Robert Schnase is Bishop of the Missouri Area of the United Methodist Church.
Why do you blog?
My reason is pretty simple: I’m using every possible means to strengthen congregations in the task of changing lives in the spirit of Christ, to encourage pastors and laity in their ministry, and to foster conversations about adapting our approaches toward ministry to meet the extraordinary and changing challenges of our age. This drives my speaking, my teaching, my writing, my publishing, and now my blogging.
What has been your best blogging experience?
I’ve been surprised at how frequently an idea sparked by a blog conversation gets bounced around the blogosphere, copied and recopied, improved upon and used somehow. Several times as I’ve visited a small remote rural church, I’ve had someone come up and comment on a blog entry I wrote a few weeks before. And I’ve been amazed at the diverse backgrounds, regions, denominations, ages, and faith perspectives of those who enter the conversations at times. My best experience is the sense of connection and conversation that blogging fosters.
What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
Tell your Mom and Dad how to find your blog, so you get at least a few hits each week!
If you could only read three blogs a day, what would they be?
I have to confess that I don’t regularly read many blogs. (Sorry!) Instead, I search around from time to time for particular topics. The blogs that interest me most are not written by other bishops or national church leaders, but by younger pastors, seminary students, and faithful laity sharing their experiences, frustrations, hopes, and practices for ministry. I also check out blogs from other denominations, from authors, and from political commentators. I particularly appreciate blogs that are more essay-oriented, literary, and/or thought-provoking rather than the daily dairy types. (Not that there’s anything wrong with it!)
Who are your spiritual heroes?
Among writers, the most influential in my life over the years has been Deitrich Bonhoeffer, followed perhaps by Henri Nouwen. Among church leaders, I’d list some early mentors and colleagues who have encouraged me, taught me, challenged me, and supported me. Since some of these are contemporaries of mine—pastors and laity I’ve worked with over the last twenty years---I hesitate to name them. And then there are the people who are my most cherished spiritual heroes, and those tend to be people I’ve known who work in missions, social services, and in hands-on service ministries directly with the poor, the hungry, the desperate, the imprisoned, the ill. Day after day these persons live out the faith in direct contact with the people who face the most intractable and hopeless situations in places most of us only visit for a few days for mission projects. If most of us are unwilling to engage this work personally, we at least ought to offer our absolute and unending support from the positions we hold to help make their work effective and fruitful.
What are you reading at the moment?
For church and work, I’m reading Martha Grace Reese’s stuff: Unbinding the Gospel, the Heart, etc. And I’m reading Adam Hamilton’s Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White and Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire. For fun, I’m starting the new John Grisham book, and I’ve just picked up a new Koontz novel. Also I’m reading through a book on the Owls of North America and just finished Mark Adams’ Chasing Birds Across Texas.
What is your favorite hymn and why?
“Be Thou My Vision” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” I just like ‘em.
Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind?
Most of my views, rightly or wrongly, have remained fairly consistent over my adult life, even as they’ve matured and become more nuanced and more deeply textured.
What philosophical thesis do you think is most important to combat?
Material wealth and acquisitiveness as the source of happiness. And celebrity as a value separated from achievement or contribution.
If you could effect one major change in the governing of your country, what would it be?
A way out of Iraq that does not lead to even worse consequences than remaining.
If you could effect one major policy change in the United Methodist Church?
Where do I start? I’m sorry…I don’t just have one. 1. Simplify and streamline the discernment/candidacy/probationary/ordination process. 2. Modify the Guaranteed Appointment so that clergy deployment always serves missional purposes. 3. Make it easier to close some churches and realign resources toward growing and emergent populations. 4. Maximize contextual organizational flexibility at the local church, conference, and general church level to make us more agile, quick to respond, and able to address a quickly changing environment. 5. And many others too numerous or controversial to mention here! And none of them include requiring every church and pastor to read my book!
What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
Focus on the fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What, if anything, do you worry about?
In general, I’m not a worrier. I don’t lose many nights of sleep over work or personal or global issues. But I do have some deep concerns….some are personal and family-related, and some have to do with the direction we are going as a society. I’m deeply concerned about the environment, our use of resources, global warming, etc. I drive a hybrid, contribute to a variety of environmental action groups, and support a number of legislative initiatives intended to develop national and international policies that protect the environment. And I am deeply concerned about the tone and tenor of the debate about immigration. I don’t presume to have all the answers, but I think the intermingling of terrorism fears, national security, and immigration policy has been hurtful to our highest ideals as a country. And I’m deeply concerned about the war in Iraq, and the extraordinarily difficult choices ahead and their implications.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything that you'd do differently?
I would spend more time with my kids while they were little. (“Let those with ears, hear!”)
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?
I enjoy were I live now, and have always felt I’m adaptable enough to live just about anywhere. But I love South Texas, West Texas, and Central America.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Running. Walking. Birding. Spending the maximum amount of time each day outdoors in sunlight as I possibly can. And bird photography (see www.pbase.com/mobish)
What is your most treasured possession?
The love of a few close friends.
What talent would you most like to have?
Music. Any type….piano, guitar, singing. But just don’t have it.
If you could have any three people, past or present, to dinner, who would they be?
The easy and predictable answer would include names like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, or Ghandi. Others might predict the Apostle Paul or John Wesley. (Truth be told, I don’t think either of those two would be much fun at a dinner party!) I certainly would have no trouble filling a dinnertime and evening with questions I have for Jesus, and questions I’m sure Jesus has for me. But my truthful answer is far more mundane. Three of my four grandparents died before I was born or while I was a very young child, and I wish I could get to know them. So I’d invite them…people I’ve never known except in the stories, expressions, and love of my parents.