Monday, October 30, 2006

Wired Magazine Short Stories

In the November issue of Wired magazine (not pictured) they enlist 33 writers to write really, really short stories. They can be only six words long. For instance: "Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so." by Joss Whedon. "Wasted day. Wasted life. Dessert Please." Steven Meretzky. "Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth." Vernor Vinge."1940: Young Hitler, such a cator." Michael Moorcock These any many more succinct, tight, edgy examples of minimal language...which is why I like blogs so much!

"Bishops Draft Rules on Ministering to Gays"

October 29th NYT's has an article on the new guidelines Roman Catholic bishops have drafted for ministering to gay people that "affirm church teaching against same-sex relationships, marriages and adoptions by gay couples, yet encourage parishes to reach out to gay Catholics who feel alienated by their church." The guidelines recommend baptizing the adopted children of same-sex couples "as long as the children will be raised as Catholics." The guidelines step back from encouraging gay men and lesbians to seek therapy by it's statement that "having a homosexual inclination is not itself a sin, homosexual sex is a sin- as are premarital sex and adultery. The answer in all these situations is chastity." While the article does some dancing back and forth, almost like a 'don't ask don't tell' sort of approach, it seems to attempt to approach homosexuality with "love the sinner but not the sin." "The bishops would like people with homosexual inclinations to really participate in the church, but they don't want to 'give scandal.' If you knew a heterosexual couple who were just cohabitating and not married, you wouldn't let them be eucharistic ministers either."
As I read this, I realized how tough it is to carry on a conversation with culture that excludes any notion of objective sin. Last night at our Bible study, we were reading Romans 2 and grappled with the fine line between legalistic judgementalism and an awareness of what sin is. I will be following my bishop friends with interest.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Tougher Than It Is"

I've had the lyrics of Cake's Pressure Chief song "Tougher Than It is" rolling around in my head all day. The full refrain is: "some people like to make life tougher than it is." That is so true. There are some folks who enter my life, and I know, before the conversation gets going, that complication is coming. These are the ones, who just before ending a conversation say: "You know, I was thinking......." While I know that life is tough and painful for many. I know that there are complicated situations out there; life support, the environment, how to care for the poor poor. Not everything has to be complicated and negative.
But for some folks, a day is not really good unless they can complicate someone's life with doubt, skepticism, cynicism, or sarcasm.
I guess I react so strongly to these people is because I once was one (and still fight cynical snake). I had such a sharp tounge, especially in seminary, that I lost friends because of the harsh things I would say in the guise of pursuing truth. The truth was, I liked to chase people with words and logic and leave them fumbling and confused. I had to win. And for me to win, you had to lose. Then Jesus got hold of me through Christian classics, especially Thomas a'Kempis. These folks gently brought me into "the woodshed" and taught me that my purpose was to reflect Christ, not disarm all opponents.
So now, a swim in the ocean looking at the mountains, makes my day. A quiet meal with Martha and a glass of wine is a feast. A cup of coffee with one candle lit is a sanctuary. The other night I heard my favorite live group "Vajra" play at a downtown club. I was with Martha and a bunch of friends celebrating the birthday of a church member/friend. During the very loud set, the bass guitarist took off on a riff that welled my eyes with tears. His fingers flew on the neck of the guitar and he was inside the music. Another guitarist looked over at me and rolled his eyes in wonder.
I wish for you, wherever you are, that you refuse to "let some people make life tougher than it is" and instead...live.

$75 Million to Westmont

Last night I received an email from Westmont College informing friends and supporters of a surprise, $75 million dollar gift to the school from an anonymous donor. Before I wrote about this I verified it with other Westmont staff I know. It is a fact. But what amazes me is the anonymity of that large a gift. The donor just wants it to be known that he is a supporter of the school. Wow! That kind of gift could have all sorts of naming privileges and legacy connotations. But being that it's anonymous, it could come from anyone.
Just to let you all know, our check-book is curiously low these days, we did not buy a second new car, and we support Westmont College (it could be us....).

New Birds in Paradise

A guy handed me a book and said; "To survive here, you've got to read this." The title was a bit off-putting. It seems like a sarcastic critique of the wealthy, with the SUV, lap-top, steaming cup of coffee in a carden setting, hip well dressed people and a mountain bike in the lower left. But the author, David Brooks, is one of my favorite columnists in the NYT's, so I picked it up and started reading. Wow!
His basic premise is that Bobo is a merger of bourgoise + bohemian. It's the new leader-class based on merit and achievement as opposed to bloodlines and inheritance, old-brains vs old wealth. He attributes this culture shift to John Bryant Conant at Harvard, who was key in getting the SAT testing used as a class-blind standard for applicants. In 1952, the average SAT for incoming Harvard freshmen was 583, but by 1960 it rose to 678!! Numbers were now a powerful key to unlocking the doors of elite educational establishments.
Brooks conducts a fun romp through the wedding pages of the NYT's over the decades, re-naming them "mergers and acquisitions." In the 1950's and earlier, the pages would describe the bride and groom by family names, locations of upbringing, ancestors, club affiliations and service work. But in today's wedding pages, the primary identifiers are college degrees, graduate degrees, career paths for both, and parents' professions. It's about achievements and not inheritances. Where in the 17th and 18th century, entering the established church was a pathway to power, in the 19th century the pathway shifted to business and in the 20th century the new pathway is academia.
But the problem this new, meritocratic society creates is the conflict of reconciling opposites; a new elite raised to oppose elites, a Steven Jobs in jeans and black shirt (bohemian) on the top of the pyramid of power (bourgoise). This commmunity genuinely wrestles with equality vs privilege, convenience vs responsibility, rebellion vs convention, and inner virtue vs worldly success. How does it do the reconciling? Go to a Starbucks, GAP store with the new Red Campaign, the French Meadow Restaurant in Minneapolis...Birkenstocks and Blackberries together sipping Ethiopian coffee.
I'm far from done, but this is some fun stuff for the church, especially in conversation with the emerging community to process.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Re-Discovering and Old Friend

I have a lot of books. I love books. My dad infected me with a love of books. There is no finer place for me to get lost than in a bookstore. When we moved from Minnesota to California, I painfully thinned my library down by 1/3, and I still filled all the shelves at church and at home. The temptation I face is to read the newest authors and stay current with the latest trends in too many areas. The result is that I neglect old friends.
This past week I rediscovered an old friend's old book: Henri Nowen's 1975 book "Reaching Out: the three movements of the spiritual life." He wrote this after leaving academia to life in a community of disable adults in Toronto called L'Arche-Daybreak Community. What made his words so powerful to me was the realization he was living out his commitment to servanthood without status and recognition.
His final chapter on "Community and Prayer" were such a powerful reminder to me, a pretty new pastor, trying to lead a church hungry to grow that "it is important to remember that the Christian community is a waiting community, that is, a community that creates not only a sense of belonging but also a sense of estrangement. In Christian community we say to each other, 'We are together, but we cannot fulfill each other.....we help each other, but we also have to remind each other that our destiny is beyond our togetherness.' The basis of the Christian community is not the family tie, or social or economic equality, or shared oppressionn or complaint, or mutual attraction....but the divine call." (p 153)
As I was writing this, a phone call came in from one of our members called telling me his wife of 57 years just died after a long bout with Alzheimers' disease and mini-strokes. They know what it means to wait in hope. He continues to wait, she is home in hope!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Screaming; a temptation for a blogger

I must admit it. I snapped the other day. Living in the parsonage on the campus means the borders between my personal world and professional world blur. A group used the building (a good thing) and were a little loud (not really a bad thing) and they did not clean up after themselves (an inconsiderate thing, but not really in the category of bad). So I launched into a rant and posted it. It was a little scream. I overheard a conversation with a person who suffered a consumer injustice and said: "I'm so blogging this!" as if it was her steam valve for anger. I laughed when I heard it, and cringe now when I think about it.
Why is it so much easier to gripe, criticize, critique, and get sarcastic on a blog? When I sit down to write, so much negative stuff comes up first, dumb things politicians do, innane things denominational leaders do, insensitive things church leaders and pastors do, and on and on the list can go.
The post I did on anger some time ago still haunts me; there is a lot or residual anger in the culture, and I'm not immune from it. My goal this week is to let all anger get filtered through prayer. I'll let you know when I stop screaming!!!

Eating My Way through the Church

We just completed the longest period of meals out (when not traveling) that I can recall. It began last Sunday with a meal out with one of Martha's former students in a little Greek Restaurant in San Francisco. We began at about 8pm and got kicked out at 10:30. It was a reunion meal for Martha and her student. It was so much fun to see the love and respect, yet independence and creativity. The two women exchanged ideas and thoughts while I watched. Monday night was discovery meal with a person interested in joining the staff of the church. It was like a first dance (wish I knew how to dance) where you delicately explore areas of interest, often heading off on tangents and detours. I was both work and energizing. Could this person fit on the staff? Would we work well together, share the same vision, build the church? Then Tuesday night we had an Egyptian dinner with a church family and their visiting relatives from Cairo Egypt. The man is a pastor with a DMin from Fuller Theological Seminary. Throughout the evening he shared about the deep health of the Christian Church in Egypt, not a topic I've heard addressed before. It was one of those beneath-the-radar evenings of wonder and awe at believers who live at great personal risk and cost. On Wednesday night Martha and I were welcomed as new members into an area country club. This club provides a complimentary membership to the 4 area clergy. I don't gold nor have I done clubs. So we went to the cocktail hour/reception with a high degree of apprehension (OK call it "fear"). We did not know if we would be dressed right or act appropriately. What we discovered as an overwhelmingly warm welcome. We were handed off from one member to another, intoduced and asked questions about our family and our adjustment to a new part of the country. I felt more lovingly welcomed there than I have in a number of churches I've visited over the years (one a highly advertised emergent church that looked at me like an out-of-place geezer). Their welcome of us made us want to return (not to golf but have lunch). Thursday night was the Young Life annual Fund Raiser where I was asked to give the benediction. We sat at the head table with the key-note speaker whom I've never met. When we began to talk, he had all sorts of Covenant connections (staff member to Dick Lucco) and I felt like I found a new friend. Their presentation was a powerful story of Young Life workers faithfully showing up in the lives of youth who did not connect with local churches. When it came time for the benediction, all I could say was that I was honored to be the pastor they chose from among all the churches to offer prayer. But before I did, I said all the churches in Santa Barbara thank you for being the arms and hands of Jesus. What a privilege. Friday night was the 50th anniversary of the Samarkand Covenant Retirement home, and we were invited as part of the management committee. Bob Stromberg was the entertainment. We sat with Rick and Barbara Fisk and talked about exciting directions in Covenant Retirement care and World Missions. We were greeted warmly by a whole bunch of our members who reside there and are always happy when their pastor and wife stop by. We laughed as Bob Stromberg mimed and told stories about life at home. Saturday night I ate alone at home while Martha went out with a friend. And Sunday night we were invited to a French woman's home overlooking the ocean. She is an artist/mangager. It was an evening of rich conversation about France, art, food, family, culture and faith. Both our host and her friend are not active church-goers and werre intrigued to ask questions of me. We made two new friends as the sun set and we saw the lights glowing from the oil rigs out in the channel.
No wonder Jesus put such stress on the table and meals and just hanging out and eating together. Life is good!

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Blessed Broken

We all heard the crack. In a moment the antique chair gave loose and the entire back structure popped off and fell to the floor. Our guest was devastated. The chair is well over 150 years old and has been in Martha's family way, way back from Pennsylvania. We all had that sick-in-the-gut feeling. But Martha dreaded calling her mom and telling her about the chair. When she did, her mom paused and then let out a big laugh. "Oh that chair? When I was a little girl my momma had some of my daddy's preacher friends over and one of them leaned back and broke the back right off!" Martha's mom is in her early 80's, so that first break was about 70 years ago. Then Martha's mom went on to tell her about her life in the parsonage, her preacher-father and the lessons they learned around that dining room table. And soon, that broken chair turned into a blessing.
I can hardly avoid all the breaks around me: Mark Foley, Bob Ney, Randy Cunningham, Mel Gibson. It seems like each new day bring up new dirt on someone. A moral indiscretion, long hidden now found out. A financial impropriety discovered. Power and authority abused. Shareholders lied to, voters duped, consumers cheated. It seems like an awful lot of energy is consumed trying to manage shame, trying to keep the lid on secrets and covering up mistakes.
Then along comes Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12 calling all the broken chairs "blessed." The list is a catalogue of failures and flops. It's a list of those who are in the back of the crowd and out of the limelight. It's about old what's-his-name. Being able to preach a great text like this is such a total gift, because if forces me to go back and hear Jesus' words to me: "Don, you're blessed exactly because you're such a goof and you know it." Blessing is all about Jesus and nothing about me and my accomplishments and achievements. He's not impressed. He jsut wants to bless.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Worship Blog...at last!

Over a bowl of Trader Joe's cheerios and coffee I opened up the Covenant Church website to find an exciting new arrival....a blog site devoted to worship. Discussion forums on worship have been lacking in the Covenant except for the valiant efforts of Katie Martinez, Matt Lundgren, Paul Lessard and Doug Vetvik. These brave souls pioneered a new way to study worship in the Covenant context at Covenant Bible College in Colorado (now closed). There was a peculiar tension between CBC Worship Center and North Park Theological Seminary. The seminary seemed (my word) both out of touch with and threatened by another group trying to stay in touch with and teach worship. I was part of that tension creating atmosphere because I thought the seminary is the logical place to teach worship. It's where pastors are trained and shaped. And pastors are the ones in the center of worship leading in most churches. It seemed logical that the seminary should take the lead in teaching worship...but it did not, not for churches and leaders already in place.
So the Worship Connection was established by the above-mentioned persons as a pre-Midwinter event each year. I attended several of them and found them rich and stimulating. It was that place where pastors and musicians (both contemporary and classical) could talk safely and exchange ideas, concerns and best practices. But that was only once a year.
So today, when I opened up the web site for the denomination www.covchurch.org I was excited to see this new blog site on worship. The total address is www.covchurch.org/blogs/worship.blog Go visit and have some fun!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Jesus the Healer was the theme for worship last Sunday. The text was Mark 1:40-45 where Jesus healed the leper who approached him saying "If you will, you can make me clean." I talked about how leprosy was the AIDS of Jesus' day, no cure, no hope, total ostracism from life. We spent time looking at hopelessness, when we feel there is no more option, no next step. Then I asked "How far gone are you? How long have you had you disease? your issue? your situation? If you feel hopeless, you have a friend in this leper."
As the service ended I gave the congregation an invitation to come forward to a kneeler or off to the side to a prayer room where our Associate Pastor was stationed. There we would annoint their heads with oil and lay hands on the heads or shoulders and pray for their healing.
The response after the first service was small, but significant. While the worship team played, 4 or 6 people came forward for prayer. But after the second service, it was a flood. People kept coming and coming, both to the front of the sanctuary and to the prayer room off to the side. The worship team played and played and played as a small group of people just waited for their turn to come forward. And when they did, I leaned forward and asked "How can I pray for you?" And that's when I was overwhelmed with the needs, the hurts, the wounds, the unconfessed sins. I prayed brief simple prayers after annointing their heads and pronounced a triune benediction. Then came the next one, and the next and the next. When it was over, I could not speak. When I returned my wireless mike to the guy in the sound booth, watching the whole thing, he shook his head and hugged me. It was that overwhelming. I could not go out on the patio and visit. I had to go straight home and gratefully drive off right away for 2 days in San Francisco with my wife.
It's during times like these that I am clearly aware that I'm not leading this congregation. I'm not in charge. God is doing something deep within us, among us. Whew!!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bad Day? Go to a Funeral

We hosted a memorial service for a 23 year old killed in a car accident. It was a great funeral! His name was Will Wiersma. He came to church a couple of times. He roomed with our interim Student Ministries Director and was a hard-core ultimamte Frisbee player. In fact, that's how he died, returning from an Ultimate tournament when their car hit a coyote and he and the driver were killed.
Why was it a great funeral? Not because a young man died, but because it was a radical and powerful reminder to me of ultimate things. Too often I get all wrapped up in sub-ultimate stuff; like church budgets, staff search, member needs, personal finance, hair loss, weight gain, aging, decriptude..... See where that goes. I get all wrapped up in me and my little issues here and now.
The preacher for the funeral was Ben Patterson, Campus Chaplain at Westmont College. Part of his message was a reminder from the first articles of the Heidelberg Catechism. Will came from a solid Christian Reformed background in Western Michigan (I know it well having served 7 1/2 years in Muskegon, Michigan). This catechism reminded us that we are not our own, but we belong to God. Ben read from Job how God give and God takes away, and blessed be the name of the Lord. He reminded me of the fragile gift of every relationship, none of which I own or are permanent. I must confess that I keep forgetting those things. I think I own things and people. I think I own my children and their futures. I think I own my career and my current church. I think I own my health and my assets. I don't. I'm a steward. All that I have has been given to me and God wants it all back...better. I entered this world naked...and that's the way I will go out. I was hoping to find a photo of a casket with a trailer hitch!! As if we can take stuff along with us.
So after the funeral, Martha and I went for a long walk in the sunshine on the beach, collected rocks for her garden and then had a long cafe ole' in the setting sun. That's what it's about!!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Membership and Bowling Alone

Today I went to my first Rotary luncheon in Santa Barbara at the invitation of a church member. It's been a long time since I last went to a service organization lunch. Some guys in Minneapolis belonged to Kiwanis and would regularly invite me as their guests, and usually ask me if I was open to joining. I always begged off, saying that I could not regularly commmit to a weekly lunch with anyone other than Martha (and she sometimes gets bumped!). I also would state that members belonged to a variety of organizations and I did not want to favor one over another. But underneath it all is the fact that I don't find deep value in those organizations. I like them and appreciate what they do for blindness, juvenile diabetes, international cancer cures, etc. But I'm not a big-group joiner.
Today's speaker (whose name I forget) was a type AAA guy whose wife died of cancer and now is raising funds and awareness of cancer fighting through Rotary. But what began to glow was that Rotary was his ultimate purpose. He was so glad he did not take the wrong step and join Kiwanis. He said "Kiwanis" is an ancient Native American word that translated means "I wish I would have joined Rotary!" He waas passionate about Rotary bringing his life ultimate meaning.
Then I beggan to wonder if that's how a lot of 20-somethings see church membership, like another Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions or Gideons, a club for old guys (poeple). The hair color was distinctly grey and bald. There was a certain fixed liturgy about the luncheon; a raise dias, a large rotary seal, a banner full of pendants from other groups, a bell that announced certain features: guests, announcements, introductions, invocation, a song (patriotic) and creed (pled of allegiance). A keynote speaker brought the "sermon" and the "offering" was collected at the back from members. They did provide a better meal than Sunday morning worship services usually do and many members went out of their way to intorduce themselves to me, to welcome me and hope I would come back. It was all good. But I'm not sure I want to join, but support from a distance.
The community around me at the luncheon was there for the two hours and then went on their way. They functioned as community around a planned event (trips, golfing, Halloween party, etc.). It looks so much like the way many view and participate in church; an organized group that provides events and services I want.
But isn't the Body of Christ more? Isn't that the essence of the emerging conversations? Isn't that where Donald Miller, Sarah Cunningham and Doug Pagitt are going? Hmmmm.

Met any Anger Lately?

Over the past months, I have bumped into a lot of anger. One friend I know tells of no longer being able to stnad hearing the voice of the President. If he comes on the TV, she leaves the room. Another friend is still mad at former President Clinton, and develops a pronounced hiss in his voice and a tightness to his face at the mention of his name. At dinner some time ago, in the middle of a friendly and rambling conversation, a church building project came up and my friend blurted out with a profanity about "that ___________ building!" then covered her mouth and said "Ooops!" Driving home from the market a couple Saturdays ago Martha and I saw a pickup truck cut off another pickup truck, horns blasted, fingers were thrown up into the air and they tore after each other down streets, while we headed the opposite way. What's this all about? Do you sense it too?
It seems like so many situations have folks with big pots of anger simmering just beneath the surface of life. It only takes a small spark to set off a blast of hurt, anger, rage, whatever. I've heard rants about health care, organized religion, the school system, politics (yikes, way too much), the wealthy, the poor, past infranctions, remembered insults, moral indiscretions not forgotten, .....
In getting ready for Sunday's sermon on Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40-45, I am reading the companion Psalm 30, where the Psalmist declares abouut God "for his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime!" And as I reflected I thought how many of us live that Psalm upside-down "our favor is for a moment; but our anger is for a lifetime!" Isn't it great to know that God's dominant currency is joy, not anger? So, what's with us then? Why do we need to traffic in the currency of anger so much? And why do I so quickly default to a response of anger at the slightest provocation or infraction?
The prayer at the end of the Psalm needs to be my prayer: "You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have taken off my sackcloth (anger??) and clother me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The First Thank You

I experienced a weird and wonderful "first" last night. The church was holding its monthly council meeting. The Conference Superintendent, Evelyn Johnson asked if she and some staff people could make a presentation about the long-range vision for the conference. I said yes for two reasons: I really like and admire Evelyn and it's the right and loyal thing to do. We are part of a larger body called the conference and local church leadership should be aware of how their money is being spent and what future requests they can anticipate coming from the conference. I know this behavior. After 26 years of pastoring in 3 other conferences, I know how it works.
But Evelyn shocked me when she began with a long list of thanks to Montecito Covenant Church. She thanked the church for the amount of money it has given to the conference for the last ten years...down to the dollar!! She thanked them for planting Ocean Hills and releasing our former Youth Pastor to be church planter. She thanked them for letting go of the core families who went and began that church. She said: "You have given a lot to this conference and we are so grateful." I've never heard that before. I don't think I can recall a visit from a superintendent to any church I've served that was so thankful.
Then a new church planter John Teter, told his story of saalvation, finding a church and planting a church in Los Angeles. Wow! We were on the edge of our seats hearing the story of God's good news in his life being spread toother lives. This new church, in it's 2 preview service, already has plans to staff church planters for the next church they are going to launch. I can get behind this.
Then Jeff Lee, a World Vision staff person told his story of finding the Covenant and falling in love. He told of how the conference has grown and now believes God is calling us to plant 10 churches in California each year for the next 10 years. The three of them talked for about 45 minutes, leaving behind them a wake of energy and gratitude, excitement to be a part of vital kingdom work. Sweet!

Jeff and Bonnie Baker OK in NYC

Jeff and Bonnie Baker, in NYC for more tests on Bonnie's knee wrote back to the church today that they are OK after the small plane crashed into a building near them this afternoon. Evidently the building into which the plane crashed housed several of the physicians they consulted, so they have been in and out of the apartment. Jeff wrote and email to us since most of the cell phone and land-lines were jammed and emergency services filled the streets. More to come.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Talk Sailing or Don't Talk!

Jack Lundgren taught me a whole lot of theology. No, you won't find him on the faculty listing of any seminary roster. he wrote no books and was not even a pastor.He was a retired tood and die maker in Muskegon Michigan. Over the course of his career, he knicked off the tips of several fingers, had polio as a child shrinking one leg, knocked out an eye in a skiing accident, had a heart condition...and was on his sailboat EVERY day. Even in the winter in Michigan, under the tarp, he would be there, teaking and adjusting his boat to squeeze out a little more speed. You see, Jack was a racer, and he invited me onto his boat as "crew" which was really kind of Jack, considering how ignorant I was and am about sailing. Every Wednesday night we would gather on his boat and go out on Muskegon lake, sometimes Lake Michigan, and once a year across lake Michigan to either Milwaukee or Port Washington for the "Queen's Cup" race with about 350 other boats.
What I learned from Jack was the difference between racing and cruising. When you go cruising on a boat, the goal is for everyone to have a good time, to see the sights, have a nice visit, and get home safely. When you cruise, the crew does the work and you are usually a guest, invited to sit down somewhere and enjoy the scenery. Indeed, that is a pleasant activity. i've had some nice cruises and pleasant conversations.
But racing is something else. Racing gets your blood boiling and is addictive like a drug. When you race a sailboat, you push it to its limit. You work all the math of wind and sail dimensions to coax every bit of speed you can out of the boat. The crew is constantly working, on gear or on the rail, distributing their weight to maximize speed. On some races, when my job was to work the Spinnaker sheet (the rope that controls its tension) I never saw the water while the Spinnaker was up, just the edge of the big sail that I was to keep full of wind.
On one particularly slow race, another racer and I, both pastors, got involved in talking about our church situations and some of the problems we were facing. Before long, Jack's voice boomed out: "Talk sailing or DON'T TALK!" That was theological. We forgot the task at hand was to race and maximize the boat and got distracted on our own personal issues.
Is the church you're a part of more like a cruising boat or a racing boart? Clearly I believe we are missionally called to be racing boats. But too many crew have forgotten the task at hand and would rather have a nice visit with each other about something else. It's time to get back to talking sailing!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

When Was The Last Time a Choir Made You Weep?

I attributed my tears to exhaustion and a bit of jet lag. I had been flying for two days and in meetings, so I was a bit burnt out when I hit the airport late Friday night. Martha greeted me with a surprise. She slipped a CD into the car stereo and punched track 8 and said listen. It was a glorious choral number acapella in Latin entitled "Lux Aeterna" by David Dickau. As we drove down the highway alone the ocean and the sopranos launched one descant after another, tears filled my eyes. The intonation was crisp and ennunciation clear as a bell. No individual voice dominated, but they sang as one worshiping voice.
It is the newest cd from the Northwestern College Choir in St. Paul under the direction of Tim Sawyer called "Transformation." It is a prelude to their tour of Eastern Europe. I'm not a music critic, or even much of a musician. So when Martha and I rode out to a dinner this afternoon and we played the cd, and then again after dinner, listening to every track, I was moved to tears again! This is choral music at its best.
Why is this something for me to comment on? Because I hear so much adequate music; music performed by good people with good intentions. I hear music, out of key, poorly harmonized, rhythmically boring, that audiences politely clap for. I get used to that which is around me, until the really superb comes along. I'm more than comfortable riding in a Volkwagen, until I'm riding in an Infiniti. MacDonalds coffee will do, until I sample a cup of robust Starbucks.
In a time when church music is often non-choral and choirs are considered outdated and a bit behind the times. I was refreshed to listen to choral sounds taht stirred me so deeply, from ancient Latin numbers to contemporary arrangements of "Wade In the Water" by Allen Koepke or "Witness" by Jack Halloran.
This is an album you need to buy. This is a choir you need to hear!

Jesus & Evil

I'm preaching on Mark 1:21-28 tomorrow. It's the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue and being interrupted by the unclean demons in a guy. Jesus said to their interruption: "SILENCE, LEAVE". While synagogue attenders and disciples were amazed and astonished at his authority, the demons responded with angry outbursts, but in the end were silenced and fled.
The altar piece is particularly evocative with the high contrast between the sharp-edged stones and the open Word and Authority of the Christ-Candle. Jesus retains authority today in a world of talking heads and slick marketing campaigns. He retains authority against the bluster of Wall Street or politicos in Washington DC. He retains authority over wealthy celebrities or fear-inducing terrorists.
I wrote most of the sermon on an airplane flying home from meetings in Chicago (my seatmates were overjoyed at the space I consumed!). When I got in to my office this morning, I had 25 emails waiting for me. So I worked on the sermon first, then the emails. Now I, like you, get forwarded stuff all the time. Some of it (a lot of it) is trite and worthless. But often they come from friends and I read them because I lvoe my friends. One caught my eye this morning, that came from a member of MCC (who is on the Mission Commission) about another member of the church. It's a story about this member's close friend who lives in Lancaster PA and delivers furniture in the Amash community that was struck with an evil tragedy this past week. He narrarated a story about the young girls calmly kneeling and praying before they were shot that seemed to me a powerful story about the authority that comes with the presence of Christ: "Where 2 or 3 of you are, there I am in the midst of you." Those demons fled too, but at the cost of young lives.
if you would like me to forward that email to you, contact me and I'll forward it along.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Preaching Rubrics

My daughter is searching for churches. Ever since leaving Minnesota, she has been on her own quest to find her own church home. Salem is always welcoming to her, but my shadow is there and she feels it's time for her to be a spiritual adult on her own terms, not just as Don & Martha's daughter. So, she's been out visiting churches all over the Twin Cities.
Recently she told Martha (and tonight me in detail) the rubrics she has devised to evaluate preaching. It was fascinating to see how she categorized preaching irrespective of denominational and theological divisions. I asked for her permission to share this, because I think it's an intersting launching pad for discussions with our younger believers about what they value in preaching.
The lowest order of preaching she called "Cotton Candy". It's a simple sermon with no obvious biblical text driving it and no outside sources. The sermon is devoted to a short inspirational talk to help worshipers feel better. It's an inspirational talk that's strong on how-to advice and practical application.
The second order from the botton is a sermon with a biblical text and that's it. It's the sort of sermon where a preacher takes a text and just talks about the text, one word one meaning and then stops.
The third order of sermon is textually centered with many supportive biblical references. She calls it "flying around the Bible." It's a sermon strong on context, so the worshiper leaves with a greater understanding of Scripture.
The second highest order of sermon is one which draws from multiple texts and multimple outside sources. These are sources like other theologians or Christians. In this preaching there is both text and Christian context.
The highest order of sermon for Liz is when the sermon uses both multiple biblical sources and uses of non-religious sources and world/cultural events. Being a cross-cultural teacher, she loves when words are studied and un-packed, going into languages and meanings. This type of preaching brings word and world together.
That's a tough rubric for me to use with my preaching.
But our conversation became even more animated when I asked her to talk with me about her rubrics for music in worship, but that's another conversation for another time.

Went to Jail Today

Lisa called me several weeks ago. She works with Life Network, an agency that supports women in unplanned pregnancies. One of their clients requested a pastor to go and see the father of her child. "Would you be willing to go?" Lisa asked. Without much thought, I said "Yes, it's what pastor should do." So I go the contact information, arranged a meeting with the local jail chaplain and scheduled a visit.
It was a beautiful blue sky day here in Santa Barbara. I arrived about 10:30 am and gave the reception desk people all my identification docuuments. They called and arranged for me to meet this guy. He was being held in Isolation, so I had to go through several sets of locked doors, with buzzers and fuzzy intercoms. There waiting for me behind thick glass was a young hispanic man in a bright orange jump-suit. We made small talk and I asked if it was OK that I came and visited him. He smiled warmly, telling me how much it meant that I came. I asked him what was the hardest thing for him right now in jail. He said that the waiting "sucked!" and he worried about his girl-friend and their unborn son. I asked him when his trial was, and he said he did not know, though he did know he was facing a minimum of 5 years. Then I asked him how old he was? "I just turned 20" he said. 20 years old, in jail, without an HS degree, unmarried and his girl-friend pregnant and five years locked up ahead of him.
What an incredible contrast for a gorgeous community of really beautiful people! That remains one of the biggest challenges of ministry here, the high contrast between the successful and the broken, those with unlimited choices and those locked up. I need to go back again and see him, listen to him, and love him. I guess that's the same thing we do with those with 'everything" as well, see them, listen to them and love them in Jesus' name.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Here I Am Lord"

Today was one of those weird, converging days. The theme for worship was Jesus' call of the disciples from Mark 1:16-20. Martha and Jeanne Heckman brought onto the altar a new Christ-candle. It has a spanish-style wooden base with a thick beeswax candle. Around the base of the candle they draped a fishing net and put overturned baskets beneath the table. On the nave was the communion table, with an echoing net covering the table and communion ware on top.
At the last minute I substituted the opening hymn I chose months ago for a more contemporary hymn "I The Lord of Sea and Sky." Our worship team was not familiar with it, so I coaxed and urged Dan to try it and learn it. He and the team picked it up quickly, adding an oboe on top of guitar and piano, giving it a disctinctly celtic flavor. The congregation at both services picked it up strongly and sang with energy: "Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." I googled the author of the hymn, Daniel Schutte and found out he is a Jesuit priest and musician in residence at the University of San Francisco.
Then, during the service, long standing missionaries of the church, Jim and Sue DeVries shared their story and their sense of call to missions. The sermon focussed on Jesus calling ordinary people to follow him into a new kind of open-circled fellowship. The call of God, I pointed out, is seen best in the Table, which invites us to drop our nets and follow him. Everything came together in one of those spiritual synergies that is not any one person's doing. It's like riding the crest of a wave. It's a lot bigger than me.
After church it was raining, grey and cold. Martha and I were invited to attend a dedication mass honoring the 150th anniversary of the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. We were inclined not to go. I was hungry and tired and the mass began at 1:30 with a meal around 3:30 pm. But, with a sense of obligation, we went. When we arrived, we were ushered right down to the front pews (only visiting priests sat in front of us). In our pew was the Assemblyman and Sheriff. The Presider for the Mass was Cardinal Roger Mahony from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles (see earlier post). It was so, so high church (less the incense). Organ, choir, trumpet voluntary, and then, when I turned the page on the worship folder, there was the hymn "I The Lord of Sea and Sky".
I sang with tears in my eyes, as the choir and organ launched into a descant. It was so rich and so full. Colors and vestments, robes and gestures, antiphonal responses and Latin phrases. Then came the Eucharist and I realized I was not invited nor included. I watched from the front row with a hungry heart to be invited to that table, to have the Cardinal place the host in my hands and drink from the common cup. But the table is closed, in spite of us singing "One Bread, One body, one Lord of all, One cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many, throughout the earth we are one body in this one Lord."
I sang it, but less heartily than wistfully. Oh if it were only so. What will it take for Roman Catholics and Protestants to share one table? Here I am Lord

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