Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
How does it feel

Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”

At some blessed point, we may begin to see traces of grace right in the brokenness itself.
Kent Ira Groff, What Would I Believe If I Didn’t Believe Anything

Life either dwarfs us or grows us.
Joan Chittister, Called To Question

It has been awhile since I have written. Thanks for hanging in there and coming back.

On Saturday July 19 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church consecrated a new bishop. I was one of the candidates for this position, but I was not the person chosen.

It was, however, quite a process – exciting, exhausting, affirming, trying. My wife, Julie, and our daughters Beth and Sarah were there to share this time with me, and I was delighted by their willingness to be there with their love and support. My daughter Beth did a marvelous job introducing me to delegations, and I will be ever grateful to her for her kind words. Elected or not, this will always be special to me. I also shared the journey with good friends from Minnesota who were the backbone of my support. I will always be grateful to them, as well, for their energy and for believing in me. Throughout, I found this to be a deeply spiritual experience. I sensed God’s presence at many points, and found resources of faith, hope and love within that are the work of God’s Spirit.

The election process began modestly enough for me. Minnesota has fourteen voting delegates, and on the first ballot I received eighteen votes – seventh out of eleven candidates who received more than ten votes on that ballot. I was obviously not receiving much support from other delegations. I thought I might be exiting rather quickly and quietly, though I had told my delegation that I intended to hang around for awhile. When I jumped thirteen votes on the second ballot, I sensed something might be happening. By ballot seven, I was the top vote getter, a place that was unexpected. My family and I wondered, “Could this really happen?” By ballot ten, I was the top vote getter by almost fifty votes. My totals were about 41% of those voting and it takes 60% for election. I was honored and excited, but I did not become too expectant, as I had seen other episcopal elections where the early leader stalls and others come to the fore. Though I continued to be the top vote getter for eleven ballots, my support stalled. By ballot eighteen, I was in second place – holding my own, but not gaining much either. During the process other candidates were withdrawing from consideration. After ballot eighteen, there were three of us remaining, and I continued to maintain second place. When the person receiving the third most votes withdrew after ballot twenty-two and the person who was receiving the most votes came close to being elected on the next ballot, I withdrew my name and invited delegates to support him. The handwriting was on the wall. The Rev. Dr. Julius Trimble was elected bishop on ballot twenty-four on Friday July 18, and he was consecrated July 19. Bishop Trimble will be serving the Iowa Area of The United Methodist Church and I wish him every blessing in his new work.

For a text of my withdrawal speech, reconstructed from notes and memory, please see my other blog: Bard's Brushstrokes

One of the great gifts of the spiritual life – the transformation of contradiction into paradox. - - - Parker Palmer

When I said “yes” to becoming a candidate for bishop, with the encouragement of others and following my own inner sense of God’s direction, I felt a great sense of paradox. Now was not the best time to leave a congregation I have been working with for only three years. Becoming a bishop would have meant some challenges for our family at this time. Still, I needed to do this.

Now I find myself working with another paradox. When I sat down to vote after offering my withdrawal speech, I felt a deep sense of peace. Coming back to Duluth would work nicely for my family and for my church. When I returned to my church I was overwhelmed and delighted by how many people had been following the election on-line. Their care and support upon my return was a genuine joy. I am also feeling disappointment. To have been privileged to receive so much support and yet to fall short was disappointing. To have worked so hard, and to have had others work so hard on my behalf, and not to get elected is disappointing. There have been moments when I have thought to myself, “This may be the best you will ever do in this process” and that doesn’t feel particularly good. Then again, such “what if” thinking is really counterproductive in countless situations. So I live with this sense of peace and sense of disappointment, and at their best, they are forming themselves into an interesting paradox in my life. Here’s another paradox – I still believe I have the kind of gifts needed in a bishop for The United Methodist Church in this new century, yet I also believe God has formed gifts in me for pastoral ministry and community leadership.

So that’s how it feels. In the midst of this new paradox, I am looking to learn and grow again, looking to find out more about who I am and where God is inviting me to be. I am looking for traces of grace even in the brokenness – though “brokenness” may be too strong a word here. Yet it fits, too. My experience of brokenness is that it is often a breaking open of heart and mind, often uncomfortable, but opening up new possibilities. To a mind that I hope is already agile and adroit, even more flexibility and new ways of thinking might be added. To a heart that I hope is already capacious, even more space may be under construction in this time of paradox -disappointment and peace, brokenness and healing. I am disappointed, but not discouraged. I am at peace, yet a certain restlessness remains. I know the adventure of life with faith and with feathers goes on. With Joan Chittister, I am committed to letting life and the God of life, grow me. I prefer not to be dwarfed.

With Faith and With Feathers,


P.S. If you have read this for any length of time, you know of my love for music. Here is a song that reminds me not to let life dwarf me. If you listen to it, please do so with a sly, self-deprecating smile. That’s how I like to listen to it.

John Mayer, "Bigger Than My Body

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I am on vacation this week, but am sticking close to home for much of that time. I visited my mom who lives about 100 miles away in Ely and went canoeing with my wife and golfing with my mom and her husband. Later in the week we will go to the Twin Cities where our youngest daughter is participating with two of my wife’s cousins in a triathlon. She is subbing for our older daughter who is recovering from leg surgery.

At their best, vacations are for relaxation and for taking time to remember what is important. We need to do both more often, but vacations remind us of that as well.

In the spirit of relaxation and reminding myself of what’s important, I offer a few quotes that serve as powerful reminders to me of what I hope my life is all about. If you have read this blog before, some of this will not be new. What can I say, I am on vacation!

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his nest again
I shall not live in Vain. Emily Dickinson

Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens. Wendell Berry

Let all that you do be done in love. I Corinthians 16:14

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make. The Beatles

Do good. Heal. Do justice. Love. I believe I have the strength to do this when I am in relationship to God, who I understand to be the creative energy for love and justice in the world. Entering God into the equation means I have to quibble with The Beatles. With God, I believe the love we create can be multiplied in the world. How do I come up with this stuff about God? For me, as a Christian, I understand God best, and see what life can be like in relationship to God most clearly, in Jesus.

All of this is easy enough to remember. It is always an adventure and a challenge to live.

With Faith and With Feathers,


P.S. I won’t be writing in this blog next week. Next week I will be in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the meeting of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church. I am a voting delegate and I am one of the nominees for bishop, and it is the primary task of this gathering to elect one new bishop for our jurisdiction. If you want to know more about the conference check out (click below). If you want to know more about my candidacy, check out the link on the right or go to (again, you can click below). Whatever happens – do good, heal, do justice, love, stay in relationship to God. Whatever happens – the adventure continues.

North Central Jurisdiction