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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Covenant Midwinter: Camp for Pastors

The Covenant Midwinter Conference has been a fixed event in the life of the Covenant for years. As a child, I remember our home housing 3 or 4 pastors who came in to the Midwinter in Minneapolis/St. Paul and were put up in our bedrooms and the homes of church members. 
I recall visiting my dad at Midwinters in Chicago when I was in college, swimming in the pool, eating with other pastors, singing and worshiping with them, joking and horsing around. It's what Covenant Pastors do in late January, head off to some central location for teaching, inspiration, collaboration, committees, and reconnection. 
My friend Kenton's son Eric came in as a youth pastor for his first professional Midwinter and his off-hand comment: "This is just a camp for pastors." would not leave me. For the rest of the week I observed our mutual behavior and it was just like camp, only we were all bigger and older. Camps gather disparate people together each year at a fixed location to reconnect, inspire and relax campers. Together we learn new skills and deepen old relationships. We often grow closer to God when we can get away from the distractions of the ordinary and normal. 
That's what we did. Great sounds, inspiring speakers, good seminars, wonderful conversations, important professional connections. Great camp!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Video Blog+vidlog

I'm trying something new with Luke tonight about using my laptop to post not only a still photo and words, but a video/audio log. Tell me what you think. video

Midwinter Percolation

The value of pastors gathering together for 4 days in Chicago in the winter is idea-percolation. Sure, there is a lot of coffee being consumed. But sitting in the various lobbies and ballrooms, one can see the gears of creativity turning as notes are written on programs or lap-tops come out to capture new ways of thinking and doing ministry. Right now, across from where I sit are 3 youth pastors in deep strategic thought, a denominational leader listening to an impassioned young pastor, friends conferring with each other about caring for a friend no longer in ministry. 
This morning Mirislov Volf grabbed our hearts with a lecture on Christian memory that sent many of us into wonderfully deep places in our own hearts and memories. I have connected with missionaries we will meet next summer in France, confirmands from other churches now in ministry, former staff persons now on their own and leading staff, retired teachers who inquire about our family, pastors of churches I formerly pastored who want to catch me up on people we mutually love (or have concerns about). 
Yeah, there is a lot of politicking, job searching, and jockeying for positions of power. But there is a deeper level of the Spirit's meddling in hungry lives. Perk away!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Being Rich

Tonight Gordon McDonald spoke at the opening session of the Covenant Midwinter Conference. It was one of those talks that goes to the soul. In essence his 4 points for a long-term ministry were: constant conversion, character, call, and community. 
It was when he hit on community that my heart pounded. He stressed how critical it was for pastors to have friends, really deep friends. Too many pastors come to him alone; commanding and controlling churches, but deep down alone.
Last Friday I took my dad to the doctor in St. Paul. I know this guy. We hung out a lot, skiied a lot, I married his son and daughter-in-law and he and his wife stood by us during our daughter's surgery. We don't call or write each other much. But when I walked in with my dad, unannounced, he hugged me saying loudly "Johnson!" and then gathered all his staff and said: "I want you to meet one of my best friends!" I'm a lot of things to a lot of people, but I cannot express what it meant to be announced as another man's best friend! That's richness!

Covenant Blog...what happened?

What's up with Covenant Blog? That's a great catch-site for Covenant bloggers and it is just a blank screen on the beginning of the Midwinter. That's a great time for all of us bloggers to gather ideas and cause trouble. I bless those who keep the site up and urge them to get the site back up.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do Bloggers Have Lives?

Over lunch today my sister-in-law Cyd asked a question to Isaac and me about blogging. She said "I'm sure I'm going to ask this in the wrong way, but do people who blog regularly have lives?" The room got quiet and she said "Oops, I think I said that wrong!" But that led into an interesting discussion about blogging and why. 
Isaac noted that some people (he and I) find writing and thinking at a keyboard (maybe one could question the thinking part) as easy as a discussion. Some people have 45 minute phone conversations with no problem, others write letters, others text message, others have lots of live conversations over coffee with others.
Some of us blog about technical aspects of our jobs or theological ruminations that do not belong in the pulpit. Others of us blog about political issues or simply keep people up to date with family matters. 
But, the question remains; do bloggers live or just watch?

Worshiping at my brother's church


Pastors lead worship well. It's what pastors do almost every Sunday. Pastors are not used to worshiping out in the congregation. Instead, they lead worship, guide it and direct it. Sunday my brother Tim invited me to read scripture during worship at Bloomington Covenant Church in Minneapolis (technically Bloomington). It was fun and an honor to participate in worship that someone else, more particularly, my brother, was leading. It's amazing how much one notices when one just observes; like how many people do not use a hymnbook when the words are up on the screen, where the announcement time is placed in worship, how well I was greeted by people (mainly older people) and how friendly it was during the coffee time in the gym following the service. What particularly hit me was that they had servers, men, pouring the coffee and greeting each person coming through the line. It was sweet being able to sit next to my dad during the worship service and sing together (I'm much louder!) And it was even cooler to sit in the pew with Isaac and then hang out and drink coffee with him after the service and not be doing church-work. 
Tonight is a Male Gospel Quartet concert that, while not my style, is for my folks and gives me one more chance to drive them back and forth and be with them.

Being Back

Saturday morning Isaac slept in because he had to fix a downed server at work Friday night beyond midnight. I slipped out of the house and drove to a small coffee shop and had coffee and the NYT's surrounded by a south Minneapolis assortment of young urban professionals, mostly women, mostly dressed in black, mostly big due to the layered clothes and down jackets. In the winter, most Minnesotans poof out like dough-boys (or girls). After Isaac got up, we had a substantial breakfast at a Cuban revolutionary diner, covered with pro-Castro graffiti and dread-locked waitstaff. Then we ran some errands until noon, Isaac heading off to Wisconsin to work on his planes, while I drove out to the north suburbs to go cross-country skiing with my good friend Randy. The weather was a balmy 20 degrees, so after getting on the gear, I only wore a sweater and gloves and we took off for a 5 or 6 mile ski around and across the lake his home sits on. Soon we were sweating as we were the only ones out on skiis. It was a perfect afternoon with an old friend on good snow. I really miss the snow and the bracing freshness of wintertime. We sat around his kitchen with fresh coffee his wife brewed and visited with his son and daughter-in-law I married last summer.
Then it was time for dinner with my parents back at Covenant Village of Golden Valley. Couple after couple greeted me with surprise. They were almost all members of the Salem Covenant Church I formerly pastored and part of the Wednesday Bible Study I taught. Most commented on my tanned skin and short hair. After dinner Isaac and I went up to my folks apartment where we visited about old photographs and places we lived, laughing as we reminisced. 
As much as I enjoy having my kids come out to Santa Barbara to be physically present with me,  so too do my parents just like seeing me in the same room with them. They don't need to say anything, just see me and smile at me. It's good for sons to be back for a while.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sunrise flying

It is tough getting up at 4:30, but watching the sun rise at 39,000 feet is sweet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where is your encouragement?


It's January. It's cold, everywhere. Annual meetings are over, the grind is on, whether it's a school semester, job projects, the stock market, managing your bills from the holidays, or watching the candidates vying for dominance. 
I'm heading out tomorrow for a weekend in Minneapolis with my folks and son, so Diana is preaching on Acts 18:1-17. When I asked her about her theme, she said: "Encouragement." Paul was encouraged by the disciples in Corinth. Corinth, hopefully, was encouraged by Paul's leadership. Their encouragement built up each other. 
So the altar-piece for this coming Sunday has lights of encouragement at the base of the key-stone. I took the picture in darkness, to emphasize how much one light does. 
In Alan Hirsch's book "The Forgotten Ways" he argues that in every believer is the requisite dna to make the church. Whoever it is that composes the 2 or 3 gathered in Christ's name, they are good enough. Their lights shine out encouragement to me and, I hope, my light shines encouragement to them. Who encourages you on your journey today? Who receives your light of encouragement? Who surrounds you like the lights on the table and make you glow? 

Santa Barbara Snow


The rain systems that have sequentially passed through our area have brought much needed rain for the drought affected reservoirs and green back to the hills. But they brought something else yesterday; snow to the hills behind the church. This morning, just before another wave of rain came through, I got this shot of the snow-kissed La Cumbra Peak at just about 4,000 ft. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

House Lust

Sunday's NYT's Business Section had a great review of a book that names the name: House Lust 

Who Needs a 401(k)? I’d Rather Have a Castle
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By HARRY HURT III
Published: January 20, 2008
HUMANITY’S need for shelter has always inspired grandiose desires that can become tantamount to lust. The Tenth Commandment even places housing and lust side by side, admonishing, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife.”


Putting a modern-day finish on this propensity is “House Lust: America’s Obsession With Our Homes” by Daniel McGinn (Currency, $24.95), which chronicles an epic of satirical, if not quite biblical, proportions.

Mr. McGinn, a national correspondent for Newsweek, focuses mainly on the demand side of the nation’s most recent housing boom-turned-bust. His aim, he says, is to “explore the behavior and psychology that drove the boom — and how those behaviors and psychology helped contribute to the bust that followed.”

He raises several provocative questions that strike at the covetous soul of America’s culture and economy.

“How did home renovations come to routinely turn families’ lives upside down?” he asks. “Why do thousands of us now watch reality shows about home flipping or house hunting? Why did so many people decide to start investing in real estate, or quit good jobs to seek a fortune selling houses?”

Mr. McGinn organizes his quest for answers into seven chapters that span the nation’s geography and the selected segment of demography he defines as “upper middle class” or “flat-out rich.”

He tackles obsessions with house size in a chapter entitled “Mine’s Bigger Than Yours,” set in Potomac, Md. In Las Vegas, he sniffs out “That New House Smell” and the psychological need to live in an unspoiled home built from scratch. In Newton, Mass., he diagnoses “Fix-Up Fever” of people who renovate or add on to their homes, not just for the sake of making prudent investments but for the purpose of one-upping their neighbors. He goes “Searching for Cash Flow” in the form of income-producing rental properties in Pocatello, Idaho, and gets a personal “Welcome to the Jungle” when he decides to get his own real estate license after paying a visit to a National Association of Realtors convention.

Mr. McGinn steers clear of examining cases of home mortgage foreclosures and predatory lending practices. As a result, he leaves the reader to draw the specific causal connections between the types of obsessive behaviors he describes and the recent housing bust. But the gist of it is that like poorer people, many affluent people spent — and borrowed — more money than they could afford because they believed that their magnificent homes, in lieu of diversified savings or retirement plans, would yield magnificent profits.

What makes “House Lust” worth reading is its marshaling of facts that speak eloquently for themselves. Why have Americans recently become so obsessed with their homes?

Two sets of statistics say it all. First, homes are the most common personal investment. By 2006, some 69 percent of Americans owned their homes, up from only 44 percent in 1940. Second, homeownership has been — at least until the advent of the subprime mortgage crisis last summer — an easy road to amassing wealth. From 2000 to 2006, Mr. McGinn reports, the average price of a home in the United States soared 56 percent.

Add to this a newly overwhelming lust for space. In 1950, the average American home measured just 938 square feet. By 2005, the average had grown to 2,434 square feet. The size of the putative American dream house expanded even more.

At a convention of the nation’s home builders in 1984, an ideal “New American Home” on display encompassed 1,500 square feet and cost less than $100,000. In 2006, the ideal house was 10,023 square fee, and was priced at more than $10 million. In the interim, Bill Gates of Microsoft built a 66,000-square-foot home near Seattle at an estimated cost of $100 million.

The rise in house sizes has not been accompanied by qualitative leaps in the use of space. Yes, there have been innumerable technological advances in everything from heating and air-conditioning to kitchen appliances. Home theaters and so-called mud rooms, for changing into and out of foul-weather garments, have become the rage.

But as Mr. McGinn notes, “Unlike the robber baron-era mansions, modern-day megahomes don’t feature dozens of bedrooms or entirely new kinds of rooms — they mostly just take the rooms you’d find in a normal house and make them really, really big.”

The challenge of filling up those rooms, he adds, is being met by outsize furnishings like the “extreme ultra king bed” that is 12 feet long and 10 feet wide.

The sheer absurdity of house lust seems made for a humorist like Mark Twain or P. J. O’Rourke. Although Mr. McGinn’s partly tongue-in-cheek profiles of obsessive homeowners are mildly entertaining, most of the one-liners are lame or redundant, or both.

“Today, in some neighborhoods,” he observes, “finding someone who doesn’t know the square footage of her house can be as hard as finding a Playboy centerfold who doesn’t know her bust size.” Twenty pages later, he notes, “Today a homeowner who doesn’t know the square footage of his house is becoming as rare as a high school senior who doesn’t know his SAT score.”

In publishing as in real estate, timing is everything. Mr. McGinn’s book went to press late last summer just as news of the subprime mortgage mess was breaking.

“Our homes may no longer be making us rich,” he writes, “but living through an era when we thought they might has resulted in a permanent shift in thinking — one that will leave many of us happily obsessed with houses for years to come.”

The millions of Americans currently facing home mortgage foreclosures will probably regard such unbounded optimism as the eighth deadly sin.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrating Mosaic

Tonight the MCC Missions Committee met at one of the member's apartments for a meal with one of our missionaries involved in mosaic ministries; a creative ministry building bridges into marginalized ethnic and religious communities in Europe. It's exciting to hear about changing paradigms and approaches to missions, support systems and the role of both the local church and the denomination. 
Again I was moved about what high-calibre people I am allowed to partner alongside of in ministry. This is a pretty cool job!

In Tribute to Green Bay

I watched the Packer/Giants game with a guy from church last night in Santa Barbara. It was a totally cool game, with the deep cold, short-sleeved monsters, hard, hard hits, and a game that went right down to the wire in that overtime kick (maybe over the wire technically). Coming from Minnesota, I have been a loyal Vikings fan until they are out, then I'm rooting for the balance-teams; those teams that come from distinctly different regions. The Giants won the game fair and square, but it will not be nearly as interesting a Superbowl with two East Coast teams. Being transplanted now to the West Coast, who cares? They are so far away. Anyway, three cheers to those tough guys from Green Bay!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Moments of Glory, Moments of Pain


Sundays are curious days; the program (logistics, technology, leaders) the people (full of stories they have been waiting to tell, visitors for the first time, good friends who are leaving when I am gone next week, grieving widows who last sang the song on her husband's funeral 3 years ago, and a couple I will be marrying in 3 weeks) the location nestled into the mountains and our picnic on the beach through the butterfly preserve where millions of monarchs hung in the eucalyptus trees like clusters of grapes. Watching these fragile creatures clinging to the branches radiating the late afternoon sun was a worship encore. God's glory displayed in the little things. 
Then came the painful words shared quietly with me, of loss, of an unreported violation a long time ago and now a life with a scarred-over wound, of a son grieving a lost relationship with a father who walked out long ago, of a father caring for an adult daughter's battle with deep depression, a solitary mother with a son in rehab. 
I preached from I Thessalonians 2: 1-12 and how Paul modeled transparency and gentle care. I wonder if that triggered the wave of sharing, or if it was God preparing me to hear the pain? These views and words I absolutely treasure as gifts, little jewels God allows me to witness and hear. "It is well with me soul."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dodge-Ball Tournament



The invitation went out and the event was planned. And on Friday afternoon, starting about 3:00 pm 11 teams from 4 churches and one Christian High School arrived at the gym, dressed in wacky and distinctive costumes for an afternoon and evening of high-tension dodge-ball. There were official rules and suited up referees. A DJ played chest-vibrating music and these teams really played hard. 
While Lisa was recuperating from surgery on her knee, Liam organized an led this ecumenical youth event that had an amazing strong response for a Friday afternoon. Who would have guessed it?

Friday, January 18, 2008

An Irreverent Thought

The home page for the ECC had an article this week that slipped by me when I read it, but became funnier the more I thought about it:
The article, like my blog earlier, says favorable comments about the selection of Gary Walter as the nominee. But, unlike me, that's what the Covenant Home Page is paid to do! What else could they say. And that's when my thinking got irreverent. How would these look?
GARY WALTER NOMINATED FOR PRESIDENT?....
MIXED REVIEWS REGARDING COVENANT NOMINEE....
PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE HAS ONLY PARTIAL SUPPORT....
You see where I began to go. Official departments must adhere to the status quo. That's why our blogs and your thoughts are so important, because nobody pays us to tow the line or stay on message. I'd really like to see more of you bloggers who know Gary weigh in and start a good conversation about his leadership and some of the issues and questions you'd like to see him address. 

Where's the Sage?

The newsletter from Lafayette Indiana arrived this week. Inside was an article on their men's ministry. Men's ministries have been a mixed bag experience for me. Some are drawn around a sporting theme (like fishing camps, golf outings, ski trips) and others are built around food (breakfast prayer meetings) and some are built around Bible study (like BSF). There is a value in gender-exclusive ministries. Womens Ministries in the Covenant is certainly built that way. 
What caught my eye in this article was a photo of guys I knew as church leaders when I was a little kid (1954-61) and during my time as their pastor right out of seminary (1980-85). Bob Taylor, Paul Zeimer, Max Balkema, Les Alban, and Harvey Estes. They were standing as a group with medallions around their necks and the caption over the picture said "The Sages." I teared up because it was so so true. When I arrived on the scene in 1980 each one of these guys had their own separate ministry to me and for me as this wet-behind-the-ears pastor. Bob Taylor took me into his wood shop Monday nights and taught me about wood working, and church-manship. Paul Zeimer invited our family out to their pool on hot days, and we would talk about life in the church. Les Alban would invite me out to his gear company and we'd have lunch in the cafeteria and he would talk with me about theology. Havey Estes would invite me out to his farm to escape from the noise at the office with a thermos of coffee and my books by the quiet of his farm-pond. Max Balkema would meet me for coffee and pastries and we would talk about missions and college ministries. Each one was  a sage to me, an elder brother who had no difficulty calling me up, straightening me out (always lovingly) and staying in touch along the way.
I began to look around this church for the sages here, those who are nicked and scarred by a lifetime of obedience, who know the contours of the road and have travelled down the path of the quick-fixes and faddish solutions. In a culture that relentlessly tries to stay young and avoid anything old, we are missing the sages. We need to raise them up for honor; men and women. 
Then the next direction this line of brooding went is about reading the sages. Contemporary authors are really good; Alan Hirsch, Scot McKnight, Erwin McManus, Doug Paggitt, etc. I try to have 2 contemporary writers going all the time. But who are the sages I read? Who are the sages who have only their words behind them now, dead for decades and centuries. I fear that here too our diet is too young sometime and we need to dip into the deep wells of the classics. 
So, I'm off to find some sages!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New President....New Dean?

With Gary Walter nominated to be the candidate for the presidency of the Covenant, what will happen to the progress in finding a new Dean of the Seminary? Does it go "on-hold" until Gary's official election in June. What will be the relationship and accountability between the denomination and the seminary for the next chapter of the Covenant's life? It reminds me of Tertullian's question:"What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" If Athens is the academy of learning and Jerusalem is the locus of congregational piety, where do they intersect? Obviously the seminary trains pastors for ministry. But beyond that, how does the seminary stay in touch with pastors other than seminars at the Midwinter and articles published at a distance? 
In a post-denominational age, the question to the seminary is very similar as that to denominational leaders: What relevance do you have for day-to-day life in a congregation? Answer: very little unless you bring value to the congregation. My email, and snail mail is filled with intriguing and exciting offerings to resource the congregation and pastoral staff. The offerings this year in San Diego at the National Pastors' Conference really tempted me to forgo the trip to Chicago for the Midwinter (some of our staff had no problem with that choice). 
All this is to say that there is a new day ahead of us to grow the relationship between Chicago and the churches, but it must be real and mutual. I'm excited about what Gary can bring to the table. I wonder if the Seminary will move in the same way?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gary Walter: an outsider's insider

The nominating committee's selection of Gary Walter as the candidate for the presidency of the Evangelical Covenant Church is a good move. I have commented several times on the position and the process. When I asked for leaks about the short-list of candidates, Gary's name came up every time. Why? 
Gary is a producer. He gets things done. In a short term as an appointee on the board of Church Growth and Evangelism, I appreciated the flow of meetings and the genuine growth and progress we have all seen in the planting and establishing of new churches around the country. Gary gets it. 
Gary encourages strong leaders and welcomes the critical voice. With staff like Dave Olson, Don Fensterman, Don Davenport and others, he is devoted to getting facts from the field, not validation of current opinion. 
Gary understands California, growing up here and being educated here. I think it is critical for the next president to "get" California, not because it's cool or hip, but because it is so large and growing so fast. The theological and ecclesiological issues here are interesting, complex and challenging. 
By virtue of his seminary experience and tenure at headquarters, Gary probably gets Chicago as well. It's important that an outsider not be too far outside or they would face isolation and rejection from those groups with long and deep ties (like some seminary deans faced). 
Gary will be a great candidate because he comes with the bias that the local church is where the health and life of the Covenant is and will be in the future. 
The questions for him are many: will he bring new initiatives? will he communicate transparently? will he be accessible? will he be able to lead the seminary and help it connect more and better to the local church? will he be able to shuffle the deck of leadership within the denomination to bring in other new, strong voices? 
In this post-denominational era, I'm excited for what Gary can bring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Writers' Strike downtown Burbank

I'm old enough to remember Johnny Carson suavely making fun of his studio location "nestled in beautiful downtown Burbank." When he said that the audience would laugh. In St. Paul, Minnesota I would puzzle about how terrible or awful downtown Burbank must be. It's not. It's just a city like other cities. But as we were driving home from our regular IKEA pilgrimage today, laden with candles, napkins, fabrics and stuff, we drove right by the NBC studios where, on the sidewalk were the writers striking. It's so TV-real! 

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Dan



Today was a rich, yet bittersweet day. We said "Goodbye" to Dan Bos (and his wife Serena). Dan has been the Director of Worship and Music for the past four years; first as interim director before the Interim Sr. Pastor arrived. And then joined the staff full time after I arrived on the scene. Dan is a man of deep integrity and artistic passion. He has introduced me to different sounds in worship and the more informal and casual style of worship that defines MCC. He leaves to pursue a more artistic direction in music. It's a good next step for him; to pursue his dream and passion and it will be a good next step for us; to find the person who will help shape and lead out sound and style of worship. 
The staff and spouses gathered after church at Piatti's for dinner together and then a time of blessing. We each passed a blessing on to Dan and Serena. We will genuinely miss their presence among us. Peace to them!~

Confirmation Retreat


What a fantastic time! 11 confirmands and 5 counselors spend the weekend together at Lake Nacimiento studying the Holy Spirit, playing and eating together, worshiping together and just hanging out. In this culture of the over-programmed-kid, Lisa Holmlund brilliantly built in big chunks of down-time for the students to do whatever they wanted. There was no TV or computer access, no cell-phones or distraction. Instead we played Uno, went on hikes, took naps, studied, talked, snacked. I was blown away Saturday night at "stump the pastor" (not very hard to do!!) with the deep and profound questions they peppered me with for about 45 minutes. This generation seems to have a deeper well to go to than some of the classes of former years that seemed more bent on rebelling and pushing buttons than going after God. When Martha and I got in the car last night to drive home after the last talk and worship time, we were too overcome with emotion to talk for a long time. It was a holy moment to have students come to us and ask for prayer and to be allowed that kind of opportunity to see God at work. 

Friday, January 11, 2008

Off on Retreat

I start another retreat in 25 minutes. It's a different sort of retreat from the staff retreat this past Tuesday at Mt. Calvary Retreat Center. It's a different sort of retreat than the one I used to take alone or with my dad or Kenton, where we spend long hours reading, writing, praying and sharing. This is a Confirmation Retreat with 13 7th and 8th graders along with Lisa, Liam, Ashley and Martha. We will car/van-pool about 2 hours into the hills around Paso Robles and stay at a church member's summer home for the weekend (though I come back late Saturday night for our Worship Director's last Sunday and to preach). This will be high-energy, loud, silly, exhausting, challenging, thrilling, frustrating, and oh so worth it. 
The theme for the retreat is of a Holy Spirit weekend, where we examine the person and work of the Holy Spirit in a modified Alpha approach. Pray for me...pray for us!

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?


That is the question Dr. Soneson asked us for an exam early on in my philosophy classes. The question is supposedly asked by Tertulian. It is a cryptic way of asking what does Philosophy (Athens) have do to with Theology (Jerusalem). But it can also ask about the relationship between eastern and western thought, between monotheism and polytheism. However you want to look at it, it's my text for this coming Sunday: Acts 17:16-34. It's that great story of Paul waiting alone in Athens after fleeing Thessalonica and then Beorea on south to Athens. He wanders and looks around at this center of the Greek world. Athens was never part of Paul's plan. He aimed west for Rome, not the intellectual hot-house of Athens. 
What happens when you find yourself somewhere you never planned on being and do not enjoy? I have had so many conversations with people over the last weeks on this theme: I did not plan on this, not at this time of my life. The "places" ranged from unemployment to divorce, from addiction to huge financial losses. What do you do when you find yourself plunked in some place that was never part of your plan: moan and groan? complain and resent? go interior and get depressed? get drunk or high? resign and acquiesce? chafe and get depressed? 
I've seen all those responses and participated in some of them. Paul's methodology is profound: he goes out and sees Athens and gets to know it. He accepts it as his new, adopted community and speaks to it, complimenting it and engaging it. He wrings spiritual insights out of what on the surface seems like pure paganism. He quotes their literature (like singing our culture's songs). I think we are always, as believers, called on to genuinely try to understand the culture around us (Athens) and bring it into dialogue with the community of faith (Jerusalem).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Staff on Retreat


Staff retreats are so necessary and so hard to get organized. Especially when a number of staff work part-time and have other responsibilities outside of the church. But this past Tuesday a good number of the staff did get away for a whole day (8:00 am- 4:00 pm) to an Episcopalian Retreat House up in the mountains behind the church. It was so important to physically remove ourselves from the church and its many distractions so that we could think about the church and its many challenges. I came back energized and encouraged that we are taking steps in the right direction with the right people. How good it is to not do ministry alone.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Passed the Samaritan Test?

My daughter's friend called her this afternoon. Her friend rain over an object in the road that flattened her tire in downtown Atlanta. So she pulled into the nearest parking lot. It was of Trinity Presbyterian Church. Liz described it as large and impressive. The lot had a constant flow of traffic in and out as the two girls jacked up the car and wrestled with the tire iron and lug nuts. People drove by them for the entire period, with one member stopping their work to ask them directions. But nobody stopped. The longer it went on, the more my daughter's fuse was lit. 
So after the were done getting the flat tire off and the spare tire on, she called the church office and left this message:
"I am a Christian and a pastor's daughter. I know Samaritan values. Today you failed the test!"
Watch out what sort of Samaritan might be in your parking lot today. Don't fail the test!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany Walk

Its been raining in California since Friday. Some areas around us have received up to 8 inches of rain. Our neighbors recorded 6 inches with more this afternoon and evening. So I went for an afternoon walk on the beach. I found a new podcast site courtesy of Jeb Hollenbeck called "pray-as-you-go". The text for the day is read with music (today it was Taize Latin on Christ the Light). Then the speaker asks some questions and the text is read again, with music afterwards. Alone on the beach in the rain, walking to this wrecked sailboat made for a wonderfully reflective afternoon with Jesus, Light of the World. 

Epiphany Sunday


The imagery and color of Epiphany (both the day and the Sunday) are elegantly simple: white. After the bursting colors of Advent and Christmas, with trees and lights and garlands, reds and golds and blues, it's time for white. Bright and piercing, compelling and illuminating. Epiphany radiates hope and grace, as should we. 
I read that white is the combination of all the colors of the visible light spectrum. 

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A French Afternoon

Rev. Pierre Ledent and his wife Lilia and their four children (l to r) Samuel, Manina, Daniel and Philippe visited us this afternoon for a long lunch into the evening. Pierre is a chaplain with the French Navy stationed in Taihiti. He was the pastor of the little village we stay in when we go to France. From our first visit to France, they welcomed us into their lives, inviting me to preach, Liz to play her flute during worship, and join the church men to play petanque on all-church suppers. Lilia is Philipino/American with family in Los Angeles. It made for a wonderful afternoon of long eating and catching up with family friends spread around the world. We are rich with friends! 

Our Family Epiphany


It's been 12 years. 12 years since the surgery that saved the life of our daughter Liz, pictured here with her brother Isaac. It truly was an epiphany for me that's been working its way out into my life. One epiphany was to not waste time on dumb things. I found it easier than ever to walk out on meetings that were time-wasters and stepping off of committees and boards that did little. 
Another epiphany was to wait less and do more. I had lots of dreams, specifically about traveling that I was waiting to do till we could afford it. Nuts, we're doing it now because who knows how much time we have but God? I vividly remembering a Covenant leader's wife bitterly mourning her husband's death shortly before he retired because they were putting all their joy and plans off till he retired. 
Some author wrote that "Nothing gets a person to think more clearly in the morning than the prospect of being hanged that afternoon!" My epiphany that began 12 years ago keeps a little voice asking me "Is this important? Is this a big thing or a little thing? Is this worth it or can you let it go? Will this make a difference or is it passing?"
Today I'm grateful again for the life of our daughter and our sons, for my wife and our parents, for my extended family around the country. I'm grateful to be alive and have another day!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Truth & Music

I can't shake Glen Hansard's movie "Once". Why? What is it about a movie and music that sticks? I think it's staying and sticking power is its truthfulness. When a musician and his/her music is true, it comes through the back door right into the soul. You know it happens to you when you are going about your business, listening to music and all of a sudden you get goosebumps and tears fill your eyes. Why? A truth just zinged in and nailed you.
So I began to ponder last week during a walk in the hills; is all truth musical? Can there be a truth that is not able to be musically expressed? Clearly we know that not all music is true. There are slick, scamming songs out there meant to seduce is and sell us. There are performers who tweak and adjust their music only to sell and not to speak. 
That's why the challenge of worship is to connect text to truth to sound. It's not about preferences or feelings, but about truth and transcendence. And we also know that not all hymns and worship songs are true. Some have bad theology, some have bad melody, sometimes the sound is outdated or too trite. 
I appreciate the freedom we have here to experiment and blend, to draw from the past and the present, aiming at truth and not customer satisfaction. May your music where you worship this Sunday be true.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Presidential List; the first leak

Last week I invited some leaking about who might be on the list of candidates for president of the Covenant, thinking that a wider discussion in the open might be helpful to the process vs gossip. I received my first leak today from a pastor in the south/west, but beyond that he requests anonymity. Here is his list. What do you think?
Gary Walter, Mark Novak, Bill Clark, Dave Kersten, Ken Carlson, Lon Allison, Jay Phelan, Donn Engebretsen, and Brad Boydston. 
This was the order in which they were sent. I have no idea if the order has any meaning beyond the listing. I know these guys and think highly of them. 

Kenya: Be the Church!

With horror i watch the unfolding violence in Kenya; specifically in Nairiobi's Kibera slum and the western city of Kisumu. We were there in February in March. I was asked to teach pastors about preaching. And in both cities our seminars were filled to overflowing, with 500 pastors in Kisumu and 1,0000 pastors in Nairobi, in a large church right on the edge of Kibera. 
One piece of information we were told over and over again was how many churches and denominations there are in Kenya today. That the christian faith is strong and growing (though young). We observed little church after little church along the roads and highways we travelled on our way between Nairobi and Kisumu. Now today I read that 50 people were burned alive in a church in the Rift Valley!! What? Is this a repeat of Rwanda and Burundi? Is the church so shallow that it cannot rise up and say NO? The long-term impact of the failure of the church in Rwanda and Burundi is the loss of credibility to the upcoming generation. Does faith in Jesus transcend tribal loyalties? Does Jesus reconcile enemies? Is forgiveness real? Do christians really live by a law of love? Is faith transformational or just ornamentation? 
Now is the time for the church and those pastors I know to muscle up and declare a love-zone where violence will not be tolerated. Make their sanctuaries true sanctuaries and not crematoriums. Speak loudly and clearly about a stronger mandate than an election outcome. In the words of the late Dr. Glen P. Anderson "Let the church be the church!"

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