Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ministry Fair

MCC had its 2nd ministry fair today. My first experience with a ministry fair was in Minneapolis at Salem, where the whole Fellowship Hall was ringed with tables for various ministries of the church. In Santa Barbara, the tables are all outside under the oaks, with each table having its own treats and leaders. What a fun way to do church!

Church Fair

From 4:15 till almost 7:00 pm Saturday, our church along with maybe 10 other local churches set up tables with banners, cd's, brochures, treats, and give-aways (we gave out chap-stick with our schedule and web site). It is the end of Westmon College's new student orientation weekend and they allowed us to meet students on the way to dinner. We gave out over 500 chap-sticks and shook many hands. Kudos to Westmont for inviting in the churches!


Psalm 105:1-6 calls Israel and all those who worship God to remember his works. The poverty of my spiritual life is that I remember the wrong stuff and not far enough back or deep enough. I remember last week, the most recent phone call or the latest email. But I tend to forget God's faithfulness to me, my family and my forebears. I remember the slights and insults, the disappointments and the wounds instead of the blessings, grace, forgiveness and abiding presence of God.
May this new school year begin with better remembering.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Douglas Kmiec; a fly in the ointment

In the "Faith" section of today's New York Times, Peter Seinfelds interviews long-time republican constitutional scholar and professor at Peperdine University, Douglas Kmiec on why he, a strongly committed Roman Catholic and pro-life advocate not only endorses Barak Obama but makes the argument why Roman Catholics could "only" vote for Obama because of their pro-life commitments. Needless to say, his arguments are causing quite a stir within the ranks of both the RNC and Roman Catholics.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Issue About Marriage

In November in California there will be an issue on the ballot called "Proposition 8" which, in essence, limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Clearly the battle lines are sharp. One the more liberal side of the agenda are proponents who argue that this is a civil rights issue. Gays and lesbians should be allowed the same civil rights and heterosexual couples: insurance, estates, child custody, medical information etc. Those on the conservative side say this is the slippery slope, that if defeated, would not only allow, but mandate facility use be made open for gay couples as well as heterosexual couples. That to say "no thank you" to a gay couple wishing to have me marry them or use the facility would be tantamount to refusing an African American couple or a blind couple.
My navigation of these waters is naive to say the least. So far as I can see it heterosexual marriage is the normative pattern for the Bible. I am not able to see myself officiating or participating in the blessing of a gay marriage. That being said, I am called to practice only one behavior pattern in the communities in which I live: love. I am committed to loving and respecting all people; those who agree with me and those who disagree with me, those who are orthodox and those who are heterodox, those who are addicted and those who are free, those who are obese and those who are anorexic, those who are gay and those who are straight. I want my life to practice the motto of Dr. Richard Mouw: "Convicted Civility". Those with whom I disagree should know my convictions deeply and those with whom I disagree must experience my civility. I should be ready to die for the civil rights of those with whom I differ, without compromising the beliefs I hold dear.
Does the legalization of gay marriage pose a threat to the practice of your faith as a pastor? Do you feel it will "force" you to officiate in marriages you would decline?

Life as Hobby

Do you differentiate between a sport, a hobby, a passion and a vocation? Watch someone get riled up when you call what they do with passion "their hobby." Today over lunch with a young man from the church who grew up in Santa Barbara, we talked about living with tremendously affluent friends and what it did to him over the years. He admitted that the toys they had were pretty cool. But then he observed that some of them still life their lives as a hobby. With sufficient wealth to not ever need to work, the do not "have" to do anything, but only what they "want" to do for a while, or until they get bored.
"Life as a hobby" grabbed me as being prophetic. How many people get involved in churches as a "hobby" while their kids are young and their careers are growing? How many people practice spiritual disciplines with a "hobbyist" attitude; for a while so long as it is interesting and fulfilling. How many people affiliate with churches like they do with a hobby, because of an attraction to a new style, sound, look or architecture. How many of us pastors launch new initiatives in churches like a hobby; because it might be fun and enjoyable, new and fresh?
Hobbies are not about life and death; but Jesus is.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Day with Art

Being married to an artist is a blessing and curse. It's a blessing because our walls have great art on them; Martha's and artists she admires. My velvet Elvis with a candy-colored unicorn never made it out of the garage (we actually had one there for a while, painted by Jose Monet!). It's a curse because there are few neutral reactions to art, design, color and architecture. I am often on the wrong end of a color scheme or design idea. I often get caught walking out of the house with a faux question: "Are you REALLY going to wear that?" I bristle, snort, huff and puff and then go back in and change shirt. pants or tie. The result, other than bruising my ego, is that I get compliments about "my" selection of shirts and ties. It pays to have good advice.
So today we celebrated our anniversary going to the Fowler Museum and later to the Getty Museum off of the 405. Walking through room after room of art with Martha is good for the soul. She sees things I never thought about. The Fowler Museum at UCLA campus has great displays of indigenous art, from Oxaca revolutionaries to masks and sculptures from Congo, Cameroon, Peru, and other countries.
Then we went to the great LA museum, the Getty, to have lunch, walk the gardens, and viewed four different exhibits, ending with a double espresso and cold coffee. My brain feels good!

33 years

We're taking the day off together. Today marks 33 years that Martha and I have been married. Yikes! That's a long time, longer than we were single. But it also seems like yesterday when we walked through the woods of Camp Hanover in Virginia at an outdoor service and pledged our vows to each other. But since that day three wonderful children were born and raised and released on their own, seven different states were our places of residence, six churches allowed me to be their intern, youth pastor and pastor, and two institutions have hired Martha to teach art, six great trips to France, two trips to Africa to teach, and six church tours to Israel, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Germany, and countless really good good friends to join us in the journey.
So what are we going to do? We're planning on what we do best, wandering a city and looking at art, and getting a really good meal somewhere we don't know about yet.
The text I'm mulling on preaching for Sunday is Psalm 105:1-6 where it is a call for Israel to "remember" God's good acts in their lives. I guess a good anniversary is remembering the incredible good gifts my wife has been giving me for 33 years and for God's sustaining graciousness to us both (especially giving her patience with me!).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reliquaries Needed!

One of the by-products of visiting many Romanesque and Gothic churches is discovering reliquaries. Reliquaries, like the one above, are objects constructed to hold sacred objects, often body-parts of saints and martyrs. While evangelicals have made fun of reliquaries and the veneration of relics for a long, long time ("If all the supposed pieces of the cross were gathered together they would make a good sized barn!").
Relics and reliquaries do have a function evangelics could benefit from; they help believers remember. My memory is way to short and too immediate. I remembers trivialities; slights, honors, commitments, deadlines, and good deeds done to me. My memory extends somewhat into my immediate family, recalling stories my parents told about "good guys" and "bad guys" to our family. And I carry some distant memories from my grandparents (or about my grandparents).
But reliquaries are in your face. There it is: a bone from a saint, a shard from the cross, a scrap of fabric from a martyr's cloak. These were the faithful ones who paid higher costs than I am paying to keep the faith. These are the ones who define the big issues beyond the petty and the personal. These are the ones who now cheer our leg of the race from the stands of heaven.
As we get ready this week for the star-up of many church programs, remember farther, deeper, and better. Go get a reliquary!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's Only Foggy Here

The morning fog is still thick in the air; so thick it wets my glasses as I walk across the lot to the church. Trees are black and white outlines to the white sky. It's chilly and damp. So, when Bob, the Director of Worship Arts, arrived on his motorcycle this morning, I asked him how his drive in was (he lives about 20 minutes away). He said, "It's always a nice drive here." So I asked him how it was to ride in such a heavy fog. "Oh" he smiled, "It's only foggy here in Montecito. Everywhere else is clear and bright!"
That got me thinking in a devotional way this morning; how many of us are fog-shrowded today? How many of our lives are cold and damp, with air so thick we can hardly see our way? And, more to the point, how many of us assume it's foggy everywhere? If my world is clouded up, so is (or should be) yours.
The good news for this stretch of the coast is that the fog burns off every day (yes, every day) between noon and 2 pm. Then the bright blue skies explode and I head for the beach. Lord, burn off the fog and remind me that it's only here with me.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Adam's Apple

Norwegian (or maybe it's Danish) comedy is both dark and provocative. Adam's Apple is a great story (with "R" rated language) to discuss good and evil, hope and despair.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Faculty or Staff?

Carl Larson was the carpenter for North Park College for a bunch of years, ever since I was a little boy. Carl Larson was my grandfather. He repaired doors and window, desks and tables that were used and abused by generations of college students. He had keys to all the buildings and knew where everything was. I grew up proud of grandpa; his portable tool box and blue-striped bib overalls.
When I attended North Park, the faculty person who became my advisor was Mr. Zenos Hawkinson. He taught history with the same passion Pavarotti sang opera. He stirred me and pushed me to think beyond where I thought I could think. And he knew my grandpa and loved him, even telling stories about him in class. I did not know there was a different rank between staff and faculty until I grew older.
Then the jockeying took over about class rank and gpa, about graduate schools and MDiv,s PhD, and DMins. Those with PhD's sneered at those with DMins and those who went overseas to schools were superior to those getting degrees in the US (at least they had much cooler robes and caps!).
Having lived close to academic communities in Indiana, Minnesota and California, I watch with fascination and some degree of pain how the jockeying continues. But it's not just the condition of academia, it also exists in the church, where I can so easily rank and position people by their "degrees" and "pedigree": the ordained versus the licensed, the seminary trained versus the Bible school, the "successful" versus the "just making it", the "influential" versus the "marginal".
My father has been a rabid egalitarian all his life, eschewing titles and degrees. One time when he was Vice President of the Covenant, his Annual Meeting badge came with an embossed blue ribbon with "VICE PRESIDENT" stamped in gold letters on it. As a young boy I was so proud. Dad, however, tucked the blue ribbon in his suit pocket and insisted on having a badge like every other delegate. When I asked him why, some years later, he responded "Remember where we came from, not the fancy pedigrees, but just ordinary cats and dogs. That's who we are and who we are called to love." My dad taught me to know and love the staff. They have the keys, they make the place run and they fix what is broken.

Spyker C-8

There it was driving next to me...today. $355,000 for a car?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Don't you love freebies? Going to stores where they routinely hand out coffee samples or ice cream tastes? Trade shows are (or at least used to be) great places to visit to stock up on pencils, pens, sticky notes, paper pads, mouse pads, and doo-dads. They were just there for the asking.
I'm surprised at how few pastors take advantage of ministry freebies. These are the times when just showing up with a smile pays off in dividends. Like when? Being invited to a parishoner's birthday party or anniversary celebration. I know, it's on your day off and in the afternoon. That's the cost that prevents too many pastors from enjoying the freebie. It's a graduation party or a wedding reception. It's a picnic for church volunteers or gathering at someone's house. A ministry freebie is almost always out of the office and the pastor is not in charge. There too is the problem. We love to show up when we are on the program and have a role and function to perform. But then it's not a freebie. We are working and on the clock. We are supposed to do this and be professional. But when we show up unexpected and not in charge, members and friends realize we actually like them...even love them.
The very best freebie is the Sunday morning after-church coffee time. Too many staff persons head right to their offices and make a bee-line for home. Mingling with those not in a ministry area is difficult, awkward, and seen as a waste of time. Wrong...it's a freebie!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Afternoon Hero

Midweek afternoons in a church can be quiet and sleepy. This afternoon I went hospital visiting. One of our men had some medical complications and is now in transitional care before home. He's a quiet widower, regular attender, always smiling and chipper. As our conversation began, I asked him about his place of birth and vocation. He was born in the midwest, son of a printer and became a printer himself until the war. "What branch of the service were you in?" I asked. "Air Force" he replied. "What did you do?" I asked back. "Flew planes" came his reply. "What kind of planes?" I kept digging. "B-24's" he said. "How many missions did you fly?" I asked, now intrigued. "48 officially" he said with a wink. Then a conversation opened up about flying bombing runs in WW II through heavy enemy fire and lots of loss of life.
The more he spoke, the bigger and more powerful he became. I was sitting in the presence of a hero; a man who did his duty without fuss and went back to a quiet life. When we were done, I grabbed his hand and said "Thanks for what you did for all of us." Tears filled his eyes, he didn't speak, he just nodded.

A Curious Silence

Are you loyal? Will you speak the truth? Will you speak through formal channels or air ideas and thoughts without institutional editing? Are bloggers inherently untrustworthy because they vent and embarrass persons and institutions? What sort of editing filter should a blogger who works within and institution impose upon himself/herself?
"Wired" magazine, "Fast Company" and "The Economist", "Yahoo" and Google" all argue for open and transparent leadership, including blogging by and about leadership and structure. Proprietary confidentialities must be maintained, but open discussions about trends and directions are encouraged and invited. "Apple" does not encourage blogging, especially by employees or contractors. A "cone of silence" sits around these companies.
A staff person once accused me of using my blog as a form of passive aggressiveness, choosing to assign blame without ever talking to the person face-to-face. That's an easy temptation. For me to have integrity with the staff I work with, they must know that any issue I have with them is first of all dealt with face-to-face. And even then, because of confidentiality and the integrity of a relationship, it does not enter the blog. I think the same thing goes for my family members. My family's issues must not become fodder for the public. But does that hold true to institutions like the local church, conference, denomination, agencies, camps and committees? I don't think so. What do you think? What costs have you paid for blogging (you can post anonymously if you wish)?

Monday, August 18, 2008


The olympics are a showcase for disciplined bodies with little or not extra cushion. I am watching the lean running machines of track and field tonight. Then come the commercials for Budweiser beer, being a "proud sponsor" of the olympics. I know it's good business for them, but does it send a funny signal?

Did McCain Cheat?

Buried on the bottom of page 12 in Monday's New York Times is a brief article about the "cone of silence" John McCain was purported to have prior to his conversation with Rick Warren on Saturday. He was not on site at Saddleback in the designated room but in his vehicle on the way to the event.
Sour grapes from Obama supporters?
Slick move from McCain's camp?
Taking advantage of Rick Warren's invitation?
Politics as usual?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Serious Roses

A worshiping friend of MCC brought flowers last week and this week from her garden. These are some serious roses and talk about fragrant!

Labyrinth or Maze?

You saw this last week; a picture of the MCC staff on retreat at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu. We had three activity times that different staff led as surprises: a trip to the Getty Museum of classic art, a craft-making exercise to make a collage describing our discipleship journey and a walk through a labyrinth.
As we prepared to walk the labyrinth together, we were instructed that a labyrinth is not a maze, not a puzzle you must solve or get lost in. A labyrinth as focus, meaning and direction. You can trust the path of a labyrinth to take you deeper and deeper into the center. Whereas you cannot trust the path of a maze. It will often lead into dead ends and double back upon itself.
I kept coming back to the labyrinth in my devotional thoughts this week and in preparation for worship. Is what we do here a labyrinth, taking people deeper and deeper into the heart of Christ or are we more like a maze, where we turn folks loose to try to figure it out on their own?
May our worship be a labyrinth and not a maze.

"I do weddings!"

It was my first estate wedding. The bride and groom met with me for months. The wedding would be held at his parents' home with nothing held back. The guests came from all over the area, with a number of prominent Los Angeles people. Just before the beginning of the service a guy with wavy hair, silk shirt and designer sunglasses came up to me and said: "You the officiant?" "Yes" I replied. "I got a tip for you." (pause) "Tell everyone at the beginning to turn off their cell phones. Believe me, I do weddings!"
That intrigued me more than the tip. "What do you mean, you do weddings?" I asked back. "My wife and I make ring pillows, photo albums and guest books. Plus, we consult with a number of hotels on how to host weddings." Amazing! This guest runs a cottage industry (maybe not so cottage) on wedding peripherals; stuff that really does not matter for a marriage, but has been glommed on to the wedding juggernaut.
The wedding turned out lovely. The bride wept and the groom held her hand tenderly. Three photographers clicked away from various vantage points during the whole service, that lasted about 15 minutes. After greetings and a photo with the couple we exited quietly back home, for a simple dinner for two and a quiet night. But his words echoed around my head: "I do weddings!" Then what do I do?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cycladic Fun

Martha introduced me to Cycladic art when we visited a museum devoted to it in Athens some years ago. Cycladic art comes from the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean Sea. These highly stylized figures, most not more that two feet tall, are thought to be funeral accoutrements, added to a person's burial artifacts. What makes these figures so fascinating is their link into our day. Archeologists discovered this art form in the early 20th century, bringing these images to public awareness at the same time as the first modern artists (Picasso) were emerging. Can you see the borrowed imagery? Don't they look far more modern than ancient? At the Getty Museum in Malibu, that the staff visited last week, I entered a room completely dedicated to Cycladic art, and I had such fun! In fact, I think I once served on a committee with a woman very much like the one in the lower picture!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fired for a Blog?

Can writing a bad blog get you fired? I heard two stories this summer about one who was and one who wasn't. The one who was blogged about his organization's events, posting a picture of a group activity. Without names, client children's faces were in the picture. When management saw the blog, he was called into the office and fired on the spot.
The other person was going through an exit interview with his supervisor, giving back keys and cards. In the course of the interview the supervisor said that had he known about the employee's blog, he would have fired him long ago. The employee voiced concerns over management style and contradictions, in essence venting frustration. Is that fire-able? Is a blog a professional extension or does it belong in the realm of free expression?
This is particularly meaningful to me after bumping my head into some organizational walls. When I blogged about my frustration with institutional complacency and even ineptitude, I was reprimanded for being disloyal? I think bloggers must develop thick skin and be ready to pay the price of exclusion from loyalty groups if you dare speak out. But isn't that a core value of our country with both free expression and the third estate of the media, holding crown and church accountable?
I was asked how I would react if an employee of mine wrote disparaging things about my leadership style in his/her blog. What would I do? I think I would take a blog posting as an invitation to a conversation, respecting their right to disagree with a decision or style I take. Would it hurt our relationship and hinder his/her advancement? I guess that would depend on how the conversation went. In my encounter with an institutional leader, our good conversation about a topic led me to offer to delete the blog and post about good follow-up steps. I think both sides won.
I'd love to hear from others about the liabilities and limits of blogging on careers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Collage on our stories of discipleship

Each retreat activity was led by a different staff person. Kim, the Children's Director had us construct collages telling the stories of our own discipleship journey. It was like being in elementary school again, along with complaining about not having enough time and making a mess all over the floor! Glad there are treats!

Labyrinth Event

For the staff event this afternoon we all walked the labyrinth at Serra under Ruth's leadership. Wow!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Staff Movie

Wild and silly staff greeting you!

Staff on Retreat

We are in an upper room of the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu on the first of a three day retreat. Nine of us got free to pray, share, dream and problem solve. We took an activity break this afternoon to the Getty Museum in Malibu. The Getty Museum features a lot of classical art, which is kind of weird for all of us to go to, but we had such fun! Now we are watching the Olympics together. It's fun to laugh together!

Falling Arches, Collapsing Certainties

The stone arch in Utah was not supposed to collapse. It had been spanning for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It was a geological certainty. And time and gravity took its toll and it collapsed this weekend. The border between Georgia and Russia collapsed this weekend also. Around us are fixed objects that we often take to be certainties, until they collapse. Then they aren't so certain anymore.
The job of a pastor and the church is to define reality and identify certainties. What we sometimes identify as certainties, in time collapse under the pressure of time and age: musical styles, evangelistic programs, theological education, local church configurations, government entitlements, etc.
A friend who teaches occasionally at Westmont College, Dr. Tito Paredes, who also heads a theological graduate school in Lima Peru says that the Certain Issue is, has been and will be: discipleship. That will not collapse or fade away.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happy 97th!

We bumped into Linda S. and Chris Groppe at lunch today. Linda took Chris out to celebrate her 97th birthday this week. They invited us to join them. Chris at 97 lives life faster than a lot of 55 year olds! She runs the video group at Samarkand Retirement Center, helping post videos to the in-house system. She is a regular email and probably would blog if she had the time. When I asked if she wanted me to buy here a bottle of champagne with which to celebrate, she said "No, but a nice glass of white wine would be nice!" So I bought her a glass of white wine and we toasted her birthday and health. Then I asked her if she would be willing to sing at my funeral. Without missing a beat, she said "Sure! Should I start tuning up any time soon?" Happy Birthday Chris!!

Friday, August 08, 2008

He was died

In my new devotional routine, the first hour or so is devoted solely to the Bible. Pen and coffee cup in hand, I just read. I read until my heart tells me to stop. I re-read familiar texts that my eye wants to skim over. I go back to curious sentences that I normally discount for the real jewels.
Then comes breakfast and the New York Times. Again, it's a slow read, making sure I read what are important and not just salacious. By that time Martha is up and padding around the house with her coffee cup surveying the overnight damage done by gophers (did I mention that the word "gopher" had now advanced to a form of curse?).
After breakfast and newspaper, I then open up overnight emails. Today's email pierced our hearts. The young man who was fighting his own interior battles in the apartment above us this summer died. He fought schizophrenia, and burst into loud arguments at 3 am breaking furniture and retreating into his own world of torment. We were there with the family when the authorities gently removed him to a psychiatric facility, upping his level of supervision and care.
But this week, on a warm day, he slipped out of the hospital. Later (I don't know if it was hours or days) they found him. His aunt, our good, good friend wrote to us in English and grief. Her syntax mistake became an echoing cry of heart eloquence when she ended the letter with "And he was died". Pacem!

Portable Caves

The text used in worship last Sunday from I KIngs 19 spoke about Elijah going out to THE Cave on Mt. Sinai. It was at THE Cave where God spoke with Elijah and rejuvenated his life. All week long people have been telling me about finding their "caves" where they can safely be with God.
That prompts this thought: spiritual caves must be portable. That sounds like a contradiction. Most "places" are just that, fixed places we move to and away from. We know about those "sacred places" of deep meaning: Mt Hermon, Mission Springs, Covenant Pines, "the Lake", the church of our childhood, a campus chapel, an historic monument.
But that does not cut it for the long run. Because we move and places change and morph. New leaders come to camps and churches, old buildings are torn down or remodeled not like we used to know them.
This is especially true for college students heading off for their first prolonged away time, and for those returning to school after a summer at home. The church they attend and the small groups that nourish them do not travel well. Face-book and My-space go only so far in nourishing the soul. The end result is that too many students (and many more adults than want to admit it) do not have a sacred place ("the cave") where they are now.
It's time to teach the spiritual art of portable cave-building; assembling those habits, patterns, skills and disciplines that are not place-reliant, but fully portable. The backpacker knows this truth well. The pack they carry is meant to be portable and able to set up to shelter and feed them in any place. Christians need to learn how to backpack their faith, to carry their caves.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

3 news phrases

Again from the New York Times, Wednesday August 6th editorial page. Thomas Friendman gives readers 3 new phrases he learned while in Greenland to prove that you are now able to speak "climate." Phrase #1: "Just a few years ago..." Phrase #2: "I've never seen anything like that before..." Phrase #3: Well usually ....but now I don't know anymore."
Don't these phrases apply to more than just climate change? How about the way the church works, media, clearly financing and banking, home owning and leasing, traveling and retiring, and what else. Got to know some new words!

Are you an Issachar or Zebulun?

The New York Times provides such great theological stories. Buried in the 11th page of the business section on Wednesday August 6th is an article titled: "Personal Services for the Spirit: Private Torah Study" An international organization called Aish HaTorah offers many services to more modern, busy and secular Jews, among them is having a rabbi make a weekly visit to a person's work-site for Bible study, Talmud exegesis, personal counseling or intellectual jousting. "...one makes a significant contribution $10,000 a year, more or less- and in return a rabbi comes to one's corner office about once a week."
The justification for both the fees and the structures comes from the positioning of the tribes of Zebulun (merchants) and Issachar (rabbis and scholars). It was mandated by the Torah that the tribe of Zebulun supports the tribe of Issachar. Just point me to the office!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

My "Girls"

I know it's sexist. It's a problem I've had since childhood; giving different animals primary genders (eg: dogs are boys and cats are girls, sharks are boys and porpoises are girls, pigs are boys and rabbits are girls). That's probably a good reason why I'm NOT a veterinarian like I planned to be entering college. All this is prelude to a crowd of crows in our neighborhood I call "my girls" or "Ladies". They sit in the trees and yammer away, arriving on our property for no evident reason and then vanishing for days sometimes.
But on Sunday afternoons after communion, they wait for me. Mid afternoon I gather up the leftover bread pieces and scatter them over a bare piece of land. I hate the thought of communion bread going into the garbage pail in the church work-room. It seems so much better to let the birds eat it than dump it into a refuse pile somewhere. So I scatter the bread pieces and wait. Within 15 minutes "the girls" are there, bouncing around like crows bounce and flying up into the oak trees to eat a piece and then they swoop down again. It's a semi-liturgical dance to watch the birds of the air feast on the bread that hours ago we feasted on in worship.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What's a Conversation?

We had been looking forward to dinner with R. for a long time. We shared a number of loves: travel, food, wine, France, art, etc. The day came and we went to the restaurant. The ambience was perfect; quiet, relaxed. The food was excellent. But I noticed a hurry in R's voice. There was an agenda of things R needed to share with us; a list R needed to get through; topics R needed to cover, as if we were an outline that needed to be followed with items checked off when completed.
None of the topics was off-center. In fact it was a very intriguing and engaging conversation. We talked into all sorts of interesting tangents, but were quickly pulled back by R who wanted to get onto something else on the list.
The question: what drives your conversations? Can they wander and roam? Are there off-limit mine-fields that you dare not enter for fear of an explosive reaction (politics, a divorce, a former "bad guy" on the list, etc)? Does the other person ask you questions and wait for your answer? Do you ask other people questions and then listen? Is there a joyful mystery about where a conversation can go or a predetermined outcome?
Clearly I wonder what quality of conversations we have in church? How do we foster an environment that lends itself to real conversations versus talking contests? A former denominational leader used to see me and say "Don, so good to see you" and then regale me about his latest achievements and quickly move on. I often wished he would have said, "Don, so good to hear you, tell me what God is doing in your life" and then sit still and listen. Who listens to you?

What Leadership Requires

Who said this? "The United States' responsiveness to new technologies was the chief virtue separating it from Europe?" Sounds like Al Gore, Bill Gates or Matt Drudge. But the quote came from Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln insisted on using the telegraph to keep current with the events of the nation and during the Civil War.
The article about this in Sunday's NYT's Week In Review" is a commentary on whether one criterion for the next President is his awareness of and familiarity with cutting edge technology in communication. It's not so much about his personal use of email, blogs and facebook, but his comprehension of the impact of digital communication.
As I read this article it made me wonder about the same criteria for leaders in the church. Should those of us who are pastors see it as our sacred responsibility to keep up with the way our congregations send and receive information and interact with culture? Should pastors be competent with wii? I clearly have a bias of "yes."
The challenge for future leaders is how to be both familiar and conversant with a digitized community, but also how to be free from the encroachments 24/7 wi-fi can make on a person's life. Pastors need to live on the razor-blade of immersion and solitude. That's not an easy tension. When one is always connected, we expect instant information with little reflection and less solitude. That creates (at least in me) a kind of spiritual ADD, I'm wired for sound with quick opinions, but show a shallowness of heart and mind.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Getting Ready to Worship

How do you get ready to worship? When does it start? Do you do something Saturday evening that gets you better prepared for Sunday worship? Are there Sunday morning routines you go through that help you focus and be prepared? Or does it start at the door when you enter the sanctuary? Do you have your own little ritual of preparedness on Sunday? Is there a special place you sit in the sanctuary or a particular person you look for to connect with? Do you read the bulletin (or worship folder) before music begins or let it unfold as you worship?
My preparations as a pastor are a little different because I need to be prepared to deliver a message and lead. But I've noticed over the years my pattern works best if I arise earliest in the family and read the Bible just for me quietly in the living room (with coffee of course!). If the newspaper arrives before I finish breakfast, great. If not, that's OK too. When I get to church (I try to be first in the building, but some staff are now beating me to it!) I make coffee for me and the staff, then make coffee in 80 cup urns for the congregation. I'm sure someone else could do it, but I like to think about all those who will come and have fellowship and refreshment around cups of coffee or tea. Then I unlock doors, thinking about all those who will enter the doors that day. By that time the staff coffee is done and I read through the sermon aloud (hopefully unheard) with further markings added. Then I read something devotional to help me pray for the day and that's when I get my ideas for the first words of greeting to the congregation.
What are Sunday's like when you are unprepared? One of the things we are offering to the congregation is the church and my blog site with a picture of the altar-piece that reinforces the text of the day. What do your churches do to help get you and other worshipers ready? Any new best practices I can steal from you?

Friday, August 01, 2008

What are you doing here?

The altarpiece on Sunday will raise a few eyebrows; it's a mess! Broken jars, tipped candle holders, spilled seeds, unpotted plant, and an old rug tossed across the table. No, the California earthquake of last week did not do this. This must be what it looks like when God roars by in a wind that breaks rocks, an earthquake that shakes teeth and a fire that scours mountains. Out of this chaos in I Kings 19:1-18 God comes to Elijah in a still, small voice asking "What are you doing here?"
How's that for a question to linger with for a while: what are you doing here...now? How do you hear that question? Has God taken a moment during this summer's chaos to ask you "__________, what are you doing here?" Is your answer a throw-away rejoinder or a reflective pause? Do you know "why" you are where you are (here)?
Worship at its essence reminds us of who we are, who God is, and why we are here.

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