Saturday, June 30, 2007

Northwestern College Choir: worship leaders

On my recent road trip to and from Portland Oregon in a rented convertible, I had a worship epiphany. It was Sunday morning at the base of Mt. Shasta. With the top down in the early chill, I found a religious radio station that played hymns sung by a choir accompanied by an excellent organist. I sang and sang and sang, often at the top of my lungs as I passed truckers looking at me quizzically. When the station faded, I pulled out my ipod and tuned up the Northwestern College Choir album "Transformation" and listened to their songs of praise as I cruised down out of the mountains on to the plain of I-5 going south. I was in a worship bubble of great sight, smells and sound. Get the cd!

Wedding Rehearsals

I am back in Minnesota for the wedding of Taylor Beahrs to Ruth Calvin. Taylor was a former confirmand at Salem Covenant and close family frined. Ruth and Taylor went to Minnehaha Academy with our daughter Liz. So we flew in for the rehearsal yesterday and wedding today. I'm staying with our son Isaac in his wonderful little house in south Minneapolis and Martha was going to stay with Liz in her little apartment close to Isaac's, but Liz is moving to Atlanta Georgia on Sunday to explore teaching jobs there, so her apartment is packed up and Martha found a bed with family friends.
The rehearsal itself was on a farm south of Minneapolis owned by the Calvin family. Like all rehearsals, everyone had an opinion of where who should stand. The officiating pastor, Christian Rausch, was more polite than I normally am and let people discuss options and alterantive ideas. The rehearsal lasted just over an hour, which was pretty good. The rehearsal dinner was at a very upscale downtown Minneapolis hotel, beautifully arranged with great food and wine. Randy, the groom's dad, had a carefully orchestrated plan for remarks, prayers, toasts and a slide show of the bride and groom. By 9:30, we had heard many tender and funny stories about the couple, I made my brief remarks about our need to memorialize significant events with meals and tokens to remember, ending with a comment about the value of the wedding ring. Then the couple's premarriage counselor asked to say some words. A baptist pastor, he got up for a few words which turned into a mini-sermon on the multiple joys and challenges of marriage. It was OK, but too many words.
Why is it so hard to keep our words shorter rather than longer? The older I get as a pastor, the more I value fewer, select words over a flood of verbage with long and complicated stories. Make my life rich and my words few.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bull-shot #2

The bungi-bull was a total success at Noah's today, even though one girl got a bit hurt. When all the campers left, the counselors and staff took their turns on the bouncing bull. Soon the group hooted "Pastor Don, Pastor Don" and I could not avoid it. I asked the rope-handlers to go gently with me since I have a wedding this weekend and need to fly. I'm not sure if they were gentle or not. but before I knew it I was flat on the mat looking up with everyone cheering and laughing. They never mention this aspect of ministry at Midwinters


The Jr. High component of Noah's Park 1/2 day camp is called "Beyond Noah's". It's an attempt to keep connected with youth who came through the Noah's VBS program, but were too old by Jr. High. This year, Lisa Holmlund and Liam Murphy reserved a bungi-bull for a 1/2 day. All the youth will have a chance to "ride" the bull (they have even threatened to hi-jack me). But before anyone rode the bull, Lisa delivered the devotional talk from the back of the springing bull. Needless to say, the campers' attention was fixed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

VBS: Noah's Park

Vacation Bible School has been a staple of my church diet since childhood. It fit nicely into an American model of children being out of school and having time on their hands. Churches saw this as a great evangelistic opportunity to reach neighborhoods. The prorams were themed, high-energy and full of crafts and skits.

The problem with Vacation Bible School (VBS) is the energy requirements for organizing a week of daily half-day activities is enormous. Teams of adults plan six months out. Recruitment for leaders becomes a full-court press, begging and cajoling folks to give week of vacation time to help. With 2-income families the norm rather than the exception, this becomes increasingly difficult. Some churches have decided to abandon VBS for regular, weekly events and activities run by paid staff and smaller volunteer leaders.

Montecito Covenant Church decided long before I arrived to keeps its VBS program called "Noah's Half-Day Camp". And when the courtyard fills with kids from all over the community and the band cranks up, I can see why they keep it going. My job in it all? Roving ambassador of good news. Happy camping!

Sunday, June 24, 2007


It's 7:00 am in a Best Western motel "dining room" on Sunday morning beneath the shadow of Mt. Shasta! I drove out of Portland yesterday afternoon so I could drive south to Eugene to see my son Luke play in a men's league Ultimate Frisbee tournament. I watched him play till about 6 pm when I got antsy to get back on the road. the 12 hour drive from Santa Barbara to Eugene was a bit too much for me to want to bite off in one day. So I drove till about 9:30 pm and slept in this sprawling motel complex. Now I'm enjoying the sounds of kids shuffling through the continental breakfast options, spilling cereal and waking up.
Annual meetings bring out the worst in me. It's like the two angels perched on a person's shoulder; one is cynical and the other is tender. The cynical voice shouts loudly to me. Reading my blog over the years tells you that I tend to be critical.
The Covenant Annual meeting is a good gathering of good people intent on doing good things for God. There was a lot to genuinely celebrate in so many areas. We are a fiscally prudent and desire to be faithful.
So what gets me cynical and critical? I guess it's the sense that there is an appearance of genuine dialogue, but a hunch that many of the conversations and decisions were made in tight circles long before the people gathered. Is that wrong? No, not necessarily.
The other force at work in me is the deep awareness that I am energized by the concerns of the local church. I love getting emails and calls from MCC during the meeting. Life is local. Pastoral concerns trump denominational directives. So, I'm getting on the road in a few minutes and taking the top down on the rental convertible and flying home to where I belong (with a little Bach blasting on the ipod!!)

Friday, June 22, 2007

President Palmberg's Report

Glenn Palmberg brought his report to the Covenant today in his quiet and halting and, often, very humorous style:12, 500 conversions across the Covenant this year. 2006 saw a 3% overall attendance growth in Covenant churches around the country. 2006 Covenanters gave $2.4 million to World Relief. 81 CHIC attenders accepted Christ, 527 sensed God's call to ministry. CHIC is molding the future of the Covenant Church. 1,817 youth paced 2.5 tons of food for hungry children. CHIC student offerings collected $101,000 for the start of a Christian school in the Sudan. Covenant website has 35,000 visitors per/month with 300,000 pages accessed per/month. Glenn celebrated web work without understanding how it works, but glad there are those who do. Glenn's report on the Ordered Ministry highlighted both the SPE program and women in ministry. The theme for the Covenant Midwinter Conference will be: Character; when no one else is looking. World Mission is on the rise again with 2,624 churches affecting a membership of 277,000 persons. Glenn made a spirited defense of the Covenant owning 2 hospitals in that they are cash-generators for the Covenant Church. National Covenant Properties loaned $27 million to 44 church projects in 2006. Covenant Estate Planning passed $400 million in asset management in 2006. $245 million is designated for future Covenant causes through CEP. North Park University has strong enrollement and faith, with a strong chapel program and student body interest in biblical studies that continues to grow. North Park Theological Seminary also continues to grow with 5 new faculty and enrollment growth. Church Growth and Evangelism statistics look like a mountain climb. Covenant has grown by 53% in the past 10 years, making the ECC one of the fastest growing denominations in the country. ECC is the 3rd most diverse denomination in the USA. Churches started prior to 1990 have experienced a decline in attendance over the past 17 years. A new department is being innaugurated called Compassion Mercy and Justice, with the intention of elected Deborah Blue as the new Executive Minister.
The challenges we face are: 1. Giving to budget decreases each year, 2. The issues of the environment and global warming are now part of the evangelical agenda. Our young people will not be a part of a church that does not face the environment seriously, 3. Immigration is an issue that must be clarified by our following of Jesus. It is a family-value issue, 4. Racism remains another real issue that must be called out as a sin. Covenant churches are either involved in both evangelism and compassion or are involved in neither compassion nor evangelism. "Good works create good will that create oppotunities for good news." Ray Johnston, Bayside Covenant Church. Glenn highlighted the Covenant chaplains serving in war zones around the world today.
Glenn's report was a tender recitation of ministries of compassion, mercy and justice. He highlighted tender palces of faithfulness. He advocates for the oppressed and minorities. The two impressions I received are that there is no one, strong driving vision, but a celebration of diverse and lcoal initiatives and organizational health. The other sense I receive as a middle-aged European-American is that we are not really needed. It is the chapter of ethnic and gender diversity dominates most agendas for leadership and placement.

Annual Meeting Observation: Girth

An anecdotal observation about Covenant pastors: we are getting bigger and rounder.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sexuality Paper discussed with energy

A paper commissioned by the Board of Ordered Ministry ("BOOM") entitled "Human Sexuality & the Marriage Ethic" was presented today in the agenda of the meeting with the intention of moving into small group discussions. That idea was quickly vetoed by the larger body in favor of an open discussion about the goal and purpose of the discussion.
The annual meeting of the Covenant asked the "BOOM" to present a reflection and theology paper on the 1996 resolution on human sexuality. What delegates received was a 30 page paper and theological reflection on the meaning of sexuality from the biblical viewpoint of Covenanters. The dissenting voices were concerned that this paper would become less of a discussion paper and more of a binding resolution. The covenant has valued the voice of dissent and disagreement historically. Would the adoption of this paper silence disparate voices, especially in regards to sexual orientation? Are we not a community that values right life and care for each other over right belief and doctrinal purity?
The response from many others spoke to the fact that we do have biblically defined guidelines for sexual behavior and can still be in dialogue and community with those who disagree. But their disagreement cannot be the basis for not taking a stand on normative biblical sexuality being hetorosexual love between a man and a woman within the context of marital commitment. One young preson near me was deeply impressed with the depth of thinking and expression within the ministerium. So, at the end of the discussion we voted to receive the paper as it goes to the annual meeting.

Covenant Ministerium facts: tipping point

Dave Kersten gave a report about numbers and trends within the Covenant ministerium. 1558 credentialed pastors. 131 newly credentialed pastors this year. 311 credentialed pastors are women. With 780 churches in the Covenant today (780 lead preaching pastors) that means over 50% of credentialed pastors are specialized pastors. 340 persons are in some form of Covenant External Orientation Program. It means that pastors are no longer defined just by the pulpit role, but wider types of ministry.

Annual Meeting Ministerium Worship

1:30 in the afternoon in Portland, in a conventional hall is a strange place to begin worship. A loud band up front, none of whom I know, is encouraging us to stand and put our hands together for songs I have not heard (not a new thing). We stood and stood, 2, 3, 4, a fifth song. The words were all good and the music was competent, but loud. But I felt weird, unconnected, like who are these people I'm gathered with? What do they have to do with me? How are we the body of Christ? Where do I fit in that body?
That is the challenge whenever I leave my comfortable community where I am know and have a role to enter a larger pastoral community where my role is passive audience. I wonder how many worshipers come to MCC for a frist time feeling much like this; strange, new, unconnected, pushed on with loud music made to stand too long? I'm stilllearning I guess.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Isaac 29!!

I'm too young to have a 29 year old son....or so I thought. Last week Isaac spent 10 days with us in Santa Barbara and we celebrated his 29th early. This year Martha got her revenge on Isaac's love-relationship with cords and wires. You see, since early childhood Isaac has had a fascination with things electrical and computer-related. His bedroom was always a spaghetti-bowl of wires of unknown sorts. We were sure he would be electrocuted before he was five...but he survived and thrived. When he moved away to college, we found entire drawers full of nothing but random (he corrected us and called them important) wires. A visit to his house is a discovery of what vericose plaster looks like, random lines of wired criss-crossing walls and floors connecting computers with computers with computers and sometimes a TV.
Now a company pays him to make sense of it all. But for good measure to remind him of his earlier years, Martha wrapped all his packages in tangles of wires and cords. Happy Birthday Isaac!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

World Vision YouTube

Kudos to World Vision for their excellent and pointed youtube entry. Check it out at world vision

Monday, June 18, 2007

Feeling Like Aunt Agnes

I know what Aunt Agnes feels like. You know Aunt Agnes. She is your weird single aunt, who lives in a different community, who is quite wealthy and gives really nice gifts. You love receiving Christmas and birthday cards from her because she was always generous. But you did not really care to hang around her too much because she was old and weird, she was not really cool, your friends wouldn't care for her, and you had better things to do, until your birthday of Christmas.
We all have persons in our life like that, who can give us stuff we need: wealthy members, influential leaders, socially connected persons, relatives of influential people. They are not really our circle of intimate friends until we need something.
Over the last months I have been amazed at how many "missions" and "ministries" are friends of Montecito Covenant Church. They are passing through southern California and would love to give a word of witness and share what they are doing in ministry. Sometimes dinner comes with it and a request for me to invited some church members, sometimes even with the foreknowledge of which members I should invite. Funny thing is that the list never contains single parents, retired pastors, or college students. The names, instead, are of those members who I already know are tapped on to give to all sorts of great causes, sit on boards and councils and lead fnd-raising events. I feel like Aunt Agnes, who knows it must be someone's birthday because now they are showing up to cut the lawn.
I was delighted last Sunday when our Conference Superintedent, Evelyn Johnson, turned to me and said, "So, what is exciting about life and ministry at Montecito these days?" She was not selling or asking, but listening. I need to fight cynicism these days because of where I serve. Many assume that the zip code of the church means piles of money. Some even joke about it. But I serve a church filled with great people who need Jesus, who need hope, who need the assurance of forgiveness, not another pitch.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Installing a Staff Member

Today we installed Lisa Holmlund as Director of Student Ministries. Evelyn Johnson, Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference came to the church specifically for to install Lisa. What does it mean? When Lisa was being installed I thought of all the staff persons over my years I have seen installed: Bruce Lindscheid, Eric Sparrman, Wally Coots, Steve and Marti Burger, Dennis Carlson, Kay Sorvik, John Larson, Bev Scripter, Ben Pease. Each person was the fruit of a long search process. It's always been an exciting and gruelling process to find the right fit, the right vision, and the right set of of skills.
But on the day of installation, I had this sense of holy participation in something much bigger than me and finding a staff person to get a job done. It's about being a participant in that deep inner sense of calling. It's about inviting a person to take a step of trust to join my community and team and thus to become part of their community and team. It's about bringing a person of God into this community who will indellibly touch the lives of students and parents. It's about observing someone watch and trust me with a significant phase of their career. It's about a church trusting me with a crucial person in the lives of their children and students.
I'd say it was a pretty holy day all the way around!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Great Dinner?

You've been there. We were invited to a home last night where a poster sign greeted us, drawn by all the kids in the family. A fire was burning in the outdoor fireplace, and we were greeted with hugs by the husband and wife and we went outside for appetizers and gentle conversation. Then the kids came out and we got down to business with some serious Piailla (sp?) of crabs, lobster, mussles and large shrimp. We gorged ourselves. Then came coffee and a home-made tart and more conversation until the little one came out and told us it was time for us to go home. We went home full and loved.
Jesus was invited to Simon's home with minimal welcome or hospitality. The nice stuff was on the far end of the table with Simon and his friends. Until the woman from the city showed up and showered Jesus with her tears, hair and perfume. Now he was welcomed.

In Praise of Dad

Being a dad and having a dad is a privileged to position; to reflect on his fathering me and engage in my fathering our three. Dad is my constant point of reference from my earlies recollection. He set the standard that I assumed was immutably true, like how a vacation should really be taken (one month, on a river, in Northern Michigan with kerosene lamps). He set our attitude about weather (it's always good, it's just what you wear). He set my attitude about sickness (think positively, it will go away, have some 7-up and get sleep).
After accepting Christ, he set my reading list (aKempis, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Elton Trueblood, D.T. Niles, Leslie Newbigen and too many to recall here). He loved to read and hated to fish or play golf (I'm just now learning...again..to play). Football was something to be watched with others so you can yell for the good guys in moral combat (he developed long reasons why some teams were inherently good or irreparably bad ...Green Bay Packers were always forces for virtue). He explained to me how the Superbowl really was a lectionary event, thus cancelling all church services Sunday nights. He has never missed a Super Bowl since they began. He set my understanding of time (mornings are better than evenings and read for at least one hour per/day in devotional concentration...often more). He always had an open door or phone for us (I was never put on hold or told that this was not a good time). He taught me how to shoot guns and respect them, though we never hunted. He modelled for me the virtue of curiosity. He passed on to me a deep distrust of elites, clans, clubs, cliques, secret societies, and dynasties. Hundreds of times he told me that we Johnsons were not pure-breads, but belonged to the ordinary class of cats and dogs. Never forget your poor immigrant roots and stand up for the rights of the underdogs. As a little boy he held my hand as we walked into the St. Paul Cathedral for a community mass after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. He introduced our whole family to his circle of friends, one of whom was the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, who stayed in our home (both as a child and later in Indiana with my family).
Wherever I look in my life, I see his fingerprints visible and beautiful.
Thanks Dad!


This morning, after my second cup of coffee, after reading the NYT's and all email, after visiting my regular blog-neighbors, I went traveling into my iphoto library (now at 5000+). It's quite humbling to go back through a digital record of where you've been. The screen was a scrolling flood of images, persons, events, and memories; all humbling and gracious. Kenya, Cairo, Hue Lake, Easter, Confirmation baptisms, picnics, visiting family and friends, mountain and beach vistas, lots and lots of laughing faces.
That's why I chose the photo above to capture the image of the pastoral life that I experience today; a surrounded life. We are literally surrounded by the church in the parsonage, surrounded by a wall delineating our home from church grounds, surrounded by a loving family with both sets of parents alive and active, surrounded by children who call this place their home. I made two home visits this week, where children greeted me warmly. One little boy, just entering Kindergarten in the fall, looked up at me and asked "Where do you come from?" How do you answer that? I am surrounded by staff and leaders who love Jesus and want to serve the church. I am surrounded by a congregation that cares and loves and gives and serves.I am surrounded by scholars, like those I met with this week to help dream about worship in the coming year.I am surrounded by books and words. I am surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12) that cheer me along the path.
It's a great life, to be surrounded!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

List Givers vs Load Lighteners

I love the lists I make for myself; lists for shopping, day-off prjects, books to buy, errands to run. I like making lists at work of projects to tackle, people to contact, sermon ideas to explore. Sometimes the lists avalanche into chaos, and I need to go back and rebuild them, edit them and clarify them.
But...I also like to give lists. The people I most like to give lists to are my children "You know you really should......" or "Have you contacted _________ yet?" or "What you need to do is ____________" or "If I were you I'd ___________". The other group I find myself giving lists to is the staff I work with. It's very easy to go into a staff meeting with a laundry lists of tasks I want to hand out. A former custodian once told me how much he dreaded staff meetings because it inevitably turned into a "to do" list or "complaint list" that he was loaded up with until the next staff meeting.
We make lists for others for two reasons: because we want to help them or because we want them to help us. The creature in tragically short supply is the list-reliever, or load lightener, the person who calls with ideas to help lighten someone's load. I hae a staff meeting today and I wonder if I will be a list-giver or a load-lightener? How about you?

Monday, June 11, 2007


The Soprano's ending this past week was a big disappointment because it just fizzled. Seth Godin's site does a great job speaking to cultural expectations for endings. How about life's endings? I've been at the hospital too many times when a person dies...silently just like that!

Mid-Life Blessings: Adult Children/Friends

Having children is a great joy, hard work, full of fear and terror, consuming energy, time and dollars. Each stage of child-rearing brings its own uniques joys and pains; from the physical trauma of pregnancy and birth to the developing years of potty-training, walking/crashing, bike riding and swimming. When the children are awake you are awake and alert. Only when they sleep do you have your own time. Then come the adolscent years of raging hormones, furious independence, good and bad decision-making, hints of adult-hood overwashed by impusivity and very bad decisions. College years are those times of aching loss of the nest and calls for money and laundry and the car keys when they come home for vacations to see all their friends. Those are times of long phone calls about relationships, vocations, hopes and frustrations.
When we moved out of Minneapolis across the country to California, the single biggest pain for me was the loss of proximity to my kids who were still in town, living on their own, in the own careers and independence. They would stop by for meals or just to say "Hi" in the evenings. I was really enjoying this stage of parenting, and the move wrecked it, or so I thought.
Isaac, our eldest, is packing now for the airport after spending 10 days with "the Geezers" as he calls us (really calls me). We whale-watched, swam, hiked, swam some more, shopped, toured museums and farmers' markets. At night we read together outside by the warmth of the patio chimenera. No heavy issues or big conflicts, just good times as a family. It's time for him to get back into his own productive world and friends and time for us as well. But it's been a sweet reminder of how much fun it is when your children become your friends.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Tim Hawkinson needs Notes!

The LA artist Tim Hawkinson is featured at the Getty Museum in LA. In one room, titled Zootopia, he has an array of fantasmagoric creatures made out of unique materials: a skeleton creature made out of formed sitting men, an octopus whose suckers are different sized photographs of mouths and teeth. But what intrigued me the most was his sound machine in the main rotunda of the building pictured above. It has huge bladders of air suspended high in the atrium connected to foil-wrapped tubes and pipes that jut this way and that beneath the bladders. They bellow and moan, groan, and humm. To walk in an out of the building quickly would leave the impression of undifferentiated sound. But while Martha and Isaac were in the gift store, I stood in the atrium and listened to the tune unfold. I recognized it. It was a variation on "A Mighty Fortress."
Over in the corner of the room was this contraption with painted spots of paper. The paper rolled through a reader that electronically actuated valves at the pipes that released toned air. It was a pipe organ working like player piano that looked like a sea-creature! But, it was note-driven. As I watched the paper slide through the reader I began to read ahead and could identify the notes on the scale.
In today's chord-driven, ear-trained musical environment, I still have a lingering love-affair with notes. Notes carefully placed in relation to other notes. Notes of varying lengths of time with designated rests and pauses, accents for pace and volume. It is complicated and many enjoy music by ear only. But I love the notes...and so does Tim Hawkinson.

Swedish Coffee?

The smell of fresh ground coffee at an outdoor barrista was too good to pass up. We were finishing the day at the J. P. Getty Museum in LA and had to stop for a fine cup of coffee before heading back home in late afternoon Friday traffic. I ordered two cafe au laits for Martha and me. These are normally morning coffees in Europe, but we have found them to be great afternoon coffees, robust regular coffee with steamed milk on top.
I brought them over to Martha and she burst into laughter. In the multi-cultural mix of LA, cafe au lait became cafe Ole (Swedish man of Spanish exclamation?)

Is This a Good Time?

How often has the voice at the other end of the phone began a conversation with the question; "Is this a good time?" And you know what's coming next; the pitch. A salesperson, co-worker, pastor, recruiter for a committee, or student away at school needs you to give, join, help, volunteer.
My requests are often from missionaries and ministry leaders who are looking for more support and visibility and think that Santa Barbara would be a good place to find more money. So I get invited to dinners and lunches to hear the pitch, plea, presentation and request. The challenge for me as a disciple of Jesus and pastor of a church is to steward the resources of my personal finances and time and that of the church. I know that the budget is running at 80%+ of where it should be. I know that many current mission commitments and missionaries are under-funded. I know that we are not supporting Conference ministries to the level that they deserve. I know my shortages. And my knee-jerk reaction to appeals is very much like the widow of Zarephath when she was approaced by Elijah for some water and a meal. "There is just not enough to go around. My son and I are dying here. This is not a good time."
How is it that we in the USA live in chronic short-fall? Whatever it is that you currently make, even if you are on social security or welfare, still puts you in the upper 90% of the world's population. Why is it that we live so breathlessly, so exhusted, so in debt, so tired, so stressed, so hungry that we are killing ourselves with obesity?
When I look at my own life, the answer is that I have let things get out of balance. God gets whatever is left-over at the end of my want-list (which usually does not end, just gets more attachments). When I give God the first of my time in a day, there is enough for the rest. When I give God my relationships, there is enough patience to love the unlovely ones. When I give God my money in a tithe, there is enough to eat and cover myself and my family. Yes, this is a good time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Day at Sea!

It was a brilliant sunny morning. The wind had been blowing for two days, knocking out the marine layer of clinging fog. Isaac and I decided it was time for our whale-watching adventure. So we arrived at the Santa Barbara dock to take the "Condor Express" (a twin-hulled jet-powered cruise boat) for a four-and-a-half hour ride to see the whales. We were warned at the beginning of their recent spate of bad luck. But no sooner were we clear of the city, than we started to see pods of dolphins playing with the boat. They jumped in the air, spun around under ater, coursed over each other like children released from school. The naturalist on board, who counts and describes sightings, said that every dolphin on the surface is mirrored by eight under water (8:1 ratio!).

About eight miles west of Santa Barbara we began seeing spouts of water in the air, indicating whales. All told, we saw at least nine hump-backed whales, some alone, some in pairs, and some as mother with calf. When they break the surface and you are close, you hear the snort and expulsion of air and water as almost a deep gasp. Then, when their fluke breaks the surface like above, they are heading straight down into deep water for fish, gone for quite some time. About 1,500 hump-backs cruise up and down the Pacific and out to Hawaii. Magnificent creatures.

Then we crossed choppy waters with waves about 6-8 feet to the island of Santa Cruz, one of the five channel islands. This 24 mile long island is now in the hands of the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. Isaac said it was like Jurrasic Park in that it looked so barren it seemed pre-historic. The wild rugged beauty and the natural sea caves made it a day we will both remember for a long time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Mediated Reality

Yesterday Isaac, Martha and I spent the afternoon getting really sunburned at a local beach, captivated by a dolphin show. For the first time in 2 years we saw a pod (I think that's what you call a flock of dolphins) cavorting and playing, jumping and splashing and even surfing. Yes, I saw some dolphins inside of breaking waves as they built up to the shore. It also happened that a surfing school was out on their boards for the first time, and the instructor wisely pointd all his students seaward for the show. Did the dolphins know they were performing?
How long did the show last? I have no clue. It was timeless (we got really sunburned and did notice till it ws over) and captivating. How many times have we seen carefully cropped, digitally enhanced photos of dolphins jumping? How many aquariums have trained sea-life that jumps much higher with bigger splashes on command? How many national geographic specials have we watched with telephoto lenses and background music with a deep-voiced narrator telling us what we were seeing? That's mediated, massaged, manipulated reality, carefully condensed and packaged for our quick consumption. It is even satisfying to the effect that after watching a "show" we say to others that we now know what this natural phenomenon is like. Until the real breaks in.
That's been truth for the northern lights, shooting stars, moon-dogs, tornados, moose, and a host of other things I have been privileged to happen upon. When it happens, the transcendent falls, my pulse-rate quickens and I know this is special. The same is true with God. We crave...are made for a direct experience with God, not something finely crafted and carefully mediated into a 60 minute "performance". We need to be held captive by our holy God till we get "son-burned" by the exposure.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Life In Paradise

Paradise is a slippery concept. One person's paradise is another's torment. I love snow and skiing. Martha hates cold and hurt ner knee skiing. My vacation in the snow would be her purgatory. Martha loves fabrics and textiles. I don't get fabircs and textiles. When we see a fabric store, I grab for a book or my laptop while Martha hits the aisles. Paradise is relative to the beholder.
For many Santa Barbara is nearly paradisical. This afternoon Isaac and I are heading down to the ocean to walk the beach now that the fog has burned off. We will stop by for a cup of coffee at an outdoor cafe and then grill in the backyard for dinner. That's pretty good living! We will pass some folks on the beach who live there, under layers of sleeping bags and blankets, fueled internally by alchohol, drugs and their own mental demons. Their situation is not quiet so idyllic.
One of the gifts of my marriage is that my spouse is an artist who sees too much. She observes what I skim. She sees things deeply, too deeply at times. Often her spirit is restless and troubled by what she intuits that I have ignored. But 9 times out of 10, what she sees is painfully true. The series of work she is developing for her show in Oslo, Norway this summer is on the theme of paradise and its back sides, the sides of paradise that are there but we choose to not see: the institutional racism still erroding our society, misogyny, class strife, xenophobia, addiction and abuse, overconsumption and overwork. Well, it's time to hit the beach!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Wedding & Eucharist?

We wanted communion at our wedding in 1975. Martha's father, an ordained Presbyterian pastor and Executive Presbyter of Hanover County Virginia did the proper thing; he asked the presiding pastor of his church. The answer came back "No." We could not have communion at our wedding at Camp Hanover ( a Presbyterian Camp) UNLESS a printed notice was put in the bulletin inviting all members of my wife's home church to both the wedding and holy communion. I thought that was way too strict until I went to seminary and studied sacramental theology. The late Dr. John Brown was right. In the Protestant tradition, the sacrament of holy communion (at least most mainline traditions, not Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans) is an open invitation to all who know Christ to come.
Over my pastoral years in Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota, we occasionally had communion at weddings. But under the same basic guidelines, without opening wedding invitations to the whole church. All present in the worship service of the wedding were invited to participate. Sometimes they came forward. Sometimes the bride and groom served the weding guests. Sometimes church deacons enterd the service and distributd the bread and cup.
Recently I have both seen and how been requested to provide private communion to the wedding couple just after their vows. It is amazingly common. When I objected, a bride was quite upset that I would deny them this special practice. When she pushed, her argument was that the wedding really was about them, the couple, not the guests. Really? Is communion a private sacrament for special guests and not the whole body? I decided to stick to this principle of open communion for weddings. Is this a growing trend among other churches and communities? Is my sacramental understanding too narrow and restrictive? We do serve communion to the sick and shut-ins privately. But I have always brought enough along to invite all in the room to the table. I'd love your thoughts.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is a unique Sunday for the church year. Most of the Sundays (maybe all of them) are devoted to actions of God. Trinity Sunday is about the essence of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit: ubiquitious fatherhood, compelling sonship and contemporizing Holy Spirit.


It happens all the time. A group is discussing something, anything, and one member expresses her opinion and someone in the group gasps, eyes get wide and says something like "Oh my Gosh!" At that moment the intensity of the room immediately ramps up and folks gear for a show-down. It happens when a family gathers in a hospital room to hear the prognosis from a physician. One member of the family, upon hearing some trigger word, audibly gasps and says "Oh no! not that!" And family members' anxiety ramps up exponentially before the physician is done speaking.
The late Edwin Friedman's excellent book "A Failure of Nerve; leadership in the age of the quick fix" has a chapter on those people who have the gift of transforming...down. A proper transformer (like we had in railroad sets) takes high voltage electricity and brings it down to a useable level for a toy train. Otherwise the power from the wall would melt down the train. A good leader knows how to take the high-voltage energy that comes from anxiousness and tansform it down to a workable level. Friedman's whole premise (that I read years ago in "Generation to Generation") is that a good leader is well differentiated; knows who he or she is, practices non-anxious presence, and knows how to take a stand and stay in contact with his or her community.
There are those people, over the years, that have found have the gift to transform up almost any conversation into the stratosphere of anxiety, worry and anger. They seemed primed to blow and almost anything or any one. Then there are those who transform down, who can hear my ranting and raving and ask some perceptive questions, find a deeper truth, even tell me a joke. I'm hoping to become more of a transformer down, taking energy and words and transforming them into something useful and beneficial to my family, church and community.

eXTReMe Tracker