Monday, March 31, 2008

What Sticks?

What do we do in the church that sticks? Maybe not like gum on a shoe, but then, maybe so. The other day I received an email from a former youth group leader asking questions about basic, core facts that I KNOW were covered over and over again in Sunday School, Youth Group, and Confirmation. But his questions came from a reference place that indicated to me very little "stuck" from all the ministry he experienced at the church growing up.
That prompted a dinner-time discussion with Martha about what we remember "sticking" from our days in our childhood and youth? We both remembered clearly the behaviors and attitudes of the adults around us; parents, teachers and prominent church leaders (for both good and bad). We remembered teaching incidents; while on mission trips, camping, serving, and during times of crises. We remembered learning some skills about reverence, respect, silence, prayer, Bible reading.
But for me, most of my spiritual learning curve began after my freshman year conversion when I took a year off and lived in Japan. It was then that I first read the Bible for myself and began to devour Christian classics that my dad sent to me. That's when I remember things "sticking" in my heart.
So what's happening during these years with children, adolescents, youth, and collegians? Seed-planting is one image. Seeds get planted on Tuesday afternoons from 4:30-6:00 with 11 seventh and eighth graders about the Bible and Church history, theology and ethics. But they are probably watching more about how I treat Martha, Liam and Lisa; how we interact and react to their weirdnesses.
My concern is that the right stuff sticks and not the wrong stuff; not arrogant pastors who yell, not overhearing sniping parents gossip, not cruel youth groups who clique someone out who does not fit; not the obsession with personal lifestyle issues and ignorance of the big moral issues of the day.
I wonder how current leaders in youth ministry deal with the "stick" of the Gospel vs the hype of the program? it's got to be a tough balancing act, when there are pressures from multiple directions to grow the group and keep them from being bored. This could be a great topic for a future Youth Workers' Connection.

Lupines & Poppies

Last week we accidentally stumbled upon fields of Lupines and Poppies near Los Olivos in the Los Padres National Park. We had to go back. And today we did. The pictures below are untouched by iphoto. The acres and acres of purple and orange were just as you seen them, maybe even brighter!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Culture of Safety?

What was so delightful about the movie "Helvetica" I recommended this week is the boldness of the designers who were interviewed. "That typeset was boring and awful! It is only for the monotonous and dull person!" said one man. They were outspoken advocates for beauty. They had no problem saying something was beautiful and something else was ugly.
That's not the way we do things so much any more. In the words of Garrison Keillor "Every child is above average." and all dogs go to heaven. In our safe and tidy culture, we practice safe conversations, where we avoid the faux pax of saying something is wrong, ineffective or inefficient or poorly done. Why? Because it might hurt someone's feelings or offend some interest group.
So we practice safe conversation, safe music, safe education, safe food, safe advertising, safe architecture, and safe theology.
I'm not so bold as those designers are. I often edit my words carefully to the audience around me to avoid offending or creating unnecessary conflict. Is that wise pastoral behavior or safeness? What do we do about shoddy thinking and poor theology, especially when it is packaged in the lyrics of the music we sing?
Maybe those voices are out there in the emergent community, in the Doug Paggitts and Scot McKinights. It's time for some fresh breezes to blow through the windows of my mind and heart, more concerned with truth and beauty and less about safety.

April Fool! Who Will Notice?

You know that big, sleek, expensive Jaguar that's parked in the church lot? People have been asking about it all week long. So last night Martha made a sign that we stuck in the ground at the grill of the Jaguar that says: "PASTOR'S WIFE'S PARKING."
I'd better not try to ask for a raise any time soon!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Helvetica: the movie

Martha was not sure about it. She wondered why I would get a Netflkix documentary movie on a font-type: helvetica. But since we had it, I said I'd watch it and she could join me as far into the movie as she was interested. For an hour and a half we sat transfixed and completely engaged as we entered the world of graphic design, specifically the fonts chosen to illustrate words.
All around my office are fonts: the titles of books aligned side-ways in bookshelves. Most of the titles are in helvetica. I'm not a font-guy or fussy about type. But listening to graphic designers both pro and con-helvetica (yes, there are heated arguments about helvetica not unlike mac/pc arguments).
The question that settled in my brain after the movie is this: is it the package or the content of the package that matter more? Is the design of the words more important than the choice of the words? Is it style or substance? Where is the line in between?
Much of the discussion within the emerging church community and established church community is more about font-choice than substance. Does a church "look" emergent enough? Does a church have a name (se post from yesterday) that is hip-enough for post-moderns? Do old-font churches distract from the message because the way they are packaged (architecture, nomenclature, music, clergy) looks like it came from the middle ages?
It's a movie worth seeing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


"Hey, are you the pastor of MoCo? What time is the service on Sunday?" MoCo? Then I realized it's the short form name for Montecito Covenant at Westmont College. It's a better name than Montecito Convenient Church (because we are a convenient 5 minute walk from campus). Does MoCo sound like a church name or a hot drink? Is that good or bad?
My friend Kenton commented that this is primarily a white, middle-class evangelical problem. The African American Churches (historic ones) are named names like "Mt. Ebeneezer Missionary Baptist Church" They are not shy about good, long descriptive names. Liberal churches like names laden with theology "Trinity Episcopal" or "Incarnation Lutheran". And our Roman Catholic friends grab names like "Our Lady of Mercy" or "Queen of All Angels". These churches have names that stick.
But the new batch of names for evangelical churches sounds like an advertising campaign for an energy drink: Rock, Life, Reality, The Edge. Maybe some new names could be : Gottcha! Zinger, or Buzz (for those of us who love prayer and coffee). How important is the name on a church? And how much more important is the genuineness of love and passion for Jesus within the church? The church name (really denominational name) that I think is the best I ever saw was in Kenya. It's called "The Happy Church."

Stewardship: Jaguar XK R

It sits as if ready to pounce. It's a 2008 Jaguar XK R with a 420 hp V-8 that has a fully loaded price tag of $97,000. I also have the key to it. One of our members on the mission trip to Argentina has a job that requires him to drive and evaluate new cars every 2 weeks. This is the finest car I've ever seen him drive and he left me the keys in case we needed to move it. But here's the hitch: I'm not allowed to drive it. Only he is insured and given permission to drive it and he is 4,000 miles away in Argentina. I am stewarding these keys for emergency use only. Would a trip to Ventura Target be considered an emergency? I really need some new toothpaste! Probably not.
Stewarding a car like this is not about my pleasure in driving, but honoring the owner's plans for its use. Therefore it sits and stares at me!

MCC Student Ministries to Argentina

They gathered last night in the parking lot along with parents and church friends; 10 senior high students and 4 leaders. They were keyed up, anxious, excited and ready. For over 6 months they have been meeting and preparing to go on a 10 day mission trip to work with Mark and Alice Westlind in Argentina. Why Argentina? It's about as far away as a person can fly (over 25 hours of travel time). Two reasons: Lisa Holmlund loves Mark and Alice from her time in seminary and was invited by the Westlinds to lead a youth trip to Argentina and secondly, nobody visits Argentina missions....because it's too far away and too expensive to get to. MCC has been supporting the Westlinds for years and we all felt this was the time and Argentina was the place. They are in the air as this is being posted. Keep the 14 in your prayers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Managing Emergencies

Seth Godin http://sethgodin.typepad.com/ has an excellent blog today on the way too many professionals become career emergency managers and never get to the strategic stuff. In the post-Easter reflection and review, I saw myself increasingly chasing after emergency interruptions and omitting long-term strategic planning (and praying). Devotional solitude was clipped and pruned down to minutes instead of hours so that waiting email and voice-mails could be answered. I left my cell phone "on" too many times when it should have been turned off (even the vibrate selection grabs my attention). I surf across too many web sites and skim too many articles, not finishing any one good piece and sampling too many.
Does living in emergency mode reduce one's capacity for sustained concentration? Are meals eaten more out of necessity and hurry than slow enjoyment? Do you find your eyes darting in a crowd, ready (even eager) to be interrupted from the conversation you are having? Are you disappointed if there is no incoming email when you check? I sometimes find that I tie my pastoral identity to my interruptions: I am needed by somebody now. If I'm not interrupted, am I needed? Am I a worthwhile pastor?
It does not help to read Seth Godin and Henri Nowen's "Genesee Diary" at the same time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Isaac in Pune, India

The cell phone rang this morning...it was Isaac, safe and sound in Pune, India after flying/traveling 25 hours from Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Mumbai and then a 3 hour taxi ride. It was great to hear the excitement of adventure in his voice: the smells, sounds and tastes of one day (out of a two week business trip). After being the parents who are always heding off to another new country, it is so cool to see Isaac enjoying the excitement and challenge of international travel.

"Prayerful & Reasonable People"

A Covenant pastor shared this phrase recently when asked to comment on a church policy with which a member disagreed. Not part of the deliberating process, yet confident in the people who made the decision, he said:"Prayerful and reasonable people have come to this policy" and he was not going to question their character, integrity or intelligence.
What a great response to build body life. How often is the pastor asked to abrogate a policy because of a special appeal? While policies are not scripture, but organizational guidelines, they have immense value in protecting the body from the whim of the moment or the force of the loudest voice. Often people react to policies as if they were crafted by devious people in smoke-filled rooms with evil intent. Is not a church policy-making process as sacred as sculpting worship? Shouldn't the way churches work on employee manuals and facility use policies be as prayer-drenched as sending off a mission-team?
A church consultant said that the real mission statement of any church is its budget. The actual way a church allocates its dollars in real-time says more about its priorities than any alliterated banner. So too with policies. Policies should incarnate both grace and responsibility. Policies say that how we operate in real time and on real space is too important to be left to the whim of the moment and requires prayerful and reasonable people to work through the many nuances implicit in the adoption of a church policy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Extravagant Generosity

It began as a simple picnic to Refugio Beach State Park. We found a quiet spot, ate ham sandwiches and I promptly fell asleep on the blanket as Martha explored the beach. It was nice enough weather to go swimming. But instead of making Martha wait around while I went out swimming, we decided to drive up across the mountains to Buelton and try to find a park Martha heard about. Right across from the entrance to Los Olivos was a sign pointing to the National Forest. We drove up ever narrower roads higher and higher. We would occasionally see some purple Lupine flowers in a small patch or a similar patch of bright orange Poppies. But just as we were about to turn around, after driving almost 13 miles into the back country, there was the wall of extravagant color: bright purple Lupines intermixed with dazzling orange Poppies; several acres worth! All I had was my cell-phone camera to capture the beauty. We need to go back when more of the hillsides burst into bloom with a better camera. But today was God's gift to me of his extravagant generosity!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tribute to the Solo Traveler

I know their faces. They are the regular ones. They are the reliable ones. There are many at our church right now who faithfully worship and serve every Sunday in all sorts of ways...alone. They are married to wonderful spouses who, for one reason or another, choose not to attend with them. So they come alone. They do not complain or feel sorry for themselves. They are some of the most reliable workers in the church; men and women. But they attend alone. They have made peace with their solo spiritual journey. They do not bad-mouth or criticize their spouses. They genuinely love and support them as great husbands or wives, but they worship alone. And today, on Easter, I sensed their loneliness and the road they travel.
In every church since 1980 I have known these ones and pay tribute to their faithfulness to their spouses and faithfulness to their churches. As a pastor I want to be a bridge-builder to the unattending spouses and not a barrier maker. Peace to you all!

Buying Anna's Car

Anna needed a car. She was driving a Suzuki "Forenza" that was losing value faster than she was paying it off. So one of her goals in visiting us this Easter weekend was to shop for and maybe buy a new car. She spent hours researching her choices and settled on a VW Jetta between 2003-2007 with a manual transmission. 
She and Martha shopped on Friday and narrowed down to a main choice. I was selected to go with her on Saturday to negotiate the fine points of the sale. Anna stuck to her guns and walked away from one car, only to be drawn to another car (pictured above) that was her actual first choice: a 2004 Jetta GTI with custom wheels, tires, Ricarro seats, and Monsoon sound system. The car really drives! 

This was unlike the walk Liz and I took over Christmas time, posing in front of a new Rolls Royce that might cost 20x what Anna's nice new car cost! Go figure!

Easter Afterglow

Two great services, wonderful food, inspiring music, great decorations and large numbers. We had Anna with us for the weekend as "adopted" daughter, missing our 3 children who were unable to join us. Easter Sunday is a meal-time that needs to be shared with guests. Martha cooked a great ham, asparagus, potatoes, deviled eggs, egg bread, lemon tort, and iced tea. As we talked about the day and all the newcomers and conversations, the echos of the children running all over the campus collecting plastic Easter eggs is what remains in my memory. This was a kid-friendly place today. Under Kim Crawford's leadership, the children were given broad berth to run and play and feel very safe and loved. 
Oh there were comments about this being not enough and that being too much, this wasn't the right way and that was broken, where was he, how come we didn't sing that instead of this. That just happens on those big days with high expectations. But this is one grateful pastor for great volunteers and staff who made the Holy Week sing...and the kids!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Too Blessed!

"Would you go out and get me an orange and a lemon?" Martha asked me this morning. I took my camera and went into the back yard to the navel orange tree filled with fruit. I plucked two oranges, one for Martha's Easter cooking and one for me, right now. There are few things fresher than an orange right off the tree. Today is a day I'm grateful for living in a place busting out with color and fragrance, and taste!

Christ Is Risen!

Resurrection is an announcement, not an argument. The dramatic calla lilies bordered by blooming flowers and pussy willows on a blanket of fresh grass speak only of life, light and hope. Closer inspection yields the observation that the bouquet on the left is brighter and more full than the one on the right. The designer, Trace Robinson, told me that the one on the left (Jesus' right) represents the thief on the cross who repented and was promised Paradise. 

Complicated or Simple?

Complicated people are easy to spot. Complicated people carry with themselves a creative arsenal of self-destructive tools. Now matter how hard and energetically one tries to step in and help, complicated people set off hand grenades that blow things up in the least likely places.
Simple people, by contrast, are not stupid, but seek movement, progress, direction and change. Complicated people do not seek change as much as they seek blame. Movement is less important than conversations; long conversations that circle back to the same place they began: other people at fault. 
In an NPR discussion last week two panelists were exploring what the next President should do with the situation in Iraq. Both panelists were Mid-East experts from leading universities. But one could not get over being mad at President Bush for mistakes. When guided by the host to move on and make suggestions, he couldn't. He was just mad...and complicated.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Good Friday Tenebrae

On Friday MCC family and friends will gather for the lighting and extinguishing of lights.

Maundy Thursday Foot-Washing

About 50 gathered in the gym for lentil soup and flat bread. Kids and grandparents gathered around tables.  After the bowls were cleared, we sang together, read scripture, heard a brief meditation and celebrated communion around the table. Then men and women separated into different groups and had their feet washed. 
It was chaotic, noisy, and delightful. The family gathered around a meal, the table and the basin and towel.

Nepsis: diagnosis and direction

In 1976 Henri Nouwen wrote a book on his 7 month stay in a Trappist Monastery in upstate New York. Each day's entries are full of insights into his wrestling heart, trying to be still, trying to come to peace with his vocation, trying to reflect God to others. 
Today's entry focussed on nepsis; the control of thoughts. Nouwen writes: "My thoughts not only wandered in all directions,but started to brood on many negative feelings, feelings of hostility toward people who had not given me the attention I wanted, feelings of jealousy toward people who received more than I, feelings of self-pity in regard to people who had not written, and many feelings of regret and guilt toward people with whom I had strained relationships. ...Nepsis means mental sobriety, spiritual attention directed to God, watchfulness in keeping bad thoughts away, and creating free space for prayer."
How quickly we go into those dark places of resentment, regret, jealousy, and self-pity. AsI read Nouwen's words, I went right to those places I go to sulk when left on my own. On this Maundy Thursday, the activity my heart and mind needs to aid nepsis is the washing of others' feet and lives, service, but more important servanthood, servitude; an identity of service versus consumption, of gratitude over entitlement, of letting go over clinging.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Covenant Blogs...where are you?

The fix is in. I'm hooked on regularly stopping by "Covenant Blogs" to check up on who is writing about what. It's a great meeting place for the Covenant blogging community. But now it's down, empty, vanished. What happened? Who's out there to get it up and going? Help!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A New Dimension of Sacred Space: Generous or Cheap?

Ever since going to the Stewardship Conference in Orange County called "Exponential" the notion of God as the ultimate example of Generosity will not go away. All that God does is generous. All that we know about God demonstrates extravagant generosity. When we encounter God, we are bowled over by his grace, love, mercy, hope, healing, etc......generosity.
When people get grabbed and transformed by God, one dimension that emerges is a generous spirit. Nowhere is "stinginess" listed as a spiritual gift. When you look at scripture and see the Gifts of the Spirit at work, generosity is always in the background driving them: hospitality, charity, mercy, forgiveness, contribution, etc. Because of what God has done in me, I have more than I need and share what I have with others.
Cheapness, however, creeps around as well. Often in the church in the guise of being good stewards. But it isn't stewardship, it's miserliness. Cheapness operates on the spiritual assumption that what I have is not sufficient and you have more than I do....and I really deserve what you have. Cheapness is the hand outstretched to take, not to give, it's the attitude of what's in it for me, not what more can I give. Cheapness has the attitude that I can always find a deal and whittle down the price of everything and everyone. Cheapness operates on the assumption that I am special and entitled to breaks and privileges unlike everyone else. Cheapness loves to be subsidized and underwritten. Cheapness is exhausting and tiring. There is little peace and gratitude. Nothing is ever quite enough. Cheapness is not sacred, and the sacred is not cheap. 
When people encounter generosity, are they also not encountering a fundamental dimension of the sacred? When people encounter the cheap, are they also not encountering the profane?

Sunday, March 16, 2008


When was the last time you used one of these vs googling? Our community just went through a round of phone book drop-offs in bright blue bags all over town. Many of those bags are sitting in driveways and along curbs un-opened and never will be. Who needs a phone book anymore when you can find everything on-line?
Oh, there will be a few unwired people who find enjoyment flipping through thick pages of small font, but their numbers have to be shrinking. 

Team Sport

Luke (my son) is coaching and playing Ultimate Frisbee at North Park University. Each of our children have passionate hobbies/sports/pastimes. North Park University Ultimate Club just finished hosting their first tournament and the North Park men's team won the overall tournament with the women coming in 4th place. 
When I asked him how the men's team responded to their win, he debriefed some of the challenges of coaching a high-level and competitive team. Just because a person makes the team does not guarantee them playing time. As coach, Luke must place his best-playing players in for the longest time. Some newer players object, feeling that if they made the team they "deserve" playing time. As we discussed this issue of team leadership and the dynamics of groups, it boiled down to a discussion about the difference between the team's best interest and individual rights. 
Lights flashed in my brain at times when staff persons "jockeyed" for visible positions, or argued that it was "their turn" at bat (whatever "bat" meant in that group). I'm sure many organizations experience the identical issues of personal achievement and personal success or team/organizational success.
Certainly there must be a balance and leaders must make efforts to reward and benefit those team members who, though less visible, make a major contribution to the health of the larger group. The well-worm phrase It's not about you really applies to healthy groups.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Wedding Gift

We were seated with the grandparents of the bride and groom at the rehearsal dinner. Two were from town, two came from Arizona, and one grandmother came from Davenport, Iowa. Our table was not the liveliest table, but soon became the deepest. The grandmother from Iowa sat next to me and because of the noise in the room, we visited for most of the dinner. 
I knew she was the "religious" one of the family because of a spiritual autobiography I had the couple do with me months ago. The first question is: what have you learned about God from watching your grandparents? She was identified as very religious. One year ago she lost her husband of 50+ years to a terrible brain tumor. And now she was living with an inoperable tumor on the pituitary gland that was turning her gradually blind and would kill her. But she was so alive as she told me about her love of Scripture and hope in Jesus. She was bubbly and fun, but real and deep. She was a battle-scarred veteran of life and a seasoned disciple of Jesus.
Just before leaving the dinner, she leaned over and said: "Do you know what they asked as a wedding present from me?" Of course I did not know so I said "What did they ask?" "They wanted me to give them my old, marked up Bible. Isn't that terrific?" She said. 
I thought to myself last night and today, that couple is getting a tremendous wedding gift!

Mess: the pastoral challenge

Sifting and sorting through mess is the pastoral challenge. No time is it more challenging than during Advent/Christmas and Holy Week. Adding to the challenge of logistics, production, deeply held sentiments about worship styles, musical favorites, food and entertaining, is the scheduling of 2 weddings (one today and one after Easter) and 2 funerals (one Monday and another to be determined). 
When all these events and services converge, the question is: what's real? What's the significant? Where is the eternal and abiding in the middle of decorations and decisions? Where is the pastoral voice and presence helpful and discerning and when does it add to the stress and chaos? Am I a welcomed co-discerner with families and friends or one more petty bureaucrat and functionary? Am I a good-news bearer or a clutterer? 
"Lord make me an instrument of your peace."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Entry

The President, a boxer, a judge, movie stars, generals, brides, caskets, a store, homes all make a big deal about entry. The way a figure enters a place, arena, time and group of people sets the tone and sends powerful signals. 
The minute a person enters my office, I can usually tell if this is good news or bad news; by their posture, tone of voice, and facial expressions. We do that on the phone as well; picking up immediately if the person we are talking with is in a good place or highly stressed.
Jesus is the supreme "enterer" into human situations. I don't know that he carefully choreographed how he entered homes, conversations, or new towns, but the signals he sent non-verbally are always completely in harmony with what he says.
When people enter your space or when you enter theirs; is your intended message in sync with how you enter? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Seth Godin's "The Dip"

He writes like he blogs: succinct and straight-forward. The point of the book? When to quit what's not working and won't. "Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to one or the other." Godin's assessment is that too many people "settle" for good enough instead of the best. We accommodate to the safe and mediocre instead of risking for the really great. His two images are the "dip" which is temporary and must be worked through and the "Cul-de-Sac" which goes nowhere."It's easier to be mediocre than it is to confront reality and quit." The book is one long 76 page chapter that is reminiscent of the recent book "Simple Church." Both books operate on the premise that organizations and churches do a lot of really good stuff that dilutes and waters down the capacity for great stuff. 

Dean Lundgren Report: lemons to lemonade

At the Stewardship Commission on Monday, Covenant Treasurer Dean Lundgren presented a fascinating report on the condition of the Covenant at this time. I asked Dean for permission to share portions of his report and he agreed with what is shared below:
1. Closing "Covenant Bookstore" has saved the ECC about $300,000.
2. The accumulated World Mission debt has now been totally eliminated.
3. The ECC kept expenses between 2000- 2007 to about 2.7% per/year while church giving to the ECC increased in the same period only 1.4%.
What's going on and why?
1. Local churches are experiencing increased staffing costs locally.
2. The cost of building facilities (and maintaining facilities) continues to rise.
3. There is a growing "localism" especially from the new people to the Covenant who are much more drawn to local missions than those perceived of as far away.
Dean's assessment is that things must turn around with increasing attention to communicating the vision of the shared ministry. Though Dean did not say it, one of the things the commission talked about was "branding." Covenant Estate Services is finding a new name because the term and concept of "Estate" carries with it negative baggage (large acreage, white picket fences, impending death and doom). So too does the term "denomination." That very term connotes division and separation, competition and bureaucracy, small fights over theological nuances, and administrative waste and inefficiency. That is not the case. The ECC consistently operates with some of the lowest administrative costs of any group in the USA. Covenant World Relief does its mission with a 4% operating cost. That is incredibly good news! But the image needs to be turned clearly to shared ministries and not "send it to Chicago because we know what's best." (Nobody said that quote, I'm just paraphrasing a sentiment). 
I'm grateful for guys like Dean who love the hard facts and complex charts, but also carry the hope of and exciting future ahead.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Chicago: Stewardship Commission

We are all gathered in a big conference room on the 7th floor in the offices of Covenant Trust Company in Skokie Illinois. This commission gathers twice a year to wrestle with how to encourage local churches to employ best practices in regards to stewardship.
Reports this morning have been fascinating presentations by Chuck Walles, Don Meyers and Bill Clark. 
Lots of good news and a good bit of bad news (challenging news). Three great diagnostic questions Bill Clark asks local churches:
1. Do you operate by fear or faith?
2. Do you see yourself as an owner or steward?
3. Do you "get" God's economics? (hint: your being blessed does not mean that others lose.)
An emerging topic is about language and branding: Denomination seems to be a poisoned term while Shared Ministry has greater attraction. It's less about administrative infrastructure and more about compelling missional vision.
More later....

Saturday, March 08, 2008

World Vision + M-4= 2,000 HIV/AIDS care kits

Army-ants is the best word to describe how 2,000 care kits were assembled in just over two hours by over 200 members and friends of the four churches of Montecito (M-4). A hardy crew set up the gym on Friday night for several hours. Then on Saturday morning people kept coming and coming: children in strollers and backpacks up to a 97 year old. Gang kids came up for community service, 5th & 6th grade girls came after an overnight. College students arrived and really worked. World Vision celebrated during this drive their 100,000th care kit. And it happened here! 
What was most moving was watching all the assemblers find a spot to sit and write an individual prayer of blessing for the care-giver who would receive the kit in Rwanda later next month. While all of us are pretty tired, it's the good kind of tired when people have worked together well for something that is genuinely important. Thanks M-4 friends and members!

John 11:1-45....Lazarus

A basket of bulbs is not pretty thing to look at. They look, to the non-gardener's eyes, as dead rubbish destined for the compost pile. But gardeners know more than the rest of us. I know. I'm married to one. They see bulbs for the flowers they will become. And the care for them delicately and plant them tenderly and wait in hope for the transformation God brings to bulbs. 
Jesus alone saw hope in Lazarus, calling into his deadness with transforming power. May he call into me that same voice to "come out" and "be unwrapped."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Pastoral Call

The discussion topic was hospital and nursing home visitation. The group was composed of senior/lead pastors of large churches. I was invited to attend because the church I was serving at the time was borderline "large". The books we read and the tone of the group drifted against this archaic mode of leadership as a waste of time. Sr. Pastors of large churches must focus on the main-thing, and the main thing is the weekend service and leading leaders. 
Visiting old people was a poor use of a leader's time. It would be better to train volunteers to do that and free up the pastor's time for sermon preparation and vision-casting. I tried it, and did not like it. I felt robbed of something that made me a pastor; maybe not a pastor of a large-church by the above-definitions, but my sense of body-life and call.
This week I visited a man with advance Parkinson's disease, a former professor, now reduced to a silent stare and little motion. He was up and dressed in his chair and ready. His eyes followed me into the living room as I pulled a chair close to him. When I reached out my hand to shake his he extended his hand and strongly grasped mine, his only demonstration of strength. When I greeted him and asked how he was, he whispered out "Fine." There was very little conversation between us. I spoke mainly with his wife, read a Psalm and held his hand and prayed. The visit lasted about 15 minutes. When my prayer was over his head slumped forward into sleep. He spent all his energy chips for the day waiting for my visit and greeting me. 
I left the house with tears in my eyes grateful for the privilege of being a pastor.
My dad used to say: "When in doubt, go out...calling." 

Time Change

Each year the change to daylight savings time messes with church-goers. Sunday services are so, so early attendance drops off. Why do churches always have to pay the price? Why not Target, schools, and offices? Why not switch it between Thursday and Friday? It's time!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Shack: a compelling read

"Have you read this?" he asked me over coffee? "This" was a slim paperback book with a romanticized picture of a shack in the snow on it. The cover alone dissuaded me from wanting to buy it. It looked too Norman Rockwellish for me. 
But since I was currently in a devotional book slump and because I really trust this friend spiritually, I went on-line and ordered "The Shack."
The first word about the book is compelling. It is a well written story about a normal guy who is  dealing with loss. But what makes it compelling is more than the psychology of loss and grief, but the way the author, William Young, addresses the issue of the Trinity. Yes, that's right, the Trinity. He does some of the most creative writing about the Trinity I've read. In many ways it's shocking and disturbing, then come zinger lines that made me highlight them in the margins. 
In a world where church-driven theology is very Christocentric, this guy takes the Trinity very seriously. He even spends some time exploring the difference between the Holy Spirit and "Sophia" or Wisdom personified. At times the book is like a blend between an up-dated Job, with the Trinity in the lead role and not God alone and Revelation with images of consummation joy at eternity. 
Young plays with our notions of religion, expectations, responsibility, guilt, and most of all forgiveness as the key to a joy-filled life. I am positive systematic theologians will carve at its flaws and gaps. But I finished it this morning closer to our redeeming and reconciling God.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Minnesota Bonifre

Isaac http://ragingliberal.com/ took this picture of a chili-feed and bonfire a bunch of his buddies had one cold night in Minnesota. The deep blue of the sky says no wind. The sheen on the snow says frozen crust. It all says COLD! But guys like Isaac have always loved making fires. I don't want to even start about all the fires he played with as a little boy. So now as an adult, he and his other grown-up little boys make really big fires on cold nights in Minnesota and eat chili outdoors. You gotta love it!!

"Secular Sabbath"

Isn't it weird that some of the best theological writing often comes from the most secular of places? In the "Sunday Styles" section of the NYT's March 2, 2008 issue is an article titled "I Need a Virtual Break. No. Really." It's an insightful and brief article about more and more companies and individuals removing themselves from the grid, the electronic grid that links us all together all the time. These companies and persons are finding that they need a day "to hear the voice of the new inside." 
When is the last full-sabbath rest you have practiced, experienced, endured? When is the last time you were unavailable and untethered from the phone, computer, TV, pda? I can tell you when my last time was...July of 2006 when Martha and I were in France. I did take the lap-top along, but no cell-phone. We purchased a phone-card and called from a phone booth regularly. But except for family emergencies, we were unavailable. The question is, why does it take a trip to France to do that? Why can I not untether here? It's not "here" that is the problem, it's me. Time to find some un-hooking.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

JIm Wallis in Montecito

In spite of a flight delay and coming off of an exhausting speaking schedule, Jim Wallis and an associate from Sojourners met with the staff and supporters of M-4 for a dinner and to hear Jim's words to the four gathered churches. Surprisingly, he had more questions for the group than suggestions. He said that cooperative ventures like M-
4 happen more in distressed urban environments or in partnership between urban and suburban churches. The M-4 partnership intrigued Jim, so he asked the group questions. The summary observations from the answers were that M-4 works because all senior pastors/priests work together well and respect each other. It works because the mission outward is more important than agreement or rightness inward. It works because the projects stay focussed on the poor.
Jim then met with some students from the "Beatitude Society" at Westmont College and then with the gathered community shortly after 7:00 pm. As the photo bears witness, the gym floor was almost filled with members of the four churches, Westmont students and faculty and community members. 
When Jim speaks, he makes sure to give every-one a poke in the eye at some point in the evening, while remaining focussed on the Gospel mandate and the words of Jesus. 
When it was all over I felt like I had a new friend, but really grateful that I get to preach tomorrow to a congregation I know and love, while Jim flies off to the next speech. 

Healing Mud

When MCC visited Israel in the fall of 2007, we went to the Dead Sea. One of the marketed features of the dead sea is its mud. Mud packs and mud baths are a big part of the whole "spa" deal. So most of us who went into the Dead Sea first of all coated ourselves with this "healing" mud. It was not pretty. I took pictures and pictures were taken of me coated with mud. They will not be posted on this site. Being covered with mud makes no one look nicer, only more like a big toad who is lost. 
The story in John 9:1-41 is a similarly confusing story. There is no prior tradition of Jesus using spit and mud. He just does it without being asked. It would be different if this guy was like blind Bartimaeus who cries out for help and healing. This guy is just sitting there as he has always done getting alms. He did not lose his sight in a traumatic accident. It was just never there and he was used to that fact. Jesus did not ask him if he needed anything. The first thing he knew was this warm goo being daubed into his non-seeing eyes. Yuk!  The next thing is the instruction: Go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. Tight! Thanks a bunch. Make me gooby then tell me to go clean myself off! Talk about insults to injuries! 
That's where I find myself much of the time: grousing and complaining to God about this thing and that...and then it gets "worse". Thanks a lot God! And then I'm told to go and wash in the pool of __________(worship, service, mission, care, tithing, silence, lectio divina, etc.). "This is not a good time for me, God!" I protest. I'm just trying to get used to my (blind) situation.
But it's always in the going that I get to seeing, even with the healing mud!

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