Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wednesday's highlights

Today was much slower. We had a number of delegate ballots and some more technical difficulty. In the process of getting everyone to input the right numbers and getting the machines calibrated to their users, the clergy managed to elect the 10 General Conference delegates that we are allowed plus 4 or 5 Jurisdictional Conference delegates. The laity lacked one when we concluded business today. Tomorrow the clergy will elect the rest of the Jurisdictional delegates as well as 5 alternates. The laity may be there until Saturday.

By the way, for those of you who don't know, Jurisdictional Conference is the intermediate level of structure between the Annual Conference and the General Conference. It is made up of a number of Annual Conferences. Oklahoma is in the South Central Jurisdiction. The most critical function of Jurisdictional Conference (not to say that their work isn't important) is the election and appointment of bishops. Each Annual Conference is led by a bishop. Together, all of the bishops make up the council of bishops. No one bishop has more authority over the others. One is elected President of the Council, but only serves to direct their work together.

Some of today's highlights were:
- The Children's ministry report. It was a high point only because Sponge Bob Squarepants was on the platform during the presentation of awards for children's ministry.

- The Campus Ministry report. It was a high point for me because it reminded me of where I came from. My call to ministry was realized in a campus ministry. My first real chance at working in ministry was in a campus ministry. My first appointment after seminary was part-time in a campus ministry. I had a passion for campus ministry from college through seminary and into my second appointment. Now that passion has been quenched. I loved campus ministry and wish I had the passion once again.

- Africa University report was very stirring as we heard about where it has come from since 1992. They have graduated over 2,000 students in that time. Some of the students from the Africa University choir have been singing at Annual Conference this year.

- We heard about many ways that our churches can participate in ministries of help around the Conference: Cookson Hills that ministers to the impoverished in the Cookson Hills region around Tahlequah; Skyline and Restore Hope ministries who work with the homeless and impoverished in Oklahoma City and Tulsa; Project Transformation is a literacy program; so many great things that we make possible as United Methodists.

Since I am completely wasted, I'll make this one short (there is much more to be said). I will continue to update with things that happened and maybe more pictures. Tomorrow is the final day and it starts early. Peace

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

KFAQ did not give you the full story

This morning I was listening to KFAQ on my way to Oklahoma City. Gwen Freeman, the morning host, gave a brief comment about an upcoming story. She said,
"...we're going to be talking about a woman who has served as a minister at St. John's United Methodist Church for five years. She's been reappointed to the position as a man."

That was all that was said. I didn't hear the story in the hour that I listened. So I was wondering about it all day.

I spoke with one of my pastor friends to see if he knew anything about it and he knew nothing.

So here are the facts that may have been presented at another time and I missed.

St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore has been served by Ann Gordon for five years. This past year, Gordon received medical treatments to change gender and changed her name to Drew Phoenix. The bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference reappointed Phoenix to St. John's.

That decision is being called into question by conservative groups from the United Methodist Church.

St. John's United Methodist is not to be confused with St. John's AME in Tulsa or any other Methodist related St. John's churches in the Oklahoma region.

Second day of Annual Conference - pictures!!!

For some reason many believe to be strange, I chose to commute to Annual Conference this year. That's 260 miles round trip for each of the 4 business days. So my keister is dragging.

I got to AC right as the morning devotion was beginning. This year we have a special musical group sharing music with us. A group from Africa University is singing at some of the worship services.

Our first ballot yesterday was declared invalid. Basically because of human error and technical malfunction the votes for yesterday were null and void. So this morning we took the first official ballot. Just to give you a clue of what we are working with, there are 1,950 voting members at this Annual Conference.

This was the first day for reports from the different ministry organizations that are a part of the conference. On today's schedule there were three of the most moving reports at any Annual Conference: VIM (Volunteers in Mission), CJAMM (Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries), and Circle of Care.

VIM is responsible for sending teams of volunteers (see, that's part of the name) literally around the world to assist and work with people. We sent teams to Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa as well as Louisiana and around Oklahoma, to name just a few. We have a special relationship with Bolivia. The indigenous peoples of Bolivia have accepted Methodism as their faith tradition because of the support and assistance United Methodists have provided them through their struggles for recognition in their own home land. David Stewart is an Oklahoma pastor who has a special passion for Bolivia.

He also has a special way about showing that passion.

In Mexico, there is one ongoing mission project at Rio Bravo. Last year we sent 101 teams to Rio Bravo to work on cassitas, churches, in medical clinics, and in vacation bible school settings.

CJAMM is a ministry to persons and families of persons who are incarcerated. We have many ways to connect with people in the correctional system and when they come out. Exodus House is a half-way house for those transitioning back into mainstream society. There are 4 Redemption Churches across Oklahoma that minister with openness to persons who are in prison (and able to come by permission of the facility) or who have come out. New Day Camp is a camp just for children who have one or both parents in prison. The report of this committee is always filled with transformation and the power of God's love for those who many may have given up on because of the choices they have made.

Circle of Care is our ministry with children and youth who face challenges of social or family nature. We have campuses across Oklahoma to provide a place for children and youth to be nurtured and cared for in a structured environment. They are able to find the skills to succeed in life where they may not have gotten them in their home setting.

We also heard about Oklahoma City University (our United Methodist heritage university) developing a partnership with St. Paul's School of Theology to bring a full Master of Divinity program to Oklahoma.

Today we also elected 7 clergy to General Conference and 3 lay delegates.

Finally, the restaurant reviews: QT, Friday's, Chik-fil-A. I want to say that QT has fantastic coffee. And right now, for a limited time, they have Kona. I love Kona coffee. One slight problem - the first half-and-half dispenser was dispensing bad cream. And I mean B-A-A-A-D cream. Blach!

At Friday's I enjoyed lunch with some dear friends and one of their fathers (who is also a minister). There were many laughs at hearing stories of family life growing up in that household. Thanks George, Dane, and Shannon for great lunch fellowship. The food was fair as I had the Jack Daniel's Burger. Not a burger with Jack Daniel's mind you. It was a regular burger with provolone cheese and bacon and Jack Daniel's sauce (not straight) to smother it in. The burger was mediocre, nothing special. But that sauce is yuMMMy!

And Chik-fil-A - well. Nothing else needs to be said. It's the best. Chik-fil-A sandwich with waffle fries. If you have never eaten at Chik-fil-A then you have missed out on the best chicken sandwich that the world has been offered. And to top it off, the company is respectful of Christian faith and tradition.

Now I am home enjoying my soft couch and trying not to fall asleep too soon. But I'll be back up at 5:15 in the morning and off for the next day. 'Til then - peace.

Monday, May 28, 2007

First day of business in Annual Conference

I am going to try and keep everyone informed of the doings at Annual Conference this week.

Annual Conference (for those playing along at home who don't know) is three things:
1. - It is the official name of a group of United Methodist Churches within a given geographical area. For Oklahoma, all of Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Annual Conference.
2. - It is the official rule making body for that region. So the Oklahoma Annual Conference makes the rules for the Oklahoma Annual Conference.
3. - It is the annual gathering of clergy (preacher types) and laity (real people types) where we decide on how we will conduct business within the Oklahoma Annual Conference for the coming year.

Clear as mud, I know.

But this week is Annual Conference. Our tradition is to begin on Memorial Day weekend. In the past we began work on Sunday. Recently we have only had a worship service on Sunday night and registration on Sunday afternoon. That means Monday is the first official work day.

We begin Annual Conference in executive sessions for the clergy and laity. All of the preacher types gather in one location and vote on preacher type business. The laity gather in another place and do laity stuff (I don't know what they do - I've never been to a Laity Executive session). One of the items of business for clergy is voting on new clergy members to be commissioned and ordained. This year we voted to accept 3 Deacons and 6 Elders into connection. That means, simply, that we accepted 9 preacher types into the Annual Conference, only 6 of them will serve in typical preacher type roles.

The Bishop closed the Clergy session with a heads up about the Episcopal Address that was coming up. It was a doozy. Bishop Hayes laid down the law on the Oklahoma Annual Conference with regard to churches who have not been willing to accept the appointment of pastors who are other than white males. The Bishop said that the Cabinet will NOT consider any request by a church who requests that they not receive a female (or other non-white male) pastor.

We have churches in Oklahoma who have gotten it into their heads that a woman pastor could not lead them. The Bishop is simply saying that if you want to be a United Methodist congregation, then you best get in line with the Discipline of the UMC (that's the law folks).

Bishop Hayes also addressed other challenges: continuing in the ministry of making disciples, 5% increases in active church participation, and meeting the $4,000,000 goal for capital improvements to our camps.

This is also the election year for delegates to General Conference next year. You will hear more about this in a future update. Suffice it to say that our first ballot was today.

And now on to the important item of business for Annual Conference: Restaurant reviews. Today's restaurants were: Dunkin' Donuts, Abuelo's, and Cracker Barrel.

Dunkin' Donuts was simply donuts. But they were yummy donuts. I had the blueberry cake and Bavarian cream. With a cup of coffee. That was too sweet. Hey, even I have limits to how much sugar should be in my coffee.

Lunch at Abuelo's Mexican restaurant in Bricktown. I had the enchilada and taco lunch plate. The other times I have eaten at Abuelo's I was less than impressed. But today's was pretty good. The taco was a little soggy for a "crisp" taco but it had a good flavor.

Supper was a Cracker Barrel. I had pancakes and eggs. Because that is all I like at Cracker Barrel.

I head out again tomorrow morning and will update when I return.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good Behavior???

The news is now reporting that pop culture icon Paris Hilton will have her outrageously long and inappropriate (can we add cruel and unusual) sentence of 45 days for probation violation reduced by half. And get this. It is being reduced for good behavior.

Rant point #1 - Where was the good behavior when she was stopped for alcohol related reckless driving? She decided to get blitzed and get behind the wheel of a car. She was not capable of making good judgment.

Rant point #2 - Where was the good behavior when she violated probation by getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while having a suspended license? Obviously Miss Hilton does not understand that when the government who issues a driver's license suspends that license you don't get to change it. She was not capable of making good judgment in this instance either.

Rant point #3 - Why, oh why, would she listen to her PRESS agent's advice on her legal situation? Might it not have been a better idea to call her lawyer (on her ever present cell phone) to find out if it was legal for her to be driving. She was not capable of making good judgment in who to listen to for good advice.

Rant point #4 - Why was the "good behavior" adjustment allowed to be applied when she was doing the minimum requirement? She showed up for her court date. BIG WHOOP! You are legally required to do that. If you don't, you get a visit from the sheriff's department with a wonderful piece of paper called a bench warrant. She was acting in good behavior, she was finally showing some good judgment. But meeting the minimum requirement of law.

Rant point #5 - Paris is being roomed in the "special" cells that are reserved for prisoners who need to be isolated. Like police officers, public officials, high-profile criminals. Oh and celebrities. Because we wouldn't want them to be troubled while they are in jail.

This is ludicrous. Ridiculous. Any other -ous you can think of.

But I suppose this is what we deserve. We have made celebrities into a class above all others. We have given them status and the power to sway even the legal system to their will. So Paris will do her half sentence because she acted so well prior to serving her time. She will get out after about 3 weeks in jail (instead of a month and a half). Then she will likely get her driver's license back. But knowing her, she won't even have to wait in line to get her license.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

GPS Used to Reach Transplant Recipient

Read this article from ABC news

GPS Used to Reach Transplant Recipient
Police Use Cell-Tracking Technology to Find Transplant Patient in Time for Surgery
The Associated Press

Technology is a beautiful thing....sometimes.

I announced Sunday that I would be out of town this week for a meeting The meeting was held at Canyon Camp, the Oklahoma Annual Conference owned camp outside of Hinton.

The camp was a brainstorming event for a conference camp model. It was a small group that was meeting in the Lodge at the Camp. I left about 4:10 Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately I was below E on the gas gauge so I had to make a stop at QT. I was leaving when I realized I had left my cell phone and sunglasses at home. Turn around time (luckily I was still in Claremore).

With cell phone in its holster and glasses on my head, I started again (4:25). Getting into Tulsa I noticed that there were storm clouds gathering. I flipped over to News 9's radio broadcast and heard that there wasn't anything dangerous in the way.

I was getting hungry and stopped at my favorite road side stop - Taco Cabana. I love me some Taco Cabana.

At this point I was on the west side of OKC and headed out toward the camp. About El Reno I saw more ominous looking clouds. And a news helicopter. My mind was telling me that it couldn't be a great combination. So I called Lisa to check the internet for the local T.V. station's weather and the weather radar I use all the time (for Tulsa it is NOAA weather radar) to see if I was driving into a tornado. It was a dark gray with what appeared to be a pre-vortex lowering. But it was safe according to the internet so I drove on through.

I arrived at the camp with no problems and went to the Lodge. Problem. The Lodge was locked. No lights. It appeared to be closed up for the evening.

Now since this is in a canyon, there are no cell signals available. So I had to drive back out of the canyon (not a long drive) and contacted the person in charge of the meeting.

"Hey," says me, "are we having a meeting this week?"

"What meeting?" says she.

"The meeting at Canyon."

"Didn't you get the email? We canceled the meeting." It is now 7:30 ish P.M.

Thus begins my 3 hour journey back home. On the way home I sang tunes that I had downloaded onto my PDA (personal digital assistant and mobile multi-media platform). For 3 hours I sang my little heart out. And all of them were personal favorites. And I sang loudly.

I got home about 10:45 to find Lisa playing an internet game (Puzzle Pirates).

The moral of this story is that technology can be a great thing (the GPS tracking of a cell phone, cell phones to be in contact with each other, email to quickly update info, mobile entertainment, and internet games and community). But technology can also be used horribly (forgetting your cell phone, not checking your email even when you have a computer program that lets you know you have email even if you have 3 or more email accounts, the danger of singing at the top of you lungs especially driving at 80, ummmm 76, mph down the interstate, and the addiction of playing games on the internet).

SO use technology wisely.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Belief - O - Matic has a quiz called the Belief-O-Matic. You are asked a series of questions. You provide the answer as close to your personally held beliefs and to rank how important that belief is. Based on your answers, it compares your beliefs (as you have presented them) with their database of religious beliefs. This goes beyond the scope of just what flavor of Christian you are. This compares your answers among all world religions.

Here are my results.
1. Orthodox Quaker (100%)
2. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (93%)
3. Eastern Orthodox (92%)
4. Roman Catholic (92%)
5. Seventh Day Adventist (91%)
6. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (89%)
7. Hinduism (69%)
8. Liberal Quakers (69%)
9. Bahá'í Faith (65%)
10. Orthodox Judaism (65%)
11. Sikhism (65%)
12. Islam (57%)
13. Unitarian Universalism (56%)
14. Reform Judaism (54%)
15. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (49%)
16. Jehovah's Witness (44%)
17. Jainism (42%)
18. Mahayana Buddhism (36%)
19. Neo-Pagan (36%)
20. Theravada Buddhism (35%)
21. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (31%)
22. New Age (29%)
23. Secular Humanism (28%)
24. Scientology (26%)
25. Taoism (20%)
26. New Thought (20%)
27. Nontheist (16%)

Now before any of you start doubting my Christian faith, let me say that across the global stage of religions, there are similarities that will harmonize. In fact the top 4 that I relate closest to are very strong Christian traditions.

But why on earth would my beliefs come back as Orthodox Quaker, you may wonder? Remember that I said that your beliefs are only part of the equation. It is also important to take into account how strong that belief is within your personal system. Two of my answers would push me into the Quaker camp.

First, I believe strongly in the social responsibility of Christians. I believe that we are called to respond to the needs of our neighbors, our community, and our world. We are to step up to fill in the gaps were society abandons and casts people off. The Quakers are very strong in social responsibility.

Second, I have a slight belief that we are not supposed to be active in violence. This is something I struggle with, though. I do not condone violence as the best means to a solution. I do not want to perpetrate violence against another living being, personally. Taking another person's life is a horrible action. Yet at the same time, there are moments when I can see that violence is justifiable. I don't like it, but it is the internal dilemma that I face.

Based on these two responses, I believe that is why Orthodox Quaker got pushed up into the number one spot.

What do you believe? Try it out at Belief-O-Matic