Archive for the ‘Flotsam’ Category


15 Jul

M. Craig Barnes writes in his book, The Pastor As Minor Poet, about the shift from “would” to “is” in the saying, “What would Jesus do?”

“While it is popular to ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ the better question was always ‘What is Jesus doing?’ The first question assumes that the Savior is on the sidelines and that the burden of life and work is on our shoulders. But in that case the Savior is not really saving but is setting impossibly high standards that we attempt to imitate by doing what we assume he would do if he were in our situation. On the other hand, the question “What is Jesus doing?” is built on the conviction that he is alive, reigning, and at work in our lives. In other words, he is in our situation, and that changes every thing about our mission. Rather than believing that the work of Christ is completed and that now it is our turn to try to imitate his life and work, we take on the identity of being witnesses who watch and testify to his continued work of salvation that is unfolding before our eyes.

“Clearly, Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, cross, and resurrection make up the decisive turning point in the great drama of salvation. But the Kingdom is still coming. However, it comes not through our efforts at doing Christ’s work, but through the ongoing ministry of the ascended and reigning Son of God, who completes his own work through the Holy Spirit. One of the means through which the Spirit fulfills Christ’s work is by binding or yoking us to the life and work of the Son so that we may participate in what Jesus is doing.”

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Re-creation: Making Time for Being Made New

29 Jun

The following is a biblical reflection on Proper 14, Matthew 14:22-23 I wrote for The Steward’s Well, a quarterly newsletter of The Episcopal Church:

A generation ago, it was hoped that advances in technology would help humans work more efficiently. The cartoon TV show The Jetsons portrayed that world of the future where a push of the right button could handle any task from preparing meals to cleaning the house. Now we find ourselves living in something very different from that forecasted future. Rather than make more time for leisure, advances in technology have increased the workload. More and more people work longer and longer workweeks as smart phones and the internet keep us constantly tethered to work with that one more email to answer before going to sleep.

Imagine the rush of business suddenly stopping in the middle of a busy workday. The incessant taping of computer keys ceases. The clamor of stops. Underneath the clatter and the clutter of our lives, the Holy Spirit is seeking to call us home to the lives for which were created. The call is to live in relationship to God and each other through which we experienceshalom. We translate this word as “peace”, yet shalom is much more than the antonym for war. Shalom is “wellbeing” and “wholeness.”

This wholeness of shalom stands in opposition to lives pulled apart by distractions. Our loving creator knew we needed to stop and just be and so built rest into the very foundations of the universe. Within Christian tradition, the story of creation has been viewed as culminating in the creation of humankind in the image of God. In Judaism, the Sabbathis the pinnacle of creation. On the seventh day God rests. Humans and animals alike were to rest as well. Master and servant alike were commanded to observe the Sabbath.

We were created to be stewards not just of matter, but also of time. So serious was this prohibition of working on the Sabbath, that the Torah made Sabbath breaking a capital offence. By the time of Jesus life and ministry, the Sabbath laws were so deeply ingrained in the lives of faithful Jews that even Jesus’ acts of bringing health and wholeness to someone in need of healing was seen by some as sin when done on the Sabbath.

Yet, woven through the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus is his taking time away. Jesus is always retreating to a place of rest and prayer.In the fourteenth chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus seeking time alone. He has just learned of the death of John the Baptist and we are told, “He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Peace was just out of reach as the crowds pursued him, watching where his boat came to rest and pursuing him on foot. Jesus felt compassion for the people, taught them and fed their physical hunger with five loaves of bread and two fish. The story continues, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”

Rest and prayer were the constant refrain of Jesus’ life. If he needed this time for rest, how much more do we need to make the time to be re-created. The Sabbath was created for us to stop the frenetic activity and find renewal in being rather than doing. It is in this stillness that we can be open to the silence and the stillness of God.

While the sunrise over the water may be just as breathtaking when viewed from the line of cars gridlocked on the bridge during a morning commute, it is more deeply appreciated from a rocking chair or hammock. Stopping to rest makes space for reflection and gratitude. From that place of rest, the activity of our lives comes into proper perspective.

As one given to workaholism, rest does not feel like my natural state. I am the object in motion that tends to stay in motion. Yet, I want the wholeness that comes from resting in God. I want that peace and well-being. I want that place of gratitude. This is found solely when my life is balanced with rest in its right proportion to work. The people in my life need me to find the space for renewal. The world in fact longs for all of us to find the rest we need, to be re-created by the creator who made us for rest as well as work. From this Sabbath rest comes a well spring of generosity of life and spirit for which our frenetic world deeply longs.

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The Joy of Burning Pledges

31 May

The pledging system in churches may come to outlast its worth. Do we really have to be committed to this system in order to set our budgets? Businesses do not typically get customers to promise how much they will spend in the coming year, yet those same business set and keep realistic budgets by basing the budget on current income.

When starting King of Peace, I borrowed an idea I read about in the Church in Georgia where I read that Christ Church Dublin had burned their pledges unopened. We then asked people to prayerfully consider their pledge and gave cards for them to bring the pledge in to the church in writing. These were offered on our feast day (the last Sunday after Pentecost, sometimes referred to as Christ the King), collected at the offering in sealed envelopes, given to God and placed on the altar, then burned unopened at the conclusion of the liturgy.

How did we budget? We planned on continuing to get out current level of income, sometimes with a slight increase. While the treasurer confidentially kept up with tax records for those who wanted it, we kept no accounting of what was promised. We simply budgeted each fall based on the income at that time and found no trouble in budgeting income.

Yes, we do need to teach stewardship. We even found it very worthwhile to ask for and receive pledges. But we found no benefit in knowing what was pledged. This pattern may well fit better with younger generations.

So please hear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we give up on pledges. I am asking aloud whether we have to log them, track them and remind people when they are behind. Asking members to prayerfully consider how they give back to God through the mission and ministry of their church is right. Expecting the member to pledge to God is a good and joyful thing. But tracking pledges did not prove essential to the fiscal health of King of Peace in its move from church start to mission to parish. However, the faith shown by burning pledges unopened was also essential.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary

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Stewardship Season

16 Dec

Episcopal Café has a thoughtful essay by Dr. Kathleen Staudt which says in part,

From a spiritual point of view, this time of year raises for me deep questions about the way we do church, whether it’s sustainable, faithful to the gospel and how we measure that. So much of what we receive from congregational development experts seems aimed at figuring out what people need and giving it to them, attracting more members to sustain what we have built evangelism as marketing (which it is to some degree) – but a model very much attuned to the culture around us.

And at the same time I’m rereading Esther de Waal’s writings about monastic spirituality for our time, and remembering that monasticism began with people who felt that the values of the church and the values of the surrounding culture were getting blended together to a point of great confusion. When Benedict established his rule in the fifth century, he was building what I think turns out to be an abiding “counter cultural” tradition of Christian living, preserving what he understood to be the central values of the gospel.

These values are not really developed in response or reaction to the culture; they simply offer themselves as guides. And so as I prepared for the November vestry meeting, I spent some time reflecting on the three vows that monks take, the vows of “Obedience”, “Stability” and “Conversatio” or “conversion of heart.” Unpacking these ideas has been helpful to me – and was helpful to the vestry, meeting about the budget in November. So I thought I’d share some thoughts about them here.

The full text of the essay is online here: Monastic Values: Reflections of a warden in budget season

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Bishop Benhase’s Advent Meditation on video

03 Dec

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Advent Exhibit from ECVA

29 Nov

The Advent exhibit for Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts (ECVA) is online now. My wife, Victoria, and I curated the Seeking and Serving exhibition which features our artwork together with art from two others in the Diocese of Georgia. The piece at right of the sacred heart is by the Rev. Nancy Mills of Good Shepherd, Thomasville. Sally Shovar also has a painting in the exhibit which can be view here: Lament.

The exhibit includes 36 pieces from 33 artists across The Episcopal Church. To see the online exhibition, follow this link: Seeking and Serving Christ Exhibit.

ECVA values the significance of visual imagery in spiritual formation and the development of faith, and creates programs to support those who are engaged in using the visual arts in spiritual life.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon for Congregational Ministries

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29 Nov

Diocese of Georgia seminarian/SCAD film Prof Michael Cheney’s Advent medition video.

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Conversion of Ink Back to Blood

21 Nov

The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.

~the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor

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Nothing I Asked For

29 Oct

I asked for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for—
but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my
unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men,
most richly blessed.

—Anonymous Confederate Soldier

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Loving the Creator

23 Oct

He alone loves the Creator perfectly
who manifests a pure love for his neighbor.

Venerable Bede (672-735)

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Five Marks of Mission

07 Oct

What is the mission of the church? Put differently: When we are doing what the church is supposed to do, what is it we are doing? One answer is these five marks of mission:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

I didn’t devise the list. It has made it’s way around the Anglican Communion for nearly a quarter century. I think it brings up some helpful ideas.

I also know that the mission of the church differs in different contexts. So that the main mission of  church in a disaster area is to help in meeting the immediate physcial needs of people affected. That’s the third mark on the list and it is primary for a church in such a catastrophe. Obviously, that is not part of the mission here locally in the Diocese of Georgia this week. Yet, I don’t think the list was intended to be a cafeteria plan of selecting which one to take up for action, but rather a way of naming the sorts of categories in which our mission takes place and to beg the question as to whether we are attending to all of them in a way appropriate to our context.

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Long Distance Race

30 Sep

Francis MacNutt of Christian Healing Ministries writes,

I once prayed with a man whose life had been devoted to working with psychotic patients: he broke into convulsive sobs and shared that he was often tempted to commit suicide. This is a normal human reaction. When we share in the pain of our suffering world, we can be overcome by the enormity of its evil. When we see so much suffering, we find it hard to take time out to enjoy life: to go out to dinner, to play tennis, or to watch sunsets. These seem such a waste of time when Lazarus is starving outside our door (Luke 16:19-31). How can we be so heartless as to leave him, while we got to laugh and play?

The only way I have learned to deal with this guilt is by remembering something I heard many years ago in the seminary: “You have to decide whether your life is a long-distance race or a sprint.” Early on, I decided that I could ultimately help more people if I treated my life and ministry as a long distance run (as best I can, realizing my life’s length is up to God to determine), rather than burning myself out. I am a limited human being and the best I can do sometimes is to pass by this one person sitting outside my door so that I can have the energy and enthusiasm to answer God’s call to minister to the ten, twenty or hundred that will be there tomorrow.

Yet that is so hard, isn’t it? I need to pray to decide what to do in each instance, and not always be ruled by my heart. Not that my heart is always that tender: sometimes it needs to be warmed, but more often it leads me to do more than the Lord might be requiring in a particular situation….

We must learn to ask the Lord if HE has sent the people who come for help at inopportune times. Often he has not! Sometimes our pride is appealed to: “I have to talk to you. Only you can help me!” This is just not true. There is only one Savior and we are not him.

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Finding God

24 Sep

The paradox of the ministry indeed is that we find the God we want to give
 in the lives of the people to whom we want to give Him.

—Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

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Involved in Ministry

16 Sep

An average church is filled with people doing jobs.
A great church is filled with people involved in ministry.
—Frederick Buechner

Pick the person who sees his work as ministry in the following story:

A long time ago, a traveler came upon a site in England where swarms of workers were building a grand church. The traveler saw several men digging a ditch. He stopped to ask three of them what exactly they were doing.

The first replied, “Hey! I’m just doing what they tell me to do. All I care about it making a living to support my family.”

The second replied, “Me? I’m digging a ditch from here to that stake over there.”

But the third worker stopped, leaned against his shovel, and with a gleam in his eye, said, “I’m helping Christopher Wren build a great cathedral.”

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Missionless Religion Is an Afront to God

02 Sep

“The North American church is suffering from severe missionary amnesia. It has forgotten why it exists. The church was created to be the people of God to join him in his redemptive mission in the world. The church was never intended to exist for itself.”

“The church that wants to partner with God on his redemptive mission in the world has a very different target: the community.”

“The deal is this: we have assumed that if people come to church often enough they will grow. We’ve got to be much more intentional than this.”

“I can tell you within minutes of arriving on a church campus whether or not a guiding vision is operative, Does the landscaping look like it’s been left up to God to take care of? Does anyone greet me when I enter? Are staff members begging for volunteers? (I don’t mean recruiting—that goes on in organizations with vision. I mean begging, badgering, cajoling, guilting people into service.) Are lackluster or mediocre efforts expended on ushering, singing, custodial services, teaching, signage, and so on?”

“The key is the presence of mission. Missionless religion that calls itself Christianity is an affront to God, however it styles itself.”

The above quotations are each from Reggie McNeal in his book, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church.

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Either a church is missional or it is not the church

30 Aug

The headline comes from a statement that Peter Steinke makes in an article about “mission drift” which is the problem of existing without a clear sense of purpose and direction. It is like the statement, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” But churches should know where they are going, why and how. Steinke writes in the article,

Considering all of the complexities and challenges facing churches, it is amazing that more of them are not on the brink of oblivion or in harm’s way. Many are not using a compass to navigate the hazy conditions created by cultural shift. When consulting with churches embroiled in conflict or paralyzed by passivity, I always ask the congregation, “Does this congregation have a clear sense of its mission?” Typical responses range from “poor sense of purpose” to “running in circles,” from “lack of vision” to “our mission is not to have a mission.” Questions like, Who are we? What is our primary focus? go begging for answers. Then when I ask individuals what they think the mission is, the answers are rote: “spread the word,” “support the church,” “love everyone,” and “preach the Bible.” No one has ever said, “Our mission is to turn the world upside-down,” or “to join God’s ongoing promise to recreate the world,” or “to let the world know that the resurrection means the world has not seen the last of Jesus Christ.” Some members believed their congregation had a sense of mission because they had a mission statement. Sad to say, few knew what it was.

Limping along without a focus is called mission drift. It is what happens when people come together to support an objective but forget what the objective is. People lose their reason for being, even though they go through the motions. Many things contribute to the sidetracking, such as compromising ideals in succumbing to a pressure group, searching for instant viability or solutions, grasping for saviors, fooling themselves that they are vital or viable simply because they endure, preoccupying themselves with nonessentials, exchanging their core beliefs for more marketable ideas, or failing to attend to what God is calling them to do in their little corner of the world.

Steinke says,

Frank's photo of his daughter Griffin on the coast of FranceMission is the expression of the church’s deep, abiding beliefs. Mission provides the major standard against which all activities, services, and decisions are evaluated. Mission is the preserver of congregational integrity. It is about God’s love for the world, not about what I like or don’t like about my church. A major function of the congregation’s stewards is to be the creators and guardians of the mission. They defend the mission against resistant forces that would threaten or destroy it. They oversee the mission’s implementation. They keep the mission alive.

The full text of his article for the Alban Institute is here: Avoiding Mission Drift. It is adapted from his book A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope.

While I have not read this newer book, I have benefitted a good deal from the insights he offers in Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What . A sample from that earlier book is online as Twenty Observations about Troubled Congregations which is a helpful treatment of the topic in brief.

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