Friday, August 31, 2007

Boredome of Anger

A pastor-friend called, talking about a common topic among pastors; a very angry member. Somebody did something to this member to set him off...again. As we talked, the pastor told how this person is chronically angry about something or someone. Most conversations devolve into some type of rant against forces that are out there that are stupid, dumb, idiotic and grossly insensitive to him and his family. His volume rises, his face gets red, and he's just not going to take it any more. They are going to find another church if my friend does not fix things fast!
Angry people can get really really boring. This is not to dismiss genuine and legitimate anger at injustice and abuse (see my rant against Mickael Vick). There are broken and abused people who need to be given permission to scream and yell. But when you are with chronically angry people, the conversation goes in just one direction, always, predictably. And it's boring. You know it's always some onels's fault and they are the innocent victims. Anger goes in one direction predictably.
Joy, however, is neer boring but exciting because you never know where joy is going. Joy takes off on tangents and whimsy, wonder and fun. Joy opens up new spaces of thought and conversation, new vistas to explore, new authors to read, new music to listen to, new places to visit.

Old Fountain...New Fountain

In the center of the patio courtyard of MCC is a beautiful fountain with a surrounding little garden. The new Properties Deacon wanted the old plants removed and new, more colorful plants brought in. Consulting with a horticulturist at an area nursery, new plants were purchased and then Martha went to work.

Her first task was to pull out all the old plants and find new homes for them. Martha does not believe in throwing away growing things (good thing for me!)

Her next task was to till the soil, which she found was a thin layer of topsoil over hard-packed construction dirt, which around here is basically adobe clay. She purchased bags of potting soil to mix in with the hard dirt...amending the soil is what she calls it.

Then the new plants were placed in the fresh new soil, bringing color back to the fountain. So what did I do while she was working so hard? Someone had to take the pictures and brew the coffee!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

If I Only Had a Brain

I overheard a conversation at Westmont College between two women talking about church shopping. They were comparing worship styles, preachers (not knowing I was one), location, etc. One woman said: "I really like ____________ church, but the problem is I have a brain!" This church is high energy, and male-led. Women are clearly in a subservient role (complimentarian), which might be both the choice and fine for some women. This woman wanted a church that both allowed and endorsed thinking, questioning women.
In Jim Collin's great book "Good to Great" he notes that one of the marks of a great organization is one that creates a climate where truth is welcomed and rigorous questioning is both allowed and expected. Do our churches welcome truth and self-critiquing questioning? Do our institutions welcome truth over loyalty? Do we want a new cadre of leaders with brains who think? Men and women who rigorously pursue truth even over tribal loyalty?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Anniversary Wandering

Today we celebrated 32 years of marriage (really 32 years of Martha putting up with my foolishness) by driving north to Pismo Beach, then traveling old Highway 1 to the town of Lompoc and finding the ancient Spanish Mission La Purisima. It's what we love to do in France, heading out not knowing where we will end up with the ipod selecting random music. The find was gorgeous. Well worth the trip if you can find it.


It was at dinner the other night when the woman next to me said, "I'm an artist too, I love to paint." That, in and of itself, seems pretty innocuous, unless you are married to an artist; an artist who has trained all her life, gone to school, and put in the long hard seasons of galleries, art shows, juries and teaching. We would not accept someone's statement that "I'm a surgeon too. I love to cut steaks, am good with knives and am not afraid of blood." It takes more than that. Yet in the arts and the church, simply the desire of person makes him/her an artist, pastor, teacher, spiritual director, worship leader, or mentor (I love the wide use of that term. Who licenses and oversees mentors?).
As Martha and I talked about this phenomenon today, we thought that an affluent culture of entitlement promotes vocational dabbling. People flit from one interest to another, declaring themselves experts in things they like for a while, but not putting in the long years of training and hard work. I know some wonderful persons who are pastors without any seminary training, no Hebrew or Greek, no church history or theology. They just started doing it.
In some cultures and some professions, there are required years of training, study, apprenticeship, and testing before taking the reigns of the profession. Why not the arts and church?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Year Off

I overheard a weird phrase today. It was referencing a regular attender here who let it be known that he/she needed "a year off of church." A year off church? What does that mean? I think I could see taking a year off cable-tv, or a year off red meat. I could see taking a year off of something that was optional, luxurious, fattening, health-impairing, or non-essential. But could you imagine changing the noun and say: I'm taking a year off of my marriage, eating, being a parent, or bathing?" I don't think so. It tells me, sadly, that church is an excess obligation, burden and drain on this person, not a life-sustaining community, not a hard-wired need for corporate worship. I hope his/her journey reveals how spiritually hungry he/she becomes.

Fall Ministry Fair

My first Ministry Fair was at Salem Covenant in New Brighton 4 or 5 years ago. My staff pushed it on me. I did not think the idea could fly. It seemed like just too much work. When they pulled it off, the entire Fellowship Hall was ringed with tables promoting this ministry and that ministry: music, parish nursing, children, youth, missions, ski club, etc..
Last year was MCC's first Ministry Fair under my leadership and it was modestly successful. This year, it was better than ever. Ministry groups showed up early, set up booths, displays, even provided enticing treats. Anne Anderson played her recorder, Lisa Call brought her life-sized babies in the womb. The Gideons were there. Rescue Mission was there. It was fun to see the variety and creativity, and yes, even the chaos. Church was fun today!

Fall Ministries Begin

When the students return to Westmont College, the neighborhood changes with renewed life and energy. It also means summer is over and fall ministries begin. Yesterday the MCC staff and volunteers set up a table with other area churches for the Ministry Fair at Westmont. Lisa Holmlund had the idea to have specially-made chap-stick tubes with our name, worship schedule and web-site imprinted. They went like hot-cakes, all 520 of them! We greeted students, gave out brownies and brochures and just welcomed them.
Today we return to our 2 service schedule of 8:15 and 10:45 withour own 2 week ministry fair during the Sunday School time. It's good to be back on track after a pretty relaxed summer schedule.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I'm Not Getting Fed!

How many times have you heard or said that in regard to a church? As a pastor, I have heard that phrase many many times over the years; either as a reason why someone is not attending the church I pastor or why they are leaving the church I pastor: I'm just not getting fed. The problem is, I accept that as a valid reason for changing churches.
Last week at the staff retreat at Mission Springs, one of the participants quipped: "If we heard an adult say that they are not GETTING fed in any other setting than the church, we'd consider them foolish (he used a stronger word)." If my adult children complained that they were not GETTING fed, I'd say "Learn to cook! Find out how to use a fork and knife! Grow up."
Is part of the problem in the established church the very fact that we have tolerated this kind of thinking and excusing? How are we teaching believers to feed themselves? to move from consuming to generativity?

Jesus: Yes!, Church: Uh, no thanks.

Tomorrow we start a 9 month preaching journey through the book of Acts. It is the logical next-step to the preaching series on the major themes from the Old Testament and, last year, the life of Jesus. The life of Jesus flows into the church. Yet, when it comes to church, what a mess!
We all have our stories. We all have our opinions. We all have our church wounds, from harsh pastors to mean deacons. We also all have our tender moments, fond memories, transforming experiences. Each week we will try to reinforce the text with a chancel set that speaks to the text of the day. Tommorrow's text is Acts 1: 1-14. In this first narrative of the church's life, the disciples meet with Jesus, hear resurrected versions of the Kingdom of God and are told to go back and wait for the promise. Waiting bites! Yet that's what they did. The plain kneeler with just the Christ-candle speaks of the starkness of waiting in the presence of Jesus.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Getting to Great

How do church staff teams learn to go from good to great? I have worked with church staffs from 1980 with one secretary and a part-time youth worker and later a full-time associate, up to a staff of 5 pastors including an executive pastor and about 20 on the overall payroll. Preaching is easy...staff leadership is tough. I've attended semianrs and read countless books. We have brought in consultants and taken lots of tests. Each exercise was done with integrity and yielded some results. I have also been privileged to have served with some very very gracious pastors and staff persons.
What we are doing at Mission Springs is something new and very exicitng to me. We are going off as the full-time leadership staff along with similar configurations of staff persons from 3 other churches for a year-long adventure called: "Getting to Great" led by Alan Foresman and Doug Stevens.
We read Jim Collins book: "Good to Great" together prior to our first meeting, and will retreat together three more times over the year. The difference this time is the word "together". I'm not driving, pushing or forcing change, but part of the flow along with my staff and other staff persons.

Lisa, Dan and I ahve had some great time walking and talking about our meetings and just about stuff. I only wish this had been available years ago and other great staff persons could have benefited from times away like this.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It Baffles Me

It was a beautiful day yesterday. Martha and I took a long walk on the beach together. Up ahead two guys were hitting a volleyball back and forth. Between them were their two pit bulls, eagerly bouncing and jumping at the ball. Now this is a beach that has posted signs declaring all dogs must be on leashes. When the volleyball bounced our way, so too did the dogs and Martha shrieked. The guys were almost upset at Martha for her fear. "They wouldn't hurt you" one said. "This is a leashed-beach" I replied. "What did you say?" the other guy asked, defensively. "It's a leashed beach. Read the sign." and we walked off, Martha squeezing my hand tightly.
Why do guys like these think we delight in watching their dogs run leash-free on the beach? There are places to let dogs run free, and as a former dog owner, I loved those places where our dog could take off on a run. But a crowded beach? It baffles me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Zaca Fire behind us

For the first time in my life I am watching and witnessing a major fire called the Zaca fire. It has now burned over 90,000 acres or about 140 square miles. Over 2,000 fire-workers are on the line, with tanker airplanes, bull-dozers and helicopters. This is a big deal! It's been burning since July 4th and growing, due to the dry weather and high temperatures. It has threatened Santa Barbara, and most recently the communit we live in called Montecito. But low evening winds (called "sundowners" that blow north to south; from where the fire is to where we are) have been moderate. So the plan was to do a back-burn, from our area toward the fire, giving us a safety buffer. It worked very well today. As the back-fires burned in toward the main fire, they intensified and billowed up clouds in excess of 30,000 feet! I know they call this good news, but it still made me worried. Give me a snowstorm!

Is Emergent Fussy?

I just finished reading the latest version of Charlie Wear Nextzine magazine. It's always sincere and insightful about issues in and about the emerging church. But in this issue there was a noticeable tone of fussiness. It's that conflicted tone of "love-the-church, hate-the-church". I get it, I really do, that there is lot in the local, building-bound, denominationally nested, multi-generational church that is not cool. In fact, it seems that the fussiness I pick up on is more of an esthetic fussiness that spiritual fussiness. The trappings of the local church, I characturized above, is just so normal, almost boring: committee meetings, budgets, employees, maintenance, garbage collection, bulletins and paper newsletters, coffee-makers and kitchen coordinators. It's really more like a Ford mini-van than a Mini-Cooper. The problem with the Mini-Cooper type of church is that it is too small, tight and exclusive.
I made the mistake of accepting an invitation several years ago to a reception at one of the newest and coolest emerging churches in the area. It would have music, an art gallery and wine and cheese (in the church...how cool is that?) Unfortunately I was coming from some other meeting or service where I was wearing a suit and tie. When I walked in I got the 100 yard stare from the black-clothed members and friends of the church. Clearly I did not get the memo on dressing cool for the night. I got looked at seriously, but never greeted. As I wandered from room to room, looking for my one friend there, I realize that I did not fit here.My thinning grey hair and white shirt and tie put me in a another category all together. It all seemed a bit too fussy, and maybe still is.

Martha's Back

Yesterday afternoon I picked up Martha at LAX after her 24 hours of traveling. Her show of prints in "This Temporary Life" at the Galeri Norske Grafikere in Oslo was a success. But she is ready for her studio, sun, regular meals and her bathtub, though not necessarily in that order.

Friday, August 10, 2007

There's Something About Fire Trucks

There is something about 6 California Department of Forest fire-trucks, parked in our church parking lot that grabs my attention. They are just sitting there, with fire-fighters from San Diego manning the trucks in case the forest fire changes directions and heads down the hills into our community. All the weather reports look good and the winds are favorable, but there sit the trucks, ready, alert, poised to go into action in a moment.
This last week with the fire looming has created a climate of alertness in our community, and certainly in me. That is probably not a bad thing, to be alert. I only wish I was as alert to the winds of the Holy Spirit as they blow and fan a different type of flame.

For the Covenant Nominating Committee: What if.....

Organizations are slow to change. Denominations are even slower. But the Covenant faces an opportune moment to examine some signficant changes as we seek a new president following Glenn Palmberg's retirement. Glenn brought many good and healthy changes to the church, for which we are all thankful. But now is a time for us in the blog world to suggest some futures considerations to be considered. So I invite you to create your own lists of "what if's..." for the next president to have on his/her plate or even platform.
What if the next president did not leave the local church, but remained an active pastor?
What if the next president limited his/her term to five years?
What if the next president helped to relocate the denomiational headquarters to someplace more central and accessible, like Denver, Minneapolis, or Kansas City?
What if the next president decentralized power into the hands of conference superintendents?
What if the Executive Board was composed of conference superintendents?
What if all seminary faculty were required to spend sabbatical years pastoring local churches?
What are some of your what ifs???

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Who Supports Whom?

A staff member just returned from the local grocery store. There, in the store, was a forest fire fighter from the California Department of Forests in full gear. She was treated like a hero. As she stood in line, people came up toshake her hand, to say "thank you for all that you are doing!" and "Do you need anything from us?" Then the woman said, "I'm not doing the firefighting, I'm supporting the firefighters on the line." She had a very clear sense of who she was and what she was doing.
In the follow-up meeting with my staff person, we discussed church boards and committees. Are the paid church staff the ones fighting the fires and digging the trenches, while the committees and boards support us? Or, are the church members and leaders the ones out fighting the fires and we are doing the support runs, keeping them fresh and supplied?
Right now in Santa Barbara, all eyes look north into the mountains to look for the smoke and clouds from the fires. We all know where the fire-lines are. We are keenly aware of wind-shifts and sun-downers. But we aren't fighting the fires.
The church seems confused about where the fire-lines are. The air is filled with the smoke of spiritual battle and conflict, but we are not sure who's fighting what where. Sometimes, tragically, the fire-line is in the church itself between the staff and the boards, fighting each other, or between staff members duking it out over turf and entitlements. My reading of scripture tells me that I have a personal fire to fight, but so does overy single member. My job is to resource, support and bring them encouragement on their own personal fire-lines.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Zaca Fire Reality

The fellowship hall of El Montecito Presbyterian Church was packed with upwards of 400 anxious property owners last night. One expert after another gave us the hard and brutal facts of the progress of the Zaca fire, now having consumed 70,000 acres and burning 4-5 miles away from us. The fire chief, the head of the US Forestry Service, the Sheriff's office, the utilities people.
They told us about all the conditions that are brewing: long drought, low humidiity, excessive brush, inaccessible terrain, adverse winds. The room was still and hushed as the Forestry Service officer used his laser pointer to describe the progress of the fire and their efforts to stop and redirect its path with over 2,200 people on the ground and 4 tankers in the air. It was a sobering meeting where the members of this community, fairly affluent and protective of their property and control, felt very vulnerable and helpless.
The church staff here is participating in a new program called "Getting to Great" with Alan Forsman and Doug Stevens. As part of our preparation for the upcoming retreat, we are required to read Jim Collins' book "Good to Great." This morning I read the 4th chapter entitled "Confront the Brutal Facts (yet never lose faith)". I could not help but compare what we are doing as a community with what the corporate leaders did with their companies. Facts are not the enemy to run from, brutal as they may be. Solid data drives great decision-making. Last night I saw the commitment of community leaders (especially the Fire Chief) to provide the community with the brutal facts so lives could be protected.
Where does the church confront the brutal facts? Where do we hear the experts tell us about the fires and droughts? Do our gatherings: staff meetings, counsel meetings, worship, conference and denominational meetings tingle with the power of unavoidable truth? Do we have a sense of impending crisis or weather as usual?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kiss Me Kate

About 80 adults and young people drove across the mountains to Solvang to have an outdoor picnic together (did I tell you we love to eat together?) and then we watched a perfomance of the dance/musical "Kiss Me Kate" under the stars. Thanks to the organizing brilliance of Everet Stevens it was a complete success. What I've noticed about MCC is the large number of excellent leaders who do a superb job creating and organizing conectional events.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Fires & Bridges

"London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady." and "Ring around the rosey a pocket full of posey, ashes, ashes, we all fall down." Those two nursey rhymes are anchored in my memory, sung while running in circles around other children in innocent and silly games of my childhood.
Then the bridge did fall and the ashes have been descending. Falling bridges are no longer the things of playful song, but now of wailing lament. My familiar bridge I used every time I headed into the city for 13 years was always fun to cross: to see the level of the river below and the spray from the St. Anthony spillway. It was a glimpse down the alley-way into the heart of the city. Beautiful in all seasons. Sometimes hazzardous in the winter, known for stacking up vehicles with its black ice or clogging hurrying commuters with lane closings. But fall? Never. Bridges just don't fall, not in my experience, not in my lifetime....until now. Stable things I take for granted aren't that stable.
The ashes have fallen all day and all night for two days from fires 50 miles away in the Zaca range of mountains. Fire crews try to contain the fires, but can't put them out. Maybe September 1st, the latest forecasts say. Until then, ashes fall like snow, swirling as the first car drives through the parking lot, like the first dusting of snow. They are intriguing but not good. They get under doors and cling to shoes. Thsoe with respiratory problems must be distressed. When the ashes fill the sky, it's not like a camp fire you can dogde by getting out of the way. "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."
These two images from childhood now have become sounds and images of mortality and the fragility of all things human. dona nobis pacem!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dad, I'm OK

There is no more frightening start for a phone call that hearing "Dad, I'm OK." I got a call from Isaac last year when he told me that he had just been robbed by guys with pistols pointed at his head. He was robbed of all that he had, but he was OK. Shaken but OK.
Then tonight I received a call with the same shaky voice, "Dad, I'm OK, but the bridge I would have been on is gone." With that Isaac told me how he decided to visit a friend tonight instead of going home on 35W, his normal route at about 6pm. This is a bridge I know well, traveled often in our 13 years in Minneapolis. And now it's a grisly cartoon of folded concrete and twisted girders.
I was the fortunate parent who received a call that my child is OK. Many wait tonight having not yet heard from their loved ones. I think of Eugene Cho's blogging on the Korean Christians held captive by Taliban thugs, having already killed 2. Tonight, alone in quiet California, I feel fragile, that life is a tender gift. "Dad, I'm OK."

A New Slant on Leadership

Christian conferences have drawn from a range of speakers: those with TV audiences (Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson), those with mega-church credetials (Rick Warren, Bill Hybels), those with academic status (Martin Marty, Klyne Snodgrass), and most recently those who publish books (the list is too long). I don't think I have heard a conference speaker or seen a promotional piece for conferences with anyone who has NOT published a book. I just picked up a new book by Kester Brewin that is loaded with internal endorsements from other authors from the same publishing house. Do all speakers publish? Are all published authors speakers?
What if there was a conference featuring unpublished pastors from churches under 150 in attendance who have served faithfully for more than 20 years? Depth or yawn?

California Cat

At some time after 5:00 am this morning, the cat jumped onto my bed. You know the feeling of a cat softly luanching itself from the floor onto the bed, jostling the bed ever so slightly before curling up at your feet. There is only one problem, I slowly realized; we don't have a cat. When I looked up to see if some cat came into the house (or doors remain propped open because of staining and varnishing, so it is a possibility) there was no cat on the bed or in the room. I went back to my prone position, to feel the bed shake again slightly. I experienced a California cat last night.
July 31, 2007
San Fernand Valley quake
Filed under: Felt Earthquakes — kate @ 5:28 am

Just before 11 pm last night (10:59:59 actually), there was a ML3.2 quake in the San Fernando Valley which was widely felt throughout the entire San Fernando Valley. The epicenter was located 2 miles northwest of Granada Hills.

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