know your own sin

Mt. Lebanon UMC

August 2, 2015

David was only Israel’s second king, and he is considered its greatest king and the royal ancestor of Jesus. The gospels take great pains to point out that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, David’s home town, and that Jesus was descended from the house of David.

David was praised for his devotion to God, and this simple shepherd boy survived the wrath of Israel’s first king, Saul, and became a powerful and successful king on his own, and the founder of a royal dynasty. Continue reading

the new pew review

Last weekend, during worship at Shelbyville First United Methodist Church, the Rev. Lanita Monroe introduced our new minister of children and youth, Alden Procopio. I decided I needed a photo for the church Facebook page and so I got up and scooted down the aisle to take a photo, using the camera in my brand new Lumia 640XL phone.

I got to thinking about that later. I like putting photos like that on the church Facebook page. I wondered if it might be less disruptive if I just sat down front to begin with. We tend to get used to our pew locations, but this morning I wandered down front and sat on the second row, on the left of the aisle. My old regular seat had been about halfway back, on the right side of the aisle. The reason I moved from right to left is because sometimes when the kids have special programs or presentations, they tend to sit in the first couple of rows on the right side.

I asked Donna Brock if anyone regularly sat right in front of her. She said the seat was open, and so I took it. She did warn me that I’d have to crane my neck to look at lyrics and readings on our projection screen, and she was right about that.

Ironically, I didn’t get very good photos this morning, and no video. I had taken one quick test video last weekend, but I hadn’t tried recording any video since I upgraded the phone from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10 for Phone Preview a few days ago. There’s some sort of problem – a glitch I’m sure I’ll figure out eventually, or maybe just a bug in this version of the preview software – which caused the video function to lock up the camera app. I wasted so much time fiddling with this that I missed getting even a still photo of the kids when they were standing up in front of us singing their song from Vacation Bible School. The only photo I got was of them seated on the steps as Lanita spoke.

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The fellow on the right was this morning’s guest speaker, the Rev. Dietrich “Deech” Kirk of the Center For Youth Ministry Training, the organization which has placed Alden Procopio at First UMC. Rev. Kirk gave a great message about the state of Christian faith among teenagers and youth, and what we as a Church should do about it.

I did actually get a couple of photos of him in the pulpit. The nice thing about the new phone is that it has such a large image size you can crop in quite a bit and still have a halfway-decent photo:

deech

Anyway, camera problems aside, I liked the results of my pew relocation experiment and think I’ll go back there next week.

in the interest of ministry

Well, this afternoon I drove to Murfreesboro for my first meeting as a member of a particular church committee. I was kind of nervous about it, frankly, but it turned out fine.

I can’t really tell you anything at all about what we discussed, because of the confidential nature of it, but I’ll tell you where I was and how I got there.

Several months ago, I got a phone call one evening from the Rev. Chris Haynes. When a United Methodist minister – familiar or unfamiliar – calls me on a weeknight, my first thought is that I’m being called on to fill the pulpit in my role as a certified lay speaker. I don’t believe I’d met Chris before, but I had no reason to think any different that night.

But Chris wasn’t sick or getting ready to travel; he was calling me for another reason entirely.

“I’m calling to ask if you’ll serve on the district committee on ordained ministry,” he said.

Then, I jumped to another conclusion.

“Oh, I understand. You didn’t mean to call me; you meant to call my father, Rev. Jack Carney. His number is ….”

But that was just as mistaken as my first thought. It turns out the committee, known to clergy and Murfreesboro District officials as “D-COM,” has both ordained clergy and lay people as members.

The committee talks to candidates for ordained ministry at various points in the process and makes recommendations related to whether they should proceed. We’re only making recommendations, not the final decision, but still, it’s a pretty important matter. I wondered whether I’d have anything to add.

So I drove to the Murfreesboro District office in Murfreesboro this evening.

But – again, without any details at all – I thought the meeting went OK tonight, and I felt comfortable. I’m sure we’ll have tougher interviews, and tougher decisions, in the months ahead, but I feel a lot better about it now.

It helped that the first person I saw on the committee was my pal Ruthan Patient, director of lay servant ministries for the Murfreesboro District. Ruthan always puts me at ease, and she did so tonight. She even had a certificate for me – something she’d been meaning to give me since last November but didn’t want to mail, saying that I was grandfathered in under the old rules for certified lay speakers.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the other committee members and seeing where this heads going forward. Hopefully, my experience as a preacher’s kid will come in handy at some points as well.

the rest of the year

It’s one of the curses of my life in recent years that three of the things I look forward to the most each year – the Nashville Symphony concert in Shelbyville, for which I’m co-chair of the organizing committee; the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Bedford County, for which I’m publicity and online chair (and was just named volunteer of the year); and my annual week at Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry all fall within about a six or seven week period in May and June. This sets me up for a huge letdown once they’re all over with. I want it to be Relay night again. I want to be pulling into Cumberland Pines again (especially since there were a few aspects of this year’s AIM experience where I’d like a do-over). But now I have 11 months until Relay next year (and I’m not even sure if we’ll have a symphony concert next year).

I have no time to mope, however. Ever since April 8, I’d been on loan to the Times-Gazette’s sister paper in Lewisburg. I was still writing a few things for the Times-Gazette – county government stories, plus a few features – but my day-to-day work was at the Marshall County Tribune.

I found out while I was at Mountain T.O.P. that my sojourn is over and I will show up for work on Monday at the Times-Gazette. I will hit the ground running; we have some hot county budget issues, and we’ll soon start (if they haven’t already) working on stories for our annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration supplement.

I also plan to try out for a play next month. Martin Jones is a pressman at the T-G with whom I’ve appeared in several productions. (I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn”; he played my father in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” We’ve also appeared together in other things.) He’ll be directing a production of “Don’t Drink The Water,” with auditions next month and the actual production in September.

And I plan to continue work on the self-published book of sermons and devotionals that I keep talking about. I have been making some progress, but now that Relay and all that is behind me, I can get even more serious.

On a related note, I am already included in a new book of devotionals. In honor of its 40th anniversary, Mountain T.O.P. has published “Walk Down This Mountain,” a collection of devotions collected throughout the ministry’s history, broken down into sections by decade.

I knew they were talking about it and had even given them some of my self-publishing experience and pointed them towards CreateSpace, the firm I used for my Bad Self-Published Novel. I did not realize until I flipped through a copy last month that my “cast-iron skillet sermon,” which I adapted for use as a Holy Time Out several years back, was included. The Kindle edition of the book is now listed on Amazon, but the paperback still has a placeholder page. And I don’t have the direct link to the CreateSpace page. I will post all of that to social media once I get it.

So maybe I’ll be busy enough this summer to avoid the post-Relay, post-Mountain T.O.P. letdown.

Break out the taboo cards

When I first signed up for Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry (AIM) in 1993, it was because I thought it would be fun teaching creative writing to teenagers as part of the “Summer Plus” program. I had no teaching experience; my only experience was as a writer.

I didn’t actually get to teach the class that first year, but I’ve taught it many times since. Some have been more successful than others. Creative writing is the type of workshop where the teens have to want to be there. If they don’t – maybe they got their first choice of workshop in the morning but were arbitrarily assigned to creative writing in the afternoon – it seems an awful lot like school. I try hard not to make it seem like school, but I don’t have all of the tools in my toolkit that a professional educator would have.

Anyway, the past couple of years, for reasons I won’t go into, I haven’t been able to make plans in advance to go to AIM. In both 2013 and 2014, I got the chance to go at the last minute – which was great, but what it meant was that the lineup of Summer Plus workshops was already in place and they didn’t need to add another one. So I participated in Summer Plus solely as an assistant in someone else’s workshops. Last year, for example, I helped out in a cooking workshop taught by Jean Nulle and in a photography workshop taught by Bobby and Robert Matthews. That was fun – I enjoy helping in a workshop, especially in crafty sorts of workshops where it works out for the helpers to jump in and do the project alongside the teens.

But I still missed teaching my own workshop. And so, this year, when I was able to get my AIM application in well in advance, I looked forward to creative writing. I waited patiently to hear something. In the past, some of the preliminary arrangements for Summer Plus would sometimes be made by the year-round staff, and so you’d get a call a month or two before camp confirming what you wanted to teach and so on. But now, all of that is handled by the summer staff – who’ve only been on duty a few weeks and who’ve been busy this past week running the first AIM event of the summer. So I’ve been on pins and needles waiting to hear from somebody and confirm that I would, in fact, be teaching creative writing.

I got my courtesy call today, and everything is “go” for me to teach creative writing. I will only have one session (which is my preference, although I’d have done two sessions if they’d needed me to). The other half of the day I will be helping out with someone else’s workshop.

I generally start out by having the students (along with any helpers) pair up and interview each other and write a simple paragraph which they can use to introduce each other to the group. Then we talk about the importance of good description. At this point, I generally break out the party game “Taboo.” In this game, a player must describe a word or concept to his or her teammates – but can’t use the five most-obvious clues, which are taboo. For example, you might have to describe “Superman” without using “hero,” “Clark Kent,” “Lois Lane,” “fly” or “Krypton.” A member of the opposing team stands over your shoulder with a buzzer, ready to penalize you if you say one of the “taboo” words. There’s an egg timer, and you try to get your team to guess as many cards as possible before time runs out and the other team takes a turn.

We use the game to make a point about colorful description, but it’s also just fun to play. Later in the week, I’ll use it at the end of the session if we have time to kill or the natives are getting restless.

I’m on my second Taboo game, and I really need a new one – the buzzer is made of parts from the first game and the second game put together, and some of the cards have out-of-date cultural references that I suspect have been changed in the latest edition.

How far we go with storytelling depends on who’s in the class and what level they’re at. Some years, we’ve worked on a short and simple group story, short enough to be read aloud during our presentation for parents and family members at the end of the week.

One year, Diana Simmons Woodlock, the daughter of Mountain T.O.P. executive director Ed Simmons, was my helper in the class – a bit intimidating, since Diana really is a teacher. She told me at the end of the week that she’d been skeptical about the group story idea but was amazed at how far we’d gotten with it. That made me feel good.

I talk to the teens about the importance of journaling – as always with Summer Plus, we’ll have teens from a variety of home situations, good and bad, and some of them would no doubt benefit from an outlet. (One year, a girl actually told me that her counselor had encouraged her to journal.) I give them blank journals at the end of the week as a gift. Most of the journals I have were donated to me some years back, but in 2013 or 2014 – during a brief window when I thought I might still be teaching the class – I realized that most of the remaining journals were very girly in appearance. As it happens, most of my students over the years have been girls, but there have been boys, too, and so I rushed out that year and bought two or three gender-neutral looking journals just to be on the safe side.

I can’t wait to see how things go this year.

Still plodding along

Well, back in December I mused about starting another self-published book – not a novel, like my first book, but a collection of essays – some rewritten from favorite sermons I’ve preached, others taken from content on the blog, others original to the book.

I have not forgotten this – I open up the file every now and then and tinker with it. I need to buckle down and set myself a schedule. I did do something today that I should have done to begin with – I set the project up as a master document in LibreOffice, so that I can more easily work on and organize the individual essays as I see fit. This should make things a lot easier, and it makes the project a little less intimidating.

I have thought about calling the book “Spiritual Secrets of the Frisbee®,” after one of the essays, based on content I used both for a sermon and for a devotional at Mountain T.O.P. I need to check with a college friend of mine who’s an intellectual property attorney and see if I can do this, and if so, what sort of disclaimers I need to include so that the Wham-O people are satisfied. I am afraid that the Wham-O people might want me to include the word “disc,” as in “Frisbee® disc,” and that just wouldn’t read the same. Of course, maybe another title will occur to me between now and whenever I finish working on the thing.

I guess self-publishing is the ultimate act of hubris. I’m not Bible scholar or even an ordained minister. Who’s going to be interested in my not-so-deep spiritual insights? But I like the way the book has been going so far, and publish-on-demand means one can, for better or worse, self-publish with very little risk. It also means that many people can and do self-publish, which makes it harder to get noticed.

join me on the mountain

A few years ago, I started writing a post about Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry (AIM) program and it turned into a series of posts. Since then, when I’ve encouraged people to go to AIM, I’ve just linked to those posts.

But that series – and I’m still proud of it – was kind of, well, wordy. Once you start me talking, or writing, about AIM, it’s sort of hard to get me to shut up.

So here, just for the sake of doing it, is a shorter version.

Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project), a ministry which I served for a total of 12 (non-consecutive) years as a board member, celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2015. Mountain T.O.P. was founded by a United Methodist church, and because of that it has some administrative ties to the United Methodist Church, but it’s completely interdenominational in its program, and has drawn volunteers from a variety of different denominational background ever since the first camp in 1975. Mountain T.O.P. is best known for a program that takes church youth groups as volunteers, but I got involved through AIM. It’s a passion for me. I’ve been pretty much every year since 1993 except for a few years in the 2000s when the dates of my foreign mission trips conflicted with the program.

A short-term mission trip is different from the work you do in your local church and community. The two aren’t in competition with one another; each can enhance the other. Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It’s good to explore different cultures and different types of need. It’s also good to get away and live in Christian community in a way that differs from what we’re able to do in the workaday world.

AIM operates in Grundy County, on the Cumberland Plateau, which has both unique assets and challenges, including economic struggles that go back for generations.

AIM has both week-long events during the summer and weekend events during the fall, but I’m going to talk about the former because it’s the nearest and dearest to my heart, and because I think the level of community and friendship you find in the week-long event is a different thing from what you can find in a weekend.

There will be three week-long camps this summer. At each of the three camps, each individual visitor has a choice between two different forms of service. One of them is always home repair, and the other one has to do with helping children and youth from the remote mountain communities. Here, in a nutshell, are the programs:

Major Home Repair (all 3 weeks)

Teams of about six people go and do home repair work for a deserving Grundy County family. The projects run the gamut. This program is open to, and commonly includes, men and women of every skill level. Whether you’re a professional contractor or have never picked up a hammer, you will be welcome and needed. The teams are put together on Sunday of a camp week in such a way that each team contains a balance of gender, age and experience level. You may find yourself learning new skills of which you wouldn’t have thought yourself capable.

The home repair projects are ongoing – other volunteers have worked on them before your team, and still other volunteers will take up wherever you left off.

Summer Plus (June 21-27)

This is what first attracted me to AIM, and it’s the program I’ve done most often. Volunteers conduct enrichment workshops for teenagers from the mountain. You can volunteer to teach, and even suggest a subject, or you can just work in a support role. We pick up the teenagers each morning and drop them off each afternoon. Teens take one workshop before lunch and a different workshop after lunch. Past workshops have included cooking, tennis, creative writing, drama, photography, juggling, Pinterest-inspired crafts, self-defense, basic car care, and on and on. If you can teach a few basic skills over an 8-hour period ( ~2 hours a day Monday through Thursday, with a much briefer wrapup session and a presentation for the parents on Friday), it’s fair game for a Summer Plus workshop.

Kaleidoscope (June 7-13)

Similar in format to Summer Plus, but focused on the arts and meant to serve elementary-age special needs children. “Special needs” is broadly defined and can include anything from disabilities to ADHD to a crappy home situation. As with Summer Plus, we need both people willing to teach and people working to support the program. In Kaleidoscope, the kids take the same workshop every morning but they rotate through workshops in the afternoon, so if you were a teacher you would need to develop two different lesson plans – a four-day plan for your primary group in the mornings, and a single-day plan which you would give four different times, to four different groups of kids, in the afternoon.

My ideal summer is to get to go to AIM twice, so that I can do both Summer Plus and Kaleidoscope. I’ve done that several times in the past, although I won’t get to do it that way this year.

Quest (July 5-11)

This is the newest of the four programs, and the only one in which I’ve never participated. Like Summer Plus, this serves teens from the mountain – but it’s focused on adventure activities like rappelling, rafting and a ropes course. Adult volunteers work in a support role. Adults are free to participate alongside the kids but are also free to skip any individual activity that they don’t feel comfortable doing.

Camp community at AIM

AIM events are held at Cumberland Pines, Mountain T.O.P.’s base of operations between Altamont and Coalmont in Grundy County. Adults stay, two to a room, in Bradford Cabin (formerly known as Friends Cabin), which was specifically built for the adult ministry and has amenities like air conditioning.

The camp community has a morning devotion and breakfast before heading out their separate ways – home repair teams to their sites, and the volunteers for that week’s youth program to pick up kids and bring them back to camp.

In the evening, we come back together for dinner, and then have sharing (a time to talk about the day’s experiences) and a brief, colorful and participatory time of worship.

The sense of Christian community that forms through a week in camp has led to some special friendships which I’ve treasured and maintained for years.

To mark the ministry’s 40th anniversary, AIM is shooting for attendance of 40 for each of the three camp weeks. I would dearly love to be able to introduce some friends to this ministry, which has meant so much to me over the past 22 years. If you’re at all interested, please either contact me or go to http://mountain-top.org/adults-in-ministry-aim.

blue like jazz

I am going to be teaching a new Sunday School class starting later this month at First United Methodist Church. This is being referred to as a young adult class, since I think some of the people who aren’t currently in classes fit into that demographic, but it’s actually open to anyone who wants to attend. We aren’t actively trying to poach anyone from existing classes.

Rev. Lanita Monroe announced from the pulpit a few weeks back that she was looking for people for several different Sunday School classes, including a young adult class. I’d been feeling burned out, for a variety of reasons, with Sunday School, and I’d been missing it more and more often lately. I now think that might have been a God thing. But we’ll see.

I’m re-reading Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” which I’d used with a previous, now-defunct class and which I’ve chosen to start out this new  class. It’s one of my favorite books, and one I hope will lend itself to some good discussion. But that will depend on who we actually have in the class.

We’ll also need to find someone I can rely on to take over the class on occasion, since I’ll still get called on as a lay speaker from time to time.

“Blue Like Jazz” isn’t like most other Christian books you’ve read before. (It has a cuss word!) It’s not really a narrative, even though it was turned into a movie (more about that in a second). But there are some sort of storylines to it, involving some time Miller, who was already a college graduate, spent auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which is considered one of the most-secular, least religion-friendly campuses in the nation. But it’s not really a story of Don versus The Atheists; it’s more a story of Don versus Himself, as he struggles to find his own faith, somewhere between the church he was raised in and the secularism that surrounds him. It’s also the story of Don finding a community of friends who hold each other accountable.

I still remember how I came to read the book. Christianity Today excerpted a chapter from it, in which Don and his circle of Christian friends try to decide what to do about Reed College’s Ren Fayre, an annual festival famous for its debauchery. They ended up building a confession booth – but festival-goers who wandered into the booth were shocked when it was Don and his friends doing the confessing. You really have to read the full story.

This Sunday, I’m going to take the chance to go hear my father preach at Mt. Lebanon UMC before the new class starts.

Oh, about that movie: I haven’t seen it yet. I started watching it one night, while I had Netflix, but I got interrupted and never went back. This is ironic for two reasons. As I said, the book is one of my favorites. And the director of the movie was Steve Taylor. Remember Steve Taylor? The musician I was so thrilled to see performing live in November?

As I said, the movie puts a narrative to a book that doesn’t really have one. It also fictionalizes the story somewhat. In real life, Don Miller was a college graduate by the time he started hanging around Reed College. But the movie version of Don is a fresh-faced college student escaping from a fundamentalist upbringing.

Maybe if the class gels, and people enjoy the book, we can have a party and watch the movie together.

overwhelmed

Each year about this time, the Mountain T.O.P. ministry holds a celebration at its headquarters and base camp, Cumberland Pines, between Altamont and Coalmont in Grundy County.

The event serves several purposes. About three-quarters of those in attendance are twenty-somethings who’ve been part of the Mountain T.O.P. summer staff in the past few years. Many of the individual camp staffs become quite close, and this is a great chance for them to reconnect. I love hearing the little squeals every few minutes from the women as some new person enters the room, to big hugs and laughter.

InstagramCapture_1d781efc-6c93-4e1c-9092-f28ce24f0de3Old fogeys are allowed to attend as well: current and former board members, Adults In Ministry campers and other friends of the ministry. I’m a former board member, an AIM camper and (I hope) a friend of the ministry. It’s a reunion for us as well, and tonight I got to see good friends like Jan Schilling, Sonja Goold, Ray Jones, Bob Willems, Reed and Deeda Bradford, and more. (I even got to see Sandy Hayostek, who I actually know through a LEAMIS trip – I don’t believe I’ve ever been at a Mountain T.O.P. event with her before.)

Finally, the event serves as the introduction of Mountain T.O.P.’s theme for the year. Each year, the ministry chooses a theme scripture and accompanying slogan, which is made into a logo. The logo appears on T-shirts, banners and preparation materials, and it’s also used as a theme for various worship services and devotions at camp events.

10903823_10203343271808331_3047647520528749390_oThis year’s theme is “Overwhelmed.” (I stole this photo from Sonja’s Facebook feed; don’t think she’ll mind.) The theme scripture is Psalm 42, and the inspiration was a song by Big Daddy Weave. (I wasn’t familiar either.)

As Mountain T.O.P.’s executive director, Rev. Ed Simmons, pointed out, the Psalm itself sounds more like lament than praise. But if you look closely, you realize it’s also about allowing the love of God to overwhelm us when we feel overwhelmed by trouble.

Of course, this year the theme logo will also have to share some of the spotlight with another logo – one we haven’t gotten to see yet. Ed said preparations are still being made for a special logo to celebrate Mountain T.O.P.’s 40th anniversary this year.

Tonight, though, was all about the theme reveal.

Dinner was poppy seed chicken – a Mountain T.O.P. staple for pretty much all of the ministry’s 40-year history, well before I got involved in 1993.

The e-mail invitation had suggested that we wear vintage Mountain T.O.P. T-shirts, although not everyone noticed it. I wore my all-time favorite Mountain T.O.P. shirt. I bought it during my very first AIM camp in 1993, although I think the shirt was actually from a year or two before that.

All in all, a very nice evening, and well worth the drive to and from Altamont.

book update

I am still working, off and on, on the possible self-published book I mused about a few weeks back. For those of you who missed it, I’m toying with taking some pre-existing material like sermons, adding some newly-written material, and self-publishing a book of sort of essays and devotions. I want to at least try putting it together and seeing if it seems like something anyone else would be interested in reading.

And I would use the same avenues I used for my Bad Self-Published Novel, so there’d be little upfront expense.

I’ve picked out a few sermons that I want to turn into essays – and that’s more challenging than it sounds. I have taken down a long essay on faith that I used to have on this site so that I can adapt big chunks of it for inclusion. And I’ve come up with some ideas for original material that I want to work on as well.

A couple of things I’ve worked on are a little too rambliing, and I need to figure out what to do about them. But there are things I’m proud of that I think would work well in print.

I’m in no hurry, but I want to keep working on it so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside.