Monday, July 31, 2006

Vultures & Naked Ladies

She sat alone on a dead tree. The smell of rotten flesh wafted through the air. A couple of bird-watchers told me it was a turkey vulture and the smell was undoubtedly that of a dead sea lion, washed up west of the seal rookery near Carpinteria. The tree and the vulture signified death and the role of the carrion creature to clean bones of flesh.
She rose alone in a clay yard. Unplanted, untended, unwatered, just a plain stalk rising like a steele from the earth. Then, today, she blossomed gloriously pink and frilly. She signified life and beauty and hope.
As I cruise the channels and hear of the bombings and lone gunmen in Seattle, I wonder who is winning, the vultures or the naked ladies? Where is the energy? Picking dead flesh or poking up through hard soil?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On My Knees

I did my first California act this week. I bought a boogy board. Our two kids were in and the water was great and the time just seemed right to go get one of those little boards to ride waves on. I don't have a clue about how it should be done, except from watching others find a wave cresting and then push off and ride it into the shore. It was really fun, Liz and Isaac and I spent several hours on the beach in a variety of wave conditions, being tossed and rolled in the surf.
What I did not expect was what it did to my knees. The waves pushed us right up on shore, where we had to get up and walk out again. Getting up meant starting on my knees. I did not think it was a big deal until this morning, when me knees popped loudly as I walked down the hall to get the coffee started. In the shower I saw that they were red and kind of scratched from all the abrasions of the sand. I have physical proof of time spent on my knees, but not in prayer.
As I wrtie this in the early hours (in California) before anyone arrives at church, I think I need to spend the same kind of time getting ready for, and even learning how, to worship on my knees. I need God to roll me in his waves of love right up onto the beach.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The New "Indulgence"

In the Business section of July 28 NY Times is a fascinating article on food habits in the USA. "The restaurants, hopeing to appeal to consumers looking for what the industry calls 'indulgent' offerings, are promoting the consumption of copious amounts of food." The BK Stacker, pictured above has 1,000 claories, 1,800 milligrams of sodium and 1 1/2 day's worth of saturated fat....and that's not even including the fries. Not to be outdone, Denny's is offering its "Extreme Grand Slam Breakfast" of 3 strips of bacon, 3 sausage links, 2 eggs, hash browns and 3 pancakes, bringing in 1,200 calories, and 2,510 milligrams of sodium at only $5.99. The article goes on to list the offerings from Wendy's, IHOP, Hardees, Carl Jr. and others.
The point? While Americans profess to be concerned about healthy eating, curbing obesity, and exercising good choices, "there is no payback or immediate gratification for eating healthier." When Wendy's offered a fruit option in response to market surveys, it was a loss-leader. "We listened to consumers who said they wanted to eat fresh fruit, but apprently they lied."
"Indulgence" is no longer a theological term denoting a mechanism to take time off in Purgatory, but rather a means to experience right now the "salvation" of extreme flavor and taste.

Distracted in Paradise

The myth of location is one I've always subscribed to. It goes like this: if only I was in the right place, then I'd be in better shape spiritually, mentally, emotionally. There have always been those "ideal" locations: our summer cabin in northern Michigan called "Cherith: after the place where God fed Elijah, the beaches of western Michigan, the deck of a sailboat crossing Lake Michigan, the rolling hills of southern France or the warm shores of the Mediterranean. Those have been my good places to go to, and to long for when I was stuck in the routines of normal life and ministry. I'm sure you have yours, unique to yourself and your story.
And good things did happen to me when I went to those places. My pace changed, pressures were eased, I ate better, slept longer, read good books I'd postponed, prayed clearer and wrote without interruption.
But now I live in a destination location, an almost paradise. In the sweltering heat of this summer, I have access to the cool waters of the Pacific. Yesterday our son Isaac flew in to surprise his mother (and sister Liz who is with us for 2 weeks). In the early evening we went down to the beach above and swam in the ocean. It was perfect!
The problem for me is that I'm still inwardly distracted. When I get to my study in the morning, I can't ignore my email in-box, and then I check responses to this blog-site and read other blog entries at other sites. I try to read and get zipped off by tangetial thoughts about our check-book balance and the need to get tickets for the next trip to Chicago, and job descriptions for staff, and the syllabus for confirmation. I am reading Eugene Peterson's great book "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places". I start with a paragraph and by the time I get to the end of it, I realize I was "reading" the words, but thinking about something else, so I have to go back up and re-read it again, and again, until I "get it."
But today was sort of an epiphany as I hit pages 308-309, where he summarized the "baptized life" of the believer with the words: REPENT, FOLLOW and PRAY. "Repent is the no and Follow is the yes of the baptized life." I need the "no" of stopping, releasing, relinquishing, abandonining, turning off the cell phone and computure, not answering the ringing phone or opening the mail. I need to repent of the boundary-less life of incessant interruptions and incursions. And only then do I begin to listen and follow. Following is the inner discipline of listening to another's voice and obeying another's commmand. I'm not the self-employed, self-directed professional, but the obedient servant to the master. And out of following comes the language of prayer and worship.
So, alone in the study today, with candle lit and coffee on, I was able to get quiet, and repent of all my lists, and listen to that calling voice.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

John Bell's Voice

This is a guy I want to hear more from. In the July 25 issue of "The Christian Century" there is an interview with John Bell, a minister in the Church of Scotland, a fellow of the Royal School of Music and a member of the Iona Community. In this brief interview he makes a convincing theological case for congregational singing as "doing something together for God." Our singing together is "identity shaping." But into today's culture, with enhanced video, most music that comes to us is not meant to be sung along with, but watched. How much worship is "watched" either on the screen or up front on the chancel as the choir sings or musical teams lead?
Too many of the churches I worship in have a growing passivity when it comes to singing. But it's not about contemporary/traditional. It's bigger than that. Where else in our society do we sing together? How many families have sung a song together at home in the last year? What's happening in schools around the country to music education? How many people are functionally illiterate when it comes to reading notes on a page? How many church musicians can't read music? Where do we find our repertoire? All these kinds of questions get raised as you read this article.
This is a man from whom we need to hear more!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Weddings and Alcohol

I am not a tea-totaler. Since our France journeys began in 2000, I have been introduced to a wonderful variety of fine wines. Now that we live in California, wine and the industry are part of everyday life. So I am not set back when wine is brought out for a toast or used to accompany a meal. And that is even more true for most weddings. Couples I have married who seldom, if ever, drink chamapgne, will offer it for a toast at the reception (providing it's not on the church property).
But at two recent weddings I was blind-sided. At one late-afternoon rehearsal, all the groomsmen arrived loaded. They spent the afternoon eating and drinking at a nice club. They did a lot more drinking than eating and showed up flush-faced and silly (read: stupid). They pinched each other and could not stop talking as we worked through the rehearsal details. Whenever they passed each other they would poke, tickle and laugh. Several times during the rehearsal I had to tell them to stop talking and listen. So, at the end of the rehearsal I said something to the effect that while I had no problem with wine or alcohol per se, I did have a major problem with intoxication, which they were experiencing. If any of them dared to show up the next day the slightest bit innebriated, I would refuse them entrance to the church ( I think I called it "MY CHURCH") and we would conduct the wedding without them. Do you understand? I barked. They all nodded yes, to the relief and smiles of the parents, bride and bridesmaids. The next day they were more sober and well-mannered than I was. The wedding went well and the couple was married. But, I never did receive an honorarium...payback? I don't know if I ruffled the men's feathers so much that I embarrased them too much. But I don't regret giving the men the warning.
Several weeks later I conducted another wedding. The rehearsal went well and so did the rehearsal dinner. On the wedding day morning, several of the groomsmen were hung-over from a binge the night before. But that does happen. What set me off was when I arrived at the parking lot of the church, there were the groomsmen (without the groom) standing around an open trunk with a cooler opened, drinking beer in the eraly afternoon. So again, I went over and gave them the warning, that if any of them was the slightest bit innebriated, I would not allow them to participate in their friend's wedding. They all assured me that they would not do such a thing to their friend, but then why were they chugging beers before the ceremony? From that point on, through the wedding reception, not a groomsman spoke to me.
What's this all about? Is alcohol connsumption/abuse reaching a new level? I think I will need to include an alchohol talk during premarital counselling and wedding planning and at the beginning of rehearsals. Do friends know what their over-consumption does not only to the bride and groom, but to the wedding budget? It makes me long for the days of church weddings with cake, punch and coffee in the church basement afterward. Can we return?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gift or Burden?

At a dinner with a young French seminary student, father of 3 and factory worker, he turned to me and said, in intense but broken English: "Do you know what our problem here in the French church is? We have the burden of too much history!" I know what he meant. The little French church in which he is a member (along with about 30 others) is in the birthplace of the historic Heugenot movement. These committeed protestants of Calvinist background suffered greatly under the persecution of Louis XIV and Archbishop Richelieu (sp?). They were hunted down and jailed, tortured and killed by the Royalist government of northern France. But they too fought back and sometimes attacked little Roman Catholic parishes, defacing sculptures, especially of Mary and even destroying buildings during the wars of religion. The problem is that many French families have long memories of being Protestant or Catholic and some still deep animosities. There was much blood shed on French soil, often times Christians killing other Christians, and the history becomes a spiritual burden.
The church I frequent each time is St. Trophime in Arles. The photo above is of a sculpture of St. Trophime in the cloister of the church. St. Trophime was used by Constantine in 314 AD to call a council of the church to discuss issues of heretical baptisms and to fix the date for Easter. This church has a real burden of history, or is it a gift?
As I read emergent church articles and reflections, I am deeply moved by the passion and intellect of authors I know who care about the vitality of the body of Christ. They are deeply concerned about culture-bound expressions of faith that really are more cultural expressions of different ethnicities or social classes. They are rightly alarmed by the amount of time, money and energy invested in real estate and infrastructure support for large ecclesiastical edifices. They are prophetically right about the ignorance of social abuses and ecological disaster, while focussing on private spiritual attainment. They are right in their rejection of clergy power structures (read dominating senior pastors and denominational administrators) and push for the priesthood of all believers without reference to title, rank or degree.
But what about history? What about 2,000 years of faithfulness to the gospel across the globe? What about the hard working servants like St. Trophime, whom no one studies or really knows about? What about wonderful architecture and stirring art? What about the many different sounds and instruments that the church gathered to praise God?
Where does the gift of history enter the discussion? I'm waiting.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Old Dogs, New Clothes

One of the things I so love about the pastorate is the variety. There are no two days that are ever the same (maybe some finance committee meetings can seem to always be the same, in church after church). But what has really propelled me into more flexibility has been my move from the Midwest to California. And nowhere has that move been more evident than in the clothing I wear.
In Minnesota I was known as the tie and robe guy. I loved being able to wear the robe (really an alb) with the stoles of the seasons. I think I wore a tie to work five of the six days and often with a jacket or suit. I like ties, especially bright and crisp ties. But, by and large, ties do not fit here. If I just show up for lunch with someone from church wearing a tie, it's awkward, it's overdressed. So I save wearing ties for Sundays and big meetings when I can get away with it. On Sundays, I wear suits and jackets, with ties and both white and colored shirts ( new thing for me).
But a new level was reached last Wednesday when the occasion required a deep level of casualness. And it was a church event with about 140 others! Hmmm!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wedding Communion

Is a wedding service a good time to celebrate holy communion? Is a wedding ceremony a worship service? Is communion a fitting action in the wedding ceremony? And, more to the point, is communion for just the bride and groom and not for the rest of the congregation, an appropriate reflection on the meaning of the Lord's Supper?
When brides and grooms celebrate holy commmunion to the exclusion of everyone else, is this not a private mass? Should not communion in an evangelical context be an open invitation to all who know Jesus to share in the meal? Some say a wedding ceremony is not a worship service, but a ceremony of two people with witnesses. I'm not sure. I have a difficult time 'fencing" the table from other believers. But not all who attend a wedding ceremony are beleivers, but, rather, friends of the bride and groom.
What are your thoughts?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Zidane: How Not to end a career

I have been following World Cup soccer since it began this year. We were in France when the games started and games were broadcast every day at 3pm, 6pm and 9pm, commercial free. Since I speak very little French, the running sports commentary did not distract me like the English does. I watched the older French team survive challenge after challenge up through the ranks of fresh legs and hungry teams.
No final could have been better than between France and Italy. I watched today's game eagerly as they battled back and forth, with superb defense and great footwork. I was ready for double-overtimes and the final won in a shoot-out. But my heart sank when I watched Zidane (a hero of mine) turn and stupidly head-butt an Italian player, earning him a red-card, expulsion, and leaving his team one man down and without his foot for the shoot-out. His last game of his professional career was marred and smeared by a stupid move. I'm sure words were said that provoked him. But come on! He is a professional athlete and should be used to it by now. This work-horse of a team captain, who set the tone and pace for the French team, self-destructed at the worst possible moment.
"How the mighty fall" I thought. How frail is human achievement and accolade. How fleeting is fame and how fragile is reputation and legacy. I hope only for good for Zidane, but I'm sad the way he closed the chapter of his professional life.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Matter of Value

My post on "What's a sermon worth?" generated a number of comments and conversations. It seems that when we talk about fees, salaries, honoraria and compensation, it all comes down to value. How do we establish something's value? Martha just came from a gallery show where some current artists are showing their small (1 foot by 1 foot) painted canvases and asking prices of $3,500 and upwards for a single painting. To Martha, that seemed unreasonably high. But right next door were some other canvases from a locally known artist, now deceased, whose similar quality paintings are being sold for $35,000. Does death establish a higher value than life?
Other people commented to me about printed reports of executive compensation packages in troubled industries where the ceo's are earning multiple millions while the majority of employees are having their pensions eliminated. How is that value established? So many of the conversation keep coming back to a dollar amount. Everything gets reduced to a dollar value, and value is established by dollars generated.
The picture above is from our second day in France when we went wandering through the port city of Antibe. It happened to be right during the Cannes Film Festival and all sorts of big, big boats were moored in the harbor. As we walked along the dock, they just kept getting bigger. Some of the boats that get parked inside these monsters were out of the price range of mortals. How does that work? It's more than economics and market-place, it's about value. Someone places value on having the biggest boat in the harbor.
I believe in the biblical principle of a laborer being worthy of his/her wage and that workers should share in the abundance of the vineyard. But where is the balance? What are some biblical and spiritual principles we can use in a dollar-obsessed world? What are the guidlelines you use to find value?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

California Earthquake riddle solved!

I am privileged to be married to a very astute wife, an artist who observes more than she should. Very little escapes her keen insight. I can hardly get out of the house with a dirt spot on a lower leg of my pants and she will say, "Are you really going to wear that?" (Which, I've figured out painfully is not really a question but a statement).
Anyway, where we live in California, earthquakes are reported to have occurred in the past, and somewhat recent past. Earth has moved and houses have shifted. But Martha declared to me tonight on a walk that she does not think all that motion has to do with shifting tectonic plates. Rather, she observed, it's gophers. Our entire hillside is thick with gophers. they tunnel under patios and driveways, through gardens, lawns and football fields. The Santa Barbara News Press has written several articles about the lengths to which sport field groundkeepers will go to protect fields and athletes, a number of whom have been seriously injured by running into gopher holes and snapping ankles.
Recently Martha has had crushed granite applied to our front garden path. This is tough stuff in dry weather. When compacted with a power roller and rained on and dried out a few times, it has the consistency of concrete. Yes, a gopher ate through a crushed granite path. Martha applied her deductive logic to our local scene and concluded that earthquakes are really the result of too many underground gopher tunnels that reach a critical level of instability....and collapse.
Makes sense to me.

What's a sermon worth?

I have not officiated at a wedding in a long time. But in the next couple of months I'll be back doing some weddings again. In fact, since moving to Santa Barbara, I have not officiated at a funeral in almost a year. In Minneapolis I was involved in several funerals every month. I guess a lot has to do with the size of the church and the demographics. But, nonetheless, it's a big change.
I was asked by a bride-to-be what I charged for weddings? That's always been a tough question to answer. I do not "charge" for commmunion or baptism. It's part of my calling. I'm paid well and I consider weddings and funerals part of my pastoral protfolio of duties. But brides and grooms want to give an honorarium, so I've accepted them and used them for tuitions or special projects. In Minneapolis over my 13 years, the average was between $75 and $150 for a wedding. Sometimes, when a really struggling couple was involved, I would flat-out refuse the honorarium.
Once, when a couple asked me what they should give me, in a moment of whimsy, I said "Oh, pay me what you paid for the cake." Their eyes bugged out and they said "We couldn't afford that!" Hmmm. I guess my services rate below the cost of cake (much less bar-tab, limo, photographer or flowers).
But then, when I was talking to friends here in Santa Barbara, I heard that some pastors set their wedding fees at around $800 per wedding. Yikes! That's a lot of money, unless you compare it to the cost of the other services. But, are we just another service in the portfolio?
When I was on vacation this summer, we called in other pastors to preach in my absence and paid them honoraria. It was modest, and the amount I have received for pulpit supply in Minneapolis. When I once asked for a guest speaker to come in to speak, and I inquired about his honorarium, I was told it was around $1,000. That seemed high to me, given that we also picked up the cost of transportation and housing. But we paid it and he spoke to us several times and, in the end, it was a value for what we received. Then I heard about a church that held a major celebration banquet and brought in an outside speaker whose speaking fee was over $5,000 for one speach. Hello? What's this all about? What's a sermon worth? Where is servanthood? Where is stewardship? What is the mix between free market entrepreneurialism and reflecting the life of Jesus who values the poor? If I was offered $800 for a wedding, would I take it?


One of the things I remember most about our traveling, especially in France this past summer, is eating. No, I'm not food-obsessed nor am I a snobby gourmet. But meals and table-fellowship have been, and continue to be, some of the most significant times of connection for me. The two photos here are about three weeks apart. The one photo is of the "jour de eglise" or day of the church in the little church we worship with in France. Every year they hold a gathering in the retreat center and serve up a meal of salads, grilled sausages, cheese and mushroom tarts, bread, quiche, then fhresh baked fruit tarts, and then strong coffee and tea (and of course wine throughout). We were grabbed by a woman and her friend who both spoke English. They said: "You are new here and we would love to have you sit with us so we can visit." What began as a noon-meal, trickled into a two-and-a-half hour conversation. Following the meal, she invited us to her family home she inherited that she was remodelling after years of inactivity. There too we sat and visited for several hours, returning to our lodging around 5:00 pm, filled with food and wonderful conversations....and now new friends.
The other picture was taken last night at the first of Montecito Covenant's "Dinner Under the Oaks" series of summer out-door dinners. About 80 people came, reflecting the band-width of the church demographic; all ages and marital statuses, professional in income groups. Our meal was gourmet pizzas: peperonni, cheese, vegetarian, ham & pineapple, and peperonni and sausage. We had two salads, soft drinks, watermellon and cnady suckers for dessert. We were serranaded by piped in italian opera from the tailgate of a pickup truck. The location and ambience was completely different from our meal in France, but the substance was the same: the body of Christ gathered to eat together and to love each other.
There is something that can happen around table fellowship that does not happen in a committee meeting, or classroom or sanctuary. Everyone around a table counts. Everyone can speak and listen. Everyone can love and grow.
Bon appetit!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Miracle of Home

Last Wednesday morning at 5:00 am we both woke up in our hotel room in Nice, France and made a dash for the airport. We took off over the Mediterranean at 7:30 am for our first flight to Paris. Paris was a typical mad-scramble, but we got on our big jet to Los Angeles and took off about 11:30 am out across the Atlantic, north over frozen Greenland and then southwest through the Rocky Mountains, arriving about 11 hours later in Los Angeles. After getting through lines of US Customs, we plopped into our bus seats for the two hour shuttle ride to Santa Barbara along Highway 1, kissing the Pacific Ocean along the way. In my jet-lagged haze I realized that in one day I flew over three global bodies of water! I couldn't imagine telling that to my grandfathers!!
But there is nothing like climbing into your own bed after a long trip. It is so good to be home! But this still is a new home for us. Our kids are not here with us, and I miss them profoundly. Our parents are both in other states. We do not own the house we live in now. Neither of us are native Californians. There is a lot that is still foreign and alien about this place...but it's home. France was wonderful and filled with beauty of many shades, but I was always an observer, a vacationer, a visitor there. I was there to watch and appreciate, but not change anything.
I realized that home is where you are called to participate and dig in, make changes and make a difference. Home is where you go from being and observer to a player. Home is where you have a responsible role that counts, what you do at home matters. What you do on vacation really doesn't.
Today I had the privilege again of preaching at Montecito Covenant. When I greeted people before the service, I was met with hugs and the repeated phrase, "Welcome home, we missed you both!" Home is where you worship, where your heart has a language that it can speak. There was so much about French worship that I loved, the elegant simplicity, the eucharist each week, the heavy use of Scripture and all the hymns...Oh my do they sing! But that's not where I'm called to serve and lead and preach.
There is much I found myself missing profoundly about Minneapolis while I was away: the choir and organ, the robes and vestments, the familiarity with so many friends in and out of the church, having a house we owned and called ours. I got sad a number of times in France, missing old friends and satisfying relationships. But Minneapolis is not home any more, it's not where I belong. It's not where I'm called. And when I saw the Montecito worshipers come into church today and I was able to pray and preach...I was home.
I had a deep conversation with one of the newer members at the church here, who stills feels kind of lost and alien. She asked me: "I know God calls us to be resident aliens, but will there ever come a time when we fit in and belong?" That's the ache for home, even while being a resident alien in a strange place.
As you are now mid-summer, do you know where home is? May you find it deep in God and where he calls and places you.

eXTReMe Tracker