Thursday, December 31, 2009

What to Leave Behind in 2009: The idol of Efficiency


I have said before that my middle name is Efficiency. Ashlee E. Alley. Well…that’s a bit of an untruth…the E. stands for Elaine instead of Efficiency, but, close enough. I really, really like to get things done in an efficient manner, requiring the least amount of effort for the greatest amount of impact. For example, at one point while doing some work on personality, I discovered a chart that had a listing of greetings that different personality types (as determined by the Myers-Briggs test) had for one another. I laughed out loud when I saw the one for my type: “Have an efficient day!” I laughed, because a common greeting for me at that time was, “Get lots done!” I was in seminary and, apparently, was concerned about the efficiency of the workload for myself, and others.

Unfortunately, efficiency is really not the way that Christian maturity works. We can’t do mass discipleship (that’s indoctrination). We can’t do speedy spiritual disciplines (that’s the world’s way). We can’t have reactionary solutions to problems (they’re merely band-aids). Efficiency simply is not the way that God works. Think about it: how efficient is it that God entrusted the task of evangelism, of telling the Good News of Jesus Christ (and him crucified and resurrected) to the flakey disciples. Granted, the disciples (and we) have a H.U.G.E. advocate in the Holy Spirit, but God still uses humanity to introduce Christ to a lost world—this isn’t the most efficient manner of telling others about himself. No…what God could have done if efficiency were top priority is to have preserved multiple written copies of “God’s plan” (sorta like tracts) all over the known world. Also, surely God could have given us a Methuselah to live for 1000 years and verify the veracity of these tracts and God’s plan. And yet, we do have the written words of Scripture, which some of us seem to (try to) discredit. And God has given us prophets, teachers, and the Holy Spirit to testify to God’s plan of redemption for the world by following the way of Christ. But, due to our human nature, we see that efficiency didn’t work, so rather, God relies on the hard work of transforming us, his children, and entrusting us with telling the story of Jesus Christ. In short, efficiency is not the way that God works.

Not only is evangelism not efficient, but neither is discipleship. In my own relationship with Jesus Christ, I’ve had to learn not to bow to the idol of Efficiency. It’s not easy for me, as I tend to schedule myself with small margins of error between meetings, events, or appointments. But I’ve found that Efficiency requires a pretty steep price. My creativity is sacrificed in order to balance multiple trains of thought. Also asked of me is my ability to focus singularly on one thing. My multitasking brain thinks about several things at once and even when I’m trying to focus on a sermon for next week, my mind wanders to the service project for this weekend. And often if I do try to focus on one thing, I get through my first event feeling a sense of panic when the next activity appears as the next first priority.

As I approach this new year, I am casting down the idol of Efficiency. I’m praying for God’s grace in letting go of this idol that for so long has grasped my priorities, my values, and my calendar. Instead of bowing to the idol of Efficiency, I am resolving to be patient. Patience, as one of the Fruit of the Spirit, is something that only grows through the grace of God. I’m asking for more of God’s grace this year, that I might not seek to accomplish the most things, but rather, that I would seek to accomplish the things to which God has called me. I’m asking God to give me the patience to “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord”, instead of making it happen myself.

There is a song that I remember from my childhood that reminds me of what patience looks like: “Have patience…have patience…don’t be…in such…a hurry. When you get…impatient…it only makes you worry. Remember…remember…that God is patient too…and…think of all…the times…when others…have…to…wait…on…you!”
If I recall, the tune is somewhat of a bumbling, slow, and unwearied sort of a tune. It’s true: impatience (or efficiency) does make me worry. And God is patient. And my efficiency has a cost for others.

As I usher in the year 2010, I ask for God’s grace to release Efficiency and embrace Patience. Thankfully, I also get to release worry and being scatterbrained. It won’t be easy, I’m sure, as I’ll have to embrace other qualities along with Patience (like relinquishing control and trusting God and others). So Efficiency—be gone! Patience—come! Please. And even if you don’t come quickly, I resolve to prepare myself for your arrival. The fruit of Patience is a much more desirable harvest—a heart singularly focused on responding to God’s call in the world. May it be so in 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

SC Chapel Podcast



Do you like to keep up with what's happening at SC's chapel even though you aren't in Winfield? We now have Chapel available for you to subscribe to through iTunes or your other favorite system for mp3's. You can subscribe through searching Southwestern College in iTunes or go here and subscribe. We've had a great semester...I hope that you can listen in!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

What are we waiting for?


I have a good friend who is expecting a baby. Due to some complications, the baby could come any day between now and the middle of January, the full-term due date. When she first experienced the complications, the baby would have faced serious challenges, had he/she decided to be born. Thankfully, he/she has decided to stay put (for now) and my friend has focused her energy into preparing for the baby to be born.

During the first days of the complication, my friend began counting each day and celebrating the weeks of passing. I don’t think that I have observed waiting and preparation in such a focused way as one does in the anticipation of a child. The intentional decisions to avert travel, eat healthy foods, and save money, among other decisions, indicate the focused intentionality of welcoming a baby who will change their world.

I’ve been reminded when I see my friend of the coincidental timing of the expectation of their baby along with the expectation of the celebration of the birth of Christ. I confess that I often eagerly anticipate the time spent with family and friends or the fun entertainment that is often associated with the season of Christmas. However, the greater reality of Christmas has really not much to do with these things. Talk about changing our world…the birth of God in human form is pretty revolutionary!

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the season when we eagerly anticipate the celebration of when God became human and “moved into the neighborhood,” as the Message translation of the bible says. Are awaiting the excitement of it all or are we remembering the magnitude of the incarnation? What are we waiting for?

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14 (The Message)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Passionate in Prayer


This semester has been a bit of an experiment of sorts for some students. Two students, after having a class dropped for low enrollment, asked me if they could take an independant study with me about prayer. I was excited to say yes, and knew that their lives (and our campus) would never be the same. These two women have learned about prayer, prayed, talked with people who pray, prayed some more, talked to people who want to know how to pray, and prayed some more. And they've seen God answer their prayers.

Tonight initiates a 46-hour long continuous prayer weekend for us on campus. I am glad to say that I really have not provided any leadership to this event, but have encouraged them and prayed for them, with a bit of guidance every now and then. It's exciting to me to watch God working through these student, Jessica and Molly, and those that they've recruited to join us in prayer. This weekend also kicks off the use of a newly spruced up (small) prayer chapel in the library that they've refurbished.

That would be exciting enough, but I have to add a personal note. One of the many things that Molly and Jessica have learned through their semester in prayer is that there have been others before them that have prayed fervently for our campus as well. I know of a group of students in the spring of 1998 who prayed in that very chapel for God to be present on our campus in a new way. They prayed and they sang, and they stayed up way too late talking about how God was at work on their campus. I know that there was a group in 1998 because I was one of that number. The note above is a note given to me by a friend who also prayed.

The prayers of my friends and I aren't the only prayers prayed for our campus either...the little library chapel contained a book started in 2000 that hold prayers of many other Moundbuilders who lifted up prayers for our campus. Obviously there were many others who have been a part of praying for our campus since it was begun in 1886--we have a wonderful legacy of leaders in the church and in the world who have graduated from our campus on a hill--and we have a desire to once again shine brightly for Christ. Our prayers this weekend, and lives transformed by the God to whom we pray, will be evidence of that light.

If you read my post this weekend...will you pray for us?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lessons in Hospitality



In recent years, you can occasionally hear me say, “I could live in a commune.” I’m usually saying this in response to discussions of Christian community and the needs within a community. I even bring it up when talking about discipleship development. Though I’ve never lived in a commune, I suppose that all of my years between age 18 and 29 were spent somewhat communally due to 7 years of dorm life for college and graduate school and living with roommates on the college campus where I worked for the other years.

However, I remember voicing my feelings about all those years of togetherness when I moved into my house by myself 4.5 years ago: “The next roommate that I want to have is a husband!” Not that a husband was on the horizon or that I didn’t enjoy living “in community,” but I was looking forward to a little bit of space. So you can imagine my surprise when I hear myself say, as I occasionally do, “I could live in a commune.” How did I get to that decision in 4.5 years? Well, only because of some lessons in hospitality.

Lesson 1: Always keep guest room available. When I moved into my 2-bedroom house, I vowed that I would keep the second room available as a guest room for friends or family coming through town. I realized that the readiness of that room represented the seriousness of my claim. I often found the guest bed filled with out of season clothes, or Christmas decorations, or laundry that I hadn’t had time to fold, and thus, was in no shape to welcome a guest. So, my first challenge came in having clean sheets on the bed, a tidy room to welcome a visitor, and food in the cupboard to prepare a quick meal. But, having a room ready for friends and family, well, that isn’t radically hospitable, now is it? It really is just being nice! It is another thing entirely to offer hospitality to someone that you don’t know, and someone who can’t repay you. I suppose that I’m still in the novice category for that, but I’ve been willing to try, even if it is offering a meal or sharing an evening.

I’ve learned from opening my home to others (students, friends, family or friends of students, and an occasional visitor to campus) that opening my home is a vulnerable act. What if they notice a cobweb? What if the bed is uncomfortable? What if it isn’t as tidy as their house? What if they peek at a closet full of prom and bridesmaid dresses and harass me? But, hospitality is radical in that it requires a sacrifice of sorts. My visitor could reject my hospitality (or me!). But it is life-giving when it is received. Knowing that someone else feels comfortable in my home is a privilege in which I most keenly feel what it means that one is blessed to be a blessing.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to open your home for extended stay visitors. The true test of sharing a guest room comes when someone needs a home for a period of time—it’s one thing to host someone, truly another to live with them! My first summer in my house, a student asked if she could live with me as she worked at the church where she and I both attended. I stopped to think: What about boundaries? What about privacy (my house is great for me, but a rather small house!)? What about the extra cost (I was living with little margin at that time)? And yet, the decision was clear…she needed a place to stay and I wanted to offer it to her. That summer went well, and I realized that while I had been worried about privacy, I was grateful for her presence in my life. I suppose that good “hospitality” experience led me to others…first an international student who needed a home for a month, then to a friend who needed a home for a summer, and now, to a family member who needs a home for a year. The presence of these others in my life and in my home has taught me much about willingness to invite others into my life. And it has taught me gratitude…to appreciate what God has given me. I remember a seminary professor who invited a group of students to his house to watch a movie and discuss it. As we got settled into their beautiful home, he said, “Thanks for letting our house do what it was intended to do…to glorify God!” As such, my house has been able to do that, and I have been the richer.

Lesson 3: Move from ownership-thinking to stewardship-thinking. I suppose that one other lesson that relates to my perceived ability to live communally has to do with my thoughts on ownership. Or should I say, stewardship. I’ve always been a pretty frugal person, but when I began to take seriously what I found in scripture, I began to see that possessions are often a roadblock to our relationship with Christ. They can get in the way of following Christ (rich young ruler—Matthew 19:16-22), or we can get distracted by greed (building bigger barns—Luke 12:13-21). But when I think of what I “own” as “stewardship,” my stuff doesn’t own me. I can freely give away what I have when someone else needs it. If my stuff breaks, it doesn’t break my heart, it makes me examine if I need to replace it. I’ve also learned that if I’m patient and willing to wait to purchase something, I can usually find a great used item. My whole house (which is decorated pretty well, if I do say so myself) is furnished with items I’ve been given, purchased used, and with only a (small) handful of things purchased new. Thinking of ownership as stewardship has also made me a more generous giver. I’m willing to give to others when I have been a recipient of someone else’s generosity.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever live in a communal living environment, but I do think that the lessons in hospitality that I’ve learned have given me insight into how one truly lives out Acts 2:42-47, especially verses 44-46.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”

When learning how to live in community, we exemplify the heart of God for unity, provision, and gladness. This kind of living does, however, involve vulnerability, gratitude, and generosity. And it also gives us encounters with God and God’s people that help us experience true Christian community. There is an unglamorous side to living in community—I remember from all those years of dorm life! But regardless of who lives with us, we can practice hospitality and live with values of the shared life as a way of both living out and developing our faith—and the faith of others—even more.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nothing Better


Ministry is hard work. This is no surprise. In fact, I remember learning in seminary (and frankly, observing every pastor that I've ever had) that it is important to have good boundaries because ministry will take up every spare moment and even your-not-spare-moments with something crucial. There are meetings, worship services, books, blogs, phone calls, emails, etc., that will necessitate attention and time. And then there are people. People will always need you. Sometimes these feeling of being needed, being able to fix someone's situation, being the superstar, can start to become the driving force instead of living out the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And then comes burnout, poor boundaries, and inflated egos. So yes, ministry, true ministry...the kind where the Gospel is lived out and you become Jesus' hands and feet as you are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, is hard work. The hardest part of the work has actually already been done by Christ--who broke the chains of sin, but we as God's ministers (both lay and clergy) must do the hard work of laying down our lives, picking up our crosses and following Christ. We must allow God's Spirit to transform our lives, letting our earthly desires pass away so that we might be transformed by God's grace.

When the work of ministry seems hard, it is so important to remember the fruits of the ministry. For me, that means I take a look at the lives of people that God has transformed that I have been blessed to know. I met Nicole her junior year of college, when I was brand new at Southwestern College. I was immediately drawn to her, as she has a great sense of humor and high level of responsibility. She also seemed that she had been pretty disappointed in her life and was reluctant to trust people easily, even though she had that look in her eye that said she wanted to be able to trust them. She gradually began to open up to me and I told her that while I might disappoint her at some point, I was willing to allow God to use me in her life, if that was okay with her. Over the two years of her time in college, she really opened up to me and began to trust me. One of the things that she talked to me about was her love for all things African. I was so excited, then, when she shared with me about the opportunity that she had to go on a mission trip to Kenya a year after she graduated from college. She had an incredible experience on her first trip and soon after she returned began planning a second trip to Tanzania and Kenya for this past summer. Through a crazy series of events that Nicole tells about, she is now working with an organization of the General Board of Discipleship called Pray With Africa.

Watching Nicole grow in God's grace and follow God's will into her current ministry reminds me that there is truly nothing better in ministry than seeing people that you have invested in mature in faith. The meetings, the programs, the worship services, the phone calls and emails, they certainly are the preparing, tilling, planting, watering, weeding, and tending parts of growing fruit. But when the fruit peeks through and then begins planting her own seeds, there is nothing better.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taking a Look Around

I tend to be one of those people who stays busy. If I'm truly honest, I really like it that way best, I suppose. I do recognize, however, that there are times in the year that I'm too busy. These last 6 weeks definitely fit that scenario. School starting involves all of the excitement, emotion, and stress of setting an inert machine into motion. The potential for great power is there, but so is the potential for numerous malfunctions. But by now, we are up and moving. The rust has worn off, the new pieces have been broken in, and we're moving.

And so, I stop. Yes, I stop and take a look around. I look back to these last 40 days and see that lots of great things have happened:
  • I participated in a prayer effort that started on August 10 and finishes up tomorrow (Friday, September 25) that intentionally lifted United Methodist Campus Ministries in prayer. There were days when I felt like I was a hamster running on a wheel and when I prayed these prayers, I sensed camraderie, understanding, and provision in a significant way. There were some days when these prayers were the substance of my static prayer time, but even in those days, I was surrounded by prayers.
  • We've initiated a new group of leaders for campus ministry at Southwestern. Both the Shepherd Team of Discipleship (affectionately known as the Disciple-Sheep) and the leaders for our Campus Ministries are leading others in ministry! There truly is nothing more exciting than when students that you love are ministering to others! Love it!
  • Chapel at SC. Wow! I have been blown away by the chapel services this year so far! Each preacher (all from within the SC community so far--and I'm counting Steve Rankin as still being from within the SC community) has spoken words of challenge, comfort, and truth to our campus. The worship teams are learning what it means to lead their peers, and the support ministries are creatively engaging the community in worship. I can hardly wait to get to chapel each week.
  • I've had a couple of conversations with current students and alumni this fall that have been incredibly affirming...not necessarily of me, but of what I sense that God is doing and wants to do in our midst. Many seeds have been planted in years past here at SC and things are coming together for fruit to be borne. It's exciting.

From reading this little glance around, it would seem that Southwestern is heaven on earth. Well, it is pretty great, but we have our own struggles, too. But through it all, we know that God's presence is guiding, sustaining, and empowering us to meet those challenges. As I look around, I see places where God is asking me to trust and keep going, places where I need to ask forgiveness, and even places where I may need to just stop what we've been doing. So whether we move forward, or stop, we trust all of it for God's glory alone! And that's actually the best place of all to be.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Prayer for Southwestern



Gracious God,

As we enter another school year, we lift these prayers to you:

Bless our students, God, as they study and learn in their classes, but also bless them as they discover more about who they are. May they be people who seek excellence and ways to serve others around them. Give them wisdom in their decision-making and peace in their challenges. And may they do all of this for your glory.

Bless our faculty, staff and administrators, God, as we invest our lives in our students. May we be diligent, wise and compassionate as we interact with students and continue to grow as a learner ourselves.

May this place, Southwestern College, be a place that sends forth people who understand the challenges of the world and seeks to meet those challenge. And may we do that with wisdom and grace.

Lord, bless us, guide us, protect us, and use us to accomplish your purposes here on earth. We humbly ask this in your name, Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Called by God

I went to Southwestern College expecting to get a good education in a Christian environment. I did not expect to be called to ministry. I started college as a Biology major, planning on being a physical therapist. Southwestern had a great program and wasn’t terribly far from my hometown. On the first Sunday that we were in town for college, despite the fact that my twin sister and I had grown up American Baptist, we decided to attend one of the local United Methodist churches with some our new friends. The second Sunday we were in town, we planned to go to the American Baptist church right next door to the UM church we had attended, but unfortunately discovered that they started at 10:40. Since it was 10:43 and we didn’t want to walk in late, we just went to the UM church again, this time by ourselves. It was Youth Sunday and I was hooked! I was impressed by what I saw from the youth of the church and decided that it was a place where I could call my church home.

During my freshmen and sophomore years, I volunteered with the youth ministry at this UM church. The summer after my sophomore year, I even agreed to be the full-time summer intern. Our senior pastor retired from ministry during that summer and though he didn’t know me very well, said to me as I walked out of church on his last Sunday, “Ashlee, keep your ears open for the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry.” I was baffled! Why would he say something like that? He barely knew me! And, I was a woman! Despite the background of the American Baptist tradition, I had not seen role models of women in leadership positions in ministry in my local church. And, I had been exposed to some very narrow teaching of some of the “hard passages” found in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians about women in ministry and had been left thinking my role was a “supportive” role in the home or church. My summer as a youth intern radically opened up my eyes to the fact that I might actually have some gifts that God could use in a way that brought glory to him! The youth pastor, Bill, encouraged me and said that if I ever wanted to be a youth pastor, he would recommend me to a church. I politely laughed it off and didn’t think much more about it.

The fall of my junior year of college brought an opportunity for me to serve in a leadership capacity with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) on my campus. The ministry really began to boom during that time! After one night of having nearly 80 people at an FCA game night, the Director of Student Life, Martin asked me, “So…when are you going to go on staff with FCA?” I was floored and said, “Well, that would be awesome, but that will never happen. I’m going to be a physical therapist.” He smiled and said, “We’ll see.” That semester I also had signed up for a New Testament class “for fun” taught by the Campus Minister/Religious Studies professor. After I did an exegetical presentation, the professor kept me after class and asked if I had ever thought about seminary. I laughed at him and said, “Baptist girls don’t go to seminary!” He smiled and said, “Well, maybe you’re not Baptist.” Within a couple of weeks I was given an opportunity to attend Exploration ’96, an event held for young people exploring ministry in the United Methodist Church which was held in Dallas that year. The only problem was that it was the same weekend as the big “grudge match” against our biggest football rival and I was an Athletic Trainer for the school. Even though I really didn’t want to miss the game, ultimately, I felt a sense of purpose and expectation about Exploration. Honestly, I don’t remember specific things that people said during that weekend, but I do remember that at the end, if we felt a call to ministry, we were asked to come forward and pick up a piece of fabric at the altar. I carried mine in my bible for years! I went to the weekend with a sense of uncertainty about whether or not I was called to ministry. I went home from the weekend still with a sense of uncertainty about ministry, but I did know one thing for certain: God had indeed been calling me to ministry and though the details were hazy, I could trust that in the right time, God would show me what to do. For me, saying yes to the opportunity for ministry meant saying no to something else that I wanted. In this instance, that was working at a football game, but it represented much more. It really meant laying down some of my plans and previous desires and being open to…well, I didn’t really know what I was being asked to be open to. I knew that I could trust God’s heart and that God would use me in the world, but I wasn’t exactly sure what all that would entail.

That lesson has served me well as I did end up going on staff with FCA, then on to seminary, and now ending up in campus ministry at the very campus where I was called! God has shown me that when we do keep our ear open to the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry, God is going to use us in ways that are beyond our imagination. I love Frederick Buechner’s quote about vocation: “Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’m sure happy that God cares about my gladness! It has truly been a joy to serve God by serving youth and college students over these last 13 years! For me, the world’s deep need is that young people are often sent mixed messages from their peers, their family, or the world, about who they are. My gladness has been building relationships with young people and helping them see who God is calling them to be. God placed people in my life who gave me a word from God in the right moment to make me keenly aware to those ways that God was at work. The questions asked by people who cared about me were revealing the things that God was saying to me internally, if not through words, through desires and thoughts. I’ve seen God confirm my obedience after I step out in faith. I may not always know where I am going to end up, but I definitely trust the God who has called me there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I'll be praying"



“We should have lunch sometime!” “I owe you one.” “I’ll be praying for you.” These well-intended phrases often flippantly roll from our tongue without much thought. I remember when a good friend taught me about the power of phrases like this.

“We should have lunch sometime!” I said casually.

“When?” she
asked specifically.

Well, truth be told, I didn’t really have a day in mind. I was just being polite, expressing that I’d had a good time hanging out with her and her friends and I hoped they invited me to hang out again. But her request reminded me not to throw around comments like that, devoid of intention. Such it is with the phrase: “I’ll be praying for you.” When? What will you pray? For how long?

Today is Day 1 of an intentional, shared, and specific prayer campaign set aside to support United Methodist campus ministry in prayer. My friend, Creighton Alexander, and I, along with 38 other people who care about campus ministry, have written prayers that provide an answer to some of those questions.

  • When should we pray for campus ministry? Starting today.
  • What will you pray? A prayer written by someone who cares about campus ministry.
  • For how long? 40 days.

Each day the prayer will be made available here. If you are on Twitter, follow us at: www.twitter.com/collegeunion and we will send you a link to the prayers daily. Finally, if you would like to download the entire collection of prayers, you can download it here.

We ask you to join us in these prayers, lifting up in general the ministries for college aged young people around the UMC connection. We also ask you to specifically pray for the ministries or young people with whom you are acquainted. Let them know that you’re praying for them. And if through your prayer time, you feel inclined to do something, do it in the knowledge that you are being sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have a hidden agenda for these prayers. We simply want God to bless the ministers and students of our college campuses around the world. And we think that it is important enough to involve others in this season of specific prayer. Won’t you join us?

Monday, August 03, 2009

School's Starting--Let Us Pray

When I was in high school, I took up running. It was mostly in rebellion to the volleyball coach, as I quit the team my senior year and said that I was going to run cross country, but in this act with less than noble intentions, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned what it means to have a daily commitment to a formative practice in my life. While running is of some value, spiritual training has value for this age and the age to come.

Prayer is one of those formative practices. But it is often something that we take for granted as a Christian practice. It is just something that we “do.” We learn prayers when we’re young, we stand in a circle holding hands and offer our thanks or share a request, and we add prayers to the prayer chain. But I, for one, have felt a sense of inadequacy in my prayers from time to time. When I was in seminary, I was a part of a prayer group that started each week with the questions, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Since that time 7 years ago, I have learned a few things about prayer. I have learned many things about prayer since that time, but want to briefly identify three.

  1. I have learned to appreciate the prayers of others.

  2. I have found consolation in the rhythm of prayer at different times throughout the day.

  3. I have enjoyed a sense of praying (even if not physically) with others the same prayer.

I am excited to now be a part of a prayer initiative that unites all three of these particular lessons.

I’ve written about this project before, but as we approach the launch of 40 Days of Prayer for Campus Ministry, I want to once again invite people to participate in sustaining the collegiate ministries in the United Methodist Church in prayer during the first 6 weeks of the fall semester. The prayers are written by pastors, campus ministers, administrators, professors, general board officials, and even a couple of bishops. They are honest and passionate pleas to God on behalf of the 17 million students who will head to college in just a couple of weeks. Since I’m helping to compile the prayers, I’ve had a sneak peek at them and am thrilled at the way that they show a glimpse into God’s heart for college students (and the church, too, by the way).

The prayers are going to be posted daily, starting August 17, at www.CollegeUnion.org/prayer and will last until September 25. After August 10, we’ll have the entire prayer book available for download at the same website and we would like to encourage people to share the prayers with their congregation, board of directors, district superintendent, students, or local pastors. Those lessons that I learned in running—daily, ongoing, sacrificing actions—are applicable to prayer. I do hope that you’ll join me in prayer.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Remembering Why I Love Church Camp!


I have about 539 ideas for things about which I want to blog, but don't have much time to get it done. However, I'm taking the time to write about 1 of them quickly: high school leadership camp (called LDW for Leadership Development Workshop) put on by the Conference Council on Youth Ministry under the direction of Justin Lefto).

A couple of months ago, I was asked by a friend if I would be an "adult volunteer" at the camp which would be held in July. I waffled for a while, worried about a busy summer and being afraid to give up a whole week in close proximity to a new school year. I felt a sense of remorse about it and really wanted to work it, but just was afraid that I was too busy. First mistake.

The Wednesday before the camp started with Sunday training, I got a phone call from a student who is working at Camp Horizon and spoke with my friend. Between the two of them, they convinced me that I just HAD to spend the week at camp with the CCYM and the other high school kids who would be there. Man, I'm glad I said yes.

I haven't been to a week-long camp for a couple of years and I haven't spent an extended amount of time with the CCYM for, oh, about 10 years. During the week that I was there, I was the "adult volunteer" in a student led small group and stayed in a cabin. Those were great opportunities and I enjoyed the students I met there. The best part of it was some of the incredible opportunities that high school students had to fellowship with one another and to really be able to "soak" in what it means to live a life in relationship with God.

The theme for the camp was Connect4 and gave students a chance to connect with God, self, friends and world. Barry Dundas (pastor from Salina) and Ted Bannister (lay person aptly dubbed "Farmer Ted) challenged students to take deeper steps of faith in God. They were challenged in a ropes course (where they were joined by Bishop Jones for a morning), were instructed in LeaderShops taught by the CCYM and had fun in water and messy games. They even learned some of the hard truths of hunger around the world from the "surprise" Hunger Banquet on Thursday noon.

Nearly 90 people were a part of the camp. I had the sense during the week that we will continue to see leadership of the UMC from within this group of young people. I got to have 4 conversations with students who had experienced a call to ministry, some that week, some earlier. Of course I want to do my part in nurturing their faith and I'm praying that others will, too.

Despite my early objections, I had the best week of my summer (isn't that often how it is?). Now I'm praying that these students continue to see how God wants to connect with them in the other 51 weeks of their lives.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Would You Join Us in Prayer?


I am often asked, “What do you do in campus ministry in the summer time.” I understand the enigma that campus ministry may be to some, but I usually answer, “Plenty! I have time to plan, to read, to recover (!), and to prepare for a new year.” This summer, I’ve also been answering that I have time to pray…well, planning to pray may be more accurate. As far as I’m concerned, prayer isn’t really an option anytime during the year, but this summer I’ve been setting about an intentional way of praying for the coming school year.

Last spring, I participated in a 40 Days of Prayer effort that was headed up by Ben Simpson and some young clergy in the UMC. It was a blessing to me as I prayed the prayers written by others who want to see more vividly the work of God in the United Methodist Church. I got to write a prayer and join with a network of others who prayed for the UMC during the “season” of Annual Conferences.

In the context of the 40 Days of Prayer, I also had a conversation with a campus ministry friend of mine, Creighton Alexander, about a website for which we are co-editors. He was talking about his passion for campus ministry within the United Methodist Church and how much potential he sees within campus ministry in general. As we spoke, I tossed out the stories of some of the people I’ve met through the 40 Days of Prayer Initiative and other efforts of the UMC Young Clergy. At about the same time, we had the idea to issue a Call to Prayer for the UMC that would start in August, at about the time that school starts, and lead us through the first month of classes. The ideas emerged quickly and within a few short minutes, we decided to do several things:

1. Pray as we moved toward soliciting others for prayer.
2. Write a letter to be posted on the website of College Union.
3. Create a Facebook group of people who were called to ministry in the United Methodist Church through campus ministry.
4. Create a space on College Union to host prayers for the Prayer Movement to begin August 17 and last until September 25.
5. Invite some people that we knew to write prayers to be included in a prayer guide.

The Facebook group, “United Methodist Campus Ministry—Raising Up Christian Leaders,” exploded to over 200 members in the first 48 hours and has now settled in at about 500 in the first 3 weeks. We have now invited the members of that group, along with some other ministry leaders, to write 40 prayers to be included in the prayer guide. We have also heard the “call” stories of some of the group members and seen pictures of campus ministry across the country. We are more and more convinced and inspired to continue on in providing a challenge to the UMC to pray for our students, our colleges, our campus ministers, and our churches as they begin a new school year. We are also convinced that the there are future church and world leaders in campus ministries of UMC-related colleges, Wesley Foundations, and local churches right now who need to be lifted in prayer.

And so…I’ve been praying, as I usually do, but I’ve also been working toward prayer, especially in enlisting others to this important responsibility and call. If you would like to write a prayer to be included in the prayer guide that we’re building, drop me an email, ashlee.alley@sckans.edu. If you were called to ministry, as a lay person or as clergy, through your campus ministry, join our Facebook group. If you are interested in joining in the prayer effort, visit the website. And above all else, would you join us in prayer?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Learning to ask the right questions


"Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions," so says Lovett Weems. And that is exactly what a group of folks who love the UMC are trying to do...develop the right list of questions. Andrew Conard, a provisional elder in the Kansas West Conference who is currently serving in the Kansas East Conference, is spearheading a project to identify what the 6 best questions are for various groups within the United Methodist Church. Those groups are anyone from church members, to Bishops, to General Boards. No one is excluded (a sign of true Methodist spirit, eh?). As of 5 p.m. CST on the day of the launch of this project, 53 people have submitted 286 questions and cast 1,577 votes. Not too shabby for day 1. If you have an interest in the future of the United Methodist Church, you can have a voice in shaping this conversation. Go to the website and add a question. Or vote for some of the questions that have already been submitted. The future is being shaped by what we do today. These questions could have an impact on that.

Want to hear from Andrew about this vision? Check out his blog here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Three Months with Twitter



Been almost 3 mos on Twitter. Enjoying the connection w others w similar interests & levity thruout the day. Resisting addiction! :)

The paragraph above represents what I will say in the next several paragraph in Twitter-speak. Just shy of 140 characters, I’ve learned brevity in my first 100 days with Twitter.

It was late March when I signed up for an account on Twitter. I had begun noticing @ signs in status updates on Facebook and decided they must have some relevance. I’ve never exactly been an early adopter of new technology, but I like to stay somewhere near the front of the pack, so I began to investigate. I discovered that they had to do with Twitter. My first real exposure came at a meeting in Nashville of 10 young UMC clergy and a “liveblog” conversation. Several others in the room had Twitter accounts and I saw people joining in from all over the US simply because they had been invited via Twitter or Facebook. Several weeks later, some from this group had a live blog bible study where we used our Twitter accounts to sign in. This finally provided the motivation I needed to sign up. I followed a couple of the UMC young clergy folks and then they started introducing me to their followers. I found a couple of folks that were connected to circles that I was interested in and started following some of the people they followed, and voila, suddenly I had dozens of followers and I was following dozens of people. Initially, I tried to figure out how Twitter “works” by watching what others did.

I went on a mission trip in May and daily gave an update on Twitter (which also updates my Facebook status). My students ridiculed me for not being able to step away from Twitter, even during our trip. I didn’t see it that way. I did it on the off chance that someone might care the first day and then got quick notes from folks who told us they were praying, they enjoyed our updates, they were with us in spirit, which motivated me to keep tweeting. I’ve run into folks from Twitter or Facebook all over the area that have asked about our trip and it’s been a great chance to share about the good work that we did. Perhaps it was a shallow or vain connection, but it doesn’t feel that way at this point in time. I know that some believe that Twitter is almost too transparent. Who cares what my friend ate for breakfast? However, my stance has been that I only share what I want to share. If someone only wants to read my more “substantial” tweets, they can (which usually includes a tinyurl link). If someone wants to read my short movie review, then great! I can, however, see how Twitter can be addictive. Occasionally I find myself checking Twitter a mere 15 minutes from when I checked it the last time. But, as it is with anything, boundaries are important. I have found that Twitter can be addicting, but that it is not inherently a time drainer.

Twitter became a whole new ballgame for me in May when several others whom I follow were tweeting during Annual Conference. Given some responsibilities that I had during conference, I was not able to use my computer to follow the hashtag #kswumc, but I followed along on my phone when I could. I was amazed when I realized that people from other annual conferences were following along with the “transcript” being provided from about 10 different people present at AC. Amy Forbus of UMR even blogged about it after day 1. Since we were one of the earliest Annual Conferences, other people on Twitter began to generate interest in their own AC’s. Andrew Conard compiled a running list of conferences that would Twitter. The most interesting thing about this to me was the transparency that was a result because of the multiple eyewitnesses giving their perspective of conference. People often showed their allegiances by offering commentary on items of debate. Comments by Bishops, preachers, or delegates on the floor have now had their words “heard ‘round the world.” I’m actually a fan of this type of accountability. Sure, things can be taken out of context (but that can happen regardless of whether a running transcript is happening), but Twitter provided a clearness of communication that has heretofore been delayed by time or simply lack awareness of the information. After my experience with Annual Conference, Twitter became a place where action “happened,” as opposed to a place where what happened was being reported.

Twitter has become a diary of sorts and is filled with the important and the mundane. There are times when my important things can possibly be of interest to another fellow journaler. And there are times when I just take solace in knowing that my friend sometimes gets stuck in the slowest grocery line, too! The humanity revealed by Twitter has been a comfort to me. I’ve seen a bit of personality behind a name that I might know from the articles or books that they write. I’ve been clued in to subjects of interest from a link that is provided. I’ve even seen a picture of my friend’s toddler as he grows up far away. Twitter has become a medium to connect. Some have argued that it is a shallower connection. Perhaps that’s true. But the connection that has been made possible via a series of 140-character notations has allowed for a sense of camaraderie, a place for education, and dare I say, even inspiration, as people are given a new way to connect. And connecting is a good thing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Young Adults: In Their Own Words

I'm working on several projects right now that have to do with ministry with young adults/college students. Earlier this week I posted this question on Twitter and Facebook:

What is 1 thing that the church can DO/BE to reach out to young adults?

I was very pleased with the response that I got from a variety of different people who range from age 19-late 30's. I've edited their responses only for clarity. Here is what young adults say to the church in their own words...
  • DO: Take care of children well. BE: Authentic instead of showy.
  • Young adults want community and a vision of God's Kingdom changing the world now, not just in eternity.
  • Don't meet at churches for small groups. Create programming that does not require young adults/college students to be Christians already or intense Biblical knowledge otherwise they may not want to attend. Be open minded to all different types of people & not judgmental of the way the dress, live, etc.
  • Get them out to fun events in the community.
  • Ask what they want to learn from a program/small group. Rarely ever are we asked what we want to learn about or any questions about the church/faith.
  • Um... food... lots of food :P
  • Ask them what they want! Then be willing to throw away your own entrenched ideas to make a place where they will want to come and worship. Meet at non-traditional times and places, because we all know God is not only present in church buildings. If you sincerely show them you want to meet their needs, I think they will get enthused and be active.
  • I think community and receptiveness is key to reaching out to young adults. Community can definitely happen through small groups. Small groups need to be about community through bible study and prayer, but they also need to be about fun and fellowship too. I also think they need dedicated adult leaders and a church body who wants to see the young adult population grow. As far as receptiveness goes, young adults need to be heard. They have a lot of ideas and need to be told that it’s okay to speak up. Then, when they do, their ideas need to be seen as important as everyone else’s.
  • Be real with them. Young adults can see through facades very easily!
  • I work in a congregation of over 200 where the median age is 29. We have small groups that meet at the church and outside the church, but more importantly across the board there is the repeated message that people can come where they are - questioning, confident, searching, skeptical - whatever. All are welcome and to question is not a bad thing.
  • Be authentic.
  • I think all you really have to do is something different. Don't do small groups at a church. Hold it at a hot spot... maybe a park or inside a restaurant. It's more expensive but it's not the same old boring thing and it intrigues them to actually come out and do it. Think of a youth group format. You usually have an activity and then a sermon. Take the activity to the next level. And rather than having a sermon, do a discussion table. Young adults get lectured at enough. It gets boring. Let them have just an equal of a voice as the leader. Oh and don’t do it in the morning…and weekend nights are packed too. I would suggest like a Saturday lunch or early dinner time.
  • Talk about the hot topics of today - for singles as well as married persons. My Sunday School class doesn't want to do a traditional Bible study for the summer, so this week I'm bringing my People magazine with a dozen questions regarding current day situations.
  • Well, my church has only been a church since September and we have drawn young adults out of the woodwork. For us, it has been very important to be real...casual, relevant, and challenging during worship services. Then, life groups meet in homes and are the heartbeat of the church. Everyone who goes is encouraged to volunteer with something...from parking lots to worship band.
  • Walk the walk. Get rid of the gimmicks and simply walk the walk. Outreach. Get involved. Do. Walk the walk.

Since I work with college students every day, I wasn't surprised by the desire for connection, for a faith that is sturdy enough to carry them through hard times, and one that even requires something of them. May we, as the church, be willing to listen--to the Holy Spirit, and to the young adults in our midst--to show them that there is a satisfying answer in the person and work of Jesus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Resources for Ministry with Young Adults

I have decided to start collecting some online resources for ministry with young adults. If you know of something that should be added to this working list, please feel free to post it in the comments section of this blog. Thanks!

UMC Resources
-UMC Young Adult Network
-General Board of Discipleship, ministry with Young Adults

Research
-"Pockets of 'Youthfulness' in Aging Denomination"--report by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership
-"Survey of Campus Ministers"--report by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership
-Generation Me, research by Jean Twenge about people born after 1970
-After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, Robert Wuthnow
-Demographics on Adolescent and Young Adult Health
-Ivy Jungle's 2008 report: "The State of Campus Ministry"

Campus Ministry
-College Union, a website for United Methodists in Campus Ministry
-Ivy Jungle, an association of people who minister to college students.

Resources
-Reading List for Campus Ministers
-Young Adult Network Resources
-Review of First Year Out, a book about the first year after high school by Tim Clydesdale
-"A Long Adolescence in a Lame Direction," by Chris Kiesling. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Rule in Life: Stop to Smell the Roses



Each spring/early summer I am greeted with a nice surprise--blooming roses! The previous owner must have liked roses, as they were the only living plants in my yard when I bought the house--2 full sized rose bushes and 3 miniature bushes. The full sized bushes look quite old, but after some generous rainfalls the first spring I lived here, I saw buds start to come to life. I was excited to see them bloom and thought of my Grandma (who would have been 105 years old yesterday!) and her carefully nurtured backyard paradise. I noticed one day as I hurriedly ran out the door, that my roses smelled just like Grandma's backyard. I stopped, looked closer, and then drank in the sights and smells of my two blooming rose bushes. They were different types of roses, I noticed for the first time. One was pinker and the other a more peachy tone. The peachy ones smelled better, but weren't as pretty as the pink ones and they both offered their gifts of beauty to one who appreciated it, but was often too "efficient" to notice the offering.

I've lived in this house for three springs now and I've developed a rule--I cannot, under any circumstances, walk past my roses without stopping to smell them. In fact, sometimes their thorns even reach out and grab me as I hurry past if I try to ignore them. It's a small reminder to enjoy the beauty of creation and not hurry past all the unexpected evidences of God. I'll admit, there are times when I neglect watering them, and yet, they still bloom. Eventually, however, a dry spring or summer will come and they will cease their blooming. But when I water them, O how generous they are with their gratitude, blooming flowers sometimes even into the first snowfall! They are unexpected blessings and scented reminders of fruitfulness.

So it is with our spiritual lives. We can get by for a short time on "showers of blessings" but what a true spiritual blessing it is when we position ourselves for God's gracious outpouring of love and righteousness by turning our attention daily to God. In my prayer book today, I read Isaiah 50:4,
Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for me to know how to give a word of comfort to the weary. Morning by morning he makes my ears alert to listen like a disciple. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear.

Even stopping to smell the roses helps me to listen and sustains this weary disciple with a word from God. And so, I have a rule. A rule to stop and smell the roses when they are in bloom. And to water them when they are not, so as to wait expectantly for when they are ready.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some Changes at SC



Well, it has often been said that change is inevitable, and we find that to be true at Southwestern College. After 14 wonderful years as the Campus Minister and Chair of the Philosophy and Religion department, Steve Rankin has felt the call of God to minister in another community. As of July 1, he has accepted an invitation to become the Chaplain at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. We are certainly sad to see him leave Southwestern, as his ministry is keenly felt on campus at this time. I was a sophomore the year that Steve started at SC, which means that during my freshmen year we were absent a Campus Minister. The impact that he made, even in the next 3 years, was significant. He redesigned chapel involving student worship teams. He started Discipleship Southwestern, a program that has now involved over 150 students (and of which I am currently the director). He nurtured the call to ministry in a number of students (including myself). And he poured his life into his students. In the 11 years since, he has continued on that initial impact in incredible ways. I have been honored to join him in the work at SC during the last four years. Keeping up with him is at times dizzying, but always significant. I cannot begin to express the impact that Steve has made on my own life and on the lives of many other students in the last 14 years.

Steve will be significantly missed on campus, but, as has been his goal, he is about the work of the Kingdom of God. He has simply chosen to be obedient to that goal through another arm of the United Methodist Church. While I'm sad for us at SC, I'm very excited for him and for SMU! I believe that he will make an impact for Christ in that community as well! Here is his take on the move. Please join me in praying for Steve and his family as they all adjust to life outside of Winfield.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Call to Prayer

I have always been a strong believer that prayer "works." I remember as a child, praying nightly the same memorized prayer that my sister and I "developed," including a prayer for all of our family and friends by name and also a prayer for the "whole wide world except for the bad people." Well, my prayer may not have been theologically coherent, but the intention was pure--by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present my requests before God. I remember that understanding growing as I learned different ways to pray, through journaling, through reading Scripture, in groups and alone. I also grew deeper in my faith as I read Richard Foster's book Prayer and Bill Hybel's book Too Busy Not to Pray. I read of believers across time who have prayed and then the impossible became possible, such as Peter's miraculous release from prison in Acts 12, even when the church who prayed for him so fervently didn't believe it when he was released! Prayer is a means of connection to God, but also has become a lifeline to me, as through prayer I have experienced God's love, the love of community, and even sometimes the challenge of being corrected. That's why this is so important.

Starting on May 18, a prayer effort for 40 days will be beginning. It is not an "official" action by any group, but rather a response by some folks to an Open Letter that was posted by Ben Simpson. The result of the Open Letter is a prayer campaign that has involved clergy, young and not-so-young alike, who are interested in lifting the UMC up in prayer in an intentional way. The hopes for the prayer effort include a sense of witness of the work of Christ in our lives individually and also in the UMC. Would you be willing to pray with us?

You can find the prayers here. They are being hosted on the UMC Young Clergy website that has just been officially launched! I do hope that you'll join me in prayer.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Waiting for Inspiration

I recently preached in chapel at Southwestern. Here is a "version" of what I preached!

One of my bad habits is that I’m a bit of a procrastinator, especially when it comes to sermon titles. I am notoriously bad about starting early on sermon preparation, but honestly, when it comes to prepping my sermons, I’m not disciplined enough (and preach so infrequently) that I don’t spend the time developing sermon ideas regularly. I do regularly pray for upcoming preaching, but don’t “simmer” in ideas and texts like I should early enough. My tactic has been to “wait for inspiration.” Some of you know what I mean—you’ve got a paper to do or a project to work on, but you’re not in the mood. So, you just sort of do other things and wait to be inspired to work on it. But, it often doesn’t work that way…we may be waiting for something—for inspiration, for God to breathe life into us—but those deadlines keep coming at us, regardless of whether we’ve been “inspired” or not!

There are definitely thing that we DON’T have to wait for inspiration in order to do? The “mood” doesn’t have to strike me in order to do a certain number of things. For me it’s watching LOST on Wednesday nights, or eating a piece of dark chocolate, or responding to an email. But other things—things that are harder, or more important, or more complicated—they require more attention, more drive, more focus. When the stakes are higher, we sometimes need that inspiration in order to get started.

But sometimes we wait because there’s nothing else that we can do! Ever had something unexpected come your way that derailed you? Maybe you got sick, you got a flat tire, or a friend came by with an emergency. Sometimes the waiting is more about being stuck. Sometimes we may say that we’re waiting for inspiration, but the truth is, we’re hoping that no one comes along to inspire us because we’re too tired, or in too deep to want to move.

Our passage today gives us a glimpse into that kind of waiting. Here is the context: Jerusalem has been sacked—the Holy City (and its worship) has been taken over by infidels. The author of this chapter (traditionally thought to be Jeremiah—the weeping prophet) is taking the fall of Jerusalem personally, actually, his description is much more of a man who is in a pretty deep depression—he cannot escape, he is crying out to God for help.
You get the impression that he pretty much think that his life has bottomed out.

Despair. Stress. Fear. Resignation. The world is falling apart. Actually, the way that this is written, quite literally, the world is falling apart! In fact, from A to Z. Each chapter of Lamentations is an acrostic in the original Hebrew language. The author is telling us that there are so many things wrong with the world that he can tell us something for EVERY letter of the alphabet! In fact, they probably memorized this and recited it at various times of the year. The world has gone to the pits!

Do you know despair? Do you know stress? Well, we all know hard times—like this time of year when we have lots to do and it’s hard to find the motivation to hunker down and get it done. But do you know the depths of despair? I would guess that some of you do. When your life is sort of spinning out of control…you’re not sure what the future holds, or if you even want the future to hold anything at all. Maybe you’re getting ready to graduate and you just see a big question mark for May 11, the day after graduation. Maybe you’re far from graduation and you can’t see how you are going to finish out the rest of your schooling. Maybe you’ve gotten bad news from home and you feel helpless in the situation. The darkest place in all of these situations (or whatever you are) is that place where you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s where our guy is…in despair, announcing his lack of glory, brooding on his affliction. And yet…he says this.

What? That’s not what you expected, is it? He’s just told us how depressed he is and then, he drops the bombshell: God still loves me! And God—you are worthy of my praise! Great is your faithfulness!


We sang earlier a song earlier, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It was written by Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960). Mr. Chisholm was converted at age 27 and became a Methodist minister for a short time, but spent most of his life selling life insurance. He was never a wealthy man, in fact struggled with health and financially. And yet, he proclaimed the faithfulness of God: Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

We also sang “It is Well With My Soul.” This song has an incredibly compelling story to it, too! It was written by Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) who was a businessman who lost a great deal of money in the great Chicago fire and also lost a son. Shortly after the fire, he planned a trip with his wife and 4 daughters to Europe but was delayed as his family set sail shortly before he was able to leave. On their trip over, their ship was met with disaster and sunk, leaving few survivors. Of his family, his wife, alone, survived. He followed shortly after their tragedy and penned these words: When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows, like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.

What gives these men hope? They have learned the secret of finding hope, even when circumstances are tragic—say, “teeth-breaking-ly tragic,” they have hope. How do they do that? Let’s turn back to the scripture and see what we can find.

What? Wait quietly in the midst of all this tragedy? No…here is our normal reaction: If there is something wrong, let’s use our voices, let’s lament! Let’s write a blog complaining about it or tweet our friends or even just complain loudly in the cafeteria when we’re ticked off about something!

But our lamenter says, “the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him” and even adds “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Do you buy that? Do you believe that the Lord is good to those who wait for him? Does waiting bring good things? Waiting feels like WASTED time, but is it?

We’re going to watch a short video of a woman who shows us that waiting does bring good things. Above all, in this clip, she exemplifies hope. Perhaps she hasn’t always exemplified hope, but she’s had some recent circumstances that have given us insight into what it means to wait.

Well, I’m guessing that you’ve seen the video of Susan Boyle, the 47 year old, singing sensation on Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent. Did you hear the hope in her voice:

• “Currently unemployed, but still looking”
• “Always wanted to perform in front of a large audience…I’m going to make that audience rock!”
• “Trying to be a professional singer—she hasn’t been given a chance before, but here’s hoping it’ll change”

She hasn’t won the competition yet, but she’s definitely won the hearts of the world! As of yesterday, there were 37.5 MILLION hits on her YouTube video. Susan Boyle not only has hope, but she shows us that hope is contagious! We all want to think about our dreams a little when we watch her sing. I wonder what gave her the courage to stand up on the world’s stage and sing. I wonder if it was reading words like this:

It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.

Susan Boyle certainly knew what it felt like to be rejected, and yet, maybe she knew these words to be true—God would show compassion on her—he doesn’t willingly afflict or grieve anyone. There is a lesson in this passage for you, though, too. It specifically speaks to the young and says that it is good to “bear the yoke” in youth. See all these negative images:
• Sitting alone in silence
• Put one’s mouth to the dust (a posture of repentance or humility)
• Give one’s cheek to the smiter—that sounds like it’s going to hurt! (sound familiar—turn the other cheek?)
• Be on the receiving end of insults
Why is this something that youth should be bearing? It doesn’t seem like anyone should have to bear this mistreatment! Can anything good happen while you’re waiting?

Well, actually, the answer is yes: Have you seen a child that got everything that he demanded from his parents—candy, doesn’t have to brush his teeth, doesn’t go to school? Can you imagine this kid as an adult? An unchallenged kid would turn into an overindulged and narcissistic adult, demanding his way, regardless of who it hurts in the process.

But, have you met a child who has endured challenges—perhaps just boundaries set down from his parents, but maybe more—a loss in his family, or even a physical challenge. Not everyone responds productively in this circumstance, but there are those that take tragedy and turn it to triumph—that is the stuff of Disney Movies, right?

Can you see it: young man in despair, lost, alone, ominous music in the background, repentant posture, covered in dust, a man throws insults and slaps him on one cheek while the tortured offers the other one, when, off in the distance the hero is visible (there may yet be hope), and he rescues the afflicted. The hero is compassionate, strong, powerful, and loving! You see, this passage reflects more the sad reality that we will face trouble in our lives and points out that while God is not to blame for it, God is the one in whom we can place our trust. Learning this lesson, especially as a youth, allow us to persevere into maturity, trusting the goodness of God, despite difficult circumstances.

In waiting, we learn that our character needs to be refined: we must wait, as it proves what we are made of.

We also learn about God’s character when we’re patiently waiting before the Lord: God is compassionate, loving, merciful, faithful. In other words, God is worthy of our hope!
So…how do we wait? How do we have this hope? I think that there are 3 kinds of waiting:

1. Jiffy Lube Waiting Room (Passive waiting)—just a matter of time,
• Doing nothing
• Doing “busy work”—puzzle, knitting, watching tv
• Not necessarily productive, but not destructive
There is a spiritual parallel: going through the motions, getting distracted by “good” things, but not taking time to find out what’s really important

2. Hospital Waiting Room (Anxious)
• Anxiety, tears, prayer—complaint
• Time drags out—excruciating
• “Stuck in the mud” waiting
There is a spiritual parallel here, too: praying, but then worrying; laying it down, and then picking it back up again; impatience.

3. American Idol Waiting Room (Active)
• People rehearsing
• Maybe have family or friends there with
• Chatting about chances
• Praying
• Scoping out competition
• Palpable anticipation
The spiritual parallel here is more productive: quietly listening to God, spending time in prayer, reading scripture, surrounded by Christian community.

When you’re waiting for inspiration, what kind of waiting are you doing? Are you passively waiting? Anxiously waiting? Or are you actively waiting?

There are important lessons that are learned while waiting. We can join in with the writer of Lamentations and hymn writers Thomas Chisholm and Horatio Spafford and find our hope in God! You may feel like your life is in a pit right now. Or maybe things aren’t even that bad, but you’re waiting for something—waiting to be inspired, perhaps. Waiting to graduate. Waiting to take the next step.

Are you taking advantage of the gift of waiting? Waiting is not wasted on the young! As you wait, you will learn of the character of God—the compassionate, faithful, loving character of God. You just might find the priceless gift of hope in the midst of tragedy. You just might be inspired by the Spirit of God in the midst of your waiting. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why I stay in the United Methodsit Church


Several weeks ago now, Jenny Smith posed the question, “Why do you stay in the United Methodist Church?” Many others have posited their answers and I’ve decided that it’s time for me to throw mine out there.

1. Wesleyan Theology is the actual reason that I became United Methodist. I actually grew up American Baptist in a congregation that was probably more like a Southern Baptist congregation. Undercurrent themes of “once saved, always saved,” “right” (or righteous) behavior and God’s omniscience permeated the faith of my childhood and adolescence. Unintended though it may have been, the faith of my youth was one that was pretty focused on doing the right things. Sure, I saw love exhibited, but my developing spirit identified this to be a love that was conditional on the right behavior. As I went to college, I chose a small United Methodist college that had an excellent biology program, as that was my intended major. My mom was all for it! She had grown up Methodist and had actually wanted to attend Southwestern when she was my age. The first Sunday that my twin sister and I were away at college, we decided to attend one of the local UM churches with some of our new friends. The second Sunday we were going to go alone to the American Baptist Church (which is right next door to FUMC, even sharing a parking lot) and when we discovered that it had already started, we went instead to FUMC which started 5 minutes later. That Sunday was youth Sunday and I was hooked! I saw that the youth had a ministry within the church and were willing to share of their faith. Before long, the youth pastor had asked me and several other students to start working with the youth group and I have been a regular worshipper at a UM congregation ever since. Fast forward a few years from the fall of 1994 when I started attending a UM church and you’ll find me in seminary, still worshipping in a UM congregation, but not claiming that I was United Methodist despite the fact that I loved the idea of prevenient grace (which was what I identified to be the most distinctively Methodist theology at that time). It was not until I took a class on Wesleyan Theology that I realized that I actually loved the theology of John Wesley! Every sermon I read was my favorite…until I read the next one! His “heart-warming experience” warmed my heart, too, especially when I realized that he could bring together my own understanding of the importance on doctrine, personal piety, and love for others, especially the outcast. In studying the theology of John Wesley, and then later, UM Theology, I realized that I had truly been “home” all along. Though sometimes I’m jealous of someone with a long Methodist heritage, I feel blessed to realized that inasmuch as I feel like the UMC found me, I feel like I found the UMC. I still make that choice today.

2. I feel called to the United Methodist Church. During a time right after college, I was working for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was on a plane coming from an FCA training event when my seatmate, who was reading the Bible when I settled into my seat, started talking to me about my faith. He asked what church I went to and I told him that while I wasn’t a member, I worshipped at a United Methodist Church. He very loudly said, “You aren’t a lesbian, are you?” Flustered at both his pointed-ness and his decibel level, I stammered, “Uh, no! Just because I’m Methodist doesn’t mean that I’m gay!” You see, once again, we had just been in the news for our tension over homosexuality in the church. I was disheartened to hear that while there was much that the news could have reported that the UMC did that was positive, this man (who I’ve affectionately dubbed Fred Phelps’ cousin in my memory banks) pulled out what is certainly not one of our prouder distinctives—our ongoing struggle about homosexuality in the church. However, during that conversation I found myself defending that while we have our struggles within the UMC, on our best days, we are committed to staying in relationship with one another, despite the fact that our diversity causes us pain. I acknowledged to F.P.’s cousin and still do today, that our diversity is not without its challenges. There are a few things about the UMC that grieve me, but among the worst is when the world to which we are witnessing sees us fractured, exposed, and fighting. Looking back, it was in this conversation close to 10 years ago that I can begin to see God calling me to the UMC. I remember thinking (strangely) that I wanted to help the people of the UMC through these challenging times. I am certain that I did not have an overestimated sense of my own contribution, but somehow I felt in that moment that the challenges of the UMC were my challenges, too. For me, the beginning of being called to the UMC happened in that weird conversation on an airplane.

3. I see great hope in the people called Methodists. Now, I must qualify that remark. I see great hope in potential of the people and I see that the people have great hope. However, I am not blind to the fact that our numbers in the American UMC are diminishing and that sometimes we lose sight of the stated main focus of our church (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world). Some make take exception to my last statement, but I often think that we’re pretty caught up in issues that are not central to being disciples and making disciples. However, when I read Eric VanMeter’s latest commentary in the UM Reporter, I was reminded that while I’m inspired by the heritage of the UMC, I’m more interested in the legacy that we could leave.

If the best things we’ve inherited, however, become tools to infuse new life into the United Methodist Church, then our heritage will continue to thrive. Our spiritual fathers and mothers passed down to us a concern for the poor, a heart for service, a commitment to holiness and the courage to confront our problems with wisdom and creativity.

Still, the best things about us as the United Methodist Church are not found in our tradition. They’re found in our trajectory. Our life is not tied to the heritage we’ve received, but to the legacy we leave.


Amen, brother! I see the stirrings of people all over the church, people who sometimes challenge us by making us confront our failures and people who, with a theology rooted in grace, remind us that we have much work left to do and we can actually start to make an impact. We do have a wonderful heritage. But I for one think that our heritage must impel us forward into that trajectory that is rooted in Scripture, articulated in our Methodist doctrines. It is a faith that is not intended to stay in the church service on Sunday morning, but is sturdy enough to carry us into the streets, schools, boardrooms, and even the bars. There are many who have this hope and I hope that the many will respond. I may be particularly biased in seeing this hope. I now get to work in campus ministry at my alma mater with college students who exemplify that hope every day (and a few who even want to join us in ministry in the UMC).

I could go on with other reasons why I stay in the UMC such as the connection that I’ve experienced locally, nationally, and globally or the concern for the least, the last and the lost that permeates our work in the world. There are many other “family resemblances” that I could name, but the theology, the call, and the hope are what got me here, and will keep me here. God is at work in the UMC and I’m so glad that I get to be a part of it!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Young Clergy in the Ministry of the Church

Thursday and Friday of this week, I was in Nashville at a gathering of 10 UMC young clergy. We were invited by folks from the GBHEM and two young clergy (Chris Roberts from the Indiana Conference and Jenny Smith, a seminary student at United). The agenda was for us to talk about some of the issues that young clergy face in the UMC. The momentum going on for the gathering was strong, as we had all Facebook “friended” one another and had begun thinking about our purpose for being together. I learned that the ball had begun rolling when Jenny did a series of video interviews about young clergy at General Conference last year and then posted them on a website that she created. Chris saw the videos and expressed interest in being a part of something intentional to bring young clergy together to talk about the issues that face the church and how we might work in a unified manner to approach those issues. The gathering that happened this week was the fruit of that interest.

The 10 of us (plus Meg Lassiat from GBHEM and a few other “drop-ins” from Nashville) spent our time reviewing a non-scientific survey that Jenny designed to gather some feedback from others who are young clergy or care about young clergy in the UMC. (If you see a trend of technology in the introduction above—Facebook, video interviews, website—just wait…we’re not done with technology yet! We also had a simultaneous “liveblog” that included 7 of us in Nashville and about 25 others, at any given time. The transcript of our conversation is here.) While I won’t attempt to summarize the entire 24 hours that we spent together (we did get a dinner break and night off, which of course consisted of us talking the whole evening!), I do want to give my concluding impressions:

• First of all, this is a very hopeful group! We’ve heard Lovett Weem’s excellent research on the clergy crisis in the UMC and while it would be tempting to despair, this group and many others have chosen to hope that God will use us to impact the church in a powerful way.
• Younger clergy, though appreciative of the work of their forebears, are not necessarily interested in the same discussions of previous generations (especially regarding theological diversity). What seems to be a recurrent trend is that we are often more interested in what unifies us. (Here are a couple of quotes that got bandied around a bit: “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity” and (my favorite) from E. Stanley Jones, “Here we enter a fellowship; sometimes we agree to differ, always we resolve to love and unite to serve.”)
• We decided that what unifies us is the desire to be disciples and make disciples.
• Many younger clergy feel isolated, voiceless in their annual conference and concerned about burn-out.
• Younger clergy seem to reject the perception that most appointment systems are based on a competitive model (rewarding—both financial and otherwise—those with more years of experience and making younger clergy “do their time” in more challenging appointments) and prefer to work in a more collaborative model of ministry. (This point here deserves a significant amount of analysis, some of which I hope to go into at another time.)

While we did do a significant amount of discussion, we did arrive at a couple of points of action. We talked about two different things that could address some of the needs of younger clergy that arose from the survey, our discussion and our online participants. First, we talked about enhancing the website that Jenny has already started. Our hopes are that it could become a “hub” that is keeping track of things pertinent to younger clergy—best practices, blogs, events of interest, and even forums for discussing topics of particular interest. (If you have a blog that you would like to include on our blogroll, or if you know of some “best practices” for young clergy, please email Ashlee.Alley@sckans.edu.) We also discussed the potential for a gathering of young clergy that would address some of the biggest concerns facing us (again, namely isolation, voicelessness, and burn-out). There will most definitely be more to come with all of this, but I have to say, that as a young clergy (for a few more years, anyway ;) and also as one who works with college aged students who often are experiencing a call to ministry (and sometimes to ordination), I come away feeling really hopeful for the church in the days (and years, and decades) ahead. There are many who desire to serve Christ and his Church and they even want to do it under the auspices of the UMC. We’re not a perfect church, but God IS doing some great things within us. And I really think that this is one of them.

For another take on someone else who was there, read April Casperson's blog.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Live From Nashville

I was asked, along with 9 other young UM clergy, to be in a conversation sponsored by the GBHEM about young clergy. I along with, these others, and a few drop-in guests, have spent the afternoon and evening chatting about the state of and opportunity for young clergy in the United Methodist Church. In typical technological form, we had a simultaneous live blogging conversation going on during our discussion, including those of us in the room, and anyone else who wanted to join in. We're reconvening tomorrow from 8:30-noon (central time) and I would love to invite you to drop in.

Here's the link

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting Your Life in ORDER

I wrote this article for fellow campus ministers as they begin the new year. It is also found on the College Union website...


It’s that time of year again, when we give a little thought to our priorities, making resolutions, culling out the bad habits. It’s the time of year when tips for losing weight/getting organized/spending less/fill-in-the-blank are on every morning news show and magazine. Into this milieu of good-habit-making, I’m going to venture with my two cents. Wish me luck—that you’ll keep reading!

About two years ago in the summer (which is supposed to be the down time in campus ministry), I found myself overwhelmed, cluttered, and dreading when students would return. I had been in my current position for about two years and the initial momentum of figuring out how things work was turning into “ordinary time,” and I needed some handles to move me into leading others from running a program. I also knew that if I had any hope of having a good school year, I had better get my life in order. I needed to be organized, I wanted to keep reading, I knew I had to spend time in devotion, and yet stay energized, but not forget to relax. Sounds impossible? Well, not if you bring in some O.R.D.E.R.

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy tip in a self-help book, I present to you a strategy, an orienting framework for your day: an acronym (and I’ll do my best to convince you why you should remember this one and not submit it to the writers of The Office for another corporate mantra to mock!).

Organize
Organization is something that each of us must master at some level or another, but for some of us, organization presents a particular challenge. It comes pretty easily for me, but, even then, I must be intentional to keep things in their proper place and be able to put my hands on them when necessary. The first step in bringing order into one’s life is to organize. Spend a few minutes every day organizing—whether that is filing the papers that collect on your desk, re-shelving the books that you pulled the day before when writing that sermon, updating your to-do list at the end of the day with the next morning’s priorities, or cleaning out your inbox from the emails that are low priority but still need a response. Devoting even 15 minutes of time to organize your surroundings will also put in order your thoughts and remove just a little of the “office dread” that can creep in every now and then.

Read
When one is busy, it’s difficult to keep up with all the magazines, blogs, e-newsletters, and mail, let alone the “must-read” recommendations from your friends and colleagues. However, reading is something that should not be eliminated simply because there doesn’t seem to be any time in the schedule. Exposure to new ideas helps to keep ideas germinating in your mind and heart. Reading isn’t the only way that God can work in the creative process. Podcasts, movies and some T.V. programs also contribute to the infusion of new ideas that God can use to spark your imagination and refocus your mind on the new tasks of God in your campus ministry. Schedule time for this continued learning whether it is a weekly part of your life or a monthly study day. It will shape your vision for your ministry.

Devote

It is a no-brainer to tell someone in ministry (which includes any Christian!) that he or she should daily spend time in devotion to God. However, often our times in prayer and bible study are absorbed by appeals for desperate situations and preparation for tonight’s small group. The rich times of devotion which drew us into ministry in the first place often fade as our schedules crowd out this time of lingering in God’s presence. Yet, as we are reminded by the prayer in Lamentations, “[God’s mercies] are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.” We also remember from God’s provision to the Israelites in the desert that they were only able to be fed for a day on manna and quail, and if they kept too much, it would spoil (except for the Sabbath). The Lord’s Prayer even says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If we expect to live off of past spiritual growth and neglect daily habits of devotion, we will end up like those complaining Israelites and miss the joy of God’s providing hand.

Energize
I almost titled this section “exercise,” but I want to recognize that exercise isn’t the only way to increase our energy; the food that we put into our bodies fuels the work that our bodies do. Thus, healthy eating and exercise are both ways that we energize each day. Committing to an exercise program, whether the goal is to run a road race or climb a couple of flights of stairs without being out of breath, is more than just being physically fit. Being healthy is a matter of stewardship and, ultimately, affects the work that we are able to do for God. Integrating habits of eating healthy (fresh) foods as well as consistently exercising are non-negotiable in our mostly sedentary lifestyle. The world of campus ministry often includes doughnuts, pizza, cookies, or casseroles while early mornings and late nights prevent regular exercise schedules. However, overlooking these energizing habits can lead to lives that can’t sustain the challenging and exciting work to which God has called us in campus ministry. How about working out with a student or serving healthy options at meals in the ministry? These habits model lives that take seriously being a good steward, even of our bodies.

Relax
We sometimes hear that we need to make sure and include some “me” time in our schedules. While I agree with the importance of resting, I’m not so sure that all things are equal when it comes to relaxing. I have a student who swears to me that his preferred method of relaxation is playing video games and brags that when he wants to be social, he plays Guitar Hero with a friend, as if he is experiencing “community.” I’ve recounted to him the articles I’ve read about the effects of video games on the brain (and eyes!), and suggested other, more effective ways that he can relax, but to no avail. His trigger finger is fast, but he can’t sit through an hour long meeting without playing with his phone, laptop or iPod. When I’m honest, I realize that my own “relaxation techniques,” while they don’t include gaming, may not be quite as relaxing either. I’ve found that spending two hours “vegging” on the couch doesn’t provide nearly as much rest as playing a favorite playlist and writing a letter to a friend or journaling about my day while drinking some hot tea. While TV may be passively entertaining, rest isn’t analogous to sitting still. What about you? Do you find ways to rest—truly relax—each day (not to mention observing a Sabbath)? Do you sip that cup of coffee or tea and thank God for a bit of peace, brief though it may be? Do you break the rhythms of work or family time to relax in the capable hands of God? You should. No excuses.

Organize. Read. Devote. Energize. Relax. These five daily practices contribute to a life that is able to stay afloat during the chaos of a rigorous schedule. As cheesy as it sounds, I do actually rely on this acronym when I start to feel out of balance and overextended. The order that we seek in our lives is not something that is new to our fast-paced culture. Our challenges are the challenges of many others in other times. May we be disciplined enough to integrate some order into our lives. Many others are counting on it.