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Friday, September 29, 2006

Clergy: solution or problem?



Thomas Friedman wrote a great editorial in the Friday September 29 NYT's that keeps echoing in my mind. In it he says that one of the key differences between Islam and Christianity is that Islam has no pope, no clerical hierarchy and Christianity does. So when one rogue pastor spouts off some racist diatribe, his or her denominational supervisors (superintendents, bishops, execustive presbyters, etc.) can step in and say they disavow the speach and they can discipline heterodox and heretical speech. Not so with the Islamic mullahs, over whom there is no hierarchy. They are the ultimate independent clergy, who are as authoritative as the crowds they can command (Joel Osteen anyone??).
The thing that got me thinking was about the role of the professional religious persons in our society. Are we part of solution making or problem stirring? It's interesting that a number of reforming movements in history are anti-clerical (French Revolution for one, Communism for another). Does Greg Boyd's book on "The Myth of a Christian Nation" carry more weight when he focusses on on the necessity of divesting ourselves of "power over people" and instead adopting Jesus' method of "power under people" in servanthood and sacrifice?
In a conversation today with a person who asked me to attend a parachurch dinner, he asked me how I should be listed in the program? I asked him how he was listed. He said by his first and last name. For the first time I asked if he would just list me as "Don Johnson." No "Rev." or "Pastor" or "Sr. Pastor", just me. I really want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Any Good Questions Recently?


The phone call came from across the country. My friend, from whom I have not heard in a long time, called to ask me a question. It was a serious question about a situation in her church. She trusted me enough to ask a question and then listen. At a dinner recently, I sat with a couple who could not ask a question if their lives depended on it. All they could do was spout opinions; learned, errudite, opinionated. Conversation with them was more like fencing than dancing. Thrust, parry, jab, SCORE! For some reason, I have been attentive to times when genuine questions are asked, and I find them few and far between. Certainly it does not happen on TV talk shows or panel discussions. That's often more like verbal warfare than a genuine exchange of ideas. Our political landscape has become so polarized that we have devolved into a nation of "real Americans (like me) and everyone else, Patriots and everyone else, Christians and everyone else." (Ray Suarez' new book "The Holy Vote"). Even blog sites like this can be places for spouting without dialogue, one-sided air-horns blasting into cyberspace.
Who's asking the questions today? When is the last time someone asked you a question and then waited and listened to you? How about in your marriage and family? Parents, are you asking questions that run deeper than tasks and responsibilities? Spouses, are you asking questions beyond calendar and budget? Church leaders (denominational officials) when is the last time you came to a church to ask questions and listen instead of promoting your agendas?
I have been reading through the Bible for years, underlining all the questions. I've found that God is a great question-asker. In fact, God asks the best questions ever asked: Adam, where are you? Who told you you were naked? Where is your brother? Wow!! And more than that, God really listens to our answers. Worship needs to be more about great questions than well-crafted answers. Questions mean mystery. Questions bring dignity and ownership. Questions imply mutuality and relationship. Questions create trust and intimacy.
Any good questions out there?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Missing the Target


We have been loyal Target shoppers for all the 13 years we lived in Minneapolis. Target had good values, great customer service, convenient locations, and creative designs by designers like Michael Graves. Target was a store that seemed to model progressive care for its employees and energetic involvement in the community. We were hooked on Target. So hooked that when we moved to California over a year ago, we made weekly (now every two weeks) 40 mile trips from Santa Barbara to the nearest Target in Ventura.
But we began noticing a difference here. At first we attributed it to regional differences; different customer preferences, different staffing configurations, maybe even different management. But today our experience was really different. Martha needed to replace her old analogue Timex watch. We found just what she was looking for and asked the jewelry person if she could remove a couple of links to fit Martha's small wrist. Abruptly she said "We don't do that." Martha objected that she purchased a similar Timex at a Target years ago and they routinely removed some links to fit her wrist. Nothing doing. "We don't do that here." she said, and walked away. What?
I'm wondering if we got a grumpy employee or if this is the new way for Target to cut costs, no on-site customer service, cheaper staff, buy the box as it is and take it home? Is this your experience with the Targets where you shop and live?

Mixed Signals: growth not membership?

There is an enthusiasm at Montecito Covenant church that is palpable. Attendance numbers are high, giving is strong, 7 new small groups are about to form and musical talent is everywhere. Every week someone new approaches me with an idea for a new ministry initiative, a new way to use their spiritual gifts.
There is a sense that spiritual life is not about going to church but being the church where we are, where we live. I sense a deep appreciation and love across generational lines and even an appreciation for different musical expressions in worship. The younger worshipers enjoy singing classic hymns and older worshipers appreciate deep scriptures set to new tunes and rhythms. It's sometimes a challenge just to stay on top of it all.
But here's the wierd thing now. We offered an Inquirer's Class shhortly after everything started up this fall. The momentum and mood seemed right. People are finding MCC as their church home and calling it such. Yet, for two straight weeks nobody came. We sent out letters inviting new attenders, newsletter, bulletin, powerpoint and verbal announcements, and still no takers.
Is this the curve of things to come? Is institutional membership increasingly a marginal (if not negative) aspect of discipleship? Is it time for established churches to rethink the meaning of belonging into biblical categories and not not-for-profit constitutional requirements? Or is this a caving in to a culture that resists serious commitment and wants to sample spiritual products from a wide range of vendors? I'm in that middle territory of knowing we need to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability, yet wondering if we are not also compromising and being coopted.
I've written to some of the emerging church leaders I know, asking them what they do about official membership, but have heard nothing yet, so I'd be most appreciative if you have insights what your church is doing or what you think about membership in general to a local church.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

When the Wind Shifts


This unedited photo was taken 10 minutes ago from the balcony of the church. The normal winds coming off the ocean, bringing cool weather and blue skies, shifted late this afternoon, bringing to soot laden clouds from the Los Padres "Day Fires" burning over 100,000 acres out in the wilderness. The immediate effect is the bronzing of the sun. Next comes warmer night air than day air. The winds in the desert hit 60 mph, fanning the fires dangerously (not for us in Santa Barbara). If the winds play out like last week, the morning will bring a light dusting of ash and thick air all day. Interesting stuff!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Jesus Camp...we need to talk


The new movie "Jesus Camp" that premiers tonight needs a conversation among thinking believers and this means some (maybe most) pastors need to go and see this movie and make comments on the Covenant Blog and in their churches. From what I've seen in trailers and interviews, this is some manipulative and almost abusive stuff. Get ready to go to a movie to do some work.

Another Kind of Space





Our Lady of the Angels cathedral is located just down the block from the Walt Disney Music Hall designed by Frank Gehry. Yesterday we visited both places and the contrasts could not be more profound. One is majestically linear and strong, the other is ephemeral and swirling, as if ready to fly away. The Disney hall has, I think, no straight lines, by planes the sweep into and over each other, as if dancing and singing.
Which is the more spiritual? Would the Gehry building be a better sacred space than the cathedral? Which one speaks to God's character and qualities? Which building reflects transcendence? Which one immanence? Where is story and where is magic? Is mystery better depicted in dark recesses or curving surfaces? Those two buildings, so close together almost create their own conversation for people intrigued by space.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

LA Our Lady of the Angels




It was Martha's birthday today, so along with a friend we toured Los Angeles, principally the new cathedral Our Lady of the Angels. Oh my! I was unprepared for the stately beauty in the middle of the smog and the traffic, an island of stability and calm in a noisy place. It is oriented East/West to tell the story of Easter sun-rise in the chancel and judgement setting in the narthex. The interior soars with light coming through alabaster panels. The sides of the sanctuary walls are paneled with tapestries, embroidered with immages of the lives of the saints of the whole church (obviously less some Protestant names).
I got homesick for Salem Covenant in New Brighton when I saw the magnificent pipe organ tucked in the front corner of the chancel. It is paneled in cherry wood and seems ready to launch. We stayed for a noon mass. But the organ was used timidly to accompany the organmaster as he chanted the mass. It was not turned loose for a big sound.
At noon time I made a quick count of 150 people in front of us (we were half-way down the nave). The population was a hodge-podge mix of ethnicities, genders and social groups. They all came to worship is a sacred space in the city of Angels.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What a blessing!




We drove through the early fog to the harbor and rode in a dinghy out to the waiting boat. Peter and Lisa, invited Martha and me and a friend from church to participate in the blessing of their boat. The new priest at the Santa Barbara Mission, Father Dan, (oldest church in California) came out later in another dinghy in his brown cassock, sandals and boat-blessing-rite. He asked me to read the Gospel lesson (Luke 8:22-25) about Jesus stilling the storm. We sang a Psalm responsively and he offered a prayer for blessing. Then, singing a refrain to God, we processed through the boat, Father Dan in the lead, with his bottle of holy water, the owners next, and us, a four person choir, following up in the rear.
After the blessing, we sat down to breakfast and coffee and talked about salvation and baptism. What a morning!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Getty's Here tonight!


This is probably too late for most readers, but Keith and Kristyn Getty will be performing a free live concert here at Montecito Covenant Church on Monday September 18 at 7:00 pm.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ashes & Temptation





It was dark when I stepped outside to look for the Sunday paper. But my nose woke me up quickly. It smelled like Africa, the smudging aroma of wood fires that were everywhere when Martha and I visited in 1994. But I immediately knew this was not Africa, but Santa Barbara, and some neighbors must have let a camp fire burn late into the night. After breakfast, shower and changing, I walked over to church, and the sky was way too dark for 7:00 am, and it had a yellow tint. That's when our Director of Music Arts, Dan Bos, told me that this was smoke from a fire in the Los Padres National Forest, being blown from the inland wilderness South and East over the mountains across the coastland and out into the ocean. These are the Santa Anna winds that fuel California's fires. A thin layer of dust covered everything. As the sun rose, it was framed by the smoky air.
Worship today focussed on Jesus' temptations in the wilderness, with vivid images of the rocks placed on the altar. Diana Trautwein preached a powerful sermon identifying with Jesus' temptations and inviting us to write down on a blank piece of paper our wildernesses, our temptations, and our identity. During the last songs we were invited to bring those slips to the front and drop them in a basket. At the last minute, I offered to take them out into our hard-dirt courtyard and burn them as offerings to God.
When I lit the pile of paper, many from the congregation gathered around, watching their temptations turn into the smoke of confessed sins and forgiveness. So what began as a nuisance smell clinging to us, ended as the sweet smell of forgiveness and hope.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Wanna Buy a Ford?


We all saw it coming. You can't drive a vehicle today, or over the past 10 years, and not notice the trend: extreme. Hummers and Ford Expeditions looming over Kia's, Huyndai's and Mini-Coopers. In yesterday's NYT's Hummer is offering 0% financing for 60 months of Hummer payments!! While the Toyota Prius' still has a waiting list. I'm amazed in California to see all the big SUV 4-wheel drives on the road, where there is no severe weather like snow and ice, requiring chains and 4-wheel drive. Yet I have also seen some of those European "Smart" cars on the road, tiny and eficient.
So, when Ford announced yesterday that is was buying out contracts and closing plants, I was not surprised. Automakers cannot compete paying $64.90 per/hour wages and benefits in a global world, especially making gas guzzlers that increasing segments of the market have no use for.
It's a recurring theme in "The Long Tail; why the future of business is selling less of more" by Chris Anderson. The big-box operations have had their day. They are costly, bulky, slow-responding, and redundant. I do not need a bookstore when I have access to Amazon. Now, the book and Anderson's thinking is not so harsh as that. There is a place for bricks and mortar operations, but they must be lean, flexible and strategic.
How excited would you be today to buy a Ford dealership in some suburb? How about a Sears store in a big mall? These operations, once vital to the economy, have had their day. Theaters were challenged by video rental, challenged by Blockbuster, challenged by Netflicks soon to be challenged by..........
I think, feel the same way about the bureacratic structures of the church, of denominations and middle judicatories. They did have their time and place, when transportation and communication was more difficult. They centralized operations, support, communication and decision-making. But that day is fading. The rise of the para-church initiatives and missions is a genuine challenge to headquarter's run operations. Better communication, responsive structures, and cost efficiencies pose a real question to the on-going existence of big-box operations centrally located in expensive locations that are hard to get to.
My plea is not the elimination of structure, but the updating and streamlining of it. Otherwise, it's gonna look like a big Ford truck on a showroom lot.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sacred Space; further thoughts



We were having cofee this morning on his patio. He and his wife have been attending the church for just less than a year. They came from a interesting background of church experiences, from very contemporary to bery traditional. What caught my attention was when he said; "You're a pretty good preacher, but whoever designed the sanctuary and the regular altar pieces hold my attention more than your sermons." At first I was a little taken aback. But as we talked, he shared with me his reaction again the evangelical cult of personality driven churches that make worship successful if the preacher "delivers" a great sermon. He often gets lost in the stained glass, the altar, the cross, and the light.
I do not belittle the role of the personality of the pastor (being both a pastor and someone with a distinct personality). But I liked his thought that the sacred cannot be totally dependent on the leadership climate of the moment, the emotional setting worship leaders produce or the stirring story a pastor tells. If the Word is read and sung....that's really enough. God's encounters with his people throughout the Bible were not always channeled through and eloquent speaker (ala Balaam's ass!).
So when you go to your house of worship this week, were do you encounter the sacredness of God beyond the personality of the staff?

Tempted to become a Luddite

This is one of those days when my joy at the internet and computers backfired. I cannot get access to jibstay myself. My server can't find the URL, then when I log in with my password, it announced in big, bold black letters that access is FORBIDDEN?!?! What? Did someone slip something nasty into my site? Did I not pay some bill?
Then in the afternoon I tried getting a new HP printer installed on my wife's emac and it just would not recognize the installer disc. So I moved it to my office and brought back an identical printer and substituted it for my wife's, but flashing red exclamation signs came up announcing terrible mistakes and errors. So I reinstalled my wife's old epson C84 and now her printer heads are all gummed up, even after going throught the head-cleaning routine 25 times or more. Now, with her printer heads ostensibly cleaned, anything printed out looks like some middle-eastern script long forgotten.
Maybe it's time to return to bic pens and pads of paper!!

Monday, September 11, 2006

When should pastors know about people's giving?


At the meeting today of the Stewardship Commission, Don Fensterman gave a great report that went into provocative territory. He presented some material he gleaned from John Maxwell and Brian Kluth about what pastors should and should not know about people's giving in their churches.
The premise is that Jesus was not shy about observing giving patterns based on Mark 12:41a (watching people give in the Temple treasury). So, without fanfare, here are the principals we discussed and thought we'd love to hear your reactions:
1. Pastors should NEVER know the amount of dollars given.
2. A pastor should know when...an individual is being considered for a leadership position. The Treasurer should confirm that the candidate gives in a consistent, meaningful and proportional way.
3. A pastor should know...at the end of the year,a visual picture of the broad distribution bands of giving within the congregation, by ages, by amounts, by zip codes or other meaningful categories.
4. A pastor should know....when an individual STARTS giving consistently and should send out a brief note of appreciation for support for ministries and mission.
5. A pastor should know...when an individual signficantly DECREASES giving or stops giving. Typically this is part of a larger spiritual portrait that deserves pastoral care and conversation.
6. A pastor should know...when an individual has demonstrated an increased capacity to give. Too often people stay at the giving level at which they began congregational life regardless of capacity.
7. (We added this one as a group) A pastor should know....that all church staff are giving regularly and that the church leadership should know that the pastor gives consistently, meaningfully and proportionally.

So, what do you think? Is this sound spiritually? Does it keep privacy boundaries, yet keep finances part of one's discipleship?
let me know.

Thankful for an open church

I guess it's the rain that is making me reflective this morning. I'm in a hotel room reflecting on worship yesterday (a pastor's addiction) and getting ready for meetings today (a pastor's obligation). Yesterday at Montecito Covenant Church, we focussed in on Jesus' baptism. We are going through the life of Christ all year (our own type of lectionary) and yesterday was baptism, next Sunday is temptation, money, call of disciples, etc.
The music yesterday was quite a spread, from a semi-country prelude piece "Children of God" to a contemporary Irish hymn by Keith Getty, to a Civil War hymn "O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus". During scripture we sang the Psalter for Psalm 29 and I acted as cantor (the congregation sang along well), then before the sermon that devotional chorus "All Who are Thirsty". The end of the service drew us to a hymn by the English hymnist Brian Wren "In Water We Grow" and that's where we didn't. The musical line was too new and I did not provide teaching of the tune to the congregation. So it limped along.
But, you know what? Nobody complained or growsed that I chose a hymn that did not fly. Instead, I had a number come up afterwards and some email me their appreciation for being stretched and pushed. Tell me how much fun that is? This church gives me the freedom to flop wonderfully! And I, in trun want to reciprocate and encourage members and friends to try great things boldly for God, even if they sometimes flop.

It's Raining!


I flew out of Santa Barbara via Los Angeles to Chicago last night. I left bright sunny skies in Santa Barbara, and golden hued haze of Los Angeles as we flew into the night. Because of delays, I did not get into the hotel till about 1:45 am and dropped into a deep, exhausted sleep. But, true to form, I woke before the wake-up call came, had breakfast and returned to my room for devotions, email and preparation for the day's meetings.
But guess what? It's raining outside? Steel grey skies and rain pattering down on the roof in my 2nd floor room. I have not heard the sound of rain since May because of California weather/drought. It's a midwestern sound that calms my heart and makes me want to bail our on all my meetings and just hang out in my hotel room and read, write and pray. The rain acts as a blanet around me. The wonderfully bright sunshine of Santa Barbara (fog in the morning and by noon....zapp! bright blue skies) is so gorgeous it compels me out-doors. And I have noticed that I need the rainy times to slow me down to sit and pray, read and think.
When people ask me if I miss the cold of Minnesota, I say "Yes, I do." Not that I dislike 70 degrees almost every day, but I miss seasons and contrasts. What I miss most about the winter is the sound after a snowstorm....nothing...muffled silence except for the crunch of boots or skiis going through the snow. It's the same thing with the regular rains. This is a really good sound (normally excluding hurricanes etc.).
If I'm lucky, maybe I can even splash through a puddle today!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Baptism: into battle or just a bath?



The theme for worship today is the Baptism of Jesus. I've preached on it before. But this week I have been troubled by two competing images that were planted in my mind by Bob Shank: the cruise ship and the aircraft carrier. Everything about the cruise ship is devoted to creature comfort and everything about the aircraft carrier is devoted to launching planes into life-threatening battle.
Jesus' baptism launched him into the battle. Next week we will explore in worship his, and our temptations. Until the baptism and announcement and annointing for ministry, Jesus posed no threat to Satan. He was on a Holy Land Cruise, enjoying life in the Mideast and keeping his parents (most of the time) happy.
But once he was baptized, his identity and mission were fixed. He now took on evil in all its many shades and manifestations. And his life was no longer a pleasure cruise, but a mission.
Think of how ridiculous it would be to take a family vacation on an aircraft carrier; no pool, no game rooms no promenade deck, no deck chairs, no windows in rooms out of which to view the ocean. While I've never been on either one, I cannot image an aircraft carrier being a place for a lot of fun and comfort.
But worse, think of trying to fight a war from a cruise ship! Or worse, trying to land a jet on a cruise ship; catastrophe and carnage would be the only result, with no landing deck, no launching pistons, no weapons or electronic self-defense measures. It would be a total disaster.
I read in the NYT's yesterday an article about Pope Benedict's return to Germany this week and the declining conditions of Roman Catholicism in Germany and Europe as a whole. Barna's numbers are bleaker in Europe than in the USA. Yet Saturday's NBC evening news had a report on the growth of Islam in the USA that is exceptional. I'm not good at keeping numbers in my head, but I thought about the two news pieces and wondered: battle or cruise? Later this morning, when people arrive at the church I serve and other Christian churches, are they coming for a cruise ship buffet line of entertainment, comraderie, fellowship and good old fun or are they landing their aircraft on a flight deck for refueling, weaponry, targeting information and strategy? God help us if we bring out new shuffle board discs and fuss about the fruit bowls being low!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Parent or Patriarch?

Bob Shank is a guy I had a long cup of coffee with this afternoon. He mentors guys who want to make a significant difference in their life for God. He's for real. He's passionate. He's making a difference. He's my age, with grown, married girls with children, making him a grandparent. He said that it's far more fun being a patriarch than being a parent. Parents set boundaries, supervise, intervene, discipline, warn, and know what's best without being asked.
But a patriarch is valued for their wisdom and input when they are asked. Patriarchs are enjoyed for their presence and life-wisdom, not positonal power and authority.
The question Bob raised with me is whether churches treat members from the perspective of parenting small children; telling them what to do, disciplining and knowing what's best? Or do churches (read pastors and leadership) treat members from the perspective of patriarchs with adult children? Do we think members really know what's best for them? Do we trust them with decision making and investment of time and money? Why do so few churches trust members with simple keys to facilities?
It made me wonder the way we govern and lead. Do we listen to where the Spirit is rustling the leaves within the body?
Bob then rocked my boat by comparing the real church to an aircraft carrier: armed and focussed to launch planes into dangerous battle, recieve them back, resupply both planes and pilots and launch them again. It's dangerous and risky business with high stakes. But every peice of equipment and person supports the mission of launching, receiving and repairing planes.
Cruise ships are not desinged for battle, but for passenger comfort. They comfortably take passengers on rides, feed them, entertain them, let them off on safe harbors for short visits, and then bring them back to home port, hoping they will return again with friends.
I know the imagery is militaristic, but it carried the truth. Does the church have a clear mission or just every passengers' project? Do the church governing meetings reflect courage, risk, daring, and focus? Or is it to keep complaining passengers happy and crews well-paid? Hmmmm.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"The Long Tail" why local churches work and larger structures don't


"WIRED" magazine is part of my reading discipline. It's a magazine about technology and culture (and a lot of stuff I don't get). "WIRED"'s editor is Chris Anderson, who just wrote a book "The Long Tail ; why the future of business is selling less of more." This is a secular economics/business book. I explains some of the weird twists and turns going on out there in the marketpalce: like Google, Rhapsody, Amazon, Netflicks, and E-Bay.
He explains what's happening to TV viewing habits (going down) and newspapers (in real trouble). He explores and opens up what it means to operate with digital inventory and no production costs. He expains an econommy of abundance and infinite choice.
All the while I read the book, I kept thinking about the local church, the conference and the denomination and what these structures mean in today's morphing economy. It makes me wonder if top-down hierarchies have a limited life-span and local informal groupings that have little staff and low overhead are not the picture of the future of the church. Because the "product" of the church is ideally suited for a digital world: it's good news that is timeless and multi-cultural. our older big-boxes look more like Sears and Roebucks stores than Amazon.com.
I encourage leaders and pastors to get this book as a road-map for future ministry.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Meals on a Stick




I got a phone call from my son Friday afternoon. He took the day off and went to the Minnesota State Fair. That was an outing the two of us did together religiously. We had our own route through the Fair: machinery, boats, cars, hogs, chickens, horses, the midway (where all the rides are), an all-you-can-drink milk booth and then the salesmen hawking indestructible knives and sponges that will absorb five gallons of water.
But the culmination of our pilgrimage was to find the newest Minnesota State Fair food....something on a stick. Minnesota is known for stick-food. I've eaten deep fried twinkies on a stick, deep fried onions on a stick, icream deep-fried on a stick (that's right...I'm not lying!). Last year they offered spaghetti and meatballs on a stick and this year it is pictured here: hot-dish like you have in a Lutheran Church pot-luck...on a stick. Mmmmmm!

"Dear Church"


If you have been following some of my blogging thoughts, you know I am intrigued and disturbed by the disinclination towards official membership by the twenty-somethings who are regularly part of the church I serve. I wrote something about spiritual ronins that generated a good bit of dialogue. The more I pushed, and the more I listened, to voices like Doug Pagitt, George Barna, stupidchurchpeople.com and Scot McKnight, I heard those deep honest tones of disappointment with the structure of the local church and the dead bureacracy of most denominations. I did not like what I heard, being a long-time loyalist and multi-generational christian, and professional christian. But the more I listened, the more I had to admit they were right.
Then along came "Dear Church" by Sarah Cunningham. It was recommended on one of the too many blog-sites I visit regularly. I bought it and could not put it down. She writes with a painfully searing honesty. There are tears on her pages. The words she says in the first 7 seven letters are not words that are easy to read and take in. I fought with reactive defensiveness at first, but then realized that her observations are really a gift to the bigger church that wants to listen.
Her letter writing format reminds me of CS Lewis' "Screwtape Letters". Her mixture of humor and pain often caught me off-guard. Her 9th letter was the one that moved me to write this review: it's a confession and apology to the church in a way that told me Sarah Cunningham gets it.
My entire staff will be getting this book as assigned reading. You should too.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What a Great Job!


I am so honored to have the privilege of being a pastor. Today I gave my camera to a young person in our church and told her to "shoot away" all day long. Being Labor Day weekend, we were not quite sure what to expect. We had a "ministry fair" for the 2nd week in a row, with tables in the courtyard promoting various ministries the church participates in. The college ministries hosted a college and young adult BBQ. But it was still Labor Day and a lot of families do a last of the year travel get-away.
But to our surprise, we were mobbed by all ages. Seniors came, empty nesters came, young families came and college students came (free food really does it).
But at the end of the day, what jazzes me the most is the kids who come down front for the children' sermon. They are eager and ready and now, after a year, beginning to trust me. It was what I missed the most about leaving Salem, the steady stream of young people every Sunday.
I like children's sermons because they force me to come to terms with the text in a manner communicable with children. It's not dumbing down and much as distilling and clarifying. Dr. Fred Holmgren and Dr. Fran Anderson taught me this in seminary back in 1976-80. Fred said in a clinic on Christian Education that if I could not translate "amphyctionic league" into terms understandable to an 8 year old, I was the one who did not understand the concept.
Now I love the energy that flows in those brief moments the kids come running up to the front and gather around. It's where all the action is!

New Church Names

Church names used to follow several basic rules: either a geographic marker, a good Old Testament theological term, or a denominational identifier: First Baptist, Third Presbyterian, Ebeneezer Baptist Temple, Harbor View Congregational Church, Plymouth Congregational (in downtown Minneapolis?!?), Snail Lake Free Church, Lake Geneva Bible Church, you get the point.
But the advent of seeker churches and emergent churches have thrown those rules to the wind: Willow Creek Church, Saddleback Community Church, have dissassociated themselves from denominational labels. In the Twin Cities Wooddale Baptist Church carved off the Baptist name and just go by Wooddale (among all the famous "dales" in Minneapolis/St. Paul). I do get that change. Far from helping people understand a church's theology or direction, too many denominations have detracted from local church vibrancy with fringe political issues that are far form the life of the local church.
But now, emerging churches (and other contemporary churches) are creating a whole new library of church names: Aqueous, Reality, River 57 (or some number), Life, Solomon's Porch, Mosaic, Spirit Garage, Scum of the Earth, etc. These are names that make you wake up and think. They are names that try to speak to the inner life of a congregation, marking its spirit and direction. I think this is great.
I have some suggested future names that might be explored: Possibly, Potentially, Maybe, Floating, Considering, Browser. Just a thought.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I'm Married to an Obsessed Woman


Every morning we wake at different times. I'm the earliest riser, make coffee, eat Cheerios, read the NYT's and do email. Martha wakes just as I'm finishing the NYT's, pours herself a cup of coffee and goes out into the living room and sits quietly, looking at what you see in the photo above; an absolutely gorgeous garden. I kiss her goodbye, often as she sits on the window bench looking out on the garden. You see, that garden was a sea of periwinkle groundcover and briars when we arrived, with the three roses the only thing protruding from the sea of green.
Martha single-handedly pulled out the periwinkle, bought and placed all the plants, dug out the path, planted the smaller trees out near the road, and has been sculpting this gorgeous blue and grey garden in our front yard. It's a show-piece. I love looking at in the morning too, but not like Martha.
Well, today she came home from shopping and asked for help getting stuff out of the car. I asked, "what stuff?" She looked kind of sheepish and said, "some plants." "Some plants" filled the front and back seat and the trunk, wedged in among four bags of top-soil and steer manure. I'm not sure how the shock absorbers on the car made the ride home. I asked "What's with all the plants?"
"Well", she said, "What do you think I've been doing every morning on the window ledge? I've been trying to figure out what to do with this particular piece of the garden." I made the mistake of asking "So this is it? You're done now with the garden? You've planted everything?" Martha smiled a smile only those of you who know Martha will appreciate. She's not done with the garden, plants and soil.

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