We All Have a Dream…

The DreamUMC conversation is more than two months old, and growing in some exciting ways. We are putting words and ideas to action, and finding new partners across denominational lines.

Background

Coming out of the 2012 General Conference, many delegates, volunteers, and folks who had followed the proceedings from afar looked for a way to continue a broad conversation about the United Methodist Church and the directions into which God is calling us. Using the social networking platform of Twitter, we created space for this communication through the account @DreamUMC and the corresponding hashtag #DreamUMC. The central goal is to have the communication and vision building be as open, grassroots, and participatory as possible. We fundamentally believe that there is something inherently Methodist about seeking out, listening for, and valuing every voice, rather than assuming direction comes from the top. Sometimes—often, even!—the Spirit speaks boldly through the people one might least expect.

Every two weeks, Monday nights at 9 Eastern, we have participated in moderated Twitter chats or “tweetups,” where people follow the same hashtag at the same time, and respond to discussion questions. Three separate people from two different Jurisdictions have moderated the chats, and participation has been strong, with the number of people tweeting declining, but the number of new tweets and secondary level questions increasing as the conversation goes deeper. The chats are archived on a Facebook page so that people who can’t tune in at that time can read the questions and responses later. Often, one or more person summarizes the conversation (here’s one of my early summaries) for people to read.

Challenges and Benefits

Certainly there are challenges and drawbacks to this method; not everyone is able to use Twitter and Facebook or comfortable in those platforms. Our conversations have been tipped toward United States based individuals (although we have several participants who sign in from Europe or Africa), and most popular in those under 40 (although there are again many active participants who are young at heart if not in years). Overcoming these limitations to being inclusive with respect to age, geographic, and socioeconomic status remains a top priority.

The benefits and advantages are stunning, however.

One might expect the conversation to be monolithic theologically, or to point to particular polity positions. This has not been the case. In the open conversation forum, participants have voiced widely diverging opinions, beliefs, and positions, and returned to engage with one another two weeks later. Sharing insights, the people tweeting have offered up a wide range of creative, forward-thinking ideas on a range of topics from the major lessons of General Conference to the need for theological and spiritual formation in local churches, from the essential qualities of an episcopal leader to spreading the message and model of DreamUMC’s open-source conversation.

Focusing the conversation

With people weighing in from around the United States and around the world, both during the chat and on their own time, the folks of DreamUMC have begun to identify key areas of focus for conversation and action moving forward, including building toward a United Methodist Church that is more connected to its Wesleyan heritage, has a stronger focus on discipleship and development, more inclusive, and more equitable globally. For weeks, we have discussed the need for education and formation in local churches, and for the development of lay and clergy leadership at all levels of the church. We have also heard frustration about the divisions, exclusions, and process-related technical details that keep us from being as effective as we can be in mission and service (like debating almost all critical topics using Robert’s Rule of Order rather than living into a more open and holy conferencing style).

These areas of interest are exciting to think about as the conversation continues. The plan is to invite participants to place themselves on one or more teams and work intentionally around these topics, while continuing the wider discussion about the United Methodist Church as a whole, and where the Spirit is leading us in the months and years ahead. For a full list of the topics we’ve lifted up, or to add a topic that should be included, please visit the DreamUMC Facebook poll.

Ecumenical dreams unfolding

One of the most exciting developments in the DreamUMC movement is not limited to the UMC. At the recent Presbyterian Church, USA General Assembly, a conversation began on Twitter that was very similar to the conversation that we had experienced at our General Conference. One United Methodist, following the PCUSA tweets, mentioned this similarity, inviting the participants there to peruse the conversations that we’d been having through DreamUMC, and suddenly @WeDreamPCUSA / #DreamPCUSA was born (you can read Rev. Andy Oliver’s perspective on the launch of this sister movement here).

Within days, new hashtags and user accounts popped up for other denominations, including the United Church of Christ (@DreamUCC and #dreamucc), the Episcopal Church (#Acts8), the Disciples of Christ (#dreamccdoc) and a broader ecumenical gathering, @MainlineDreams / #MainlineDreams. Together, we’ve begun to think of ourselves as a movement not unlike the “Arab Spring,” in the term Andy coined as the “Mainline Summer” (there’s a short summary of the known movements so far here by Rev. Emily Heath).

Dreams carry forward

My personal hope for this wider movement is well stated by Emily when she calls for a “new chapter in mainline Christian renewal.” That’s what we’re talking about here: reconnecting to the things that make us Christian, that give us power and purpose as the Body of Christ, and that inform and shape us in our various theological and historical foundations. In talking with a friend from another denomination this morning, we reflected that the ecumenical movement has historically focused on either mergers or, more typically, on sharing in mission. What if this time, we focused on a different kind of mission: to reclaim and reinvigorate mainline Christianity, to engage with a culture hungry for meaning and purpose and connection, and to offer what the church as a whole has found in Christ, trusting that individuals will flock to the particular and distinct denominations with which they best resonate?  Can we, this summer, this year, at this season in the church, open a conversation at all levels and in all places, hearing, discerning, and sharing where God is calling the Christian church into a new and more relevant, vital, connected future?

Now that’s a dream I want to live into.

Seeking Easter Inspiration

Here is my deep confession:

It is hard for me to get inspired to lead worship on Easter.

I face this every year. In part, I think the expectations I place on myself are too high– I want to do something “cool” or “relevant” to get the attention of the visitors; I want to lift up a different part of the story to appeal to the questioning; I want to go deeper to inspire the regulars; I am confronted with the centerpiece and cornerstone of our faith.

On the other hand, I just don’t know what to say. Retelling the story doesn’t seem to be enough (it is for me on Thursday and Friday– the messages of servanthood, connection, commitment to ones principles, courage, loss, violence– these speak for themselves). I personally don’t get enough out of Easter if it’s just a line-by-line reading of the Gospels. Does this make me a bad pastor? A bad believer? I hope not. But it’s not enough for me to read about the empty tomb. So what? What do we do now? How does this change us?

This may be the best thing I have read all season, all year, in all of my ministry when it comes to Easter inspiration. I won’t just preach that, but at least I have a place to start. Thank you, Carl Gregg. That was what I needed to hear, to find what I need to say.

Vital Signs – an alternative report

As I wrote yesterday, I really struggled with trying to input goals for my congregation in the Vital Congregations website. Part of my struggle arises because I do not think that this tool measures the right things and for the right reasons, but the biggest challenge arises because our tradition is one of storytelling, relationship, and connection. There is so much that Trinity is doing around these areas, and so much that we hope to be and are working toward. None of that fits neatly in a number or a chart. Numbers are interesting and important. They are part of how we evaluate our progress toward our goals. But they should not be the goals.

Instead, let me tell you the story of what Trinity is doing, and how we strive to live into our mission: Trinity United Methodist Church is called to become a free and fearless community  where people meet and experience Jesus, grow in love for God and each other,  and live fully and abundantly in Spirit-led service to the world. I believe these goals address the same areas as the Vital Congregations statistics, but with greater attention discipleship and formation, and add a few other areas besides.

1. Faithfulness to our membership, regular attendance and attendance as a percentage of membership – Trinity is in the process of “going digital” with our membership rolls and records, and then using the database to improve the accuracy of our roll and reach out to people we haven’t heard from in a while. We believe that one of the greatest sources of potential new members and attendees is actually the pool of our former attendees, invited back through letters, calls, and/or personal contact wherever possible. An accurate member roll will also help us better care for the members we do have, and make sure we see each active member regularly.
Of course we want more people to come to church for Sunday worship, but also for studies, volunteering time, serving, learning, and connecting. If we are faithful in our ministries and excited about who we are, we believe we will see this happen.

2. Activity in small groups for formation, education, and fellowship - We have found that we have the best response to short term studies or event-based groups. People are willing and able to come together for a finite commitment, or for a set amount of time. As such, we try to have one fellowship activity every 4-6 weeks, and we have had short term bible and book studies during Lent for the past two years, and have seen increased participation through those.

3. People active in mission – Trinity has seen a few members go on mission trips (both through the United Methodist trips and outside groups), but there are many more people who are interested in mission and are not able to go on a trip. Our mission team, which is a new team in the past couple of years, is therefore working to engage the congregation through presentations about mission opportunities and trips, inviting participation in local projects through area mission centers, and increasing participation in mission that happens in and through the church such as serving at the Community Lunch and Warming Center. The Mission team hopes in the future to be able to send a group from Trinity or in conjunction with another church on a mission trip. We wish there were places and ways to report the people who are in mission in the community and church through giving their time directly.
On a related note, the Lay Leadership team asked people to estimate the number of hours they had volunteered for the church, community, and mission in the past year, and the total for the congregation was 7,807 hours. We thought this was a great gift to the glory of God, and hope to see increased giving of talent and time in the years ahead.

4. Professions of Faith – We have no goal set for people joining the church by profession of faith. We understand that to be the work of the Spirit, and the fruit of our faithful ministry. We pray that we continue to see new folks choosing to make a commitment to God in Christ, as this means God’s work is being done.

5. Nurturing and educating new disciples – Trinity’s Christian Education program continues to grow, and we now have a small confirmation class beginning the exciting journey of exploring their faith. We also nurture children and teens through Sunday School, tween night, and a summer program. We know that the children of today are not only the church of tomorrow but the church of right now as well.

6. Financial Stewardship – Our Finance and Stewardship team is changing the way we think about money at Trinity. The chairperson, who is new this year, has brought a heavy emphasis on Stewardship of all resources and celebrating the gifts God gives us, in addition to continuing the important work of financial accountability for the church. He has led the Finance and Stewardship team in setting an ambitious goal of increasing our congregational giving (pledged, non pledged, plate, and special offerings) by about 30% in the next three years. This increase would mean (especially if costs grow only modestly and some of the improvements the Trustees are working on for greater energy efficiency bear fruit) that the ministries of Trinity UMC could be entirely supported by the giving of the congregation and steady income like building use. Church dinners and sales and events would then be for fun and/or to raise funds for specific mission projects.
To accomplish this goal, the Finance and Stewardship team is undertaking a year-round focus on stewardship and stewardship education with the congregation, focusing on a stewardship moment each month and continuing to place finances in the context of faithfulness with all God’s gifts.

7. Natural Church Development – These are the projects that have naturally arisen from our work and our visioning, but we also want to make sure this is where we are called to be and what we are called to do. Trinity has therefore begun the process of the Natural Church Development program, which will help us discern as a congregation one area that may be holding us back from going deeper as a church, and develop ways to address this place in need of growth using our greatest strengths as a church.

8. Pastor’s goals – As pastor I have specific goals for the ministry of Trinity church and the development of its lay leadership. These goals include:

  • At least two new people in new (to them) leadership roles per year
  • At least one new program, created/designed/envisioned and led by lay people started each year (past examples include the Thrift Store, Coffee House, and Warming Center)
  • Nurture and mentor the people who seem to be exhibiting a call to lay or ordained ministries
  • Focus pastoral contact on people who seem tentative about their involvement with church or their spiritual journey and in greatest need of care. See at least one of these persons strengthen, deepen, or begin their involvement with God/church/mission in a given year

Recognizing that there’s no set formula that would work in all places, I submit these stories as what is working here, who we are, and who we feel we are called to be. Perhaps it’s not better than the Vital Congregation program, but right now it seems to be better for us and where we are. I welcome your thoughts.

iLearning

(screenshot from Apple.com)

I’m very excited about the iBooks 2 roll out with textbooks. I’ve been hoping for something like this since the Kindle came out. I see infinite implications for education, particularly. Wealthier districts are already providing each student with a laptop or netbook; it’s get on the ball so each student in the country can have one, or watch students in lower income districts get left behind. I don’t think it needs to be the sleek Apple product we think of as the iPad. I imagine something partway between a Kindle and an iPad: an electronic book reader, with wifi capability, and the ability to make notes and view multimedia. Microphone and speaker are necessary. It will need a text/email function, too. Oh, and a graphing calculator, so we don’t have to buy those anymore. Optional keyboard. GPS locator and auto-lock for if it’s lost or stolen. First-generation Kindles cost $80 (and the Kindle Fire, close to what I’m describing, is brand new and $200). I bet in five years, you can buy an educational iPad-type product for $100 per student plus licenses and data plans (the school buys a bulk license for the textbook in public school; the student buys their own in higher education). If you’re outfitting each student with a new stack of textbooks in each class at $60 a pop, you’re saving money.

Here’s what I imagine will be possible:

Textbooks, like all non-fiction books, would have in-text popup citations (with a link to the cited work for sale, should you want to add it to your library). New information, corrections, and editions can simply be downloaded as an update.

Don’t recognize a word? A popup glossary defines the word for you. Tapping an icon saves the word and its definition to a list for you to study as a list or in a flashcard application.

Think of something as you’re reading? Tap the side of the screen to pull up your notes on the chapter and add your thoughts. Save all your notes on the chapter as a study guide, or email them to yourself/your friend/ your teacher. Tap to print. Tap to send a note (or all in the chapter) to your teacher via email as a question (or as a homework assignment). Tap to send a note as a post to the class discussion board. Tap another part of the screen to read the class discussion board.

Enter your notes via keyboard or using a stylus to write in your own handwriting. Or, use the voice recorder to make and transcribe notes. And use text-to-speech to read the text of the book or your notes to you (imagine the implications for special education students, and for commuting students in secondary ed and beyond).

During class, make notes in a notebook feature, rather than carting those around too. Save, email, and print your notes as pdfs. Use your stylus to doodle in the margins. I can’t take notes otherwise.

At certain places, an icon might invite you to view a video clip or hear an audio file. This might be anything from a scene in a movie adaptation (say, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” How does the courtroom scene differ in the book and film interpretations? Why?), to a video demonstration of a chemistry experiment illustrating its formula, to a tutorial of how to solve a math problem, to a map or model, to a recording your teacher made.

What was that? Yes, the educator could add custom notes, recordings, or video clips, viewable to only the students in her class, or on his team. Teachers could also use the book’s review questions as homework assignments (and the students could fill in their answers directly where they appear and then email or print the worksheet), or write their own questions in place of the provided ones. Educators all using the same textbooks might be invited to share their questions in a forum, and pick an choose their favorite questions to build custom assignments. Educators on teams can link chapters, review questions, and study guides between one another to facilitate interdisciplinary units.

In class, the teacher might be able to “take control” of the digital readers in the room, so that they all “open” to page 24 at once, or everyone views the same multimedia clip on the smartboard at the front of the room. Using questions or notes emailed to her, the educator can lead the discussion, or prompt students to raise the questions they thought of (and made note of) while reading.

And if every student already had an iPad type device, non-school groups could make use of them too. Imagine a youth group book study or bible study. Imagine an adult one, for that matter. Just imagining the Bible as a full multi-media book gives me little chills. That’s a whole other post. The maps! The iconography! The links to other passages or other sacred writings! The clips from bible-themed movies! The option to text a question to your pastor ;)

A word about fiction:

As excited as I get about the potential applications for education, I drag my feet a little around fiction books. This is just a personal preference, I think, although overall I’ve been slow to embrace technology in entertainment compared to the speed with which I’ve embraced it for productivity. Only very recently (with the purchase of my iPhone 3GS), have I gotten fully on board with mp3s (and they’re not really mp3s anymore!). I *like* my shiny CDs. And don’t tell me you’re going to take my DVDs in their pretty packaging away and give me a mega-terabyte hard drive with digital copies of all my movies searchable by title, actor, genre, and keyword! Oh the horrors.

I like to read books. Paper books. I like the way they smell. I like the way they feel. I like that I can go to the library and get them for free for a little bit and then give them back (although, what if the *library* bought a digital copy of the book and then I checked it out and it was pushed wirelessly to my e-reader for two weeks and then I had to pay to renew it if I wasn’t done…). Even given the massive amount of moving I do and the huge pain it is to pack and unpack books, I wouldn’t trade them. If you offered to replace all of my books with ebooks and a kindle, I would take you up on it *for my professional library* (minus a few gems), but not for my personal library. I have a connection to books in print that I don’t have with their e-counterparts.

All that said, as I was flipping for the millionth time from the text of A Dance With Dragons (George R.R. Martin) to the back to figure out who a character was in the house lineup, and then to a map to see where they were from, I thought how easy it would be to have character names linked to their lineage, house names linked to their banner or motto, place names pop up with their location on the map, and words in foreign language offer their translation (or a recording with their pronunciation). Could I have the option of locking the book so I can’t skim ahead (or unlocking it so I can if I want to– or searching a name and only reading the parts about Tyrion…)? Oh, even my fiction has footnotes!

And then when it comes to producing and publishing books we are in a new world. This is where the publishers will revolt– just as the music industry did back when we all remembered what Napster was. Because what if an author could write a book, and imbed whatever media s/he wished, and then have that material reviewed and formatted by an editor and e-publisher, and then directly distributed to e-bookstores? No mass paper production. No shipping. Production costs so low we could sell books for fractions of the cost and yet authors could keep five times the income they do. I, as consumer, could pay you, as author, for the artwork you have made, the goods you have produced. Not the paper, not the cover, not the shipping– just the story or the research or the philosophy. I could pay you whatever that seems to be worth, and you could keep it (minus editing and formatting/production). I value your work, and you value my reading experience. Kind of like Louis CK’s pay-to-view comedy special, only (typically) without so much swearing.

As I said on facebook, I want in on the brainstorming about this. Oh, the possibilities!

Open Letter to Eat More Kale

I drew this picture. You can use it if you want. I’ve known local “t-shirt guy” and EatMoreKale.com artist Bo Muller-Moore for a couple of years. Our daughters went to preschool together and are in the same grade (different classes) at school. Bo also volunteers as a driver for Meals on Wheels, which is a program that operates under the umbrella of the non-profit I chair, Just Basics, Inc. I’d have thought that Chick-fil-A’s objection to his trademark was a ridiculous thing anyway, but knowing Bo even the little bit that I do, it only serves to make me feel more self-righteously indignant (what’s that sound? Is it an apple falling near to this tree?).

Now there are lots of great ways to support Bo in his fight to protect his own intellectual property against the objection of a corporate giant, including buying his shirts or making a donation on his website, signing the change.org petition, and passing his story along to everyone you know (sources: NECN, local station WCAX, Huffington Post, Yahoo finance, Public Broadcasting, MSNBC, Christian Science Monitor, Christian Post, and Anderson Cooper 360). But I thought I’d also help by giving him some suggestions for new ideas to silkscreen.

Dear Bo,

I’ve come up with a few more ideas for t-shirts. I think you should trademark them now:

  • Nobody calls me Chikin
  • I’m Pro-Bo!
  • CSA > C-f-A
  • Save a (genetically modified) chicken; eat more kale.
  • Confuse Anderson Cooper: eat more kale.
  • got kale?
  • I tried to shut down a humble, one-man company, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

I promise not to sue you for taking my ideas, but I’d like a free shirt out of the deal.

Keep up the fight, Bo; your community is beside you!

Becca

The images and text ideas contained in this post are intended as satire and to make a political statement. As parody, they are not meant to infringe on the trademark or copyright of any company, including but not limited to Chick-fil-A, Universal/Back to the Future, the Dairy Association, CNN/AC360, Big Idea/VeggieTales, or Eat More Kale.

Gifts and blessings

On my (still hotly contested) previous post about clergy who have lost their faith, I listed some of what I believe. I was simply trying to get it out, lest anyone think that I reject supposed orthodoxy and hold nothing in its place. But at least one reader found it lyrical, and broke it into poetic lines, and then sent it to me. The week of Easter. I can’t tell you how big a blessing that was, to receive such a lovely gift from across the country, and to read my own words reflected back as poetry or song. Many, many thanks.

This I believe (by Becca Clark, ‘remixed’ by Dave and Nan R., readers from Michigan)

I believe
God is
Transcendent and immanent,
Ground and Source of all Being;
We are in God as a sponge is in the sea.
I believe
the Bible is the story
of humanity’s relationship with God,
filled with truth and beauty
and adventure and sacrifice
and chaos and anger
and doubt and triumph,
and that this story is true,
regardless of whether it is factual.
I believe
that Jesus was,
more than any other wise prophet or old soul,
one and the same with that Divine,
that to see him was to see God,
to live the Way he taught is to live God’s Way.
I believe
that the consequence
of confronting power and corruption
and violence and domination,
the cost of articulating God’s vision
in the face of humanity’s greed
is deadly.
I believe
that the life and love of God,
and God in Christ,
and now God in us as we are in Christ,
is yet more powerful
than the deadly force of Empire
and fear and greed and corruption.

I believe
such life and love is eternal,
and so Christ was and is alive beyond death.
I believe that this Divine One,
this God, is present with us even now,
that we feel movement
through Spirit and in community,
that we are still called to be
and build
and participate in
a new way of being and living,
God’s realm, come to earth.
I believe
we are invited to make this new Way,
together with God,
and live as a people connected
to God,
to one another,
to all of life,
When that happens,
we will see face to face,
we will live as the Body of Christ,
fully restored.
We will see the fulfillment
of all that needs to be.

The Invention of Faith?

My husband and I recently watched the movie “The Invention of Lying,” written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson (at Internet Movie Database). I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard more about this film sooner; I thought it was one of the most interesting and though-provoking movies I’ve seen in a while.

It starts as a romantic comedy of sorts, and a brilliant one at that. Sharp and witty and pushing the edge of its PG-13 rating, the film explores an alternate reality in which no one can ever lie. Ever. They don’t even have a concept for it. Now isn’t that a funny place to tell a story about a fat man looking for love?

Except the movie doesn’t stop there. When main character Mark does manage to break the mold and tell a lie, a whole new world opens up, for him, and for the audience. It’s not about lying to get girls in bed or to make easy money. Mark discovers something incredible.

(Mild spoilers ahead, but I try to be good about it)

Mark has discovered not just lying, but a whole series of stuff about saying something that isn’t. You see, by inventing “lying,” he has also discovered creativity, storytelling, and fiction. He has created, at least for himself, a concept of truth and honesty, because now he has a choice about when he will lie and when he won’t. This plays out very dramatically in a scene where he could get everything he wants– not money or sex, but what he really, truly wants– if he’d just tell a little lie. Mark discovers that he now sees the world in a different way, not only by what is, but by what could be, and he sees in people not only what they look like, but what they seem like, who they are inside. He’s discovered, although he never names it as such, hope. (here comes the spoiler-y bit)

And that’s ultimately what I think he’s trying to express when he invents his biggest “lie,” religious belief.

I was prepared for that to be really offensive, and at first glance it is. The film seems to suggest that faith is a lie, something we invent to give ourselves hope, to make ourselves less afraid of what happens after we die. What Mark invents is exactly that, and as he discovers, it’s not transformative or life-changing, it doesn’t help others see the world the way he sees it, and it ultimately doesn’t bring hope or change to anyone because it’s only an empty promise about the afterlife and some removed “guy in the sky” and not a way to change *this* life and live with new priorities, new eyes.

And I agree. When we strip faith down to be something like that, to be a series of empty promises about heaven and hell and how to get to one and avoid the other, we take something transcendent and holy and we turn it into a lie. We make it a silly story we tell ourselves to be less afraid and alone in life, and we strip it of any power to transform us and the world. We create our own religion, which has little or nothing to do with the powerful gift God is trying to give us. I believe that what God offers us, when truly understood (which we see only in glimpses most of the time), is powerful and profound and life-changing. Like Mark’s discovery, it should free us to live more deeply and fully, to express free will and choice and creativity, to love passionately and honestly, to be a part of something much more than ourselves or the survival of our species, but the lifeblood of all that is, a part of the vast and sacred scope of all of creation.

But instead, we boil it down to our own desires: safety, security, a relief from fear and loneliness. We take God’s gift of faith and we make it into a human invention of religion, empty, powerless, devoid of any transformation or lasting hope.

We render it a lie.

Like I said, the film got me thinking. I recommend it, and if you watch it and want to discuss it, I’m happy to kick around ideas some more. Enjoy!

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