Monthly Archives: June 2010

Unpopular: Humility

“Humility is the virtue that distinguished Christianity from worldly wisdom.”  This quote is taken from one of my favorite devotional books, Praying with John Wesley.  It is attributed to Jeremy Taylor, an Anglican bishop that influenced John Wesley. David deSilva, the author of Praying with John Wesley writes, “Desire for advancing one’s status and defending one’s honor in worldly terms is not compatible with the desire to follow Jesus.”

“Advancing one’s status” – that one got to me as I read it again last week.  It was only a week ago that I knelt in front of the Bishop and received a stole, a Bible, and a certificate announcing that I now held a new status in the United Methodist Church.  I have advanced my status, and have the certificate to prove it (it will probably be in a frame and on a wall in my office in about six months or so).

The night after my ordination tornadoes ripped through central Illinois.  They passed about 30 miles north of my home.  They destroyed many homes in Dwight and Streator.  On Wednesday I went to meet a few people from the conference to help out with the cleanup in Streator.  The three of us that met there had all gone through the conference’s disaster response training.

After going through a daylong seminar about disaster response, we were all given special green t-shirts as well as photo badges that announced our status as trained and registered early responders.  The three of us showed up at the Streator Fire Department with wheel barrows, shovels, gloves and special shirts and official badges.  We were promptly put in a van (without all of our equipment we were so proud of), and dropped off at a public park.  We were told, “Pick stuff up and bring it over here.”

We stood there for a second, not sure of what to do.  First of all, the damage left me a little dumbstruck.  We were at a baseball complex.  Two of the backstops were crumpled like aluminum foil.  Several of the light posts were snapped in half.  Brick dugouts were piles of rubble.  A cement shed was toppled.  Another field was relatively untouched.  Shingles, limbs, splintered wood, nails, and glass were scattered everywhere.

The three of us just stood there, not sure what to do.  There were about 50 people at work.  Some were dragging garbage cans full of debris.  Some were working on a pile of bricks.  It was hot and humid, I didn’t know where to begin, so I just wandered around for awhile, picking up random things and holding them in my hands.  I started to get annoyed.

Didn’t anyone notice my green shirt?  Didn’t you see my badge?  I am a trained disaster responder.  I am here to help – to do real work – not to pick up litter at a baseball field.  I’m an ordained Elder, for crying out loud, shouldn’t I have an important job to do.  I am, like Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal.

Eventually I found an empty can.  I found a field that no one was working on, and I started to pick things up.  I picked up shingles – so many shingles.  I picked up nails and splinters of wood and broken limbs. I looked at the baseball field and realized how important this work really was.

It was a beautiful baseball complex – surely a point of pride for the community.  I realized that if I could clean up this field, it could be a place kids could come and play, and hopefully forget about the destruction.  Maybe in some small way I could help families get back to their normal life.  Maybe I could pick up enough nails and glass and make the field safe for a kid to have fun again.

In the heat of the day, knelt down to pick up a pile of debris.  I thought about those shingles.  They had come off of someone’s roof.  I was literally picking up pieces of someone’s home.  Then I saw something that really didn’t belong.  It was pink.  It was a tiny little toy pony.  In the midst of the debris, there was a little girl’s toy.  I know a little girl that loves her toy ponies. I cried.  I knelt in that field and cried as I held that toy.  I realized that I was sitting in almost the exact posture I had sat just a few days before while being ordained.

In that field I knelt down to pick up the pieces of someone’s home.  I had sweat on my brow and a young girl’s toy in my hands.  A few days earlier I knelt down to be ordained by Bishop Palmer.  I had a stole around my neck and a Bible in my hands.  Somehow it felt pretty much the same.

That’s when I knew what humility was all about.  Following Christ is not about stoles or certificates.  Being a pastor is not about compliments after a great sermon, and it is not even about building bigger churches. Being a disciple of Christ is not about “advancing one’s status.” I learned – or maybe was reminded of – an important lesson: the best way I know to follow Christ, is by getting down on my knees to serve.


Filed under Christianity

No relief for the Reverend

So, now I’m ordained.  Someone asked me on Sunday if I feel any different.  My immediate thought was, “No,” but I paused before I answered and thought about it and said, “Yes, I guess I sort of do feel different.”  He smiled.  I think he appreciated that I took the time to answer him honestly, and he said, “Good.  You deserve to.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting to feel like after ordination.  Some have asked if I feel relieved.  You would think I would feel relief.  After all, the process has taken almost eight years to complete.  I’ve been interviewed and approved by three different groups.  I’ve submitted myself to psychological analysis, turned in hundreds of pages of theological writing, went through CPE, and graduated seminary.  Along the way I have served at three churches, had various mentors, been criticized by anonymous letter, chastised by the mysterious “some people,” and made enough mistakes to  put even Jesus’s limit of forgiveness (70 times 7) to test.

So you would think that I would stand here relieved.  I’m not.

There is no relief.  There is way too much work to do.  If anything, I feel the weight of responsibility now more than ever.  I have been charged by my Bishop before God, my Church, and my family, to do something.  The world is a broken place, and there is so much work to be done.

I went to Peoria on Wednesday.  I was accepted into membership by my brother and sister clergy on Wednesday afternoon.  I was introduced to the conference on Thursday morning.  I was ordained on Friday evening.  I came back to Chenoa  on Saturday and the world had not yet changed.

The oil was still pouring into the ocean.  Wars over greed and power were still being fought.  The divide between the rich and the poor was still growing.  Children were still dying of curable diseases.  Wayward souls were still wandering without knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ.  Young people were still being influenced by the TV telling them they could only find happiness if they looked this way, and bought this product.

The building downtown was still crumbling.  The food pantry across the street was still in need.  The basement of our church was still a wasted space waiting to be turned into something wonderful.  The meetings still had to be scheduled.  The sermon on Sunday still had to be preached.  The dishes still needed to be washed. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to work for the Kingdom of God.  When I turned on the TV this morning I saw plain as day that it had not yet arrived.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to move onward toward Christian perfection.  It didn’t take long for me this morning to realize I hadn’t made it yet. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

Instead, I feel empowered.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to go into the world and do something.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to equip the saints for ministry.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to teach and preach, to break bread with sinners, to heal the sick, to proclaim release to the captives, and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I am empowered by God to do something.  And you are too.  Let’s get something done.  And then, and only then, may we find relief.


Filed under Christianity

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

17 years ago I told you I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was 15 years old.  It was the night your Dad died, and I was being tormented with a whirlwind of emotions.  In the midst of my emotions, I picked up a notebook and decided to write.  I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I knew that something deep inside of me was telling me to write.  I realized in that moment that I was a writer.  I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  When I told you that, I was expecting you to say, “Really, what do you want to be?”  Instead you said simply, “You are going to be a minister.”  I thought you were crazy.

Yet something within me never let go of that idea.  On the night that Grandpa died, something was born in me.  It was a spark that was probably there all along.  It was a spark that only you recognized.  It was a spark I figured would just fizzle out.  I was wrong.  Tonight I am going to be ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.

I am going to kneel before you, the church, the Bishop and God and take vows to dedicate my life to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Tonight I will promise to teach the Bible to those seeking a deeper understanding.  I will promise to preach good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, and forgiveness to sinners.  I will promise to sit with a dying man as he takes his final breaths.  I will promise to hold an infant above the baptismal waters.  I will promise to break bread with sinners and share the cup of forgiveness.  I am going to dedicate my life to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I will take a solemn vow and enter into a covenant relationship with the Church, the body of Christ – the only source of truth and salvation I have ever known.  The Church is not perfect.  It’s a good thing, because neither am I.  I love the United Methodist Church. I know it has made mistakes, yet I love it anyway.  I love it for so many reasons, but ultimately I love it because it was through the United Methodist Church that I discovered the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

And that is why I want to thank you.  I want to thank you and Dad for bringing me to church as a kid.  I want to thank you both for teaching me about the love of Jesus in word and deed.  I want to thank you for valuing my education, and encouraging me to reach and dream and dance.  I want to thank you for loving me, even when I forgot my homework, even when I forgot to pick up the apples in the yard, or when I forgot to give you a message.  I want to thank you for loving me so much that you could see through all of my mistakes and imperfections.  I want to thank you for loving me so much that you could see something about who I am, and who I could be.

When I kneel before the Bishop tonight, there will be so many people there with me.  There will be people of five wonderful churches that embraced me, welcomed me, and molded me into a man, husband, father, and pastor.  There will be teachers and coaches that pushed me.  There will be friends that laughed with me.  There will be all four of my grandparents, two aunts and an uncle.  When I think of all that has led me to this point in time, I am humbled.  I know that you will be there too.

I thank God every day.  I thank God for giving me more blessings than I can possibly deserve.  I thank God for family and friends.  I thank God for life, life abundant, and life eternal.  I thank God for the awesome privilege of doing God’s work and serving God’s children.  And I thank God for you, and for that preposterous suggestion you made to me so long ago.  It turns out you were right.  Thank you.



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Filed under Personal Reflection