Thanksgiving Weekend Update

November 26, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Job Search, Life, Religion, Work 

It’s time for another update.

This year is different.  Being out of work at a holiday is both easier and harder than usual.  Easier – because there’s more free time to prepare.  Harder – because the situation does tend to drag on you.  This year I am thankful for what I still have:  my wife, my home, my health (more or less), my cats, my church youth group, my other church friends, and all of my friends who have been so helpful with my job search.

The job search continues.  I have a few irons in the fire for possible permanent positions, and I’m starting to look at consulting as a temporary or permanent solution.  I have heard from several companies that they are impressed with my skills and experience, and that they need someone who can do what I do, but that they are unable to hire at the present time.  They’re telling me that they’ll get back to me in the first quarter of next year, assuming that I’m still available (and truthfully – I hope that I’m not).

This weekend is alternating nothing and crazy.  Here’s a quick rundown:

Today (Wednesday) – Later this afternoon I’ll knock off the job search and start vacuuming the whole house.  Tonight Carolyn will start preparing the stuffing for tomorrow’s dinner.

Thursday (Thanksgiving) – Carolyn’s parents will be arriving at our house in the morning, and all of us will head over to my parents in the early afternoon for the big extravanganza.  (Carolyn’s aunt, uncle and cousin will go to my parents independently.)  The afternoon should include dinner, a post-dinner snooze or walk around the neighborhood, then dessert and probably the Eagles game.  The Brennan parents and Carolyn and I will head home and the Brennans will stay overnight at our house.

Friday – The in-laws will head back home at some point.  So far, nothing else is planned.

Saturday – No big plans, but there’s a Trenton Devils game in the evening.  Carolyn will probably make the dessert for tomorrow.

Sunday – Church-a-palooza.  This is what happens when I’m not paying attention while scheduling.  I’m on deacon coffee service before and after worship, I’m serving communion during worship, and then after Fellowship Hour is over I’m setting up tables for the evening Hanging of the Greens Advent Potluck Dinner.  In the afternoon Carolyn and I will prepare a salad, then we’ll go back to church for said potluck and cleanup.  It’s actually a good thing that I’ll be that busy – it offsets the week.  This is a semi-historic worship service – the “first elder under age 18 in 310 years” is also serving communion for his first time.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Twitter of Faith

November 22, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Twitter of Faith

Social networks, particularly in the religious community, often birth great ideas through random means.

Today is another example.  A discussion was going on between Adam Walker-Cleaveland (@adamwc on Twitter) and Shawn Coons (@shawncoons) about Adam’s work on his Statement of Faith that he’s working on for his upcoming appearance before presbytery related to his first call.  This produced responses from a number of others including Princeton seminarians, other pastors, and lay people like me.

If you’re a Twitter user, and up to the challenge, simply create a Twitter of Faith in one tweet and include the tag #TOF.  Here’s the original challenge:

Twitter of Faith: What do you believe? You have 140 characters – give us your statement of faith in 140 characters. #TOF

You can find the results here.

My response:

#TOF God loves us so much that he gave his Son.  Act like you appreciate it!

I was a VIP … for dinner

November 20, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Last night I went to the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville LOGOS program.  I was invited as a “VIP” – a person who volunteers in a leadership role in the church.  Also honored were our pastor, our treasurer and his wife (who also does a lot), the former Associate for Pastoral Ministry and her husband who is our Pledge Coordinator.

We were asked to arrive in time to join the children for dinner.  Each of us got to sit with a grade level for dinner and we were asked questions about ourselves.  Then after dinner the children introduced us and talked about what they’d learned and what we do for the church.

I was assigned to the 5th grade.  There were 5 children and our table parent – seminary intern Kate Elliott.  The questions were varied and amusing.  Two consecutive questions were:  “What is your favorite color?” and “How did you decide that you wanted to work with the church?” – I got the bends going that deep that fast.  I was also asked about my family, my favorite sports team (a question answered with some trepidation – we’re on the border between the NYC and Philadelphia markets), my favorite book of the Bible, my favorite Psalm, my pets, and what I do with the church.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much the kids remembered of my answers.  Just about everything that we talked about was used when I was introduced.

I was honored to join them, and I look forward to 4 years from now when they are part of Senior High youth group and I can work with them more often.

Robyn Campbell is our Director of Children’s Ministries, and was responsible for inviting me.  Thanks, Robyn.  She also mentioned that she’d love it if more adults in the church were able to join the LOGOS program for dinner.  There’s a table for adults that is stafffed by parents and volunteers and there’s usually room.  If you want to consider joining them some Wednesday evening, contact Robyn.  I may start going on the nights that I have a Wednesday meeting shortly after the LOGOS dinner is over.

PC(USA) – if we don’t divide, how do we stop fighting?

November 18, 2008 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about the pre-requisites for an orderly schism in the PC(USA).  I personally don’t favor dividing, but I’m just as weary as most others with the fighting that goes on because we don’t divide.

I got 5 comments in response.  Four of them were against dividing and one was in favor.

So the question for today is this – if we don’t divide, how do we stop the disagreements from tearing apart the church, and losing whole generations?

There are two hot-button issues today:  homosexuality and property rights.  A case can be made that the latter follows the former – that churches only care who has title to their property because they are considering breaking away from the denomination.  But both cases really boil down to one issue – rules and whether or not to follow them.

I believe in rules.  Rules make it possible for our society to function without decaying into a battle of the strongest and triumph of our basest emotions.  For the most part, I try to follow the rules most of the time.  This has occasionally confused people, particularly in the area of interpersonal communication where by following the rules and NOT having a hidden agenda I confuse them because they expect a hidden agenda.  Rules are generally a good thing.

Sometimes rules are a bad thing.  Sometimes rules are created or enforced in a way that gives one person or a group of people special power over others, without their consent.  This is when breaking the rules makes sense.  However, at all times you must be prepared to suffer the consequences of breaking the rule.  The privilege of being able to determine when to break the rules comes with the responsibility to accept the consequences of failing to prevail.  From a Reformed (and particularly Presbyterian) point of view – because our conception of the rules is determined by a consensus of what the Holy Spirit is telling us (through Scripture, Jesus and the working of the Spirit today) – there will be cases where faithful people will end up on the wrong side of the determination of consensus.  Some of us will believe that the Spirit is calling us to discern rule Z, and others to discern rule not-Z.  We decide by the quasi-democratic process whether Z or not-Z is right.  Those who are on the “losing” side are expected to follow the rule, or peacefully and individually separate from the communion.

Our troubles today come because people at the extremes are not following the rules.  It’s a problem on both sides.

On the progressive side, the failure to follow the rules comes when a person makes a public statement that they are or intend to have sex outside of a marriage of a man and a woman and still expect to be ordained.  That’s the rule (today, it may not be in a few months).  Ordination is limited to those who are determined by their local governing body to not be in a state of unrepentant sin.  The whole sex thing is codified specifically.  If you fail, by self-acknowledging that you are having sex with somebody other than your opposite-gender spouse, then you are not eligible.  It’s there in black and white.  I disagree, I hate the rule, and I’ll do all in my power to overturn it but it is there.  If you (progressives) are going to have any credibility with others in the church, you need to stick with the rules.  Besides, there are many ways for a gay or lesbian person to be ordained.  You can keep your mouth shut, and therefore not self-acknowledge.  You can not be asked the question in the first place.  What you can’t do is make a statement that “I’m gay, and I’m now or in the future going to act on it” and expect to be ordained.  And making statements that you have no intention of following the rules isn’t kosher either.  As I’ll say in a minute, you do have the option of going elsewhere.

(Having said all of that, I’m with you today and I’ve been with you for over 20 years in the effort to change the rule.  Let’s see how the vote goes.)

On the conservative side, the failure to follow the rules comes when a minister or session chooses to lead their church out of the PC(USA) without first following the proper procedure of working with the presbytery and being patient.  That’s the rule, and it has been since reunion.  (Note – those churches who have voted not to accept the Chapter 8 property restrictions by voting annually since reunion ARE exempt.)  Almost all of you have been ordained since reunion.  Others of you have chosen to remain in the PC(USA) since reunion – you’ve had 25 years to decide to leave.  I understand that you are concerned with the people who are not following the sex rules.  I disagree that it gives you the right to leave, but if you are that uncomfortable then so be it.  We have adequate scripture to back up your right to individually leave.  What isn’t in scripture, or the Book of Order, or the Book of Confessions is the right to expect to take your property with you.  Chapter 8 is there.  It’s the rule.  If you really can’t stand being in the PC(USA) and aren’t willing to negotiate with your presbytery and pay whatever penalty they come up with (and presbyteries – some of you aren’t playing nice either), then your recourse is to leave the church and walk down the road to whatever space you can rent/borrow/own and start a new church.  That’s the rule.  If you follow the procedure, history shows that you will eventually get to keep your building (though you might have to pay something for it).  Otherwise you have a way out – leave without the property.  But filing civil cases in order to assert property rights isn’t Christian, and it isn’t right.  And it’s not following the rules that you agreed to when you became a part of this community (the denomination) that makes its rules by communally discerning God’s will.  Don’t like it?  Overture General Assembly to remove Chapter 8.  Until now, you’ve won every vote in the presbyteries related to sex and ordination – why do you think you’d lose now?

So both sides aren’t following the rules, and they are pointing fingers at EACH OTHER yelling “He’s breaking the rules!  He’s breaking the rules!”  This in turn is attracting the attention of not just those involved in clearing up the playground fight, but the kids in the circle around them, and the kids not in the circle at all.  We’re losing people because we can’t play nice.  We’re losing people because we can’t fight respectfully and they don’t want to associate with us.  The perception is that Christians (and again – Presbyterians) spend all of their time fighting and arguing about the rules, and that Christians are judgmental and discriminatory (at least when it comes to gay people).  That’s keeping people out of the church, and a large part of a generation or two are calling themselves “spiritual but not religious”* and opting out of the church.

So the question is this:  What can we, who do not want a division, do to stop the voices that are calling for a division?  How do we stop the fighting that creates the appearance of a need for division?

I think the place to start is for those who are in the middle, those who do not want a split, to start holding those who ARE fighting to a higher standard.  We need to point out when people don’t fight fair.  We need to do the fact-checking that was done during our recent Presidential election, and counter arguments (most often from our own side) that are false.  We need to require respect for the opponent as a pre-requisite for debate.  In short – we need to make taking the high road an expectation in others.

And we also need to model humility.  When WE are called out by someone for behaving badly, we need to agree, apologize, and move on.  When OUR facts are wrong and we are correctly refuted, we need to admit that and move on (though sometimes we will be correct and defending that is the right thing to do).  In short, we need to take the high road even when others are taking the low road.

Can we do that?  I don’t know.  It’s a very high standard – one that I admit that I don’t meet 100% of the time.  But I believe that it’s what God expects us to do and what we need to do.

* I disagree with Mercadante’s conclusion that this problem is not the church’s fault.  Failure to recognize a shift and move with it is fault.  Our job is to preach the Gospel to all people in all times, and we have to be flexible about how we do that so that it (the Gospel) is received.  One key principle of communication is to use the style of the listener rather than the speaker in order for the message to be received successfully with regularity.  We in the church have too long insisted on OUR way, sometimes calling it God’s way.  I think we’ve been in the wrong on that.  Otherwise we’d be speaking Greek or Latin.

Prayers for our Moderator’s Family

November 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Please pray for the family of Bruce Reyes-Chow, PC(USA) General Assembly Moderator.

Bruce’s brother-in-law, Brian Pugh, was killed in a workplace shooting on Friday in Santa Clara, CA.  Bruce and his eldest daughter are in NYC on a Moderator trip as of the writing of this post.

Ham and Eggs – Breakfast with Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow

November 12, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

(I forgot to bring my camera, but Sara didn’t.  Pictures as soon as I get them from her.)

Today Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow – the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) – came to Lawrenceville, NJ.  The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville hosted him for the 2nd time for breakfast and conversation.

I’m not going to go into details on any issue in particular for several reasons.  One – I don’t remember the details so well.  Two – this post is about both national issues and my local congregation, and I’m reticent to be controversial locally.  Three – at one point Bruce said “Let me get my words right – you never know who is blogging about this” and a number of folks from my church reportedly looked at me.  Hmmm.

The group of about 50-60 that attended was made up primarily of ministers serving in a congregational capacity – mostly from the Presbytery of New Brunswick but also from quite far away in some cases.  There was a smaller contingent of seminarians, another group of non-congregational ministers, and some others who aren’t ministers from our congregation and other places (like me).

The food was excellent – egg strada, homebaked breads, and lots of fruit.  The tables were particularly well-decorated.

The conversation took the form of about 90 minutes of question and answer.  The topics varied broadly but included:

  • Multi-cultural churches – how they succeed and when they might fail
  • New Church Developments, including tips from Bruce based on his experiences at Mission Bay Community Church
  • The use of web 1.0 and web 2.0 technology in ministry, including the upcoming re-design of the PC(USA) website
  • Bringing even the smallest PC(USA) churches onto the Internet through the use of single-page websites for the church (at a cost that Bruce estimated to be about $100 per church)
  • Preserving mission in an era when church budgets may be shrinking
  • Shrinking congregations – when is it appropriate to talk about the end of a congregation’s life?  How do we talk about leaving a legacy through the church’s property and other assets?
  • Supporting small congregations that are not New Church Developments, do not believe they are at the end of their life, and want to redevelop.
  • Providing a living wage for pastors in small churches
  • Campus ministry and keeping young adults engaged with the church
  • Seminaries realizing that not all graduates will be able to go into full-time ministry, and potentially helping them get ready for 1/2-time ministry, 1/2-time something else
  • Information on how many appointments the Moderator makes after General Assembly (a very high 100+ this time around), and how little impact the Moderator has on the work of those task forces after making the appointments
  • Praise for New Brunswick presbytery for having enough interest to need a waiting list for the Social Witness Committee
  • an off-hand reference to “Friends Are Friends Forever” that went over the heads of anybody who wasn’t in the 30-45 age group
  • a reminder that Bruce and Vice-Moderator Byron Wade are willing to send video greetings to any group that requests such far enough in advance

I know that I’m missing some of the topics, but that’s most of them.

As always Bruce was engaging, funny, very authentic and willing to tackle the tough questions.  I’m impressed that while he is clearly more comfortable addressing groups of strangers now that he has 6 months of Moderator experience under his belt, he still speaks very openly and authentically and humbly.  His content and delivery are surprisingly consistent between his in-person appearances, his blog writings, and his blog videos (and his tweets on Twitter for that matter).

In short – a good time was had by all, and it was worth getting up early to be there.

Thanks, Bruce, for including Lawrenceville in your NYC/NJ trip.

Help name a business

November 11, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Job Search, Religion, Work 

One of the options that I’m considering for my job search is to form my own company providing computer services to churches and church-related organizations.  Some of you have received a questionnaire from me that will help me determine the demand for such services and the price that the market will carry.  (If you didn’t get a questionnaire and would like to help, send me an e-mail.)

One thing that I’m having trouble with is coming up with a name.  The business name I used previously for consulting was based on my name and the word “Consulting”, which is pretty boring.  I’d like something that mentions what I do, perhaps has a faith link to it (though not too heavy – I wouldn’t want to turn off clients other than churches during lean times), isn’t commonly used for something else (example:  FaithWorks) and has the domain name available on the Internet.  (A note on that last – if you want to check DON’T use one of the domain registry sites – that just tips them off to reserve the name for themselves to sell to somebody.  Use THIS instead.)

If you find one that sounds good (or if you find one that’s funny that you want to share), just leave a comment or send an e-mail.

Thanks!

Presbyterian Election 2008 chat

November 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs 

The Presbyterian blogging community invites you to join us this evening for live chat about the November 4, 2008 election results.  We had so much fun doing this during General Assembly.

Writers should use this link:  http://www.scribblelive.com/Event/Presbylection_2008?Invite=E98861D8-5175-4F5E-AEAE-501BCD4D85A6

You can also just watch the chat at this link:  http://www.scribblelive.com/Event/Presbylection_2008

I’ll be there starting sometime between 6 and 7pm EST, and stay until we have a presidential winner (maybe later).

See you there!

VOTE!

November 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs 

If you are eligible to vote, if you haven’t already voted, get out and VOTE!

There has not been a more important election in my lifetime, and possibly the lifetime of my parents.  We’re facing the perfect storm of a bad economy and a war.  Voting is particularly important this year.

My name is Mark Smith, and I approve this message.

Barack’s Fro

November 3, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Current Affairs 

A few friends of mine made this video.  I’ve been asked to publicize it.  I DO find it hilariously funny.

Please tell your friends!