Sunday, December 31, 2006

When You Turn the Artists Loose!

He approached me in the Fall. "Are you at all open to a different kind of worship service?" That's a loaded question! I asked him what he was thinking about. He told me that he is a good friend to a calligrapher and that they have done "duets" together. He's an accomplished pianist, member of the worship team and chairman of the Call Committee that called me to MCC. I said "Sure, let's talk more." And thus began a conversation that morphed into a marvelous New Year's Eve service tonight. Chris Call and Carla Harris led worshipers in a reflective evening of creatively arranged hymns and beautifully calligraphed text and image around the theme from Isaiah "You are the potter and we are the clay".
As Chris played, Carla wrote/painted and the camera you see on the chancel brought her work to the two side screens. There, we could see her hands working the posterboard as shapes emerged. Some of the hymns we sang, and others we read. Interspersed were prayers by Francois Fenelon, Charles de Foucald, and Eugene Peterson.
In the middle of the service, we celebrated holy communion by intinction at the kneeling rails on either side of the table. It's what happens when you turn the artists loose!

The Holy Name of Jesus

Today we are celebrating the very name "Jesus" as we leave one year and launch into another. The altar piece displays the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus of gold, frankincense and myrh. They are the gifts to the king, the priest, and the sacrificed savior. But it's the "name" that keeps ringing in my ears: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
Bernard of Clarivaux wrote in the 11th century: "Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, flame in our heart. The name Jesus is the cure for all the diseases of the soul. Jesus' name includes all the mysteries of the church. It is the center point of the sacraments. Jesus' name embraces the entire life of the believer and unifies all the functions of the church."
May it be so with me!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My List of 10 for 2006

I have had a great time reading magazines, newspapers and blogs with various lists: hot seeling items, movies, trends, celebrities, and numbers. So, I have been mulling with my own list of 10 discoveries in 2006:
1. We are tired of misbehaving celebrities. Enough with Brittany, Mel, Paris, etc. These over-paid, indulged egos are tiring. Grow up!
2. We are excited about hands-on ministry and mission. Doing something tangible, practical, useful and needed is a hit. Meetings and brainstorming are out, doing is in.
3. Big is not better. There is a push-back to the big event: whether it's Promise-Keepers, CHIC, Annual Meetings, or Oz Fest. We like smaller, more intimate gatherings. The mega-church/mall/theme-park has had its day.
4. We have permission to try something new. Simply going back to the old template of ministries and organizational structures and refreshing them is not working. We are ready for new configurations.
5. We are learning to trust each other face-to-face. That means learning to trust new sounds and styles because I trust you. But I need to know you trust me and like me, and will listen to me.
6. We are immediately suspicious of all authorities.
7. We live comfortably with more screens on than ever before.
8. VC2 is in: (Viewer Generated Content). Who needs ads when you have YouTube?
9. Doing good is in in a big way (see Bono, Gates, Red).
10. Denominational structures are in real trouble (see The Long Tail by Anderson or The World is Flat by Friedman). The Covenant Bookstore shut down because Amazon is more competitive. Why do we need so much real estate in Chicago?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rocky Balboa; a movie for boomers

When my boys suggested we go see "Rocky Balboa" I laughed out loud. I'm not a big boxing fan. I am also not a serial-movie watcher. After a movie goes through its 4th edition, it's usually running on fumes and the cash flow needs of aging stars. But my sons were insistent, so I caved in and bought matinee tickets and settled in for a sardonic laugh.
Little did I know that this was not a movie about boxing and Sylvester Stallone as much as it was about what to do with aging other's perceptions of limitations. What about when the heart still beats young but the body is old? What do you do, as Stallone ask, when there is still "more stuff in the basement" tapping his heart? It's about facing whining and blaming about not getting what you want and not being overshadowed by demons or memories. The movie is restrained in sexual content and language. The dialogue has some amazing depth (oh, it has some of those tough guy phrases that comes with both boxing and Stallone). But I went away encouraged to be a dreaming, visioning 53 year old pastor with a lot of "stuff still in the basement."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Full Family Day

Christmas Eve was a picture perfect gathering around the fireplace and opening presents and laughing till almost 1 am. A quiet morning, rising slowly and a walk through a deserted Westmont campus till Martha set out a huge ham dinner at 1 pm. Dinner concluded with a gift of a musical game where we all had numbered whistles which Elizabeth directed us to blow on key, tooting out vaguely familiar Christmas carols. Then Isaac had the big idea to go swimming without wet suits. All I can say is "Lake Superior!!" that's how cold it was! We dried off in time to visit a church family for plum pudding and a walk on the beach as the sun set. Now all are sharpening pencils for a full-contact game of Scrabble.

The Joy of Clutter

It's Christmas Day, late morning merging into noon. "E.T" is on the TV in the other room. Liz is downloading something on her laptop, sipping coffee and sprawling on the family room couch. Luke is setting up a vidoe monitor on Martha's computer so she can video conference. Isaac is sleeping in amdist the sounds of feet in the hall and muted conversations. Martha is wandering around picking up stray boxes, ribbons, and gifts.
There is a wonderful sound and smell of the kids (now clearly adults) home and interacting as brothers and sisters and children of parents in this brief holiday space. As we sat around the fire-place last night opening gifts I thought how strange it will be when one of them brings home the first "stranger" the first one who marries or gets engaged and brings an "outsider" into this intimate nest called the family of origin. It's a sweet privilege to have children who are willing to sacrifice their vacation time to come to a "new" home, since Santa Barbara is still relatively new to them.
And while we do enjoy the empty nest benefits of quietness, neatness, and order, the clutter right now is a wonderful clutter that reminds me what a gift family is.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


The kids were sleeping in, so I ran an early errand to the grociery store, pharmacy, and dry cleaners. It was a beautiful morning here, so I took a diversion and drove down along the beach to see if there were any surfers (a few) and headed back. At a stop sign this strange car pulled in front of me and I followed it slowly down the avenue. I'd never seen one like this before. So I drove closer to get the name "Carrera GT" was emblazoned on the back panel. Carrera means Porche, so when I got home I googled what it was that I just saw. Amazed, the article said that this 558 HP car could reach speeds in excess of 200 mph at a sticker price of $333,000!!! What? Who were these two guys driving a car worth the price of a really nice home in the Midwest?
Then I remembered reading the opening article in this week's "Economist" about a new term economists are using to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) called General Well Being (GWB). It's a strategy to measure happiness within cultures. Not surprising is the fact that the more we have, the more we want. Luxuries become necessities, wants turn into needs, accessories become standard equipment, and high status items are marketed to everyone. But to what end? Does it increase the GWB? What will make us happy? How about 200 mph?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Branding of Christmas

In the Business Section of today's NYT's is a little article that piqued my interest. An advertising company is trying to "freshen" up Christmas with a branding approach, giving Christmas a unique graphic design. I went on to google image to try and find some samples but came up empty. Basically, the images were the graphic apple of Apple Computers with ".mas" following it, or a Nike "swoosh" with a ".mas" following it. You get the idea; take a company logo that is clean and crisp and marry it with a "." to the word "mas", thereby eliminating all references to "Christ" and the religious issues that complicate business transactions and get down to what Christmas is really all about; four month of selling from October through January.
While the pastor in me recoils from such a nakedly commercial appraoch to Christmas, another part of me is intrigued with this type of creativity; an attempt to bring some freshness to Victorian images of fat men with beards and ladies in long dresses gathered around pianos in homes lit with candles. The preacher's (read "my") dilemma for each Christmas is what can possibly be fresh or new or unique? Families gather and, from what my good friend George Barna says, more are attending Christmas Eve candle-light services than Easter services. The Christmas Eve service is now more popular with main-stream culture than Easter. Is it because it has so many other cultural, familial, and romantic images surrounding it? Images that are safe and "Jesus-less" or, at least, keeping Jesus as a safe and cuddly baby? But what can I actually say about the astounding metaphysical assertion that the infinite, timeless, shapeless God of the universe compressed himself (gender??) into the form of a human man going through the dangerous process of natural birth? I can barely approach that mystery.
Maybe the better approach would be to warn people: Watch out! This night declares that something mysterious happened in the course of human history that is too big for words: Christ.mas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

African Children's Choir at MCC & Jay Leno

On Friday January 19th, MCC is hosting a travelling choir of African Children. This is part of MCC's effort to introduce and sponsor international Christian musicians. Unbeknowst to us, Jay Leno and the Tonight Show are featuring this same choir THIS coming Friday, December 22. So watch the choir and, if possible, join us for their concert on January 19th at 7:00 pm.

Before & After

Somebody did not like our sign, our letter font or the lights being on it all night long. This morning I received a call from the church administrator that somebody tore the letters of our sign off the wall and smashed the lights illuminating the sign. Was it a random act of juvenile vandalism or a radical protest about the lights being on all night?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Martha's Christmas Card Print

Being married to an artist has its advantages. Each year Martha composes a card and hand-prints them. This year she carved on linoleum a picture of the courtyard fountain at the church. It stands 7 feet tall and is the visual and audible center of the patio. The terra cotta colors reflect the soil and architecture of this part of California. The choice of the fountain is because of the images of Jesus at the fountain, being the living water and coming to dwell in the midst of us.
May fountains of God's love flow in your life this Christmas season.
Don & Martha

Where formality is suspect....

"Americans are the ones who like to put their feet up on the furniture" she said in a manner that was not judgemental, but matter-of-fact. We were having lunch with an old couple, retired missionaries, she from Switzerland and he from France. They reflected on the dominant casualness of American culture from their perspective. I confess, I like to, read with my feet propped up on the corner of my desk, so I'm part of this casualness as well.
We went to a marvelous choir concert last week. The reperoire was totally classical and sacred. The students memorized everything and sang in German, Latin, Spanish and English. And this was a public school. That seldom happened in Minnesota. Content had to be excized of anything Christian in an attempt to be multi-cultural. So we were delighted at the program. Except, between each song, the audience burst into loud applause with "hoots" of pumped fists in the air from fellows students, like we were at a boxing match! It happened over and over again. I dismissed it with the thought, it is a public school and a secular community. The music was really good and it was performed well. But the reverential was missing.
All these thoughts become wonderful grist for car-ride conversations with Martha. And today, she said something too good to not quote..."Where formality is suspect, there is the tendency to remove reverence."
Where the very thought of formality is suspect or under attack. When the act of wearing a tie or formal wear is suspicious and negative, there can be a tendency to remove thoughts of reverence. When we eschew formal titles like "Mr." or "Dr." or "Professor" and insist on first-names all the time, we can possibly devalue authority and wisdom. The boisterous applause, evacuated reverence from the concert. It was good music, but not good worship.
The same can happen among pastors. I have a good friend who almost can't help himself from injecting dumb jokes at holy moments. It's like he runs from the holy to the informal with the vehicle of a joke. Maybe things get too holy and too scary, and like a good emcee, he injects some levity. But for those who went to his seminars, it burst the bubble. They blessed his wisdom and insight and longed to be allowed to linger in the holy without a quip or a one-liner.
Reverence is a term I know I need to retrun to and go deeper with, especially as it regards sacred space. The question I'd like to through out is: is the emergent church inherently informal? Is formality inherently suspect? Can reverence be informal?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Secret of Socks

My dad was the one who taught me this secret first. He learned it during WW II as he slogged through Germany and Austria in the dead of winter. "I always had one pair of socks wrapped against my stomach" he said "That way at the end of a day when we would find a place to camp, I could slip on some warm socks to warm up." Growing up in Minnesota, I quickly learned that secret: warmth is all about the temperature of your reet. If your feet are warm and dry, everything is ok. But once your feet get cold and wet...watch out! Now maybe some might call this a midwestern foot fettish. But fetish or not, it works. I have enjoyed warm feet in double-digit negative temperatures.
So today, it was cold in Santa Barbara. There was frost on the tiled roof of the church. The thermometer on our house said 41. It was bright and brisk. Standing in the shade without a coar was chilly. So I enjoyed dressing warmly, wearing a jacket and even a hat. But what I saw this afternoon was a paradox: shivering people in polar-fleece jackets zipped up to their necks with hats pulled down on their heads...wearing shorts and flip-flops! Somebody needs to have a heart-to-heart sock talk with these folks. Their lives would be a lot warmer if they wore some respectable woolen socks and shoes (long pants would also help...but then I've never figured how women survive really cold weather wearing dresses either).
Another thing my dad told me; "It's never too cold, it's just that your not wearing the right clothes!" to which my southern-born wife would angrily retort; "A lady never wears something ugly on her feet!" And do you know what? All 13 years we were in Minnesota...her feet were cold all winter!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Staff Party

Its a seasonal ritual; the staff Christmas party. One the one hand, it's obligatory and a "must do." I know. I've been going to staff parties for 26 years. And during the Christmas season, it can sometimes feel like one more burden...until I get there and realize how much I really like these people. Tonight we gathered at one member's home with spouses and we just hung out. We ate a lot of food and laughed on all sorts of crazy, tangential topics. But so much of the time when we gatehr for meeting, I try to keep discussions focussed and on-task. Tonight, we just rambled and laughed and loved each other. It's a great reminder to me of what a gift each and every staff person is, ever. Every staff person over the years I have been privileged to partner with while we were together at a church was a gift, even the ornery ones, the ones who resigned angrily or had to be asked to leave. Each one is unique and precious in God's eyes and of eternal worth and dignity. Tonight in the glow of the room I saw that precious dignity and was grateful.

Advent; keeping time

Who keeps track of time? When you are traveling by car, time is measured by gas tank condition and restroom needs. When you are traveling by air, time is measured by boarding times, and layover times. When I was in elementary school, time was measured by favorite TV shows and summer vacation. In High School time was measured around curfews and upcoming dates. Collegiate time was measured around terms (or semesters), deadlines, and books read. Time gets measured differently according to the place we are in life.
I measure time at 53 in a whole different way that at 23. Time on a Saturday morning with a free schedule is completely different than time in a waiting room during surgery. Time in worship and time in conflict are not the same. Time for the poor is not the same as time for the wealthy. Time in jail goes at a different rate than time on the beach.
When the early church was underground, hunted and persecuted, their time was fleeting, precarious and precious. They did not know if they would see each other again. Some of them would be arrested, tortured and killed. When time is that slim and intense, Christians worship differently than when the emperor is a believer and faith is not only allowed, but enforced. When the church was under the sponsorship of state power, it had the luxury of time. When it was running, time was a scarce commodity.
In the 24/7 world of the web/cable/cellphone/blogs/ how do you measure time? What clock ticks for us today?
Underneath this time-rambling is my curiosity about the real value and purpose of Advent. Being in a new cultural environment for my 2nd year, I am genuinely grappling with what advent means and how we meaningfully measure time in the faith community. Can we assume we have lots of protected time, and the chief purpose of Advent is to rehearse familiar customs and return to familiar cultural traditions? I sense little urgency in my life or others, but more a resigned endurance to get through this season without too much credit card debt and too many new pounds around my middle. I see Advent more as a unique cultural doorway for non-believers to attend some holiday service with their family and we can make that impression of faith, a low key evangelism. It is clearly a family gathering point, when returning children, often with new spouses and children sit together and are proudly introduced. I feel that keenly when my kids travel all the way to California and meet our new community here. Relationships are built and strengthened.
But if this was the last Advent, if this was the last time we gathered for worship, would we behave differently?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

One Punk Under God..emergent or therapy

I watched the premier of the Sundance Channel's newest series(?) "One Punk Under God" following the life of Jay Bakker, pastor of a church called "Revolution" that meets in a downtown Atlanta bar. Heavily tatooed and pierced, Jay shares a message of non-judgemental grace with his rapt audience/congregation. "Just walking through the doors makes you a member here. We just want to love on you." Then the camera catches a series of testimonies from people society often marginalizes. They give witness to the power of Jay's message of grace and unconditional acceptance.
We go to an auto-body paint shop where a large man in a bright shirt mentors Jay in how to organize and structure this new church. They struggle with a flat and equalized structure and one of order and responsibility. We meet Jay's flaming red-haired wife Amanda, who has a massive tatoo of Jesus down one arm. She is strong and caring for Jay, but does not like the ministry or the church. So far, it's a story about building a church off the denominational grid, alone and stumbling along.
Then Jay shares his pain of being the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker with the PTL club and Heritage USA. He was 11 years old when his world collapsed. We drive with Jay into the ruins of Heritage Village; abandoned buildings with peeling paint, bulldozed swimming pools and empty malls and arcades. According to Jay it was the third largest theme park in the US at the time, dwarfed only by the Disney parks.
He talks compassionately about his mom and her struggle with cancer. But when it comes to his dad, Jim, now remarried with 5 adopted kids and running a TV show on cooking, he viscerally aches. We see Jay making several calls to his dad, asking him to call back, signing off with "I love you." But dad doesn't call. Dad has checked out of Jay's life. And Jay needs his dad.
That's where the show became more of extended therapy and nedw-style reality TV than anything about church. It was a TV preacher's boy following in his daddy's shoes with his own new TV show, looking desperately for approval, just a call. I left the show feeling sad about this abandoned preacher. The content (what we heard of it through clips) was seeking reconciliation, not so much with God, but with his absent father.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jesus #47

Confirmation classes remain a high-light of my life. For an hour and a half each week I get to hang out with about 10 7th and 8th graders (sprinkle in a 9th grader once in a while) to walk them through the Bible. This year we are exploring the Old Testament, developing a visual time-line on the wall ringing the room. So it's great being forced to distill the Exodus event into one class period. Greatfully I have 3 other talented teachers who add their creativity to the brew.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I gave the class a biblical clue about numbers. Bible numbers run like this: 7 days is a perfect number for God. 40 is an ideal number for a time-out, either in days or years. 10 (like commandments) is rememberable with one's fingers, and 12 is the perfect grouping size (tribes-disciples). So I thought that was a throw-away notion that would not necessarily stick.....not so.
Last night, in the middle of the students mid-year quiz, one particularly bright and observant student said, "Pastor Don, like if Jesus played football, he'd be number 47...get it?" When my face scrunched up confused he had to explain. "Dude, it's like the perfect combination 40 + 7. Do you get it now?"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kid's Christmas Programs...a delight

All churches have a great leveler in Christmas programs. Squirrely 3rd graders, wiggly 2nd graders, prima-dona 6th grade girls who want to be grown up and play at the same time. Sheep and shepherds, angels and wise men, bales of hay and video-camera laden parents on the sides.
A lot of times churches (read pastors) compete with their various levels of sophistication, impact, relevance, and spiritual muscle. But not at Christmas programs. The script is always the same. The music is the same. The chaos is the same. And the beauty and wonder is the same. It's not about us and our great achievements, but about the audacious in-breaking of God into our silly world with his love. It is a message that ought to be reserved just for kids to announce and perform.
Aftern the play, we gathered around tables to eat together and talk loudly over the dinn of the kids running and playing tag. Life does not get better than this. Pacem.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

How Important is Dialogue?

The other day I had two interesting and revealing encounters. In one situation I was talking with a person about how best to decorate the church to reflect the Advent theme of "Waiting and Comfort" from Isaiah 40. She expressed her thoughts and then said, "What do you think? Would that work?" I responded with a concern about color and light and she listened and said, "What if we would do this instead?" That back-and-forth conversation typifies the way we have been going about dressing the altars each Sunday in coordination with the text of the day. The preacher sets the theme, the decorators present ideas, then we dialogue.
In another situation I was talking about some future plans and thoughts about ministry, and this person said something like; "Oh, we need to talk about this. I have thought about it and I have the plan." Period, end of discussion. This guy has the plan and the only plan. Never once in our conversation did he ask: "So what are your thoughts here? What sorts of things has God been impressing you with?"
I am attracted to genuine dialogue where what I think matters and who I am matters. When another person asks me a question and then listens, my heart warms. I had a list of college professors I deeply loved who would approach me with a genuine question and eagerly listen to my response. Mr. Zenos Hawkison and my dad were (Zenos died some years ago) the two best. My dad taught me this discerning art when he would return from meeting some important person and I'd ask how it went. If he said, "He never asked a single question about me" it meant it went badly. If dad said, "He was really interested in _______" meant that this was a good guy.
When a conversation turns into a monlogue for another's brilliannce and their forcefully held ideas, it gets old quickly. That's why I have enjoyed much of the emergent communities blogs and forums, in that they ask questions and listen to answers. Where are the forums where your voice matters and counts? Who listens to you? How does your church community listen or not llisten to you?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Getting Spanked

That's not me on the board. But that's what the waves were like today in Santa Barbara. It was in all the newscasts. A storm was coming down the coast bringing big swells and great surf. I drove by the beach in the morning, seeing throngs of surfers out in the big swells (8-10 feet), catching waves and sailing down them, wiping out, or cutting out gracefully. I had to get in the water!
After we were done hanging the greens at church, I grabbed my borrowed wetsuit and boogey board (short little one to ride on one's belly) and headed to the beach where I swim. No more surfers were in the water, but the big waves werestill crashing into shore with lots and lots of foam. So I strapped the board to my wrist and headed into the water. Yikes! That's some powerful stuff. I got knocked this way and that, slapped up onto the beach and rolled in the sand. I headed back out into the surf, trying to stand up waist high into cresting waves, getting knocked over and under. A couple of times I made it onto the board and rode wave-foam onto the beach. I was all alone, exhilarated, and not a little bit sobered by the power of those waves. I have a long way to go till I can surf. But today I had fun getting spanked by some really serious waves.

Hanging of the Greens

We launched a new tradition at Montecito Covenant today; the hanging of the greens as a collaborative event. I started a fire in the patio fireplace, put out hot coffee and hot water for chocolate and tea plus some donut holes. Then about a dozen people began to gather from 10 am till noon.
Martha, Jeanne Heckman and Trace Robinson cut and gathered greenery. One of the men and I bound and hung swags of junniper, pittiosporum and eucalyptus on all the outdoor lights. Inside the sanctuary another group hung swags of junniper and magnolia on the side candle sconces and the balcony railings, while still another group dressed the trees with lights and glass icicles, filling the room with the smells of cut branches and pine.
All the while the brass ensemble practiced for worship tomorrow, filling the room with brilliant sounds of Christmas carols and hymns of advent. It was a day filled with laughter, debates about how much is too much and where things looked too bare. Everyone voiced their opinions about beauty and tradition. But at the end of the day, the sanctuary, courtyard and patio looked full and decked, ready for the 2nd Sunday in Advent.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Icons for Today

The Getty Museum in LA is hosting a show of icons from the monastery of St. Catherine at the base of Mt. Sinai. We visited both the show and attended a lecture on the monastery and its role in protecting and preserving iconography last night. It was my first visit to the Getty Museum and at sunset. The architecture and view of the LA basin and the sun setting over the ocean was overwhelming. And the museum is FREE, just an $8 parking charge. I'm going back there!
The show of icons caught my attention after my six years of rumaging around the notion of sacred space, romanesque architecture in southern France and just how we use and abuse our sacred space today.
1. Icons tell time. A number of the icons were calendars, illustrated pictures of saints' days for veneration and remembrance. They were laid out like any calendar we use, only filled with detailed pictures of various saints. These kinds of icons help the faithful tell time.
2. Icons tell us use. Some icons were embroidered on stoles and vestments, chalices, crosses and patens. These icon figures instructed the users just what the item was intended to do, represent and reference back to. Hand gestures of blessing, the proper holding of crosses and postures of prayer were included.
3. Icons instruct how to occupy space. Icons placed around a sanctuary guided worshipers, often pilgrms who could not speak the language of the area, what a particular space in worship was intended for. They could prompt prayer as the icon told a story in the life of Moses or Jesus or John, or some more recent holy person. The icons would visualize what the annunciation could have looked like. Icons energy was not in the figures, but in the dim light of candles and lamps, the flickering energy came as the light reflected off of the gold leaf surrounding the figures.
On the ride home, I asked the question; are seeker sensitive churches, like Willow Creek, inherently "iconclastic" in that they reject all imagery except electronic? Iconclasm was an eaerly church reaction against the perceived worshiping of icons as idols. Icons were labelled as bad in and of themselves. Can we behave iconoclastically when we reactively reject a tradition? Just thinking!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Who Signs Yours?

I was in a long meeting today interviewing candidates for an organization. The local group wants the new leader to serve their needs, yet the national organization is known for excellence and efficient leadership, sometimes at the cost of local groups feeling very much left out of the loop. Sometimes the cnetral headquarters, filled with really smart people who see the macro-view and travel all over the country, if not the world, know what's best. They travel in circles filled with other wise leaders and consultants. And life on the local level seems pretty pedestrian and puny.
I've picked that up over the years in some denominational gatherings. The local church is given a perfunctory curtsy and a nod, but it's really the headquarters where things are most important and weighty. As I mentioned in several blogs ago, I was overwhelmed when the conference superintendent in California visited our local church council and spent her most of her time thanking this church for its sacrificial and significant giving of money and leaders and pastors. And there was no ask or pitch, just thanks. Wow! When has that happened in your church? When have the members at the church I now serve heard me call them up just to thank them, and not ask them to serve on a committee, task force or give money to my newest project?
So, this administrative candidate, when asked how he balances his role as advocate for the local organization with that of being a spokesperson for the national body said: "I work for you. You sign my paycheck." That said it.
When I talked with a now retired Conference Superintendent years ago about his relationship with Covenant Headquarters and a particularly strong president, he said "He never has signed my paycheck. I work for the churches of this conference."
Who signs your paycheck? Who is your constituency? Who do you carry in your heart and advocate for? On whose behalf do you fight battles? After my meeting today I drove home wondering if the little children know they sign my paycheck? Do the overworked families who struggle to make ends meet here know that I work for them? Does the group of college students who walk down the hill to church know that while they are here, I work for them?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Observation about Complainers

A pastor friend talked with me today about a situation in his church. There is a group who love to complain and grumble. The most recent occasion was a youth-led music number that was a bit too loud for their tastes, and they let him know, and know and know. So I asked him a couple of questions about this group: how many of them are involved in a small group Bible Study? How many are involved in the serving mission of the church? The answer was: NONE.
I raised those questions because I was invited to a small group fellowship gathering last Sunday night at a member's home. They were celebrating the upcoming marriage of one of their members and were toasting him (and her). In the process of the toasting, they began to reflect about what they have gone through as a group; the death of one member's spouse, deaths of parents, illnesses, job changes. This is a group whose members are spread out in service in the community. They laugh, cry and pray together. During the evening, one member turned to me and said; "How great is this? Look at all this love!" And as she talked I realized that there was not a chronic complainer in the crowd. They were way too active in the suffering, intercessory ministry of the church to worry about the volume of one song!
And I would have asked one more question, that I know would be un-answerable; how many of the complainers are tithers or sacrificial givers? I'd bet the answer would be again...none. It seems that when I live to serve and care for others, my preferences, tastes and styles are secondary. In one church I know of, the complainers are not the old members, but the younger ones, always wanting more of their preferences their styles.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book "Life Together" tells his readers, that we are not given the church (as pastors and leaders) to complain about it, but to love it. It takes work and effort to love those complainers and lead them into ministry beyond their needs.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Company Chaplains

Today's NYT's had a fascinating article about the growth of industrial chaplains. It seems that corporations (especially blue-collar industrial and manufacturing) are finding that chaplains are more cost-effective than Employee Assistance Programs or counselors. Chaplains are hired either part or full-time to be available to employees in times of crisis or when they are looking for direction for next steps in solving problems. Some of these chaplains are already serving churches in smaller communities, others are recently retired, and still others are non-ordained, licensed or theologically trained to whom employees feel comfortable sharing their stories and life circumstances.
When asked to comment on the growth of chaplains in Tyson Chicken processing plants, a union worker was both complimentary and concerned. Her concern was that the chaplains were there for employees' personal needs, but were silent when it came to labor-law violations. They clearly received their pay-checks from the management and were not advocates for worker rights or job-place ethics.
I can see that happening in a number of institutional situations like hospitals or nursing homes. With all the eithical issues involving medicine and health today, you don't hear chaplains stepping into the public arena. That got me to thinking about pastors: when is a pastor a pastor and when do we become chaplains? Are chaplains pastors and pastors chaplains? Or is there a sublte distinction in the idea of a pastor "leading" or "shepherding" a congregation in a direction in which they might not be willing to go? Do pastors address structural issues in the church that need changing, or do we work for the company?
Pastors, to me, are like the Levites who are not given an inheritance of land like the other 11 tribes, but their inheritance is to serve the Lord. We are at our best when we can circulate and care at all levels in a community, but not be at home in any of them, rather being the "resident aliens" we are called to be.

News at last

I'm in the middle of watching the best news I've watched next to the bbc in years. NBC partnered with Philips electronics to have limited commercials so there could be longer and deeper stories, less sound bites and more conversation. What impresses me is the ability of a big organization to recognize the need for change and the ability to do it. Now, how about the church?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Potter's Gift

Being married to an artist is a learning adventure into the truly creative mind/soul. I watch how Martha takes ideas and transfers them to images, often searing and jolting, or whimsical and playful. But the creative process is a mystery to me, a person of word.
That being said, I have learned to appreciate artists and craftspersons of all types. So when one of the persons who attends Montecito Covenant who has been a potter for 30 years, offered to make a set of chalices and pattens (the bread plate) for the church, I jumped at the offer. Last Friday night, Lori Coleman presented me with these four chalices and pattens. They are light-weight so that one person can hold both elements in eucharistic stations around the sanctuary. The glazes complement the clay-tiles and adobe look of the sanctuary and this part of California.
Thank you Lori for sharing your gift to the Montecito Covenant Church community!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Reverie: University of Phoenix

Ever wonder if those new universities pay off? This 229.7 foot yacht is the property of the founders of Pheonix University. It's too big for our local harbor, so it sits moored off the shore, all 7 decks complete with elevator. I don't have words for this big boy!

eXTReMe Tracker