Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jim Wallis to Montecito Friday Feb 29

The village of Montecito has only 4 established Christian churches. Two years ago we began getting together to figure out what we could do together. That's a big deal for us because we reside in a very wealthy community and all of us have lovely facilities. On the surface we can appear pretty selfish and self-absorbed. What could we do together in Jesus' name to bless the world? What activity go we do collaboratively that would not be self-service or be promoting one of our own denominations? 
Along came World Vision and invited us in to HIV/AIDS care kits to Africa. Long story short: we organized ourselves enough to pack, fill, and ship 1,000 kits. The response from all our our congregations was: It's about time! When can we do this again? So we re-gathered and worked with a local non-profit "People's Self Help Housing" and raised funds for and filled 800 back-to-school back-packs for local children living in subsidized housing. Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Our community wants to work together across normally dividing lines. 
Then came the question: "How is what we are doing any different than the good things Rotary and Kiwanis do?" M-4 (that's what we call the gathered 4 churches) recognized we need someone to speak into what's happening here. We needed to find someone who recognizes this bigger movement of the spirit in a community. As a side note, the 4 Covenant churches in Santa Barbara can hardly get together, yet these very different churches eagerly met monthly (with the senior pastors/priest) for prayer, lunch and planning. 
That's when we discovered Jim Wallis' new book The Great Awakening that tracks exactly what is happening in our community in other communities around the country. Jim was in San Diego and was willing to fly up to Santa Barbara and meet with us all at Westmont College of Friday night February 29th at 7:00 pm. There are still free tickets available at all 4 churches (and maybe some at the door). 

In a World of $20 Bills

What happened to $10 bills? Where are all the $5 bills? They're gone because of ATM's. All we get now are $20's punched out in various groupings. And it seems all we end up with are random $1 bills. The 10's and 5's vanish somewhere!
What do you get for $25? I spend $25 without even knowing it ($2.50 milk, $4.39 for Orange Juice, $5 for a can of coffee, $6 for cheeses, and $7 for some nice meat to grill and I'm over the limit!) Try going with your friend to a movie (boom: $30 easily with munchies). Any shoes out there for $25 ? Hardly. How about magazines? How many magazines for a trip can you buy for $25? Let's go to Starbucks for a nice sweet, hot drink and something to dip in it for 2 and you are at $20 again.
The point is not guilt, but the fluidity of $20 bills. They come and they go out and I don't notice it. A $20 bill hardly makes a difference today.
On Saturday March 8th the 4 churches of Montecito (All Saints by-the-sea Episcopal, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic and Montecito Covenant) will boldly attempt to fill, pack, and wrap 2,000 orange cases pictured above with ointment, bandages, gloves, flashlights, cotton balls, soap cakes, notebooks and pens and a couple other things I forget. Each case will cost $25 to purchase, fill and send to Rwanda. These cases will be put into the hands of World Vision trained care-givers who will take them by foot or by bicycle to approximately 7 HIV/AIDS persons in the end stage of life. Those supplies will last for about 3 months of visits. That means every $25 brings the good news and "cup of cold water in Jesus' name" to 7 people for 3 months! That, to me is a real bargain. That $25 is a big deal.
What makes my heart race on Thursday afternoon one week before the event is that our combined goal is $50,000 or $12,500 per/church. Will we make it? Are there enough $20 bills floating around that need a home to be really meaningful?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rules for Criticisms

Alan Forsman shared staff rules for dealing with criticism at the "Getting to Great" seminar in Tucson. When a staff person in a church is approached by a church member with a criticism about another staff person, that staff member should ask four questions:
1. Have you personally talked with the person mentioned?
2. Would you like me to go with you when you do?
3. What is your intention in raising this criticism with me?
4. Do you intend for resolution and reconciliation or just complaining?

Yikes! That's pretty clear and specific. But it does follow Matthew 18

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tucson Desert Museum

Tuesday afternoon had some free time built into it. Some went running, others took naps, others did some shopping, but Liam and I visited the desert museum that one of the participants called "The Sea World of the Desert." And it was. The array of cactus and desert animals (all live) were amazing. Liam even found a little cactus friend he cuddled up next to.

Liam and Don staying awake

Before our afternoon session, Liam and I sat together and goofed around, trying to stay awake in the warmth of the Tucson sun. 

To Do List for the Church

Last night Doug Stevens reviewed David Olson's book "The American Church in Crisis" as part of our Getting to Great seminar. At the end of his review he highlighted what he thought was the best part of the book: the to do list for the church.
1. Be honest about the conditions aroundus
2. Be a leader
a. know true spirituality
b. establish a chemistry (atmosphere) for healthy leadership
c. learn to lead strategically
3. Thrive in this new world
4. Study Christians of the 1st (and other) centuries who lived as minorities
5. Practice pastor up-grades
a. rekindle passion
b. discover Holy Spirit power
c. tap into deep wisdom
6. Engage your neighborhood with hospitality
7. Intentionally plant new churches
8. Develop a cadre of young leaders
9. Expect this to be the era of the Holy Spirit

Getting to Great: Tucson

Tucson, Arizona is cool! Liam and I flew in yesterday to meet with staff from the other 3 churches participating in "Getting to Great". This cohort of church staffs is being guided by Al Forsman and Doug Stevens through selected books and mutually agreed goals to work more effectively as entire staffs. 
What hit me this morning during devotions was a loud rush of air. I went outside and right overhead was a hot-air balloon gliding by, with occasional shots of hot air flaming up into the balloon cavity. Then I looked around at these big-boy cacti(?) that look like prickly sentinels for this high desert environment. It's rocky, dry and gorgeous. 

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Going to Jail

Going to jail should not be that attractive. The room smells of too many bodies and too much carbon dioxide. I lead music to the accompaniment of a boom box of Calvary Chapel songs that are not necessarily my style. The settings vary from small cells of a dozen guys to a large classroom holding 25+. It's at the end of a long Sunday and usually, while driving over, I wonder why in the world I'm doing this. It's not like I'm going to see these guys who are warehoused here in Santa Barbara from as far away as Los Angeles to Lompoc. They are not my "neighbors" and will probably not visit MCC. 
Tonight I was scammed. Two guys in the back of the room sat next to the thermometer, which they kept bumping up, getting the room hotter and hotter. I and my partner are the only ones standing, so we are getting the heat first. The young guys is laughing at his scam till he meets my eyes and he knows I know. While singing I wonder if I should call him out or leave him. Our topic is the lectionary text for today, John 4 and the woman at the well. I decided to leave it alone and see what happens. We finish singing and I begin telling the story of Jesus and the woman who tells her village to come "and meet a man who told me everything I've ever done."
The guys focussed in, related to the woman and her failures and her thirst. And I noticed the room was cooling off. On the way out of the room with the guard, the guy in the back shook my hand and said "Cool story."

Church Suppers

Last night MCC Student Ministries held a church supper to raise funds for an upcoming trip to Argentina. Martha and I sat with three other couples from MCC. As we talked around the table, we counted up that collectively our table had experienced over 300 church suppers. All of us grew up in churches and some of us grew up in pastors' homes. We knew all about church suppers of casseroles, pot-lucks, infinite ways to cook chicken, lots up mushroom soups, endless salads and lots and lot of jello!
But last night's meal was unlike any church supper any of us ever experienced before, principally because of the cook and his wife (pictured above: Dr. Niva Tro and Ann). Niva and Ann are gourmands. Niva comes from Cuba and love Latin American food. So we began with a salad of lettuce and Spanish cheese and pears, covered with pine nuts. The main course was marinated chicken and beef kebabs, with onions and peppers between the meats next to a rice number filled with all sorts of spices and vegetables and then plantains. Then for desert they made the best flan any of us ever tasted with dark, strong coffee! 
The conclusion of the table is that Niva should stop teaching chemistry and open a restaurant, or at least take charge of all church suppers from this point out. We got spoiled!!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Back to Basics

Seth Godin's blog site for today echoed a conversation I had with a realtor this past week. We met over lunch on a rainy Thursday. He's been a realtor for 20+ years and I asked him what's different about the real estate business now things are in more than a slump. He paused and said: "It's going back to basics." The big change for him from the last years where property moved and sold above asking prices is that he's gone from being a "property order taker" to a " real estate consultant." When I asked him to translate that for me, he said it means time listening to individuals. It means calling people up. It means scheduling open houses and meeting lots of people. It means not being in a hurry. It means knowing the genuine fears of people in the market to either buy or sell a house. 
Seth Godin's blog site today sounded just like my conversation this week. It's a new world for so many types of businesses...including the church. The slick, franchized and hyped sure-growth programs out of the box are gone. Nobody is excited about the biggest, best, newest and fanciest. Read George Barna's recent blog postings on how burned out the local populations are by church attraction programs versus God-connecting programs. 
How has ministry changed for you? What's different about doing church these days than 10 or more years ago? Is it back to basics for you as well? It is for me. 
My priorities have become clearer: a solid prayer life, good study of scripture (including working the Greek and Hebrew), spending time out of the office and in homes, businesses and restaurants with my people, listening more and talking less, being interruptible, reading widely, writing letters, going out with my wife and hanging out with friends. Back to basics

Friday, February 22, 2008

Are They Linked?

It was a great conversation today with a pastor-friend who was sharing some of the stress he is experiencing right now in his church. It's a healthy church with a lot of good things going on. Yet, when he meets with his leadership topics come up like stewardship, staff effectiveness, worship vitalization, evangelism, etc. When the group talks about it, they end up turning to him and saying something to the effect: "that's why you are our leader...lead us!" And when he takes steps to address a situation, comments come back to him that say "you are acting pretty bossy, you don't have that kind of authority.
This is a really good topic for most of us pastors, especially those of us in the role of senior or lead (or solo) pastor. The church looks to us for leadership and often holds us accountable for leadership, yet we often can feel short-changed with commensurate authority. 
Some author (whose name I forget but do not wish to plagiarize) said "Responsibility needs to be linked to authority. Those who who are given responsibility over a given area must have commensurate authority to be responsible." He (or maybe she) stressed the critical link between responsibility and authority. If my compensation is tied to how well I manage the weather, I'm in deep trouble! That's a recipe for major stress and burn-out. 
The challenge for pastors and leadership teams is to clearly communicate where we (as pastors) are and are not responsible and what authority goes with that area of responsibility. The biggest topic I heard about during the Covenant Midwinter Conference was in the area of staff leadership. How much authority do you (and should you) have over staff? Does the church hire and fire staff, yet hold the pastor responsible for their performance? What authority does a supervising pastor have over non-performing staff (MCC staff, this is not about you, honest! I'll talk with you first before I ever blog about you!)? Where does the leadership team come into play? Where should a pastor not have authority to protect him/her? 
In Minnesota we were exploring the Team Leadership model of governance as I was leaving. It was, in my view, one of the best leadership models because it tried to clearly delineate lines of both responsibility and authority. With the Covenant's deep commitment to congregational polity and transparency in process, what will be the emerging shapes and directions for churches (small, medium and large)?


You cannot live in California and not develop a water-awareness. We experienced an almost two year drought and the devastating fires that burned last summer (see June and July blog entries). During the month of January and February we have had some of the wettest weather in many people's memory, with 10+ inch rains and gully-washing floods. Of course the ocean is on our doorstep with its dramatic tides and occasional big-waves that draw surfers like a magnet. 
But as I lived with the text for Sunday from John 4:1-42, I realized that all of us, everywhere, are deeply water-conscious: of snows pounding the East Coast now, or bone-chilling freezes that solidify lakes in the north, or killer tornadoes and swamping hurricanes pounding our south and mideast. 
The story of the woman at the well is my story; it's your story. It's a story of what do we do with that thirst that just will not be quenched? Her thirst was a bit more visible than most; five husbands and now a lover. But we all have our thirsts that won't go away: success, recognition, love, acceptance, relief, affirmation, validation, ???
Jesus offered her and us a "living water" from which we will never be thirsty again. Give me that water!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tail of the Snake

Thomas Green, author of "Weeds Among the Wheat: Discernment, where prayer and action meet" is my primary devotional resource these days. He is a Jesuit spiritual director from Rochester NY who now is Spiritual Director of San Jose Seminary in Manila. 
The reason I'm reading this book again is my need for discernment and greater depth in my devotional, spiritual life. His book is work to read because it is a commentary on the "Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius". I can read only short bits of his work because it is so dense for me.  Today's writings focussed on the theme of the enemy's means of distraction. "As long as we live he will be working to spoil the harvest of sanctity in good souls. In fact, one of the surest signs of interior maturity which I have found is a healthy mistrust of even our best motivations." (p. 135)
In an attitude of self-mistrust, Green encourages the growing disciple to look for the tail of the snake  in our devotional life by looking for signs of desolation in the beginning, middle and end of our consolations (those practices that bring us close to God). 
As I read, I saw how susceptible I am to the hiss of the snake to draw me away from God and on to my expectations and entitlements, from avoiding the mundane tasks in preference of holier tasks to bursts of anger and impatience when things do not go my way or I am interrupted, or a smug sense of spiritual superiority towards those who do not do things the way I do them. 
Watch for the tail!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Settling for Good Enough

Today was a totally relaxing day off. A long morning reading the Monday and Sunday NYT's then coffee at a coffee shop while Martha worked in the studio, lunch out and wandering State Street, then quiet reading of the recent Atlantic Magazine article entitle "Marry Him" by Lori Gottlieb. It's a fascinating reflection by a picky woman on whether to "settle" for a husband who isn't "Mr. Ideal." 
In all the premarital counseling I do, I run into the conflict between the romantic ideal spouse and the reality of the other person. Older couples have a tougher time compromising on their ideals, especially women who have held out for the perfect spouse. Ms. Gottlieb has had a child on her own as a single person and now reflects on whether she should have "settled" for a life-partner rather than waiting for "Mr. Right."
Facing our 33rd wedding anniversary later this summer, I realize we were both too young, too idealistic, too impulsive to sort through all these fine points of finding the right person. Martha shaped me into the right person for her and I learned what a right person she was for me through the caldron of putting me through school, having children, moving locations, enduring tragedies and challenges and watching her art mature and grow. What Ms. Gottlieb omits in her poignant article is any role of God and faith in a relationship. Those dimensions turned our marriage into an adventure of discovery for the long-haul and not shopping for the perfect fit. It's the living of life together that makes it right.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thanks Samarkand!

The Samarkand bus pulled up to the church sidewalk about 8:05 am today. Out came about a dozen MCC members and friends, right on time for worship. The administration of Samarkand Covenant Retirement Center made it happen. After a long conversation regarding logistics and feasibility, the Samarkand underwrote the entire cost of shuttling members and friends from the retirement center to MCC each week in time for the 8:15 service, a time to grab some coffee and back home again by 10:00 am. Thanks Samarkand!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Born Again? Come On!

The lectionary text for this Sunday is John 3:1-17; the familiar story of old Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. His opening words are so disarming: "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God." How sweet is that? How wonderful a confession and discovery is that statement? An influential, educated, wealthy and pious man totally "gets" what Jesus is about and who he is. I'm waiting for applause from Jesus. But instead Jesus lays out "You must be born anothen (again, from above)."
I don't like starting over, at all! I like adding to, complementing what I already have accomplished and achieved. I have 27 years of ministry under my belt; a decent understanding of Greek, a pretty full library, lots of sermon manuscripts, 4 churches I have been privileged to serve, lots and lots of committees I have both sat on and led. Surely all that counts for something! Jesus cannot seriously mean these words for me...to start all over, to be born again, to start from scratch?!?! Come on! 

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Kingdom Project Update

In the early Fall of 2007, a guy from the church took me to lunch and asked me if I ever heard of the "Kingdom Project." I said "no" and he proceeded to share with me a simple book about this unique experiment. The gist of the experiment is this: he would donate $1,000 to the church for me to give away in $100 bills with three conditions: 1. it's not their money 2. they must invest it in kingdom work in any way they choose 3. they must report back their findings after 90 days.
Today the 90 days was up and we devoted the early part of the worship to their stories. We sat transfixed as we heard about a woman who invested in sewing supplies and, with other women, sent sewing kits through the Mennonite Central Committee around the world. Another contributed to the local clothing shop called Unity. Another bought insulated socks for the local homeless. Another matched up funds and bought 100 gallons of milk and 100 dozen eggs to given through a local food shelf through the Isla Vista Covenant Church. Two guys invested in Kiva.org, a micro-financing not-for-profit helping 3rd world people with small business loans. Another young man invested his $100 in the local People's Self-Help Housing and saw for himself the devastating housing conditions some people must live in. All in all, we were moved to applause and tears. 
When all the sharing was over, there was no time for a sermon (oh yeah, I guess we heard several, I just didn't do the preaching!).

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Happy, Midi Narrative

Dr. Sarah Savage from Cambridge University in an interview with Alan Roxburg on the Allelon podcast put forward a fascinating concept. In studying the faith development of generation "Y" she came up with this banner "Happy, Midi-Narrative" . 
This generation of young people wants neither the meta-narrative of big picture and sweeping story, nor are they zoned out with a mini-narrative of just themselves. Instead they have crafted a "midi-narrative" that encompasses them, their friends and their family. It's a small tribal narrative. The dominant pursuit within that narrative is "happiness" which means involving three groups. Their fear is not judgement or death, but depression, isolation and not looking good. There were, in Dr. Savage's studies, no strong concerns for systemic injustice but mainly to actualize pleasure and relationships. As I listened to the podcast, I could not help thinking of Frodo.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Frank Gehry, M.I.T. Stata Center and church life

The February 2008 issue of Fast Company contains a fascinating piece on a mess on a most unlikely space. M.I.T. the brain trust of the East Coast (whole USA to M.I.T) commissioned world famous architect Frank Gehry to design a flagship building for its campus. Gehry's whimsical style is well known in the Sydney Opera House, the Disney Music Hall downtown LA, the Weissman Art Building at the University of Minnesota, and countless other buildings the defy right angles, the lean and swirl and tease the eyes. 
The problem here? It leaks!! It seems that M.I.T. paid the big bucks for high design, but did not follow through with the same attention to detail with mundane tasks like carpentry, brick-laying, plasterers, and window glazers. Somewhere the big vision was shaved (either for time pressures or cost cutting) to get the building up, and now it's a huge court mess.
What's this have to do with church? Everything! The greatest sermons are just so much words if a visitor is not greeted warmly. The best student ministry plans leak badly a counselor forgets a student's name. Small details by ministry craftspeople make churches soar or sink. That means us pastor-types need to really take care of and appreciate those who do the heavy-lifting. 

A devotional thought on the flu

All of Montecito and Westmont College has been ravaged by some virulent, fast moving, nasty flu. As my blog of a couple days ago mentioned, I spent one entire day in bed, sleeping and drinking just water. 
After last night's Ash Wednesday service I crawled into bed for a fitful night of sleeping, coughing, aching and cramping. Then, somewhere around 3:00 am, God got my attention in an almost lenten sort of way. "Don: welcome to your body." 
I do not pay attention to my body. It serves my needs. I push it, overwork it, eat the wrong things, neglect proper care and it just keeps on going. I seldom get sick. I hardly ever know pain. I get up early, go all day, and go to bed late. I consume volumes of coffee. 
But last night my body said: "listen to me!" And I felt where my hips join and ache. It was hard to find a good position without pinging pain. I felt my whole skeleton from shoulders down the back both ache and relax. I heard my lungs trying to get rid of junk with spasmodic coughing. 
It was not terrible mind you, but it did get my attention. When my body speaks so loudly, it's really hard to think devotionally or to pray with calm focus. I wonder how many people I visit in hospitals and nursing homes can barely hear and speak through the deep aches and pains of their bodies. I think of those people who valiantly live out "chronic" conditions like arthritus or lupus. 
For me, I know this will be over in the next few days and I will be back to my normal health. May I not forget this lenten lesson of the body.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Robes, Rocks and Ashes

Tonight we celebrate the beginning of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service. The altar-piece captures the essence of the truth of Ash Wednesday with a plate of ashes, harsh stones and a purple robe.  The purple robe speaks of not only royalty, but also of mourning. We gather tonight and mourn our sinfulness. This counters our cultural (if not inbuilt) tendency toward blame. The rocks speak of our relative insignificance. Rocks are just rocks, you can find them anywhere and everywhere. This counters our cultural tendency toward pride. It's way hard to admit that we are insignificant when our media tells us that we are something deserving whatever we want. And the ashes speak to our need for cleansing. The ashes from the slaughtered Red Heifer in Numbers 19 tell how their sprinkling on the people made them clean. We claim our need for cleansing, not with a sacrificed animal, but the sacrifice of Jesus. We cannot clean ourselves. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A really weird day!

I got up this morning raring to go. My schedule today had no flexibility in it at all. But when I got to church at 6:30, by stomach was doing flip-flops and I was uncontrollably shivering. I voted and went home to bed and slept all day, off and on like a cat. I called the staff and they jumped in for me, while I would drink tea and sleep, read and sleep, answer email and sleep. I realized again how fortunate I have been with health over the years. I don't get sick, and when I do I'm miserable. I do not recall spending a whole day in bed, ever. I really hope to et back to work tomorrow for Ash Wednesday and Sunday worship preparation.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

On Weddings

It's Saturday afternoon and in a hour a wonderful young couple will walk down the aisle to get married by the priest of the Santa Barbara Mission and myself. Last night I recognized how much I am enjoying this wedding and so I posted some thoughts about why this couple "works" so well.

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