Jibstay

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palms for Today


Palm Sunday is such a weird Sunday for me. It is so drenched with memories of singing in children's choirs under Bonnie Opel, draped in red robes with white collars that kept slipping. We would sing a descant along with the adult choir under Harry Opel, processing down the long sanctuary nave at 1st Covenant St. Paul to the tune of "All Glory Laud and Honor".
As a pastor, it was always the day for children to sing and process with their families. Palms were purchased, distributed and waved about. Children would proudly take them home with them. Happy Jesus on the donkey recognized by children's faith is such a warm thought. But that is not what the Sunday is about. It's about Jesus' frontal assault on all that was tradtional Judaism, forcing a confrontation. And, depending on which Gospel you read, it is also about the cleansing of the Temple, a righteous tantrum by Jesus, expelling the merchants and swindlers from his Father's House of Prayer.
This Sunday I am leaning into Jesus reaction at the top of the Mount of Olives when he sees Jerusalem. He weeps; not with a quiet dribble of a tear, but with heaving sobs and pain for his people, who just don't get it. After returning from Kenya and Cairo, I wonder if, as he watches us in our Palm Sunday routines, if he still weeps?

iPod Vending Machine


Dallas Fort Worth Airport is really big. So as I transfered gates yesterday on my way home, I wealked by a vending machine that grabbed my eye....an Apple iPod vending machine. There in the brightly lit case were all sorts of Apple/iPod products from iPods, and Nano's to digital cameras, attachments and software. These were high-priced products for a walk-by audience. Hmmm.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Truths at 30,000 feet

Flying is a delightful experience for me. I anticipate getting into the coccoon with my ipod, books, magazines, journals, Bible and thoughts. I love flying out of junky weather into the clear blue skies and sunshine. I like flying at night and seeing communities conect to coomunities by ribbons of headlights. I like flying in the early morning darkness into the rising sun. I like flying around huge thunder clouds. I am awed by the variety of landscape of both our country and the places in the world over which I've been allowed to fly.
Today I am en route from Minneapolis to Santa Barbara through Dallas Texas. We took off in rainy weather and junk. We climbed and climbed and climbed, all grey clouds, getting brighter but not clearer. When we reached our cruising altitude, w were sandwhiched between clouds beneath us and clouds high, high above us. There was no easy access to sun today. It is there, to be sure, but at an altitude our plane was not going to fly.
I pondered about seeking the sun. Sometimes the sun comes easily to us, like is often the case in Santa Barbara. We have an incredible number of sunny days each year. We expect sun and lots of it. In fact, we can get upset when we miss the sun for more than a day. Other places like Minneapolis, brace themselves for long, grey seasons of monochromatic colors and distinct and sometimes brutal seasons. But the sunshine comes to Minneapolis eventually, often accompanied by -10 degrees temeratures or +100 degrees heat and humidity. And sometimes it is glorious,
But the remaining truth everywhere on the globe is that the sun is there during the day, if you get high enough. Sometimes we just do not climb or fly high enough to get into the sun. We so expect the sun to come to us, we melt-down during bad-weather seasons. The same is true for our spiritual life and God. Sometimes I just expect God to show up and shine his love all over me. Growing up in a Christian home with loving parents, I have had an unusual nuber of sunny days in my life. So when the rain comes and the seasons are brutal, it's not about the sun vanishing, it's more about me learning how to fly higher (in some traditions of mysticism they aim interiorly and deeply).
I just called home to Santa Barbar, a different time zone from here in Dallas. It is cool, bright and sunny. "Hurry Home" Martha said.

Home?


It is not an ideal time to take a couple of days and fly to Minneapolis. But with Martha's mom struggling with cancer and her valuable visits to her home, I began to feel the tug to visit my folks, to "go home" to them as son and not have them visit me as busy pastor. So I flew out early Wed morning and was picked up by Isaac and had diner with Isaac, Liz and her new friend Jeff. Then drove to my parents' place at Covenant Village to visit and pick up the car. Isaac and I stayed up late visiting and him showing me new features on this very cool phone I have (T-Mobile Dash). Thursday morning I sat awed as I watched Liz teach several classes of elementary students the principles of music, rhythm, history and notation. Wow! My daughter is a great teacher! I saw it! I had a relaxing lunch with my brother Tim at a hamburger dive in Bloomington, catcing up on family stories and care for our parents (Tim shoulders the load now). Then all afternoon and evening was with my folks at their apartment, going through the slides from our trip to Kenya and Egypt. Nobody asks questions as probing and interested as one's parents. They were as interested and proud of me as I am of Isaac, Liz and Luke.
Isaac joined us for dinner (4:45 pm line-up!) and we ate in and amongst all of my old members from Salem. Hugs and greetings were exchanged and warm memories were recalled. Lis then called asking if I could spend a longer time visiting with her and her friend before they went dancing. 8:30-10:30 pm I sat with this young couple at Cafe Latte talking about life and direction, faith and dreams. I have not done that before with a young man seeing my daughter. It quickened my heart-beat. Then they asked me to go watch them swing-dance at a club. So from 10:30-11:15 I watched them sweep the floor with grace and energy, delight and style. Is this my daughter??

Isaac was waiting for me and we watched Colbert Report together (recorded episodes) and talked tech things till my eyes drooped. Instead of visiting Salem Covenant Church, Isaac and I went out for a long Cuban breakfast (yes, a Cuban revolutionary restaurant in South Minneapolis). Then I drove to my parents' place to drop off the car and spend the rest of the morning with them after buying $50.00 worth of Caribou Coffee at a local grocery store. Liz had some free time, so she met up with us and Tim came by early, so the 5 of us visited and lughed and prayed together before I rushed back to the airport and home..or was I home? No, home for me is Santa Barbara, Martha, the church and my call. But I had a home in St.Paul and Minneapolis, with good friends and great memories. Pacem!

Breakfast in Cuba

I am sitting in a little cafe in the rain in minneapolis with Isaac before heading over to my folks for a morning visit.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Isaac showed me a new trick

Isaac has showed me how to log on to my blog from my phone. It is a new world.

with my folks

To hug my kids


Yesterday was totally wacky. After the Council meeting, described below, I went home jubilant about our decision, so jubilant I could not go to sleep. I tried hard knowing that I had to wake up at 4:15 am for a 5:45 flight out of Santa Barbara for Los Angeles, to connect to a flight to Minneapolis via Chicago. It was a long day of flying on little sleep. But there at the airport baggage counter stood Isaac, scanning the crowd for his old dad. When he saw me, he smiled and gave me one of his big (I mean BIG) hugs. Nothing in the world feels better than being hugged by your own kids.
We drove through the cold and grey late afternoon to a Minneapolis coffee shop where we would meet up with Liz and her new friend Jeff (who actually wanted to meet me!!). When I saw Liz, another great hug. The coffee shop/restaurant was understaffed, so Jeff cooked our dinner with Liz's help and we briefly chatted until he (Jeff) was called back into the kitchen to help with an avalanche of customers.
So I was left with my two kids, on a dreary March night in Minneapolis...nothing could be finer! We then drove to my parent's condo in Golden Valley and visited with them. They were as delighted with my hugging of them as I was with my kids hugging me! It was a mini-love fest. We laughed, we chatted, we ate ice cream (I don't like ice cream at night, but my mom pressed me). So I'm now in Isaac's house with a cup of coffee, getting ready to change and head off to see Liz teach school for the morning, lunch with my brother Tim who pastors Bloomington Covenant and then the afternoon with my folks and dinnet at Covenant Village with my folks and Isaac. Then tonight, Liz wants me and Isaac to watch her and Jeff dance at some club. Dance? Me? I'll watch, but I warned her not to try to get me to dance. I'll let you know!

Lisa Holmlund to join staff


After 15 months of searching, the team selected to bring a recommended candidate to the Church Council for the positon of Director of Student Ministry presented Lisa Holmlund to MCC last weekend. Lisa met with just about every available age group and interest level in the church from Thursday evening till Sunday night.
Last Tuesday evening the Chruch Council convened for the primary purpose of discussing the recommendation from the Search Team. The response was overwhelmingly strong to offer this much needed and critical position to Lisa. I sent her an email late Tuesday night with the results. Wednesday morning I flew out early (5:45 am) for a long day of flying to Minneapolis to see our kids and my folks. As we were getting off the plan in Minneapolis, Lisa called me from the island of St. Croix, where she is nannying 9 kids. "Yes" she said! We are ready for the next exciting chapter in the life of MCC! Thanks to all of you who have prayed for us!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Congo: TIA


The images are stark. Well muscled men casually holding weapons, some in uniforms and others in palm branch skirts. What's this? "This Is Africa" is a phrase used in the movie "Babel" I think. It's not so much a disparaging term for the conditions of Africa, as it is a comment on the degree of safety, certainty and process we take totally for granted here in the USA.
In our recent trip to Kenya, a short-term missionary recounted an experience she had. Kenya has had a growing problem with car-jacking, so the police force is cracking down. This young woman saw some policemen stop a car with four men in it. They made them lie prone on the ground while they searched their vehicle. They found some weapons, returned to the prone men and instantly shot them all dead! Boom! No trial, no process, summary judgement on the spot, sanctioned by law. While we were in Egypt, we saw police-men stationed on almost every corner, some of them holding automatic weapons. TIA. Life is more fragile, volatile and vulnerable in Africa and other countries of the world. Life is more vulnerable in So,uth Central LA, South Side Chicago and New Orleans.
The question I ponder is what is the norm? Santa Barbara or Kinshasa, Cairo or Chicago? The more I travel and the more I see, I am so thankful for this world I am allowed to live in that is filled with nuisances, but not threats. I am not entitled to this any more than the poor people of Kinshasa are entitled to gunbattles on the street. It's when a friend like Curt and a 2nd cousin like Roger get caught up in the cross-fire that I stop and take a breath.

Curt and Roger on the plane!!

At about 1:45 pm California time, we received a phone call that Curt Peterson and Roger Thorpe were on an Air France plane out of Kinshasa and heading to Paris. Thanks be to God!

Curt & Roger on Stand-by

Curt Peterson and Roger Thorpe, Covenant leaders caught in the cross-fire of Kinshasa fighting are now on a stand-by list for an Air France flight out of Kinshasa to Paris scheduled for 10 pm Congo time. The street fighting has subsided and flights have resumed. Pray for them to get seats. I was able to talk with both Eileen Thorpe and Marti Peterson today, who conveyed their relief for their husbands' safety and gratefulness for all the prayers.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Congo Captives


This BBC photo, taken sevearl hours ago shows the refinery fire in Kinshasa that is part of the violence between President Kabilla and Senator Bemba. The challenge is that Rev. Curt Peterson, Executive Minister for Mission and Dr. Roger Thorpe, retired Covenant Missionary and Physician, were on the way to the airport when the violence erupted. They fled for safety, being robbed by Bemba's militia, but not hurt. They eventually found a safe house and notified the US embassy. In talking with Marti Peterson today, she told me that Curt and Roger feel both "safe and prayed for." Plans are in the works for evacuation by Tuesday at the latest.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lisa Holmlund candidating


Lisa Holmlund, a soon-to-graduate student from North Park Seminary is with us at MCC as the proposed candidate for the position of Director of Student Ministries at MCC. Tonight she met with students and leaders, ending in a crazy game of guessing and couches. Lisa is on the far left, with the big smile!!

Monday, March 19, 2007

subsidized houses for rich people


I do not normally see my community referenced in the New York Times magazine section. But on page 54 of the magazine section yesterday was a troubling article by Edward Lewine on the hosuing situation in Santa Barbara. The median price of a home here now hovers at $1.2 million. There are multiple conversations going on about how to keep the middle class in homes here with those sorts of prices. Physicians from the midwest turn down job offers because they cannot afford homes of any equivalent size. Many of the teachers, police, lawyers and business-persons commute. I know a couple of pastors who drive in from over an hour away.
The community is now seeking to build a subsidized development for those earning under $177,000. What does the future of ministry look like in this type of economy? Rev. Hugo Otaola, pastor of Isla Vista Covenant Church in Goletta talks about learning to live in proximity to the high-high wealth and the low-low poverty of 3 immingrant families illegally crowded into one apartment.
Is housing an ethical issue? Do people have inherent rights to own homes or is that something that is a uniquely American, 20th century phenomenon? Will the market-place eventually force comunities to allocate affordable space? It's an interesting discussion to observe unfolding here in my back yard.

Church Membership...yearly?

I'm back to thinking about membership, primarily because of the convergence of the council retreat and an engaging dinner conversation with some folks. At the council retreat, we discussed that painful topic of "what ever happened to ______? Did they leave the church or what? Who's going to find out?" The churches I've served have always struggled with the "back door" to the church. We are excited about the arrival of new friends and even more enthused when they participate in membership classes and join the church, standing up front and declaring their love for Jesus and commitment to this local congregation. But what then?
They are eligible to vote on church decisions, budgets and ballots. They can serve on church councils and in congregational leadership. But that's about it. Non-members can sing in the choir, teach classes, go on missions, give to the ministry, participate in almost every area of the church life but governance.
At the dinner the other night, the two couples who have been active at MCC for quite a while told me their stories. They came from the typical patc-work background of mainline denominations. They all grew up "in the church" but they all had renewal experiences in young adulthood that focussed their lives on their primary relationship with Jesus Christ. They got involved in different para-church ministries: Bible study groups, youth ministries, service ministries. Then, to a person, they talked about the disillusionment, the blow-ups, the splits. They matured and were asked to serve in leadership in different capacities when the conflict happened in the leadership group with a pastor. Each one had a painful, ugly story of Christian leaders (pastoral and lay) behaving badly. And they stepped back. Some stepped out of the church and worship for a while while they regained their spiritual equilibrium.
Now they are back, this time with us. They love worship and the many ministries of the church. But membership and elected leadership? "Why? they asked me. Why should we get back into that kind of situation again? We are growing and happy here."
That's when I threw out the option of a yearly membership renewal process. What would it be like for you, I asked, if membership was something we all did together, yearly, as a covenant renewal activity? What if membership was less administrative and more community care and affirmation? What would it be like if members who moved away or stepped out would not be "kept on the roles" for years and years?
I've written to Life Church in Edmund Oklahoma about their membership process, which I understand is a yearly renewal. I'd be interested to hear from you about how you view membership and what you think of a yearly renewal process?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Council & Staff Retreat


It started with eating. The staff, council members and spouses gathered Friday night for a meal together in the Fellowship Hall then we went off to worship together. We sang songs, heard God's Word as love letters to his children, and we gave personal witnesses of God's love in our lives. We did not strategize, evaluate or prioritize. We just worshiped.

Saturday morning we regathered at the Samarkand Covenant Village and again. We spent our first hours engaging Ephesians 4:1-16 together. We shared where God is stirring and calling in our lives. We prayed together, for each other. Then we began to look at various assessment tools MCC has used since 2004 to articulate where we are going, where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are. We laughed and told stories. We dreamed and wondered. We asked questions and pushed each other. We is God calling us to grow next? What new depths is God calling us to as individuals and as leaders? The time was tender and deep.
We broke for lunch with 26 of our Samarkand residents who are also MCC members. It was, again, a time for stories and connections. When we gathered back together after lunch we began to distill our impressions and thoughts, celebrating where God has led us but also stretching where God is calling us. We did not rest on our laurels, but looked at the "shadow side" of our congregation and ourselves.
The joy of the day was that we invested in leadership and not just management. What a privilege to be a part of a Body that wants to grow in the image of Christ and equip and release members to serve the Savior!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Denial


"Denial" is one of those hand grenade words that can derail most conversations. "You are just in denial" is a response that forces a person to defend their grasp of reality. "I think I'm in a state of denial" is a convenient excuse for self-indulgent behavior or a life without self-discipline. "Denial" is not grasping reality, refusing to come to terms with what a situation really is. Denial is a by-product of extreme optimism. Denial is a logical outgrowth of great fear. Denial fuels addictive behavior. Denial allows dysfunctional and toxic people to continue to behave badly with others. Denial is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it slipped into the cold ocean.
I don't like denial. Maybe that's why I have never preached a sermon on Peter's denial in the courtyard. In choosing to leave the lectionary and devise our own, based on the events in the life of Christ, I have been forced (does one force one's self?) to confront texts I know and am famliar with, but have not preached. In living with Mark 14: 66-72, I have had to return to great disappointments and deep wounds. At my desk I have been flooded with the faces of those persons who fell to immorality, addictions, illegal activity and just plain stupidity. These were all good people, people I loved and respected. These were people who had (and still have) enormous potential and are wonderfully gifted. They have been pastors, teachers, denominational leaders, chairpersons, deacons, friends, neighbors, new christians and old pillars. What they all have in common is their denial and pride tripped them up in some way, and they fell. They lost their marriages, their sobriety, their jobs, their respect, their reputation, their self-esteem, some even their children.
But, not all the stories ended badly. Some faced their demons, confessed their sins, owned up to their self-destructive pride and insatiable appetite for approval and found grace, forgiveness, love and reality. They found a life-giving relationship with Christ where he was Lord and not a hood ornament.
Peter is that story of brokenness back to health, from cowardice to courage. Who else could have told this terrible story to Mark other than Peter, the deniar who was later reconciled back to Jesus?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Territorialism

One cannot read the news about Iraq, Sudan, Congo, or the Gaza strip without hearing and perceiving competing territorial claims. Neighborhoods are staked out, militia (armed thugs) patrol streets dispatching summary execution on anyone intruding into their territory. Iraq is descending into it own ugly civil war between factions whose issues and sides makes western heads spin.
While in Kenya and Cairo, I was exposed to small, impoverished and embattled Christian communities that do not have time for territorialism. They are in a pitched battle for survival not protection, for evangelism and mission, not enhancement and customer satisfaction. In Kenya there is a pronounced weariness (that I briefly observed) over denominational divisions and competing claims to spiritual purity. The pastors I met with longed for larger Christian fellowship and cooperation. They hungered for collaborative worship, evangelism and fellowship. The same sort of sentiment was expressed to me by pastors I met with in Cairo. They are not very concerned about the subtle differences between Presbyterianism and Lutheranism. They are not worried about which style of music makes most people happy. Instead they are writing their own music and focussing on disciple-making.
After three weeks of talking with pastors, I could not wait to get back to do some pastoring; to get back in my own community with the people who called me and love me. I could not wait to get back into regular worship and study, praying and preaching, visiting and caring. But one of the disturbing notes I heard back in the USA among my fellow pastors (and some lay leaders) is our creeping territorialism. Especially in staff settings, where multiple pastors work (and compete?), there seems to be a low-grade fever of discontent, of striving for more. One pastor told me wearily how discouraged he was with a staff person who is always pushing for more authority, more visibility in worship, more up-front time, and endless suggestions how everyone else on staff needs to make improvements. He told me that he is now getting exhausted before meeting with this person, knowing that he will be pushed, poked and prodded.
The dilemma with this condition is that it is contagious. When I hang around territorial people, I defensively become territorial, protective and reactive. I see conversations more like bartering and haggling than a free exchange of ideas. I wonder before meeting "What will they want this time?" and that jades me from listening to their heart and caring for their soul. I wonder if part of the problem is our abundance of stuff and our lack of fire for the lost? Last Sunday night at the Santa Barbara County Jail, we had a miserably hot room with music booming out of a small cd player on rumpled sheets of music sung badly by a motley assortment of prisoners, most of whom I would not see again. But I ended up almost weeping as we ended our service with them all standing, singing "Sanctuary" with hand raised and eyes closed in praise.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Weird Numbers

Daylight Savings Time and Westmont College's Spring break converged today to create one of the smallest first services ever. The second service was comfortably filled. We were welcomed back so warmly and genuinely. Friends from Salem (Eclov's) showed up unexpectedly and took us out to lunch. Here too it was so good to remember loving friends and good times together. But I had to hurry back to church for a Inqurer's Class at 3:00 pm. By 3:30 pm, with a pot of coffee and tea and lemonade sitting untouched, I realized no one was coming. So I went home, got my ipod and headed out for a good mountain walk.
While walking I reflected on how seductive numbers can be. I can easily drop the number of Kenyan pastors who came to the two seminars. The numbers at worship in Cairo impressed me, even the fact that I was invited to offer the benediction impressed me. Then, sitting alone in a room waiting for nobody, also impressed me. I'm not all that important really. When the numbers are big and swirl around me, it's so easy to think that those numbers are due to me. But they can get very small real fast also and then I want to asign responsibilty to the heat, the date, or the time change..but not me. Why does my logic work so well just in one direction?
Then tonight I had responsibility for a service at the county jail. I got out there just in time and 20 inmates lined up to attend the English service with double the amount for the Spanish service. When I got into the very hot room and set up the boom box with a cd of worship music, these guys started to sing, I mean really sing; at the top of their lungs, eyes closed, hands raised, and badly, loudly and badly, but with heart. We sang together for 30 minutes. They kept choosing numbers and we'd sing them out. When it came time to teach, I used II Cor 2:14-16 on the fragrance of Christ. They sat in rapt attention, eagerly paying attention to the lesson and application. Then they asked for prayer: prayer for their children and wives at home without them, prayer for marriages crumbling while they are in jail, prayer for patience in their anxious waiting, prayer for their fellow inmates who are hostile to faith, and prayer for our soldiers serving all over the world. Then they wanted to sing until the guards came "Lord prepare me to be a sanctary!"
That was an evening NOT about me!!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Briefcase Charities


A friend introduced me to a new and disturbing term: "briefcase charities." These are non-profits, both religious and secular who establish bases of operations, collect money, but don't really engage the problems they are chartered to address. Ralph Winter, years ago, noted that a high percentage of missionaries go to locations where missionaries have already been, where housing and support services are well established. Resources are invested in housing, schools, and support infrastructure. We saw a large number of well-known international missions clustered together in Nairobi. Their compounds were impressive, secure and expensive. Their vehicles were new and of high quality. The question is service delivery. Are they doing what their supporters expect? Several were targeted for work in other African nations where quality of life is much more rigorous, even more dangerous. So these agencies work out of Nairobi, with an international airport and modern western ammenities.
The question is, can a mission be run and directed remotely? I am aware of directors of charities who live a great distance from the primary mission site. Is this wise and responsible?
Governing Boards and donors need to expect much more transparency from the operations staff about the direct delivery of service. Can a pastor serve a church and community from a long distance? Is the world really so flat (Thomas Friedman) that geography means nothing so long as we have high-speed internet and direct flights?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Arrested and Tried


For the next three Sundays, the sermons will be focussing on the last days of Jesus, beginning with his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and trial before the Sanhedrin, then the denial by Peter and lastly standing before Pilate.
The altar piece for the arrest and trial graphically sets out the images of the spears poking through the olie branches of the garden, a sword (either the one used to cut of the servant's ear, or those of the Roman soldiers), and a brutish club at the base of the olive branches. The carpet covering the table speaks of the home of the High Priest, where Jesus was brought and arraigned and where, when accused, he declared himself as the Christ, the Son of God. The Christ candle gives an evocative picture of Jesus stature and stability as the world raged around him. The noisier the crowds became, the calmer Jesus stood. There are no images of disciples here, sadly, because they fled and abandoned Jesus, by sleeping, by betraying and by running away naked into the night.

Back to the world of Snacks


Every day in Nairobi, at the Deliverance Church where 1,000 Kenyan pastors were participating in the SIM Pastors' Bookset Project, I would wander out on the grass between session to see "what's for lunch?" The caterers arrived early and stoked up charcoal burners and cooked amzing (read intriguing) meals for 1,000 pastors. These were some substantial, rib-sticking meals of some meat, vegetable, rice, potatoes (often both together) a fruit and soda. The cooks liked to see me coming to show off what was in their pot for that day.
What we did not do was snack. There were no munchies or bowls of little candies, lifesavers, or mini-candy bars. Cookies were not available mid-morning to dip into non-existent coffee (did I mention they ONLY drink tea?!?!). We met and studied and worked together until we had a Chai break and then lunch later, and then back to work. No snacking.
What I first noticed when I arrived home, at the LAX airport, was all the food and snacking. We like to have some little bit of food always nearby. Then, when I began to go through my mail I came to my favorite theological journal "Wired". The theme for this month's Wired is "Snack Culture". It is a withering expose on the way our culture keeps reducing everything to smaller and smaller bits for easier consmption. On the botom of the page, they have a time-line describing a tongue-in-cheek history of "snacking", including the 10 commandments as Biblical powerpoint, potatoe chips (1853), Gettysburg Address (272 words) 1863, vending machines (1888), comic strips (1895) automats (1902), Reader's Digest (1922),Cliff Notes (1958) etc. It tells the story of a Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System) founded by George Gimaric who takes classical tunes of all types and redces them to 2 minutes or less (wired.com/extras). It lists the latest web-sites for short bits of wisdom/info. In short, everything is compressible, redcible, distillible.....including as I read into it, church and faith.
I recognize this trend in me even as I browse the blog sites each day, sampling, grazing, skimming over the surface for a nugget, a spiritual sound-bite and snack for the soul. I see it in worship where we do not like songs and hymns that go on too long, scripture passages that we have to read out loud together, or prayers that go deep and last. We hate silence, of sitting and being still together in worship.
The difference between snacking and realy eating is time. When I really sit down to eat, I am satisfied, filled, nourished and sustained for long periods of work and concentration. But when I rummage through the office cupboards for another Oreo with my coffee, it tastes so good for a moment, and I'm hungry again in a few minutes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Grateful for Home


The morning began in the dark and smoggy air of Cairo. The red sun began to burn through the haze as we drove to the airport. Then, after a four hour flight over the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, we wandered through Heathrow airport and its curious shops, filled with a kaleidescope of people en route from all over the world. The long flight home on a packed 747 was a day of dosing, watching, reading and enduring seats being crunched back into my knees and falling asleep mid-movie and waking up over Hudson Bay.
By 6:00 pm we were on our descent path into Los Angeles and we could see the shimering of lights from that huge bowl of a city. It was home, our home, where we belonged, where we could read the signs and navigate the roads.
The past three weeks have been a wonderful adventure and exposure to life and faith unlike many of our other travels. From the vitality and joy of the rural Kenyan church to the stiffling heat and ungodly pride of "mighty men of God" pastors from some of the big urban Nairobi churches. From tender words of appreciation from pastors too poor to own two ties to the strange requests of help from church leaders. The time in Egypt was little short of revolutionary for us. We were first-hand witnesses to a church so vital and healthy, yet beneath the radar map of western religious press and web.
But all of that is not home, not for us. California is home. Santa Barbara is home. Home is where you know where the coffee is and the kind of cereal you like to eat. Home is where you can drink the tap water and eat vegetables without worry. Home is knowing how to walk in the dark to the bathroom and not stubbing your toe. Home is the familiar quiet sounds of the morning and a know routine awaiting you. Home is understanding the TV reporters and being able to read the road signs. Home is people you know by first name and will see again and again. Home is where you not only observe, but engage and lead, invest and stay. Home is a place I do not deserve given the povert and destitution of the world, but receive with grace and gratitude.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Egypt Church??


The main reason Martha and I took a diversion from Kenya home via Cairo was because of a conversation with friends in Santa Barbara last November. Over a relaxing dinner, we met an Egyptian couple who are members of (he is a staf member) of a Presbyterian Church in Cairo that has a membership of about 4,000 and worships with a filled sanctuary every Sunday night. (Night because Sunday is not a recognized day off and Christians must worship after work). When we arrived at 7:00 pm, the sanctuary was already packed with all ages. We were led in Arabic songs by a worship team with words on a screen for about 45 minutes. They sang with a power that puts to shame most of our singing. The speaker was a visiting American (Joe White). One of the pastors recognized me and invited me to give the benediction. Afterwards we hung around and were warmly greeted for about an hour, getting home after 10 pm.

Then today, we visited the Garbage Church (not a post-modern title, but actually on a garbage dump). It began by a Coptic Orthodox monk in the 1970's in a carved out cave and now worships every Thursday night about 2-3,000 people who live in the garbage city, smells and all. The city is about 90% Christian because of this one monk's dedication to the abandoned people. Almost every "home" is filled with diferent types of trash being recylced and re-sold. The smells and aromas are beyond description...but there is the church.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nairobi books


We just finished the Nairobi conference and this is one of the 1000 pastors getting her set of books.

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