Tuesday, October 31, 2006

trusting in the impossible (mark 10. 17-31)

It was a grim and graphic interruption to the daily drumbeat of news: ten children shot in a classroom, five of them dead, a small idyllic Amish community in rural Pennsylvania. In between the latest arrest of Paris Hilton and one football player stomping on the head of another player, in between the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and news of the predatory behavior of a congressman, there was this interruption.

Now the Amish do not seek public recognition, and they asked to be given space for their private grieving, which the media struggled with, and to some extent perhaps succeeded at. I did hear a reflection on the murders one evening this week which I have continued to think about. A secular reporter for one of the public television news programs commented on the response of the Amish people, the victims going to the home of the murderer and offering words of forgiveness, the families of the victims inviting the wife of the murderer to attend one of the funerals and to remain in the community. The reporter contrasted this behavior with the retaliation that seems to mark most of the world’s responses to injustice and violence, even the responses of believers in God. She used words, to describe this unexpected and unusual act, such as “otherworldly” and “strange”, she and at the end of her report she concluded, “I stand in awe of their unfathomable grace…” .

A man asks Jesus, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus repeats the commandments and the man says, “I have kept all of these”. Then Jesus responds, “sell what you own and give it to the poor, you will have treasure in heaven, then follow me”. The man is shocked and leaves sadly, for he is rich.

One of the realities of being in a church for a few years is the awareness that you begin to preach on the same passages, because of the lectionary cycle. Three years ago I preached on this text, and went into detail about what it says about money, possessions and faith. This morning I want to focus on how the disciples respond to this encounter, and the lesson Jesus gives to them, and to us.

After listening in, the disciples comment, “Lord, it must be hard for those with possessions to enter the kingdom”. Jesus responds, “it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”.

Then who can be saved?”, they ask. And here is the lesson: with mortals, it is impossible. But not for God; for God, all things are possible.

Here is the lesson, and within it the tension that is knit together within the heart and mind of all who seek a faithful way of living. With us, it is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.

A small community responds to the grim and graphic murder or five children with forgiveness and acceptance and reconciliation. How does this happen? With us, it is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.

A Georgia church makes a movie, the members themselves are the actors, and it catches the interest of the public and even of the media, costing two hundred thousand dollars to make and already having made millions, about facing giants. How does this happen? With us, it is impossible. But for God, all things are impossible.

A denomination has a vision of a school that will train Christian leaders on the continent of Africa. A Bishop of the church comments that it will be like “pouring money down a rathole”. Fifteen years later, thousands of graduates later, Africa University is strengthening the church, reforming the nation, spreading scriptural holiness across the continent, saving lives. With us, it is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.

We all live in the tension between what is impossible and what is possible. Both are true. With mortals, it is impossible. This is true. Some things are beyond our grasp, our vision, our energy. But for God, all things are possible. Nothing is beyond God’s grasp, God’s vision, God’s energy.

If you know the story of the scripture, you know that for God all things are possible.

Abraham and Sarah are childless. God says to Abraham, your descendents are going to be as numerous as the particles of dust on the earth”, and God says to Sarah, “you will be the mother of many nations”. Sarah and Abraham fall on their faces in laughter, and they say to God,”we are old, we are really old! But they were faithful, and then they learned the lesson: for God all things are possible.

The Israelites were slaves to Pharoah, the most powerful political leader on earth, and God finds someone working on his father-in-law’s farm and says “Go to Pharoah and say, “Let my people go”, and Moses has all kinds of excuses, “who am I, they won’t listen to me, what if they hurt me, I’m not a good speaker…”. But he was faithful, and then he learned the lesson: for God all things are possible.

Israel is taken into exile later in the story, the northern kingdom crushed by the Assyrians, the southern kingdom violated by the Babylonians, the temple destroyed, the people demoralized and disheartened, and Ezekiel is taken out into the middle of the desert, and he sees before him a huge graveyard, and the Spirit of the Lord asks him, “Can these bones live?” And Ezekiel says, “You know the answer, Lord!” And the Voice said, I will put my spirit within these bones, and flesh upon them, and they will live. That would be the lesson: for God all things are possible.

God’s people are waiting for a Messiah who would establish justice and righteousness and peace. A messenger comes to a young girl, Mary, and says, “you have found favor with God…you will conceive and bear a son and you will name him Jesus.” How can this happen? “The holy spirit will come upon you…”, and then the Voice says, in the lesson of Christmas, to Mary, “For God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1. 37).

The boy grows up to be a teacher and a healer, he is followed by some, rejected by others, and then, finally, crucified by a few. He dies on a cross, he is buried, but after three days he is raised from the dead, and He is alive. This is the lesson of Easter: For God all things are possible.

The story of scripture, from beginning to end, is all about what is impossible and what is possible. And the more deeply we search for a faithful way of living, the more we discover that the story of the scripture is the story of our lives. The impossible is all about obstacles and burdens; sometimes we call it “reality”. The possible is about removing those obstacles, carrying those burdens. Sometimes we call it “the dream”.

When there is too much reality, and not enough dream, we collapse into despair. When there is too much reality and not enough dream, we fall into fatigue. And the reverse needs to be said: when there is too much dream, we may be avoiding reality. When there is too much dream, we may be escaping responsibility.

The reality and the dream. The impossible and the possible. Despair and hope. I came across an interesting way of expressing this: it is like looking through a microscope or a telescope. In one we see the grain of sand, in another we see the stars. Both are true.

It helps to confess that we have limitations, that some things are impossible for us. Christianity is not a self-help movement. It is first the admission that I am flawed, that something is wrong with me, I may have strengths or gifts, but I have limitations. I love the Rabbi two-sentence definition of Judaism: There is a God. You are not God.

Some things are impossible for us. We do forget this. In the language of AA, “our lives had become unmanageable”. Can you or I save ourselves, heal ourselves, fix ourselves? This is about as likely as a camel going through the eye of a needle.

Thankfully, the teaching does not end there, the lesson of Jesus is not yet complete. Then who can be saved?, the students ask Jesus. You see, the original question was “What must I do to enter the kingdom? Do you hear the nuance? What must I do to be saved? And the answer is clear: Salvation is something God does, something God gives. For you, it is impossible. That is the bad news. But here is the good news: for God, all things are possible. Even your salvation.

It is not accidental that Jesus ties this teaching to money. Money is a powerful force in our lives, money can bless, money can curse, money can heal and money can destroy. Perhaps for the man who encountered Jesus there was a sense that the money was an obstacle to the eternal life. Give it to the poor, Jesus said, Follow me.

It was a vivid encounter, one of those experiences that people remember, and it led to the teaching of Jesus, one more teaching about discovering a faithful way of living. Jesus is consistent, totally consistent with the way God had been working in the lives of His people since the creation of the world.

Remember Abraham and Sarah, Jesus might have said to them. Remember Moses.

Remember Ezekiel.

Remember those who said, of me, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Remember the paralyzed man who was brought to me?

Remember the man chained to the graveyard, whose sanity was restored?

Remember the daughter of Jairus who was healed?

Do you remember how we fed all of those people with only five loaves of bread and two fish?

Do you remember the child with epilepsy who was healed?

Do you remember when I taught you that if you had even the faith that was in a mustard seed you could say to a mountain “move” and it would move? Why? Jesus said, “if you have faith…nothing will be impossible” (Matthew 17. 20).

Sometimes, when I think about it, what we are trying to do here, as a church, is pretty impossible. We are trying to get people to come here, every week,

to worship a God that they cannot see,

to profess faith in a Lord that they cannot see,

to come into contact with people with whom they occasionally disagree,

to serve others who do not always express appreciation,

for results and outcomes that are difficult to measure,

that may at times add no value to the world,

to give their hard-earned money to a cause that seems,

outwardly, to have little effect on the world.

It seems impossible, and it could almost lead a person to despair.

But we are searching, in the midst of it, for a faithful way of living.

An unfaithful way of living reckons that it is all up to us.

A faithful way of living trusts in the power and provision and purpose of God. An unfaithful way of living sees only through a microscope.

A faithful way of living sees also through as telescope.

An unfaithful way of living is expressed in the words of the old children’s book: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”. Finally the steam runs out! With us, it is impossible.

A faithful way of living remembers the words of the spiritual, that God will make a “way out of no way”. For God, all things are possible.

I have to believe that for God, all things are possible.

Couples can reconcile.

The sick can be healed.

Children can return home from the far country.

The lion will lie down with the lamb in the peaceable kingdom.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares.

The hungry will be filled with good things.

Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

I have to believe that for God, all things are possible.

The world will tell you that it is impossible. Every bone and muscle in your body will tell you that it is impossible. But if you read this book, and if you remember that the story in this book is your story, you will discover a faithful way of living, you will begin to trust in the impossible, you will begin to see the miraculous.

In a world where there is too much reality, and too little dream, we need to hear this. Brothers and sisters, do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12).

Let us confess the truth: with us, it is impossible.

But let us also rejoice in the truth: for God, all things are possible!

Friday, October 27, 2006

the archbishop of canterbury preaches in beijing

Click for Hi-Res image

Rowan Williams, noted scholar and Archbishop of Canterbury preached recently at the Chaoyang Church in Beijing. Among his reflections: "The church here has worked hard to make itself understood as part of China, its culture, its history, its hopes. It is no longer true, if it ever was true, that to be a Christian is to stop being really Chinese. And so we are encouraged to see a church that is trying to find its own way forward honestly – find a language that really belongs in this place. It is no kind of imposed Christianity, whether conservative or Liberal, that will answer the questions of China. It is the Gospel itself in its glory, taking root here...". Read the sermon here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

a way of life in the world: study questions

My book, A Way of Life In The World, continues to be used in a number of different places. I recently have become aware that it is being used in a variety of settings: a residency in ordained ministry group, an adult Sunday School class, a new member orientation class, and a seminary class (at Duke Divinity School). For this I am grateful. My hope had been that it would serve as a resource not only for individuals but also for small groups. On Monday evening I will be sharing some of the material with a group convened by my friend Ron Robinson at Wofford College.

A group of study questions that might be useful in small group settings has recently been posted on the Valparaiso Institute website, Practicing Our Faith. A Way of Life In The World is an exploration of six basic practices that are at the heart of United Methodist Christianity: searching the scripture, generosity with the poor, singing, testimony, small groups, and Holy Communion. Copies are available through Abingdon Press, Cokesbury or

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

tex-mex in beijing

My friends Melissa and Rick are in China for a couple of years, and she has this photo posted on her blog:

Peter's was our "home away from home" last winter when we were in Beijing. I love Chinese food, and most other types of Asian food, but one's body reaches a saturation point with it, and this happened after about ten days. Peter's serves delicious cheeseburgers, enchiladas, omelettes, and I even enjoyed a milkshake there (a rarity for me). Pam and Abby were equally enthusiastic about it, as was our daughter Liz, who was there for six months.

If you are in Beijing, check it out!

Monday, October 23, 2006


Bob Dylan, Tomorrow Is A Long Time
Sly and The Family Stone, Everybody Is A Star
Beatles, I'm Looking Through You
Kathy Mattea, Beautiful Fool
Randy Newman, Short People
Gregg Allman, These Days
Ben Lee, Catch My Disease
Joni Mitchell, River
Merle Haggard, Mama Tried
Neil Young, Out On The Weekend
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
Josh Ritter, Bright Smile, Dark Eyes
Jerry Douglas, Little Martha
Alison Krauss, Could You Lie
North Mississippi Allstars, Mississippi Moonshine
James Taylor and Ray Charles, Sweet Potato Pie
Buddy and Julie Miller, Keep Your Distance

Thursday, October 19, 2006

fall break

Actually, it is our older daughter's fall break, but she is home with us, for a brief time, and so it feels like a fall break. We had Indian food tonight, at a great place in south Charlotte; she loves Indian food, and has sampled it in restaurants, in the homes of friends who are India, and at Indian weddings. She liked it too. I recommend the Chicken Korma.

A break, this time of year, is a good thing. The administrative pace is relentless, because everything comes together, or doesn't, during these few weeks: the stewardship campaign, the staff evaluations, a music search, the charge conference reports, the nominations. And it all seems to be, at least that is my hope.

I attended the Duke Pastors' School and Convocation last week, at least for twenty four hours, and heard Craig Dykstra, who oversees the Lilly Endowment's religion initiatives, and Eugene Peterson. Craig has been a mentor to me, leading a group in which I participated a few years ago, and his concept of the pastoral imagination has been formative to me. The positive impact of the Lilly Endowment on American Christianity cannot be overstated, and that influence is largely due to Craig's theoretical grasp of practices that sustain communities of Christians over the long term. Eugene Peterson is a well-known writer of books on spiritual theology (I have reviewed a couple on this blog and as in my role as editor of the Circuit Rider Book Reviews), but his chief contribution to North American Christianity may turn out to be his rendering of scripture known as The Message.

Peterson gave two lectures, one on Abraham and the other on Isaiah, the first focusing on sacrifice and the second on the suffering servant. They were masterful lectures, filled with mature reflection that seemed to be inspired by God and the fruit of a lifetime of biblical reflection. I was also able to be a part of a group of about twenty-five persons who had a "conversation" with him. This can be tricky, as there always seems to be that one person who feels the need to give a speech, on the way to asking a question. Peterson led our group in such a way that he gave long and thoughtful answers, on subjects ranging from church growth to his own personal disciplines of prayer, work and reading. Since he doesn't make his way to the southern U.S. very often, I was grateful for the opportunity to be in his presence.

What else? Our younger daughter is applying to colleges; I am beginning to think about Advent (?)...Christmas Eve is on Sunday this year (!); I just completed a manuscript about Easter for Abingdon Press; I am enjoying the Emmylou Harris/Mark Knopler cd; our family is anticipating the arrival of a young man from Haiti who may live with us for a couple of years while he attends college (my wife has been working on many of the details related to this); I am watching more SEC football than in prior years, and I am also looking forward to ACC basketball. Oh yes, South Meck's volleyball team is in the state (4A) Tournament. Go Abby! Go Sabres!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

yet another sign that the world is coming to an end

Vanderbilt defeats Georgia, in football, in Athens, 24-22. It may be time for the Bulldogs to go with Joe Cox (of Independence High School, Charlotte) at quarterback.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

all of the children are above average

Jesus had come with the disciples to Capernaum. He asked them, what were you arguing about? Mark says they were silent, probably because they were embarrassed. They were caught! Has that ever happened to you?

They were embarrassed because they were arguing about who was the greatest among them. They knew that was pretty immature, and not what Jesus would have expected of them.

But before we condemn the disciples, we have probably had that same argument. It comes from our competitive nature. Are you ever competitive? I will confess: preachers can be competitive. I go to a preachers meeting, and a brother or sister in the clergy asks, “How many folks worship in your church?” There is a problem referring to it is “my church”, but that’s another issue. Immediately my mind is off to the races. I could answer that question, “how many people worship in your church?”, by quoting the numbers we had on Christmas eve, or on Easter morning. Or do I ask the ushers to count the people who walk their dogs across our property on Sunday morning, or maybe the people who jog down Providence Road? I could take our normal numbers, and embellish them a little. It would all flow from that basic desire: Who among us does not want to be the greatest?” Preachers follow in this apostolic succession. We still argue about who is the greatest!

And then, to compound it, we sometimes project this question on our children, don’t we? I love the humor of Garrison Keillor, who preaches each week on A Prairie Home Companion. I heard him speak once and he said that what he did was actually similar to preaching. He talked until he had something important to say and then he said it! He often introduces his monologue, on t he week from Lake Wobegon, by identifying it as a place where “all of the women are strong, all of the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average”!

All of the children are above average! And so our children compete for class rank and athletic recognition and I could go on. They internalize it, at an early age. They argued with one another about who was the greatest.

We still ask that question. Jesus must look at us and smile, and think, “I have something to teach you”. Jesus is not into competition. The Lord of the universe is not into conventional greatness. This is a teachable moment for all of us.

Mark says he sat down, which was the traditional way of instruction by a rabbi. Then Jesus said, whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all. Then he takes a little child into his arms.

Now, the teaching begins. Children in the time of Jesus were invisible, they were non-persons. Paul writes, in Galatians 4. 1, Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves. Children had no rights. They were slaves.

That is not where we usually locate greatness. Then Jesus says, whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me. Jesus brings the message back to himself. He is great because he is a servant.

In asking a simple question, what is Jesus teaching us, we are led to another one: what can children teach us?

Children teach us about the welcoming presence of Jesus. Pam and I once went into a restaurant at a bed and breakfast in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The sign read,

No children or pets

To be honest, there is some connection between this sentiment and the ancient world. The disciples didn’t really want children around. The disciples didn’t really want gentiles around. To be honest they really didn’t want women around. In the words of James Brown, it was a man’s world.

Jesus turned all of that around. He ate with gentiles. He taught women. He embraced children, and welcomed them.

Can you remember a time, as a child, when an adult was welcoming to you? I can easily tell a part of my story. The marriage of my parents had ended. There was a lot of chaos, uncertainty and pain. In hindsight, everyone was doing the best they could. I was the oldest child. I had always been close to my grandmother. For a period of years I had lunch with my grandmother every day. Now she was a wonderful cook: she made a roast beef with one of those small bottles of coke, and it would practically break apart as you put it on the plate, it was so tender, but that’s another story too…

Here is the point: My grandmother was not a young adult. She was in her latter years. She welcomed a child. For me, that made all the difference. And so this sermon is not just for children, or young adult parents. All of us who follow Jesus are called to welcome children.

That is why one of the most important, one of the holiest spaces on this campus is the nursery. Have you seen it lately? It has been transformed. But beyond the space itself, I think of the people, the countless servants who have welcomed children there, I think of the ministry of Jennie Bolen and others.

The way we welcome children is a measure of our discipleship. And so we ask: How are we impacting the lives of children? It is important that we do this, because the world is a dangerous place for children.

The news about all of the children of the world is bleak indeed: the sexual trafficking of children in Thailand, or the lifespan of a child in sub-Saharan Africa, where the median age of death is five years old. Or we could shift the lens closer to home. Did you know that…

Every day, in the United States…

· 3 children die from abuse or neglect

· 6 children commit suicide

· 13 children are homicide victims

· 16 children are killed by firearms

· 316 children are arrested for violent crimes

· 403 children are arrested for drug abuse

Did you know that every day in the United States

· 2500 children are born into poverty

· 3500 children are born to unmarried mothers

· 3500 children drop out of school

· 8500 children are reported abused or neglected

Did you know that every day in the United States

· 100,000 children are homeless

· 14.7 million children live in poverty

This is a dangerous world in which to be a child. The world of Jesus was also a dangerous world in which to be a child. In taking a child into his arms and making this point, Jesus seemed to be asking this question: what can children teach us?

Children teach us about what is really important. And so the presence of children in our world leads us into mission:

· The mission to Cambodia

· The mission to Haiti

· The mission of Africa University

· The mission of Family Promise

· The mission of the Bethlehem Center

· The mission of our own weekday school

· The mission of our own Sunday School and Vacation Bible School

· The mission of our own Children’s Fellowship and nursery.

· The mission of preparing children for worship readiness.

· The mission of baptizing children into the family of God.

· The mission that we will share, in three weeks, of teaching each of these first graders the word of God, a lamp to their feet and a light to their paths.

Everyone of us has this mission: to welcome a child in the name of Jesus. Listen to this story. It comes from the experience of Walt Kallestadt, a Lutheran pastor, and it concerns a young boy, Teddy, and his teacher, Miss Thompson.

“Teddy Stallard had never thrived in school. He was one of those kids with a deadpan face, an expressionless, glassy, unfocused stare. He wore musty, wrinkled clothes and his hair was never combed. When his teacher, Miss Thompson, spoke to Teddy, he always answered in monosyllables. Unattractive, unmotivated and distant, he was just plain hard to like. Even though his teacher said she loved everyone in her class the same, down inside she wasn’t being completely truthful.

Whenever she marked Teddy’s papers, she got some perverse pleasure out of putting Xs next to the wrong answers. When she put an F at the top of the paper, she always did so with a flair. She should have known better, because she had read Teddy’s records and knew more about him than she wanted to admit. The records read:

1st Grade: Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but poor home situation.

2nd Grade: Teddy could do better. Mother is seriously ill. He receives little help at home.

3rd Grade: Teddy is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.

4th Grade: Teddy is slow but well-behaved. His father shows no interest.

Christmas came and the boys and girls in Miss Thompson’s class brought her Christmas presents. They piled their presents on her desk and crowded around to watch her open them. Yes, there was even one from Teddy Stallard. Wrapped in brown paper, out fell a gaudy bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume.

The other boys giggled at Teddy’s gifts, but Miss Thompson at least had enough sense to silence them by immediately putting on the bracelet and dabbling a drop of perfume on her wrist. Holding her wrist up for the other children to smell, she said, “doesn’t this smell lovely?”. And the children, taking their clue from the teacher, readily agreed.

At the end of the school day, when the other children had left, Teddy lingered behind. He slowly came over to the teacher’s desk and said softly, “Miss Thompson…Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother, and her bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you liked my presents.”

When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her.

The next morning the children were greeted by a transformed Miss Thompson. She was no longer just a t eacher; she had become an agent from God, committed to loving her children and doing things for them that would live on after her. She helped all her students, but especially the slow ones, and especially Teddy Stallard. By the end of the year, Teddy showed dramatic improvement, having “caught up” with most of his classmates.

Miss Thompson didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. Then one day she received a note:

Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard

Four years later, another note came:

Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard

And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now. Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard

Miss Thompson went to that wedding and sat in the front row. She deserved to sit there. She had touched the life of a child. Her hands had become the hands of Christ, who said, Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me.

We think we are here to teach children, and then we discover that children have something to teach us.

Someone has noted:

The great events of the world are not

battles or elections or earthquakes.

The great events are babies,

for each child comes with the message that

God is not yet discouraged with humanity.

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

The he took a little child and put it among them,

And taking the child into his arms, he said,

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name

welcomes me,

And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me

but the One who sent me.

Sources: Alive Now, “Responding To Children”, July/August, 1997, pages 9 and 65. Walt Kallestad, Be Your Own Creative Coach, for the story of Teddy Stallard. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: Mark pages 636-637.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

a busy week

Twice a year I experience two periods of time, usually about eight days in length, when everything happens. As best as I can tell, my schedule has been this way for twenty years. These are all good things, activities I choose to be involved with, but it all comes together in the middle of the fall and as winter turns to spring, and it all happens at once.

In the church, this time of year, there are evaluations, of self and others; there is charge conference preparation; there is the financial stewardship campaign, there is the nomination of next year's leaders. In our church we are also completing a capital campaign and entering the critical phase of a music director search.

Beyond the church, I spent two days this week in Nashville with a group of bright and dedicated people from across the United Methodist connection: Will Willimon leads the gathering, which is a commissioned study of ministry in the United Methodist Church, and I won't go any farther with name-dropping, lest I leave someone out. It is not a group of shrinking violets, and there is much at stake: should elders itinerate (move around), and should we be "entitled" to a guaranteed appointment; should deacons celebrate the sacraments and should they be assigned by bishops; should local pastors celebrate the sacraments, and should they be able to vote at annual conference (and be represented at general conference)? These are some of the questions we are pondering.

Beyond these admittedly functional questions are other issues, related to measurement of effecive ministry, participation in accountability groups and in mentoring relationships, and ecumenical implications of ordained practices. Tom Frank of Emory is writing on behalf of our group, and he strikes me as a wise and reflective leader.

Then a day in Charlotte, and then a short drive to Brevard, where I have recently begun service as a Trustee. Brevard is a small, distinctive school situated in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest. I am happy to help this school in any way that I can, and I encourage you to learn more about Brevard at the link on this site, listed under "schools". They have an exceptional President, Drew Van Horn, who is leading the school into a stronger future, and they have a compassionate chaplain, Shelly Webb, who is also a good friend. Their strengths have been in music and in environmental studies, although new emphases seem to be emerging.

Small, church-related schools serve a great purpose in our society, and they change both the lives of those who study there and the churches with whom they are historically related. Brevard has many strengths, and it is an excellent match for a student who wants to explore his or her vocation in a beautiful setting, among faculty and staff who seem committed to genuinely knowing and caring about them.

The Board of Trustees meeting ended, and after having one last meal in the dining hall there, I drove back to Charlotte, on a beautiful fall day.