Sunday, September 30, 2007

Luke to Ultimate National Championships

I love watching passion; whether it's music, dance, flying or sports. This weekend I've been following the adventures of our son Luke who flew from Chicago to Oakland California Friday morning for a West Coast Ultimate tournament in Turlock, CA. His team played all day Saturday and all day today, winning a berth in the Ultimate Tournament in Sarasota Fla later in October. He flies out of Oakland tonight at 11pm getting into Chicago around 7am hoping to make an 8am Seminary Class. Crazy? Absolutely! Congratulations Luke!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Council/Staff Retreat @ Samarkand

32 Council members and staff with spouses gathered for a great meal and worship Friday night at the church. We shared testimonies of God's faithfulness, we sang, we read God's word and we prayed for each other. It's what we do. Our quality of life together is such a gift, Chris Call, chair, almost decided to end the retreat there, with the worship.
But Saturday morning we gathered at the Samarkand (the Covenant Retirement Center in Santa Barbara) and we reflected and wrote about four dimensions of our ministry areas based on a compass quadrant: rising ministries of the East, setting ministries in the West, solid fixed points of ministry in the North and joyful, basking ministries of the South. Then we shared and shared and shared. What emerged was a colorful picture of momentum in many different areas at MCC.

Then Chris led us in an exercise of metaphor making; what metaphor gives meaning to life at MCC; as it is and as it should be. We talked with each other until about 3pm. Sensing that God is doing a great deal in our midst, with a lot of work that we need to do promoting the good news to others. While we did not come out with 2 or 3 key tasks ahead of us, we did get a sense of fundamental health and growth.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Putting Limits on God

Sunday's text is Acts 10:1-11:18, the story of the conversion of Cornelius...and Peter. Yes, Peter was already a believer, but he needed some further conversions from Law into Grace. The altar-piece is a cornucopia of what Peter would not ever eat: birds, shell-fish and creepy things. No way, never, not me, not going there, thank you very much!
That's been my reaction to a number of God's initiatives in my life. Sorry God, got the wrong guy. I'm not wired, suited, gifted or really even interested in going there and doing that. That was the case with of first church. Martha declared one July driving through southern Indiana "No way are we EVER going to live in the hot, flat state." Guess where our first church was? Lafayette, Indiana. I said that about wearing robes and about not wearing robes. I said that about moving to California and I've said that about learning to play golf. Peter is really right when he begins his sermon to Cornelius by saying "God is not a respecter of persons." Was Peter smiling to himself when he thought about the ways he set limits on what God could do with his life?
When Christians (especially my pastor friends) forcefully declare what they will and will not do in and for the church, I just wonder about the wisdom of trying to limit God?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

You Choose the Caption!

Ready, Set, Wait!!!

The confirmation lesson focussed on how long Israel waited for the Messiah. How could we imprint "waiting" on 13 confirmation students? Lisa Holmlund had a brilliant idea. She went out earlier in the day and purchased a killer desert and had it all set out when the students arrived at 4:30 pm, hungry and tired after a long day.

They could not get their eyes off of the cakes and strawberry tray and cooler filled with drinks. Normally we begin confirmation at 4:30 and break for treats at 5:00 for 15 minutes then finish up at 6:00 pm. But not today. When 5:00 came, the Pavlovian response kicked in and they are rose to eat. I was the heavy and said we had more material to study. Lisa and Liam bean pestering me to break for a treat because the students were hungry. I asserted my seniority and demanded they just hold on. That lasted another 20 minutes.
By the time Lisa stood up for her teaching portion, she asked if they were now ready for the treats? Screams turned into the rush below! Filled plates and contented stomachs (not to even think about the sugar content just before dinner!), they got the point of delaying and waiting, for not only a treat, but the Messiah.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Covenant Blogs????

Anybody able to say what's happened to Covenant Blogs? It's just a white screen for me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Not Yet....

Henri Nouwen's classis book "Reaching Out: the three movements of the spiritual life" has been my spirngboard for devotions these past weeks. Nouwen is an artist describing the light and the dark, the joy and the pain, the fullness and emptiness of the pilgrim's life. Today, in the last chapter he wrote:
"...it is of special importantce to remind each other that, as members of the Christian community, we are not primarily for each other but for God. Our eyes should not remain fixed on each other but be directed forward to what is dawning on the horizon of our existence. The Christian community is not closed circle of people embracing each other, but a forward-moving group of companions bond together by the same voice asking for attention." (p. 154)
As I took these thoughts with me into prayer balanced Psalm 145, one phrase emerged ringing in my heart: "Not Yet" As I reflected on this phrase, turning it over and over, I realized how powerfully it tells the story. How are we doing God? Do we have the church just where you want it to be? Answer: Not Yet. Is my walk with Christ mature and done? Not Yet. After serving four churches, have I finally figured out how to lead and guide staff and leaders? Not Yet. As a father of adult children, have you finally learned how to love them and model Christ to them? Not Yet. As a husband, ahve you learned how to love your wife as Christ loved the church? Not Yet.
Take that phrase with you into your world. It works at too deep of a level. It injects a powerful dose of humilty into my heart. I'm far from done, so why should I demand perfection from everyone else? It creates a longing in me for more and deeper. I've tasted bits of kingdom...but not yet.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Problem with Wedding Rentals: objectification

We had another wedding rental. It was a big deal. The couple from another church really wanted their (her) wedding at MCC. Our policy now stipulates that one of our pastors must officiate at "outside" weddings. They reluctantly agreed. Light poles were brought in. A dance floor was set up on the patio. Chairs were rented. Caterers were hired. 3 photographers recorded the event along with a vidoegrapher from multiple angles. The wedding was choreographed by the minute. No detail was too small to be rearranged and recalibrated. My normal one hour rehearsal devolved into two and a half hours. I lost control. I was a bit player in a large play. I was instructed when to stand and then when to go sit down in the congregation, so their pastor could conduct the central part of the wedding. During the reception time, one of the guests asked me when this couple used to attend MCC. When I said that they never attended here, but were regular at another church, she asked: "Then why get married here? This is not their church?" When I replied "They think our church is nicer than theirs" it struck my friend as harsh. Was it?
When I had an occasion to talk with other of the hired staff, their comments were all the same. We were hired to do a job and they were a demanding couple. In reflection I realized that this wedding entailed no ministry on the part of MCC. We were a hired set to drape around the couple. If a color or piece of furniture did not work, move it out of the way. Sets are objects with no inherent depth, just for the pose. Sets are set up and torn down. Workman were in the church patio till almost 11 pm putting away the gear until their next gig, their next set.
I don't like the church becoming an object. When couples who have no church come to us for marriage, we take on an instructive tutorial role, guiding them into a spiritual context. When couples who come from local churches rent the facility, they are a complete package and we become hired hands. I'm not sure we are missional, just agreeable. I don't think that's good enough. The church should be more.

Scott Lisea, Regional Director of Young Life

MCC has along partnership with Young Life. Many of our members have worked with Young Life and its great camps over the years. Today Scott Lisea preached on the unlikely call of Saul to Paul from Acts 9, challenging us to live a life dominated by grace. It's fun living within spiritual partnerships.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Adamson House State Park, Malibu

This is a gem of a short trip for anyone in Southern California. The Adamson house once controlled 13,000 acres of what is now Mailbu, California. The family fought the railroads and the Pacific Coast Highway, eventually losing out to the Roosevelt administration. From cattle ranching the branced into dairy farming (ADORH dairy) and tile making (Mailbu tiles). Their land became Peperdine University and the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu. All that remains is this well preserved jewel of a house sitting right on the beach north (really west) of Malibu pier (which the family built).

19 on Sr. Hi Retreat!

It rained in Santa Barbara Friday....after almost a year. It rained the same time 15 Sr. Hi student and 4 counselors were packing their stuff in vans for a weekend retreat at Lake Nacimiento. It's the largest group of students from MCC since I arrived. Student ministry momentum is a contagious thing!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Malibu Birthday for Martha

To celebrate Martha's birthday today, her friend Jeanne and I drove south to Malibu to a California State Park called the Adamson House. This beachfront property is the home of Malibu tiles (more pictures later) and spectacular architecture and gardens. It was what Martha loves most, gardens and touring architecture. I loved it because I love her. Now we are having our first rain in a year, with an outdoor wedding this weekend. This should be an adventure!

Student Ministries Partnership: Seniors!

A 3pm meeting with senior adults living in a Covenant Retirement Center would probably not be one of the highest priorities for most people involved in Student Ministries. MCC has about 45 of its regular members and attenders who live at Samarkand, a Covenant Retirement Center in Santa Barbara. Every other month, or so, I like to schedule a 3pm time together to visit about what's happening at MCC and listen to their concerns and needs (transportation, sound, musical questions, etc.) Yesterday I invited Lisa Holmlund to join me.
We began asking the residents (about 25 were there) what made the most spiritual impact on them between the ages of 14-18. It was fascinating to hear them tell of camp experiences, youth groups, missionary testimonies, etc. By the time we were done sharing, we were all youth again, all back there in those formative years when we made decisions to follow Christ.
Lisa jumped in, telling them of the youth retreat she is heading off to today with about 19 youth and counselors (a record!), about planned mission trips, camps, Sunday School, worship, discipleship and mentoring. I watched the faces of our members light up as they blessed and affirmed what they heard. Lisa warned them that when they come early to worship, they might hear some really loud music coming from the youth buildings where the youth worship as a group before "big worship" in the sanctuary ("they like it a little louder than you do" she said, and they all laughed).
When I was saying goodbye to our members, I heard a number of comments about how grateful they were that we had someone with such enthusiasm and heart for students. Talk about great partnerships!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Alan Roxburgh gets it!

It was such a great podcast, I had to listen to it a second time taking notes. It was a lecture in Australia by a guy named Alan Roxburgh from Allelon on Sept 4, 2007. I encourage you to download it. But here is the summary. The new map of spiritual vitality in the world does not fall within the borders of traditional denominational drawings. Roxburgh makes a cogent argument that denominations are to our culture what Ford Motors is to the auto-world: a vertically integrated hieracrchy of experts controlled from the center, centralizing instruction, communication and resources. Local churches are the francised dealerships that need the advice from headquarters and the experts trained there. Roxburgh says that this corporate faith model thrived in the mid-20th century because we had an unaparalleled 75 years of stability, a technology based on 40/40 (40 hr work week for 40 years and then full retirement) a 1-income family with spouses (wives) free to volunteer and weekends free and open. And lastly it is built on loyalty (once a John Deere man, always a John Deere man...go green! or whatever "brand" your family was loyal to). All those factors are going away in today's climate of unasked for rapid change. The response of most denominations is to become much more reactive and regulatory, protecting shrinking assets and looking to answers from more experts with more programs promised to bring us back to what we feel is threatened (40 day programs abound!).
The new map, Roxburgh offers, is the real-time map of the internet, decentralized and rapidly changing and in constant touch with other nodes. This guy is fascinating to listen to! Maybe he could consult with the new presidential search committee??

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Covenant's Alan Greenspan: Dean Lundgren

This morning the Stewardship Commission welcomed Dean Lundgren to brief us on the financial situation of the Covenant. Dean is a really, really smart guy. He has this macro-grasp of our little denomination's $20 million budget and the unique ways it performs and does not perform. Being secretary of te Commission, there are some comments that I'd love to share, but need to stay within the Commission. The one big trend is the declining % of dollars from churches to the denomination and an increase in local ministries and missions. When Hurricane Katrina's hit, we give money like crazy. When there is a crisis, we are quick to give generously. But money coming in to "Chicago" to support the general budget is not so exciting to give towards. Why? Dean commented about a woman who wanted her money to go all to missions and not to administration. Dean noted that the woman came from Minnesota and asked her if it ever snowed on Saturday night? She said "Yes" to which Dean asked: "Is that mission or administration?" Is there a connection within Covenant churches, among leaders and pastors that the administration is central to mission...or does it seem increasingly marginal to the ministry of the local church?
Another trend "pinch point" below is the disconnect between church Finance Comittees and the Stewardship Committees. Stewardship Committees, by and large, meet together in rooms without the facts and figures and work on "sales" ideas to present solutions to short-falls. Finance Committees meet and grapple with the hard facts, held tightly and not readily shared except that more revenue is needed. One suggestion the Stewardship Commission will be making is to more closely link the Fincance Committees with the Stewardship Committees, so both work off the same data/facts. Then I began to wonder; how come the Covenant Stewardship Commission has never met with the Finance Comittee/Executive Board or Trustees? Are we not, on a denominational level, perpetuating the problem on the local level? So we began to explore what a "financial summit" meeting would look like, empowering the Stewardship Commission with relevant facts?
Conclusion? The Covenant has some really competent and bright people working to do ministry and mission effectively and efficiently, but not always collaboratively. Maybe that's coming.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New thing

Luke is now showing how to post straight from the camera without going to the computer. Pretty cool.

Dinner with Luke

A great dinner with a great son!

Stewardship Committee musings: PINCH POINTS

In the Stewardship Commitee meetings today an interesting phrase came up: pinch points. Don Fensterman gathered frequently recurring questions as he visited churches around the country. These are what he calls the pinch points, places where churches are asking the tough stewardship questions. Here they are:
Pinch-points for local church stewardship
1. 20/80 challenge? why do 20% seem to keep carrying on t80% of the load?
2. Should we do a capital campaign when general giving is lagging? Shouldn't we really wait until our general fund is in better shape before we launch a capaitl campaing? Won't a capital campaign just draw against general fund giving (answer: NO).
3. Donor burn-out with multiple appeals (not all Covenant)? Aren't members getting tired of too many "asks"?
4. Motivating a church to do something/anything regarding stewardship more than meeting monthly? Why are do so many churches filled with smart people appraoch stewardship by forming a committee that meets and does nothing?
5. Should the pastor have knowledge of individual giving? Does this empower leadership or taint it?
6. The pastor who says “my service is my tithe”? Do pastors who neglect to practice a tithe of their income and instead substitute their service hurt church giving? Do they think nobody knows?
7. Perennial 2-3% budget increase? Why do we dream so big with ministry and fund so small?
8. “Teaching to give” materials? Do we really need more materials and curicculuum?
9. Use and effectiveness of “running behind” letter? How much does the "Help, the ship is sinking!!" letter really help develop stewards versus rescuers?
The point the committee kept coming back to over and over again is that the pastor is the key to blocking or unlocking giving at the local level. Pastors either avoid it or embrace it. And the committee plays with the idea of ditching the term "stewardship" because it has been coopted by our culture to mean nothing and everything, like the term "evangelical." Maybe we should be called the "Money Commission" That would be clear!

Commission on Stewardship: Chicago

Today I'm involved in the Covenant Committee on Stewardship meeting in Chicago. We are on the 7th floor of the Covenant Trust Building out near Old Orchard. We are discussing: where is the good news going on in stewardship around the Covenant? More later.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Missional Road Warriors

This morning, ten excited MCC members left the church parking lot for a day experiencing PSWC church planting and emerging ministries. We were supposed to partner with Ocean Hills Covenant Church a couple of times, but could never work it out together. So this time we had a feasible group for a trip.
I, unfortunately, am in Chicago writing this, since I had to fly out at 1:00 pm to make Monday and Tuesday meertings with the Stewardship Commission. But Martha called me this evening when I was in a cab in Chicago, telling me how much fun they had. It looks like we will be developing so e great new missional partnerships with our brothers and sisters in LA. When I hear more about the trip, I'll post it.

Who Belongs Here?

It's a timeless question. Whenever a group grows and expands it needs to decide; who belongs and who doesn't? In Acts 8:4ff Philip deals with two people: Simon Magus and the Ethipoian Eunuch, both of whom are interested in being a part of the community of faith: one is a wealthy insider, connected to the community and well-respected who has some control issues. The other is a complicated person filled with disqualifiers: foreign, black, disfigured, politcally compromised...yikes!
The African cloth is the one wrapping itself around the cornerstone of Christ. The church wisely decided that it is not a commodity for sale, now matter how sweet the price. The gift of the Holy Spirit had to remain sovereignly free. And genuine interior faith, now matter how disfigured the container, had to be embraced and welcomed. That's good news for me!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old Roots

In California, our church is pretty old at almost 50 years. Before coming here, I never served a church younger than 100 years old. I often-time consider myself a dinosaur given my heritage of parents, grand-parents and great-grand-parents who were Swedish Covenant immigrants.
Then I married Martha Ensign. I met her in 1969 when our family lived in Richmond Virginia. Her father was then an ordained Presbyterian minister and Executive Presbyter of Hanover Presbytery. Her father initially called me a "damned Yankee" without smiling (later he just called me a Yankee).
Last week Martha flew home for her parents' 60th anniversary with all three of her siblings. One of their outings was to a cemetery in Richmond where 4 US Presidents are buried along with Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy...and a relative to Martha's father.

Jefferson Davis' wife was a direct relative of Martha's dad, whose family came to the USA in the 1600's. They spent hours talking about what it meant to be on the losing side of the Civil War. If you note the picture below, Jefferson Davis was also a well-respected leader in the US government before the conflict.

By the time my family came to the USA in the 1880's, Martha's family had arrived, established itself, lost overything, and was rebuilding. Her father, by the way, is a pioneer in inter-racial camping in the South, even experiencing a KKK cross-burning in their front yard for daring to offer an integrated camp. Just when I thought I'd arrived, someone was here long before me!

Otto Heino: an afternoon surprise

Martha's birthday is coming up, but I have a wedding rehearsal on that day. So when I got the sermon roughed out today, I suggested we drive south to the valley community of Ojai where a potter she has admired has a studio: Otto Heino. We arrived at a little showroom off the highway with two older people inside, Otto and his sister from Thousand Oaks. As Martha carefully toured the showroom, she pointed out his genuis: a yellow glaze that has never been reproduced, and especially desired by the Japanese government. As we found out from articles and Otto, he sells $1 million of yellow glaze pots to Japan each year!

This charming and gregarious man still rises every day at 4:30 am to work in his studio at age 93. He told us he just won a Picasso prize in France requiring him to create at least 25 new pots before next August, where his work will be shown in Paris! He also told us about flying 40 missions with the US Air Force over Germany, Russia and Italy in WW II, getting shot down twice in a B-52, parachuting to safety and getting smuggled back into Allied territory. What a treat!

Chiapas Roof Crosses

Dr. Virginia Guessing lives part of the year in Santa Barbara and part of the year in a village in the Chiapas region in southern Mexico. She is an historian of religious art. Over the years she has collected and reproduced an unique form of religious art; roof crosses that are unique to this southern region of Mexico in addition to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala. Last night she gave a standing lecture in the restored Cassa de la Guerra in Santa Barbara where the crosses are now being displayed.
The crosses display a wide mix of both Christian and indigenous symbols. They were place on the roofs of tiled houses, jammed into a cross-beam through the tiles. They indicated a family of faith and a belief in a protective power over the house.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Eating Worship

Wednesday night worship team participants gathered for a meal together. Dan Bos provided burritos and we just hung out, ate together and got to know each other a bit more. It was especially good for the new team members. At MCC each Sunday has a different configuration of vocalists & instrumentalist depending on the theme, musical needs and availability. I like the mix-up because of the new sounds that are created almost every Sunday. One of the interesting questions Dan asked the group to share was their instrument of choice and favorite worship song/hymn. I am so far behind the curve! A number of the songs that were mentioned and nodded at by the whole group, I had never heard before.
We talked about the total theme for the year and how we plan worship out ahead of us. Dan then invited the whole team to dream with us, make suggestions and recommendations. A good time was had by all!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Gardener's Hands

"When someone says that they are a gardener, and their hands are never dirty, I have suspicions" Martha said to me as we walked through the darkness after a lecture at Westmont College. Martha often shoots out random thoughts she has mulled over and phrased carefully. That's why after 32 years of marriage, our conversations are never boring!
When I asked what brought that on, she mentioned about a conversation with a woman who went on and on about how much of a gardener she is, and she has beautifully manicured hands and fancy nails. "Someone does her gardening for her, with hands like that" Martha commented.
Dirty hands count for Martha. She is a printmaker. Every day around lunch the house smells of kerosene and hot ground that she coats on her plates. When she is inking, the cracks in the skin of her hands are etched with dark ink. And her fingernails betray indellible traces of ink on them. Martha has an artist's hands. She also gets them dirty in the garden. Her vocation and avocation are marked on her.
I wonder where a pastor's marks are. What marks us for what we do (other than expanding waist-lines from too many long lunches)? Are we marked by the crease lines around our eyes from smiling with others. Are our teeth smoothed off from grining through interminably long meetings? Are our eyes etched with the pain of others? Does the tone of our voice reflect words of compassion or judgement? Is our posture of victory and joy, or road-weary tedium? Where do you bear the marks?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Musical Illiteracy

Does musical literacy count? Does it matter whether you can read the notes? Obviously it matters to me, otherwise I wouldn't be blogging on it. But should it matter to the church, and to our culture? Art and Music are taking a huge hit in public education, where they are some of the first subjects to be cut, being considered luxuries and not core. My education in Minnesota gave me no choice. We all sang, the entire class had music. Our only choices revolved around vocal or instrumental. Our church children's and youth ministry sang, reading notes. We all just did it, like we all learned to tie our shoes. It was a practical life-skill.
An NPR special this past week focussed on a new book "Proust and the Squid" analyzing the power of verbal literacy in countries. When a country/culture promotes literacy, it democratizes ideas in the marketplace. Ideas become portable and not tied to an oral tradition. The speaker sited the power of the Reformation, the printing press and the portability of ideas, loosing them from the control of powerful elites.
Is music, especially music in the church, reverting to an oral tradition where notes are meaningless? Where what is sung depends on the worship leader and harmonization is a purely optional activity? What happens to tempo when time signatures are absent altogether?
This comes up for me again because in an article giving tribute to Pavarotti in the NYT's last week, mention was made that Pavarotti, an opera "rock star" was looked down on by some of his colleagues because he never learned to read music! What does that mean?

Morning Stillness

I've been awake for 2 hours, with the sun splashing though the front garden. I've probably read thousands of words in the NYT's and my regular blog visits. I've responded to 6 overnight emails, but have not said a word from my mouth. I love this stillness. Today I will see if I can be quiet, wordless, until a noon meeting.
Yesterday, Sunday, was a day filled with words; greetings, prayers, songs, visits, a sermon (twice), phone calls to Martha, and the jail service. Last night something new happened at the jail service. I preached Colossians 1:9-14 about Paul's prayer for the church and we ended early. So we turned on the boom box to play the worship tape and my partner and I said we would be available for individual prayers if guys wanted them. They lined up to hands-on praying for specific prayers. Whew! It was rich. I came home full of awe for the privilege of being a pastor to MCC and the community behind bars. Now for some stillness.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

College BBQ

We LOVE to eat! Today Lisa Holmlund and Liam Murphy set up a free BBQ for all our college & above students after church. Between 80-100 chowed down on hamburgers and hot-dogs and got to know each other and the MCC staff. While most of the students came from Westmont, several were also from UCSB.

Bugatti Veyron: new excess

Our community has one; the $1.3 million dollar Volkswagen: a Bugatti Veyron. It boasts more that 1,000 horsepower and goes in excess of 250 mph. It's weird in many ways. But today I heard the topper. A realtor in our church told me that in order to change the tires, you need to write a check for $60,000 for 4 tires!

Saturday, September 08, 2007


"I'm soooo tired." is a phrase I'm hearing regularly from colleagues, staff, members both young and old. The single person in graduate school or at their first time job is so tired trying to keep up and get rest and play with friends. The engaged couple is so tired getting their wedding details planned. The newlyweds are so tired with the demands of full-time work and household chores and not seeing old friends like they used to. The couple with their first child is exhausted with the demands of night-time nursing demands, diaper-changing, and all the gear it takes to just go to the store. The parents with elementary aged kids is tired trying to keep up with classwork, clothing, packing, dropping off and picking up. They feel like they are living in their cars until middle-school and high school sports, traveling teams and weekend tournaments with hot fields, lousy food and cranky kids. They can't wait for Monday mornings to release them from the weekend schedule. Tiredness really comes into play when kids become drivers and flirt with curfews, drinking and partying. When the front door does not close till 3:00 am, that's a new kind of tired. Empty-nesting (where we are now) is a different kind of tired, because our parents now need attention and care, especially for those adult-children who live near their parents. They need the care only children can bring, but now it involves medical direction, estate planning, forced relocation, radical downsizing.
Part of me gets a bit brusque when I hear complaints of being tired. But that is insensitive. People are tired. Why? Too many expectations? too pourous of boundaries between work and personal time? too lazy managing time? too disobedient about sabbath time?
One of my personal life-heros is the late Rev. John Nilson from Seattle. He came to my seminary for a week of pastor-in-residence when I was a student, complaining about how busy I was. He saw my very full Covenant appointment book and simly asked: "Whose pen wrote in all those appointments?"

Friday, September 07, 2007

Preaching on Stephen

Last week we introduced the keystone to our worship imagery for this year. Today marks the first experience of martyrdom; the stoning of Stephen. Martha and Jeanne did a superb job littering the table with harsh and common stones, stones like those used to kill Stephen. I read the story from Acts 5:12-8:1 and am amazed at the creative and bold flexibility of the church to solve problems and speak the truth regardless of cost.

2 Words

Teacher: "There are two words I don't allow in my class. One is gross, and the other is cool."
Student: "So what are the two words?"
From Sister Anne Marie Knawa, O.S.F.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How long do you call?

I've been trying to get hold of a friend, and all I get is his voice mail. I've been wanting to talk with him for quite a while and he never answers. And now I wonder if he sees my number and name come up and lets it ring over into the limbo of voice-mail. The question now is, should I keep calling, or let it go? If I keep calling will it appear like I'm in pursuit, pushing him farther away in reaction (who likes being pursued?)? But if I ignore it, am I losing a friend? Hmmm.


I cried today. I was in the car when Lucianno Pavarotti's voice filled the space with one of his high-flying solos, higher and higher he sang. Then he sustained that pure sound several measures. Opera is not my favorite type of music, but Pavarotti took opera as a springboard for what the human voice could do. Who needs words when you can hear sounds like those. He will be missed.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Blog Boundaries

Should a blog be a weapon? Should a pastor-authored blog be a bully-pulpit to denounce all those who disagree with him/her? Should a blog be a place from which we can take pot shots at former leaders and critics? No, that would be pastorally unethical. A blog should be a place of the present where we reflect on ideas, trends and concerns that intersect our lives now, not replaying battles from the past.
Pastoral ethics dictate that we must leave one church to go to the next. We must leave one set of issues and challenges so we can face ones in our next parish. We must leave hurts, wounds and loves, so that we can be available and present to the church to which we are called.
Blogs should never be a veiled way of influencing the decision-making process of one's successor or weighing in on issues the pastor feels deeply about. A blog should not be a way of taking a back-handed swipe at one's predecessor.
But a blog must also have the freedom to speak to issues that cut through the heart of the pastor/blogger. A blog must have the freedom to raise uncomfortable questions and question current practices in our local church, our society, and in our denomination.
I have been rightly questioned about my level of maturity and level-headedness in some of the topics I blog about. Most criticisms are valid, I have a long way to go before I fully grow up. And along the way I will keep asking questions, posing thoughts, and ruffling feathers.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Friends & Petanque

Northwestern College in St. Paul Minnesota was a challenging place for Martha to teach in, but a wonderful source of friends over the years. Today three of them gathered at our home with the fourth one being the spouse of one of our Salem youth, child of our good friends and now member of this church. Under the shade of umbrellas, we told stories and laughed and enjoyed an afternoon with no time-clock (except for TK, who had to go back to work). It was really getting hot here, so we debated playing an outdoor game, but Martha prevailed and the three remaining friends and Martha began a spirited game of petanque in the dust.

Petanque is the game we learned to play in France. It is played all the time, usually among men gathered in parks. But we increasingly see it played co-ed and among young people. It sparks laughter and boasting, challeng, attack, and humility. The field must be uneven and varying. It was a good day.

In praise of those who work

Labor Day is our time for picnics, a swim and hanging out with any available family or friends. Seth Godin's website today, however, made me ponder the meaning of work. My forebearers worked, really hard. Grandpa Larson (my mom's dad) came to the USA as a little boy from Sweden with his mom. His education was truncated by the family's need for money. So he worked in a pop-bottle plant on the production line till he got employed by Henry Ford Motors to lathe wooden spokes for Model T's and A's. All day long, 5 days a week in one position at a lathe. That's work. He left Ford Motors to become the campus carpenter at North Park College (before it was a University). His job was to fix what students broke, for 20 years!
Grandpa Johnson (my dad's dad) was a child immigrant as well. He left school after the 8th grade to make and fit barrel staves into wooden barrels. Then he got a job on the Soo Line Rail Road and worked his way up through the ranks, till he retired as an engineer. These men worked with their hands and their bodies. Their hands were rough and calloused from tools and splinters, harsh weather and solvents.
My work is wtih my mind and mouth, with my ears and heart. Yes, it can get tiring and exhausting, but nothing like those who stand on hot highways pouring concrete or putting tiles on roofs or repairing broken engines. I don't have to risk the danger that fire fighters face or the stres of air traffic controllers. My easier life is blessed by the hard work of my family and all those around me. Bless those who labor.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I Need a Keystone

Life in California has either messed with me or freed me up, or, a little of both. I seldom wear a tie anymore except on Sundays. I have worn a robe twice in two years (and it's really OK). But the biggest change has been my (our) departure from the lectionary for one we composed together as a church. It all began back in Minneapolis during a confirmation parents' night when we told biblical jokes, and many of the parents sat there stone-faced. They did not get the jokes, because they did not know their Bibles well enough to know when a joke was being played on a "familiar" story. I resolved to preach a more overt lectionary: OT survey of the major themes and stories. But then I moved to California and went back to lectionary. When members here heard of my preaching plans for Minnesota, they asked me to preach it here. Biblical illiteracy is not a mid-west phenomenon.
From January 2006-May 2007 I preached the big themes from the OT: creation, sin, covenant, sacrifice, exodus, etc. It was well received. So from Sept 2006-May 2007 we preached through the life of Jesus; from birth to ascension. That too went very well, getting the pieces of the story hooked together. But now, we are heading into the story of the church, completing a trinitarian model Father, Son Holy Spirit.
Martha (my artist-wife) and Jeanne Heckman (her friend and collaborator with altar-pieces) brainstormed with me about a dominant image for the year. The idea emerged of a key-stone, cap-stone (some translations call it a corner-stone). They searched several communities around Santa Barbara, with no luck. Then the stumbled (no pun intended) into a stone yard, and the owner was captivated by the story and said he would cut a key-stone for us, something called travertine limestone (from with the Getty Museum in LA was made). He refused payment and dropped it off Friday, still wet from the saw.
It's magnificent, the way it stands there ready to carry a load bearing in on it from either side. That's the kind of Jesus who holds the church together, a Jesus who can bear the stress of the whole building. That's the kind of Jesus, the kind of church I need, to carry the load with me, upon whom I can lean with the painful questions and tough relationships. I hope we can be worthy of such a keystone.

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