Monday, December 31, 2007


It's New Year's Eve. Where have you been invited? Where have you not been invited? It's a funny time in the church when groups gather according to deep relationships. Sometimes those groups open to newcomers and other times they are tight and closed. A couple times over the last years I was invited to an event that other staff persons were not invited to, and feelings were hurt. 
Holiday times in the church are both the best and the most painful, especially for those who get left out because of their age, gender, marital status or newness to a community. When is it Ok just to invite a close circle of old friends without apology? When do we need to look at the perimeter for who is standing alone? 
May your circles extend.

A new blog site:sacredoldstones

Tonight I started a new chapter for me, something that will force me to take my sabbatical research and writing more seriously and, perhaps, enlist your help in my thinking and writing. The new blogsite is "sacredoldstones.blogspot.com.  The purpose is to spend time on that site just reflecting on the sacred dimensions of space. Come on by and add your thoughts.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Question

Tonight is one of those wonderful nights with a great home-cooked meal, a fire in the fireplace, and the great sound of the "Frames" newest album "The Cost" playing. I reviewed "Once" the movie some days ago. Well, today I was visiting with Josh Shelton (of the famous Ben&Eric Youtube fame with "My Name is Lisa"). Josh and his brother do short-movies in LA and are totally into the movie world. Josh told me today on the patio over coffee that he thinks "Once" is the best movie he has seen all year (and he and Ben see several movies a week all year long!) Go rent the movie! Glen Hansard will grow on you.
So, anyway, I'm in this Sunday evening zone of great music, company (Martha) and a full belly of her cooking and I open the laptop to get email from the day. 
A friend from 30 years ago emailed me thanking me for a question I asked her 30 years ago. I don't want to get into the details because she reads the blog and I value her privacy. But what amazed me, as a professional preacher and word-maker, is the power of a question over time. "Where are you Adam?" "Who told you you were naked?" "Where is your brother?" "Do you want to get well?" 
It's the question that sticks to the soul and burrows deeply over time. Questions have so much more power than declarative statements. Questions invite the listener/reader in to participate. Because a question without waiting for an answer is a ruse. 
Often I think my words, my sermons, the stuff I crank our does not work, will not have an impact, does not really matter. Then this email about a 30-year old question. Wow!! 

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Attraction of Fire

Fire draws like a magnet. I don't know if it's just a "guy" thing or if it's universal. But there is something deeply attractive about a fire. I purchased a chimenera, a terra cotta little furnace that holds a fire and, after a while, radiates some significant heat to those sitting next to it. The joke around the community is that I'm the hobo who carries around bundles of dead branches that I use to kindle the fire. Isaac is also attracted to the fire and the reading fellowship. It's a great place to quietly curl up and read into the night. Luke captured us in the midst of our reverie!

Friday, December 28, 2007

With the Boys

Saturday morning the boys and I found a flying park in Carpinteria. While Martha walked the trails along the ocean, Isaac and Luke rigged the plane and then Isaac stood at his perch along the cliff, sending his little plane out over the waters, framed by the oil rigs and the channel islands. 

Crow's Nest Activities

The Friday after Christmas is a wonderfully quiet time in the church, in every church I've served. Church activities are suspended for family time. The regular office and staff pace is muted. It's a time of gathering reports and statistics for the coming annual meeting. And it's the time for my Annual Report to the congregation. That means the crow's nest, that highest point on a ship in which a spotter is stationed to look for schools of fish, other ships or land (before GPS). Because of the curvature of the earth, the higher one can go up the mast, the farther one can see, ahead, to the sides and behind. 
That is the challenge and point of the Annual Report; to honestly look back on our "wake" and see where we've come from. For me that means laboriously reading back through my calendar, reviewing my activities church events. That's impossible to do during the high-pitched pace of a normal week. But when it's quiet, in the crow's nest, I am able to look back and reflect on what we've done (and not done).
The other more challenging task is to share with the readers of the Annual Report where we are planning to go, what our immediate and longer term steps are to be faithful disciples here in Santa Barbara. When I get more comments from leadership and staff, I will distill that report here. 
But until then, I'm enjoying the quiet and the wind in the crow's nest.

Invitation to a Leak

It will soon be January and a search team will be interviewing candidates for the presidency of the ECC. Would "Covenant Blogs" be a good place for some leaks? Would other non-official readers and writers like to weigh in on the merits and qualifications of potential candidates or would that just be gossip? Is there a democratizing quality in an open discussion about a variety of names versus the endorsement of one officially proposed name? It would certainly be a new direction.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Blurr

Is it over already? I was just carving the Thanksgiving turkey yesterday. We just set up the the Christmas tree and got the lights out. I tingled as I waited for each of the kids' flights to arrive and hug them while waiting for luggage. To see them all around the table together made my heart rest. Christmas Eve, tamales, and then a long evening of gift-giving and laughing could have gone on all night. 
But time rolls on and kids' flights home arrive and their energy gets restless to get back to their worlds. Then I think of my days as an adult returning home for a while, so glad to enjoy home-cooked meals, a relaxed pace and visiting with my folks. But then I got restless to get back into my schedule, my pace, my world. 
What is it about age that makes time go by so fast? I don't ask this rhetorically, but phenomenologically: I see a day absolutely shoot by. I know I need to hurry to get things done on my list this morning because this afternoon will be filled with some errands and stuff with the boys and then guests come in the evening and ...boom, it's over again. 
"There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Test post #1



Glenn Albrecht has coined a new word: "solastalgia" from solacium (comfort) and algia (pain). His discovery is in the latest edition of "Wired" magazine in an article on "Global Mourning".  Albrecht has been doing studies on fellow Australians who are grieving the loss of their familiar environment: dry spell, coral reef death, agricultural changes. Their reaction is that they are getting sad that their familiar surroundings are leaving them. "Their environment is moving away from them, and they miss it terribly." Albrecht calls solastalgia "a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home." 
This has been a year for it for all of us all over the country: from the ling drought and fires in California to the floods in the heartland, and now tremendous winter storms. It's not like it was, and we miss it. We live with this assumption about an entitlement to stability, at least reliability. And when it's not there, we get sad. I can't help but think of the millions of people in Bangaladesh and other low-lying regions in the world who are losing land due to flooding. I think of this past summer and the heat waves in Europe and the USA, and the challenge of coping with the new. 
Is this an opportunity for believers? How freed are we from our environments, without become ranters and ravers, but internally freed from weather dependancy? Can we shift attention to what really is reliable and dependent? Can we point out what is eternally stable in a shifting world? Can we do so without being smug and flip, but sensitive to how tough it is to cope in a changing world?

Petanque Tournament

A game we were introduced to in France is petanque. After most church celebrations, in most parks in the summer in the afternoon and evening, with our host family in the little town where we stay, we see petanque. It is unlike bocce ball and its rectangular and smooth gravel court. Petanque is played on an open court with three metal balls (boule) per player. The winner of a round tosses a brightly colored marker ball out somewhere, and the rest try to toll their boules closest to the marker ball. 
This year I completed our family set by giving the boys 2 sets of boules to finish our 3 sets, so each person has their own marked boules. We played for several hours on Christmas day, and, as you can see, there is a lot of taunting and teasing. This year, I, the old geezer, won the tournament and feel really great about it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Still life

I am trying something new Isaac gave me. It's a blue-tooth keyboard that folds out with a full qwerty key arrangement. This will allow me to blog right from th ephone and a fast keyboard. Cool bean!

New toy

This is the new toy Isaac gave me this Christmas...a blule-tooth keyboard that hooks directly to my phone. I can take a picture with the phone, send it to the blog site and use the keyboard to tell the story of the photo...all without using the computer. Cool beans!

Sweet Christmas Morning Solitude

There is nothing sweeter than this. I've finished my 2nd cup of coffee, read the NYT's and am sitting in the cluttered living room after last night's gift-giving. The 5 of us gave gifts to each other till about 11 pm, laughing and joking, tossing paper and ribbons everywhere. Isaac and Luke alternated as the "santa". It was a parent's wish fulfilled. 
I know that tomorrow Liz flies back to Atlanta, and on Friday Luke flies up to Eugene, and on Saturday Isaac flies back to Minneapolis where they are belong and need to be. But for this moment it's sweet beyond words. We will fill the day with petanque, walks, maybe a swim, and figuring out our new family gift "Tivo." 
Last night's candle-light service carried the same sort of energy; families gathered together for a moment from all over. They were really glad to be in one place together for a time. The air breathed of gratitude in an uncertain world. Couples I married years ago showed up with a baby in tow. A husband whose wife we burried last fall showed up with his daughter and son-in-law, tears filling their eyes in both grief and pain. There were so many like us; bound back together briefly. Maybe that's the "resident alien" thing of being a believer in this world. It's not really our destination, but we get glimpses of home briefly, once in a while, and it's sweet.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Scrabble

It's funny how each family sets up its own, unique Christmas traditions. We are fortunate again this year to have all three kids home with us for Christmas: Isaac from Minneapolis, Luke from Chicago and Liz from Atlanta. They are adults in their own rights with their own worlds and identities. Yet they give us their time to hang out as a family for a while. It's not without its challenges: sleep and wake time, foods, activities, tv, and connecting with friends. I recall how weird it was for me to visit my parents after they moved from St. Paul to Omaha. I visited them but had nowhere to go. I knew no one in Omaha and never planned to live there. So our (I was married then) trips were in and out. Liz has found some dancers here and Luke is finding some Ultimate players. Isaac will track down some radio-controlled airplane guys. But mostly we hang out together and get our fix on each other. 
One of our family traditions is Scrabble. It must be played at least once (last night we had 2 games in a row). It's a great time to concentrate, tease, talk, kibbutz, and laugh. We did all three last night.  Martha and I lost both games. 

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Make it Easy

Before worship this morning I read a moving blog entry by my friend Doug Pagitt. It is about an upcoming book about contributing to the discussion about genuine and vital faith. It was just the kind of thing I needed to quiet me before preaching and worship and visiting with several hundred people. So I went to Doug's "comment" section to thank him. But I needed to register first before I could comment on his site: name, email, password, etc. So I did that, went back to his site to than him and was asked for my user name and password. I entered it and the RED letters came up telling me I entered the wrong user name or password. I re-entered it and again the RED letter said "wrong again!" 
So I left. I'm hoping someone tells Doug what a great post he made and how much I'm looking forward to his book. But I got too frustrated at the mechanics of commenting that my energy was diverted from the joy of commenting to the rage of frustration....in a few minutes.
The problem? Well certainly it is me being in a hurry to comment and move on. A service was starting soon and I could not devote more time to redoing the registration process. I get that I am easily annoyed by what I think are unnecessary waits.
But I began to wonder how complicated I make life for others? How many hoops and jumps do people need to go through for me to listen to and hear their hearts? How easy is it to access a pastor these days? How simple do we make entries for those new to the faith, new to our community? Do you need passwords to get into a small group or invited to dinner? What does it take to get your name known by someone in the new church you attend? 
Doug's blog site is his business and there might be some good reasons to make commenting a bit more complicated. But my discovery, now at the end of the day is for me to make life easier for my members and friends, and not more complicated.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Once" must-see

Last night Luke hijacked my netflix que by inserting an indy film he saw called "Once". We sat down to a realist-filmed movie set in Dublin in the late winter, gray, cold, with muted colors. The story is of a man living with his dad fixing vacuum cleaners, but making street music on his breaks: popular music during the day for paying crowds and his soul-music at night when no one is around. He is encountered by a beautiful young woman who invites him deeper into his music. They form a funny partnership. The scene that moved me most deeply is when she takes him into a music store and plays a classical music piece for him on the piano and then they begin to make music together, he starting a line and she following titled "Falling Down Slowly".  It's a magical scene about the inner heart of how music (dare I say art) is made. Glen Hansard is the Irish guitarist and Marketa Irglova is the Czech pianist. Except for a flurry of "F" words, the movie is fantastic!

Defining Landscapes

What is the landscape that defines and shapes you? After preaching through Advent using the 7 churches of Revelation, I realize how site-specific these letters are. They draw on the uniqueness of each location and imply how those factors shape the condition of the church.
Each day brings a new bundle of Christmas cards and letters from friends around the country, often with photos of their families and events, defined by and illustrated by their unique locations: skiing, sailing, traveling, gardening, rural and urban. The photos help me place these friends a meaningful context and I imagine the snow that surrounds them or the mountain vistas they have. Some letters are a narrative of where they have been in the past year, so I get glimpses of trips, vacations, sporting events and concerts. Places matter. Space matters. 
In a post some time ago, I mentioned how Martha gave me a word that keeps echoing in my head: "Geo-piety." If you google the term you will find several uses for the word. The use that hits me is how the normal shaping that happens with the space around a person morphs in time to a worshiping of the space around a person. My space is the only space. My space is the best space. My space is better than your space. You ought to see the light and appreciate the superiority of my space over all other spaces. Nobody says it quite that brazenly, but it's there. It's there when people suggest that someday you will see the light and reside in their space. It can be picked up in conversations where you overhear people wonder how anyone can live "there" instead of here! "I don't know if I could ever live there!" 
As a pilgrim-pastor, I bless God for shaping me with all sorts of places: the plains of Kansas and the river-valley of Lafayette, Indiana. I loved those years along the dunes of Lake Michigan in Muskegon and the winter blasts of Minneapolis, the clear and distinct seasons that came with the midwest. Now the ocean shapes me with it undulating motion and distinct smell. This little ledge of land bounded by mountains to the north and the ocean to the south, with high-high wealth and low-low poverty shape me. Cold mornings of marine layer fog and hot sunny days of brilliant light shape me. Casual tie-less attire shapes me. Being adjacent to Westmont college with students and faculty shapes me. High and low tides shape me. Blended music and lower-church liturgy shapes me. But my prayer for this chapter in my life is that God ultimate shapes the shapes that shape me.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Give me Easter over Christmas

Ever listen to pastors talk about the difference between weddings and funerals? You'd think any pastor would love the celebratory nature of a wedding versus the grief of a funeral. But most would say just the opposite. Weddings come with so much more than two people making a holy vow before God. Weddings are a major industry, especially in a destination location like Santa Barbara. 
Planning for a wedding morphs into a major tactical exercise, with florists, coordinators, caterers, dj's, photographers and divergent family traditions of the right way to do it. With less and less of the population being regular church-goers, pastors' advice becomes a marginalized and tolerated necessity. 
But with a funeral, the issues are clear-cut and there is something clarifying about death. Death lends itself to speak of ultimate issues with a minimum of fanfare and pomp. Oh, they can go over-the-top, but less likely than with a wedding. Pastoral presence and great words from Scripture satisfy like nothing else at times of death.
Christmas has a tendency to morph into over-the-top cultural expressions and events. Too much money, too much food, too much drinking, too much of everything. Where's the baby? Where's the quiet and the simple amidst all the lush decorations? 
Easter is clearer and less entangled in the marketplace and culture. Like death, it lends itself to the ultimate and is less distractable. I pray for myself and other pastors and worship leaders during these next few days to have their focus clear and simple. God entered our world and subjected himself to our culture for our redemption.

Family Again

Luke arrived last Saturday and Liz flew in Wednesday. Isaac arrives tomorrow night, all from different cities, nesting for a while in Santa Barbara. Today in cool and windy weather we wandered the beach under the Mesa, marveling at rock formations and the bird behavior. Having adult children give you time in their schedule is an incredible gift. They are adults in their own rights and yet still children of us, much older parents who still think like young adults. It makes for some interesting and funny conversations, like who is the grown-up here? 
Luke is working diligently on Ultimate videos on my laptop at home when I'm done with work. I did not think it would be a big deal...until it was out of reach. I did not realize how much and how often in the evenings I resorted to checking email and posting blogs. It's almost a withdrawal experience, and that is good in its own right. Reading is more appealing, and watching TV with Liz and Martha is something I am doing more than before.
How much does a lap-top and wi-fi remove you from conversations? How easy is it for you to un-plug after working on a computer during the day? I discovered, to my embarrassment, that I did not un-plug, but just kept dipping into the web off and on until I went to bed. Hopefully this will make a change in my behavior.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


In reading this blog, you might wonder if all we do in Santa Barbara is party; from the Jr. High desert to the Trolley-Car caroling to the staff party last night. Well, something happens in a community when you start to celebrate Christmas together with parties and dinners and silly white-elephant exchanges. You eat too much wonderful food (our party at the Trautwein's served a grilled flank steak rolled in coffee grounds!!!) laugh too much and stay up too late. Mornings at church are pretty quiet as patterns shift, out of town guests arrive (Luke and Liz are now with us!) and plans for more parties come into view. 
Partying with other believers is a good anti-dote to life with too many committees. It's nice to sit and laugh along with a story than drive through a content-heavy agenda or get a lesson plan completed and taught. Maybe I have more law in me than grace in that parties are work for me, though in the middle of them I realize how good it is to be part of a party, an invited guest who has a place and belongs, with friends whose names I know and who call me by name. Sounds like Gospel!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I have participated in all sorts of caroling: with candles walking through snow from house to house, through the halls of nursing homes and hospitals, in living rooms with fireplaces, in sanctuaries and chapels with musical accompaniment, but never (until last night) on a trolley, much less 4 trolley cars.
About 40 adults from church rented spaces on 2 of 4 trolley cars that left the Santa Barbara pier for a 90 minute slow troll through various neighborhoods of the community. Homeowners were outside waiting for our procession to come through, bells ringing, carols singing and often cheering the decorating work homeowners did to their houses.
It was cold and misty, but oh so fun. I saw a Santa Barbara I have not seen before from the vantage point of the back seat of the trolley. We laughed together and sang together. It was good!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Party Season

The Jr. High ended their Christmas progressive dinner at our house last night, beginning the wonderful round of Christmas parties and meals for the next two weeks. Martha made a big chocolate fudge desert with peppermint ice cream topping and home-made hot chocolate. We sugared their systems into the middle of this week! But it was really fun on several levels: our son Luke is with us and his interaction with Lisa and the leaders was fun to watch, hosting the students was a privilege, to watch them just hang out with each other and interact in an unstructured setting (unlike confirmation and worship), and then to be a participant with them in a silly white-elephant gift exchange was really fun. At the end of the evening, parents came to the house to pick up their children and we had a good chance to just visit with them and hang out.
I need these unstructured structures when I am not on a performance schedule and I can listen and relax. The only problem is that they usually come with foods, wonderful, calorie-filled foods!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Steroid Players: Fire Them!

I know it is simplistic, but what if Baseball owners and the players' union took the same sort of action that Track and Field did with Marian Jones, strip her of her medals and ban her from competition. Bicycle racing is beginning to do that: juicing? You're done! Why? Because that is the only consistent message to send to young fans and athletes: cheating does not pay, will not be rewarded, and costs far more than it's worth.
If I, as a pastor, cross ethical lines, I'm done. I know it, the church knows it, the Board of Ordered Ministry knows it. Police persons, bankers, attorneys, physicians, pilots, etc. Every reputable profession has exacting standards that do not tolerate certain destructive behaviors, regardless of the person's fame and prior accomplishments. I have seen some really great pastors leave the ministry in disgrace because of crossing the lines.
For me and professional baseball? It's not worth watching any more than professional wrestling.

Staff Photo

Getting a staff photo together is like herding cats; high energy, side-bars jokes, busy agendas make getting everyone to be in one place at one time difficult. But last Thursday we all gathered under the front door awning for a staff photo done by professional photographer Tim Eaton (really videographer). The truth is, we really do like each other, like a family! What a privilege to be a part of a committed staff!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

White Space: where's yours?

The NYT's today had a back page article about "white space." Normally I think of Google, Apple, sleek graphics that allow wide margins of empty space. But this white space is a new use for uninterrupted time and places/times conducive to real creativity. Most of those interviewed said it is not the office and not at work. Some creative types go to work and open their offices, hanging up a coat and then vanishing to a place with wifi to get real work done.
As I read the article I wondered how many pastors find the church anything but white space? How many of us live lives with little white space, but instead look like pages with overlapping type and no margins? Being a full-time pastor and empty-nest parent makes whites space a bit easier. But when it does not happen, I realize that I am my own worst enemy. I self-clutter and self-distract. Why is it so hard to turn the computer completely off and turn off the cell-phone?
Would 40 years of wandering be quality white space? How about the belly of the whale? Is 40 days in the wilderness good white space time? Is white space a choice, necessity, or something thrust onto us, like waiting for flights?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warning: Gingerbread Man!

Our daughter who teaches kindergarten in Atlanta called today with a story from her class. They were making a big gingerbread man, baking it while telling the story to the kids of how it came alive and ran away. They went on a little walk to come back and find the gingerbread man "gone." So they searched the school for the "lost" gingerbread man and found him in the principal's office. There the principal said that this "bad" gingerbread man ran away and that's not a good thing for children to do. When they all agreed about the lesson of not running away, our daughter said "It's time for the reward and we can all eat the gingerbread man." A little girl seriously looked up at our daughter and asked: "If we run away from the classroom, will you eat us too?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Priests Work So Hard

Monday night Martha and I had dinner at the parish house of Father Maurice O'Mahoney, priest at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Montecito. His old black Lab, Beebee, greeted us warmly as we walked upstairs into his small sitting room with a fireplace going. Born and raised outside of Dublin, Ireland, Fr. O'Mahoney has a wonderful Irish brogue and a twinkle in his eye. We have become close through the M-4 (the 4 churches of Montecito) and he invited us to dinner with him after our ecumenical Thanksgiving service. His parish celebrated its 150th anniversary last year and we were his guests, meeting Cardinal Mahoney from Los Angeles.
Since both Martha and I are pastor's kids, we roared at the stories he told of parish life in Ireland and here in the USA. He does not pastor his church like I pastor mine. He's clearly the boss in all things. The council serves to advise him, but has no voting power. Authority is a dominant concept in Roman Catholic pastoral authority. He told stories of turning down Hollywood celebrities who wanted to get married in his church because it "was so pretty." He said; "We aren't here to be someone's photo studio. This is a parish!"
But what hit us both as we drove home were the statistics he shared. When he entered the diocese of Los Angeles almost 40 years ago, there were 2 million Catholics and 900 priests. Now, today, there are 5 million Catholics and 400 priests, and many of them are on the verge of retirement.
Father O'Mahoney does not have a pastoral staff for his parish of 1,000 families other than a secretary, custodian, choir director and a nun (whom we also have grown to love) who serves the K-8th grade school attached to the church. This priest says a daily 7:45 am mass plus a Sunday services, with weddings and funerals added, and on-call all day Tuesdays at the hospital. I don't think I will complain of overwork for a while.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Cards and Letters

I love the mail these days. I love opening Christmas cards from families and friends with the seasonal Christmas letters and various types of visuals. Some are sophisticated desk-top publishing, highlighting the family events of the past year. Others are those great family portraits that give us a picture of how children have grown and aged, and how my peers have grown so much older than I am. Some letters are litanies of accomplishments from proud parents. Others mark the sad changes of death and loss. All are welcome because we know and love these people; we have history and story together. The Christmas letters link one more year on the chain of years.
Each of our years Martha does a linoleum block print of something. This year it is the courtyard that I blogged about below; the beautiful oak grove between the parsonage and the church, where squirrels scamper and crows feed. It's the path I cross several times each day between house and office. It's a source of unending pleasure as I watch the light filter through the trees at various stages of the day, or the fog hover in the branches when the marine layer rolls in.
I love being married to an artist who can capture with her hand more than what my eye sees or the technology of my digital camera records.

Christmas in the Field

What is it about Children's Christmas Programs that are so compelling? This year our Children's Ministry Director staged the program in the Oak Grove between the sanctuary and the parsonage, the path I walk through several times each day. Some guys from church erected a creche, covered it with palm leaves and surrounded it with hay bales. Lights were strung in the trees and chairs were set out on the dirt. It was cold for Santa Barbara. People came bundled up with knit hats, gloves and blankets. You'd thing we were at Lambeau field in December! And then the children came out dressed as sheep, angels, shepherds, wise men, donkeys and cattle. They were totally into their parts in spite of the cold. They sang carols with loud voices and knew all their lines. This was serious business for them. As I watched one little angel on the far right of the scene; when she sang, she was looking around and up, maybe for the angels she was singing about. It was a magic moment. We loved being together in the cold.
Then we all gathered in the outdoor patio for hot chocolate and cider and cookies with the fireplace roaring and the overhead heaters on full-blast. Parents were clearly happy and proud while the children ran around with ever-increasing speed due to the sugar-buzz we had just given them. Maybe now at 8:30 some parents are breathing curses for how the evening hyped up their kids, but I don't think it's many. We saw our angels the right way, outdoors under the stars and the cool night air.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Odyssey Generation thoughts again

He is bright and charming. I always enjoy visiting with him. He's been out of college several years now, living with some other guys in the community. He clearly loves Jesus. He has a job but not a career or vocation; that's eluded him. He dates, but is not ready to commit to marriage. He worships, sometimes with us, sometimes with other churches, and sometimes just lets Sunday go by. He is in a Bible study with other guys but he also likes to party. When he shows up he give 110% to a project, but then vanishes after it's over.
I could just as well be talking about her as him. I have names and faces for these ones in my community I know and love, but who defy ministry categories I have used over the years: not youth ministry, not college ministry, not newly-weds, not singles (looking for love), ....what? David Brooks coined the term "Odyssey Generation" in a NYT's article months ago I blogged on. Then today Peter Steinfels in the NYT's wrote an article entitled" "Adulthood is Coming Later. Now for the Cause, and Consequences." In the article he reviews a book I recently read and enjoyed, Robert Wuthnow's "After the Baby Boomers; how 20 and 30-somethings are shaping the future of American religion" and a new article in "Books and Culture" by Christian Smith looking at this demographic community he calls "emerging adulthood."
Both authors mark the change of maturation sequence: adolescence, college, career, dating, engagement, marriage, then sex. The sequence has been profoundly disrupted for the majority (63% of young adults who are sexually active) of these young adults. The sequence now is adolescence, sex, college, job, cohabitation, and maybe marriage. Smith says that Wuthnow does not grasp what it means for congregations that value chastity before marriage and young adults who are sexually active, possibly cohabiting and spiritually hungry.
As I read and reflect on these two authors I think of those in my community who are hungry for God but not always in the way that we in the church package faith. How do we listen intently without compromising? Personally I think it is a mission field/ ministry arena I need to listen to more deeply.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Exegesis or Narrative?

My brother is a pretty smart guy. The other day we were having a phone conversation about a highly charged ethical issue. He interrupted our conversation saying, "You need to determine at the outset if this is about exegesis or narrative." When I asked for clarification he illustrated how many conversations can shift from exegesis into narrative with the simple phrase "but I have a friend who ____________." And now we are comparing the level of friendship we have with people as ammunition for or against our argument. No place is this more explosive than when talking about Christianity and sexual ethics. When divorced people were anonymous and homosexuals had no names, it was a far easier conversation topic. But when my friends and family experience divorce and my close friends come out of the closet and share not only their sexual story but their faith story, it's a tougher discussion.
The question remains for believers, and especially for pastors; is this about faithful exegesis or compelling personal narrative?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Is Anyone Listening?

In a breakfast conversation with a friend, we talked about the challenge of listening; really listening. So often in my feeble attempt to listen, the person speaking to me sparks a thought in my head that triggers and incontrollable tangential thought that I HAVE to share and I jump in, stop listening and start talking. Pretty soon I'm not listening at all, but speaking passionately about this new topic of interest to me. That's a huge challenge for me; to really listen. As we talked about emerging ministries and trends in the church, we observed how difficult it is for institutional leaders to listen, especially when they are being critiqued.
I really like to listen to you when you say nice things about me. I like it when you compliment me about my brilliant new idea or excellent pastoral leadership. I listen to you when you tell me how wonderfully I met your needs. I listen to you when you agree with my ideas and programs. But when you have concerns with the way I pastor, preach, lead or worship, it's much tougher to listen. When you suggest something new for me to consider that is not a part of my agenda, but, in truth, an interruption to my life, it's really hard to listen.
But note how well God listens. Note how well Jesus listens. Look at all the questions God asks in the Bible and waits, and listens. God models listening for us (think of Job as a great case study in God's listening).
How well does the church listen? How well does the local parish listen to its members? How well do I, as a pastor, listen to the church staff, members, newcomers, college students here for a season, really, really needy people? How well do church officials listen? How well do institutional leaders listen? I think the Covenant Church could really grow in this arena (but so could I!) When I hear of institutions creating departments of church-relations, I wonder: will they listen, or just promote? Do they want to hear what's happening and not happening? We'll see.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Staff Vacancy

After four years, our Director of Music and Worship has decided to move on to the next thing God has for him. I have enjoyed being stretched by Dan in new ways and new sounds. Musicians have always been important for my faith formation and worship leadership. Now we are starting a new search for the next person to help shape and guide our intentionally diverse worship. I would ask for your prayers for us and for the next person God has for us.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Confirmation Epiphany

Talking about the joys of teaching confirmation and doing it are two separate experiences. I can wax eloquently at a conference of other pastors about how rich a relationship I have with my confirmands. But on a Tuesday afternoon from 4:30-6:00 it can be a taxing time on the best of days. These students, 7th and 8th graders, have already had a long day at school and are loaded with homework....and are hungry, perpetually, unfillably hungry. Their minds and bodies don't always dance together, and little girls scream and flirt with the boys at the same time, who are so clueless they don't know whether to be flattered or to kick them back! There are moments of clarity and longer periods of high energy movement. So I don't always know what's really sticking in their hearts and heads.
Tonight we studied Holy Communion and decided to set the class in the sanctuary around the bread and the cup. We talked about worship (using the Kierkegaard model) and what a sacrament is and isn't. We had open questions that became amazingly astute and perceptive. Then Lisa Holmlund gathered the class around the steps and elements and we sang for a while together. Most of the students sang, some with their eyes closed and hands upturned. When it came time for the words of institution and prayer of consecration, the air was thick with energy and alertness. I walked around the circle with the plate and chalice serving them individually by intiction. It was holy intense. Lisa led us in a last song, the Taize song "Jesus Remember Me" and Martha closed in prayer. They got it! it was real and rich!
Then they began to play and jump around, letting out the horses before their parents came for the ride home. Oh so sweet!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent Family Sunday School

Family Sunday School projects usually flop. Adults without children generally do not get excited about a multi-generational event, so they stay home. Kim Crawford, our Children's Ministry director really wanted an all-church family Advent event. She broke the gym into 3 sections: a place with chairs for a devotional on Advent I led, tables with the parts for Advent wreath-making, and a table with treats and hot chocolate. The picture above does not quite capture the numbers and energy in the room. Old and young, college students and wheel-chair bound seniors all took part in a happy buzz of creativity and cooperation.

Advent: Worship or Decoration?

Helen Locke was the organist in Lafayette Indiana when I was a child. A single, highly focussed woman who lived with her brother, she was an institution in and of herself. Helen did what Helen did. During my first year as pastor in 1980, we approached Advent. Helen set out the wreath with 3 purple candles and 1 pink one. I came into the sanctuary and informed her that the colors were wrong. They should be 4 purple, no pink. Helen was not one to be disagreed with, and she held her ground, refusing all my reasons and arguments. So, early on Sunday morning, before anyone arrived (before Helen arrived) I took the pink candle and aggressively dropped it on the floor, breaking it. I then replaced it with a 4th purple candle. When Helen arrived, she was more than upset. I told her it dropped and I had to replace it with the only candle I could find.
Only later that year, doing more study did I realize that Helen's 3rd pink candle was appropriate, and so were my 4 purple candles and 3 or 4 royal blue candles. What was wrong had nothing to do with the candles, but with my heart. I was prideful and hurtful to a committed woman of the church. Years later I confessed to her my wrong-doing and she warmly forgave me.
When it comes the Advent and Christmas in the church, and in the home, it is amazing how ramped up emotions, feelings and attitudes can become. We feel that our way of arranging, organizing is the best way, and do not mess with me. And that's where I always go off the tracks, as if it is about me and not about God. Different cultures and different denominations have employed a wide range of colors and images for this holy season of Advent. My advice? Relax, enjoy whatever colors are up there. Wait for Jesus!

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