Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween & Youth Pastors

We've never been real big on Halloween. Oh, when we had kids at home we would dress them up and walk them through the streets to church members' and neighbors' homes with pillow-cases for their "loot." One of us (usually Martha) would stay behind and hand out treat to church families with their children and neighbors we knew.
But in Santa Barbara, up in the hills, we buy our candy and wait. Nobody comes to our house. Maybe because our child-rearing days are gone or, more likely, because we have no neighbors within walking distance. To get to our house you have to drive and plan to come. Besides, it's on the church property. So, tonight our bowl went untouched until the high school group came back from their trick-or-treating for canned goods for the food bank. When I came out with the bowl of candy below, they all jumped to get their treats. I felt like a dad again!

Church as Insurance

Did I tell you I am loving Robert Wuthnow's book "After the Baby Boomers?" Each chapter has these "aha!" moments when it now makes sense to me what I am experiencing in culture. In chapter 7 "Faith and the Family" he extensively charts the orgainzation dis-involvement of 21-45 year olds on many levels. He notes how some church shop and others church hop, feeling no localparish loyalty, but float from church to church usually in the company of friends.
But then he writies "judging from how seldom they attend services, one might assume that congregations are completely irrelevant to a majority of young adults. However, congregations have always served as a form of social insurance, and that function is sitll important to how young adults thing about congregations."
That makes so much sense. I have a relationship with my insurance agent in town with State Farm. I pay my premiums, but do not drop by his office until I have a car accident or need his help. Insurance is my safety net but not gathering place. For some of the young adults I know, who grew up in the congregations I've served, who have parents and/or grandparents in the current congregation, they view the local church as their entitled, paid-up insurance policy for wedings, baptisms, funerals, social functions that need a room rental and reference forms. They sincerely call this church "their home church" but seldom attend it during a calendar year except on family-gathering holidays. If there is a medical emergency they will call me and we will be there. If they are unemployed and going through a crisis, they will ask to meet with one of the pastors and even ask for financial help, though never think to attend and participate in worship.
Social insurance carries with it a sense of ownership and entitlement, but no sense of commitment.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dentist Avoidance

I have friends who are dentists. Dentists are good people. Dentistry is important and necessary medicine. I hate dentist offices. Since I was a little boy I have feared the dentist office more than any medicine. Maybe it was too many drillings with insufficient anesthesia. I associate dentistry with pain, mouth pain. So I have avoided the visit to the dentist till the last possible moment, like when a tooth chipped or filling fell out.
But thanks be to God, I have a good wife who is on me about my avoidance behavior and the need to take care of my mouth. So today began my long journey back to dental hygiene. I sat in this chair 3 hours, getting two fillings repaired/replaced and a crown done on one old mangled molar. Then I went to they hygienist, who rubbed, scraped and sand-blasted away about 5 years of stains. It's amazing what they got done. I do feel better. The anesthesia worked well. My teeth are cleaner and whiter than I ever remember them being.
Why did I put it off so long? They are expecting to have a long...and regular relationship with me now. In a sense, the whole thing today was kind of spiritual. I know people who are avoiding God and avoiding church with all sorts of good and bad reasons. They are hungry for God, but afraid of some pain they went through a long time ago that keeps them away from the church. I hope I am as gentle with them when I see them as the dental staff was with me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty-and Thirty Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion"

I knew this was an important book to read when David Brooks from the New York Times commented on it in an editorial several weeks ago. When I dug into the book by Robert Wuthnow, I knew this would cause me to do some serious re-evaluating where we direct ministry energy. But when I read Brian McLaren's review of the book in the recent "Christian Century" magazine, it sobered me. McLaren succinctly summarizes a complext book filled with sociolgical tables and graphs with the quote: "If one turns the book's subtitle into a question- How are 20- and 30-somethings shaping the future of American religion? the simple aswer may be, By staying away."
"The biggest single social factor related to declining church attendance among younger adults is not TV, the Internet, increasing skepticism regard Christian orthodoxy or the spector of 'secular humanism' or 'relativism.' No, Wuthnow says, 'being married or unmarried has a stronger effect on church attendance than anything else."
Delayed marriage, delayed child-bearing, vocational and social mobility all contribute to a cohort that finds traditional congregational involvement not meaningful. They are spiritually hungry, theologically conservation, socially conscious, and organizationally warry. The local church, by and large, is not getting the job done in regards to young adults (21-45 years old) anywhere. McLaren's solutions: 1. redistribute congregational energy away from the traditional arenas of children, youth and seniors and invest in post-high school and college ministries. 2. listen to young adults inside and outside the church. 3. listen to those in the Christian community who are getting it and doing it well (like Doug Pagitt, Karen Ward, Chris Seay and Rob Bell) 4. increase dialogue with those groups doing great campus ministries.
I'm going to finish this book fast. You should too!

Das Williams: pro-growth?

Our community has 3 free newspapers: the Montecito Journal, the Santa Barbara Independent and the Daily Sound. This morning, in the early morning darkness, before my New York Times arrived, I caught up on local events by reading the Montecito Journal and the Santa Barbara Independent. Both newspapers endorsed and chastised Santa Barbara City Council candidates. The Montecito Journal encourages voters to not vote for Das Williams, a member of MCC, because, among other things, he is "pro-growth". The Santa Barbara Independent encourages voters to vote for Das Williams because he is, among other things, "pro-growth." Huh? What's with that?
The Montecito Journal is a paper that is openly anti-growth. It regularly has editorials and articles bemoaning the clogged highways and streets. Property owners who have paid dearly for the privilege of living in this gorgeous environment basically want to close the doors on new development and new residents. Many have left the dense cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco to live in the more serene and quiet area of Montecito and Santa Barbara. I understand that. This place is pretty nice and sedate. It's pleasant to not have the glare of neon lights and bright signs at night. I can see the emotional logic to those who want to preserve what they have and not feel invaded by denser and denser housing.
But I began to reflect on the church. Can the church be no-growth? Can the Body of Christ ever say, "We are done growing. We are full enough. No more new people allowed?" The community of Montecito requires that we, the church, live under and abide by a Conditional Use Permit because we are in a residential area. Again, I understand that. We need to be good neighbors, not disturbing the community. But what about growth? In fact, we are growing at about 17% per/year. How do we grow and not violate the principles of a non-gowth community? How do we stay faithful to the Gospel mandate to reach out and grow the body and abide by the principles of good citizenship?
I'm not sure how my friend and church member Das will do in the elections. I need to always remain politically neutral in order to maintain my pastoral integrity. But on the issue of growth, it makes me wonder. How do we grow without being obnoxious? And when will there be a collision between church and state?

Back Where I Belong

It's still dark outside. I got up around 5 am unable to sleep any more. Part of it is rewiring my body clock to California time from Israel time. But it's more than that. I'm back where I belong and can't wait toget into the office and work on the sermon for Sunday and reading and praying. Traveling was so wonderful, but also a reminder of who I am and what I'm called to do. I'm a pastor of a local church situated at an address. I serve a neighborhood and community. There is a routine and calendar for our life togethr, filled with the rhythms of worship and business, budgets and hospital calls, staffing and planning, weddings and funerals, Confirmation and counseling, of praying and reading in solitude and gathering in groups for fun and recreation.
I think one of the deep values of travel for me is the reappreciation of my calling and identity. When I go to meetings in Chicago with friends and colleagues, working on important tasks for our denomination, I get restless to get home where I belong. When I travel to conferences for education and renewal, I usually leave early because I can't wait to get back home where I belong. When we take our longed for trips to France for extended chunks of time, I am eager during the last week or so to get on the plane and get back to where I belong and doing what I'm called to do.
This morning in the dark I am grateful for this church who took a risk in calling me to be their pastor. It's where I belong.

Friday, October 26, 2007

We're Home!

We had a 5:30 am wake-up call at the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem for a 10:40 am flight (5 hrs). Israeli security was rigoruous, to say the least, but we all (26 of us) got on the 777 Continental Airline fo Newark and a 10 1/2 hour flight with the sun, arriving about 4:30 pm Newark time for a 6:40 flight to Los Angeles. The LA flight was late, however, so we waiting about 4 hours in Newark for our Continental flight to LA, giving us a total travel time of about 20 hours. The LA flight took 5 1/2 hours, getting us into LA about 11:00 pm. The remainder of the group waited here for the Santa Barbara Air Bus to drive us home to Santa Barbara getting in around 1:30 am, now bringing our travel time over 24 hours.
But Oh my, did home sound sweet. We were giddy at the prospect of arriving home after a great trip. You can see the smiles on the weary faces. But this is a tiredness that comes with the luxury and privilege of travel. It's not the exhaustion of a surgery waiting room or a courtroom trial. Ours was the privilege of being together for 10 days expereincing the sights and texture of the world in which the Bible was written, where the stories were lived out, where Jesus walked.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Last Stop: Garden Tomb

Our 10 day tour of Israel ended this morning at the Garen Tomb, a British owned location right outside the gates of the Old City. Most archeologists dismiss this location in favor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But our volunter guide made a very impassionate case that this could be a possible site of Jesus' death and entombment. It is located next to a rocky hill that, in the right light, could look like a skull. It does have a large, carved out tomb with a trench that could have been used to roll a large stone over the opening. But it reminded me more of a pageant location, like a passion play.
The garden has a number of worship sites where groups can have communion and worship. We did have communion and sang together. Some in our group were deeply moved at having communion together within viewing distance of the tomb. What does it mean? Does it matter if it is the location of the real tomb or not? For me, it does not. Christ is risen. He is not bound by or defined by the contours of a rock tomb. I do not worship the stones that held him for 3 days, but hsi real presence now. And maybe that is where the power of our worship was, in his real presence when 2 or 3 gather in his name, he is there in the midst of us.
This has been a very good tour. While I would have wished to have an entire bus from Santa Barabara to ourselves, those who were joined to us by EO (Educational Opportunities, the tour group operators) became wonderful gifts and added rich texture to our experience. But the purpose of a tour like this, or maybe pigrimage, it to take it home, to come back different, changed, deepened, refreshed and renewed.
Tonight I find out how early we leave the hotel for Tel Aviv for our 10:40 am flight home via Newark NJ. We should arrive in Los Angeles around 10 pm Thursday and catch the Santa Barbara Air Bus getting into Santa Barbara about 1:30 am. Pray for safe travel and good connections!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Playing in/on the Dead Sea

Today was a hot day, nearing or over 100. It was a voluntary trip to Masada, En Gedi and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was so much fun, slopping on mud then going out and floating almost on top of the water. Our group thought they could qualify for synchronized swimming competition!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Quarry Beneath Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a confusing place to try to navigate. The traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion is littered with various branches of the church: Ethiopian, Armenian, Coptic, Latin and probably a couple more I missed. Their architecture is a rambling add-on with mismatched steps and tight little rooms filled to the brim with icons, candles, and relics. I get lost amidst the jumble and forget about Jesus' death and istead try to figure out "what's that?" in each room.
But yesterday our guide took us down, and down, and down beneath the church into the room pictured above; the remnants of a quarry. We have been impressed with the amount of stone used in Jerusalem. All that stone had to be dug and quarried from somewhere. Quarrying is an activity that happens outside a city limits. Quarries are dumping grounds. And Jesus' crucifixion took place amidst the rubble of a quarry. And there we were, in a quarry underneath the church. Our guide sensitively told us that this might not be the actual place of curicifixion, but more and more scholars are believing that this quarry warrants a close look at the traditional site. So it was not the iconography on the surface that caught my heart yesterday, but the stone scars underground.

Helping Hands

Part of the joy of this trip is observing how friendships form and bond. The paths have been difficult for some of our members to navigate. Uneven pavement, steep steps, long grades make an arm to lean on a gift from God. Younger travelers stopped their hurried pace of getting in front to be with the guide and get the best pictures and instead, walked hand in hand, talking with new-found friends through the ancient streets.

Yad Vaschem

At the end of the day, after walking the Temple Mount, the Via Dolorosa and navigating our way through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we drove across the city to the Yad Vaschem (sp?) which is the Holocaust Museum and entered the shrine to the million and a half children who were slaughtered by the Nazis.
The architecture is architecture at its best, with each building and its surroundings speaking to the larger narrative of memory, truth, hope and resilience. The first building we entered was a burial ground of ashes from all the concentration camps. And there was Dachau, the camp my father was part of liberating as a young G.I. Beneath the plaque were ashes from those souls extinguished by Nazi hate. My eyes welled with tears of pride in my dad being part of the forces that stopped the monster.
I am my father's son because each succeeding year becomes more poignant to me that my dad is a liberator; one who was part of the Allied response to Hitler's final solution. My dad told me some years ago that when he arrived at the gates to Dachau and saw what Hitler had done, he instantly realized that this war was righteous and he was doing the right thing. Would that our causes would be so clear and resolute today. Would that moral rightness would overturn politcal expediency and the latest polls.
As you enter Yad Vaschem, they have a memorial garden to the righteous; those non-Jews who stepped in to help rescue Jews and stop Hilter. Who are the righteous today acting on behalf of the innocents in Darfur, Gaza, Sudan, and Congo ( to name a few)?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The MCC Group

Here we are, all of the group from MCC in addition to Vicky from LA who is traveling with us and our guide to the far left, Tsippi. This was taken after a Sunday picnic in a park overlooking Jerusalem. Yesterday our guide, Tsippi, walked our legs off as she took us through the "Cardo" the central corridor of the city, going deep underground through excavations of wealthy homes, probably those of priestly families. We ended up at the Wailing Wall and then through another museum depicting what the Temple looked like before the second desruction in 70 AD. We closed the day along the eastern side of the Temple Wall on the teaching steps (see post below).
Though I have been on an EO tour to Israel before, it's like I've never been here. There is that much information and data. The layaers of history are truly phenomenal! Today we go back into the Old City and walk the Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross, going into the church of the Holy Sepulchre and then some time for some much needed free-time in the Old City.
Tomorrow we have an optional tour to Masada, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea for some floating!

Sacred Steps

On these steps, Abraham carried Isaac up Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him. On these steps, David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it entered Jerusalem. On these steps, Jesus could have stopped and questioned the teachers of the Law as his parents went back home. On these steps, Jesus entered the Temple area as a man. On these steps, Peter preached about Jesus after Pentecost.
One place over which so much history has been written, often in blood. It impresses me again how shallow my sense of history and importance is in light of these steps

At the Wall

We went back to the Wailing Wall again today. When we arrive in Jerusalem Friday night, Sabbath, or Shabat, had begun and we walked into the Wall area which was filled with singing groups of men and women. Down at the wall itself, devout Jews read from the Torah rocking back and forth with intense devotion. It was as if we walked in on something intimate. No one took pictures, but we were welcomed in to pray and observe. Men backed away from their prayer time up the steps, not turning their backs on the Wall.
This afternoon we came back to the Wall, but it was a different scene. We were hustled everywhere we went. Men came upt to shake my hand and ask my name. When I told them, they offered to bless me with a token red string tied around my wrist. When I told them I would not give a donation, off came the string and they quickly moved on to another "mark." How quickly a holy and sacred place can turn into a tourist trap.
Spaces that we view as sacred are very maleable by our actions and atttitudes.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bethlehem's Other Face

On Saturday we traveled through Zion's Gate in the wall to a site that could have been the Upper Room and then to a house that might have belonged to Caiphas that had a dungeon where Jesus could have been kept. We then found a great site south of the wall where we could see the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives and the Potters' Field as our guide narrated the last days of Jesus in an about the Wall and Temple.
Before lunch we journeyed into Bethlehem, leaving behind our Israeli guide and picking up a new Palestinian Christian guide. The wall that ring Bethlehem is pretty imposing and grey on the Israeli side and filled with political graffitti on the Paliestinian side. We bought gifts, visited the church of the Holy Nativity with several thousand pilgrims from all over the world, ate lunch at a dining hall and took off back for Jersualem to pick up our guide.
Now I'm the Bus Captain, representing the interests of the travelers. We just got through the check-points (2 of them) when someone asked where two of our travelers were? They were missing, on the other side of the border. I asked if all were present but did not do a count. How embarrasing, to leave two friends behind. We turned the bus around and met them at the border; me very much embarrased and them wondering just what sort of pastor/shepherd I really am?
We drove down into the wilderness of Qumran and then into Jericho. By the time a resident expert began his lecture this evening on the Galilee, my eyes were dropping and my head bobbing. The days are filled to the brim with events, visuals and facts. This is a dense and multiply complex country/culture. It eludes simplistic answers and descriptions. When we left Jericho, the owner of the shop we stopped at came out and shook my hand heartily looking into my eyes and saying "Thank you for visiting us here in Jericho and stopping at my store!"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Audrey's Adventure

Yesterday we toured, as I noted, the tel of Megiddo. One of its interesting features is a well, dug deeply into the rock to a well, 183 steps below ground. It's a water tunnel to keep water flowing to the site during a seige. Our guide cautioned those who have walking issues that this is a tough one. Many opted out of the long climb down, the walk through the dark and narrow tunnel, and the long climb back up. Not Audrey Nelson. She made it proudly the whole way! Go Audrey!

Going south from Galilee to Jerusalem

Early in the morning on Friday we drove to a church in Cana of Galilee where Jesus blessed the water into wine and then on to a Greek Orthodox church based on the Annunciation to Mary in Nazareth. It's the site of an ancient well, synagogue, church, mosque and now church again.
We drove in the heat to the plain of Megiddo and the archeological site called Tel Megiddo. Before we got to the tel, our guide took us to the top of a hill called "the Prescipice" where we could see the entire plain of Megiddo south of Nazareth and East of Mt. Tabor. What an area of land over which so much blood has ben shed
Then we toured the Tel Megiddo and the 25 (or was it 26) layers of civilization underneath each rock layer that archeologists have discovered. We walked the 183 steps down into the water tunnel.
Audrey Nelson triumphantly walked all the steps down and up again, making it a triumpant experience.
We ended our driving day on the shores of the Mediterranean at Caesarea, seeing the amphitheater, the palace of Herod and his hippodrome along with the auqueduct along the seashore that kept him and his palace supplied with fresh water.
We drove into Jerusalem on Friday night: Shabbas and our driver dropped us off at one of the gates (I forget now) and we quickly walked to the wailing wall, the women being led by the guide into the women's quarter and I leading the men into the men's section. For many of us it came together here: not as dry and dusty history, but of a vital, passionate faith kept alive over the millenia against great odds. Yet here they were tonight, dressed in their distinctive clothing reading and rocking, chanting and singing to their God, who is ours as well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Golan Heights, Jordan & Syria

At the end of the day yesterday, our guide and driver took us to a place I'd never seen, just read about: the Golan Heights; the buffer strip between Jordan to the West and Syria to the North and East. The area bristled with barbed wire, razor wire, electric fences and stirps of land with warning signs about land mines. Yikes! Talk about a tension filled strip of rocks! Yet our guide, clearly and Israeli, told us about the warring interests on this land for strategic dominance, and, she said "You will be reading about this in the coming years."
Today we head to Cana and on into Jerusalem.

Samarkand Travelers

Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Audrey Nelson Jeanne Michealsen and Gwen Murphy took a moment to savor the beauty of the day and the significance of being in the area where the Sermon on the Mount was likely to have been preached. These three hearty travelers walk the legs off of folks half their age! Tonight at dinner, Jeanne Michealsen choked up when she began to recount to her daughter Jeanne Heckman (who did arrive tonight one day late due to her passport snafu) the beauty of the day and the power of the baptism. This kind of traveling does something to the soul of a believer. Things we have heard about in scripture over the years and believe deeply with our hearts, comes alive and takes on that third dimension of personally appropriated experience. For me today, the baptism and the valley of the winds on the via maris hit home in a new way.

We Walked Today Where Jesus Walked

This morning we drove into the valley of the winds, just west of the Sea of Galilee. This ancient path was used by generations, most likely including Jesus, who was a regular traveler in this region. Trace Robinson and I walked up into the hills beyond where vehicles were allowed. This area was also probably the area winds would race down the hills onto the Sea of Galilee, stirring up bigs waves and storms that were stilled by someone we all know and trust really well!

Jordan Baptism

Every pastor loves being able to officiate at a baptism. This sacrament of celebration, whether of and infant or adult believer is stunning because it touches eternity and connects into the history of the faith. Never is that truer than at the origin or Christian baptism: the River Jordan.
On of MCC's confirmands, Karl Fredrickson, chose to accompany his mom on this trip to Israel and requested baptism. Karl is a quiet and deep young man who wants to follow Jesus. He's the kind of guy with few words but with big heart. So when he and I entered the waters this afternoon, it was altogether a normal baptism and a baptism I will never forget.
What a privilege it is to be a pastor!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Morning in Tiberias

Going to bed last night was a gift; getting to stretch out horizontally after a good dinner. But getting our body clocks in shape after travelling through so many time zones is another story. I started waking up about 2:30 and pushing myself back to sleep. Then Martha started waking up about 4:30. Finally we gave up at 5:15 am and opened the windows on our room and saw the sleeping and still Sea of Galilee greeting us for the day. This will be the focus of our time today and I'll fill you in later where we went and what we did.

Arrived In Israel...almost

The intrepid 12 MCC travelers gathered in front of the Mir Monte Hotel at 6am-ish Tuesday morning for our Santa Barbara Air Bus ride to LAX into the morning sun along the Pacific Coast Highway. 3 others met us at LAX on their own and we began the process of checking in as a group. Most airlines appreciate booking groups independently, so we went down to an un-used area of Continental Airlines and waited for a special ticket agent to handle us. Martha and I checked in along with Dawn and Karl Fredrickson, then came Jeanne Heckman and they said her passport was invalid. Shocked, Jeanne said that that was impossible, she had flown internationally on this same passport twice this year. But the ticket agent supervisor was unmoved and said the torn cover invalidated it and she would need a replacement passport before she could fly.
I can't tell you how sick we all felt. But there was nothing to do. Jeanne hopped in a cab and left us all. I called EO (Educational Opportunities, the tour hosting company) and they gave Jeanne instruction and support. She got her passport too late for a Tuesday afternoon flight, but is booked on a flight leaving Wednesday at 12:45, getting in here tomorrow afternoon, missing one full day with us.
The flight was good, long, crowded and fun. We arrived on time (3:30 pm) in Tel Aviv and were met by an EO person. This was the first time the whole group of 15 (including the absent Jeanne) and 17 others from all over the country met. We retrieved our bags and met our tour guide "Tsippi" and drove into the sunset to the Sea of Galilee town of Tiberias where we will be spending the next two nights.
Tomorrow we head out to see an ancient restored boat, see Capernaum and other sites around the Sea of Galilee. I will get more photos tomorrow to load in. It's possible that tomorrow I will baptize Karl Fredickson in the Jordan River. Dinner is now done. I'm not sure how many meals I've eaten in too many time zones, but I (and the whole grous) is ready to experience the delight of being horzontal

Sunday, October 14, 2007

PSWC miniCelebration on the Mosaic

This afternoon a modest group of members from several of the South Coast Covenant Churches gathered at MCC for a miniCelebration of what God is doing in the Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC). Wayne Carlson, Director of Church Planting, jeff Lee from the Development side, and David Gibbons, lead pastor at New Song Irvine spoke. Dan Bos and the MCC worship team did a fabulous job leading worship.

We heard witnesses about Journey to Mosaic and some facts about the growth within our region of the Conference. It is all good news! The PSWC is on track planting 10 churches a year for the next ten years. The Conference has 3 clear goals for these next 10 years: aggressive church planting, leadership development and ministries of compassion and justice. This is the kind of stuff I can sign up for!

David Gibbon brought a great message about the need for fluidity in the church today, flowing into new models and forms, looking at the small and not the large models, going wall-less and being better stewards of the spaces that we do have, looking for the neighbor who is different.
There is one thing less than visible in imagery of the mosaic church: the old. It seems like mosaic, emergent, cutting edge always values and features pictures of the young, but look at the picture above and see how many older members are there. I am the first one to value and bless the importance of reaching you people: from children, middle school, high school and college. The church just cannor afford to ever disregard generational cohorts. The question for the PSWC to keep asking is, is the mosaic also a generational mosaic, blessing the babies and the grandparents? One of the things MCC is finding is the richness we have with our seniors, who bring us such wisdom, maturity and grace. What happens to a community that undervalues the old (or any group within it)?
A night like tonight makes me so grateful for being allowed to serve churches like I have over the years, where the old people were valued and loved along with the children and youth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Necessary Necessities

I'm packing for our 10 day trip to Israel that leave Tuesday morning. I have shirts and pants, t-shirts and socks all laid out on the bed. I have a new bag for the camera so I can blog, adapter plugs for Israel electricity, passports e-tickets, schedules, a rented phone for use in Israel and books to read. I keep asking myself:"Do I really need that thing?" I like to travel as lightly as possible with just the necessities. When we have traveled other times, I get frustrated when I take something I don't use at all in the trip. What a waste of weight and space! I like well-used necessities!
A couple of weeks ago the church council and staff went on a retreat together. One of our exercises was to share our favorite metaphors for the church. This was a rich time with a wide range of images to portray who we are, both painfully and hopefully. One phrase that came out of the mix was a hope that we would be a church "necessary to our community." I could not let go of that image: a necessary church.
Not a convenient church, a fun church, a vibrant church and all the other adjectives I've used over the years to image the curch, but a necessary church. When has this church been necessary? When Marilyn Best died last week and we had her funeral here for her wide range of friends (many of whom are not active Christians) we were necessary. When AA meets here on Mondays at noon, we are a necessary space for sobriety. When Matt Sanchez practices basketball with All-for-One and the area gang kids he is intervening with, we are necessary. We the M-4 churches send off 1,000 HIV/AIDS care kits to Africa to touch the lives of 7-10,000 suffering persons, we are necessary.
A missional church does necessary things in the name of Jesus.

Galatians 5:1 Images of Freedom

Freedom is a loaded word. For those of us in the USA, it is a political banner, an advertising come-one, a life-style descriptor and an attitude. Freedom has a different orientation with the Apostle Paul and the early church. Freedom is the outworking of grace. We are saved by God's grace; something we cannot earn, deserve or attain. It's a gift pure and simple. We can't get to salvation on our own. Salvation comes to us in God's gift of Christ. Freedom is how Paul calls us to live out God's saving grace.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul calls us not to fall back into slavery, but move ahead into servant love for each other.
The powerful image on the altar is of the shattered chains of slavery on the cornerstone of Christ. Beside the cornerstone is the basin and the bowl, the image of servanthood Paul calls the early Christians and us to live out.
The question I mull around is about the church today, the church I serve, the life I live. Is it free? Am I living a life of servant freedom or selfish consumption? Is my call, my vocation about what I get out of it, how well I'm paid and taken care of, how fulfilled and happy I am, or is it about serving others in selfless love?

Odyssey Generation

Ever since the author Ken Dychtwald popularized the term "Baby Boomers", we have been obsessed with labelling and categorizing generational cohorts, especially in the church: boomers, busters, genX, genY, millenials, emergents, blah, blah, blah. So much of the labelling is purely for marketing reasons; to get people into our building and enrolled in our programs with attractive music and material, graphics and videos.
Last week NYT's columnist David Brooks wrote an article about a new term for young adults beween 21 and 45 called "The Odyssey" generation. He pointed to a new sociological study by Robert Wuthnow titled "After the Baby Boomers: How 20 & 30 somethings are shaping the future of American religion". I immediately ordered a copy and started reading it this week. Here are some of the great earlly quotes:
"there is simply no evidence that younger adults currently have been decisively shaped by a particular historical event in thesame way that the baby boomers were by the Vietnam war."
"there were 105.3 million Americans betwen the ages of 20 and 44 in 2002, compared with only 68.6 million in 1972"
"completing all the major life transitions (leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent, getting married, and having a child) was achieved by only 46% of women and 31% of men age 30 in 2000, compared with 77% of women and 65 % of men in the same age in 1960"
"The single word that best describes young adults' approach to religion and spirituality- indeed life- is tinkering. A tinkerer puts together a life from whatever skills, ideas, and resources that are readily at hand. Tinkeres are the most resourceful people in any era, but they do not rely on only one way of doing things."
This is an author to pay attention to.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is everyone in a hurry?

It happened again this afternoon. Someone left me an important voice-mail. They were driving, I know it. I could hear road noise. After a long and detailed message they said "If you want toreach me you can call 9brrrrrr 68mmmmm 326sshhhhh. It came out so fast....I had to play the message back two times!!
Slow down! I know you know your number by heart. But it's not a race to spit it out as fast as you can. Give my ears a break!

MCC from the air

Yesterday, one of our members, John Rodkey, went flying for Westmont College. In the course of his flight, he flew over the church campus and shot this picture above, showing how our 4 acres are used. Thanks John!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Can't Afford To

I'm surrounded by a lot of wealth. Much of it is on a scale I cannot comprehend. Gated estates with guard dogs and exotic cars are seen easily and regularly. It's easy to judge and come to quick conclusions about my neighbors. Much of it is disguised envy of the type I used to experience as a child playing the "choose" game with my brother or sister though the latest toy catalogue of things we knew we'd never own.
I was with one such person recently at a social function. He inherited weatlh and made more. He's my age. He's retired and travels the world with his wife. He's always tan and always smiling. It looks too easy. At this social function I asked about his children. His lip began to quiver and his eyes welled with tears. It was a social gaffe. Men did not shed tears or cause tears to be shed at such occasions. He excused himself and I felt embarrased at what I had done.
A couple of minutes later he returned, composed and calm. He pulled me aside so we could talk more easily. He experienced a terrible loss early in his first marriage, a loss that still aches after all these years. He thanked me for asking and listening and apologized for coming so unglued with me.
Inside I was the one apologizing to him for so quickly coming to judgement about a story I did not have an inkling about. My sin is just that: coming to sure and convinced opinions about persons with miniscule knowlege. I'm glad God does not do that with me. I wonder when I'll learn I can't afford to do it?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Enough Water Bottles?

We cleaned up the sanctuary Sunday after worship for a wedding in the afternoon. One of the things I kept picking up was empty and half-empty water bottles. As I walked through downtown Santa Barbara this afternoon, I thought people must be preparing for a desert hike with all the water bottles they carried, dangled or sucked on. Are we really that dehydrated? Do we need tall Nalgene bottles with us for a staff meeting or committee meeting? Is the bottle the new prop?
What would happen to a college student who went into a class without a water bottle? Slowly they would begin to wrinkle and their skin would dry up and they would deflate into a prune. Now I'm really not one to talk, given the volume of coffee I consume. But I don't carry an insulated coffee cup with me everywhere. My reasons are much more practical than esthetic. Coffee in...coffee out. What happened to the drinking fountain?

What if they just don't get it?

The post on seminarian attitudes generated some interesting phone calls and emails. One pastor told me about a staff person who, in his words, "just doesn't get it." I won't go into the particulars, because that might give away the pastor and the particular staff position. But the point he made to me was that his staff person is a really nice guy who loves Jesus. He is faithful, but not a real hard worker. He puts in his time and then is gone. When the pastor plants a new idea, he gets a nodding affirmation and nothing more.
"So", the pastor asked me, "Do I let him go, turning him into one more ministry casualty you talked about, or do I ease up and live in a posture of grace and accept mediocrity?" Yikes, that's a tough one. Do we hold staff members to a higher standard of performance than the congregation? When congregational members work 40+ hours a week and then give their time above and beyond to the church, shouldn't staff members do the same? Or is that overbearing?
Over the years I have known two types of staff persons: those who grab their positions and dream beyond them, and those who put in the minimum time and go home. Dreamers push limits and stretch budgets, the others get their jobs done, but not a lot more.
Where are the intersecting lines between a lifestyle of grace that accepts persons unconditionally and stewardship & discipleship that calls us deeper and farther? Do we shield workers who are not pulling their weight and who do not "get" what needs to be done? Are we not maybe doing them a bigger disservice by not letting them know about their mediocre performance? One older pastor whom I talk with told me that his biggest reward was that all his former staff persons are still friends with him. One the one hand I deeply admire that, and on the other hand I wonder if he was as honest with his staff as he should have been?
A tool we used in Minneapolis was an evaluation called a "360". A "360" was an evaluation form with about 20 questions rating performance from a low 1 to a high 5. Each staff person (full-time) gave out up to 10: equally giving them to those who reported to him/her, his/her professional peers, lay persons, council leaders, and then from his/her superivisor and church chairperson. This was an excellent discussion tool and reality check. Problems were flagged early when a staff person rated his/her perfomance significantly higher than that of the others in the pool. It would be great if a tool like this was made widely available in the denomination for use in churches with multiple staffs or even solo-pastors.
I don't want to be one who "just doesn't get it."

Refugio Refuge

One of the biggest challenges of living in a parsonage on the campus of the church is getting some distance and space from work. Today Martha and I took off to find a new State Park: Refugio along the coast of highway 101. The deep blue sky and endless beach was a welcome change of phone calls, emails, and noise. The only noise we heard came from sea birds, angry at our intrusion into their sanctuary. A good Monday sabbath break.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I love Chicago. I was born there during my father's last year of seminary. My grandparents lived there from my childhood (Grandpa was a carpenter at North Park College). My uncle has been a physician at Swedish Covenant Hospital and delivered our first child there. I went to North Park College for all 4 years and went directly into seminary for another 4 years. Our son went to North Park University and now attends the seminary. I have served midwestern churches for 25 of my 27 years. Driving into Chicago for meetings was regular, easy and fun. It's a great city with enormous resources.
But is the Covenant stuck there? Ever since moving to California, I am aware of a sense of distance between here and there. The solution I hear offered is "fly back here more often." Is that the best way to do things expecially today? The Covenant has some of the best faculty at the University and Seminary of any institution in the world. Why are they not out here more often? Why is distance learning so hard for the Covenant and so easy fo Bethel and Fuller? Are we stuck?

Are We the Problem?

I'm hanging around seminarians. Since our son Luke enrolled at North Park Theological Seminary, I see him whenever I'm in Chicago along with his classmates and roommates. Our newest staff member, Lisa Holmlund is a recent graduate from NPTS and her intern, Liam Murphy is both taking classes at Fuller and enrolled at NPTS. Our Children's Director, Kim Crawford, will soon be completing her MDiv through Fuller Seminary and...Fuller Seminary regularly offers distance learning classes on our church campus, so I meet area students of Fuller. I'm talking with lots of seminary students these days. The seminary experience is very different today from the one I went through almost 30 years ago. I am also impressed, moved and troubled by some of the reasons students enroll in seminary.
When I enrolled in seminary in 1976, most of my fellows students were male, white and straight out of college. Seminary was alogical next step from a BA degree. It just made sense to go from school into school. The exception was the second career person. Our options in seminary were basically two; traditional pastor/preachers or foreign missions.
Over the years I have been saddened and alarmed at the growing numbers of my peers who resign without a call and step out of institutional church pastoring. This is no indictment against them but an acknowledgement that the landscape has been changing without our permission. Serving the church today is a new map, with new expectations, new contours and rules: worship wars, choices and menu driven churches, loss of community respect, scandals and abuse, anti-clericalism and denominational irrelevance, globalism and pluralism along with instant communication makes for a wild ride.
What hit me is the high number of seminary student who come to seminary after serving a local church. They come not being so much sent, but trying to figure out what went wrong. I have heard too many stories of seminarians disillusioned by the local church (reason for emerget?). But what really troubled me was the number of stories I heard about their disillusionment with the likes of me: the senior pastor.
It has not taken me very long to hear stories about bad treatment at the hands of either the senior pastor or the church treasures...or both. These stories were tied to experiences of bullying opinions and toxic staff atmospheres.
What's up with this? Alan Roxburgh bleieves that when systmes get threatened by change, leaders revert to command and control, trying to protect what is threatened with loss, elevating loyalty over competence and myth over facts.
I wonder how many seminarians and staff persons serving churches would say that the senior (lead) pastors were indeed more of a source of stress and fear than hope and health? Is this something that the Department of Ordered Ministry (DOOM) needs to address?
Or could it also be a changing set of expectations that younger pastors/seminarians are bringing; heightened expectations and a sense of instant entitlement? Is the new generation of pastors tough enough, or are they too quickly discouraged when instant gratification is not there? Are they more loyal to their dreams of spiritually fulfilling careers instead of servant leadership of sacrifing their lives for the church? Have we created a generation of consumer believers who are now becoming consumber pastors? Tough questions. Interesting discussions.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Center for Spiritual Direction Executive Team

We are gathered around a table in the 2nd floor of the seminary building. Dr. Stephen Graham is presenting new directions and we are evaluating 2007 CSD classes. Lots of details to make a program as vital as it is. It's a juggling act between countervailing interest groups of academia, physical plant, Department of Ordered Ministry and Department of Spiritual Formation. Alan Hirsch gets a lot of things right.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

We Got To Do Something About Those Termites!

That is honestly what took down this big, old sign!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Confirmation & Chiapas Roof Crosses

In August Martha and I attended an opening of decorative roof crosses from Chiapas Mexico from the collection of Dr. Ginny Guess. Dr. Guess is a published author and expert on the sociology and anthropology of roof crosses. After the lecture, I mentioned how much I enjoyed her lecture and show and how cool it would be for my confirmation class to see. Dr. Guess' eyes lit up and she promptly introduced me to the curator and we arranged a visit that night.
Tonight was the visit. 12 7th & 8th graders paid rapt attention to her explanations about the symbolism and purpose of the crosses. Living in a growing hispanic culture, this was a home-run experience for all of us tonight. I asked the students about their use and value of symbols. What symbols identify us, define us, condense us?

The Gift of Giving

I have the best job in the world! I get to be the hands of the body of Christ. This morning ___ (nameless) came by to see "a pastor." She is new to the area, recently unemployed, has just found a new job, but faces a gap in the rent. "Could you help me?" seh asked. "I can't, but the church can." Out of a compassion fund we have, I was able to authorize a check to cover her rent for a week, more than she asked for or needed at the moment. She burst into tears of joy. "Now" I asked "Does God have your full attention?" And we talked for about 45 minutes about her next steps in her spiritual journey.
Then Sandi and Alice interupted me and asked if I wanted to join them as they presented monogrammed aprons to our adult friends who work for Adult Resource Center (ARC). These are developmentally disabled adults who need a service place. In exchange for letting them use our church kitchen every other week, we provide raw materials and they bake up, cook up, or whatever-up great meals we use for potlucks and church hospitality. You can see the grins on their faces to be on the receiving end of these simple gifts.
Did I tell you I have a great job??

Monday, October 01, 2007

Away from Her

I knew I needed to watch it. So I put in in a que from Netflix. Then it arrived. I kept finding a reason not to watch it. Last night I ran out of excuse and Martha and I sat down and watched the poignant movie "Away From Her." It was powerful, moving and disturbing. I still can't get it out of my head: watching a loved one's mind unravel from Alzheimer's disease. The setting was starck and beutiful Canada, with images of winter and snow, that were at once attractive to me in California and yet chilling to the bone. This movie showed the diginity of facing it and living with the consequences of facing the disease. The characters did not resort to nice euphemisms, but tackled it head-on. I have friends who live with this day-to-day and it gives me greater compassion for them. I bless Covenant Retirement Centers all the more for giving those residents disabled by Alzheimer's a place to live with love, grace and dignity.

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