Jibstay

Thursday, November 29, 2007

When It's Time to Leave

I am grateful for having a dad who is a pastor with great wisdom. He was the one I turned to many times (and still do) when I am perplexed about a course of action. Now, I find other younger pastors approaching me with one particular question: How do you know when it's time to leave a church? How do you know it's God moving and not you running? How do you know it's God's call and note boredom or frustration or the enticement of more money or a bigger church?
At our gathering here in Malibu I was asked that again and after my response, the pastor said; would you write that down? So here are the guidelines I've used over three separate calls in my life:
1. I was released from the call to where I was. When I serve a church, I serve with a passionate love for that people and locale. I go to sleep thinking about them and wake up ready to go. I dream about how to make things better and richer. It's a love-affair. I cannot imagine serving any other people or any other place. But at all three churches, there was a moment (some sudden and some gradual) where I felt release. In nautical terms I call it having the anchor lifted but not having the sails raised or filled. I am released from this local harbor. That is a totally interior and subjective experience, really mystical. Until there is that inner release, a pastor should not leave.
2. A second component was a double-sided coin: I could not lead the church where I felt they needed to go, or they were asking me to lead them where I could not take them. This is not blame-laying, but a recognition that my words did not work any more here. My vision and their vision did not match up or align. This is more than a committee disagreement. This is more than a leadership struggle. This can be my deep restlessness with a church's resistance to my leadership or it can be my admission that what they need next I don't have. In a way, it's similar to the releasing above, but more of an objective validation that I am not the leader for the next chapter of the church's life.
3. The third component is a compelling sense of call, an urgency from another church that nails my heart. This is when you find yourself finishing each other's sentences and knowing exactly what they are saying. This is when a church expresses its needs and you know in your deepest place exactly what's going on. It's that experience of knowing you are uniquely gifted to take this church to the next place and the next level.
4. If you are married and have a family, they need to validate and affirm this transition. Too many pastors I know moved without the blessing of their spouses and created more pain through the family. God does not, I think, call us to fracture our families. We do not worship our families and the whims of our children, but neither do we ignore God speaking to us through them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sunset


Beauty wins over chaos every time. The ugliness of the burned hills behind us is eclipsed by the beauty of the setting sun in front of us. Joy trumps bitterness and generosity overshadows greed. Love beat hates and life triumphs over death.

Getting to Great


The Santa Anna winds are blowing furiously outside as we gather in this circle, pushing, praying, dreaming about "end products." This is a new process. Asking us to view the end of the spiritual process. What do we want to see tangibly happening in the lives of our church members/friends? I have pages and pages of ideas now to bring back to the staff and leaders.

Malibu: sacred and scary


Lisa Holmlund and I are on our second retreat with the pastoral staffs of 4 other Pacific Southwest Conference Covenant churches who enrolled in a year-long staff-coaching process called "Getting to Great". We met this summer at Mission Springs Camp and now this fall at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu California. The center is perched on a bluff of land looking over the Pacific Ocean above Malibu. It was given by heirs of the wealthy Rindge family, famous for founding Malibu tiles, to the archdiocese of Los Angeles. All over the property the famous tiles light up rooms and walkways.
But also all around us is the blackness of charred hills from the raging fires that swept through these canyons twice this summer/fall. Lisa, below, drove past the Malibu Presbyterian church on the morning before it burned to the ground. Makes you stop and think about how temporary our stuff is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

So, How was Church? A Monday morning question.


Monday routine for most pastors is probably pretty much the same; start a bit slower after a long weekend, grab a longer cup of coffee (or tea) as you read the paper, check the emails, and scan favorite blog sites. I usually get several consistent emails from church leaders, the financial secretary, various staff people updating me on events and activities over the weekend.
So, How was Church? is a bit of a complicated question. Which church are you asking about: the number of children who came forward for the story at the steps? the quality of the sermon (you're asking me??), the calibre of discussion at the Sunday School, and for which ages? the integration of the music with the theme,the size of the offering, the quality of the power-point, the tastiness of the treats, the typo's in the bulletin, the heat or coolness of the building, and the number of people in attendance....and which ones are totally new to the church and which ones have been missing for too long?
All these variables go into the evaluative stew in my head as I think about the weekend. In some corridors the church was at its very best on Sunday. And in other areas we really slipped up and dropped the ball. The key challenge for me is to get high enough to see the whole process. The next challenge for me as a leader of staff and lay-leaders is to get their perspective lifted to also see the whole enterprise of the church. This cannot be an attempt to minimze problem issues and devolve into some fuzzy-minded optimism. That's a way of avoiding real issues that need to be faced. But it is an approach to problem-solving and evaluating that is not reactive and strident. Too many criticisms come in decibels inappropriate for their level of significance and need to be moderated and managed. Screaming critics rarely bring solutions, just reactions.
So, again, how was church?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I.T. Crowd; funny show at last


Remeber how I ranted about how geat the writer's strike is? I am so disappointed by the creativity I find on cable TV. It all seems so formulaic and shallow. Some of you chimed in with support and even disagreement (citing the "Office" as the good show).
When Isaac visited us this past week, he brought along 2 seasons of a British comedy called "The I.T. Crowd". Each night we viewed 2 or 3 1/2 hour chapters. I have not roared so hard in years! We all laughed and laughed at the bizzare humor of two ultra-geeks in the basement of a corporation with their totally computer illiterate supervisor (woman) to guide them. This is a must-see series if you are ready for something original and creative. Kudos to the Brits!

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Real Day Off


It's too easy to work with the office right across from the house. In the mornings when Martha is in the studio, it's too easy to slip over and get some reading in, answer emails and get ahead on the schedule. But having Isaac with us this week, reminded me to stay home and get out.
Today we wandered some stores and ate a late and leisurely lunch. Then the two of us went to the beach so Isaac could fly his radio-controlled plane. Today there was an admiring crowd of guys who understood radio frequencies and admired Isaac's flying skills, landing his plane at our feet with delicate ease. Then we loaded the plane into the car and just alked the beach during low tide, seeing normally hidden sea life and rocks and weeds. On the way back to the car in the late afternoon sun Isaac explored the possibility of taking a swim, but the cold air, growing breeze and very chilly waters discouraged him from taking a plunge. So we just stood on the beach, silently enjoying life and the water. It was a real day off.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Stuck?


While walking the beach the other day, I came across this big, rusted piece of metal pictured above. I have no clue what it is for or how it got there on the beach. It is clearly old and heavy. It did something important for something somewhere sometime. I tried to grab it and wiggle it in the sand. Not likely. It is stuck, anchored, fixed deep in the sand. It's not going anywhere soon.
How many of us live lives like that, solid, fixed, permanent and stuck? We had a purpose at one point that was very important, but now are just anchored in the sand, surviving the surf. I cna think of a number of people I know whose lives are stuck and motionless. The are so bounded by their habits, preferences and routines, there is little new in their lives. You can predict the response to almost any question because their repertoire of answers are almost predetermined.
I wrestle with the two poles of stuck and stable, firm foundation and shifting sand, permanent and temporary. I think it's a heart matter, about how stuck or un-stuck one is. It has little to do with vocation or economics, family situation or health. It's something deep inside, the freeing wind of the Holy Spirit blowing where it wills. It's the word to the lame man by the pool of Bethsaida, "Do you want to be healed?" (read: unstuck).
The church can also get stuck...and get un-stuck. When we are open to the blowing winds of the Spirit, stuck lives are loosed to float and sail and soar like eagles.

Flying with Isaac


Our oldest son Isaac has been visiting us for the past week, making Thanksgiving special for us since our other two children cannot be here until Christmas. Isaac has always been a person of intense hobbies (as the other two are as well, Liz with dancing and Luke with Ultimate). Isaac's newest passion is radio-controlled flying. He now mounts a mini video camera on top of or beneath his airplane and then videos his flights, posting 3-4 minute clips with movies at www.f3600.com. Yesterday we went to the bluff west of Santa Barbara near UCSB campus. Isaac, in the picture above, launched his plane in a fairly stiff breeze and flew it flawlessly out over the ocean and back over us several times.
At one point he flew near a flying sea gull. The sea gull evaded the plane, and Isaac turned the plane back to land and the sea gull launched an attack after the plane. Both bird and plane flew at about the same speed, so Isaac was clearly on the defense, dodging this way and that, trying to avoid the sea gull's beak which would down the plane and camera. We laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. He never thought of radio controlled flying as a contact sport!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

T.M.I.


Do you sometimes wonder if you are getting too much information? At my dentist appointment yesterday, he wave a wand over my excavated tooth after fully numbing my mouth (some would say head as well). Then it falshed up on the screen which was positioned in front of me in the chair. He pointed out his options and told me about the potential failure points in that tooth.
For the next 30 minutes he rocked and pushed my jaw as he repaired the hole in my tooth that was all too visual for me. But in our litigeous world, professionals go to great lengths to insure we, the patients and clients, understand our situation and their proposal. We receive more information than we can meaningfully process and digest.
It often happens in other areas as well. In the spirit of candor and openness, I will hear far more about a relationship than I need to know, far more medical data about a prayer request than I should and far more emotional reationale for a decision than is necessary.
How much over-information goes on within the church? Where do we under-inform members and where do they receive way too much information (TMI)? I think about that when I read the news and wonder, "Do I really need to know this?"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thankful!


This is the image on the table that greeted me this morning as I entered the sanctuary; full, bounteous, spilling over, lavish, too much. That's my life pretty much; way blessed. Last night Isaac flew in late to spend a week with us. What a gift! As our children age and mature and develop their own lives and routines, time at parents becomes a precious gift. Then there is God's grace and love, forgiveness and hope, not just little micro-hopes like I mentioned below, but big, massive, audacious meta-hopes. And I get to preach about that. How good is that?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music & Hope


Jeremy Begbie's article in the November 13 "The Christian Century" entitled "Sound Theology" is a provocative contribution to the ongoing dialogue about worship and music. Introducing the article, editor John Buchanan said that music is "a topic about which everyone is his or her own authroity on taste but mostly ignorant when it comes to the details." Begbie spends a good bit of time analyzing the flow of music from equilibrium to tension to resolution (ETR). His is not a noble defense of good, classical hymnody that we all know and love (tongue in cheek), but a deeper look at why some music evokes deep responses in audiences and congregations. Great music, he says, "invites us to live on many levels....Put differently: there is always hope if we live on more than one level."
Here is where his writing caught my pastoral/theological heart. The people of Israel lived out their promises on multiple levels: immediate, partial, future. They still do when they say at the Passover, "Next year in Jerusalem." Living on multiple levels lets me see this life in a deeper context with a rich and vibrant past, a complex present and a real and hopeful future.
But our postmodern culture mitigates against that multiple level living. "We dare not hope for anything too great in the long term; nor, many would say, do we know how to hope for anything in the long teram. With the so-called death of the meta-narrative, we can settle only for microhopes, a stretching of a lifespan at most."
MICROHOPES! What a great word. How descriptive is that of most of our modern lives; little microhopes strung together from week to week: help me with my boss and my job, help me get through the final exam, help me with this tangible thing here and now. Those are valid and honorable prayers, but very immediate and short: microhope. What about hope for the planet and the nations, the prisoners and the victims. I need music to fuel my life-battles on deeper levels. I look for my music to take me into places I have not gone (which is why I so enjoy the new Over the Rhine album. Hope pushes me through the night into a new dawn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rick Warren & M-4


Today I heard Rick Warren teach/preach live, up close and personal. He was the opening speaker for the Exponential07. I've read "Purpose Driven Life" and read a lot about Rick Warren, often critiquing the mega-model and method. I repent of every snide and critical thing I've ever said about Rick Warren. When he spoke, he opened his heart to us in such a humble and transparent way. No bluster, no bravado, not posturing and posing. He loves Jesus and loves the Word. He spoke about how a "purpose driven life" should be matched with "puposeful use of money." It will take me some time to process the deep stuff God was doing in my heart about me and my non-generous attitudes abour too much. This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. I did blog a couple of years ago about the National Pastors' Conference being way up there. This is a close tie, if not better (except for the really loud music, but great electric guitar playing).

I drove back to Montecito early because the M-4 (4 churches of Montecito) were holding the first ever (that we knew of in the 100+ year history) combined Thanksgiving service at the historic All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. When I arrived early with Jeff Witten from World Vision and Katie Faldo from Peoples Self help Housing, we were bracing ourselves for a typical joint, ecumenical service (maybe 25 people). The choir was excellent, singing "O How Amiable" by R. Vaghan Williams and "Ubi Caritas" by Hurd with flute. But slowly it began to fill, and fill and fill. When the four participating clergy walked out (see below) there were well over 125-50 people from the community there.

After the service we got together and were amazed at the positive, energetic response from the four churches. We packed off 1,000 HIV/AIDS care kits last fall and 800 backpacks in the summer, and we are planning to do more in the next round. Tonight as we left the church, I was grateful for the work and person of Rick Warren and Saddleback, but even more grateful for God allowing me to be part of a community like this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Exponential07 reflections


Exponential07 is very similar in spirit to the "National Pastors' Conference" I attended in San Diego. It is clearly non-denominational and corporate sponsored (NPC= Zondervan, Exponential07= Generous Giving & Crown Financial). Their purpose is inspirational versus connectional. Music is waaaaaay loud. Their lead guitarist is a superb pro, great to listen to, impossible to sing along with. But some of the quotes were priceless and preachable:
*Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to make us wise consumers, but to fulfill his purposes on earth, to live faithfully for him.
*“There’s never been a person in history who pursued a life of leisure whose name has been remembered in history” Teddy Roosevelt
*We buy what we cannot afford with money that we don’t have to impress people we don’t know.
*The problem is not management, but a problem of the heart. We are just pain greedy. The secret to getting out of debt is generosity. Generosity is the antidote to greed, it unlocks the chains of debt.
*How can we not be generous to a God who is so generous to us?
*Generosity is not just about money
It’s a spirit that does not readily implode
When it invades a church it is a culture
Your church never looks more like God than when it exudes a generous spirit
These were some of the nuggets I picked up today. Tomorrow I get to hear Rick Warren preach to us, and I'm not a little excited about that. What really made the impression on me today was not some formula for unlocking giving, but personal stories of transformation from the real lives of these men and women who shared. Generosity is best when it's close and personal.

Exponential07


Saddleback! Wow! Big! The words fail me to describe a campus this big. I'm here with Don Fensterman at the Exponential07 conference on stewardship in the local church with about 2,000 other pastors and leaders. Efficient, organized, on-theme, very helpful are the words I have for what we have heard so far. Did I mention that this place is big? Oh yeah, I guess I did. Don Fensterman, Director of Churches Planting Churches for Church Growth and Evangelism and I are having great fun and spinning some fun thoughts about how to get other pastors to participate in this. We've met two other Covenanters, Stan Long from the Bay area and the pastor and team from St. Cloud Minnesota!! More later.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kingdom Project


I gave away $100 bills on Sunday. A member of our church presented the concept to me of giving away $100 bills to worshipers as part of something called the "Kingdom Project." The project works like this: 1. The money is not yours, it's God's. 2. You must invest it in God's work in any creative way you choose. 3. you must report back in 90 days about what happened to God's money.
The man in our church gave me $1,000 that I cashed into 10 $100 bills. The response was positive and eager. Now to see what happens in 90 days!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Over the Rhine: Trumpet Child


Scot McKnight recently posted on some of his favorite music. It's good to know what others listen to. I have a recommendation for those who are lyric-driven. Over The Rhine just released their newest album; "Trumpet Child" The cover tells a great story about the wide range of musical sounds in this album. It's a musical journey, with each new song morphing into another style and mood. But it's their lyrics that grab my heart. Out walking today with my ipod on, I heard: "I don't want to waste your time with music you don't need. Why should I autograph a book that you won't even read? I've got a diferent scar for every song and blood still left to bleed. But I don't want to waste your time with music you don't need."
Translate those lyrics to preaching and teaching, doing art and practicing therapy. How much of our energy goes out to those who don't really think they need "the song" we are singing? Over the Rhine grabs you by the heart and says, "I understand."

Israel Trip Breakfast Reunion


Those who traveled to Israel in October had a wonderful Israeli breakfast reuinion today at Jeanne Michealsen's house. We all brought foods like those we had for breakfast in Israel; tomatoes, olives, meats, eggs, pita, hummus, and lots of coffee. We laughed and we told stories. Then we went around the table talking about what the lasting impression of the trip was to each one of us. That was a tender time of sharing and, again, laughing. All of were impressed by different things; geography, the people, the Bible coming alive, new friends, and the layering of history in one small piece of real estate.
As we finished, we began plans for a 2009 trip to Greece to follow the journeys of Paul. It is so much fun to travel with people you know and love before, and love even more afterwards.

Off to Disney-Land!


It was cold as I shuffled out the front door to get my NYT's paper. I was barely waking up, going through my morning ritual: coffee on, lights on, bathrobe and slippers on, heat turned on to take off the morning chill. When I got to the end of our sidewalk, I heard voices, young voices. Then I remembered; Lisa was taking students to Disney-Land today. I went back in quickly and put on jeans and a sweatshirt and went over to greet the students and parents in the parking lot. Some of the students were new to me, so were their parents. About 30 in all were heading for an all-day adventure at Disney-Land. The energy in the parking lot before 7:00 am was a wake-up call to me about the growing strength of student ministries at MCC. I'm just glad I am not the one doing the driving and riding stomach-turning rides all day. God bless those in student ministries!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Blessed


There are a lot of things to grouse and complain about; politics (secular and churchy), the economy, the environment, the media, and leadership. Today I needed to get out of my office after a long week. The sermon was roughed out, my reports were filed, lessons plans for confirmation were completed, nobody is in the hospital, so I took off. I set my ipod to "shuffle" and walked up through Westmont campus, up a back pathway to East Mountain Drive and then meandered. The road zigs and zags along the side of the mountain, dipping into shadows and then out to vistas over the ocean. The sun was shining and the air was crisp and dry. The music was a fun montage of classical and Norwegian folk. I just had to stop and look and experience the blessing of being alive. There is food in our refrigerator, gas in the tank, a congregation who loves me and a family I delight in. Yeah, the check-book could have a higher balance and I could loose a couple of pounds. But hey, I'm blessed and loved by God. Sweet!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sunday School: Wired or Tired?


Kim Crawford, our Children's Director called for the meeting in my office to talk about Sunday School (SS). For many of us in the evangelical and protestant communities, SS is one of those legacy programs. It's been around forever, with pictures like that above to document its presence. I have my own personal stories (good and bad) about SS classes in Lafayette Indian and St.Paul Minnesota. Everyone went. Whole families showed up and divided off into children, youth, young adult and adult classes (sometimes gender or age divided and other times led for years by one distinguished teacher, E.T Thompson or Dr. Stanley).
But that's all changed today. Some numbers we wrestle with are: average worship attendance (low 300's and rising each year by 15%) growing number of children and families in worship and Children's Church (20-35), but a SS attendance (nursery to grade 6 of about 10-12) and similar lower numbers in Jr. Hi and Sr. Hi.
When we gathered anecdotes about why, some of the comments that came back were: "Sunday is the only day my kids can sleep in. They are so tired with all the activities and homework." "SS bores them." "We do spiritual formation at home." Does our culture so exhuast children, youth and families, that to expect more than one hour on Sunday mornings is stress-creating? Has spiritual formation been outsourced to organizations like Young Life, Veggie Tales, BSF, and summer camps? Has spiritual formation become more individual, like homeschooling, than corporate? Or have we (parents and churches) caved in to cultural pressures and relegated SS and intentional spiritual formation to the lowest rung on the priority laddder (next to traveling sports, music, drama, dance, SAT preparation, homework and travel)? What will be the long-term consequence if this generation of children just sleep into adulthood?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Confirmation Games


Confirmation is meant to be a time when the pastor(s) connect with students and bring teach them about the inner truths of the Christian faith. There are serious and holy moments, when students grasp the meanings of sacraments, atonement and forgiveness. But then there are the other moments when the pastors are revealed as all too human. Tonight was one such human moment. Our class began late, students were arriving slowly. So Lisa Holmlund began a game of leap-frog. The students got into it. Then Lisa said "Pastor Don! Pastor Don!" and I was drafted into the line of leap-frogging over the students. When Lisa's turn came. She dutifully leapfrogged over the students and then, I am afraid, over me. She landed hard on her knee and crumpled with pain. After about 15 minutes she knew she needed to go to the ER. Liam, our intern, took her to the hospital. We all prayed for her. She called later to say the doctors told her she really sprained something. Gave her a brace and some Vicodin and told her to go home. All I had was grass stains!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Writers' Strike? Please!


I spend over $60 per/month for cable and internet. That means I have access to about 71 channels of TV. I cannot tell you the number of evenings Martha and I sit down after dinner dishes to "see what's on" after 8pm. We go up and down the channels: news specials on latest disease threats, sitcoms with overgrown children behaving badly, cop shows, lawyer shows, medical dramas, local cable access channels, public television documentaries on archaelogy or the enviroment. Then there are all the special cable channels on tatooing, traveling, cooking, racing, golfing, weather forecasts, history, gross medical problems involving obesity or cancer, screaming heads arguing about some political or economic issue, stand-up comics being "bleeped" for bad language and Telemundo soccer in Spanish. We often end up with "Project Runway" re-runs for Martha to watch and I head to another room to read.
It has been too many years that a serial show has grabbed us with a compelling story line and dialogue of depth. When was the last time you repeated a show's dialogue at work the next day because it was so good? What happened to the creative genius that brought us "M.A.S.H.", "Cheers", "St. Elsewhere" "Hill Street Blues" and comedians like Carole Burnett and Tim Conway, the Smothers Brothers? Saturday Night Live might still keep up, but barely. The writing today is attrocious, shallow and vulgar. Maybe that's because our culture is attrocious, shallow and vulgar. But that is not reason to feel sorry for creators of drivel and fluff.
Wouldn't a revival of great writing be great? Maybe it will go off-line to YouTube and internet sites. Maybe the era of the big box in entertainment is withering like big-box retailers. Quality will surive and thrive. Writiers' Union? Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sacred Space & Geo-Piety


As a child I remember riding in our family car from Indiana to Upper Michigan for our 4 week vacation. When we hit the tall forests, my dad would let our a sigh, "Ah, those forests! It's good to be home! Could anything be more beautiful than those forest?" To which our answers were always "Oh no, this is as beautiful as it gets." Early I was tutored in Geo-Piety, that sentiment that invests sacred power to certain places.
The term "Geo-Piety" comes from the author Jim Harrison in his book "True North". "Each village was obsesed with the history of its own immediate area and infinitely less so than the human history of the village a mere thirty miles away. Later in life I learned that human geographers call this 'geo-piety' which also applies to larger units and fidelities like Michigan State-University of Michigan football games." (p. 214)
I learned the infinite details about Upper Michigan, Delta County and, more importantly, the soveriegn dignity of Gladstone, Michigan against their nemesis, Escanaba. But over the years, I also learned about the inherent superiority of St. Paul over Minneapolis, of Minnesota's strength over Wisconsin (never even mention Iowa). As I pastored in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and now California, I observe that no place is immune from the tendency of geo-piety. A Michigan member lost his job in his 50's. He found a job in Texas that paid more than he used to make and made plans to move there. The last week of planning, his wife announced that he would have to move alone. She could never live in Texas. It was too far from home! He lasted one year in Texas and moved back.
We just returned from a trip to Israel. In Jerusalem we saw painful and bloody evidence of millenia of geo-piety. This dirt is sacred dirt and mine! You cannot be on my land or I will kill you. Even the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is carved up into different sectarian regions of piety, coexisting but barely...and all these are Christians!
I am glad whereeve I am. All places have God's people and are therefore sacred. California's coast, the central valley, the plains of Montana, the cold north of Minnesota or the muggy south of Richmond. God is evident in the buzz of Los Angeles and the whispers of an Indiana corn field. Too often we worship the location more than the Lord of the location.

Old Sign Re-built


I heard the pounding Saturday morning. Alex and 2 guys from his son's construction company were getting the "new" sign in place and leveled. A huge drill and massive bolts anchored the sign to thickmetal plates set solidly in a concrete base above grade with a drip-edge. The sign-posts are even shimmed off the concrete so air can circulate under the posts, delaying rot due to wetness. This is a well-done job, but costly. We have not seen the final bill, but I watched over the last two weeks as Alex and his son Eric disassembled the sign and bought new posts, excavated the old base and had to chisel out the concrete to make space for the metal brackets. Hours and hours of work, just for a sign.
The parallels are not lost on me from my earlier post. Rebuilding broken lives is a lot of work, very costly in terms of time and energy and often very complicated because there needs to be demoliton and construction. Some stuff has to go to make room for healthy new life. I think we are weakest at demolition because it seems so judgemental and harsh. "What do you mean this habit or attitude has to go, it's not of your business, or at least it's just your personal opinion!" "What do you mean I have to be reconcild to that jerk? Do you know what he/she did to my life?" Some of us are so familiar with the rotten posts, and intimidated by the work required to remove the dead wood, we just leave the rot in place.
But then we would never see how the new sign stands tall and strong!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

President Denominationless

Brad Boydston tipped us off to an interesting interview with Rev. Robert A. Schuller, son of the founder of the Crystal Cathedral. In this interview in the "Christian Post" on Nov 2, 2007 Schuller says:"I think we're in a new era in the Church," said the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. "And that era is 'denominationless.'"

Already, Americans have come years into waning membership across mainline denominations and an increasing thirst for something less institutional, something closer to a relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

So what's church going to look like in the near future?

"I think the Church is actually going to reflect what Jesus Christ has envisioned the Church being since day one – a body of believers, not necessarily congregated in a specific location, but those who have a sincere faith and a heart and love for Jesus Christ, who are committed to him, and worship God and worship the tri-nature of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in unique ways that is yet to be determined," commented Schuller in an interview with The Christian Post."
This is not necessarily a new topic, but it might be timely for those on the ECC Presidential Search Committee. What does it mean to elect a President of a Denomination in a "denominationless culture? What focus should denominational leadership take when their role is not longer assumed to be important by a growing majority of church-goers? What will be the emerging role for denominational presence in the life of a local church? Is anyone asking these questions? Wouldn't it be great if some leaders could inject this conversation into the coming Midwinter Conference?

Friday, November 02, 2007

All-Saints' Sunday: surrounded


In a recent PBS "Frontline" special on death, a mortician commented that at today's increasingly creative funeral services, everyone is invited to attend and contribute EXCEPT for the deceased. Across the country he notes a cultural trend avoiding having the body of the person present as his/her funeral/memorial service. I have noticed this trend in moving to California. Recently we had a service for a woman in our church and the family requested bringing the casket into the sanctuary. A staff member commented that this was the first time in memory that a casket came into the church.
Yesterday was All Saints' Day and Sunday is All Saints' Sunday. It's a time for us to joyfully acknowledge the myth of the tryanny of the present. All Saints' Day announces that we are not the first to arrive. Others have gone before us. Others have fought faith battles that we might be where we are. Others have prayed for us and shaped us. Others laid down their lives that we might live. Others are not the stuff of memory and myth, legend and romantic sentimentality, but they are really and actually gathered about the throne of God, the cheering section for those of us now on the track running the race. So, light your candles, say your names, go through the litany of saints known and unkown. You are not alone, but surrounded by a cloud!

Quiet Joys


It was a foggy Thursday night. We ate pizza out of a box with salad on paper plates drinking pop. The eight of us gathered around the dining room table were a representation of the church: single, married, with kids, without kids, empty nest, grandparents. Our task was one of those assignments many dread: the Nominating Committee for officers for the 2008 Church Council.
But last night's meeting (the last of 3) was filled with laughter and stories, joy and love. We carefully and prayerfully sought out qualified persons to step into significant roles of leadership and we filled the ballot of empty places except for one, and that will be decided by Sunday.
Why is this a quiet joy? It's the church at work. It's not politicing or back-room cajoling. it was a joyful search to see who God is calling into specific ministry leadership. Almost to a person, those asked were delighted and honored to say "yes." It was not "my" slate of persons in a agreement with me or persons representing "power blocks" within the church. Some are relatively new and unknown. Some are really young (mid-20's). But all are really qualtified and gifted. It's exciting for me to see the church at work in these quiet ways. And the pizza was really, really good!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rebuilding Old Signs


For the past week, I hear the sounds of saws and drills. Alex Nordholm and his son Eric are working to repair and replace our old sign (just a couple of years) that was big, massive and sturdy...until it fell. Upon examination, Alex and Eric discovered that the sign posts were anchored in concrete about 4 feet into the soil. What was neglected was any way to keep water from pooling at the base of the posts. Over the years,the pooled water infiltrated the posts and invited termites to a nice chewy meal. You can see where the old posts rotted and broke off.
Rebuilding the old sign is probably taking more time than the original installation of the first sign because the hole had to be cleared and excavated of wood, and new posts had to be ordered, sized and drilled, and new forms and brackets had to be built and installed so that this time the posts are above the water and soil level and can stay dry.
Most of the people I encounter are old signs. There is a long history of pooling water, wet rot, dry rot and gnawing termites. Most people I meet come with history and with woundedness. There is a re-engineering going on in their lives of carving out the old stuff and replacing with newer material, practices and habits. It's also long work. It's the work of the church.
The text for this coming Sunday (All Saints' Sunday) is Acts 15:36-16:5 and the tough, but important work of connecting with believers and "seeing how they are doing."

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