Sunday, October 30, 2005

What's With the Reformation?

Reformation Sunday was today. Since becoming a pastor in 1980, that means I have preached about 25 Reformation sermons. The more I preach around it, the more I wonder some disturbing questions: Was it worth it? Was the division of the church into hundreds, thousands of denominations (some of whom do not consider the others Christian) a good outcome of Luther's argument with Rome? Would the church have reformed itself from within if given enough time? What are the good lessons we have taken out of the Reformation and what lessons do we still not fully get? Is the professional class of the clergy (of which I am a card-carrying member) the real issue? Is it the Reformation more about truth or about power? What happens when the church gets power and loses compassion?

As an evangelical protestant, I have deep concerns about the way we perpetuate division in the church, often by our insistence in the realm of missions where we routinely insult our Roman Catholic family by re-baptizing new members. I guess some hard-nosed baptists do that whenever a new member joins their church, even from another baptist church. But do we need to keep invalidating each other?

And, while I'm rambling along, what's the deal with denominations? Do they have spiritual value any more? Local churches have a reason because only so many people can gather in one place together. But how many church headquarters and officials does the body of Christ really need? I don't know. I'm just one pastor plugging away.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Life Lived Backwards

During a long committee meeting this week in Chicago I rediscovered, with some clarity, what evil is. The occasion was, by all outward circumstances, a real yawner; a committee meeting on stewardship for the denomination. One member made a passing reference to a quote out of the late M. Scott Peck's book "People of the Lie". A little boy told his dad he knew what eveil was, it was LIVE backwards.

Beyond being a clever little quote, it hit me this week as we talked about what it means to be a living disciple of Jesus. I thought back to philosophy classes in college where I remembered Augustine proposing that evil was no positive entity. Augustine disagreed with philosophical dualism: light vs darkness, spirit vs flesh, God vs Devil. Instead he believed there was one good; God alone. Evil was all that fled from God. Evil was an absence of God as darkness is an absence of light. The farther one goes from light, the darker it gets.

As I chewed on this notion, I thought that evil really is life lived backwards, contrary to the way it ought to go. The principles that make life are fairly self-evident: love, truth, community, smaring, moderation, balance, beauty, safety, etc. But if you take any one of these basic principles and live them backward, go in reverse direction, you end up in the neighborhood of evil. Evil is backward living. It's less of a positive force, but a negativity of self-dstructive stupidity.

All through the Bible God calls people forward into a covenant relationship, a covenant community, and adventure of trust and discovery. When God's people do not get it, they go backward "into slavery in Egypt." Infact, so much of destructive behavior is backwards oriented, fearing the future and trying to protect some sort of lost past. For me, life is forward.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

It's an Old Boat

I met a guy from the church for lunch today at the Santa Barbara harbor. It was a great day, so we went for a walk first. We were able to access the docks and walked among the boats nestled in their slips. The closers slips were smaller and cheaper and the more distant slips were sider, longer and much more expensive. As we walked along we noted how the boats grew. Some were clearly racers, clean hulls and minimal stuff. They were low to the water and meant to go fast. Others were bright and shiny with brass and varnished wood. They had generous decks and areas in which to sit and eat and visit. They had big areas below deck for sleeping and cooking and storage. There were some power boats among the sailboats, some for fishing and others for cruising. My friend knew a lot about the boats and their owners, having lived here for much of his life.

Then we noted some that were really banged up and patched together. Their decks were dirty and their sides were scuffed from banging into docks over too many years. Some were clearly neglected and they looked sad. They deserved better and were meant to sit nicer in the water. Others has just been sailed hard for many years. But as we walked off the dock I looked back on them and noticed that they all floated. They were all doing their job; their boat job.

That's how I feel about the church after 25 years of being a pastor. I walk among the various "harbors" and compare "boats". Some are big and sleek. Others are stripped down to go fast. Some are made for a party and others for the storms. Some are really neglected and look bad and others are banged up from a lot of wear. But they are all floating, and that's the plan. I know there is no perfect boat and no perfect church. I read this weak that it take tremendous courage to be an optimist, to strenusously believe the good. It's easy to be a bleak pessimist, entropy teaches us that. I want to believe that the church is the boat that's doing its job the best it can. My job is to help her sail and stay afloat.

Friday, October 07, 2005


I'm walking again. I mean, really walking. I got started doing it in Minneapolis while my wife was in Norway and I had long evenings alone. I found that with an ipod cranking, I really walked long distances. Walking to Bach organ fugues will almost walk your legs off. I mean, that guy had some pounding tempo! Then I'd shift to the shuffle mode and get surprised with what came on. My son Isaac said that the best way to get to know a person is to listen to their shuffle music, not what they want you to hear.
So, while we got busy with the move to California, my walking went from sporadic to non-existent. I like walking with my wife, but being much shorter than I am, our leg srides don't quite match. And besides, our walks are about talking and watching, not pumping lungs and legs. So we kept up our long and quiet walks, even after we arrived.
But two weeks ago I got the ipod cranked up and took off walking, down the hill to the ocean and along the sidewalk. Wow! Walking by the waters is so great with the sun and the surf. I thought I found my route. Downhill takes about 20 minutes to the ocean and 40 back up hill. So a 2 hour walk is great (not a clue how far it is!). So I'd walk down the hill, out to the ocean, along the sidewalk, then back up hill.
For some reason I decided this week to walk up the mountain first, past Westmont college into the hills. This time I was listening to "Casting Crowns" and Warren Zevon going one way, and Yo Yo Ma and Cambridge Singers going down. The road meanders along the mid mountain. What nailed me was my first major turn...there was the ocean, all the way out to the barrier islands, deep blue and spectacular, and above me the mountain peaks outlined by a sky whose blue is best called azure, going purple. I could see for miles, 15, 20 , 30, I don't know, but it was a long, long way. I was looking at things like a bird sees them.
So what happened up there, with great music, all alone, walking along at a great clip...I began to wave my arms to the music. I wasn't directing, I was flying on the vistas of sight and sound.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

why jibstay?

Jibstay is the piece of wire on the front of a sailboat that goes from the bow of the boat to the mast. It's importance is that it holds the jib sail; the front sail on a boat. And it's the jib sail that does the pulling of a boat through the water. the jibstay holds it all together. Though hardly noticeable, It's the piece of equipment that makes movement possible.
Now that's an oversimplification. The seasoned sailors who read this know that. I'm more of a novice when it comes to real sailing. I just like the imagery of those little things that seem small and insignificant, yet they are where all the strength is.
I hope my postings and thoughts will revolve around my observations of where the jibstays are, where the strengthpoints are that keep us moving.

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