is our store. It is the place where we went to buy our books in seminary, the place we returned to during fall convocations to get books we could easily buy at home, paying for nostalgia in the process, the place where we could hardly wait to see what a professor was assigning to her class in the spring semester.

We love Cokesbury.

We love it even though most of us switched to buying our books on Amazon years ago, frustrated within seconds of not being able to easily find even a United Methodist product on the Cokesbury website. We all know the challenges of the Cokesbury website. We also know how often we walk into a Cokesbury store and find only one or two persons shopping alongside of us. We know how expensive print media is and how often we get mailings from Cokesbury. If we think about it for a few minutes, we might start to wonder how Cokesbury stayed open as long as it did. But we can't stand the thought of it closing.

My Facebook feed has also been erupting with news from the United Methodist Judicial Council, the equivalent of a Supreme Court for the church. The Judicial Council is getting a reputation for undoing decisions made by larger bodies. First it was the move of our General Conference to let go of guaranteed appointments. And now the Judicial Council is reversing a decision that would let go of a bishop who was determined to be ineffective. Many clergy celebrate the first decision, taking delight in a lack of accountability. Some clergy are angry about the second decision, especially those in the annual conferences where this bishop may be assigned to lead.

The United Methodist Church is in trouble. At the current rate of decline, our denomination will be dead in 50 years in the United States. Many people point fingers as to who is responsible. Others come up with plans that could reverse our decline. Still others make moves to hold people accountable. One group moves forward and then another group says the move is illegal according to church law. In the meantime, we cannot even agree to disagree on matters like homosexuality - with our church's stance causing heartache and pain in countless churches, including the church I serve.

Do you know of any organization that is actually growing without holding its leaders accountable?

Do you know of any business that grows - and is sustainable - with an ineffective CEO (i.e. bishops) and ineffective local managers (i.e. pastors)?

While we don't like the decision made by the United Methodist Publishing House, the closing of Cokesbury stores should awaken our denomination. It takes guts to make hard decisions. Hard decisions are rarely popular. I applaud this decision even though I love going to Cokesbury and buying books there once or twice a year.

I'm ready for our denomination to make other hard decisions - to learn that one regularly has to let go of what we most love in order to discover life again. I'm ready to be part of an organization that is known for its vitality instead of its decline. But I have not seen the denomination make many hard decisions and ultimately stick with them. It feels like being stuck in the middle - with one side ready to lead in new ways and another side resistant to any change.

It can be lonely in the middle.

But rather than being stuck, I'm going to give thanks for what God is doing at Mount Vernon Place, the church I know and love the most. I'm going to keep surrounding myself with fellow disciples who are asking what it means to be faithful in our context of downtown Washington. I'm going to keep pondering the ways we can do church outside the box. I'm going to keep following Jesus. I'm going to keep asking God what it means to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, including our denomination's stance on same-sex marriage. I'm going to keep being the best pastor I know how to be.

And, I'm going to give thanks for the $10 coupon that Cokesbury sent to me, one that did not even require a minimum purchase, allowing me to enjoy a new Advent devotional for a couple of bucks.