Saturday, May 31, 2008

Getting Around: Peugeot 207

How do we get around? Most years we have shopped for the best rental deal we could find and ended up with the car they gave us. This year we discovered that any stay over 17 days is more economical if one leases a car from either Renault of Peugeot. That means I am actually buying the car for our time away and they buy it back. The deal comes in that all insurance is included (no deductible) and Martha can drive it. It's Peugeot's littlest car called a Trendy 207 5-speed diesel. It's the smallest we've had before, but great fund with an excellent sound system for the i-pod.
Gas is $8.21 per gallon, with diesel being cheaper here than regular gas...go figure!

St. Pierre de Blannaves

About 20 minutes from where we stay is a really small village of maybe 12 stone houses nestled into a hillside off a barely two-lane blacktop road. Above the village is a 12th century chapel to St. Pierre (St. Peter) of Blannaves (that's the village). Next to the little church is an abandoned cloister and cemetery. The inside of the church is clean and vertical, with light streaming in from the portal above the apse.
One theme I am exploring is transcendence; the God-above-me sense that is triggered by the vertical and by light; beautifully expressed in this little chapel.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Miesau Reformed Church

Before leaving Miesau, we visited the Reformed Church (the only church in Miesau) that was rebuilt in 1738. Martha's friend Ellen is good friends with the pastor, who opened the church for us to see. He used a term that translated "farmer simple" to describe the elegantly austere interior, with no stained glass, elevated pulpit and fenced table (the call it in German a "closet") for both the word and the eucharist.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miesau, first stop

The flight to Frankfurt went well on Air India; old plane wonderful service! We picked up our little Peugot diesel at a local Holiday Inn Express and headed two hours to Miesau, Germany where Martha's childhood friend, maid of honor, opera singer and mother of four lives with her Neapolitan husband. We were received like the long-lost family Martha is to her. I crashed earlier than Martha, who stayed up late catching up with her childhood friend.
Now the four boys and husband are off to work, coffee is on and Martha and Ellen will walk her daughter Anna to Kindergarten, chat for a while and we will get on the road, hoping to visit Kolmar later this morning.

Monday, May 26, 2008

LAX handoff

Our journey began today with a phone call from Luke. He just arrived in Los Angeles from a weekend Ultimate tournament in Ohio with the North Park University Ultimate team. He flew out off Chicago at 6:00 am and called us from Los Angeles at 8:30 am. Martha and I were up and ready about 6:00 am; the pre-trip energy. We drove to LAX, picked up Luke and hit a nearby Starbucks to visit a while. Luke will take our car back to Santa Barbara where his car has been parked for the weekend. He will pack his car up and take off for Eugene, OR where he will spend his summer doing some construction work and....ultimate (of course!)
We are now parked in a very busy Tom Bradley International food court, waiting for our Air India gate to open up "pm" is all they said. I'm glad for wi-fi, and each stage of the journey. Martha is out walking around. Then more waiting, reading, coffee, and I'm sure a good afternoon nap.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ocean Baptism

Today after church, under cloudy skies and a cold wind, maybe 30 people gathered on Butterfly Beach for a baptism of three young people; a nine year old young girl, a fifteen year old Confirmand, and a recent college graduate. We huddled together in a circle through a baptismal liturgy and then testimonies from the three. Then we walked into the cold waves and baptized each person, laying hands on them afterwards with the Aaronic benediction. Each person represents one of those stages of discipleship, feeling the inner urging to step forward and proclaim their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Then, back on the beach swaddled in towels, we all laid hands on them and prayed for them. It is one of those high moments in the church that none of us will ever forget.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Servant & Steward: I Cor 4:1,2

Servant is such an old-school word. Who has "servants" anymore? In our democratic, class-less society we have staff, household help, associates, partners, team-mates, co-laborers, and many other more equitable terms for workers. Servant or Slave is just not done, not here in the USA nor in most of the world today. When it is used, we are horrified and enraged. Sweat-shops and human-slavery are rightly huge new crusades for the cause of compassion, mercy and justice.
Yet, Paul calls himself a "servant of Christ" in I Cor 4:1. The word he used is not "doulos" that is used most commonly for servant/slave, but "hupo-eretes" or military officer, and most accurately, under-rower on a navy ship. It is a term, by definition that is unattractive and brutal. But the point Paul makes in this term to identify himself is that there is one who is totally in control, setting the cadence for life and direction for ministry; Jesus the captain. At a time when Paul could appeal to his own personal authority and track record of professional success, he instead appeals to a role of under-rower beneath the deck of a fighting ship.
Then as under-rower, he adds the term servant or "oikonomos" the one who keeps the household and has the keys to all the doors and all the treasures. Only the trusted, battle-tested servants have access to the keys. The altar-piece we use boldly sets an oar across the table with a key on top of the opened Bible. May our servanthood unlock the treasures and may the treasures point us toward greater servanthood.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Congregational Care: how do you know?

Netflix knows what kind of movies I watch and like and recommends next ones. Amazon knows the kinds of books I purchase and recommends similar ones. Orbitz knows my traveling preferences and sends me teasing updates. All sorts of stores have me entered in their complex data bases to recognize me quickly and help me spend my money on them. These businesses turn and twist their data so they can anticipate trend-lines and shelf-life. Grocery stores know what shelves generate what dollars.
This afternoon over coffee we sat around talking about a tried and true (yawn!) topic of congregational care. Usually those conversations degenerate into guilt-producing discussions about how we (pastors) need to go out and do a lot more. So off we go to the next conference or order the next books/dvds on the latest and greatest program. Been there...done that.
My problem is that we do not know our community (attending members and friends) beyond a visual body count and voluntary registration cards. Since there is not scanning transaction and giving records are kept confidential (as they should), how can we know who's here and who's missing beyond anecdotal conversations?
What are the ways your congregations have discovered to know if you are caring or not? How do you meaningfully know attendance levels and participation levels by individuals without becoming either invasive or legalistic? What do you think about web-cams that do snap-shots like the one above and then go back and identify? Does that look too much like a casino? The soft underbelly of congregational care is the lack of meaningful and usable data. I'd love to hear about other best-practices.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

France Again?

"Why are you going to France....again?" is a question I have heard several times as we get ready for an extended (6 weeks) trip to France beginning this Monday. Why France and why so long? is the underlying question.
In 2000 I experienced my first sabbatical leave after being in ministry 20 years. Until that time I had never used the full compliment of vacation allotted to me for all the reasons you don't: working spouse, kids' sports/jobs, family finances, too many busy projects at church, and a sense that I could not "afford" to be away so long. Then we went to France for 2 whole months! The details of France are simple: it was the cheapest place to go for us and it was out of the country (meaning I could not easily slip back for a meeting).
What happened to me during that sabbatical was profound: I slept like I never slept before, some nights 10 hours! Anxiety swept over me in repeating waves (thoughts like: what in the world do you think you are doing? This is stupid to be gone so long! You will lose your edge! The church could go down-hill with you absent! and other random wacky thoughts). This really took on the shape of spiritual battling; battling the myth of my indispensibility. The third thing was increased and sustained reading time. I devote every other day to long (4+ hours) of reading: through the Bible, books on sacred space, history and architecture. At the point of writing this blog, I am unable to maintain sustained reading for more than 45 minutes with some sort of interruption. The fourth discovery was the delight of having every single meal with Martha and not one meeting to disrupt the evening after meals. Almost every night after dinner (late ones) we walk through the village and nod greetings to other villagers in a unique, local patois. And the last discovery was the love of writing. I realized that I need to write more than sermons. So I hope to dive into and finish my work on "Sacred Space" maybe migrating the title to "Sacred Place".
Am I nervous again about taking off? You bet. Do I face the same anxieties and worries? Absolutely. So why still do it? Because a longer absence like this seems to take my brain and heart out of my body and swirl them around in cool, refreshing water and I come back recharged and renewed like I'v never known before.
So, thank you Montecito Covenant Church for allowing me this extended absence (actually I "bank" 2 weeks of one year's vacation onto the next year, but it is still a gift for the church to allow it). Thank you Montecito Covenant Church staff for stepping into the administrative/organizational gap I leave behind as I go. And thanks to Martha who puts up with my weird schedule and corrects all my mispronounced French words (more than mispronounced...mangled!)
What steps have you taken that fit your heart to rejuvenate and recharge yourself? How much time do you need (or are allowed)?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When A Girlfriend Visits

Living in California is great. New friends, a new community, new weather, new foods, and a whole new challenge. But what has been missing is family around us. With my ill father in Minnesota, Isaac and my brother and family also there, Liz in Atlanta and Luke in Chicago, not to mention Martha's family in Virginia and Washington, there are times where I ache for the sounds of family around us.
This week Luke and his girl friend Kelly have been staying with us, filling the house with laughter and the smells of food and tv shows in different rooms. Today we spent the afternoon and evening at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Kelly is an art major and she and Martha had much to talk about in the various exhibits.
One exhibit was titled "California Video" and it was something altogether new for my eyes/mind. I distilled the show like this: if my home tv screen looked like that, I know it needed serious repair or replacement!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Banks: they don't get it

One of the magazines I subscribe to is the British based "Economist." I like it because of its coverage of world affairs and its unique take on American life. Well, with the sunny days on us, I am going to the beach each day for my ocean swim and then I sun myself to dry off. This week's Economist has an 18 page special on "the future of banking." So being a non-economist, I thought their summary article would she some light on what's happening in the US economy and global economy. I was wrong. I read (at least half-way through) each article and got stopped, no, hijacked, by language and words that made absolutely no sense at all. Let me share a few quotes:
"many banks and other financial institutions loaded up on debt in order to increase their returns on equity when asset prices were rising"
"...they overindulged in liquidity leverage, using structure investment vehicles (SIV's) or relying too much on wholesale markets to exploit the difference between borrowing cheap short-termed money and investing in higher-yielding long term assets. The combined effect was that falls in asset values cut deep into equity and triggered margin calls from lenders."
These are portions of sentences that drag on for five, six and seven lines. There is no subject, object and sometimes they are even missing verbs. The nouns? I think they are made-up neologisms. It reminds me of seminary days when we would sit around over coffee and try to impress each other with the big words we just learned in class: proleptic, amphyctyonic league, heuristic, and other winners.
When you get into the church, you need to know your Bible, know Jesus and love people. The bank up above held money and lent money and cared for the customer. Those guys in the Economist don't get it and they lost it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trinity II Corinthians 13:11-13

Grace, Love and Fellowship bound and describe the community of the Trinity.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Trinity Sunday

It's a later addition to the liturgical calendar, somewhere in the 11th or 12th century. Few pastors consider this a favorite preaching topic, in fact some pastors call this their least-favorite Sunday (a good Sunday for a new associate or guest preacher). Other than the baptismal formulation and an occasional benediction, we Protestants and evangelicals do not use trinitarian language very much. I've noticed over the years that the language of contemporary worship songs is very Christocentric and cross-oriented, but not very trinitarian. Why?
Different denominations have reputations for emphasizing one person of the Godhead: Presbyterians love the sovereignty of God and Covenanters love the warm-hearted tenderness of Jesus the good shepherd, and our Independent, Calvary Chapel/Vineyard churches are totally energized by the presence of the Holy Spirit. What's with this? How does an everyday Christian keep a trinitarian theology?
In teaching confirmation, I've always turned students loose in the sanctuaries on a hunt for trinitarian hints in the architecture: 3 window panes, 3 steps up to the chancel from the nave, the pulpit/font/table, 3 sections of seating, 3 doors of entry. Look for the 3's I say. And then when we go to visit a Roman Catholic Church, they go wild with the architectural reinforcement of the trinity.
This week's epiphany for me is that the Trinity is God's way of telling that true life, abundant living is always in a dynamic community, just like Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bonded by grace, love and fellowship. God models for us the way we are to live together; creatively distinct and diverse, yet loving and delighted with each other.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pope Benedict's Cool Word

"Diachronic Koinonia" smacked my on the side of my head. What a cool word. It was the Pope's answer to the problem of Protestantism. We do not have enough "diachronic koinonia" or fellowship across time. Each new denomination, each new church, each new pastor invents their own theology without keeping in fellowship with their long-dead friends. This word made special sense as I worked on the Trinity Sunday texts and had to go back and read about Arius and Eusebius, Alexander and Constantine, homo-ousia and homoi-ousia. Our dead friends have a lot to say to us today.

The Challenge of Joy

I'm feeling a bit guilty right now. Life is too good. A great church is willing to let me be their pastor and many actually show up on Sunday to worship God and stay awake during my sermons. I get paid a decent salary so there is always food in the refrigerator and money enough for a Starbucks or magazine. I have a great wife who likes to do what I like to do and eat what I like to eat. We cannot wait to head off to France to adventure together. I have three healthy adult children who delight me with their differences. Today I had an outdoor lunch with a church attender and then bumped into several people on the street I know. With my sermon done I headed to the ocean for about an hour for a long and leisurely swim and then baking in the sun with Time magazine. Life is seriously sweet right now.
The challenge is that I know too much about other people's pain, like my dad confined to a bed with a feeding tube and other tubes. Life is tough for him right now, fighting pneumonia and infections and just the energy to walk. I have a friend facing the collapse of a career and another with a dissolving marriage. A friend in town just got fired from a job he thought he was doing well at and another pastor was fired by the elders. I'm heading to jail tonight for a service with guys whose future is less-than-certain and bleak at best. From jail it's off to a retirement party for a faculty member we know at a very affluent home. It's all kind of weird.
My joy cannot become arrogant or insensitive. I dare not be flippant or cocky with those who enter my arena. This joy is more subdued, that I get to fly off to France for a paid vacation while others face unemployment. This is not my entitlement, but it is certainly sweet.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sobriety = Truthfulness

I was talking with a guy today who is in the midst of a recovery process. He asked me if I knew the definition of sobriety. My immediate impulse was "yes", it's not ingesting those chemicals that enable addiction (alcohol, cocaine, heroin, ....). He said that the in-patient director used the phrase "sobriety is truthfulness: truthfulness with the group, sponsor, family, self, God" Boom! That's a powerful twist, away from the object onto the heart. If I am living truthfully, with no lies and secrets, is that sobriety?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Photos needing captions

"Yes, floor hockey on the basketball court will do damage!"
"See what happens when you have swing dancing with street shoes!"
"The finals tore up the court"
"Earthquake hits Montecito"

Nobody Does It Like Salem

It's a grey and foggy Monday after Pentecost. I received a dvd from the church I used to serve, Salem Covenant in New Brighton. It was the performance of Brahm's "Requiem" in German with two pianos, harp and tympani. This is a choir's choir. Under the direction of Bev Scripter, they worked several years on this monster and to listen to it is to be transported into another time and realm.
I guess the Salem community did not get the memo that choirs are out of sync and this kind of dedication is impossible. Nobody commits to the length of time and rehearsal discipline anymore. And in German? Are you kidding? Nobody will come and sit through several hours of this.
Yet the dvd shows a full sanctuary attentively grabbed by this magnificent sound. Blessings to you all!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Seth Godin Nails It...Again

One of the reasons secular blogs (and magazines and books) are so interesting is that they speak missional truth so creatively. Read Seth's list below and apply it to your church.
What Every Good Marketer Knows:

Anticipated, personal and relevant advertising always does better than unsolicited junk.
Making promises and keeping them is a great way to build a brand.
Your best customers are worth far more than your average customers.
Share of wallet is easier, more profitable and ultimately more effective a measure than share of market.
Marketing begins before the product is created.
Advertising is just a symptom, a tactic. Marketing is about far more than that.
Low price is a great way to sell a commodity. That’s not marketing, though, that’s efficiency.
Conversations among the members of your marketplace happen whether you like it or not. Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations.
Products that are remarkable get talked about.
Marketing is the way your people answer the phone, the typesetting on your bills and your returns policy.
You can’t fool all the people, not even most of the time. And people, once unfooled, talk about the experience.
If you are marketing from a fairly static annual budget, you’re viewing marketing as an expense. Good marketers realize that it is an investment.
People don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.
You’re not in charge. And your prospects don’t care about you.
What people want is the extra, the emotional bonus they get when they buy something they love.
Business to business marketing is just marketing to consumers who happen to have a corporation to pay for what they buy.
Traditional ways of interrupting consumers (TV ads, trade show booths, junk mail) are losing their cost-effectiveness. At the same time, new ways of spreading ideas (blogs, permission-based RSS information, consumer fan clubs) are quickly proving how well they work.
People all over the world, and of every income level, respond to marketing that promises and delivers basic human wants.
Good marketers tell a story.
People are selfish, lazy, uninformed and impatient. Start with that and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Marketing that works is marketing that people choose to notice.
Effective stories match the worldview of the people you are telling the story to.
Choose your customers. Fire the ones that hurt your ability to deliver the right story to the others.
A product for everyone rarely reaches much of anyone.
Living and breathing an authentic story is the best way to survive in an conversation-rich world.
Marketers are responsible for the side effects their products cause.
Reminding the consumer of a story they know and trust is a powerful shortcut.
Good marketers measure.
Marketing is not an emergency. It’s a planned, thoughtful exercise that started a long time ago and doesn’t end until you’re done.
One disappointed customer is worth ten delighted ones.
In the googleworld, the best in the world wins more often, and wins more.
Most marketers create good enough and then quit. Greatest beats good enough every time.
There are more rich people than ever before, and they demand to be treated differently.
Organizations that manage to deal directly with their end users have an asset for the future.
You can game the social media in the short run, but not for long.
You market when you hire and when you fire. You market when you call tech support and you market every time you send a memo.
Blogging makes you a better marketer because it teaches you humility in your writing.

Pentecost: It's Not About the Pot

Pentecost gets better as we get older. Young pastors with young bodies that don't pop and creak can give acknowledgement to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, but a lot of it they can do themselves (or so they think...I did). But put some years on a body, some miles on the tires, some wounds on the soul and then the power of the Holy Spirit takes on new meaning.
In a lunch conversation with a good friend who has been in academia over 30 years, he told me how his last years of teaching have been his very best. "I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone any more" he said. It was less about him and more about the truths he taught. He discovered a deeper freedom in worrying less about the pot and more about the beautiful flowers within.
Another friend, Jon Lemmond, told me a phrase he has been crafting over the years: "A person's past can be rewritten by the joy of the present and the hope of the future." The Apostle Paul phrases it differently, but with the same heart when he said: "Therefore we do not lose heart..." in II Cor 4:16ff. We do not lose heart because our focus is not the earthen vessel or the flapping tent or the thread-bare clothes, but we focus on that which we cannot see and seek a house not built with human hands. Crazy! True! Liberating!
So, as I go into the weekend of Mothers' Day and Pentecost, my prayer is that I not be distracted by the pots, but see the flowers.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Would You Buy Stuff From Them?

The Student Ministries have taken over the entire gym in preparation for a garage sale this coming Saturday. Last night I stopped by to see their progress and this is how they were actually dressed. This is a group of students and leaders who get into their roles a bit too much. There was talk about getting an outfit set up just for me!

Pentecost: This Seal is Dying

On our way to a conference in Mission Springs, Lisa and I took a side-trip to the beach not far from Castroville. Down the beach we saw a curious shape and walked to it. it was a small seal. At first we thought it was dead, then we noticed its labored breathing and glassy eyes. It was clearly in trouble on a long and empty stretch of beach. Should we help it? How? Was it safe? Did it crawl up onto the beach after an attack? Did it crawl up onto the beach to die? Would rolling it back into the water prolong its agony? What did we know about what we were seeing except the immanence of death?
The text for Pentecost Sunday: "So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." II Cor 4:16 We were observing first hand, up close and graphically, the wasting away of life. It's not pretty. It hurts to watch. Death comes to animals and people. So does age and decay. I don't like it at all. But it is the reality we live with.
The good news is the "down payment", the "arrabon" we are given with the Holy Spirit. We do not lose heart, even though the clay jar is cracked and the tent is torn and flapping.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Value of Cohorts

Cohort is a fairly new term for me. I was introduced to it during this seminar called "Getting to Great." The pastoral staff members of four conference churches contracted with two facilitators to meet with us as a gathered group every quarter over the year. We were assigned books to read ahead of time (Good to Great, Simple Church, Crisis in the American Church) and given assignments to work on.
Gathering as church leadership teams is like packs of dogs meeting in an alley; it's highly competitive and even combative. I want to broadcast my strengths and achievements and never show my weaknesses. I want to give advice and provide insights into other's situations, but not solicit help (for goodness sake I've been doing this too long to need anyone else's help, much less pastoral team members as young as my children!). Sparks indeed did fly at times and feelings were hurt. But after we kept coming back and meeting each other, we began to listen deeper and react slower. We began (I began) to value the insight of others into my situation and what next steps I really did need to take. It is enormously valuable to watch others ask my staff members insightful questions I never thought to ask, and listen to their revealing answers.
We must discuss today as we formally end if there is a next chapter to our cohort. Will we re-gather in 3 months or 6 months? I hope we do something more together. I need other voices listening to me and me listening to them. I value the mystery of this thing called the church. Gathering affirms so much of what we are doing and where we are going. It inspires me to get back into it as quickly as possible. I so appreciate my time with Lisa Holmlund, having uninterrupted conversations about church and about life in general. It's good not to be alone, but to have a cohort.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Life Without Cell Phone

Mission Springs Camp in Scott Valley, CA is a wonderful camp, nestled in the tall redwoods and cool mists. The food is fabulous and my room is comfortable. It even has free wi-fi, but no T-Mobile cell service. So I turned my phone off. It was weird to do, almost feeling irresponsible. What if someone needs me? What if they don't? The camp has a phone number and directory assistance can track me down here. But it's that sense of being immediately connected that I miss. It's that immediate availability that's my problem. I've become too used to (addicted to) being instantly interrupted. I cannot ignore the buzzing phone and I need to read all incoming emails, which means I am quickly distracted from conversations at the moment and people in the present.
As I get ready for France this summer, I plan to wean myself from the network; from Drudge report, from my favorite bloggers, from Google, and all the other places that I like to go and read and research. Sustained, quiet thought is something I've let go and need to recapture. Maybe I will even learn to write a letter!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Confirmation and Baptism

Today we confirmed two young people and then gathered at Butterfly Beach for a baptismal service in the ocean. One young person was a confirmand and the other one was a young person only 9 years old who wanted to be baptized. Together we read a litany of baptism and then walked out into the cold waters for baptism. It was a great day to be a pastor!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why are you so difficult?

That was the question my wife Martha raised at lunch today. It was not about me, but about her. Martha is an artist, a printmaker and etcher. She has been a dedicated printmaker since the first year of our marriage. You can see a sample of her work on her website: www.marthaensignjohnson.com. Her work is not decorative pretty work. Her work pursues a theme or idea. It develops images and issues that, oftentimes, are not pleasant but make the observer work at finding out what is going on in her work.
That means that when people visit her studio, sometimes they express almost disappointment with the amount of work it takes to appreciate her art. So she thought about making a sign that explains "why she is so difficult."
I like difficult people. That is one reason I married an artist. She sees things I miss (often to my annoyance) and can create things that take my breath away. She pursues ideas relentlessly and often expresses opinions and truths bluntly. "Nice" is not part of her vocabulary, nor is "safe." But that gets her in trouble with some people who want her to act predictably.
As we talked about being difficult, I took off on my own reflective tangent. Jesus was certainly "difficult" as was John the Baptist, Paul, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, Deborah, Sarah, Rachel, and other leading figures in the Bible. Their pursuit of God and righteousness made them difficult to be around, but necessary for life. Paul was certainly difficult as were the early church fathers like Irenaus and Polycarp. Musicians and architects, surgeons and entrepreneurs are all difficult people. Many of my best teachers must have been difficult to live with and be on committees with because they were so obsessed with their pursuits. Certainly presidents and senators have to be difficult people to get anything done.
God bless all the difficult people in pursuit of truth, beauty, justice, peace, new ideas and solutions to old problems. God bless the difficult people who are brave enough to call the mediocre....mediocre and the ugly ugly. God bless the difficult people who see potential where most of us opt for easy accommodation. God bless the difficult people who believe right words matter and flat or sharp notes should be called out and fixed. We need those difficult people! They are God's gifts to us.

Confirmation Sunday

I love Confirmation Sunday. To much discipleship happens slowly and organically without the nodal moments in time when we are called to make vows and decisions in the presence of the worshiping church. The danger of Confirmation Sunday is that it can be a family ritual and a time of performance. In the midwest, Confirmation was a big deal. The Jr. High youth group events were significantly smaller than confirmation classes. Families would show up in the fall of their children's 7th grade year and be nominally involved for two years and vanish over the summer after Confirmation. Sincere eighth graders would vow their commitment to Jesus Christ and dedication to discipleship, only to vanish from the church until they showed up years later with fiances in tow asking me to officiate at their weddings.
California's low-church culture means smaller classes and a higher sense of accountability and purposefulness. In the afternoon on Sunday we will gather at the ocean for baptism by immersion. Most of the students here were dedicated as infants, postponing baptism for their adult choice, while the majority in the midwest were baptized as infants, waiting for their confirmation as adults of their parents' baptismal vows.
So the center of worship on Sunday is not the story of the text (II Corinthians 6:1-13) but the kneeler for vows and the table for the sacrament.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Most Unlikely Protest

We were sure it was a wedding: a traffic jam in Carpinteria on a Friday night with horns honking. Then we saw crowds gathered on the four corners of main street and we were sure it was some graduation celebration as cars honked and crowds waved. Then we approached some young people with signs and asked what it was all about, they told us they were protesting the changing of the high school mascot name: "Caprinteria Warriors" a red lettered profile of a native American with a headdress on.
We were amazed! Remember all the midwestern lawsuits and protests about team names that disparaged people-groups? Here on the streets were Mexican-Americans and white folks chanting and yelling about keeping the name "Warriors". When we talked with a church member from the area, they rolled their eyes at the whole controversy. This area, Carpinteria, was home to some of the most ancient Indian tribes, the Chumash. Descendants still live in the community and proudly defend the use of "Warriors" for the school name and mascot.
It seems that some do-good, liberal, outsiders got their dander up and decided to move for a change against the loud wishes of the community, including native Americans and Mexican Americans. I think the Minnesota Vikings offend my Swedish ancestry....they lose too many games!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Carpinteria Camper Park

M-4 met for lunch at a camper park today. In anticipation of this summer's project of purchasing and filling 900 back-packs for kids from Kindergarten through High School, we met at one of the properties run by Peoples' Self-Help Housing (PSHH). The park is typical; on a frontage road to the highway, next to a convenience/liquor store, bordered by a drainage ditch and fields. The trailer above houses four to six people in a family. There are 69 individual trailers in the park, not like the nice mobile homes we see retirees and young families live in, but these are vacation trailers, not meant for long-term, heavy use. Some trailers had up to eight people living in them. PSHH manages the property and is slowly converting the trailers into affordable apartments. What's affordable in Santa Barbara? Renting a PSHH trailer costs about $450 per/month. Tonight I paid my gasoline credit car bill of $351 for a month of California gas! PSHH provides all residents with clean showers and laundry facilities. They brought in an education unit (like a construction trailer) for after-school tutoring. Betty, the Mexican-American manager, short and stout with a big laugh told me it's like one big family. No drugs or gangs are allowed. If they try to come in she kicks them right out right now!
One description of life in Santa Barbara is "High-high and Low-low". Within a few miles of each other is a $450 per/month trailer and the palatial home of Tye Warner, the most expensive home per square foot in the US (it's not done yet). And between them both is the church. What a great place to live!

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