Friday, June 30, 2006

New York Times or Santa Barbara New-Press?

For the first time in 17 years I am reading a local paper delivered to my home each morning. After years of an exclusive news diet of the New York Times, I am now taking the Santa Barbara News-Press....too. I still get the New York Times in its blue plastic bag, but also the clear plastic bag with the SBNP. Why?
I'm not at all dissatisfied with the excellent coverage of the NYT's. But after years of only reading a national paper, I finally heard one member's observation (complaint) that it seemed like my news habits were a value statement that the local news was beneath me, not that important. I replied for years that I got my local news at night on the TV, with the weather report (some of the most important information TV has to offer) and an occasional Saturday paper to scan the church news. But my friend was not satisfied. "It still seems," he pushed "that what goes on here, locally, should be important for our pastor to know about and subscribe to." He was (is) right. I now read the SBNP every day and find out what issues are coming before the planning commission, what businesses are coming or leaving the area, and who is making the news locally.
Ministry is, ultimately, local. It's about the people here, who live around me, who come to this church, who ask me for prayer, advice, encouragement. It's about the noisy 3rd grade boys running through the sanctuary. It's about the young single mom facing a long court battle for custody. It's about a retired couple now facing major decisions because of debilitating health conditions. It's about these people here.
Oh I still believe in the big, universal church. I love visiting about global trends and reading new authors. I don't want to become myopic and cut off. But neither do I want to be uncommitted to believers here around me now. That's why I'm reading the SBNP.
You see, this whole issue of local church membership will not go away for me. I'm not defending the exclusive clubness of local churches, that believe they are better than everyone else. Local membership is not a battle flag that says I'm right and you're wrong. It does say that these local people near me count. They are my brothers and sisters here and they can count on me. I'm not a grazing consumer, here in this church so long as the programs are satisfying. These are my companions on the journey of discipleship with Jesus. I'm here for them; young & old, delightful & frustrating, mature & immature.
I wonder if all solid theology isn't, in the end, local? If our faith is to have any credibility, does it not need to be tied to a commmitment to local believers in particular time and space? Get the local paper in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Final Stretch toward Home

I can hardly believe that this in now our last full week in France! What a gift this has been for me (us)! I got my SACRED SPACE manuscript edited before the computer froze up. We have met a new group of friends. I was asked to preach this coming zeek at the St. Jean du Gard Church again (of course with a translator).
I have read voraciiously again, especially appreciating Martin Marty,s "A Short Hisotry of Christianity" and Greg Boyd,s "The Myth of a Christian Nation". The two converge in that they force me to evaluate the effectiveness of the Christian Church (not the faith, but its container the church). I see a simultaneously strong and committed core of believers in France, who love Jesus, yet don,t quite "get" why their church is so small in numbers. Then I had conversations with other emerging-type Christians who have no time to bother with the "burden" of Church tradition, never seeing it as a mysterious gift from God. Then I think about the USA,S dropping numbers of participating believers, What,s the deal here?
I am committed more than ever before that the local church is God,s plan for the redemption of humankind. But that plan needs some help, tweaking, adusting, and evaluation.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Update from France

My trustworthy apple ibook froze and crashed two days ago, and in spite of Isaac,s great help, it kept shutting down and endlessly asking to reboot. So, no pictures from our wanderings. But I did finally get the finished draft done on "OLD STONES: a rediscovery of sacred space" and sent off copies to my children (just before the computer crashed). So that major project for this France trip is done and now I,m reading Greg Boyd,s book "The Myth of a Christian Nation" and have zritten a review on it for the Covenant Companion.
If you know Isaac, my eldest, would you flood him with birthday greetings on the 20th of June? He will be 28 and we are not able to be around to celebrate with him, so I thought a bunch of you could help!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Not Quite the Same Thing

We were takikng a walking tour through Marseilles this week with a Covenant Missionary when both our eyes were drawn to the logo of "Starbucks", but then.....not quite. Being the coffee addict that I am, we could not help but get this picture in front of the pseudo-Starbucks. But this picture tells so much of what it's like to be a foreigner immmersed in France, or any other culture I would guess, for an extended period of time.
There is a lot about this culture that is the same as the one I grew up in. In fact, so much of our language and habits come from France. Art, architecture, music, landscaping, and the food is so great! I resonnate with much of this culture. I love the long noon meals, where even the large stores all shut down from noon tills 2:00, or 2:30 or 3:00 (it varies!). I love late evening meals that drift into evening walks through villages greeting each other. It's hard to adjust back to rushed dinners in time for evenng meetings, or snarfed lunches in drive throughs on the way to other appointments. This is a pace I can live with.
But there are the differences as well. There are profound divisions between churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Reformed and Free, and don't even try to factor in the Pentecostals! There is also a sense of what it means to be French that I'm not sure I'll ever get, like it's a secret recipe only passed on in the family. The immigrant issues here are profound, being a magnet for African peoples who access France from the Mediterranean. France is simulanteously more multi-ethinic than the USA and more internally divided. The sense of beauty is curiously fractured from the church. We attended an marvelous womens chorale in an ancient (8th century) church that was totally secular, but with fabulous music. Then the protestant churches are almost studiously plain and bare, almost stark. Music is haphazard and informal.
I am coming to terms, again, with what it means to be a resident alien. We live in the world, but don't belong to it. Living apart from my culture helps me appreciate so much of what I have in the USA (a language I can read and speak) but also what is foreign to the faith, our materialism, consumerism, pride, and power.
So, here comes Martha right now with a strong little cup of coffee from the Hotel Ibis in Ales, France. Only one cup, in china with a sugar cube and spoon (and chocolate). No refills, but potent. Not Starbucks.

Friday, June 02, 2006

St. Jean du Gard

Last Sunday we worshiped with our friends in a 300+ year old little Reformed church called St. Jean (John) du Gard (on the Gard River). I counted (as is my addiction) when the service was fully underway: 30 adults, 2 children, 3 college age students. But the worship for Ascension Day was rich with music (8 hymns/choruses) and text (3 for the sermon and 3 before the sermon). At the conclusion of the sermon we celebrated holy communion with a passed loaf of bread and a common chalice.
How do I worship when I understand maybe 15% of the content? I am able to read the text in English when they read the French. I pick up key words that are the same in every language. And, most importantly, I sense the Spirit of God at work. This Sunday we are going back to St. Jean du Gard for the dedication of the pastor and wife's first grandson. That should be quite a festival!

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