Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Bruce Cockburn, Mary Had A Baby
Vince Guaraldi, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Diana Krall, Walking In A Winter Wonderland
Taize Community, Magnificat
Benny Carter, A Child Is Born
Kathy Mattea, There's A New Kid In Town
Chieftains, Once In Royal David's City
Ray Charles, Christmas In My Heart
Dave Brubeck, We Three Kings
Iona Community, On God Alone I Wait Silently
John Fahey, O Come, All Ye Faithful
Bruce Cockburn, Early On One Christmas Morn
Kathy Mattea, Emmanuel
John Prine, Silent Night All Day Long
Robert Shaw Festival Singers, Glory To God In The Highest
Vince Guaraldi, O Christmas Tree
Ray Charles, Little Drummer Boy

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thanksgiving (philippians 4)

In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul is coming to grips with the circumstances of his life.

I have learned to be content with whatever I have (12)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (13)

My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (19)

Here Paul is helpful: faith can be a source of strength to those who encounter the ups and downs of life. Fred Craddock, the wonderful interpreter of scripture, comments on the whether or not nature of the gospel: whether he is present with them or not, whether he is alive or dead, whether he is hungry or filled, experiencing scarcity or abundance, imprisoned or free to do the work of an apostle. A key lesson for us in this passage is that Paul is not defined by the circumstances of his life. I am reminded of an ancient Chinese story about a man who owned a horse. One day the horse ran away. The man’s friend said, “so sorry about your horse”. The man said, bad news, good news, who knows? A few days later the horse came back with a herd of wild horses. The man’s friends said “wonderful”! The man said, good news, bad news, who knows? The next day one of the wild horses threw the man’s son and broke both legs of the son. “How awful”, said the friends. Bad news, good news, who knows? Later all of the village young men were called into war, but the son with the broken legs was excused. Good news, bad news. Who knows?

I hear echoes of Paul in this story. He refuses to be defined by the circumstances of his life. In fact, he has a kind of indifference, a holy indifference, as he writes to the Philippians:

In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and going hungry, of having plenty and being in need (12).

Paul knows who he is, and he refused to be defined, or overcome, by externals. Fred Craddock comments again:

“Paul is able to live in abundance, but it is not necessary that he have it. He is able to live in hunger and want, but it is not necessary that he be poor. He is defined neither by wealth nor poverty, but by a contentment that transcends both, and by a power in Christ which enables him to live in any circumstance”.

I am convinced that this is the word of the Lord for us this morning. Too often we are defined, overcome, overwhelmed, demoralized, impressed, shaped by external circumstances. Equally important, perhaps more important is what is going on within us. What happens around us is not as important as what happens within us. Paul is in prison, as he writes the letter to the Philippians, and yet he refuses to see himself as a victim, but as a person who is empowered by God in any circumstance. It is easy to allow the world to define us, to set the agenda for us. How do we get beyond this? We work on our own spiritual lives, we look within, we claim a radical faith in the God who is trustworthy, who will provide all the resources we need to live each day.

Working on our own spiritual lives: this is essential if we are going to mature in a faithful way of living. There is a wonderful story told by a rabbi: “When I started I wanted to save the whole world. I lived a little longer, and thought, maybe I will just save my nation. Then I lived a little longer and thought, maybe I will just save my city. Then I lived a little longer and thought, maybe I’ll just save my family. When I became an old man, and had lived a long while, I realized, maybe I’ll just save myself! And then it dawned on me: if I had tried to save myself first, then maybe I could save my family, and my city, and my nation, and my world!

We work on our own spiritual lives. If we want other people to serve, we serve. If we want other people to be more generous, we become more generous. If we want other people to increase their financial pledge, we increase our financial pledge. If we want other people to be more faithful, we become more faithful. Because Paul is working on his relationship with God, he is able to change himself, and his community, and ultimately his world. It begins with us, within us. We do not allow the world to define us. Do not be conformed to the world, Paul writes in Romans 12, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

What does all of this mean for us, today? As individuals, we recognize that our self-worth is not defined by the externals, our houses, toys, degrees, perks, jobs, achievements. Someone has said that “we buy things we do not need with money we do not have to impress people we do not know”! What is the source of our self-worth? Our self-worth is rooted in the grace of God. And once we know this, we can live less anxious, more contented lives. Paul reminds us:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (6-7).

The scripture can also help us in the raising of children. Our children are not shaped solely by their environments: they can also learn these principles. I have a good friend who is a physician in Greensboro. One of his daughters went to a school that had one of the worst reputations in town. Years later I would often see her seated on the edge of the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium---she was a sports photographer for the student newspaper, while she was an undergraduate at Duke. But when she was a child, I would often hear folks complaining about this middle school, its students, its neighborhood, even questioning her parents. They clearly had the means to send their children to any school. And yet they chose to remain there, and she flourished. The dad, Chris, brought it up in conversation one day, He said, simply, “you know, maybe she’s there to help the other children”. It’ s not the external circumstances in which we place our children. It is the faith that we give to them: that is what really matters.

And of course the scripture has implications for the church. I want us to learn the secret that Paul has learned, to be content. God calls us to live in peace. God invites us to rejoice. God will supply all of our needs. Today is stewardship Sunday, although this has been our focus in a variety of ways all year long. Stewardship is not an add-on to the Christian faith, Stewardship Sunday is not a speed bump in the Church calendar. Stewardship is biblical, it is at the core of a faithful way of living.

A few years ago Alan Greenspan, retired Chairman of the Federal Reserve, was asked shortly after coming to the position if he was nervous. He replied, “If I’m not nervous, I shouldn’t be here.” I do confess that I am probably more nervous on this Sunday than any other Sunday of the year. And that is because my own strength and resources, our strength and resources, are not sufficient.

What do we do? We depend on the grace of God to complete what we cannot do in ourselves. We trust God to provide for our needs. In a wonderful kind of way, coming to this day, each year, drives me back to the basics: trusting that God will provide, not being defined by external circumstances, remembering that my self-worth is rooted in grace.

Friday I opened the Observer (November 16) and came to the entertainment section--a Christmas movie was already playing. "Perfect for the holidays", the ad proclaimed. And I realized, Thanksgiving and Christmas have been fused into one long stretch, a couple of months, two or three billing cycles, the holidays-generic, an all you can eat buffet of marketing and consuming, giving and receiving. turkey and dressing, ipods and xboxes and so it goes.

And then I realized the complexity of trying to communicate a different message, the gospel, which is also about giving and receiving. I realized that you and I hear so many messages, see so many visual images, that what is needed is not a story that tugs at our emotions, we are almost resistant to that.

What is needed is a return to the source: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, my God will supply all of your needs. And as a preacher I have to trust that if I speak the gospel as clearly as I can, and get out of the way, it has its own power, and it will accomplish the purpose that God intends.

Despite the newspaper ad, it really isn’t Christmas yet, but we do observe Thanksgiving this week, and I want to share an experience. Pam and I were just starting out in the ministry, living in East Bend, I was serving four churches, she was a campus minister at Salem College. One of the churches was having their annual bazaar, at about this time of year. You have not lived until you have enjoyed a huge bowl of chicken stew on a cool fall evening in Yadkin County.

Anyway, one part of the festivities was their own version of the Newlywed Game, and since we were early on in all of that we were asked to be contestants. We are usually game for most anything, so we said, “sure”, but, to be honest, we really had no choice! Well, if you remember that game, the spouses are asked questions, and are to answer them in the way they think their partner will answer. So the men were outside, in the sound proof room, and the wives were given the questions. “What, will your husband say, is his favorite holiday?” I should admit that we were well into the evening, and the Carters were not doing well in the Newlywed Game. The question was asked, “What, will your husband say, is his favorite holiday?” A smile came across my wife’s face and she thought, “he’s a preacher, he will have to say “Easter”. “Easter”, she said, confidently.

We returned from the sound proof booth, and soon it was our turn. They asked me the question: “What is your favorite holiday?” And immediately, my grandmother’s turkey and dressing came to mind, and I said, “Thanksgiving”. At this point Pam buried her head into her hands and said, “You’e a preacher, and your favorite holiday is Thanksgiving!”.

But, like many of us in marriages, I lovingly stand my ground, and I still do. Paul is writing to the Philippians, expressing thanksgiving. In I Thessalonians 5, words that echo our scripture for today, Paul writes again:

Rejoice always, Pray without ceasing

Give thanks in all circumstances

For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (16-18)

A last word: I want to thank you for your support of this church in so many ways, this church that means so much to so many of us. I want to thank you for your sacrifices. And I want to thank God for your faith, and for our partnership in the gospel. It is all a gift. It is all God’s amazing grace.

So: trust that God will provide. Do not being defined by your external circumstances. Remember that your self-worth is rooted in grace. In all circumstances, give thanks. Amen.

Source: Fred Craddock, Philippians.

Friday, November 16, 2007

sacrifice (philippians 3)

Zell Kravinsky was one of those people who was given to extremes. He was so charitable that his wife threatened to leave him. A Jew, he moved beyond the biblical tithe, 10%, and even the later rabbinical advice that a generous person not give away more than 20% of their income, lest their family become destitute. He taught in an inner city school, moved into real estate in Philadelphia, found that he was gifted with numbers, all the while living modestly with his wife and their four children. In time he donated almost all of his money to worthy causes, most of them in the field of public health. A friend explained his actions: “He gave away the money because he had it and there were people who needed it. But then it began to change the way he looked at himself. “

Kravinsky read an article in the Wall Street Journal, and began to investigate the possibility of donating his kidney to someone on a waiting list. His reason: the math. A donor, he concluded, has a one in four thousand chance of dying as a result of donating a kidney. His own children, given their current ages, had, over their life time, only a one in 250,000 risk of needing a kidney, and besides, he had only ten more years when his kidney would be viable for donation. His children each had three siblings who were potential donors. Meanwhile, there were 60,000 people in the United States currently on the kidney transplant list with only about 15-20,000 potential donors each year due to deaths. Only half of those kidneys would make it to transplant as family members often refuse to honor even written commitments made to donate a kidney. Over his wife and his parent’s objections, Kravinsky made an undirected non-family donation of one of his kidneys. His kidney ended up going to a 29 year old African American woman who was studying for a degree in social work, and who had been undergoing dialysis for the last eight years. Kravinsky feels good about the donation of his kidney but his friends complain that he makes them feel guilty and his wife and parents worry that he has gone overboard.

Sacrifice is at the heart of our faith, and yet that is also oddly troubling to us. We think of sacrifice as a worthy activity, but we wonder about the limits of our sacrifices. We have seen sacrifices abused: some take advantage of the sacrifices of others. There is something about sacrifice that is life-denying. A relative had gone out to visit his niece, serving as a pastor of a small country church, hours from the nearest city, just a handful of people, she was his favorite niece. “She could have gone to law school or medical school”, he commented, “what a waste”. And, if we are honest, we think and worry about the young men and women in Iraq, and their very real sacrifices. The fact that flag draped caskets cannot be photographed upon their return means something. And the most troubling passage in the Bible is surely the command of God given to Abraham, to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

If we are honest, sacrifices trouble us. Yet we all make sacrifices. From the birth of a baby, parents give up sleep for the sake of the baby’s nurturing. As our children grow up, we make sacrifices. I have attended hours of dance recitals for the glory of two minutes when one of my daughters, maybe four or five years old at the time, would glide across the stage. I wish I could tell you that I had a broad cultural interest in the dance education of hundreds of young children, but I would not be telling the truth. And life goes on: we are grade parents, coaches, we stay up late into the night working on school projects---I remember one that had to do with a ball bearing that needed to trip a mechanism, causing a needle to pierce a balloon. We travel with our kids to as they pursue their (or our!) interests. And I think of parents with children who are different in same way, with a need that requires a great deal of attention and energy, and extra grace.

Our lives are shaped by sacrifices within families, and this is appropriate: the marriage vows, the baptismal promises on behalf of a child---this is sacrifice. But we are also called to sacrifice in other ways. One is in the society: for example, we are called to sacrifice not only for the education of our own children, but for the children of others. We pay taxes so that other children will have public schools, and we pay taxes so that our parents and grandparents will receive social security. Sacrifice is a part of life, in the smallest family or the largest nation, on behalf of the youngest or the oldest.

But sacrifice is primarily, for our purpose, a matter of faith. It is at the heart of the earliest Christian witness. In today’s scripture, Paul is writing to the Philippians, about sacrifice. According to Acts 16, the congregation at Philippi was the first church established by Paul and Timothy on their first missionary journey. The tone of the letter reflects a warm and intimate relationship between Paul and the Philippians. Paul was most likely writing from prison, where he would be held captive for two years. Philippians is really a “thank you” note---the Philippians had sent a gift to Paul by way of Epaphroditus (see Philippians 2. 25-30). It tells the story of a gift shared and a gift received. The next two Sundays we will reflect on this gift, what it meant for Paul and the earliest Christians, what it means for us. We will explore two themes: today, sacrifice, and next Sunday, gratitude. I contend that sacrifice and gratitude cannot be separated.

The apostle Paul is struggling to understand the meaning of Christ faith in terms of strength and weakness. “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus…who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…”. It is fashionable to confess that we are weak before God, and that we receive strength and power through the Gospel. I remember as a teenager, listening to people share testimonies about their lives, and the plot would often go like this. My life was a mess, I was really in a low place, then I became a Christian, and now everything is really great! It was a journey from weakness to strength.

It is interesting that Paul’s testimony is just the opposite. In terms of religious heritage and pedigree, Paul had it all: he was circumcised on the 8th day (not a late convert to all of this); born of the people Israel (the right ethnic group); of the tribe of Benjamin (the last and favored son of Jacob and Rachel); a Hebrew born of Hebrews (they spoke the biblical language, not the foreign languages all around them); a Pharisee (fully obedient to the law), a persecutor of the church (steadfast against the enemy), blameless under the law (he had kept his nose clean). This is Paul’s heritage, his life. It is pretty impressive. Yet, Paul says, I have given up all of this. For what? I am willing to lose all of this in order that I may gain something else: to know Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering.

Paul’s words in Philippians 3 can be helpful to us as we wrestle with the meaning of sacrifice. If we are growing in the faith, growing in family relationships, growing in friendships, the offering of our time, our talents and our possessions will take on a sacrificial character. A church accomplishes its mission in the world through the sacrifices of individuals: those who teach, pray, sing, visit, give money, invite friends, take prophetic stances, lead worship, reach beyond their comfort zones, chaperone youth and children’s gatherings, offer hospitality…the mission of Jesus Christ is always the result of sacrifice. If something is meaningful to us, important to us, we will make sacrifices. This is true in our families. This is true in our workplaces. And it is true with God.

We also understand that a sacrificial life flows from an experience of grace. We are willing to sacrifice time, money and energy because of the grace that we receive from one another and from God. Saint Francis prayed it well: It is in giving that we receive. A vital church is always an adventure of sacrifice and grace, a journey into sacrifice, into weakness, that is also a pilgrimage into the grace of God, who strengthens us and calls us forward. As Paul confessed, “this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (3. 13-14).

A faithful way of living is a sacrificial life. Eugene Peterson, commenting on Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac, comments: “A sacrificial life is the means, and the only means, by which a life of faith matures. By increments a sacrificial life—an altar here, an altar there---comes to permeate every detail of life: parenthood, marriage, friendship, work, gardening, reading a book, climbing a mountain, receiving strangers…”.

I will let you in on a little insider secret. In most of the materials related to church growth and demographics, preachers are discouraged from talking about sacrifice. It will scare people we are told. Focus on meeting their felt-needs. People are into self-fulfillment, not self-denial. Sacrifice is a downer. When Zell Kravinsky comes into the room, we avoid him.

My disagreement with that is two-fold. From scripture, it strikes me as odd. Nothing in the Bible makes any sense apart from sacrifice: from exodus to exile, from birth to death to resurrection of Jesus, from the expansion of the gospel into all the world, And from life experience, it does not ring true. If you made a list of the five most important people in your life, and the five most powerful experiences of your life, I would imagine that sacrifice is very much at the heart of those relationships and experiences.

What we do need to rediscover about sacrifice is that it is not a stoic, “this is my cross” to bear kind of existence. True sacrifice is less about giving up something of a certain value for something else, as elevating, lifting up our lives, our relationships, our resources to God. True sacrifices rise to God, like incense. As we make sacrifices we are most like God, the Trinitarian God whose son is led by the Spirit to be sacrificed for us.

This is Paul’s point I think---I want to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship, the koinonia of his suffering, becoming like him in his death. Frederick Buechner noted that “to sacrifice is to make something holy by giving it away in love”. Maybe our lives are, to the world, a waste: the cross, giving a tithe, ten percent of our income to God, the broken bread, the poured cup, the humble spirit, forgiveness, the joy of being in the presence of weakness. But it is the path to Christian maturity, and, we will see next week, it is the deeply connected to gratitude. And so we build a little altar here, a little altar there, and our lives begin to change. Paul, writing in Romans 12. 1-2: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Sacrifices trouble us, because they force us to answer the great questions of our lives: Why are we here? Why do families and churches exist? When we are no longer here, what will remain? What will remain? The little altars we have built, here and there. Those sacrifices will remain, thousands of years later. “Do this”, Jesus said, “in remembrance of me”.

Many of our stories are a lot like Paul’s: we have had access to resources, family tradition, vocational opportunities, educational institutions, religious teaching. We have been blessed. What sacrifices are we making? What sacrifices are we willing to make?

Sources: The story of Zell Kravinsky is found in “Personal Sacrifice” by Melanie Aron,
www.shirhadash.org; Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way; Fred Craddock, Philippians.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

the church of jesus and global poverty: eight reflections

1. Christianity is predominately a southern hemispheric phenomenon; the center of gravity is no longer in Western Europe and the U.S., but in Africa. As Philip Jenkins (The Next Christendom) has noted, the average Christian in the world is likely to be a poor African.

2. The empirical reality of poverty and suffering in the world can no longer be avoided. The co-existence of the church alongside massive and growing poverty calls into question the integrity of the church and its faithfulness to the gospel.

3. The church is deeply implicated in a market economy that benefits from and leads to economic suffering for large numbers of people. The effects of globalization are powerful, and the church must examine the ways in which it mirrors the patterns and assumptions of the world.

4. The market economy is in conflict with the Wesleyan ethos of grace. We must examine the ways in which our practices (fair trade, table fellowship, hospitality) might redeem human life; how our congregations might bear witness, and how our conference bodies might participate might shape national and transnational efforts on behalf of life. This political work must be non-partison (as with the Millenium Development Goals).

5. Our structures need to serve the mission, particularly the mission of decreasing the disparities between rich and poor. As a connectional church, we must also ask if the connection is primarily political or ecclesial. Are we a communion or a federation of churches? Can our structures become more spiritual and biblical, and less political and juridicial?

6. What does covenant mean for those who are members of the One Body of Christ across this planet? Is covenant a sufficiently powerful concept to trump American individualism, as expressed in matters of sexual freedom (on the political left) or economic freedom (on the political right)?

7. How can the church of the global north learn from the church of the global south? How can an institutional church become more missional?

8. The chasm between rich and poor is clearly one of judgment in the gospel (see Luke 16. 19ff., the rich man and Lazarus). The chasm is lessened by the actions of human beings, and the call to the church is an essential element in this response. To whom much is given, Jesus teaches, much will be required.

Monday, November 12, 2007


We always knew Greg House was an interesting guy, but documentary worthy? We'll see. This week on House, a film crew shadows the good doctor as he works on a teen patient who had a heart attack just before getting re-constructive surgery for a facial deformity. It's just a guess, but we think this won't be an easy week for anyone. Tune in Tuesday, 11/13 at 9pm ET on Fox.FOX/Greg Gayne - Friday, November, 9, 2007, 1:9 AM

I watch very little television, actually, but House, recommended in the first place by a woman who was a part of a Disciple Bible Study, is somehow appealing to me. Dr. House is cynical and sexist but also flawed and brilliant. For these reasons (all four?) he attracts an unending succession of people who want to be his students and patients, and the diagnostic structure of the episodes gives the series an element of suspense, on a small scale, of course.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Our two daughters are off at college, the older daughter a senior at UNC Chapel Hill, the younger at UNC Wilmington. I decided to travel to Raleigh this morning (a three hour journey) to see our younger daughter play volleyball at NC State. She is on the traveling club team, which is a mid-point between intramurals and varsity. There were eight or nine teams there, and I was immediately transported back into time to the days when she played on teams in middle and high school, and we traveled and spent Saturdays at volleyball tournaments. There was tension, at times, in those gatherings: college scouts were present, some of the participants were pursuing college scholarships, and there was some measure of the usual teenage angst. This seemed much more relaxed, the young women playing just for the fun of it. While there I ran into a friend from a former church and her daughter, who is about to complete an undergraduate degree in middle eastern studies and speaks both french and arabic. College students these days are amazing.

In the afternoon we drove over with my younger daughter and one of her UNCW friends to see our older daughter, who lives in a bohemian and slightly run down part of Carrboro---a place, I should quickly add, that she really loves. We watched the end of the UNC-NC State foodball game (two mediocre teams slugging it out), then an episode of The Office that I had missed (this one seemed to have been influenced by the recent movie Into The Wild), and then we took off for Ming Garden, the Chinese restaurant where our older daughter works; it is the best Chinese restaurant in Chapel Hill. They seemed glad to see Liz on her "off day", and both food and service were exceptional.

Jack, from Haiti, is with my wife visiting a potential college. More about that later.

And finally, Ruth, a beloved member of our church, died today. I had a long conversation with her on Thursday, during which she was fully engaged in the activities of her family, and thinking about the upcoming holidays. We will all miss her.

I am preaching tomorrow about sacrifice (Philippians 3). Our next two Sundays have as their central focus our financial stewardship---these are critical services in our year. The following Sunday (November 18) I will preach about gratitude (Philippians 4). And then we are into Thanksgiving, and then, almost immediately into Advent.

Monday, November 05, 2007

consultation on disparity between rich and poor--united methodist news service

Consultation addresses chasm between rich and poor

By Linda Green*
Oct. 30, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Henk Pieterse is director of scholarly research for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education, which sponsored the consultation.

While the world is increasingly interconnected through advances in communication, transportation and financial systems, its poorest citizens are being left out of the benefits of globalization, say United Methodist leaders monitoring the trend.

"The haves are going to have more, and the have-nots are going to have less," said Andrew Park, a faculty member at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He said the poor simply don't have the resources to compete in a global economy.

Park was among representatives from Korean, African, Filipino, Brazilian and U.S. perspectives who met in Nashville Oct. 18-19 for a consultation on "The Poor in a Global Church: Implications for The United Methodist Church."

The purpose was to explore the theological, institutional and practical implications of the widening global gap between the rich and the poor and to develop a United Methodist resource of theological perspectives on globalization.

The U.S.-centric denomination is continuing its own discussions about proposed structural changes toward a more global church. Consultation participants urged the United Methodist Council of Bishops to make growing economic disparity a vital part of their conversation.

The language of globalization

"As the church, at this time, continues to talk about its global nature, it cannot do so without paying attention to the global disparity between the rich and the poor around the world," said Henk Pieterse, consultation facilitator and director of scholarly research for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which sponsored the gathering.

"As the church … continues to talk about its global nature, it cannot do so without paying attention to the global disparity between the rich and the poor around the world."
-Henk Pieterse

The language of globalization is not religious, he said, but is rather a complex language with political, economic and social dimensions.

"It is crucial that when the church uses language that comes out of a different domain, that we be clear how we use the language because language always bring a certain set of assumptions or worldviews. When we use language like globalization, the church should understand why it uses it and how it uses it so that it can do so with theological integrity," Pieterse said.

Discussions centered on five dimensions of poverty that the church should include in its conversations: economic, political, cultural, spiritual and body or natural health.

The consultation grappled with questions about the language of being a global church and how the language of globalization intersects with forces shaping the world. It addressed how the widening gap between rich and poor is impacting the church's commitment to being a "connectional people," along with the disparity's effect on denominational structure and governance.

'We live it'

For billions of people across the world who live on $1 to $2 a day, globalization has not meant a better life but greater unemployment, insecurity and poverty, according to participants in the consultation.

Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Area said he and his people are living examples of economic disparity. He described how many people in the central African nation struggle to acquire salt while there is abundant food wasted elsewhere. "It is not something we know in theory, but we live it," he said.

Yemba said that, while United Methodists are mission-minded, the church exists in and for a world that is ever-changing. He asked participants if the denomination's structure and governance are consistent with the global or worldwide nature it claims.

Andrew Park

"In its present structures and governance, The United Methodist Church is rooted in American culture and style of leadership," he said. But, if it is to be true to its mission-minded, historical character, it should "risk losing something dear for the sake of the Gospel."

Yemba called on the denomination to gradually decentralize its structures and style of governance in terms of personnel and location of some general agencies. He said that central conferences — which are United Methodist conferences outside of the United States — should no longer be seen only as mission fields but as full participants in the church's mission. The church's governance, he said, should reflect its worldwide claim.

Levels of poverty

Quoting economist Jeffrey Sachs, the Rev. Ken Carter of Charlotte, N.C., noted that nations such as Bolivia, Haiti and much of sub-Saharan Africa struggle with extreme poverty while others such as South Africa, Paraguay and Armenia are experiencing moderate poverty.

According to Sachs, extreme poverty is "when households cannot meet the basic needs for survival," and moderate poverty refers "to conditions of life in which basic needs are met, just barely." There are many other levels between the poorest parts of the world and the richest.

Carter said that Sachs and others are "warning us of a great chasm in the life separating the rich and the poor."

The Rev. M. Douglas Meeks, a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, said the church must guard against conforming to the world's priorities and power structures. "(The) church loses its ability to resist the global market when it no longer contests the counter-gospels of the market society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and when it allows itself to be shaped by the market logic," he said.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

it is november

November is upon us. In our congregation we observe All Saints' on Sunday, and it is one of the significant Sundays of the year. We will name those who have died in the past twelve months, celebrate Holy Communion, and acknowledge the service of the Bereavement Committee and the Stephen Ministers. Then, later in November, we move on to Stewardship Sunday and Christ The King. And then we are in Advent...I spent a day and two nights at Kanuga this week, with a small planning group that is contemplating the future of the Pastor-Theologian program, which was housed, in its first nine years, at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey. The generous funding of the Lilly Endowment is no longer a part of what we are doing, and CTI is no longer our institutional home. And yet there is the sense that the conversation needs to continue. Wallace Alston, former director of CTI, and prior to that the senior pastor of Nassau Presbyterian, on the campus of Princeton, NJ, is our leader, and the discussions are always lively. He is a wonderful model for theologically substantive pastoral leadership. We took some important but small steps; we have in mind some regional groups, including one or more in Canada. The past model, which brings together a group of pastors for reading and writing, along with a resource theologian, has been a good one. I hope something resembling what has gone before will emerge. I am hopeful....Last night was Halloween. I decided to stay at the church--we had cancelled many of our church programs (which says something about us, I know...), but a party was thrown for the Joy Class, which is a group of developmentally disabled men and women who have PUMC their church home. Russ and Ruth are their leaders, and Delores made hot dogs, chili, slaw, beans, etc. It was a happy feast.. We only had one trick or treater anyway; we live on a small hill, and I think most children do some kind of cost-benefit analysis, and choose not to ascend to our front porch. At least that is my guess...I will conclude my service, this December, as the book review editor of Circuit Rider. I have been at this for almost six years, I think, and in the past year happily turned a few of the responsibilities over to Patricia Farris in California and Andy Kinsey in Indiana. It has been a nice role, and a way to contribute to the intellectual life of the clergy of our tradition....I saw "Into The Wild" last week. It is an amazing movie. I highly recommend it....It is November, as I mentioned earlier, and the weather this afternoon and evening has been mild summer weather---shorts, short sleave shirt, docksiders. I have to remind myself that I live in North Carolina and not north Florida. Jack from Haiti and I plan to be at the Bobcats opening night tomorrow; I am ready for basketball season, even though Duke is young and inexperienced and UNC is loaded. Back to Wallace Alston: his son Mackey is a filmmaker, and his documentary, "The Killer Within", will be shown on the Discovery Channel on Monday evening (11/5). Pam and I saw it at the CTI Annual Conference in June; it is worth seeing, or recording, if you have digital recording, which I hope you do. And back to Kanuga: on the way home I stopped by Wildflour Bakery in Saluda, with two friends in tow, who happen to be Canadians. One mentioned, more than once, that the bran muffin was the best she had ever tasted. If you are in the area, stop in; it's a bohemian kind of place that serves excellent food. That particular morning, everyone was dressed in Halloween garb, shoveling huge mounds of dough into ovens, pouring coffee, putting together a little morning feast.