Jibstay

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sustained Thought



I read this quote on a leadership website and it struck a nerve.

On a typical workday, more than 75 percent of senior executives and managers have an hour or less of uninterrupted time, and more than 25 percent have less than a half-hour, according to a new nationwide survey conducted by NFI Research. Of the individuals surveyed, two-thirds said that they are distracted 11 to 40 times a day, while a third said their interruptions number 21 or more.

SOURCE: Chuck Martin Hold that Thought DarwinMag.com

I fight for time. I fight to have a sustained devotional life free from interruptions and distractions. My biggest enemy is me. I allow myself to become sidetracked by news obsession (why do I read the articles I read in the NYT's?), email reading obsession, voice-mail retrieval, snail-mail reading and now website and blogs I love to visit. The evening (like now) is the better time to go get lost on the web.
My challenge is a simple one; to read the Bible and pray...period. Lists, meetings, phone calls, are all things I allow into my head to go chasing off after like our old beagle dog on a scent. I have a hard time ignoring those tempting scents.
Or is it that I'm finding good reasons to avoid silent time with God? That's the harder reality I'm facing. I need to have sustained time alone with God if I'm going to keep up, if I'm going to be able to preach with power and pastorally care for people in the name of Christ more than customer satsifaction.
And if I, a paid religious professional with a private office and support staff to shield me, have a hard time with sustained quiet time with God, with sustained prayer and reading, how hard is if for folks with regular jobs? The quote above got me to thinking about how jangled and frazzled church leaders must be.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Remind me again






Remind me again who I am. It is amazing how many different signals we receive in the course of any day about our identity. Check your emails to sort the varieties of identies you have: investor, insured, impotent, traveler, book reader, music listener, commmittee member, group leader, husband, father, mother, wife, son, daughter, student, teacher....... I prayed with her the night before surgery, after she broke her hip, but kept forgetting it due to Alzheimer's, and would move her leg creating lightening bolts of pain. "You are a precious child of God" I whispered as I prayed for her. In the early hours of the morning, hearing the news from Isaac that he survived an armed robbery while walking, I fell back into a nervous sleep being reminded that he is not mine, we gave him away at the font.
This past summer in our travels to churches in southern France, I found myself magnetically drawn to the fonts in every romanesque church. There they stood, usually at the back, in a back apse, in the narthex, affixed to a wall. They acted as a frame to the whole nave, reminding worshipers of who they are: washed, redeemed, claimed and named children of God. In the infant baptismal mode, this happens not by the child's choosing, but by the parents', families' and community's choice. They choose to give that child a name and identity beyond ethnicity or class or achievement and proficiency. In fact, the audaciousness of infant baptism is that the child brings absolutely nothing to the font, not even their will or cognition. They are claimed first, and have a chance to respond later in confirmation.
As I wandered church after church, snapping pictures of countless fonts, I wondered, how many hundreds or even thousands of children were given their names and identities here? How many remembered them when the flames of persecution burned hot or they entered the dark nights of the soul?
Remind me who I am again.

Friday, August 25, 2006

You've Got a Reputation

Moving to a new part of the country as a total outsider has given me a whole new appreciation for the power of reputations. I am totally unconnected to persons, families, events, histories and legacies on the West Coast. So I basically view everyone with a blank slate. I assume people are who they present themselves to be, in and outside the church. I assume that people who come to and belong to the church are already self-admitted sinners forgiven by Jesus....and that's that.
But some people have warned me about a person' serious indiscretion years ago that has left a stain on the community. Long ago they did something pretty bad, and their actions hurt someone pretty deeply, and a portion of the community remembers that and cannot get beyond it. Some folks come from various communities that carry about stigmas and connotations of rigidity, wealth, poverty, tribalism, liberalism, and a whole lot of other things.
Some folks who are active in the church community in our town, are also active in various other enterprises, and their behavior in those two areas is not congruent. Even our close relationship with Westmont College has generated a wide range of responses within the commmunity, both strongly negative and positive, all based on reputation.
I recall the senior skit in seminary, which was a roast on our class. I'll never forget the way I was roasted. I changed my name from Don Johnson to D. Norbert Johnson and coasted along a career path on my father's reputation. That was when the class knew that my first call to a church was the same church (Lafayette, Indiana) that my father served. My peers assigned me a reputation as being a privileged insider, pre-annointed to leadership. No matter what I sadi, I could not shake that reputation as being nothing more than a clone.
I see reputations clouding our eyes with regards to race and ethnicity, gender and age, region of the country (Minnesota jokes vs California jokes) and past behavior (alcoholic, divorced, felon) and even achievements (CEO, bankrupt, PhD, published author, award-winner). The aggressive business person develops and creates a reputation. How does their personal faith affect their reputation? How much of a person's stained and spotted past shoud we keep in front of them as a reminder that we cannot trust them? How far does forgiveness and grace really go? How deep does the transforming power of Jesus actually work? How much change will we allow God to make in a person?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Any Prophetic Voice?

Three different people have talked with me over the last week about a sadness in their institution and denomination. It has to do with the intollerance of the prophetic voice. Basically all three (who need to remain nameless) voiced a word of critique to people in positions of institutional power. The response was uniformly the same: they were shot down. Oh, they were not handled rudely or with force, but they were told that their type of critique was neither wanted nor valued. The signal my three friends received was that the larger governing body wanted voices of affirmation, validation, support and team-spirit. Anything less was deemed disloyal, kind of like filtering who is allowed in to major political gatherings (only those with loyalty tickets).
When I pursued this with a friend who was in town with me, he said that his organization lost its last prophetic voice. When I asked his what that voice did, he answered that while they did not always like it when this guy spoke out, they valued his integrity and people in power would listen and sometimes even yield.
I have felt kind of badly over the past year about a good friend from the emerging church who walked away from the Covenant denomination. He was a bit bristly and ornery. He did not play by all the rules and could be disruptive. But he had an important word for today's church, but it came in too rough of a package.
How much dissent do we tolerate? That's a question that I need to ask right here in the church I serve, even within my own home. Do I value the oppostional voice as much as the validating voice? Do I see the gift in the "no" as much as in the "yes?" When someone disagrees with me, does that doom them to "the list" of those who will never serve? Who will not be asked to participate? Do we really want a genuine dialogue, or a nice monologue?
I would really encourage readers to go to a new, disruptive and even disturbing website called www.sutpidchurchpeople.com It contains the sounds we don't like, but really need to hear...the prophetic sounds.

Real Church

The last Sundays in August are usually pretty quiet affairs. Folks are heading out from or returning from vacation travel. Students are leaving for colleges (and here in Santa Barbara, returning to Westmont up the hill). There are very few August committee meetings. What fills our calendars here are weddings; just about every weekend and sometimes two a weekend, like this past Saturday and Sunday.
At Montecito Covenant, we even scaled back our normal 2 service schedule to 1 over the summer, meaning I am preaching one time for the first time in about 15 years! That is a relaxed summer routine, to begin worship at 10:00 am and be done and on the way to a picnic by noon.
This past Sunday's lectionary text I preached on was Ephesians 5:15-20, focussing in on "Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs." So we really tried to weave together a medley of old and new hymns and songs to reinforce the preached word. There is probably no better opening hymn for worship than "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." The congregation got into it right away, singing in parts with full voice. All that was missing was Cindy Reents on the grand Salem pipe organ. But our worship was sweet and real. It was one of those powerful moments where I just had to sing with my eyes closed, not theatrically, but to keep me from being distracted and simply praise God.
That's when I felt the movement of air as our Associate pastor Diana walked in front of me to a couple in the front pews just to our left. When I looked over, he was tipping into his wife and others were gathering around him to hold him up. He is a retired professor from Westmont, easily in his 80's, errudite and gracious. He did not faint, but was loosing consciousness. The church secretary, ever aware, walked out to call 911 and I walked over to see this gentleman, now seated and leaaning against his wife's shoulder. I prayed for him and told them help was on the way.
After our second chorus, I stopped the singing and quietly told the congregation that one of our members was experiencing a medical situation and we had called 911, so not to be disturbed when the Emergency Crew arrived. We kept standing as the Emergency Crew came in the side door and carefully stabilized and helped our member in crisis out the door into a waiting ambulance. The Associate pastor and her husband left worship to accompany the man's wife and spent most fo the day in the ER as he was evaluated for a stroke. Another worshiper drove the wife in their car to the hospital.
We then stopped singing and spent time in immediate prayer for our friend in crisis. What then happened was that worship intensified. It is about life and death and where our hope is or isn't. There was a pronounced fervency in the singing, some leaving the church too moved to even speak.
Our member is still in the hospital in critical care. But the wake-up call for us in worship las Sunday was that it is not about customer satisfaction and whether the power-point went right or I liked or did not like a particular song. Our church, with the spectrum of ages from newborn to 95 year olds is a wonderful reminder to me of the Real Church, with broad arms, not a niche market of special interest.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday Weddings?


For many years I thought Sundays were an ideal day for a wedding. It was sabbath. It is the day believers can be available. It certainly fits with a worshiping community like baptism and eucharist. It is an extension of worship. I would love to someday officate at a wedding that flows right out of a Sunday morning worship service.
Today worship was rich, poignant and painful. during the opening songs, one of our elder statesmen had a stroke. It meant getting him surrounded by helping folks, calling 911, informing the congregation of the intrustion of firemen into the sanctuary to get him to the hospital.
Worship got rich as we prayed and sang. I even felt a power in preaching from Ephesians 5:15-20: Wise Up: get wise, get worshiping, let your worshiping transform your life into grateful witnessing. The energy in the santuary was palpable and rich. Then, during the coffee time afterwards on the patio, the coming afternoon wedding began to assert itself, claiming more and more space, pushing out folks who were just talking to each other, blocking the driveway, and trying to push rules and regulations.
What was weird for me was the transformation of sacred space into a weddings-r-us rental hall. They were a nice couple who thought they rented the space to do with as they pleased, oblivious to a pre-existing worshiping community. It really confused the whole notion of sabbath rest. By allowing our space to be used that way, we in essence, require our members to "go to work" staffing the sound booth, kitchen and clean-up. By having other officiants move in, we relinquish what goes on and how it goes on. It is an event at Montecito Covenant Church, reflecting us to attending guests, without any pastors preaching and giving witness to who we are and who we worship.
When I officated at "outside" weddings in the past, for folks who had no relationship with the church, I looked at it as outreach and evangelism, though risky because I'm not sure how effective I was. But I was there, preaching, counseling, leading and guiding. I think I'll stay with and prefer weddings on Firdays or Saturdays, and keep Sunday for worship.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Martha's Art

I am married to an artist; a printmaker to be exact. Martha knew she had to be an artist from age 3. But getting her to talk about her art is almost impossible. I've learned that over 31 (soon) years of marriage. Art isn't a topic to be talked about, so much, for Martha as it is to be seen and experienced. So, friends ask, what does her art look like? I have some prints on my office walls and at home, but her art is in galleries around the US and now in Norway. So it's kind of hard for most of us to see what she does. And being a fine artist (vs commercial artist) she has shied away from computer graphics and internet technology...until yesterday.
Yesterday our son Luke helped Martha launch her first web-site of her art. So, I'm blatantly promoting it here for you to go see. Her new site is www.marthaensignjohnson.com and you can see some of her work that I have privately enjoyed for so long.

Talledega Nuit


Cancer can be funny. I've been with cancer patients who find all sorts of humorous dimensions to their predicament. Funerals can be funny too. Over the years of officiating at funerals, many times there are moments of tender and even hearty laughter. Surgery can be funny when the patient or surgeon discovers some positive outcome. Just watch the "Blooper" shows on TV and you will find audiences (and even victims) laughing at slips, spills, collapses and crashes. But the context and the setting is not funny. Funny is pulled out of tragedy and chaos to encourage the human spirit, to triumph.
I went to see Will Farrel's new movie "Talledega Nights" with my non-movie-going wife and visiting son last night. And it has its incredibly funny moments; product palcement and endorsements that are outrageous, a hillarious spoof on family prayer, and a general mocking of Nascar culture.
But the context was far from funny, it was tragic and toxic. In the middle of a humorous scene, crude and vicious words would spill out onto the screen. Little boys would say things about their grandpa that were so mean and hurtful, only to have it laughed off. Hormonal urges were announced and described in a detail that rendered characters into copulating animals.
That's why I think "Nights" is a fitting descriptor of this movie, because it is a moral dark night: commitment, caring, decency, respect, marriage, sexuality and friendship were all mocked and defaced.
I do not think of myself as prudish. But when I saw the PG-13 rating, I assumed it would be funny, with some edgy humor. Terri Gross on "Fresh Air" conducted an in-depth interview with one of the supporting actors, protraying the film as a campy comment on modern American life. If so, we are in real trouble because there is no moral flooring no thought, just urges. Yikes!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Leash Your Dog


Last Monday was a postcard day in Santa Barbara, low 80's, bright sun, low humidity. So, while my wife went to work in the garden, I took off for the beach with my new body-board, a bunch of magazines and a folding chair. I wanted to have the options to read, sleep, swim or play in the waves all by myself (almost a new childhood). I arrived at our favorite little beach and walked down to an open area with a suntanning couple on one side and two women with children and two dogs on the other. When I went to unfold my chair, this one black dog took offense and came at me with fangs bared and growling that deep growl. I worked for too many years in for a veterinarian to take any guff from a dog. I took off after him with my folding chair, which got the women and kids kind of excited and they grabbed him. I kind of loudly said that their dog should be leashed according to the sign entering the beach. They did not say too much, but held on to the dog.
Within 30 minutes a Sheriff's deputy came walking down the beach with a man in swim trunks and a towel and apporached the two women. I was close enough to overhear their conversation. Evidently, shortly before I came along, this other guy tried to lie down on the beach and the same black dog took the same offense, but it BIT him! The Sheriff's deputy spent time on his cell phone and wrote up a ticket for the woman with the black dog and gave her a pretty long lecture before ordering her off the beach. Then he talked to the bitten man and told him about the impending impounding of the dog for rabbies testing and his need to go see a physician.
Now, I have thought about it all week. Why did those women allow their biting dog on the beach in the first place? And when the dog bit the guy, why in the world did they stay, and allow the dog to run around unleashed, barking at others? Dumb! It was their responsibily to police the behavior of their own beloved, though misbehaving dog.
That's my take on Israel and Hezzbolah (sp?). Where are the Islamic clerics who should say "Stop shooting rockets from residential neighborhoods into Israel! There is no good outcome for that barking behavior for anyone!" Now I know international diplomacy is enormously complex and multilayered. But still, I should not discipline your children nor you mine. We should attend to our own homes leash our own unruly pets. And I think tonight that those in religious authority are not doing their job and they should be.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Yesterday's Normal


Ever since I received the phone call from my brother with the questions,"Have you heard the news?" I have been devouring and digesting news about the most recent terrorist attempt to wreak havoc on the West. On the one hand I am proud of an applaud the solid police work and international cooperation that intercepted these death-merchants. But on the other hand I slap my hand down with frustration and say "Oh, shoot! Here we go again!" New procedures, new banned items, new worries, new and longer lines. The only really safe way to fly is if we all flew naked. Though just the thought of that would keep me on the ground.
In one article I read I came across a poignant phrase that summarizes the pace of change "yesterday's normal." That really encapsulates my sense of what's happening; or norms keep changing, old rule books are thrown out. We have new ways of fighting called asymmetrical warfare. Tom Friedmans' "The World is Flat" hit on a number of these processes. But the sum result is that the understanding of what is normal is fleeting. That works for the other areas of our world like commerce, health-care, education and computers and internet.
I am no Luddite, with a penchant for crawling into a cave with a candle. Instead, I wonder if this is not a call to the church to reassert what is eternally normal, true, beautiful and right?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

There are times!


There are times it does not get any better, and tonight was one. We have been having regular Wednesday evening dinners in the courtyard. Form 6pm on folks gather, bringing potluck foods or money to pay for a pre-made dinner by a local group of special needs adults who have prepared dinners the day before. Different groups of adults set up the courtyard and then tear it down afterwards. Each Wednesday the number hovered around 100, just to hang around and eat.
Tonight was the last night, and it was a talent show to beat talent shows.Serious music was matched with silly. We laughed and cheered, and loved being a family together. Last Sunday we gathered around the Table for holy communion. Tonight we gathered around tables for holy fellowship.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Leaving and Arriving

It's soon a year since I left Salem and arrived at Montecito Covenant. I don't like to think about it, but I'm now getting almost good at leaving and arriving. It's the fourth church we have served. We have deep and wonderful friends in all the other churches. Over the years we have visited them, they have visited us, called us in times of crisis and joy.
During the first moves, I don't think I left well. Pastors fall in love with churches and members. We celebrate births and deaths, marriages and anniversaries, graduations and promotions. We grieve with each other at losses and wounds. We wrestle together on boards and councils, committees and task forces, building groups and Bible study, missions trips, ski trips and Bible travel. These are all friends I will love till I die. But I'm no longer their pastor.
My problem was that I sometimes felt free to step back in a comment on the different decisions my predecessors made, the changes they made to the ways I used to do things (so very well in my thinking). I would allow myself to be asked back to funerals and weddings, when really, I should have gone back as a family friend and insisted my successor took the lead. That used to be so hard to do, to leave and let go. I felt like I was abandoning my friends to someone who could not pastor nearly as well as I could.
But, over the years, I have come to realized that as long as I kept acting like the pastor in former churches, providing pastoral guidance and leadership, I was simultaneously doing two unhealthy things: I was not allowing my successor to be the pastor whenever I showed up and I was not fully present to my new congregation because I had a "kept church" I would go back to, dividing my loyalties.
I hope to be a better predecessor to my successor at Salem than I have been in the past to others. I think this is a bigger concern out there than is talked about. Part of it is in our congregational polity, the Superintedents really don't have any teeth to bite with to reign in and call to accountability the behavior of former pastors. I would love to see a general discussion on some level about ethical guidelines for leaving and arriving.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Today's Sermon: Real Bread


This post is a bit different than all my other posts. It's today's sermon in response to a question how I do a sermon (based on my last post about knowing the notes). While I do podcast most sermons (I don't, a 13 year old boy from the church does it), it does not have the capacity to be looked at and analyzed because you must take time to sit(or walk) and listen. That, I think is one of the powerful dimensions of preaching in that it is primarily in the moment with a congregation. A sermon does not have that much life on its own. It is a relationship carved out of the day-to-day interaction between pastor and parish (the larger community in which we live). So, this is what happened today (less the music, announcements, children's moment, prayers and communion).

There are few more passionate topics of conversation than food. O, maybe music and language would rank uo there, but talk about food and everyone is an expert. We all do food regularly. Some of us more regularly than others.
Martha and I visited the Santa Barbara "Fiesta" this week and samples some of the food from the booths along with Liam Murphy (MCC's new Youth Director).
Every year about this time, my son Isaac and I would spend one day at the Minnesota State Fair. We followed, over the years, an almost strict pattern of the sites we would visit. No one joined us in this. It was just father and son. We would see the farm equipmen, trucks, boats, the largest sow, the horse barn, the 50cent milk booth, and then the foods. Most of the State Fair foods were cooked on a stick. The Fair is ususally hot, nolisey, dusty and crowded. But it was an event shared with my son and I loved it...and now miss it profoundly!
Holidays often revolve aroudn special foods families enjoy. They can be complex gormet meals or simple hot dogs grilled on an open fire.
When we visit with people from other countries and other cultures, it is always fun and eye-opening to talk about food.
But, have you ever stopped to consider and reflect why it is you like the food that you like? Why are your food preferences so strong...especially as you age? Why is it almost impossible to go to a movie after a full dinner and not buy a bag of popcorn? Where does that mid-afternoon chocolate craving come from? Why do kids (and some adults) like one type of breafast cereal over all others? Why does your car go almost into autopilot to an "In-and-Out" burger stand?
In Eric Schlosser's award winning and soon-to-be movie "FAST FOOD NATION" he takes a hard and critical look at the world of fast food. We Americans spend more on fast food than on higher education, personal computers and new cars. We spend more on fast food than we do on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and movies combined! Schlosser says "A nation's diet can be more revealing than its art or literature."
As I re-read (scanned) this bood again this week, I was impressed again by the amount of time, energy and money put into the packaging, media-placement, flavor-enhancing and branding of food. A basic premise Schlosser operates under is that our food preferences are established during our first years of life. It's the process of socialization where children learn to eat what the adults around them eat. And once patterns are set, the smell of food, its aroma is powerfully connected to our memories, hence comfort food...just like momma used to make it, or the smell of grandma's kitchen. You know what certain smells or tastes do to you, they flood you with feelings and memories.
Our texts for today revolve around two food stories. On the one had they are very different ((Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and John 6:24-35) and on the other hand they are remarkably similar. The text from Exodus and its companion in Psalm 78 is about Israel learning to let go of their memories and trust God.
Israel was facing a harsh and unknown future in the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea. They had just escaped certain death at the hands of Pharaoh and his armies, but now they faced the heat and the sand, and the unknown. So they complained (Ex 16:3) "If only we had died back in Egypt where we sat by the stews and at our fill of bread!"
What were they in Egypt? What was their former life really like? SLAVERY! They were persecuted, abused and killed. And all they remember now are some grand meals? What's with that?
Think about it. How long were they in Israel? (400 years). 400 years of slave memory trumped less than a year of freedom memory. They had strong memories of slave-food, slave-life, slave-lviing. And part of the Exodus and the 40 years in the wilderness is all about erasing slave-memory for peopel-of-God memory. So God started with a new food (even before the 10 commandments) a new bread called "manna". Which is really interesting because the hebrew word for the question of the Israelites about this new stuff "What is this?" is translated "mannu?" and the answer is: Manna!
This new bread was not a bread that was baked but received freely. It was not a bread that could be stored, hoarded or controlled, but was trusted for daily. This became Israel's Real Bread, a new memory. And on top of this story is our gospel lesson for today (Read: John 6:24-35)
I love this text. If you look back to the beginning of John 6 you will read the great story of the feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. This is probably many believers' favorite miracle. I ask confirmands during the year about their favorite miracle and this is always near the top. It's a story about the power and abundance of Jesus. It's a story about his compassion for a hungry crowd that the disciples wanted to send away. It's a story about Jesus using the gift of a child, meager resources; kids count to Jesus. And it's a story about the remaining abundance of 12 baskets after everyone is filled. This is so cool! All shortages are overcome by God's grace!
Our text begins part 2 to the story. After the miracle Jesus withdrew and sent the disciples out on the boat. They hit the storm. He walked to them and calmed the storm and they landed safely. But the crowds sought out Jesus. They wanted more Miracle. They wanted anothe banquet of loaves and fish transformed. They wanted another free feast. Because in their memory this was all good. When we are with Jesus great things happen.
How many of us ahve that very spiritual journey? A journey that is really like that of the hungry crowds? We have had the mountaintop experiences with Jesus at camp, CHIC, retreats, small groups or mission trips. We have experienced being overwhelmed by the Spirit at concerts, Promise-Keepers, and big worship. And we want more of it, another outpouring of the Spirit, another miracle feeding of our chronically hungry hearts.
I've been there. I know what that's about. There are times I can tast the grand worship and great speakers like Henri Nouwen, Earl Palmer, Marva Dawn. I can almost hear the powerful sounds of Salem's great organ playing Widor's Tocatta and Fuge and the full choir singing a Bach chorale or a full orchestra with brass and stings.
And Jesus said to those crowds almost the same thing that God said to Israel; that old bread of your keeps running out and perishing. I have something more for you, a true bread that comes down from heaven and does not just satisfy, but actually gives life.
Notice how Jesus does not berate the crowd, but invites them in, invites them in to a closer walk with him. He does the same with us today. He really, really knows how hungry you are. he understands your cravings for the old foods of your memory that keed spoiling; like the foods of power, control, money, status, health. he completely understands the uncertainties of your life as you cross your Red Sea into this next chapter. And Jesus graciously offers us what he offered the crowds and his discples; himself, simply himself. He is the bread of life.
That's what we are doing here at the Table today; an essentiall simple act done by believers across space and time. We take bread and cup as a simple act of taking Jesus into our lives, to satisfy us and make us live. As we prepare to receive the real bread from these loaves and cup from the trays, let's sing reflectively and prayerfully what we believe in the song by the Getty's "In Christ Alone."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Learning the Notes


I've been thinking about notes lately. Last night I was at a hotel listening to an acquaintance play flamenco guitar. This young man was a classicaly trained pianist, went to a music conservatory, has toured and studied in Italy and now plays clubs. His depth and rich tones, flowed effortlessly in the hour-and-a-half I listened to him. It reminded me of a conversation I had in Minnesota with two church musicians. One practiced rigorously so that every note was played as the composer intended them when the music was written. This musician would freely search out harmonizations and arrangements, modulating from the hymn into a free harmonization with the congregation. The other person, also a trained muscian, told me that notes did not matter that much. Instead, they were a platform from which the music could take off depending on the mood of the musician or the spirit of the worshiping group.
Then I have been reading Scot McKnight's blog on "Plagiarizing Sermons" and all the interesting comments. And I think I see a link here. There are pastors/preachers/worship leaders who feel it's OK to grab what's out there and combine it and mix it together to make a sermon. The "notes" as it were, the words from the text of the Bible, are suggestions to launch their own thoughts, to follow their church worship themes. But there does not appear to be a seriousness with the biblical text in its Greek or Hebrew construction. They get the "gist" of the text and go from there.
I think the "notes" deserve far greater attention. Each and every time I preach I need (though I often do not want) to go back into the text, word for word and see what it says...again. Yes, I use resources, lexical aids, commentaries, internet searches, other authors to help me come to terms with the "notes" of the day.
If there is an argument for seminary and classical theological training, here it is: to teach emerging pastors and leaders what it means to preach and be grabbed hold of by the word of God. Verb tenses and cases matter. Pastors who tell me that they never learned Greek or Hebrew are, I am sure, fine servants of God and obedient servants, just like there are many fine musicians who play by ear and can't read a note of music. Too bad. The notes do count, they do matter.
But I wonder about the roll of notes in worship today. I have a young friend in another church who says he loves hymns, but when he has to hold a hymnal with all the lines of text and notes, he get too nervous to sing. He likes the words on the screen. But aren't the notes and the harmonizations enhancements of the words? Don't we need to take the notes as seriously as the text? But how can we take notes seriously if our culture no longer reads the notes?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Boyd's Big Splash


Just before leaving on a long trip this summer, a friend gave me a blue-covered book with a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding a cross. "You need to read this book." she said. "You won't always like it, but it's very good and very important." I took the book with her giving me a wink and tucked it away in my luggage.
Several weeks later, now on a long vacation, I pulled the book out and started to read it. I could not put it down. She was right. It is a troubling book to read. It is jarring in some of the things Greg Boyd addresses, assumptions I quietly carried around about faith and citizenship and civil religion. I really like getting along with the community in which I live. I like politicians (of any party). And I get ruffled when I read about some group that threatens to take away some civil right I have. I want to fight back.
I also know Greg Boyd. We have worked together and prayed together with Efrem Smith and Sanctuary Covenant Church as it began some years ago. Greg really loves Jesus and really knows his Bible. Greg says stuff that most of us just think. Greg gets in trouble a lot. Greg pays a price for saying what he does.
Since last Sunday's New York Times featured Greg on the front cover, he has made a big splash and I have been reading all sorts of blog sites and comments about him. But most comments are about the article, not the book. Many comments are topical springboards that are really not about what Greg said, but what different authors think.
It's time for the Covenant to invite Greg Boyd to address the Midwinter Conference and give us all a chance to interact with his provocative thoughts and ideas about serving under others. I know schedules are made years in advance. But wouldn't it be fun to have someone you really want to hear?

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