Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sandbox Rules

Kenton Anderson (Naperville, IL) and I were talking today about high-flying topics like church governance, performance reviews by church leaders, staff evaluations, and standards for congregational behavior. Robert Fulghum's name came up. Remember Fulghum (I think that's how it's spelled)? He's the former priest who wrote the two classic leadership books: "All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" and "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It". The guidelines for organizational behavior that really make a long-standing impact are:
1. Wash your hands
2. Share your toys
3. Hold each other's hand crossing the street
4. Clean up the sandbox when you are done
5. Flush

Sounds like a great plan!


Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day BBQ success!

The day began with a softball game every church would beg to have: multi-generational, multi-ethnic, bi-gender, all skill levels, no yelling, lots of laughing, and no ultimate score. The big guys who can really hit played with the little ones who look up to them and tolerated us older ones who play great games in our minds. It was so much fun to play a game filled with encouragement and inclusion. No one was left out, even if he or she came let, we slipped them in. The big gues still hit homers a mile long, and others swung dribblers barely to the pitcher. But it was all fun/

After grilling our own meats and dishes to pass, we gathered in front of the gym where auctionaire extrodinaire Steve Shelton auctioned off a variety of wonderful deserts. The goal this year was to help underwrite the M-4 project of back-to-school backpacks for underpriviledged kids in Santa Barbara county. One team of bidders paid $900 for a cake! Was that cake good!!! The total raised at the auction by those in the photo above came in just over $3,800!!

HIV & the Swirl of Hope

Yesterday was one of those great Sundays! MCC reverted to its one-service summer schedule, so all who worshiped were together in one space with no time-crunch hurrying the service along. During the service we interviewed the woman next to me; Olipa Chimageni, from Malawi. Oplia is a 28 year old single mother of 2 children, one of whom has tested positive for HIV. She is both HIV positive and out-of-the-closet in her family, community and church. Jeff Witten, from World Vision, brought her to our church, and the other woman in the picture, Ethel, to El Montecito Presbyterian Church with Rev.Harold Bussel.
This shy-flower of a woman brought a tremendous testimony of both brokennes and hope. her world crashed when she fo,und out that she was HIV positive through her husband, who then abandoned the family, leaving her to fend for herself.
Through World Vision, Olipa was connected to a support group of healthy women, who practice positive, active health steps along with an ARV drug regimen. Her word to me, in my office with Jeff was: "Having and Jesus means hope!" And she meant it.
In the afternoon, I made a hospital call on a woman valiantl fighting cancer. Gaunt, thin, tired, with tubes coming out of her, I told Olipa's story to her and her husband, translating it a little by ending "Having cancer and Jesus, means hope!" Tears streamed down both their cheeks with this wonderful reminder of the hope we are privileged to know.
That same night I had a jail service at the county jail. This time I went to a new wing, a double men's unit in the basement. The air was fettid and the room was packet with men in prison blues or boxer shorts, all ages and races, some brilliantly tatooed all over their bodies. We gathered in the far end of one bunk room, plugged in the boom box and sang praise chorusses to the cd. Then I told them the Pentecost story from both Genesis 11 (Babel) and Acts 2. We talked about how the Holy Spirit fills time, space and our lives. And then, after praying for them, I told them Olipa's story and changed it a bit again ending: "Having a jail sentence and Jesus means hope." And a big tatooed guy began to shudder with tears, tears of hope.

Life by Committee

We live in a beautiful home. It's a four bedroom ranch honme surrounded by a privacy wall and now gorgeous gardens Martha has cultivated. The equity we pulled from our Minneapolis home was insufficient to purchase anything in our area here, so we decided to move into the church-owned parsonage on the church property.
Both of our parents lived in parsonages. We were both born in and raised in parsonages. Our first homes (internship in Kansas and Lafayette, Indiana) were parsonages. Our parents did not purchase their own homes until we were married and on our own. Their advice to us was clear: buy your own place, build your own equity, make your own decisions.
Well, that was good advice when the housing markets were reasonable and growing and interest rates were low. We did that with the help of the Muskegon Michigan church. We purchased a beautiful little Cape Cod home with a big yard and Martha went to work on it. For seven and a half years we relished owning our own place, making our own calls, hiring our own workmen, making changes, additions, and repairs. The house sold easily when we moved to Minneapolis, where we bought our second home. The same process happened in Minneapolis. It was our refuge and our project. We claimed storage spaces into work-rooms, fenced the garden and recarpeted some areas and refinished wood floors in others. And again, after thriteen years, the house sold quickly because it appreciated well.
So we moved into the parsonage here without children to care for and twenty years of home-ownership under our belt. We also accepted the economic and spiritual reality that home ownership in Santa Barbara was an out-of-reach fantasy, economically impossible for the church and for us. So this arrangement is really quite nice. We live in a home far nicer than we could afford on our own, within walking distance to work and with adequate bedrooms to house children, parents and guest when they visit. The church greatly respects our privacy and we have no problem with maintaining good boundaries between work-life and private life.
The rub comes in decision-making. The parsonage, as a piece of church property is under church governance and that means a committee. When we see the need for a repair or replacement, there is the challenge of persuading others that this is a good thing at a reasonable price (since it is not our money being spent). I find myself in the role of cheerleader and salesman again, though this time about our private living space.
While it is weird, I think it is the wave of the future for ministry in high-rent areas. There is no way normal pastors can afford to buy their own homes in $1 million + areas. It forces the churches to allocate too much budget money to living expenses, stretches pastoral budgets too tightly and makes artificial millionaires of pastors, who get chained to their own real estate wealth. I'm amazed at the pastors in this area who own their own homes and never plan to leave. What does that say about God's sovereign call? So, back to parsonage living and life by committee. While it's awkward and bulky, I think it is the right way to do things, but we all need some help and tutorial guidance about how to do it more gracefully and smoothly.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pentecost in the fog

Santa Barbara is weather-confused. Locals call it "May-Gray". The days begin in mid-50 fog and heavily overcast skies. There is often an accompanying marine-layer mist. If we are fortunate, the sund burns off this marine layer fog by early afternoon, sometimes as late as 4:30-5:00 pm. Then we have this glorious afternoon and sunset. It's almost like 2 days in one: the foggy morning and the sunny afternoon. It's no hardship when so much of the country is hammered and battered, just weird.
I think many of us have spiritual lives that resemble "May-Gray." We know the sun (son) is out there, somewhere. But everything is diffused light and foggy. It's not severe or stormy, just bland and misty. We need some Pentecost fire and light to dissipate the spiritual fog. Come Holy Spirit Come!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The good news about marriage...bad news about living together

Sensitivity to others has often quieted me from championing marriage. A single person can have a fulfilled life. A divorced person often needed to make the break to protect children from abusiveness or themselves from a soul-damaging partner. Those who lost spouses to death grieve companionship and sometimes ache when they walk into a room full of couples sitting close together. So we mute our voice about the benefits of marriage in the desire to be compasssionate and not haughty.
But "The Economist" of May 16th has a featured article entitled "The Frayed Knot". The article contains an intriguing number of statistics compiled by researchers (all secular and academic) from around the USA. Here are some stats:
-only 4% of children of mothers with college degrees are born out of wedlock.
-the divorec rate among college educated women who married between 1975-1979 was 29%
-the divorce rate among college educated women who married between 1990-1994 was 16.5%
-the divorce rate among high school dropouts who married between 1975-1979 was 38%
-the divorce rate among high school dropouts who married between 1990-1994 was 46%
-92% of children whose families make more than $75,000 live with both parents (and step-parents)
-20% of children whose families earn less than $15,000 live with both parents (and step-parents)
The article goes on to argue that marriage is, itself, a "wealth generating institution" because it affects the way people behave in just about every area of measurable conduct. Yet, marriage is a superior institution than cohabitation. In fact, the article gets almost preachy when it describes the outcomes of couples who choose to cohabitate. "On average, the children of co-habiting coules do worse by hearly every measure." Co-habiting relationships last on average about two years. Those who live together are more likely to divorce than those who do not. Two thirds of American children born to co-habiting parents who later marry will see their parents split up by the time they are ten. "Since no explicit commitment is made, it is easier to DRIFT into living together that it is to drift into a marriage. But once a couple is living together, it is harder to split up than if they were merely dating. So many of these men end up married to women they would not have married if they hadn't been living together.....sliding versus deciding."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Staples: corporate dud

The M-4, the four churches of Montecito (All Saints by the Sea Episcopal, Mt Carmel Roman Catholic, El Montecito Presbyterian and Montecito Covenant) along with Peoples Self-Help Housing (a Santa Barabara 501C-3 not-for-profit) and World Vision are teaming up for a really cool project: to fill 800 back-packs for under-privileged children in the Santa Barbara area, all clients of Peoples Self-Help Housing.
One of our great ideas was to get a corporate sponsor to come alongside us with some product donation. We realized that all ofour churches and agencies use Stapels. Duh! No-brainer right? Wrong!! Staples will not let us talk with any store managers and can only contact corporate through their web-site 6-9 weeks out. What a stiff-arm! It makes all of us think we need to re-evaluate neighbor-friendly relationships with vendors. This could have been such a gimme to Staples. The Montecito community would have seen corporate sensitivity to community needs. But they blew it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rx: Picnic with Spouse

Post-Easter, post-Confirmation, post-graduations can be kind of a let-down for for pastors, staffs and congregations. The best thing for me is a picnic with Martha, which we did today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Uses for Anonymous Notes

I just love anonymous notes. It's funny how most anonymous notes have a consistent message: I don't like something after the fact. There is nothing inherently wrong with anonymity. In some settings where there is oppression and fear of retaliation, it's the only way to express thought. There is nothing wrong with confidentiality. There are some areas of life that do not need public airing and scrutiny. But anonymous communication in the church is less than helpful for two big reasons:
1. Anonymous notes send the signal of fear and hiding. I cannot tell you who I am because I'm afraid of repercussions. Therefore I must disguise my voice so you will never guess who I am.
2. Anonymous notes trigger suspicious thoughts of conspiracy: who could that be who wrote that note to me? Is it you, or you, or you? Is it one person or a group of persons? Does it come from a person who is a chronic complainer, or from a long-standing saint? Since I can't tell because it's anonymous, it must be from everyone...maybe my wife wrote it to me!!
In the body of Christ the connective tissue is the Holy Spirit and love. A healthy physical body knows exactly where the pain comes from and does not punish neurons that transmit pain signals. There are no anonyous nerves. So too should it be in the body of Christ. I love the members I serve and together we love Christ, the head of the Church whom we serve together. A valid concern should have an identifier so we can build bridges and learn together.
Therefore, I have a standing policy of not responding to, validating or reading anonymous notes. They really serve no purpose. A better use for anonymous notes is:
-kindling for the fireplace
-mulch for the compost
-coasters for coffee mugs
-paper airplanes when large enough
-blotters for drippy pens

Any other uses???

Monday, May 21, 2007

Speaking Truth or Loyalty?

Tonight's NBC evening news had two interesting pieces back to back. The first was about Life Church Oklahoma (a Covenant church) and their entry into a virtual world with their church. They have a sanctuary with seats (virtual) and music and they paste in Craig Groeschel's (sp?) sermons for those who prefer to attend virtual church. I think Life Church deserves applause for creativity and boldness to go where people are. I think they will evaluate the up and down sides of a virtual ecclesiology, but that is just another extention beyond the pulti-site churches that link in to a video lead at sermon-time. But there was national TV discussing if faith can be virtual? How's that for cool?
Then the other piece was about former President Jimy Carter (about whom I blogged below) who recently broke the protocol rule of ex-presidents and critiqued (no, slammed really) the policies and performance of the current administration and president. The White House fired back denunciations, basically calling him a rambling, irrelevant old fool. Really? If you listen to the may 1 Speaking of Faith podcast, you will hear a theologically sound and biblically conservative approach to foreign policy. The issue, I think, is our society's inability to speak truth to power.
Who has the ability to tell a president he or she is wrong in either the political or corporate sector? Where is a vigorous discussion of issues and ideas? Over the last several presidencies, news conferences are carefully orchestrated and access to presidents with tough questions do not happen except under subpoena. What leaders seem to value highest above everything is demonstrated loyalty, not truth or competency.
That very thing has to happen in the church, starting with the local church, clusters of churches, conferences and denominational level. Where are the occasions I can allow the dissident voice to break through my circle of loyalty and ask the tough question? Maybe that's one of the reasons I have such low regard for boards and committees because they do not really intend to grapple with the issues, but validate the predetermined direction.
Who and where are the "Jimmy Carters" in the Covenant who can speak truth to power?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jimmy Carter & Fundamentalism

Jimmy Carter was interviewed on May 1 on National Public Radio's "Speaking of Faith" with Krista Tippert. In that interview Carter was asked about fundamentalism, being raised in the South in the Southern Baptist Convention. His response was eloquent. I'm paraphrasing his words because I was listening to them on a podcast walk in the hills. "Fundamentalists are typically Type A males who love to dominate, especially dominate women. They believe that they have a special relationship with God, so special that to argue with them makes you not only wrong, but evil....sometimes subhuman." Harsh words but very descriptive. Carter was especially vociferous about his oppostion to the current administration's policy of "pre-emptive war." Pre-emptive war is dangerous, said Carter, because it presumes to know the direction of my enemy's actions before they act.
Who knows that? Does that not belong to the realm of the divine? As I read scripture, the only pre-emption we are called to is pre-emptive love, to love my enemy first, like God loved us before we loved him. For an 82 year old man, this guy does some serious thinking!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Like a Tree

Our neighbor has trees, lots of trees: Ecalyptus, California oak, palms, pines, apple, orange, tangerine, lemon, avocado. I am still in wonder at a land where things grow all year long, eveni without rain. It's likely that we will not get rain here until November, heightening fears of fire and drought. But along this shelf of the coast where Santa Barbara is perched, there is an abundance of green due to the heavy moisture in the marine layer fog that rolls in each evening and blankets us with grey until about 4 pm, when the sun explodes and burns away the clouds for a few hours till sunset.
But there has to be more than just the moisture in the air. These big trees send down their roots into this clay-ish soil and find the underground strems and trickles that come down from the mountains behind us. They have their source of life that does not come from th rain or watering hoses. They have deep roots.
The altar-piece I am preaching in front of tomorrow is a creative depiction of Psalm 1; a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, without withering leaves. The key to that fresh life is meditating...on God's Word day and night.
This past week a group of us gathered to reimagine Adult Sunday School. One of the questions I asked the group was "When were you most deeply shaped by a Sunday School you attended?" One man looked out the window wistfully and said: "It was Mr. ___ and all he did was teach the Word, the pure Word. Boy, did I grow!"
May I be a meditator day on night on that same word, that pure, life-giving word.

Friday, May 18, 2007

M-4 Tote Bag

A what? A tote bag for M-4? What's an M-4? Glad you asked. M-4 is the designation used by the four (4) churches of Montecito, California: All-Saints by the Sea Episcopal Church, Mt Carmel Roman Catholic Church, El Montecito Presbyterian Church and Montecito Covenant Church. The four lovely churches have all finished renovation and construction programs and can appear, by outward appearances, to be the epitome of smug selfishness. Leaders of the four churches began having lunch together and invited in a representative of World Vision, Jeff Witten, to help us think together about how we could "bless the world in Jesus' name together." For several months we brainstormed all sorts of projects, eventually arriving at assembling 1,000 HIV/AIDS care kits to send to Rwanda. That day of working all together was electric. We knew this was a good thing to do; to work together as Christians beyond our denominational mission programs.
So in January we re-gathered to work on our next project. This time World Vision and People's Self-Help Housing helped us to identify a pressing local need: kids returning to school without supplies. So we decided to purchase and fill 800 back-packs for area kids who are client-families of People's Self-Help Housing. That's where the tote-bags come in.
To help bring visibility, raise funds AND become environmentally more responsible together, we have ordered 1,000 tote bags (250 per/church) to sell, with the proceeds going to purchase back-packs. The hidden up-side of this initiative is that we are also promoting environmental responsibility as a community church initiative. We are, in essence, each promoting each other. How cool is that.
When the bags come it, get in line!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Homeschool faith?

Public school, private school or home school? Since 1980 I have been involved in this discussion with great energy and passion in the churches I've served. Want to get a parent riled up? Criticize their choice of schooling for their child(ren). Passions get stirred when someone calls the public school where I sent my children a den of godless secularism. Passions get stirred when someone says I've bailed on my civic responsibility and witness by sending my child(ren) to an elite private school. Passions get stirred when someone says I'm just too afraid to let go of my child(ren) so I keep them home and think I can do a better job than anyone else in teaching them. All approaches to education have their merits and their flaws. Each parent must make tough choices for which they alone are responsible when it comes to deciding how to educate your child(ren).
But I've noticed that the youth in public schools are pretty aware of trends in the wider culture and community. The youth who attend private schools are often a bit more selective and subdued, taking care to exercise choice. And the youth who are home-schooled own the world. They see the entire world as their personal lab space.
Recently I observed some home schooled youth on a campus. They were there for a particular reason that was legitimate and above board. But when I saw them, they were climbing a tree to get access to a roof of a different building on campus. When I asked them what they were doing, they calmly said, 'climbing the roof." When I, parentally said,"That's dangerous, you really ought to come down." They looked at me with total incredulity and just walked away, up and over the roof to the other side of the building. They were clearly doing something important to them that I was interrupting. They had a strong and private agenda for their action and I was just a bother.
That triggered a reaction in me. That's exactly how some of my hipper, emergent friends seem to respond to me as a denominational, building anchored, older (50+ years), multi-generational (babies and old people) church. "We are doing something imoprtant that you are not part of." Is there a correlation between homeschool and emergent church? Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pastor Unravelled

It should have been an easy children's sermon. I love children's sermons, the chance to connect with kids for a brief moment Sunday after Sunday. This Sunday I was talking about the Spirit of God as God's breath. I decided to use chewiy mints as an example of breath fresheners. But when the 3 boys came up for the first, early service, I knew I was in trouble when none of them would put a mint in their mouth. Maybe it was heeding their parent's warning to not take candy from strangers. Maybe it was too soon after breakfast. But they were much more interested in the other things up front, candles and flowers and crosses and the people in the congregation. As their fuzzy pictures tell the story, they were all moving in different directions at once. After this flustered picture was taken, I just began to laugh and the congregation joined me in laughter and we prayed and turned them back loose down the aisle to their parents! Oh well.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Finally to Fuller

I have heard about Fuller Theologial Seminary ever since I entered North Park Theological Seminary in 1976. Fuller was where all the guys to came to North Park for only a year primarily came from. They were usually tanned and blond. Most could play the guitar and they really hated the Chicago winters. Fuller was where people went who were not really really loyal to the Covenant. A former Dean would refer to Fuller students who came for their compulsory year of orientation as "outsiders." There was a different standard if you came from Princeton, or Luther or Gordon-Conwell. You were considered theologically sophisticated and worthy of admission to North Park. But if you came from Fuller, we all knew that your were here for a year, and then you would go right back to California to get a Covenant Church pastoral position and never care about the rest of us. Fuller students were at North Park seminary to "steal" jobs from the rest of us.
Now this is a bit over-the-top, but not by too much. I was not aware of regional animosity and suspicion until I moved to California and became "one of them." But Fuller kept producing and challenging us, with great scholarship and cutting-edge missiology. Fuller embraced psychology as part of the pastoral arts and launched the Brehn school of worship arts, leading Todd Johnson away from North Park. Fuller is always reaching out to Covenant churches in the Twin Cities and especially in Santa Barbara. They regularly use a room at Montecito Covenant to offer night courses for students, employing Westmont faculty at time to be their adjunct staff. The long and the short of it?? They do really good work that cannot be ignored. Last Saturday night I spoke at a Fuller Theolgical Seminary capital campaign dinner on behalf of an Egyptian pastor friend of mine in Cairo who earned his DMin at Fuller under Dr. Dallas Willard. They did not seem to care that I was not a graduate of Fuller or had ever been to Pasadena. They were all about the mission. When Dr Richard Mouw spoke, it was prophetic for me why Fuller is the largest seminary in the world, at 5,000 students all across the globe. They are not caught up in or impressed by regional location. They exist to equip world leaders with an exciting vision of ministry that is anything but embattled. So today, after making our regular pilgrimage to the IKEA store in downtown Burbank, we set the GPS for Fuller Seminary and I visited it for the first time. It was not as big and grand as I imagined, but their book store was worth the price of the gas to get there. I finally made it.

Divorce Marketing: a new twist

In Chicago there is an area called the "viagra triangle" filled with high-end clubs. (During my college and seminary days, I was not aware of the area...they had not invented viagra then.) An aggressive divorce attorney, Corrie Fetman (herself "happily divorced") proposed this edgy photo approach to solicit clients who are thinking about leaving their spouses to trade up. This whole notion is based on a term the NYT's calls "sport sex."
Could this be a panic signal of a very good trend; the decline of divorce nationwide? In 1970 the divorce rate per/1000 people was 5.3% and today it is at 3.6%. That's a good direction for pastors and pro-marriage people, and bad news for divorce lawyers.
While not getting headlines, a news item of significance here in Santa Barbara is that 21 couples from Montecito Covenant Church are getting away next weekend to tune up their marriages at a weekend conference hosted by the Adult Ministries Group and led by Dr. Dean Given. If I could promote a counter ad to the one above it would be worded "Life Is Short. Invest in your Marriage!"

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Confirmation & Baptism

Today was Confirmation Sunday again at MCC. It's a wonderful amalgam of tradition, ritual, spontaneity and no small bit of chaos. In other churches, Confirmation baptisms were celebrated within the service at the font. A kneeler was brought in and confirmands requesting baptism came to the font prior to the rite of confirmation.

But with the ocean right here, we gathered on the beach in the afternoon; families, other youth, and members of the church. After a brief litany of question and response, the two young people and Kim Crawford and I waded out into the very cold water for the baptsim. I love the portion of the litany where we ask God to bless these waters and I think...the entire Pacific Ocean!! Those are some big waters! When the kids come up out of the water, the witnesses on the shoreline break into applause, waking up everyone else on the beach sunbathing and swimming. It does become a wonderful witness.
The tiredness I feel after a full day like this is a truly sweet tiredness of knowing what I do is really a privilege.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sleaze and Sacred Space

It really did dawn on me while I was washing the car. What is it about some Christians that trigger such a negative response? One thought is the "sleaze factor." That's the sense that you are being hustled, conned, moved, used, set up, and massaged. There is an inner awareness that there is a sub-text going on, another agenda for which you are really just a pawn not a player.
One way to measure the "sleaze factor" is by the type and number of genuine questions that are asked of you. The other component goes back to an earlier post about "sermon crickett", where two persons listen to a sermon and one player counts the number of times the word "I" is used and the other player counts the number of times "Jesus" is used. Usually the "I" player wins the game. Do most stories, sermons and conversations wind back to that leader's accomplishments and the people he or she knows?
What's wrong with this? Nothing in an of itself. It's the behavior of egotists and narcissists. Some people are just really full of themselves and want you to know all about their latest victories.
Where it connects to sacred space is in the whole realm of safety. Sacred space should always, always be safe space. When there is someone in that space in leadership who is hustling, people do not feel safe, but feel the need to protect and guard themselves. Years ago, in a church I first served there was a man who was particularly proud of his etnic background. He was also very sure of all theological questions and if you disagreed with him, you were not only wrong, but you were the enemy to be destroyed conclusively. One Sunday my wife Martha said something in error or asked the wrong question and he unloaded on her like a battleship, sending her from Sunday School in tears. Unfortunately I was too immature to confront him as both husband and pastor, but instead approached the leaders of the church. "Oh well" they said apologetically, "that's just _____, we've gotten used to him." And that was that. This church tolerated a toxic and sleazy leader and church health paid the price. No one dared be relaxed or safe in his presence. It wasn't till he died that new and safer winds of health blew through.
The dilemma I'd genuinely enjoy comment on is "How do you tell someone that they come off with a sleaze factor?" I mean, if I'd just show up and say that, that person would likely punch me in the nose. How do we confont those christian leaders who make sacred space un-safe?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Blaming: the toxic response

Edwin Friedman's last book "A Failure of Nerve: leadership in the age of the quick fix" challenged me right from the first chapter. In it he wrote: "the greatest capacity to be a leader....turned out to be the one who could express himself or herself with the least amount of blaming and the one who had the greatest capacity to take responsibility for his or her own emotional being and destiny." Wow! What a challenge!
I have been trying to monitor my own conversations to see how much I let "blame" enter the picture. How often to I revert to blaming others for congregational issues? How often to I slip into blame when discussing denominational politics? How often to I revert to blame language when I talk about national politics or global issues? It is so easy! It is such a simple solution to pass problems off to "them" or "those people" who are so ignorant and stupid that they don't see the right solution. Scorn, cyncism and sarcasm constantly wait at my door to enter the conversation area and season my language and thinking.
The funny consequence of this self-monitoring is how it affects others (not blaming them!). When I cease participating in blaming and focus on acting responsibly, the chronic blamer quickly grows tired of positive comments. It's as if I'm changing the rules. Try speaking positively about a person your group is dissecting with gossip. Try apologizing to a person blaming you. Try offering an action step to a person blaming a group or institution. Too few actually want next steps, because they are stuck in blaming. It provides almost an addictive high; venting blame on others.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Are Mormons Christian?

I'm watching Larry King discuss with Marie Osmond whether or not Al Sharpton's comment about Mitt Romney is biggoted or not? Rev. Al Sharpton commented that all those who believe in the real God will know NOT to vote for Mitt Romney, a committed Mormon. When Larry King asked Marie Osmond whether that was a biggoted comment or not, Marie noted that Larry's current wife is a Mormon and then said "Mormon is not the name, it is called the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. What could be more Christian than that?"
I love it when Larry King and Marie Osmond do theology on national TV. Is Mormonism part of orthodox christianity or and expression heterodoxy....read heretical? I do not believe thinking christians can call Mormons (LDS) believers fellow believers like Lutherans can call Roman Catholics fellow believers. LDS is fundamentally different from the different communions within historic christianity.
The dilemma is that to say so, is tantamount to saying one is bigotted...and that's bad! Do LDS believers have a constitutional right to practice their faith in the USA? Yes, totally! Can LDS beleivers call themselves christian? Yes, totally! Do I have to agree with them? No. In the words of Dr. Richard Mouw, I can practice "convicted civility" and respectfully disagree with their assertion to being part of the christian community, yet stand up for their rights to practice their faith, though I believe it to be in error. I can lovingly disagree with them.
I wonder if Christianity Today, Christian Century will speak up?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It's Clunky but it Works

Parish life is clunky. Five confirmands need Bibles signed and certificates inscribed and all tests read and returned. The council meeting needs follow-up details and meetings to assign and clairfy tasks. Prospective brides want to meet with me about potential wedding plans here. Keys are missing and rooms are cold. Lights are left on and a young person is depressed.
Yet couples are heading off on a marriage retreat, some young people are taking off on a mission adventure. A family is out of the country serving in missions. Some marriages have broken up and new people are stepping forward for prayer.
The local church is not a smooth operation. We drop the ball a lot of times, miss a cue, and bump into each other by mistake. We are not like the glossy magazine churches. We have sputtering Christians that are sometimes magnifcent and sometimes mediocre. Some of my sermons soar and others sink.
But we go on serving, loving and believing...like this old truck I saw by the side of the road in Kenya. It isn't real pretty, but it works and the job gets done.
As a local pastor I hear all sorts of suggestions how we really ought to do things a lot better, clearer, more efficiently and effectively. I'm recomended to clinics and seminars, books, journals and conferences that will revolutionize the way we do ministry. There is always another new next best thing out there. And there are some fine new ideas we need to embrace. There are higher levels of effectiveness we need to aspire to reach.
But the gospel clunks along. God's Spirit indwells normal men and women and young people and gets the job done. I like this old truck. It won't win any races or show-room competitions. But if you are stuck in a mud-hole or broken down during the night, this old clunky truck will get the job done.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Known By What You're NOT

In Grand Rapids Michigan is a great church called Calvary Un-denominational Church. We called it something different when we would drive through. We called it the "turtle church" because the bow of the roof-ridge and the shape of the bottom edge looked like a huge turtle shell. I had a good friend there on the pastoral staff. It does great ministry, especially in the arena of missions.
But I could not get over the name: UN-denominational, not non-denominational, not ecumenical, not community church, but specifically UN-denominational. I'm guessing there is a pretty good story in that church's history about a very negative role a denomination played in the lives of its founding members. There was probably a meeting early in its beginnings where someone said something like "I don't care what we call it, but it better not have any denominational connection!"
The definition of this church is basically negative, defined by what it is not. And there are times we need to define ourselves by what we are not. It can happen when we come out of toxic or abusive backgrounds: alcoholics no longer touch liquor and gamblers stay out of casinos. But there comes a time when being negatively defined is less-than-satisfying. I remember visiting an old woman in Minnesota, wrestling with dimensia. Her husband, now deceased, was a prominent pastor. When we got to talking about him one day, she said, "I'll say this for him, he never raised his hand against me!" and with that she nodded to me in triumph! What? He did not hit her? What kind of definition is that for a spouse? I hope Martha's primary description of me to others is more that that of a good husband who never hit her!
Why this line of thought? Because of a number of conversations with struggling Christians who are defining themselves spiritually as the opposite of those who they disagree with. Their self-definition is always tinged with hints of an argument, a fight, a rebellion. Sometimes it's children bound and determined to not be like their parent(s). Sometimes it is a position that is in polar oppostion to some over-bearing pastor, teacher, or leader. Sometimes it's a wholesale rebellion against an ethnic heritage or cultural set of values that is actually spiritually neutral.
In our staff meeting last week Diana quoted a Covenant pastor who said "Tell me your "yes's" and the "no's" will take care of themselves." That is a positive self-definition. Is your yes to Jesus' lordship stronger than your no to toxic people? Is your yes to God's love stronger than your no to human biggotry and hate? Is your yes to God's word stronger than your no to media garbage?

ooops..a mistake

A car guy named Frank commented that the Lamborghini I pictured yesterday was not a Gallardo but a Murcielago. When I googled this I found that it is not a $175,000 car, but a $273,000 V-12 car that goes 211 mph!!! Yikes! Thanks Frank!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Lamborghini Gallardo

OK, I admit it. I do go kind of nuts out here when I see a new car, like today. Sitting still in its parking spot it was pulsing, demanding attention, anxious to wind up and take off. I had no idea what it was till I saw the medallion on the hood...Lamborghini (not an Italian sausage company). So I snapped a quick picture from my phone and went home to figure out what it was. I googled Lamborghini and found this picture of the Gallardo. I've never seen a Gallardo before. It lists at $175,000 and has a top speed of 196 mph!!!
So, what does this mean? Who lives with a car like this? What does owning a car like this entail, mean, describe, hope for, deny, brag about? Whatever it is, this car caught my attention and significantly distracted me. That's kind of what "mammon" does. It takes our eyes off of the main thing to sparkling things...and this thing really sparkled.

Friday, May 04, 2007

OK...what's next?

I love the image! 11 candles with one on the edge waiting to be brought in. 11 candles surrounded by a bunch of little candles together on the table all around an open Bible. It's the picture of Acts 1:12-26 that I get to preach on Sunday. Martha and Jeanne took my ideas from the text and worked up the evocative image of the gathered disciples and others (120+) in the upper room for the 10 day waiting period before Pentecost. So, what's next with you?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

In Need of a Descant

We set the ipod to shuffle on our trip home from Ventura along the 101 with the setting sun and ocean to our left. Shuffle is a great setting from which to launch music out of an ipod. We had German techno, Sufjan Stevens, Mighty Mouse, Halloween Alaska, then the Minnehaha singers singing choral arrangements of old hymns. During one hymn, the sopranos launched into one of those high-altitude descants of perfect pitch and aerie lightness. Out of nowhere my eyes teared up and a lump went into my throat. It was not missing the great Salem choir (which I often admit I do) nor the marvelous pipe organ at Cindy Reents' touch (which I also often admit I do), but it was the descant.
A part of music that perfectly compliments the other four parts and stretches the boundary of sound. A descant is never a solo. A descant is not making up harmony as you go. A descant needs a foundational sound off of which to launch and soar and color. A descant knows the tune intimately but leaves it for someplace higher, elevating the entire sound.
Descant is different than the beat and the rhythm. It's different than the accompaniment or instrumentation. Tonight the descant was the blessing, the grace-notes that added beauty.
With whom do you sing? Who provides your life with harmony? rhythm? tempo? melody? foundational bass? And who brings you the descant? Who sings all the notes well, and then launches your music higher and brighter? In a unison world, oh how we need descants!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Direction in Life: Acts 1:12-26

The convergence between the text and life never ceases to amaze me. Months ago I selected the preaching texts for this coming Sunday, following the broad outline of the life of Jesus, aligning Holy Week and Easter with the schedule. So now we are following the days after the resurrection until Pentecost (May 27).
The title for this week's sermon is "OK, so what's next?" following the instructions of the angels after the ascension to stop looking up into the sky but to go back to Jerusalem and wait. Wait...for what? Waht's next?
Graduates have talked with me and emailed me about the uncertainty what to do next: grad school, home, stay in Santa Barbara and put together a bunch of part-time jobs to afford housing costs? People in transition have talked with me about being unhappy where they are, but not certain of what they should do next. They face too many options, each with significant down-sides. I talked with a person considering retirement who is not sure when to leave full-time work that is less and less enjoyable and what to do with full-time retirement. Couples were huddled on campus last night as Martha and I walked through and I overheard two snippets of conversations about their summer separation and what to do with their relationship...what's next?
Life maps are confusing arrays of choices, a lot of them good choices. The Acts text has two little driving words that shed major light on life: "it is necessary" . Necessity implies a transcendent order or purpose. That Jesus rose from the dead to ascend into heaven to reign right now means that his purpose for me(us) gives my life a necessity, a purpose beyond what I like and don't like.
There are times I grieve the move away from Minnesota to California: leaving friends and family, stepping away from owning a home and back into a parsonage, leaving a pipe organ and full choir, leaving a large staff and long-standing relationships. But all that vanishes in the moment I remember God's purposeful call. He wants me here now. Then that's all that matters; to do what God wants for me next.
So to all the graduates and those looking for direction in life's choices; what does God want from you next? What next step must you take to align your life in line with God's purposeful will for how he wants to use you? That's all that is necessary.

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