Sunday, April 30, 2006

A weekend with Scot

Montecito Covenant just had a wonderful weekend with Scot McKnight. Scot came as a guest speaker for a campaign kick-off to reduce the debt on the church ($1.3 million) to free the church for mission not interest payments. On Sunday Scot preached (he might call it teaching, but it's preaching!) on Mark 12:28 the Jesus Creed. Again, he was challenging to get a sacred rhythm going of regular prayers and a missional view to our neighbors and a graciousness to let it take a lifetime. This was good stuff.
But then I asked Scot to address to adult SS class (we have only one now) on "Issues of the Emerging Church." He quickly corrected me to call it an emerging "conversation" and then he launced into a 45 minute succint description of the basic architecture of emerging christianity that had everyone on the edge of their pews.
On a positve and compellingly important side, Scot described a community (or conversation...see I'm learning) that is 1. missional, 2. really pro-Jesus (versus an evangelical community that is pro-Paul) 3. pro-church (but not denomimational and hierarchical institutional) 4. pro-culture (no running for cover, see the ipods everywhere!) 5. sensory for the artistis among us.
Scot described a post-modern phenomenon that does not get excited (nor even like) denominations and clericalism. It casts itself on the political spectrum as purple (neither blue nor red...though they behave pretty blue). They are post-doctrinal. Long conversations about doctrinal definitions creates boring yawns due to relational irrelevance. They are post-Bible Study piety, where the evangelical default response to most issues is to form a Bible study in a home and talk about a Bible passage, share prayer requests, pray and go home. These folks want to be in the neighborhood and community doing something that makes a difference (orthodoxy less than orthopraxy) .
Scot registered some concern that this is still pretty niche-seeking and exclusive. The voices are white suburban evangelicals disaffected with the mega church who are liberal arts educated, urban, literate, and, who love coffee stores. There is a concern that there is not a balanced view of Scripture that includes Paul and the epistles and the OT along with Jesus.
The energy level in the Montecito sanctuary reached double digits. Young and old were dialed in and engaged. This conversation really matters. Scot has the gift to playfully describe key issues and factors without taking side. I wished I had the chance to talk longer about issues like:
What does the Covenant denomination bring to the emergin conversation? Is being non-credal pietists a good thing or does our 100+ year history and bureacratic legacy invalidate us?
How do clergy (like me) fit in this picture? Are we part of the solution or part of the problem?
Where are the women's voices? It seems to me pretty male-dominated.
Can there be emerging leaders who are not connected to Zondervan publishing?
Where do old people (not like me yet) fit?
We'll have to have Scot back to continue the conversation.....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Migration Patterns I & II

Immigration was always about them, there, somewhere. Living in the midwest for all my life I saw immigrants, but was not surrounded by immigrant issues. I knew I came from immigrant stock, noble, godly Swedes who braved the Atlantic passage to make sod huts and clear the land. I heard many romantic stories about kerosene lamps and mandolin string bands and coffee, lots and lots of coffee.
The new immigrants in the midwest were different than my stock of immigrants. They were all darker, some brown, some black, some with tones in between. But they had different religious traditions and different ways of living. I could astrerisk them as "not really my concern." They drove the taxis, rans the convenience stores, and staffed nail salons.
Until we moved to California. Now it's big to me. The yard crew that comes on site every week, none of whom speak English. The spanish speaking community is pervasive in this culture. But, again, they were different. They spoke a different language, lived in different communities and worshiped in different churches....Until we met Pastor H.
Pastor H. is a tent-making Covenant pastor who took us on a walking tour of his "parish." We saw the clothing and food distribution site, the after school tutoring classroom, equipped with new computers, we even visited one of his members who offers her apartment for children's Bible study. Average income per/family is about $2,000 and average apartment rent is $1,500. The couple both work jobs (some families have double jobs), live on that tight margine....and she made all 8 of us dinner! When I offered to make a contribution, Pastor H. smiled and said that it would not be a good idea because she loves to welcome stragners. I asked Pastor H. about immigration concerns, about the percentage of his community that were undocumented. He smiled and said "about 120%". "That big?" I asked. "Bigger" he replied.
I happened into my wife, Martha's, studio today and commented on two prints I have seen on the walls for several months. I was haunted by the images. She gave me permission to partially reproduce them above. They are part of an evolving series entitled "Migration Patterns." And while it is never appropriate to "explain" art, I could not help but feel she is speaking to this big issue in ways beyond words.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Spiritual Ronin cont.

A friend of mine has just published a book on spiritual health and leadership. It comes from a well known publisher and is professionally impressive. The problem is, my friend who is an expert in things spiritual does not attend church and will not join a local body for all sorts of good reasons. He is part of a growing number of people I am aware of who are independent spiritual experts, self-employed contractors, retreat leaders, spiritual guides and Bible study leaders....many of whom stay unconnected and uncommitted to the local church.
Then, last night in Modesto, at the Annual Celebration of the Pacific Southwest Conference, Sherwood Carthens, pastor of Bayside South Covenant Church in South Sacramento preached a barnstorming sermon on Romans 12:2. His four points were: 1. We need a set of core values that don't change (the Jesus Creed), 2. We need to adopt God's radical plan for expansion in which no person is expendible, 3. We need to be committed to a ministry of radical reconciliation (II Cor 5:19-20). We cannot be content with anyone NOT being a part of the body 4. We need to live out a sincere belief that we are one family.
Sherwood drove home the point that we need to be moving into committed relationships in and through the local church; incarnational, messy, flawed as it is....is the plan.
I am sitting in a sanctuary right now with a bunch of other Covenant pastors. I need them and they need me. I need a group to whom I am accountable and committed. I can't run this race on my own, all alone, in my private interior world. I need to continue to learn to obey, to follow directions, even orders. Do you know how hard that is for me? I don't like "taking orders" or "taking direction". Instead, I like advice and suggestion from a peer, from an equal.
But that's not good enough, it's not deep enough, it's not biblical enough.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Whale Watching

There are not many whales in Minnesota. Oh, I've seen whales on National Geographic specials. And I think I've seen whales in captivity in large aquariums. I've read statistics about whales and seen whales used as comparatives next to vehicles or other types of animals, even next to structures. But today I saw real whales in the channel off of Santa Barbara on a whale watching cruise. My son Isaac is in town and wanted to do something fun. So we purchased tickets for a 2 1/2 hour cruise. We went out in a large double decker boat about 8-10 miles. We spotted the plume of spray coming out of its spout, and then the circling birds, then the water teaming with seal lions. They find schools of anchovies or skrill(sp?) and they swim through them till full (or they eat all the little creatures.)
The whales (humpback) moved slowly, arching through the water to catch the food. Then it (I don't know about he or she) came straight up out of the water like and open bucket scooping up the food. When they surfaced, they made a distinct sound of "phssshhhh" as the mist geysered up into the air.
I eventually stopped taking pictures, just so I could watch with unaided eye the movement of this most graceful creature. I was moved by the truth that there is so much out there I don't know about or see. So much life and beauty above and beneath.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Looking for Staff...now

Last night, the Church Council of Montecito Covenant Church gave authority to me and a team of selected members to find a "Director of Student Ministries" for the church. This is a crucial time for this congregation after years of short-term youth pastors and committed interim youth directors. Now is the time for a long-haul builder and grower of student ministry (5th & 6th through college, with a primary focus on Jr & Sr High). I don't see my blog site as a job posting place, but I look to you, readers who are conversant with the emerging church issues to pray and send me names and resumes of potential staff persons. We have a job decription in final form pretty much and want to move ahead with good speed.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

After the Rain

It rained a Noah's flood here last week. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were almost non-stop rain (over 5 inches in some places!) There were wash-outs on roads, downed power lines, rock slides in some areas, and roof leaks. It was pretty misearable weather (not destructive like the tornadoes that hit the midwest) but bleak and gloomy weather.
Because the climate around here is called "mediterranean" the weather warms up real fast. And after the rain came the sun, and with the sun came the heat. And after the sun and heat came the flowers...everywhere. Martha and I went out walking in a large field this afternoon. Everywhere we looked, bright new flowers were popping out, including the blue flower pictured above. It was so brilliant, it seemed unreal.
So, what's the big deal about blooming flowers? They bloom here after the rains. I dislike the rains. Rains make life messy and inconvenient. In rains you can't go on a picnic or work in the garden or take a stroll with the ipod (oh you could, but I don't).
But after every rainstorm come the flowers, all sorts of them. Hillsides explode and trees pop out blooms and buds. It's like the plant kingdom says, pour it on. Give us grey clouds, we'll give you colors of unbelieveable hues and shades.
My personal rains are dishonest politicians and leaders who disappoint us on a regular basis. It's business leaders who get caught in bribes and corruptions. It's church leaders who play party politics and do whatever they can to preserve power and privilege.
I so need walks outside, where the earth refuses to give in to despair and cyncism. The flowers do not care which party is in power or what new threat terrorists bring. They bloom with wild abandon and extravagent, unnecessary brilliance. They speak to me the truth that beneath and behind all the rain is a wellspring of unbridled hope.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hijacked by a Hymn

Today I watched a man get hijacked by a hymn. A man from our church, who is a retired music professor and church musician, is teaching two back-to-back Adult Sunday School classes on the hymns of Lent and Palm Sunday. We sat down together earlier this week to look at which hymns he would introduce: old familiar hymns, old hymns set to different tunes, new hymns, and then just some great texts. We had about 50 adults in the sanctuary, young and old, having fun singing under his capable leadership.
Then he stopped mid-way in the class to give some background information on a 17th century English hymn writer, Samuel Crossman. This hymn, he said, will not be sung, but read. The poetic lines are so strong and powerful, that he asked Dr. Paul Willis, English Professor at Westmont College, to read the text of: "My Song Is Love Unknown".
There is little more powerful than to hear a man of letters read text. Paul read the entire hymn, not with drama or force, but in a cadence and style that allowed the words to swirl around and fill the room with devotional fragrance. The text of stanza one went like this:
That is just the first of six stanzas. When Paul was done reading, the teacher, sitting in front of me, did not move. For maybe 15 to 30 seconds, he just sat there. Then standing, facing us, his eyes were red and filled with tears. Slowly, haltingly, he read again the first stanza. He'd been hijacked by the sheer pwoer of the text of this old hymn. For 342 years this hymn has been hijacking believers with the power of Christ's gift of his life for us. Would that I could be hijacked more often by great hymns and songs, old and new.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What Time Is It?

I love California! As a long-time midwesterner, and Minnesotan, I am really enjoying living in a place surrounded by mountains, the ocean, and greenness. Everything grows here all the time. Oh, there are some trees that drop there leaves and bud out in the later spring, but they seem to be a minority status. Seasons mean that things grow fast or grow not so fast, but they always grow. The church gardening crew comes every Friday to trim, mow, weed, prune, leaf blow, or whatever growing things need attending to. After every period of rain, new things are blooming and greening. I'm not a plant person like my wife, but I do notice new colored blooms on the trees.
Because of this location, the various growers always have fields in play for some crop. I will need to figure those out over the years. But when we drive south to Ventura, or beyond, to LA, we drive by fields that are mixed; some are deep brown dirt and other ones, right next to them, are lush with crops, some even being picked by armies of workers. All year long something is growing, something is lying fallow, and something is being picked. My wife calls it "repetitive motion". The same activity but in different fields with different crops.
That comment, "repetitive motion", struck a chord in me. It reflects life in the contemporary church, especially the church disconnected from the church year, with its distinct seasons, colors, and music. While departing from the church year here has been my choice, electing to preach the big themes of the Bible, I have felt sort of disconnected from sacred time. Gratefully, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter are coming. We will then return to the church year post Easter and into the summer. But the challenge remains; to know what time it is.
How do you know what time it is in your life? Is it chronological age? Is it your place in regards to singleness-marriage-kids-empty-nest? what? Is your clock a career clock? and acquistion clock? a property or salary clock? Do you choose your own time or is time external to you, something assigned? How does your worshiping community inform you of the time in your life?
Seminary days taught me the big diference between chronos (linear, sequential time) and kairos (fruti-bearing, ripening, maturing time).
I guess in this new place, with warmth and sun, and the temptation to repetitive motion, I need help knowing what time it is for me and for the church.

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